Context: Burke's retirement from Parliament in 1794 was soon followed by the very tragic death of the son in whom he had taken great pride. After a lifetime spent in dedicated service to the public welfare, Burke hoped at last to spend his final years in tranquillity. He should have been able to do so, for the king had granted him a generous, but not excessive, pension. He was not to find peace, however, for in 1795, in the House of Lords, the Duke of Bedford and the Earl of Lauderdale attacked both Burke and his pension. Thus, in his last months, he was constrained to take up his pen once more in his own defense. In this public letter, which is that defense, Burke begins by surveying his services to his country, especially in the area of reform:
. . . Change is novelty; and whether it is to operate any one of the effects of reformation at all, or whether it may not contradict the very principle upon which reformation is desired cannot be certainly known beforehand. Reform is not a change in the substance or in the primary modification of the object, but a direct application of a remedy to the grievance complained of. . . .All this, in effect, I think, but am not sure, I have said elsewhere. It cannot at this time be too often repeated, line upon line, precept upon precept, until it comes into the currency of a proverb,–To innovate is not to reform. The French revolutionists complained of everything; they refused to reform anything; and they left nothing, no, nothing at all, unchanged. The consequences are before us,–not in remote history, not in future prognostication: they are about us, they are upon us. They shake the public security; they menace private enjoyment. . . .