THE COUNTESS EVELYN MARTINENGO-CESARESCO
Italia, ab exteris liberanda.
Motto of Pope JULIUS II.
'Je suis italien avant tout et c'est pour faire jouir a mon pays du self government a l'interieur, come a l'extereur que j'ai entrepuis la rude tache de chasser l'Autriche de l'Italie sans y substituer la domination d'aucune autre Puissance'—Cavour to the Marquis Emmanuel d'Azeglio (May 8, 1860)
The day is passed when the warmest admirer of the eminent man whose character is sketched in the following pages would think it needful to affirm that he alone regenerated his country. Many forces were at work; the energising impulse of moral enthusiasm, the spell of heroism, the ancient and still unextinguished potency of kingly headship. But Cavour's hand controlled the working of these forces, and compelled them to coalesce.
The first point in his plan was to make Piedmont a lever by which Italy could be raised. An Englishman, Lord William Bentinck, conceived an identical plan in which Sicily stood for Piedmont. He failed, Cavour succeeded. The second point was to cause the Austrian power in Italy to receive such a shock that, whether it succumbed at once or not, it would never recover. In this too, with the help of Napoleon III, he succeeded. The third point was to prevent the Continental Powers from forcibly impeding Italian Unity when it became plain that the population desired to be united. This Cavour succeeded in doing with the help of England.
Time, which beautifies unlovely things, begins to cast its glamour over the old Italian regimes. It is forgotten how low the Italian race had fallen under puny autocrats whose influence was soporific when not vicious. The vigorous if turbulent life of the Middle Ages was extinct; proof abounded that the role of small states was played out. Goldsmith's description, severe as it is, was not unmerited—
Here may be seen, in bloodless pomp array'd, The pasteboard triumph and the cavalcade; Processions formed for piety and love, A mistress or a saint in every grove. By sports like these are all their cares beguil'd, The sports of children satisfy the child; Each nobler aim, represt by long control, Now sinks at last, or feebly mans the soul.
Only those who do not know the past can turn away from the present with scorn or despair. In this century a nation has arisen which, in spite of all its troubles, is alive with ambition, industry, movement; which has ten thousand miles of railway, which has conquered the malaria at Rome, which has doubled its population and halved its death-rate, which sends out great battle-ships from Venice and Spezia, Castellamare and Taranto. This nation is Cavour's memorial: si monumentum requiris circumspice.
SALO, LAGO DI GARDA.
CHAPTER I HEREDITY AND ENVIRONMENT
CHAPTER II TRAVEL-YEARS
CHAPTER III THE JOURNALIST
CHAPTER IV IN PARLIAMENT
CHAPTER V THE GREAT MINISTRY
CHAPTER VI THE CRIMEAN WAR—STRUGGLE WITH THE CHURCH
CHAPTER VII THE CONGRESS OF PARIS
CHAPTER VIII THE PACT OF PLOMBIERES
CHAPTER IX THE WAR OF 1859—VILLAFRANCA
CHAPTER X SAVOY AND NICE
CHAPTER XI THE SICILIAN EXPEDITION
CHAPTER XII THE KINGDOM OF ITALY
CHAPTER XIII ROME VOTED THE CAPITAL—CONCLUSION
HEREDITY AND ENVIRONMENT
Nothing is permanent but change; only it ought to be remembered that change itself is of the nature of an evolution, not of a catastrophe. Commonly this is not remembered, and we seem to go forward by bounds and leaps, or it may be to go backward; in either case the thread of continuity is lost. We appear to have moved far away from the men of forty years ago, except in the instances in which these men have survived to remind us of themselves. It is rather startling to recollect that Cavour might have been among the survivors. He was born on August 10, 1810. The present Pope, Leo the Thirteenth, was born in the same year.
It was a moment of lull, after the erection and before the collapse of the Napoleonic edifice in Italy. If no thinking mind believed that edifice to be eternal, if every day did not add to its solidity but took something silently from it, nevertheless it had the outwardly imposing appearance which obtains for a political regime the acceptance of the apathetic and lukewarm to supplement the support of partisans. Above all, it was a phase in national existence which made any real return to the phase that preceded it impossible. The air teemed with new germs; they entered even into the mysterious composition of the brain of the generation born in the first decade of the nineteenth century.
Environment and heredity do not explain all the puzzle of any single man's mind and character, but they form co-efficients in the making of him which can be no longer disregarded. The chief point to be noticed in reference to Cavour is that he was the outcome of a mingling of race which was not only transmitted through the blood, but also was a living presence during his childhood and youth. His father's stock, the Bensos of Cavour, belonged to the old Piedmontese nobility. A legend declares that a Saxon pilgrim, a follower of Frederick Barbarossa, stopped, when returning from the Holy Land, in the little republic of Chieri, where he met and married the heiress to all the Bensos, whose name he assumed. Cavour used to laugh at the story, but the cockle shells in the arms of the Bensos and their German motto, "Gott will recht," seem to connect the family with those transalpine crusading adventurers who brought the rising sap of a new nation to reinvigorate the peoples they tarried amongst. Chieri formed a diminutive free community known as "the republic of the seven B's," from the houses of Benso, Balbo, Balbiani, Biscaretti, Buschetti, Bertone, and Broglie, which took their origin from it, six of which became notable in their own country and one in France. The Bensos acquired possession of the fief of Santena and of the old fastness of Cavour in the province of Pignerolo. This castle has remained a ruin since it was destroyed by Catinat, but in the last century Charles Emmanuel III. conferred the title of Marquis of Cavour on a Benso who had rendered distinguished military services. At the time of Cavour's birth the palace of the Bensos at Turin contained a complete and varied society composed of all sorts of nationalities and temperaments. Such different elements could hardly have dwelt together in harmony if the head of the household, Cavour's grandmother, had not been a superior woman in every sense, and one endowed with the worldly tact and elastic spirits without which even superior gifts are of little worth in the delicate, intimate relations of life. Nurtured in a romantic chateau on the lake of Annecy, Philippine, daughter of the Marquis de Sales, was affianced by her father at an early age to the eldest son of the Marquis Benso di Cavour, knight of the Annunziata, whom she never saw till the day of their marriage. At once she took her place in her new family not only as the ideal grande dame, but as the person to whom every one went in trouble and perplexity. That was a moment which developed strong characters and effaced weak ones. The revolutionary ocean was fatally rolling towards the Alps. It found what had been so long the "buffer state" asleep. There was a king who, unlike the princes of his race, was more amiable than vigorous. Arthur Young, the traveller, reports that Victor Emmanuel I. went about with his pocket full of bank notes, and was discontented at night if he had not given them all away. "Yet this," adds the observant Englishman, "with an empty treasury and an incomplete, ill-paid army." It was a bad preparation for the deluge, but when that arrived, inevitable though unforeseen, desperate if futile efforts were made to stem it. Some of the Piedmontese nobility were very rich, but it was a wealth of increment, not of capital. The burdens imposed when too late by the Sardinian Government, and afterwards the cost of the French occupation, severely strained the resources even of the wealthiest. The Marquise Philippine sold the family plate and the splendid hangings of silk brocade which adorned the walls of the Palazzo Cavour at Turin. Napoleon from the first looked upon Italy as the bank of the French army. This idea had been impressed upon him before he started for the campaign which was to prove the corner-stone of his career. "He was instructed," writes the secret agent Landrieux, "as to what might well be drawn from this war for the French treasury."
After the pillage and the war contributions came the blood-tax. The Marquise Philippine's son, sixteen years old, was ordered to join General Berthier's corps, and to provide him with L10 pocket money she sold what till then she had religiously kept, a silver holy water stoup, which belonged to her saintly ancestor, Francois de Sales.
The last sacrifices, imposed not in the name of the country, but to the advantage of an insatiable invader, were not likely to inspire the old nobility of Piedmont with much love for the new order of things, nor was love the feeling with which the Marquise regarded it, but she had the insight to see what few of her class perceived, that the hour of day cannot be turned back; the future could not be as the past had been. When Prince Camillo Borghese was appointed governor of Piedmont (on account of his being the husband of Napoleon's sister, the beautiful Pauline Bonaparte, who was the original of Canova's Venus), the Marquise Philippine was commanded to accept the post of dame d'honneur to the Princess. A refusal would have meant the ruin of both the Cavours and her own kin, the De Sales, whose estates in Savoy were already confiscated. She bowed to necessity, and in a position which could not have been one of the easiest, she knew how to preserve her own dignity, and to win the friendship of the far from demure Pauline, whom she accompanied to Paris for the celebration of the marriage of Napoleon with Marie Louise. It is characteristic of the epoch that in the French capital the Marquise took lessons in the art of teaching from a French pedagogue then in repute, to qualify her to begin the education of her little grandchildren, Gustave and Camille.
These two boys were the sons of the Marquis Michele Benso; who had married a daughter of the Count de Sellon of Geneva. While on a tour in Switzerland to recover his health from a wound received in the French service, the Marquis met the Count and his three daughters, of whom he wished to make the eldest, Victoire, his wife; but on his suit not prospering with her, he proposed to and was accepted by the second daughter, Adele. After an unfortunate first marriage, Victoire became the Duchess de Clermont Tonnerre, and the youngest sister, Henriette, married a Count d'Auzers of Auvergne. All these relatives ended by taking up their abode in the Palazzo Cavour at Turin. Victoire was the cleverest, but her sisters as well as herself were what even in these days would be considered highly educated. She became a Roman Catholic, a step followed by Adele after the birth of her second child, Camille, but Henriette remained true to the rigid Protestantism of Geneva. At the christening of Camille de Cavour the Prince and Princess Borghese officiated as sponsors, the Marquis Benso holding at that time a post in the Prince's household which he owed to the good graces enjoyed by his mother.
It is plain that of all his kindred, the charming and valiant Marquise Philippine was the one whom Camille de Cavour most fondly loved. She was the member of his family who understood him best not only in childhood, but in manhood, and when all the others reproached him with embracing ideas contrary to his traditions and his order, he turned for comfort to his "dearest Marina," as he called her ("Marina" being the pet-name by which children in Piedmont called their grandmothers), and begged her to defend him against the charge of undutiful conduct. It might be true, he said, with the irony which was one day to become so familiar, that he was that dreadful thing, a liberal, but devoid of natural feeling he was not. On the great day when the Statute was granted, he said to the light-hearted old lady, "Marina, we get on capitally, you and I; you were always a little bit of a Jacobin." That was not long before her strength, though not her courage, gave way under the deep sorrow of the loss of her great-grandson Auguste on the field of Goito. She died in the midst of the political transformation she had so long waited for.
As a child Cavour was normally sweet-tempered, but subject to violent fits of passion; while he hated his lessons, he showed an early development of intelligence and judgment. Like most precocious children he had one or two infantile love affairs. A letter exists written when he was six, in which he upbraids a little girl named Fanchonette for basely abandoning him. He says that he loves her still, but he has now made the acquaintance of a young lady of extraordinary charms, who has twice taken him out in the most beautiful gilt carriage. It is amusing to note the worldly wisdom of the suitor of six who reckons on jealousy to bring back the allegiance of the fair but faithless Fanchonette. The magnificent rival was Silvio Pellico's friend, the Marchioness de Barolo, who, like every one else, was attracted by the clever child with his blue eyes and little round face. Another story belonging to the same date is even more characteristic. The Cavours went every year to Switzerland to stay with their connections, the De Sellons and the De la Rives. On this occasion, when the travellers reached M. de la Rive's villa at Presinge, Camille, looking terribly in earnest, and with an air of importance, made the more comical by the little red costume he was wearing, went straight to his host with the announcement that the postmaster had treated them abominably by giving them the worst horses, and that he ought to be dismissed. "But," said M. de la Rive, "I cannot dismiss him; that depends on the syndic." "Very well," said the child, "I wish for an audience with the syndic." "You shall have one to-morrow," replied M. de la Rive, who wrote to the syndic, a friend of his, that he was going to send him a highly entertaining little man. Camille was therefore received next day with all possible ceremony, which by no means abashed him. After making three bows, he quietly and lucidly explained his grievance, and apparently got a promise of satisfaction, as when he went back he exclaimed in triumph to M. de la Rive, "He will be dismissed!"
The Swiss relations were most enlightened people. Cavour's uncle, the Count de Sellon, was a sort of Swiss Wilberforce, an ardent philanthropist whose faith in human perfectibility used sometimes to make his nephew smile, but early intercourse with a man of such large and generous views could not have been without effect. De Sellon was one of the first persons to dream of arbitration, and though a Protestant he sent a memorial on this subject to the Pope. M. de la Rive was a man of great scientific acquirements, and his son William became Cavour's congenial and life-long friend. This cosmopolitan society was entirely unlike the narrow coteries of the ancient Piedmontese aristocracy which are so graphically described by Massimo d'Azeglio, and the absence of constraint in which Cavour grew up makes a striking contrast to the iron paternal rule under which the young d'Azeglios trembled. It should be observed, however, that in spite of his mixed blood and scattered ties, Cavour was in feeling from the first the member of one race and the citizen of one state. The stronger influence, that of the father's strain, predominated to the exclusion of all others. Though all classes in Piedmont till within the last fifty years spoke French when they did not speak dialect, the intellectual sway of France was probably nowhere in Italy felt so little as in Piedmont. The proximity of the two countries tended not for it, but against it. They had been often at war; all the memories of the Piedmontese people, the heroic exploit of Pietro Micca, the royal legend of the Superga, turned on resistance to the powerful neighbour. A long line of territorial nobles like the Bensos transmits, if nothing else, at least a strong sentiment for the birthland. In Cavour this sentiment was, indeed, to widen even in boyhood, but it widened into Italian patriotism, not into sterile cosmopolitanism.
In one respect Cavour was brought up according to the strictest of old Piedmontese conventions. No one forgot that he was a younger son. Gustave, the elder brother, received a classical education, and acquired a strong taste for metaphysics. He became a thinker rather than a man of action, and was one of the first and staunchest friends of the philosopher-theologian Rosmini, whose attempts to reconcile religion and philosophy led him into a bitter struggle with Rome. For Camille another sort of life was planned. It was decided that he must "do something," and at the age of ten he was sent to the Military Academy at Turin. He did not like it, but it was better for him than if he had been kept at home. Mathematics were well taught at the Academy, and in this branch he soon outstripped all his schoolfellows. He himself always spoke of his mathematical studies as having been of great service in forming the habit of precise thought; from the study of triangles, he said, he went on to the study of men and things. On the other hand the boys were taught little Latin and less Greek, and nothing was done to furnish them with the basis of a literary style, a fact always deplored by Cavour, who insisted that the art of writing ought to be acquired when young; otherwise it could not be practised without labour, and never with entire success. He once said that he found it easier to make Italy than a sonnet. In his own case he regretted never having become a ready writer, because he knew that the pen is a force; he held that a man should cultivate every means at his disposal to increase his power.
In 1824, when Charles Albert returned to Piedmont after three years' exile in consequence of the part he was suspected of having taken in the abortive revolution of 1821, one of his first acts was to obtain a nomination for young Cavour as page in the royal household. The pages were all inmates of the Military Academy, where the expense of their education was borne by the king after they received the appointment. The Count d'Auzers, a strong Legitimist, was one of the oldest friends of the Prince of Carignano, who was regarded at the Palazzo Cavour as the victim of false accusations of liberalism. Charles Albert always seemed to reflect the opinions of the person to whom he was writing or speaking. Thus it is certain that in his letters to the Count he appeared as a convinced upholder of white flags. Cavour must have heard him often defended from the charge of patriotism. Perhaps this created in his mind a first aversion, which was strengthened by personal contact in the course of his duties at Court. At any rate it is clear that he never liked or trusted him.
When Cavour left the Military Academy in 1826 he came out first in the final examinations. He entered the army with the rank of lieutenant in the Corps of Engineers. He began to learn English. In a letter written at this time he speaks of the utility of modern languages and a real knowledge of history, but adds that a man who wishes to make a name should concentrate his faculties rather than disperse them among too many subjects and pursuits. Even then he had an almost definite project of preparing himself to play a part in life. There is not much to show what were his political ideas, except a memorandum written when he was eighteen on the Piedmontese revolution of 1821, in which he adopted the views of Santorre di Santa Rosa, once Charles Albert's friend and later his severest critic, to combat whose indictment the Count d'Auzers had written folios in the French and German newspapers. At the end of the memorandum Cavour transcribed an extract from Santa Rosa's work, in which he invoked the advent of an Italian Washington. Was that the part which Cavour dreamed of playing? A few years after, he wrote in a fit of despondency, "There was a time when I should have thought it the most natural thing in the world that I should wake up one morning prime minister of a kingdom of Italy." The words written in 1832 throw a flood of light on the subjects of his boyish dreams and the goal of his prophetic ambition.
The story repeated by most of Cavour's biographers, that in putting off the page's uniform he uttered some scornful words which, reported to Charles Albert, changed the goodwill of that prince into hostility, rests on doubtful authority; but it seems to be true that Charles Albert, who began by being very well disposed to the son and nephew of his friends, calling him in one letter "the interesting youth who justifies such great hopes," and in another, "ce charmant Camille," came to consider his quondam protege a restless spirit, inconvenient in the present and possibly dangerous in the future. Though the schoolboy essay above mentioned was kept a secret, the liberal heresies of the young lieutenant were well enough known. He was told that he would bring father and mother in sorrow to the grave, and he was even threatened with banishment to America. The police watched his movements. He wrote to his Swiss uncle that he had no right to complain as he was liberal and very liberal and desired a complete change in the whole system. On Charles Albert's accession to the throne he was sent to the solitary Alpine fortress of Bard; but it appears that not the king (as he supposed) but his own father suggested the step. Cavour saw in the idleness and apathy of garrison life in this lonely place a type of the disease from which the whole State was suffering. He wrote to the Count de Sellon, the apostle of universal peace, that much as he abhorred bloodshed, he could think of no cure but war. "The Italians need regeneration; their moral, which was completely corrupted under the ignoble dominion of Spaniards and Austrians, regained a little energy under the French regime, and the ardent youth of the country sighs for a nationality; but to break entirely with the past, to be born anew to a better state, great efforts are necessary and sacrifices of all kinds must remould the Italian character. An Italian war would be a sure pledge that we were going to become again a nation, that we were rising from the mud in which we have been trampled for so many centuries."
These lines, written by a young officer of twenty-one, show how far Cavour had already outstripped the Piedmontese provincialism which had the upper hand in the early years of Charles Albert's reign. He described himself as vegetating, but he was not idle; sustained mental activity was, in fact, a necessity to him whatever were his outward circumstances. He read Bentham and Adam Smith, and was excited by the events going on in England, then in the throes of the first Reform Bill. It was in the fortress of Bard that he gained a grasp of English politics which he never lost, and which hardly another foreigner ever possessed in a like degree. By chance he became acquainted with an English artist who was engaged in making drawings of the Alpine passes. This gave him not only the opportunity of speaking and writing English, but also of expressing his private thoughts without reserve, which was impossible with his fellow-countrymen. Throughout his life he found the same mental relaxation in his intercourse with Englishmen; he felt safe with them.
Cavour was not meant to be a soldier; his tastes did not agree with the routine of military life, and his clear judgment told him that the army is not the natural or correct sphere for a politician—which he knew himself to be even then, in a country where politics may be said not to have existed. Acting on these reflections, he resigned his commission, and his father, perhaps to keep him quiet, bought him a small independent property near the ancestral estate at Leri. The Marquis warned his son that the income would not allow him to keep a valet or a horse; his mother opposed the purchase, as she thought that the young landlord would be tempted to spend more than he had, but to this his father replied that if a man was not a man at twenty-five he would be one never. The Marquis Michele Benso had recently assumed the post of Vicario of Turin, which his family thought below his dignity, but he apparently took it to oblige the king, with whom the Vicario, who was a sort of Prefect of Police, was in daily contact. As a result, the estate of Leri, which had been neglected before, was now going actually to ruin. Cavour, with the approval of his brother, proposed to undertake the whole management of the property, an offer gladly accepted, as the Marquis was well convinced that his younger son had rather too many than too few abilities. Cavour saw in agriculture the only field at present open to him. When he left the army he scarcely knew a cabbage from a turnip, for he had not been brought up in the country, but in a few years he familiarised himself with everything connected with the subject, from the most homely detail to wide scientific generalisations. With knowledge came interest, which, absent at first, grew strong, and lasted all his life. Little, he said, does the outsider know the charm of planting a field of potatoes or rearing a young heifer! The practical experience which Cavour gained was precious. How many cabinet ministers in different parts of the world would lead to bankruptcy a farm, a factory, a warehouse, even a penny tart shop! As a matter of fact, one Italian minister of finance was legally interdicted, on the application of his family, from managing his own estates.
Leri, which Cavour looked upon henceforth as his true home, lies in one of the ugliest parts of the plains of Piedmont, cold in winter, scorched by a burning sun in summer, and unhealthy from the exhalations of the rice-fields which contribute to its wealth. Except that game was tolerably plentiful, it had none of the attractions of an English country-seat—the smiling hillside, the ancestral elms, the park, the garden. Cavour led the simplest life; the old housekeeper who cooked the dinner also placed it on the table. But the fare, if plain, was abundant, and Cavour was delighted to entertain his friends and neighbours, who found him the most affable of hosts, inexhaustibly good-tempered, a patient listener, a talker abounding in wit and wisdom. He had the art of adapting himself perfectly to the society in which he moved, but in one thing he was always the same: wherever he went he carried his intense vitality—that quality of entrain which persuades more than eloquence or earnestness. He induced others to join him in experiments which were then innovations: steam-mills, factories for artificial manures and the like, while the machinery and new methods introduced at Leri revolutionised farming in Piedmont. One great scheme planned by him, an irrigatory canal between the Ticino and the Po, was only finished after his death, as the most worthy tribute to his memory. He rose at four, went to see his cattle, stood in the broiling harvest fields to overlook the reapers, acted, in short, as his own bailiff, and to these habits he returned in later years, whenever he had time to visit Leri. Cavour's mind was not poetic; we hear of his admiring only one poet, Shakespeare, but in Shakespeare it was probably the deep knowledge of man that attracted him, the apprehension of how men with given passions must act under given conditions. He did not, therefore, see country pursuits from a poet's standpoint, but he appreciated their power of calming men's minds, of dissipating the fog of unrealities, of tending towards what Kant called, in a phrase he quoted with approval, "practical reason." He considered, also, that nothing can so assure the stability of a nation as an intelligent interest shared by a large portion of its citizens in the cultivation of the soil. The English country gentleman who divided his time between his duties in Parliament and those not less obligatory on his estates was in Cavour's eyes an almost ideal personage. It should be added that Cavour could not understand a country life which did not embrace solicitude for the worker. The true agriculturist gained the confidence of the poor around him; it was, he said, so easy to gain it. He was kindly, thoughtful, and just in his treatment of his dependents, and he always retained his hold on their affections; when Italy was asking what she should do without her great statesman, the sorrowing peasants of Leri asked in tears what they should do without their master?
One passage in Cavour's early life was revealed a few years ago, and, whether or not it was right to reveal it, the portrait would be now incomplete which did not touch upon it. The episode belongs to the critical psychological moment in his development: the time immediately after he left the army, and before he found an outlet for his activity, and, what was more essential to him, a purpose and an object not in the distance but straight before him, in the care of his father's acres. His position at home was not happy; his brother's small children were of more importance in the household than himself, and when Cavour once administered a well-merited correction to the much-spoilt eldest born, the Marquis Gustave threw a chair at his head. Between the brothers in after life there prevailed remarkable and unbroken harmony, but it is easy to see that when first grown to manhood Gustave presumed rather selfishly on his role of heir, while Camille took too seriously the supposed discovery that he was "necessary to no one!" Beyond all this, there was the undeclared clash of the new with the old, the feeling of having moved apart, which produces a moral vacuum until, by and by, it is realised that the value of the first affections and ties depends precisely on their resting on no basis of opinion. Cavour was overwhelmed by a sense of isolation; if he decided "like Hamlet" (so he writes in his diary) to abstain from suicide, he believed that he wished himself heartily out of the world. To his family he seemed an abnormal and unnatural young man. A conversation is on record which took place between the two childless aunts who lived with the Cavours. The date was just before Cavour's departure on a first visit to Paris. "Did you remark," said Mme. Victoire, "how indifferent Camille seemed when I spoke to him of the Paris theatres? I really do not know what will interest him on his travels; the poor boy is entirely absorbed in revolutions." "It is quite true," replied Mme. Henriette; "Camille has no curiosity about things, he cares for nothing but politics." And the two ladies went on to draw melancholy prognostics from their nephew's study of political economy, "an erroneous and absolutely useless science."
A charming countess who had made a favourite of Cavour in his boyhood tried to extract a promise from him that he would never again mix himself up in politics; he refused to give it; sooner or later, he writes in his diary, she would have blushed for him had he consented. But, he adds bitterly, what was the good of demanding such a promise from one for whom politically everything was ended? "Ah! if I were an Englishman, by this time I should be something and my name would not be wholly unknown!" Here, again, was a source of depression. At the Military Academy he had formed one almost romantic comradeship with a delicate and reserved youth, some years older than himself, Baron Severino Cassio, to whom he first confided his determination to Italianise himself: to study the language, history, laws, customs of the whole country with a view to preparing for the future. Cassio presciently marked out for his friend the part of architect, not of destroyer, in that future; architects, he said, were what was most wanted in public affairs, and Italy had always lacked them. There is no reason to think that Cassio's sympathy had chilled, but Cavour, in his morbid state, thought that it was so; he imagined that what had drawn Cassio to him "was not I, but my powerful intellectual organisation"; and with undeserved mistrust he did not turn to him for comfort.
He was at the nadir of his dejection when he received a letter in a well-known handwriting, that of a woman who had strongly attracted him four years before by her beauty, grace, and elevation of mind. Separation cut short the incipient love-affair, and Cavour never thought of renewing it. With the woman it was otherwise; from her first meeting with the youth of twenty to the day of her death, absent or present, he was the object of an idolatry in which all her faculties united: her being was penetrated by a self-sustaining passion which could not cease till it had consumed her. De Stendhal is the only novelist who could have drawn such a character. She was of noble birth, and from an early age had been eminently unhappy. Cavour, in his private papers, called her "L'Inconnue," and so she will be remembered. Her own life-story, and whether she was free to give her heart where she would, the world does not and need not know; on the last point it is enough to say that Cavour's father and mother were aware of his relations with her and saw in them nothing reprehensible.
On a page meant for no eyes but his own, Cavour describes the excitement into which he was thrown by the brief letter which announced that the Unknown had arrived at Turin and that she wished to see him. He hastened back to town and sought her at her hotel, and then at the opera where she had gone. After looking all round the house, he recognised her in a box—the sixth to the left on the first row—dressed in deep mourning and showing on her face such evident marks of suffering that he was at once filled with remorse "and intoxicated by a love so pure, so constant, and so disinterested." Never would he forsake this divine woman again!
For a moment he thought of flight to distant shores, but he soon decided that "imperative duties required that she should remain where she was." Their intercourse chiefly consisted of letters; his do not seem to exist, hers were found after his death carefully preserved and numbered. In these letters she laid bare her innermost soul; she was ardently patriotic, steeped in the ideas of Mazzini, and far more Italian than Piedmontese, though she wrote in French. She knew English, and Cavour advised her to read Shakespeare. Remarkably gifted, she had the deep humility of many of the best Italian women; "What have I done, O Camille," she asks, "to meet a soul like yours!... To have known you for an instant fills a long existence; how can you love me, weak as I am?" She had an astonishing instinct of his future greatness: "Full of force, life, talent, called, perhaps to make a brilliant career, to contribute to the general good," such expressions as these occur frequently in her letters. The romance ended as it could not help ending. The "eternal vows" were kept for a year and a few months; then on Cavour's side a love which, though he did not guess it, had only been a reflection, faded into compassionate interest. The Inconnue uttered no reproaches; after a few unhappy years she died, leaving a last letter to her inconstant lover. "The woman who loved you is dead ... no one ever loved you as she did, no one! For, O Camille, you never fathomed the extent of her love." With a broken-hearted pride she declared that "in the domain of death she surpassed all rivals." It remained true; if Cavour was not, strictly speaking, more faithful to the Inconnue's memory than he had been to her while she lived, yet this was the only real love-passage in his life. Fatal to her, it was fortunate to him. It found him in despair and it left him self-reliant and matured. The love of such a woman was a liberal education.
During the fifteen years which he devoted to agriculture, Cavour made several long and important visits to France and England. In this way he enlarged his experience, while keeping aloof from the governing class in his own country, connection with which could, in his opinion, only bring loss of reputation and effacement in the better days that were to come. Cavour knew himself to be ambitious, but he had the self-control never even to contemplate the purchase of what then passed for power by the sacrifice of his principles. "My principles," he once wrote, "are a part of myself." The best way "to prepare for the honourable offices of the future" was to keep his independence intact, and to study abroad the working of the institutions which he wished to see introduced at home. Through his French relations, he took his place immediately in the best society of the capital of the citizen king, under whose reign, sordid as it was in some respects, Paris attained an intellectual brilliancy the like of which was never equalled in the spectacular glare of the second empire. It was the moment of a short-lived renaissance; literature, art, science, seemed to be starting on new voyages of discovery. New worlds were opened up for conquest; oriental studies for the first time became popular, the great field of unwritten traditions surrendered its virgin soil. Above all, it was a time of fermentation in moral ideas; every one expected the millennium, though there was a lack of agreement as to what it would consist in. Every one, like Lamennais in Beranger's poem, was going "to save the world." The Good, the True, the Beautiful, were about to dislodge the Bad, the False, the Ugly. If all these high hopes had some fruition in the region of thought, they had none in the region of facts, but meanwhile they lent a rare charm to Paris in the Thirties. Cavour speaks of elasticity as the ruling quality of French society; he praises the admirable union of science and wit, depth and amiability, substance and form, to be found in certain Parisian salons and nowhere else. He was thinking especially of the salon of Mme. de Circourt, who became his friend through life. For no one else had he quite the same unchanging regard. Attracted as he always was by the conquest of difficulties, he admired the force of mind and will by which this Russian lady, whom a terrible accident had made a hopeless invalid, overcame disabilities that would have reduced most people to a state of living death. In her, spirit annihilated matter. She joined French vivacity to the penetrating sensibility of the Sclavonic races, and she was a keen reader of character. Cavour interested her at once. Even in his exterior, the young Italian, with blond hair and blue eyes, was then more attractive than those who only knew the Cavour of later years could easily believe; while his gay and winning manners, combined with a fund of information on subjects not usually popular with the young, could not but strike so discerning a judge as the Countess de Circourt as indicating not a common personality. She feared lest so much talent and promise would be suffocated for ever in the stifling air of a small despotism. Cavour himself drew a miserable picture of his country: science and intelligence were reputed "infernal things by those who are obliging enough to govern us"; a triumphant bigotry trembled alike at railways and Rosmini; Cavour's aunt, the Duchess de Clermont Tonnerre, only got permission to receive the Journal des Debats after long negotiations between the French minister at Turin and the Sardinian government. No wonder if Mme. de Circourt impulsively entreated the young man to shake the dust of Piedmont off his feet and to seek a career in France. In his answer to this proposition, he asks first of all, what have his parents done that he should plunge a knife into their hearts? Sacred duties bound him to them, and he would never quit them till they were separated by the grave. This filial piety stands the more to Cavour's credit, as his home life had not been very happy. He went on to inquire, what real inducement was there for him to abandon his native land? A literary reputation? Was he to run after a little celebrity, a little glory, without ever reaching the real goal of his ambition? What influence could he exercise in favour of his unhappy brothers in a country where egotism monopolised the high places? What was the mass of foreigners doing which had been thrown into Paris by choice or misfortune? Who among them was useful to his fellow-men? The political troubles which desolated Italy had obliged her noblest sons to fly far from her, but in their exile their eminent faculties became forceless and sterile. Only one Italian had made a name in Paris, Pellegrino Rossi; but this man, whose capacities Cavour rated as extraordinary, reached the summit of success open to him in France when he obtained a professorship at the Sorbonne and a chair in the Academy, whereas, in the country which he repudiated, he might have one day guided his compatriots in the paths of the new civilisation—words which read like an imperfect prophecy, since the unfortunate Rossi was to lose his life later in the attempt to reform the papal government. Cavour repeats that literature would be the only promising opening, and for literature he feels no vocation; he has a reasoning, not an inventive head; he does not possess a grain of imagination; in his whole life he had never been able to construct even the smallest story to amuse a child; at best he would be a third-class literary man, and he says in the matter of art he can only conceive one position: the highest. Certainly he might turn to science; to become a great mathematician, chemist, physicist, was a way of seeking glory as good as another; only he confessed that it had few attractions "for the Italian with the rosy complexion and the smile of a child." Ethical science interested him more, but this was to be pursued in retirement, not in great cities. "No, no," he writes, "it is not in flying from one's fatherland because it is unhappy that one can attain a glorious end." But if he were mistaken, if a splendid future awaited him on foreign soil, still his resolution would be the same. Evil be to him who denies his fellow-countrymen as unworthy of him. "Happy or unhappy, my country shall have all my life; I will never be unfaithful to her even were I sure of finding elsewhere a brilliant destiny."
While Cavour was in Paris, Tocqueville's Democracy in America was published, and immediately gave its author European fame. It did not probably exercise much influence over Cavour in the formation of opinions, but he found his own confirmed in it both as to the tendency of modern societies towards democracy for better or worse, and also as to the independence of the Church from State control, in which, from the time that he began to think at all on such matters, he had thought to see the solution of all difficulties of a politico-religious sort. Cavour changed his practice, but rarely his mind; most of the conclusions of the statesman had been reached at twenty-five. It was not easy for him to take those who fundamentally differed from him entirely seriously. Once, when he was the guest of the Princess Belgiojoso, Musset's irresponsive idol and Heine's good angel, the fair hostess bestowed on him such a republican lecture that he wrote, "They will not catch me there again"; but he went. At the Duchess d'Abrantes' receptions he met "the relics of all the governments." He only spoke on one occasion to Guizot. The minister seems to have received him coldly. He remarked that with these great people you must be a person of importance to make any way; an obscure citizen of Piedmont, unknown beyond the commune of which he was syndic, could have no chance. With Thiers he got on much better; principles apart, their temperaments were not inharmonious. Of the literary men Cavour preferred Sainte Beuve; in Cousin he cared less for the philosopher than for the friend of Santorre di Santa Rosa, the exiled patriot of 1821. Cousin introduced him to several fervid Italian liberals, among others Berchet, the poet. He was invited by Alessandro Bixio to meet the author of Monte Cristo. Bixio was one day to be intimately mixed up in Franco-Italian politics, in which he acted as intermediary between Cavour and Prince Napoleon. Royer Collard, Jules Simon, Michelet, Ozanum, Quinet, and the Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz were then giving lectures, which Cavour found time to attend. The great Rachel filled the stage. Cavour, who in his later years never went to a theatre except when he wanted to go to sleep, was a warm admirer of the incomparable actress, who satisfied his requirement of the absolutely first class in art. He was drawn to the highest genius as much as he was repelled by mediocrity. He blamed Rachel, however, for the choice of one particularly repulsive role, and suspected that she chose it because the dress suited her to perfection.
It was always known that Cavour staked considerable sums at cards, but that he had at one time a real passion for gambling was hardly supposed till the self-accusations of his journal were laid bare. Though there was little in him of the Calvinism of his maternal ancestors, he judged himself on this point with the severity of an austere moralist. In the world of pleasure in which he moved such offences were considered venial, but he looked upon them with the disgust of a man who reckons personal freedom beyond all earthly goods, and who sees himself in danger of becoming a slave. "The humiliating and degrading emotions of play" threaten, he says, to undermine his intellectual and moral faculties; his "miserable weakness" degrades him in his own eyes; conscience, reason, self-respect, interest, call upon him to fight against it and destroy it. From high play at cards to gambling on the Bourse there is but a step. Cavour embarked in a speculation the success of which depended on the outbreak of war in the East, which he believed to be imminent. No war occurred, and the loss of a few hundred pounds obliged him to apply to his father for supplies. The Marquis sent the money, and wrote good-naturedly that the mishap might teach Camille to moderate his belief in his own infallibility. He thought himself the only young man in the world in whom there was a ready-made minister, banker, manufacturer, and speculator; and if he did not take care the idea that he could never be wrong might prevent him from turning to account the superior gifts with which he was undoubtedly endowed. But the kindliness of the reproof did not lessen his own sense of shame and mortification. The lesson was useful; he forsook the Bourse, and at cards he conquered the passion without giving up the game. Rightly or wrongly it was said that many years after he played high stakes at whist with political men to gain an insight into their characters. In any case there is nothing to show that his fondness for play ever again led him into excesses which his judgment condemned. He had recovered his freedom.
Cavour invariably ended his visits to Paris by crossing the Channel, and, if in the French capital he gained greater knowledge of men, it was in England that he first grew familiar with the public life which he considered a pattern for the world. He did not find the delightful social intercourse to be enjoyed in Paris; in fact, not one of the persons to whom he brought letters of introduction took the least notice of him. English society is quicker to run after celebrities than to discern them in embryo. But the two or three Englishmen whom he already knew were active in his behalf. William Brokedon, his old friend the painter, conducted him to the dinner of the Royal Geographical Society, where a curious thing happened. Cavour's first essay in public speaking was before an English assembly. After several toasts had been duly honoured, the Secretary of the Society, to his unbounded astonishment, proposed his health. Taken unawares, he expressed his thanks in a few words, which were well received, and on sitting down he said to his neighbour, the Earl of Ripon, "C'est mon maiden speech!" Lord Ripon remarked, "with a significant smile," that he hoped it would be the opening of a long career. He dined with John Murray, and went to see Faraday, who in his working clothes made him think of a philosopher of the sixteenth century. At a party given by Babbage, the mathematician, he met Hallam, Tocqueville, Ada Byron, and the three beautiful daughters of Sheridan. With Nassau Senior he began a long friendship, and Edward Romilly, the librarian of Trinity College, Cambridge, whom he had met at Geneva, introduced him to a rich landed proprietor of the name of Davenport, who was to prove the most useful of all his English acquaintances, as he liberally placed his house in Cheshire at Cavour's disposal to give him an opportunity of studying English agriculture. The chance was not thrown away. Cavour learnt everything about the management of a well-ordered English estate down to the minutest particulars. He admired much, especially the system of subsoil drainage, then a novelty to foreigners, but he was not carried away by the beautiful appearance of the English country so far as to think that the English farmer was in all respects ahead of the North Italian. He compared the up-and-down English meadow left to itself with the highly-manured pasture lands of Piedmont, level as billiard-boards, which yield their three crops of hay a year. One point Cavour was never tired of impressing on students of agriculture; it was this, and it exactly shows his habit of mind: never consider results without knowing what they cost. Correct the selling price by the cost of production. He had no patience with model farms; they might be magnificent, but they were not agriculture. In one of his earliest writings he held them up to ridicule.
In England he studied the then new Poor Laws; even before he started on his first travels, he decided to inquire into the position of the poorest classes in the countries he visited. He recognised that the acknowledgment of the prescriptive right of every member of the community to food and shelter was the first step to vast changes in social legislation. Cavour's natural inclinations were more those of a social and economic reformer than of the political innovator. Gasworks, factories, hospitals, and prisons were in turn inspected. Cavour went thoroughly into the questions of prison labour and diet. He did not object to the treadmill in itself, but thought unfruitful labour demoralising. Useful work with a small gain reformed the convict. The prison fare seemed to him rather too good. He was impressed by the bread "as good as the best that is consumed in the clubs." Probably, next to the policeman, what impresses the thinking foreigner most in the British Isles is the Englishman's loaf of white bread. It might appear that in his close study of utilitarian England, Cavour missed the greater England of imagination and adventure, of genius and energy. It is true that he did homage at the shrine of Shakespeare by a visit to Stratford-on-Avon, and that he declared that there was no sight in the world equal to the Life Guards on their superb black horses. But his real appreciation of the greatness of England is not to be looked for in the jottings of the tourist; it stands forth conspicuously in his few but singularly weighty early political writings. The English politician whom he most admired was Pitt. The preference was striking in a young man who was considered a dangerous liberal in his own country. It showed amongst other things an adoption of an English standpoint in appraising English policy which is rare in a foreigner. "In attacking France," Cavour wrote, "Pitt preserved social order in England, and kept civilisation in the paths of that regular and gradual progress which it has followed ever since." He said of him: "He loved power not as an end but as a means"—words which long after he applied to himself: "You know that I care nothing for power as power; I care for it only as a means to compass the good of my country."
Cavour had the cast of mind which admires in others its own qualities. As he revered Pitt's "vast and puissant intelligence," so he sympathised with Peel's logic and courage. Peel was his favourite among his contemporaries; he called him "the statesman who more than any other had the instinct of the necessity of the moment." He foretold Peel's abolition of the Corn Laws at a time when no one else anticipated it. When he himself was charged by his old friends in the Turin Chamber with desertion and treason, he reminded them that the same charges had been made against Peel, but that he was largely compensated by the knowledge that he had saved England from socialist commotions, which in that country were in reality even more threatening in their scope and extent than in the rest of agitated Europe. He used to say that if Pitt had lived in times of peace he would have been a reformer after the fashion of Peel and Canning, adding his own venturesomeness to the largeness of views of the one and the capable sound sense of the other.
These scattered judgments are drawn from the essays written by Cavour in the years 1843-46. They appeared in Swiss or French reviews at a period when it was easier to make a reputation by a magazine article than it is now. Cavour's monographs attracted attention by the writer's display of independent thought and firsthand information. The most interesting now is that on "the condition and future of Ireland," which has been often referred to in the British Parliament. Most of the suggestions made in it have been long since carried into effect, but it is not these that make the essay still worth reading: it is Cavour's mode of approaching the question. He writes as what has been lately called an "Imperialist," though it was formerly thought enough to say "Englishman." It is doubtful if any foreign publicist ever wrote in the same spirit on the relations of England and Ireland either before or since. It is only necessary to be familiar with the continental press, from Legitimist to Socialist, to know, what he knew himself, that Cavour was almost in a minority of one. He was not acquainted with a single English politician; no one influenced him; he judged the Irish question from the study of history past and present, and having formed an unpopular opinion, he was prepared to stand by it. He never held that politics are a game of chance; he believed that they are subject to fixed laws of cause and effect, and he worked out political problems by seeking and applying these laws to the case in point without passion or prejudice. Having satisfied himself that the union of Ireland and England was for the good of both, he was not disposed to quarrel with the means by which it was accomplished. When Pitt failed to carry the Bill for the Union through the Irish House of Commons, he resorted to the expedient, "which had never failed in the Dublin Parliament," of corruption on a large scale. He bought rotten boroughs; he was prodigal of places, honours, pensions, and at the end of a year he obtained a majority of 168 votes against 73. Was he wrong? Cavour thought not, though he found no words strong enough to condemn the men who sold their conscience for place or gold. Public opinion, he said, has always sanctioned in governments the use of a different morality from that binding on individuals. In all ages an extreme indulgence has been shown towards immoral acts which brought about great political results. He conceded, for the sake of argument, that such indulgence might be a fatal error; but he insisted that if Pitt's character was to be blackened because he used parliamentary corruption, the same censure ought in justice to be extended to the greatest monarchs of past times, Louis XIV., Joseph II., Frederic the Great, who, to serve their own ends, outraged the immovable principles of humanity and morality in a far graver manner than could be laid to the charge of the illustrious statesman who consolidated the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.
On Cavour's own grounds, those of expediency, it might be objected that a bargain which on one side you allow to be discreditable leaves the legacy of an indestructible desire on that side to wipe out the discredit by tearing it up. Though Cavour became great by his connection with a movement which, before all things, was swayed by sentiment, he never entirely recognised the part that sentiment plays in politics. He blamed O'Connell for demanding repeal, which, even if possible to obtain, would do as much harm to Ireland as to England, instead of supporting measures that would remove all cause for Irish discontent. Had he lived long enough he would have seen all those measures passed, but he would not have seen the end to Irish discontent. This might have surprised him, but not so much as to see a great English party advocating disunion, which, he declared, could be logically supported only "by those who thought it desirable that there should be a revolution."
Cavour noticed and deplored the unpopularity of England on the Continent. Extreme parties, opposed in everything else, were agreed in a violent hatred of that country. The moderate party liked it in theory, but in reality they had no natural sympathy with it. Only a few individuals who rose superior to the passions of the multitude felt the esteem due to a nation which had powerfully contributed to develop the moral and material resources of the world, and whose mission was far from ended. The masses were almost everywhere hostile to it. It was a mistake to suppose that this was the feeling of France alone; it might be expressed more loudly there, but it was, in fact, universal. The enemies of progress and the partisans of political subversion looked on England as their worst adversary: the former charged her with being the hotbed of revolutionary propagandism; the latter, perhaps with more reason, considered the English aristocracy as the corner-stone of the social edifice of Europe. England ought to be popular with the friends of gradual reform and regular progress, but a host of prejudices, recollections, passions, produced the contrary effect. With but little alteration the lines here condensed might have been written to-day.
A book on railways by Count Petitti had been prohibited in Piedmont. That railways were connected with the Powers of Darkness was then a general opinion, shared in particular by Pope Gregory. Cavour reviewed the book in the Revue nouvelle, which was also prohibited, but sundry copies of it were smuggled into Italy, and one even reached the king. While Petitti had avoided all political allusions, Cavour's article abounds in them: railways would promote the moral union of Italy, which must precede the conquest of national independence. Municipal jealousies, intellectual backwardness, would disappear, and, when that happened, nothing could prevent the accomplishment of the object which was the passionate desire of all—emancipation. A very small number of ideas forms the intellectual hinge of man in the aggregate; of these patriotism is only second in importance to religion. Any conception of national dignity in the masses was impossible without the pride of nationality. Every private interest, every political dissension, should be laid aside that Italian independence might become a fact. Cavour always spoke of Italy—not of Piedmont, not of Lombardy and Venetia. Rome, still of all cities the richest in precious memories and splendid hopes, would be the centre of an iron network uniting the whole peninsula. Some well-intentioned patriots objected to the increase of railway communication with Austria from the fear that it would strengthen her military and political hold over her Italian provinces. Cavour answered that the great events at hand could not be delayed by the shortening of the number of hours between Vienna and Milan. On the other hand, when the relations arising out of conquest were replaced by those of friendship and equity, rapid communication would promote the moral and intellectual intercourse, "which, more than any one, we desire," between grave and profound Germany and intelligent Italy. In these pages Cavour foreshadowed the boring of the Alps and the German alliance, two facts which then seemed equally improbable.
The man was made; he waited for his opportunity. What if it never came? Can we conceive Cavour's immense energy limited to a rice-field? Are there really men whom their lot forbids—
Th' applause of list'ning senates to command, The threats of pain and ruin to despise, To scatter plenty o'er a smiling land, And read their hist'ry in a nation's eyes?
The prophet may cry aloud in the desert, the scientific discoverer may guess at truths which his age rejects, but the total waste of such a force as the mind of Cavour seems less easy to imagine than that his appearance was a sign that the times were ripe for him.
In 1846, Cavour was only known at home as the most unpopular man in Piedmont. Most people can scarcely be said to be unpopular before they have occupied any public position, but this, strangely enough, was the case with Cavour. He was simply a private person, but he was hated by all parties. His writings, which had made their mark abroad, were little known in Italy; the reviews in which they appeared could only be obtained by stealth. No one rightly knew what his views were, but every one disliked him. Solaro de la Margherita, the retrograde prime minister, was detested by the liberals, but he had a strong following among the old Savoyard nobility; Lorenzo Valerio, the radical manufacturer, was harassed by those in power, but he was adored by the people; Cavour was in worse odour with both parties than these two men were with either. Under the porticoes of Turin petty private talk took the place of anything like public discussion. "By good fortune," as the prime minister put it, "the press was not free in Piedmont;" quite the reverse. Gossip, especially spiteful gossip, reigned supreme. Gossip in both spheres of society was all against Cavour. What might be called the Court party (though whether the king belonged to it or it to the king was not clear), with the tenacious memory of small coteries, still recollected Cavour as the self-willed student of the Military Academy. Charles Albert himself made an occasional polite inquiry of the Marquis as to his son's travels and his visits to prisons and hospitals, but, unless report erred, he was speaking of him to others as the most dangerous man in his kingdom. The degree to which Cavour was hated by the conservatives is shown by one small fact: he was treasurer of an Infant Asylum, but it was thought necessary privately to ask him to retire for the good of the charity, his connection with which set all the higher society against it. The case with the radicals was no better. He belonged to an agricultural association in which Valerio was a leading spirit; one day he asked leave to speak, upon which almost all the members present left the building. On this side, no doubt part of the antipathy arose from the popular feeling against Cavour's father, who still occupied the invidious and ill-defined office of Vicario. No particular ferocity was laid at his door, but he was supposed to serve up all the private affairs of the good Turinese to the king, and if any one got into trouble he was thought to be the cause. When the liberals triumphed, the first thing they did was to oblige him to resign. Then Cavour's elder brother, though not retrograde on economic subjects, was a conservative of the old school in politics. In later days Gustavo always voted against Camillo. In politics the brothers were in admirable agreement to differ; in fact, after the first trifling jars, they dwelt to the end in unruffled harmony in the family palace, Via dell' Arcivescovado. At the time when Gustavo was much better known at Turin than Camillo the suspicious radical could not persuade himself that one brother was not as much of an aristocrat as the other. When Mr. Cobden was cordially received by both Marquis and Count, a would-be wit exclaimed, "There goes Free-trade in the charge of Monopoly," which was understood to refer to the false accusation that the Cavours had stored up a quantity of grain in that year of scarcity, 1847, in order to sell it dear, the truth being simply that the improved cultivation introduced at Leri had secured fair crops in a bad season.
The festivities in honour of the English Free-trader were promoted all over Italy by Italians who were soon to become famous. The fact that Cobden was an Englishman, even more than the outwardly harmless object of his campaign, deterred the different governments from interfering with him. Cavour proposed the health of the guest of the evening at the Cobden banquet at Turin, but almost immediately after, he retired to Leri, as he did not wish it to appear that he meant to embark on public life while the existing political dead-lock lasted. There was only room for conspirators or for those who extended toleration to the regime in force. It is doubtful if anything would have driven Cavour to conspiracy against his own king, and he would have considered it a personal disgrace to be mixed up with the men then in power. He thought, therefore, that he could best serve his country by keeping himself in reserve. He realised the futility of small concessions, and the childishness of agitating to obtain them. He was the only strong royalist who understood how far reform must go when it once began—farther towards democracy than his own sympathies would have carried him. If you want to use a mill-stream you must let it flow.
The situation in Piedmont was briefly this: Charles Albert's heart was with the growing cry for independence, but he wished for independence without liberty. This was the "secret of the king" which has been sought for in all kinds of recondite suppositions: this was the key to his apparently vacillating and inconsistent character. Yet he revealed it himself in some words spoken to Roberto d'Azeglio, the elder brother of Massimo. "Marquis d'Azeglio," he said, "I desire as much as you do the enfranchisement of Italy, and it is for that reason, remember well, that I will never give a constitution to my people." While his government was a priestly despotism, he employed his leisure in translating the sublime appeals to national sentiment in the history of the Maccabees, of which, by a curious coincidence, Mazzini once said that it seemed written for Italians. Charles Albert made the mistake of forgetting the age in which he lived. His ancestors fought the stranger without troubling themselves about representative government—why should not he? But his ancestors represented in their own persons the nerve and sinew of the State, its most adventurous spirit, its strongest manhood, whereas Charles Albert represented only the party of reaction which was with him in his absolutism but not in his patriotism. He was accused of having changed sides, but, even allowing his complicity in the movement of 1821 to have been greater than he admitted, it is plain that the one thing which drew him into that movement was its championship of Italian independence. Unlike the Neapolitan revolutionists who disclaimed adventures for the freeing of Italy, at least till they had made sure of their own freedom, the liberals of Piedmont rose with the avowed purpose of rushing into an immediate war with Austria. A madder scheme was never devised, but the madness of one day is often the wisdom of the next. In politics really disinterested acts bear fruit, whatever be their consequences to individuals.
The question which agitated all minds in 1847 was whether or not Charles Albert could be gained to the liberal cause. Many despaired, for by many even his Italian ambition was denied. Cavour had no favourable opinion of the king, but it was one of his theories that erroneous ideas always yield in the end to facts. He believed that Charles Albert's support could be secured if he were fully persuaded that the interests of his dynasty were not imperilled. He was not afraid, as others were, that even after the first surrender the wavering mind of the king would make retrogression probable; he understood that, if reforms were more difficult to obtain in Piedmont than elsewhere, they would be more durable when obtained. At last a concession of real value was wrung from the king: the censure was revoked. Cavour saw that the press, which till then had been a cipher, would instantly become of vast importance. He left his retirement to found a newspaper, to which he gave the name by which the Italian movement will be known in history—Il Risorgimento. He was not a born journalist, but he set himself with his usual determination to learn the art. In after times he said that the experience gained in a newspaper office was almost as profitable to him as the knowledge of mathematics. Count Cesare Balbo was asked by Cavour to write the prospectus of the new journal, in which its aims were described as Independence, union between the princes and people, and reforms. Cavour's name appeared as acting and responsible editor.
Balbo's work, Le Speranze d'Italia, had lately created an impression, only second to that made by the Primato of Gioberti. Practical men like Cavour preferred the simple programme which Balbo put forward—the liberation of Italy from foreign yoke before all things—to Gioberti's mystical outpourings, much as they pleased the general. Gioberti, once a follower of Mazzini, and afterwards a priest, imagined a United Italy, with the Pope at its head, which, to unthinking souls, seemed to be on the road to miraculous realisation when the amiable and popular Cardinal Mastai Feretti was invested with the tiara. Cavour never had any hope in the Papacy as a political institution.
The Genoese, impatient of the extreme slowness with which reforms were meted out, proposed to send a deputation with a petition for a civic guard, and the expulsion of the Jesuits, to whom the delay was attributed, and who were regarded as the worst enemies of the liberal Pope. The principal editors, with other influential citizens of Turin, met at the Hotel d'Europe to consider how the deputation should be received, and if their demands were to be supported. The list of the journalists present comprises the best names in the country; it would be difficult to find more distinguished or disinterested pressmen than those who were then writing for the Piedmontese newspapers. Valerio was there to represent his new journal, Concordia, in which he carried on war to the knife with Cavour. His high personal character, as well as his talents, made him no inconsiderable opponent. It was at this meeting that Cavour first entirely revealed himself. He showed that faith in the prudence of daring which was the keynote to his great strokes of policy. The demands of the Genoese, he said, were not too large, but too small. They hit wide of the mark, and the second of them was idle, because the king, while he remained an absolute prince, was certain not to consent to it. The government was now neither one thing nor the other; it had lost the authority of an autocracy, and had not gained that of a regime based on the popular will. The situation was intolerable and dangerous; what was wanted was not this or that reform, but a constitution.
Constitutions seem tame to us now, but to speak of a constitution at Turin on January 18, 1848, was almost as audacious as it would be to speak of it at St. Petersburg at the present time. Europe stood at the brink of a precipice, but knew it not. The news had only just spread of the first symptom of revolution—the rising in Sicily. Cavour's speech was a moral bomb-shell. Most politicians begin by asking for more or less than the measure which finally contents them; those who cried for a republic have been known to put up with a limited monarchy; those who preached the most moderate reforms, at a later stage have danced round trees of liberty. Cavour asked at once for what he wanted and all that he wanted as far as the internal organisation of the State was concerned. From first to last he believed that a constitutional monarchy was the only form of government which, in a country like Italy, could combine freedom with order. Under no narrower system would he accept office, and when in office nothing could make him untrue to his constitutional faith; "no state of siege" was the axiom of his political life.
How his proposal was received shows the difficulties with which he had to contend from the outset. The more moderate members of the meeting thought that he had taken leave of his senses. This was natural. Less natural was the tooth and nail opposition of Valerio, who declared that a constitution much exceeded the desires of the people, and that a petition for it would only frighten the king. He carried all the radicals with him except Brofferio, an honest patriot and the writer of charming poems in the Piedmontese dialect, which gave him a great popularity. Brofferio was an ultra-democrat, but he was no party man, and he had the courage to walk over to the unpopular editor of the Risorgimento with the remark, "I shall always be with those who ask the most." Valerio made no secret among his private friends of the real reasons of his conduct. What was the good of wasting efforts on some sort of English constitution, perhaps with a House of Lords and other such abominations? Was it likely that anything worth having would be excogitated by Milord Camillo, the greatest reactionary in the kingdom, the sworn foe of revolution, "un Anglomane pur sang?" A constitution could only check the revolution and stifle the legitimate aspirations of the people. The nickname of "Milord Camillo" or "Milord Risorgimento" was in everyone's mouth when speaking of Cavour.
A short time sufficed to show not only the expediency but the necessity of granting a constitution, and that at once. Events never moved so fast as in the first two months of 1848. The throne of Louis Philippe was tottering, and, with the exception of the Duke of Modena, the princelings of Italy snatched the plank of safety of a statute with the alacrity of drowning men. In this crisis Charles Albert thought of abdication. Besides the known causes of his hesitancy, there was one then unknown: the formal engagement, invented by Metternich and forced upon him by his uncle Charles Felix, to govern the country as he found it governed. He called the members of the royal family together and informed them that if there must be a constitution there must, but the decree which bestowed it would be signed by his son. The queen and the Duchess of Savoy, who were both extremely afraid of him, sat in silence; the handsome Duke of Genoa tried to prove that constitutions were not such dreadful things; Victor Emmanuel opposed his intention of abdicating in resolute terms. Then he summoned a high ecclesiastic, who succeeded in convincing him that it would be a greater sin to abandon his people in their need than to break a promise he could no longer maintain. After mortifying the flesh with fasts and vigils, he yielded, and the famous decree bore the signature "C. Alberto" after all,—not written indeed in the king's usually beautiful character, but betraying rather a trembling hand, which nevertheless registered a great because a permanent fact. This was not the prelude to perjury and expulsion. Around the Sardinian statute were united the scattered limbs of Italy, and after fifty years Charles Albert's grandson commemorated its promulgation at the Capitol.
Not a man in the crowd at Turin dared to anticipate such a result: yet their joy was frantic. Fifty thousand people, arranged in guilds, defiled before the king, who sat like a statue on his bay horse, upright and impassible. Cavour walked in the company of journalists, and all those who had opposed him a few weeks before were there too, with Valerio at their head. They sang their strophe of Mameli's hymn, "Fratelli d'Italia," very badly. Cavour whispered to his neighbour, "We are so many dogs!"
That neighbour, a Milanese named Giuseppe Torelli, has left an interesting description of Cavour's appearance as it was then. He was fresh-coloured, and his blue eyes had not yet lost their brightness, but they were so changeful in expression that it was difficult to fix their distinctive quality. Though rather stout he was not ungainly, as he tended to become later. He stooped a little, and two narrow lines were visible on either side of a mouth, cold and uneffusive; but these lines, by their trembling or contraction, showed the play of inward emotion which the rest of the face concealed. In after days people used to watch them in order to guess his state of mind. It was his large and solid forehead that chiefly gave the idea of power which every one who saw him carried away, despite of the want of dignity in his person and of strongly-marked features in his face. His manners were simple, but distinguished by an unmistakably aristocratic ease and courtesy. He spoke generally low and without emphasis, and always appeared to pay great attention to what was said to him, even by the least important person.
Nothing, on the face of it, could seem more extraordinary than the exclusion of Cavour from office in the momentous year of 1848. But he had no popular party at his back whose cry could overrule the disinclination which the king certainly felt towards making him his Minister. Moreover, his abilities, though now generally recognised, contributed to keeping him in the background: it was felt instinctively that if he got the reins there would be only one driver. He was known to be indifferent to criticism, and while he listened patiently to advice, he rarely took it. He had mortally offended the conservatives by the liberalism of his means, and the liberals by the conservatism of his ends. Count Balbo, on assuming the office of the first Prime Minister under the Statute, not only retired from the directing council of the Risorgimento, but went out of his way to disavow the policy supported in it by Cavour. "The little rascal," he was heard to say, "will end by ruining the splendid edifice raised by the wisdom and moderation of so many estimable men!" The splendid edifice was on the verge of being nearly ruined, but by timidity—which has lost a score of thrones,—not by audacity. The new Cabinet entered upon their duties on March 16. Two days later occurred an event utterly unforeseen—the rising of Milan against the Austrians. It took them unprepared. They had talked so much about war that perhaps they thought it would happen in the next century. When the "now or never" sounded, which does sound sooner or later in all human affairs, they hesitated or suffered the king to hesitate, which came to the same thing. That Charles Albert stood for one instant in doubt when the hour was come desired by him all his life, as he had often stated, and there is no reason to think untruly, is possibly the most serious stain on his memory. There are moments when to reflect is criminal: a man has no right to reflect when his mother is in a burning house. The reflections which held Charles Albert back were two. He was afraid that the Milan revolution would breed a republic, and he was afraid of England and of Russia. England, which during the previous autumn had sent Lord Minto to urge upon the Italian princes a line of policy rightly described by Prince Metternich as inevitably leading to an attack on Austria, now applied the whole force of her diplomacy to stop the ball she had herself set running. The spectacle of Lord Palmerston trying to save or serve Austria, which he detested, in obedience to the atavistic tendencies of the Foreign Office, is a lesson in history. For English politicians of whatever party or private sentiments, Austria was still what Lord Castlereagh called her: "The great hinge on which the fate of Europe must ultimately depend." Sir Ralph Abercromby assured the king that "the least act of aggression" would place his throne in jeopardy. His throne was already in jeopardy, but from the contrary reason. Each minute that passed while the Milanese were fighting their death struggle and he stood inactive threatened to deprive him and his house of that power of progress on which not only their fortune but their existence depended.
The news from Milan reached Turin on March 19; on the 23rd, the last of the Milan days, king and ministry were still hesitating. On that day Cavour printed in the Risorgimento the most impassioned piece of writing that ever came from his pen. The conservative, the reactionary, once more cried aloud that audacity was prudence, temerity wisdom. The supreme hour of the Savoy dynasty had struck, the hour of strong resolves, on which hangs the fate of empires, the destinies of peoples. Hesitation, doubt, delay, were no more possible: they could only prove fatal. "We, men of calm minds, accustomed to listen more to the dictates of reason than to the impulses of the heart, after deliberately weighing each word we utter, are bound in conscience to declare that only one path is open to the nation, the government, the king: war, immediate war!" It was said, he continued, that Russia and England were on the point of uniting against Italy. In common times such an argument would be conclusive, not now. When Milan was struggling for life, was perhaps getting worsted, at all costs they were bound to fly to the rescue. Duty, brotherhood, policy, commanded it. Woe unto them if they crossed the frontier to find that Milan had fallen.
Russia, through her ambassador, intimated that she would regard the crossing of the Ticino as a casus belli. The threat made less impression at Turin than the warnings of Sir Ralph Abercromby; it was the possibility of English intervention, therefore, that Cavour went on to examine. The Anglomane "Milord Risorgimento" was less surprised at the current of English official thought than were his radical critics, but would any English minister, he asked, enter on a European war to prevent the liberation of Italy, which was an object sacred in the eyes of the mass of the English people? He believed it to be impossible, but were it so, so be it! England would have against her a mighty coalition, not of princes, as in former days, but of peoples, in the old world and in the new. Victory in such a matricidal strife would be as fatal to the first-born of liberty as defeat.
Thus Cavour was prepared to fight Austria, Russia, and England. The division of parties at that time was in its essence the division of those who were willing to accept a republican solution and those who were not. It does not follow that all the liberals wished for a republic, but they would all have taken office under it. Of this there is little doubt. Cavour never would have become a republican any more than an absolutist minister. But he saw what the other conservatives failed to see, that the dynasty of Savoy could only live if it led.
On March 22, Charles Albert was still assuring the Austrian Ambassador that his intentions were pacific. Next day Cavour's article appeared, and in the evening the king decided for instant war. Only two of the ministers assented at once; the others gave in after a long discussion. War was declared on the 25th. Time lost cannot be recalled; the happy moment had been let go by; Piedmont went not to Lombardy engaged in a dangerous struggle, but to Lombardy victorious. Cavillers said that the king had come to eat the fruits others had gathered. Confidence in the ultimate result reached the point of madness, but with revolution stalking through the streets of Vienna the Austrian eagle seemed to have lost its talons. In May 1848, in Austria itself, Lombardy was looked upon as completely lost, and with it the Southern Tyrol as far as Meran, for no one at that period thought of separating this Italian district from Italy; the most sanguine Austrians only hoped to save Venetia. Radetsky alone expected to save all, because he knew what he could do, and he had judged Sardinian generalship correctly. Charles Albert's staff seemed to have but one idea—to reverse the tactics which had led the first Napoleon to victory on the same ground.
The brightest gleam of success which shone on the king of Sardinia's arms was at Goito, in the battle of May 30. It was on that occasion that Cavour's nephew, Augusto di Cavour, was killed. The enfant terrible grew up to be a young man of singular promise, on whom Cavour had fixed all his hopes for the future of his name and house. His uncle's last letter of encouragement to do his duty was found on Augusto's body. The blow unnerved Cavour; he was found lying prostrate in an agony of speechless grief. Through his life he kept the blood-stained uniform in which the young officer received his death-wound in a glass case in his bedroom, a piece of enduring sentiment which shows how unlike Cavour was the coldly calculating egotist whose portrait has passed for his.
The story of the years of revolution in Italy is a story of great things and small, like most human records; but, when all is said, the great predominate, for no blunders could efface the readiness for self-sacrifice displayed by the whole people. The experience of these years was bitter, but possibly necessary. It destroyed illusions. It showed, for instance, that in the nineteenth century a free and independent Italy under the hegemony of the Pope belonged to political mythology. Here was a Pope who was, at heart, patriotic, but who drew back at the crucial moment, precisely as Mazzini (almost alone) had predicted. The first threat of a schism was enough to make him wear dust and ashes for his patriotism. The Bourbons of Naples were ascertained to have learnt nothing and unlearnt nothing; perfidy alone could be expected from them. It was proved that the princes of the other states, Piedmont excepted, must gravitate towards Austria even if they did not wish it. All this was useful, if dearly bought, knowledge.
At the first general elections in Piedmont, Cavour failed to obtain a seat. He told the electors in his address that he had always desired Italia unita e libera, and if "united" did not yet imply "under one king," the phrase was still significant. Two months later he was elected in four divisions; probably the death of his nephew in the interim on the field of battle modified, for the time, his unpopularity. He took his seat for the first college of Turin. He did not make an immediate impression; his short stature, and still more the imperfect accent with which he spoke Italian, were not in his favour. French was allowed in the Sardinian Chamber, but Cavour never opened his lips in it in Parliament. By degrees his speeches became marvels of close reasoning, and they even soared, sometimes, when he was deeply moved, into a kind of eloquence superior to that of rhetoric, but the accent was never such as would satisfy a fastidious ear. The day came, however, when people hung with too much anxiety on the least of his utterances for any one to notice this defect. Cavour sat on the Right, and from the first he horrified his colleagues on the same benches by the enunciation of views which to them were rank heresies. They existed in a state of perpetual uneasiness as to what he might say or do next.