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The Italian Question page 2


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The attitude of France towards Austria and Italy was the subject of much discussion and great difference of opinion previous to the commencement of the war. Notwithstanding the emphatic declaration of Louis Napoleon, that the Empire meant peace, there was a strong suspicion, especially in Conservative quarters, that the Imperial policy would be guided by a spirit of war and conquest. The Emperor took great pains to remove this impression, especially from the minds of English statesmen. In a conversation with Lord Cowley, he remarked - " What I said to M. de Cavour I repeat now. My sympathies always have been, and still are, with Italy. I regret that Lombardy should be in the possession of Austria; but I cannot and do not dispute the right of the latter. I respect existing treaties, because they are the only landmarks we have; so long as Austria remains within her own frontier, she is, of course, mistress to do as she pleases. With regard to Sardinia, if she provokes hostilities unjustly, and places herself in the wrong, she must expect no support from me."

Lord Malmesbury, our Foreign Secretary, exerted himself with each of the parties as a zealous peace-maker. Lord A. Loftus, our representative at the Court of Vienna, pleading for peace with Count Buol, received the following answer: - "If you wish to preach peace and to prevent war, address yourselves with firmness to France and Piedmont. We are not meditating war; we shall not be the aggressors. Tell the Emperor Louis Napoleon that Great Britain will not passively look on if His Majesty should commence hostilities. Say to him that should he take such a course, it will be at his own risk and peril. On the other hand, warn King Victor Emmanuel that England will not sanction any act of wilful aggression, undertaken in full peace by Piedmont against Austria. If Great Britain is prepared to hold this language, no war will arise." Lord A. Loftus did not seem satisfied with the statement that Austria did not mean to be the aggressor, and he therefore demanded from Count Buol an assurance that in no case would Austria move a single soldier across her frontier in Italy, without previous concort with Prance. Then he would consider that war might be averted. But Count Buol could not give that assurance. " It would be a surrender," he said, "of the sovereign power of Austria;" but he asked, "What will you say to Piedmont if she were to attack us?" To which the English minister replied, "I cannot imagine such an eventuality. It would be a mouse attacking the lion." Count Buol then went on to say that they could never come to an understanding with France on Italian affairs, because France sympathised with and protected the cause of nationalities; while Austria supported sovereigns, governments, and established order. Besides, he said, it was a great mistake to suppose that Italy required change. All she wanted was quiet - that agitation should be put down, and the hopes of interested agitators extinguished. In the month of February Lord Cowley was sent on a special mission to Vienna, which resulted only in an elaborate defence of the Austrian policy in Italy from Count Buol, in reply to objections and proposals made by Count Walewski. Lord Cowley had to encounter in the Austrian Government the fixed idea that France was determined on war, and that to make concessions was only to put off the evil day; and also a bitter feeling of hostility against Sardinia.

In the meantime Russia proposed the assembling of a congress, with a view to prevent the complications to which the state of Italy might give rise. This proposal seemed to meet with general acquiescence. Sardinia naturally claimed the right of being represented in it. To this Austria decidedly objected, and demanded, moreover, that before it assembled Sardinia should be required to disarm, which was subsequently modified into a proposal that there should be a simultaneous disarming of the great powers. This was one of a series of proposals made by the British Cabinet, as a last effort to preserve the peace of Europe. But all efforts at conciliation proved unavailing. Each of the three powers seemed animated by the conviction that the questions at issue could only be settled by an appeal to the sword, for which they had all made ample preparations. Each, in fact, was impatient for the commencement of hostilities; and strange as it may seem, it was the patience of the phlegmatic German that first gave way.

On the 23rd of April an aide-de-camp of the General Gyulai, who commanded the army in Lombardy, then massed along the Austrian frontier, was the bearer of a peremptory demand that Sardinia should disarm within three days, and that in the event of refusal war would immediately commence. To this insolent demand Count Cavour returned an answer, which, like all the documents that issued from his pen, was a conclusive argument that the great adversary of Piedmont was in the wrong, and had sent a threatening summons instead of Compliance with the propositions which the great powers had deemed reasonable. To the King himself was reserved the task of answering the challenge with a defiance worthy of the martial race from which he sprung, and the gallant nation in whose heart he reigned. Next day he issued a proclamation to his troops, in which he said, "Soldiers! Austria, who is increasing her armies on our frontier, threatens to invade our territory, because here liberty reigns with order; because not might, but concord and affection between the people and the sovereign, here govern the state; because the groans of oppressed Italy here find an echo. Austria dares to ask us, who are only armed in self-defence, to lay down our arms and submit to her clemency. That insulting demand received the reply it deserved. I rejected it with contempt. Soldiers! I tell it to you, convinced that you will take an insult to your "King and to your nation as an insult to yourselves. The announcement I make to you is an announcement of war. Soldiers! to arms! - I will lead you. We have made each other's acquaintance before this; on more than one occasion, in the heat of battle, when fighting by the side of my magnanimous father, I had opportunity to admire your courage. You will have for companions those intrepid soldiers of France; conquerors in so many noted battles; who were your brethren in arms on the Tchernaya, and whom Napoleon III., who is always to be found where there is a just cause to defend or civilisation to promote, sends generously to our assistance in numerous battalions. March, then, confident in victory, and twine new laurels round your flag - that tricolor under the folds of which the Úlite of the youth of Italy is collected, and which indicates that the task before you is the independence of Italy; that just and holy work which will be your battle cry."

Victor Emmanuel at the same time addressed a manifesto to the Italians, in which Count Cavour sketched, in his masterly style, the character of the Austrian policy; he showed that, while Austria boasted of her love of peace, she refused to submit to a European congress, that she violated her promises made to England, that she demanded the abandonment of the brave volunteers, who had thronged from every part of Italy to defend the sacred flag of Italian independence. " Austria," said the King, " attacks Piedmont for maintaining the cause of our common country in the councils of Europe, and was not insensible to her groans of agony. Austria now publicly tears to pieces treaties which she never respected; thenceforth, by right, the Italian nation is free, and I may conscientiously fulfil the oath I took upon my father's grave. Let us place confidence in Providence, in our union, in the bravery of Italian soldiers, in the alliance of the noble French nation. Let us trust in public opinion. I have no other ambition than to be the first soldier of Italian independence. Long live Italy! "

The rashness of Austria in commencing the war by an invasion of Piedmont alienated even her most ardent friends. On the 22nd of April Lord Malmesbury, in writing to Lord A. Loftus, referred to the strong feeling of indignation against her which prevailed in England, and told him that his language could not be too strong with regard to the course adopted by that power, and requesting that he would give Count Buol clearly to understand that the refusal of Austria to stop the march of her armies would enlist against her the feelings of the Government and of all classes in this country. He was instructed to inform Count Buol that Her Majesty's Government felt it due to themselves and to the great interests of humanity, which they had so earnestly striven to uphold, solemnly to record their protest against the course that Austria - regardless of the terrible consequences to Europe, and indifferent to the public opinion of the world - had so rashly and so unjustly adopted. He said, " They assign to Austria and fix upon her the last responsibility for all the miseries and calamities inevitably consequent on a conflict which was on the eve of being averted, but which, once begun, will infallibly produce a more than ordinary amount of social suffering and political convulsion."

The Emperor of Austria, however, had something to say in defence of the course he had thought proper to pursue; and according to his view of the subject, he had serious grounds of complaint against those who could not see the perfect justice of his policy. In an address to his Italian army, announcing the commencement of the war, he spoke of this act as a necessity forced upon him after fruitless attempts to secure peace for his empire without compromising its dignity. He therefore appealed to the " soldiers of the second army " to secure victory to the " spotless flag of Austria," bidding them take with them into battle the blessing of God and the confidence of their Emperor. He also addressed a manifesto to " my people," in which he set forth the grievances for which he was about to seek redress by the sword. This manifesto, "given at my residence and metropolis of Vienna," was signed by Francis Joseph, and not countersigned by any of his ministers. In it he stated that he had ordered his faithful and gallant army to put a stop to the hostile acts which, for a series of years, had been committed by Sardinia against the indisputable rights of his crown. His conscience being at rest, he could look up to an Omnipotent God, and patiently await his reward. He could also, with confidence, leave his decision to the impartial judgment of contemporaneous and future nations. He had shown unexampled forbearance to Piedmont, and the result was an immediate continuation of enmity, which increased from year to year, and perfidious agitation against the peace and welfare of his Lombardo-Venetian kingdom; he had. therefore, ordered his army to enter Sardinia. He was aware of the vast importance of the measure; he admitted that war is the scourge of mankind; and he saw with sorrow that the lives and property of thousands of his subjects were imperilled. But Providence had frequently used the sword of Austria to dispel the shadows when the greatest good of humanity was in danger.

They were again on the eve of such a period. "The overthrow of the things that be," said His Majesty, " is not only aimed at by factions, but by thrones. The sword which I have been forced to draw is sanctified, inasmuch as it is a defence for the honour and rights of all peoples and states, and for all that is held most dear by humanity." In a similar strain, Count Buol, as Minister for Foreign Affairs, appealed through his diplomatic agents to foreign courts. According to him, Austria had tranquilly supported a long series of offences from an enemy weaker than herself. Twice beaten in war, which had been caused by her own mad pretensions - which had been cruelly punished - Piedmont still maintained her former views with a deplorable tenacity. The son of Charles Albert appeared passionately to desire the day when the inheritance of his house - which had been restored to him in its integrity by the moderation and magnanimity of Austria - should be for the third time made the stake of a game disastrous to the world. He proceeded to declaim against the ambition of a dynasty with vain pretensions, which had formed an unnatural alliance with revolution, which had surrounded itself with the malcontents of all Italy, whose national feeling had been criminally abused - hypocritically deploring the state of the country, and assuming in the eyes of senseless people the part of a liberator. In order to obtain support from abroad, Piedmont took part in a war, in which she had no concern, against a foreign power. She was also seen at the conferences of Paris, with a presumption quite new in the annals of diplomacy, to criticise with effrontery the Government of Italy, her own country. Defending the rights of Austria, as resting on the solid ground of treaties, Count Buol proceeded to delineate her government as not only legitimate in Italy, but just and benevolent. The Italian provinces were prospering under her benignant sway, the mass of the people were content, and there would be no agitations at all without the incessant excitations of Piedmont. And why, he asked, in conclusion, were the legitimate hopes of the friends of peace in Europe thus to be annihilated by a single blow? "Because the time had arrived at which projects long meditated in silence have arrived at maturity; at which the second French Empire desires to give substance to its ideas; at which the political state of Europe, based on right, is to be sacrificed to illegitimate pretensions; at which the treaties which form the bases of public European power, are to be replaced by the political wisdom that the power which rules at Paris has announced to the astonished world. The traditions of the First Napoleon are resumed. Such is the signification of the struggle on the eve of which Europe is placed."

The bitter animus against the French Emperor betrayed in the foregoing manifesto was not likely to cause him to hesitate in his policy. On the contrary, it must have stung him into greater determination to humble the pride of the power which thus sneered at the illegitimacy of his pretensions. Count Walewski,; in a despatch to the French Minister in London, retaliated with great force. Referring to the congress proposed by Russia, he asked - "Who could now doubt that the rock on which the work of conciliation split, was the pretension put forward by the Court of Vienna on the subject of a disarmament?" In the course of an elaborate argument, he demonstrates that Austria was in the wrong, and vindicates the policy of his Government in entering into the contest.

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