If the mid-Victorian generation was devoted to an idea of freedom of contract, Victorian values also deplored deception. This raised the question of how far parties entering into agreements could be protected against fraud or imposition, and how far the courts could or would ensure that one man's contractual consent had not been obtained by trickery. Courts had to tread a fine line, for the same approach was not suitable to every situation. While merchants could be trusted to look after their own interests — and did not want a legal regime that allowed buyers to escape unprofitable bargains by fixing on any minor misstatements made during negotiations — impecunious heirs and poor old men clearly needed more protection from being fleeced by opportunists. If caveat emptor was a principle that merchants could live happily with, was it one which was suitable for buyers of landed estates, or for widows and vicars looking for a safe joint stock investment for their savings? This chapter shows that as the 19th century went on, the courts attempted to develop rules suitable for the public using them; but when doctrine which had developed in response to particular problems was generalized, it often lacked coherence.
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