It is not too much to say that he is a sort of power in Europe, though totally without any of those means or the smallest share in them which give or maintain power in other men." Burke accepted the position of a power in Europe seriously. Though no man was ever more free from anything like the egoism of the intellectual coxcomb, yet he abounded in that active self-confidence and self-assertion which is natural in men who are conscious of great powers, and strenuous in promoting great causes. In the summer of 1791 he despatched his son to Coblenz to give advice to the royalist exiles, then under the direction of Calonne, and to report to him at Beaconsfield their disposition and prospects. Richard Burke was received with many compliments, but of course nothing came of his mission, and the only impression that remains with the reader of his prolix story is his tale of the two royal brothers, who afterwards became Louis XVIII. and Charles X., meeting after some parting, and embracing one another with many tears on board a boat in the middle of the Rhine, while some of the courtiers raised a cry of "Long live the king" - the king who had a few weeks before been carried back in triumph to his capital with Mayor Pétion in his coach.
When we think of the pass to which things had come in Paris by this time, and of the unappeasable ferment that boiled round the court, there is a certain touch of the ludicrous in the notion of poor Richard Burke writing to Louis XVI. a letter of wise advice how to comport himself.
At the end of the same year, with the approval of his father he started for Ireland as the adviser of the Catholic Association. He made a wretched emissary, and there was no limit to his arrogance, noisiness and indiscretion. The Irish agitators were glad to give him two thousand guineas and to send him home. The mission is associated with a more important thing, his father's Letters to Sir Hercules Langrishe, advocating the admission of the Irish Catholics to the franchise. This short piece abounds richly in maxims of moral and political prudence. And Burke exhibited considerable courage in writing it; for many of its maxims seem to involve a contradiction, first, to the principles on which he withstood the movement in France, and second, to his attitude upon the subject of parliamentary reform. The contradiction is in fact only superficial. Burke was not the man to fall unawares into a trap of this kind. His defence of Catholic relief - and it had been the conviction of a lifetime - was very properly founded on propositions which were true of Ireland, and were true neither of France nor of the quality of parliamentary representation in England. Yet Burke threw such breadth and generality over all he wrote that even these propositions, relative as they were, form a short manual of statesmanship.
At the close of the session of 1794 the impeachment of Hastings had come to an end, and Burke bade farewell to parliament. Richard Burke was elected in his father's place at Malton. The king was bent on making the champion of the old order of Europe a peer. His title was to be Lord Beaconsfield, and it was designed to annex to the title an income for three lives. The patent was being made ready, when all was arrested by the sudden death of the son who was to Burke more than life. The old man's grief was agonizing and inconsolable. "The storm has gone over me," he wrote in words which are well known, but which can hardly be repeated too often for any who have an ear for the cadences of noble and pathetic speech, - "The storm has gone over me, and I lie like one of those old oaks which the late hurricane has scattered about me. I am stripped of all my honours; I am torn up by the roots and lie prostrate on the earth.... I am alone. I have none to meet my enemies in the gate.... I live in an inverted order. They who ought to have succeeded me have gone before me.
They who should have been to me as posterity are in the place of ancestors."
A pension of £2500 was all that Burke could now be persuaded to accept. The duke of Bedford and Lord Lauderdale made some remarks in parliament upon this paltry reward to a man who, in conducting a great trial on the public behalf, had worked harder for nearly ten years than any minister in any cabinet of the reign. But it was not yet safe to kick up heels in face of the dying lion. The vileness of such criticism was punished, as it deserved to be, in the Letter to a Noble Lord (1796), in which Burke showed the usual art of all his compositions in shaking aside the insignificances of a subject. He turned mere personal defence and retaliation into an occasion for a lofty enforcement of constitutional principles, and this, too, with a relevancy and pertinence of consummate skilfulness. There was to be one more great effort before the end.
In the spring of 1796 Pitt's constant anxiety for peace had become more earnest than ever. He had found out the instability of the coalition and the power of France. Like the thrifty steward he was, he saw with growing concern the waste of the national resources and the strain upon commerce, with a public debt swollen to what then seemed the desperate sum of £400,000,000. Burke at the notion of negotiation flamed out in the Letters on a Regicide Peace, in some respects the most splendid of all his compositions. They glow with passion, and yet with all their rapidity is such steadfastness, the fervour of imagination is so skilfully tempered by close and plausible reasoning, and the whole is wrought with such strength and fire, that we hardly know where else to look either in Burke's own writings or elsewhere for such an exhibition of the rhetorical resources of our language. We cannot wonder that the whole nation was stirred to the very depths, or that they strengthened the aversion of the king, of Windham and other important personages in the government against the plans of Pitt. The prudence of their drift must be settled by external considerations.