Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XXX.: holiday and return to paris. - The Life of Richard Cobden
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CHAPTER XXX.: holiday and return to paris. - John Morley, The Life of Richard Cobden 
The Life of Richard Cobden (London: T. Fisher Unwiin, 1903).
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holiday and return to paris.
We have to remember that all this time the entanglements of Italy had been distracting the Powers. Throughout the negotiations on the Treaty which, as we shall see, lasted until the autumn of 1860, the group of difficulties known as the Italian question engrossed the attention of every statesman in Europe. The Emperor of the French was more dangerously involved in these difficulties than any one else, not excepting Victor Emmanuel himself. The Treaties of Zurich, which gave definitive shape to the preliminaries1860.
The base of these Treaties, which proved the most absolutely abortive documents in the whole history of diplomacy, was the proposed formation of an Italian Confederation under the honorary presidency of the Pope; the cession of Lombardy, save the two great fortresses of Peschiera and Mantua, to the King of Sardinia; admission of Venetia to the Italian Confederation, while remaining a possession of Austria; the restoration of the Dukes of Tuscany and Modena. There was, at the moment when Cobden saw Prince Metternich, no prospect of a single article of either Treaty being realized. The Grand Dukes dared not enter their former dominions. The Romagna would not receive back the agents of the Pope. The Italians would have nothing to say to a Confederation, and insisted on unity. The Pope protested, in language that was more energetic than saintly, against all that had been done, and denounced a pamphlet which was known to be written by the French Emperor as a monument of hypocrisy and in ignoble tissue of contradictions.1
The deadlock of the moment was unique. The force of circumstances had brought the European powers to a policy of non-intervention, not by their own free will, but because the peril of departing from it was grave and instant. The Emperor of Austria and the Emperor of the French were equally bound by the Treaty of Zurich, but the Treaty of Zurich was desperate. Lord Palmerston and Lord John Russell, whose sympathies were generously given to the cause of Italy, were inclined to a course which might not 1860.
“Jan. 30, 1860.—Called and conversed for nearly an hour with Prince Metternich, the Austrian ambassador, upon the subject of the affairs of Italy. I took special care at the outset to explain to him that I held no diplomatic or other official post; that the Treaty of Commerce having been signed, for which alone I had been named plenipotentiary, I reverted to my former capacity of an independent member of Parliament, having no connexion with the English Government; and that neither Lord Cowley nor any one else was aware of my intention of calling on the Prince. I then observed that the interest I felt in the cause of European peace, and the fear I felt lest a rupture might again take place on the Italian question, had emboldened me to call to ask his attention for a few minutes to what I had to say, premising that I did not ask or expect him to offer any opinion in reply. I began by explaining very frankly the state of public opinion in England, as well as in the United States, on the Italian question; that the popular sympathies were everywhere strongly in favour of the Italians; and that if another struggle should arise for the independence of1860.
“I then continued (as he did not seem desirous of taking a part in the conversation) to urge some reasons for entertaining such an idea. I showed the great pecuniary loss which Austria suffered from the possession of Venetia; that the cost of holding the province in subjection was far more than its income; that I believed there were now so many soldiers in possession of Venetia, that they were equal to one for every ten of the entire population; that this state of things was growing every year worse and worse, and that whilst the present cost was so burdensome to the resources of Austria, the imminent danger of the future prevented her Government from directing its energies to the improvement of the internal resources of the Empire.
“He now gradually took a part in the conversation, giving me credit for the singleness of purpose which had induced me to call on him, and said that my antecedents upon the question of peace, and the extension of commerce, 1860.
“I endeavoured to combat this view by drawing his attention to the immense military force kept up. He said that this was rendered necessary by the hostile attitude of their next neighbour. I pointed to this as an inevitable state of things; and I observed that, although I had no sympathy for the dynastic ambition of the King of Sardinia, or for the plans of annexation which were entertained by his Minister, still it could not be denied that the kingdom of Sardinia was a growing power, possessing to a large extent the sympathy of the world, and that therefore the permanent influence of that State, as a hostile neighbour, must always be taken into account in the value to be put upon Venetia. I declared my belief that the two races would become every year more an more alienated, and that it would be impossible permanently to keep possession of Venetia, or that it could only be held at a ruinous loss of the Government of Vienna. I remarked that whilst Austria possessed Lom bardy, she had a comparatively ancient title to her Italian1860.
“He said that Austria was peculiarly circumstanced; that it was a collection of nationalities; and that it would be a serious thing to begin a process of selling the independence of a province of the Empire. I said there was no analogy between the state of Venetia and that of Hungary or Bohemia; that nobody considered the latter kingdoms as being anxious for complete separation from Austria, but merely as aiming at a reform in their administration—a question about which foreigners were comparatively little concerned. Whereas, on the contrary, the Italian question engrossed the attention of the political world, and everywhere it was regarded as a danger to the peace of Europe. He said it would be a very delicate question what would become of the province of Venetia if it were abandoned; that it might possibly be annexed to Piedmont, and there would probably be objections to the aggrandisement of the military monarchy. On the other hand, the Italian states might quarrel or fall into anarchy, and call for the intervention of neighbouring states. He alluded to the serious consideration of how far it would be wise in Austria to give up so powerful a strategic position as the great fortresses presented, that the Italian Tyrol might be attacked, or the territory on the Adriatic, etc. I said that the wisest course for Austria would be to give the full control of their future destinies to the population of Venetia; 1860.
“I then came to the plain statement of the plan I would follow. I would sell the independence of Venetia for a large sum, which no doubt might be easily arranged; with that money, say twenty or thirty millions sterling, I would put the financés of the Austrian Government in order, restore the currency, re-establish my credit, and then apply myself to the internal reforms of the Empire. I knew no country where there was such a field for improvement as in Austria; that a few years of fiscal and commercial amelioration would add immensely to the wealth and power of the Empire; that, even with the loss of the Italian provinces, the population of Austria would be about equal to that of France, and greater than that of England, and would contain resources which, if properly developed, might in a few years make her one of the richest and most prosperous countries in Europe. I at the same time pointed out the evils which must arise from the present state of the finances and the currency in Austria; that all mercantile operations, and all contracts between individuals, must be rendered more and more difficult and insecure, so long as the future of the Empire is involved in so much uncertainty, and whilst the circulating medium is subjected to such constant depreciation.
“The Prince showed much earnestness of feeling in his1860.
The next day Cobden started for the south of France, and he remained there until the last week in March. He made Cannes his headquarters, and hoped for sunshine and warmth. Unluckily, cloudy skies and keen winds confirmed his opinion that, if we would make sure of a second summer in the year, it cannot be had in Europe; men must imitate the swallows and migrate into Africa. Cobden’s elastic and joyful temperament, however, atoned for defects of climate, and his diary is a record of lively excursions and genial intercourse with friends. Among his daily companions were Bunsen, Henri Martin, Arles Dufour, Legouvé, Mérimée, and occasionally Lord Brougham. Those who have been accustomed to think of Cobden as wrapped up in tariffs and the vulgarities of Parliament might well be amazed at the eagerness with which he notes the house to which Rachel was brought to die, and the circumstances of her last hours; at his enthusiasm for the fine landscapes; at the sincerity of interest with which he listened for long hours while Bunsen talked to him about Egyptian antiquities, and read his latest success in deciphering hieroglyphs. Every day brought to his curious and observant mind new stores of information, political, social, and industrial, and still he had interest left for gossip and the trivialities that help such men across from one serious thought to another.
In the course of his stay, Cobden paid a visit to some friends at Nice, where the expected annexation to France was the general topic of conversation among people of all classes. It is perhaps worth while, considering the violent agitation which this transaction was shortly to rouse in England, to reproduce Cobden’s impression of the public feeling on the spot:—“I found it very difficult,” he says, “to ascertain the prevailing state of opinion on the subject. As a general rule, I found that people’s inclinations in the matter followed pretty closely the direction of their personal interests. The shopkeepers and tradespeople of the town, who thought their business would be improved by the change, were in favour of annexation. The professional men, the advocates, and lawyers, whose interests would suffer, were generally opposed to the project. The landowners and peasants were said by some to be favourable, and by others to be opposed. It was very difficult to ascer tain the state of public opinion, for almost every person I1860.
On the 22nd of March, Cobden found himself once more in Paris.
“March 26.—Called on Lord Cowley. He appeared harassed and worried. Since I last saw him, the Savoy question had come to a crisis; and the correspondence had all been published in a parliamentary blue book. He and his Secretary of Legation complained of the practice of printing the despatches giving an account of the conversations held with foreign ministers or other personages, remarking that these reports of what passes at a gossiping interview may be very proper for the eye of a Secretary of State, but become very inconvenient when exposed to the eye of the whole world; that their publication has the effect of making ministers of state unwilling to hold oral communications with diplomatic agents. Lord C. complained of the conduct of the Emperor in the Savoy question; alleged broadly that he had been deceived by him; that for the first time he had acted in such a way as to completely destroy all confidence in future in him; he stated that he had, in an interview with the Emperor, told him frankly that he had not 1860.
“March 28.—Called on M. Fould, the Minister of State, and had half an hour’s conversation with him. Speaking of the misunderstanding which had arisen between the French and English Governments since I last saw him, just before my departure for Cannes, he complained of Lord John Russell, our Foreign Minister, and observed that he had been always in their way; that he was opposed to the Treaty of Villafranca, and afterwards was the chief cause why the terms of that Treaty were not carried out and the Grand Dukes restored to their sovereignties. I remarked that it was utterly out of the question that force should have been resorted to for the restoration of the Dukes. He replied that force would not have been necessary if England had given her moral support to the principle, but that Lord John Russell encouraged the Italian people to resist the wishes of the French Emperor, and thus rendered the fulfilment of the Treaty of Villafranca impossible; that it was in consequence of this that the change in the Emperor’s plans became necessary, and that the annexation of Savoy was afterwards resorted to; that if the terms of the Peace of Villafranca could have been carried out, France would not have thought of any extension of her frontier. In the course of conversation, he said that the English Court were much opposed to the French Government, and that Prince Albert was very Austrian in his sympathies.
“March 29.—Dined with Prince Napoleon and the Princess Clotilde, and met a large party. The company were less than an hour at the table. The present Emperor has introduced the fashion of using great despatch at the1860.
“March 30.—Had an audience with the Emperor in the morning at the Tuileries. After saying a few words about my visit to Cannes, and expressing his congratulations that the British Parliament had at last passed the Treaty of Commerce, he referred to the state of the relations between his Government and that of England upon the subject of the annexation of Savoy to France. He complained of the manner in which he was attacked, and in which his conduct and motives were misrepresented by the press of England, and by some of the speakers in the House of Commons. I remarked that I had not had the opportunity of reading the papers laid before Parliament upon the Savoy question, and was not therefore in possession of the facts of the case, but as far as I understood the ground of the misunderstanding which had unfortunately arisen between the two governments, since I last had the honour of an audience with his Majesty, it was caused less by what his government had actually done, in annexing Savoy and Nice to France, than by the manner in which it had been effected. He then volunteered an explanation in a few words of what had been his course from the beginning on this question; changing from English, in which we had before been speaking, to French, for the more convenient and rapid delivery of his narrative.
“He said that, previous to entering on the war against Austria, he had had an understanding with the King of Sardinia and Court Cavour, to the effect that if the result should be the driving of the Austrians out of Lombardy and Venetia, and the annexing of those provinces to Piedmont, then France would require the fulfilment of two conditions on the part of the King of Sardinia, viz. the payment of the expenses of the war (which the Emperor 1860.
“After finishing this narrative, he again recurred to the attacks and misrepresentations to which he was exposed. He said he was quite désolé to find that, in spite of his frank and loyal policy towards other Powers, he was still exposed to such unjust charges. I remarked that too much importance was sometimes attached to the strictures of a newspaper writer, or the language of a member of the House of Commons; that he knew the state of things in England too well to require to be told that any writer could publish whatever he pleased anonymously, and that a member of the House could utter whatever opinions he liked; that people sometimes fell into the error of regarding the utterances of an individual, who was perhaps actuated by very unworthy personal motives, as the expression of a large public opinion; and I added the declaration of my belief that this misunderstanding between the two countries would be of an evanescent character; that it would admit of explanations which would remove all grounds of serious dis agreement. He joined in the expression of this wish. I1860.
“He said he did not know what he could do to prevent it, or how he was responsible for such a state of things; that, as regarded the navy, he was not spending so much on it as he ought to do, or as was laid down as necessary in Louis Philippe’s time; and he referred to the dialogue between an Englishman and a Frenchman, which he had composed and sent for publication to the Times newspaper; it contained some exact details respecting the strength of the French navy. I reminded him that his experiments on iron-cased ships had led us into some expenses of the same kind. I mentioned that I had seen one of his frégates blindées at Toulon, with an iron casing about four inches in thickness; that no sooner were they ordered to be built, than we began to construct line-of-battle ships with iron sides six inches thick, and that Mr. Whitworth had subsequently invented a gun which had projected a bullet through this thickness of iron, in addition to a couple of feet of solid timber; that I thought all this a very deplorable waste, and unworthy of the age in which we lived.
“On my rising to depart, he asked me to accept a vase as a souvenir. I left my address in London where it would be delivered. I hope it will be of small value.3
“March 31.—Dined at M. Rouher’s the Minister of Commerce, where a large party was assembled, everybody present expect myself being decorated with orders and ribbons. I sat beside Prince Napoleon, and had a good deal of conversation upon the subject of our rival armaments..... He did not think it was impossible to come to an agreement for limiting the naval forces of the two countries; but he thought that whilst our aristocracy retained its present power, it would be very difficult to carry out such a policy in England. He repeated several times, and with emphasis, that it would not be impossible on the part of France. In the course of conversation, when speaking of the inaptitude of the French for self-government, he remarked, ‘And yet they are always crying out for liberty! They want the right of governing themselves, and yet they claim the right of exempting themselves from the duties of self-government.’”
A day or two after, Cobden retuned to England. And1860.
Under these circumstances he applied to one of his oldest and most confidential friends in Manchester for aid and advice. What he sought was that a few men who could afford to wait for a return on their money, might be induced to buy the building land from him at a certain valuation, which should include some of that prospective value which he insisted on seeing in it. In this letter he said to his friend, in words that will touch all who can think gently of a man for taking too little heed of his own interests, for the sake of the commonwealth: “My hair,” he said, “has been 1860.
It is not necessary to follow the course of what followed. It was found that nothing effectual could be done with the land. So a little group of Cobden’s most intimate friends took counsel together, and in the end a subscription was privately raised which amounted to the sum of 40,000l. The names of those who contributed to it, between ninety and a hundred persons in all, he never knew. He requested that a list might be given to him in a sealed cover. After his death the executors found the envelope in his desk, with the seal still unbroken. Such an endowment was a gracious and munificent testimonial to his devoted public spirit. The fact that Cobden had so richly earned the gift, made him, as it may make us, none the less sensible of the considerate liberality of the givers.
“The Emperor is decidedly too fond of seeing himself in print,” Cobden wrote in his journal, when Le Pape et le Congrès appeared.
See Mr. Ashley’s Life of Lord Palmerston, ii. chapter 15, p. 382. Mem of Jan. 5, 1860.
The vase may be seen at the South Kensington Museum, whither Mrs. Cobden sent it shortly after the death of her husband.
Vol. i. p. 159.
To Mr. John Slagg, Sept. 5, 1859.