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Italy page 2

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The sole remaining hope of the patriots was Charles Albert, king of Sardinia, a prince well disposed to the popular cause, but unwise and infirm of purpose, unreliable as a statesman, fatally incompetent as a soldier. The popular impulse, which now surged around his throne, drove him, single-handed, into an invasion of Lombardy. Some successes in the opening of the war shed a momentary gleam of hope over the desperate enterprise. But the incapable leadership of the king brought swift ruin upon the patriot forces. After much waste of life in battle and by hardships needlessly imposed on the troops, the defeat of Novara closed the war, and the humiliated king resigned to his son the crown whose dignity he had failed to uphold.

Meanwhile the subjects of his holiness the pope, as their contribution to the cause of Italian unity, had relieved the pontiff of his temporal sovereignty, and formed themselves into a republic. The pope sought refuge in Gaeta, where his brother in adversity, the expelled King of Naples, extended to him a sympathetic welcome. From this secure retirement his holiness issued unregarded protests against the profane violence which had wrenched the patrimony of St. Peter from the hand of St. Peter's successor. But a powerful arm of flesh was near to give unexpected emphasis to the ineffectual spiritual menaces of the pope. Louis Napoleon had become president of the French republic. Personally, he cared nothing for religion or any of its ministers. But if France delayed her intervention, Austria would hasten to snatch the precious opportunity. The support of the priesthood was of high political importance, and the unbelieving president did not hesitate to become suddenly one of the most devout sons of the church. He sent General Oudinot with a force which, in the end, numbered forty-five thousand French soldiers, to restore the pope (The president asserted that this expedition was urged upon him by a force of opinion which he could not resist. "That door," he said, "has not opened once since I have been here, except to advisers who had said to me ' To Home.'"). It was a delicate task for a people who had lately expelled their king, and set up a republic, to announce to the world that they were about forcibly to reimpose upon their neighbours an overthrown despotism. But the new president was equal to the occasion. He informed the Komans that his troops were sent in the interests of " peace, order, conciliation, and true liberty," and he expected that they would receive with eagerness an army which came "to accomplish so kindly and disinterested a mission."

The Romans, led by General Garibaldi, prepared themselves to defend like free men the liberty which they had asserted. During the months of May and June they held the mouldering walls of the ancient city against all the strength of Trance. But at length the heroic defence was crushed, and the French army enjoyed a shameful triumph. One of the keys of the city gates was sent off in haste to the pope. His holiness publicly blessed his deliverers, and returned to Home to resume his intermitted despotism.

Order once more reigned in Italy. A French army held Rome, and maintained the pope's unstable throne. The Austrian troops swept over northern Italy, and trampled out the embers of patriot resistance. The leaders of the rising betook themselves once more to their exile, or expiated their offence on the scaffold or in the yet more terrible dungeon. All seemed lost. Italy had measured her strength with that of her oppressors, and had been beaten to the ground.

But even then, when all hope seemed gone, the man who was to lead Italy to an early and splendid triumph stood ready to begin his work. The Count Camillo di Cavour was then a man of thirty-eight. He had inherited a competent fortune, and was now a member of the Sardinian parliament, of growing political reputation. His figure was not of heroic mould, for he was short and unduly inclined to corpulence; but it was crowned by a massive head, and a face which expressed intellectual power and strength of will, marvellously sweetened by kindly good-humour. He had travelled much, and had studied carefully the institutions of self-governing countries. He returned with a deep conviction that national welfare was impossible without liberty, constitutional government, and freedom of trade. His love of country was an absorbing passion. To gain unity and freedom for Italy was the object of his life. I had been the dream of his youth that he would one day be the minister of emancipated Italy. In 1850 he was received into the Sardinian cabinet. Henceforth, to the day of his death, the history of Cavour is the history of Italy. Providence had given to this long-afflicted land a man with wisdom to discern her needs, and strength to conduct her victoriously through the unparalleled difficulties by which she was beset.

After the disasters of 1848, Cavour was persuaded that foreign help was necessary to the deliverance of Italy. Sardinia ruled a population of only four million, while twenty million owned the sway of Austria, Naples, the pope, and the dukes. The brave little kingdom which alone upheld liberty in the peninsula was surrounded by despotic forces of overwhelming strength. It became evident that this was a political condition which could not endure. Italy could not exist partly free and partly enslaved. Liberty must drive out the despotisms, or be crushed by them. Cavour believed that it was possible to liberate and unite the Italian people, and he lived to justify his confidence by magnificent success.

In a few years the wounds of the war were healed, and Sardinia, with growing resources and unbroken courage, commanded increasing respect among European powers. The time came when England and France deemed it necessary for them to declare war against Russia. That might fairly have been regarded as a war in which Sardinia was not called to interfere. But Austria, her irreconcilable enemy, had taken such part in the counsels of the warring powers that it was certain she must have a voice in the congress which would be held when the strife was over. Cavour saw his peril. A European congress in which Austria was represented while Sardinia was excluded might well be fatal to the hopes of Italy. He offered to join the allies, and to put an army of twenty-five thousand men at once in the field. The proposal was very acceptable, especially to the English government, which had then some difficulty in keeping the force in the Crimea up to its expected strength. England offered a subsidy; but Cavour upheld the dignity of his country, and resolved that she should go to war upon her own charges. The men whom he sent did valiantly, and rendered effective service to the allied cause.

Thus was the foundation laid on which Cavour hoped to build the restoration of Italy. It is true the congress did nothing either for him or against him; but his relations with England and Prance were now of the most friendly and even confidential nature. England, indeed, would contribute only good advice - would give no more valid support than the support of her sympathy and approval (Although England acted on a wise determination to abstain from armed interference in the affairs of the peninsula, her support of the Italian people in their progress to freedom was given heartily, and was of undoubted service. In 1859 the Emperor Napoleon proposed an Italian confederation, under conditions which would have given Austria undue authority. At that time, as Lord Palmerston remarked, the emperor's mind seemed as full of schemes as a warren is full of rabbits. Palmerston opposed the confederation scheme, on the ground that it would not satisfy the reasonable wishes of the Italian people. Again it seemed that Austria might use force to replace the fallen Italian dukes. Lord Palmerston protested against such action, and favoured a joint determination with France and Sardinia to prevent forcible interference in the affairs of Italy, even at the risk of a war with Austria. So highly was the friendly help of England appreciated that, after the annexation of Naples, numerous addresses of thanks were sent to Lord Palmerston from all parts of Italy). But the throne of France was occupied by a man who "made war for an idea." Cavour sought and gained the favour of the Emperor Napoleon. A treaty was concluded between France and Sardinia. France was to drive the Austrians out of Italy, and procure the union of Lombardy and Venetia with Sardinia. Nor was she to war purely for "an idea." In the event of success, her help was to be recompensed by the cession of Savoy and Nice.

On New-Year's Day of 1859 the foreign ambassadors went, according to their custom, to make a visit of compliment to the emperor at the Tuileries. When his majesty approached the Austrian ambassador, he said to him, in a tone of well-assumed anger, that although the relations of the two countries were not such as he could desire, his personal feelings towards the Emperor of Austria were unchanged. This proceeding, unprecedented excepting by the still more insulting remarks addressed by the first Napoleon to the British ambassador in 1803, was justly regarded as the intimation of hostile purposes. And so it proved. The three powers had been arming as for an inevitable conflict, and they were now ready. After some fruitless attempts at mediation by England, the Austrians entered Sardinian territory, and a French army hastened to the rescue.

Throughout, that war went ill for Austria. In some engagements of inferior importance her troops were unable to keep the field, and in the battles of Magenta and Solferino she suffered crushing defeat. At Solferino her losses in killed, wounded, and prisoners were nearly thirty thousand.

The troops were much demoralized by continued defeat, and it was not doubted that very decisive success was now within easy grasp of the allies. But during a period of two weeks the French lay inexplicably idle. The resumption of active hostilities and their glorious issue were eagerly looked for. But one day the awful whisper ran through the camps that a French officer had been seen to drive towards Verona, where the Emperor of Austria had for the time his lodging. At first the report was discredited, till next day the messenger was seen to return and seek at once the presence of the Emperor Napoleon. Soon the tidings went abroad that an armistice had been offered to Austria, and accepted, and that peace would follow.

The Italians were roused to vehement indignation by this unexpected desertion of their cause. Forgetful, in their wrath, of the vast service already rendered them, they denounced the emperor as their betrayer. Cavour resigned rather than sign a treaty of peace which he bitterly condemned.

Peace was quickly concluded. Austria acknowledged defeat by yielding Lombardy, with a population of nearly three million; but she was allowed to retain Yenetia, with a population of two and a half million. The duchies of Tuscany, Parma, and Modena had driven out their rulers, and a portion of the subjects of the pope had rejected the authority of his holiness. The treaty provided that the people of these states should return to their allegiance. But it was found that this restoration could not be accomplished otherwise than by military force, which neither France nor Sardinia would apply. The wise resolution was adopted to leave the people themselves to fix their destiny. Almost unanimously the people elected to join themselves to Sardinia By a war which lasted not quite three months Sardinia had thus been enabled to add nine million to the population over which she ruled. She owed this great accession wholly to the help of France. But the Italians thought less of the advantages which they had gained than of those in regard to which they suffered disappointment. General Garibaldi told them it was foolish to have put their trust in the man who had overthrown liberty in France. Especially was the emperor hated when it was known that his service was not wholly disinterested, and that Savoy and Nice, the earliest possessions of the royal house of Sardinia, were now to be surrendered to France. Garibaldi, himself a native of Nice, indignantly denounced an arrangement which made him a foreigner in his own. country (The English government refused to acknowledge the cession. Lord Palmerston spoke of it as objectionable on many grounds - among others, for the multitude of false denials, and of promises apparently never intended to be kept, by which the negotiation had been accompanied. It is not to be overlooked, in judging this transaction, that in respect of language and of sympathy the people of Savoy were French rather than Italian, and that the same remark applies in some, although not so large a measure, to Nice. The popular vote in both provinces was nearly unanimous in favour of annexation to France). The emperor made war for the avowed purpose of liberating Italy from the Alps to the Adriatic, and he had now to explain why performance had fallen so far short of promise. He expressed warmly his regret to see "noble illusions and patriotic hopes vanish from honest hearts." He had not abandoned the noble cause which he had desired to serve, but the interest of France left him without alternative. The area of the war threatened to widen, and he "found himself in face of Europe in arms." In especial, he had either to close the war or "to accept a conflict on the Rhine as well as on the Adige." As subsequent events showed, he had done enough. What was wanting to the complete deliverance of Italy could be gained without further bloodshed.

At the close of the war Naples, containing a population of nine million, was still ruled by a Bourbon, who maintained over the unhappy people a shameful despotism. The Neapolitans were quick, intelligent, and good-natured - a people capable of high civilization, but cruelly debased by centuries of wicked government. They were ignorant, idle, superstitious, and without just ideas of right and wrong. Their towns swarmed with beggars. A traveller passed to his hotel between lines of the halt, the maimed, and the blind, all imploring his excellency's bounty. If he ventured to look from his window, a tumult of supplication assailed him, a forest of withered legs and mutilated arms revealed itself to his horrified gaze. Every one begged; the indolent lazarone sought alms that he might be spared the hard necessity of labour; the friar begged that he might free unhappy souls from purgatory. The country was overrun with priests and monks. The endowments of the church yielded ten million sterling, and were in reality worth a much larger amount. The people lay under the power of priestly influences, which were constantly exercised to shut out enlightenment and avert the dangers to which intelligent re-flection would subject existing institutions.

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