In the spring of 1790 Joseph died brokenhearted at the failure of his plans and the revolt of the Netherlands against his innovations; and Austria practically withdrew from the war with the Turks.
Meanwhile in France things moved fast. By breaking down the division between its separate orders the States-General became a National Assembly, which abolished the privileges of the provincial parliaments, of the nobles, and the Church. In October the mob of Paris marched on Versailles and forced the King to return with them to the capital; and a Constitution hastily put together was accepted by Lewis the Sixteenth in the stead of his old despotic power. To Pitt the tumult and disorder with which these great changes were wrought seemed transient matters. In January 1790 he still believed that "the present convulsions in France must sooner or later culminate in general harmony and regular order," and that when her own freedom was established, "France would stand forth as one of the most brilliant powers of Europe." But the coolness and good-will with which Pitt looked on the Revolution was far from being universal in the nation at large. The cautious good sense of the bulk of Englishmen, their love of order and law, their distaste for violent changes and for abstract theories, as well as their reverence for the past, were fast rousing throughout the country a dislike of the revolutionary changes which were hurrying on across the Channel; and both the political sense and the political prejudice of the nation were being fired by the warnings of Edmund Burke. The fall of the Bastille, though it kindled enthusiasm in Fox, roused in Burke only distrust. "Whenever a separation is made between liberty and justice," he wrote a few weeks later, "neither is safe." The night of the fourth of August, when the privileges of every class were abolished, filled him with horror.
He saw, and rightly saw, in it the critical moment which revealed the character of the Revolution, and his part was taken at once. "The French," he cried in January, while Pitt was foretelling a glorious future for the new Constitution, "the French have shown themselves the ablest architects of ruin who have hitherto existed in the world. In a short space of time they have pulled to the ground their army, their navy, their commerce, their arts and their manufactures." But in Parliament Burke stood alone. The-Whigs, though distrustfully, followed Fox in his applause of the Revolution. The Tories, yet more distrustfully, followed Pitt; and Pitt warmly expressed his sympathy with the constitutional government which was ruling France. At this moment indeed the revolutionary party gave a signal proof of its friendship for England. Irritated by an English settlement at Nootka Sound in California, Spain appealed to France for aid in accordance with the Family Compact: and the French Ministry, with a party at its back which believed things had gone far enough, resolved on a war as the best means of checking the progress of the Revolution and restoring the power of the Crown. The revolutionary party naturally opposed this design; after a bitter struggle the right of declaring war, save with the sanction of the Assembly, was taken from the King; and all danger of hostilities passed away. " The French Government," Pitt asserted, "was bent on cultivating the most unbounded friendship for Great Britain," and he saw no reason in its revolutionary changes why Britain should not return the friendship of France. He was convinced that nothing but the joint action of France and England would in the end arrest the troubles of Eastern Europe. His intervention foiled for the moment a fresh effort of Prussia to rob Poland of Dantzig and Thorn. But though Russia was still pressing Turkey hard, a Russian war was so unpopular in England that a hostile vote in Parliament forced Pitt to discontinue his armaments; and a fresh union of Austria and Prussia, which promised at this juncture to bring about a close of the Turkish struggle, promised also a fresh attack on the independence of Poland.
But while Pitt was pleading for friendship between the two countries, Burke was resolved to make friendship impossible. He had long ceased, indeed, to have any hold over the House of Commons. The eloquence which had vied with that of Chatham during the discussions on the Stamp Act had become distasteful to the bulk of its members. The length of his speeches, the profound and philosophical character of his argument, the splendour and often the extravagance of his illustrations, his passionate earnestness, his want of temper and discretion, wearied and perplexed the squires and merchants about him. He was known at last as "the dinner-bell of the House," so rapidly did its benches thin at his rising. For a time his energies found scope in the impeachment of Hastings; and the grandeur of his appeals to the justice of England hushed detraction. But with the close of the impeachment his repute had again fallen; and the approach of old age, for he was now past sixty, seemed to counsel retirement from an assembly where he stood unpopular and alone.
But age and disappointment and loneliness were all forgotten as Burke saw rising across the Channel the embodiment of all that he hated - a Revolution founded on scorn of the past, and threatening with ruin the whole social fabric which the past had reared; the ordered structure of classes and ranks crumbling before a doctrine of social equality; a State rudely demolished and reconstituted; a Church and a Nobility swept away in a night. Against the enthusiasm of what he rightly saw to be a new political religion he resolved to rouse the enthusiasm of the old. He was at once a great orator and a great writer; and now that the House was deaf to his voice, he appealed to the country by his pen. The "Reflections on the French Revolution " which he published in October 1790 not only denounced the acts of rashness and violence which sullied the great change that France had wrought, but the very principles from which the change had sprung. Burke's deep sense of the need of social order, of the value of that continuity in human affairs "without which men would become like flies in a summer," blinded him to all but the faith in mere rebellion, and the yet sillier faith in mere novelty, which disguised a real nobleness of aim and temper even in the most ardent of the revolutionists.