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VI: CAVOUR - John Emerich Edward Dalberg, Lord Acton, Historical Essays and Studies 
Historical Essays and Studies, by John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton, edited by John Neville Figgis and Reginald Vere Laurence (London: Macmillan, 1907).
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Cavour was the most thoroughly practical of the Italian statesmen. It is the special character of his career that his success was due to his own ability, not to the idea or the party he represented; not to his principles, but to his skill. He was not borne to power on the wave of public enthusiasm, nor by the energy of an opinion incorporated in him, nor by the personal attachment of a mass of followers. He was not a representative man in the domain of thought, not a great partisan in the domain of action, not a popular favourite trained in agitation, or sustained by the prestige of great achievements. Yet he acquired and kept a position in which men who were his superiors in genius, in character, and in eloquence—Balbo, Gioberti, Azeglio—successively failed; in which men who were identified with the chief memories and hopes of Italian patriotism—Manin, Mamiani, Farini, La Farina—were content to be his subordinates and assistants; and where all his rivals sacrificed or suspended their own principles, animosities, and aspirations, in order to increase his power and his fame. The statesman who could blend such materials, and make of them the instrument of his greatness; who could withstand at the same time the animosity of Austria and the ambition of France; who could at once restrain the Catholics whom he injured and insulted, and the republicans whom he condemned; and who, standing between such powerful enemies and such formidable allies, almost accomplished the unity of Italy to the Mincio, and increased fourfold the dominions of his king—must always remain one of the most conspicuous figures, as he is one of the most distinct characters in the history of his country.
He was connected by descent with the family of St. Francis of Sales. His mother, who belonged to a patrician family of Geneva, was originally a Protestant, and the old-fashioned political Calvinism of Geneva, which moulded the character of Guizot, exercised from a very early age a profound influence upon Cavour. Events connected with his family position inspired him with a precocious dislike for the priesthood; and whilst his brother, the Marquis Gustave de Cavour, grew up into an ardent defender of religion, Camillo was looked on unkindly by his father, a politician of the old school, whilst the authorities regarded him with a suspicion proportioned to his cleverness and his petulance. The position was intolerable to a man of his disposition, and he left his country almost as soon as he was his own master, carrying with him two sentiments already deeply rooted in his soul,—animosity towards the Catholic hierarchy and towards the political system which was combined with it in the reverence of the people, and in the hatred of the Liberals. Time and experience appear to have wrought no change for good or evil in these opinions. He satisfied his vengeance on the Church without ever exhibiting unbelief, and he consummated a great revolution without ever accepting the revolutionary doctrines. But he confessed in the days of his greatness, consistently with his whole career, that the impulse of his policy was derived from personal motives rather than from public principles.
Yet undoubtedly his opinions grew into maturity and harmony during the period which preceded his entrance into public life. He spent several years in France and England, attentive to things of practical material interest, and adding to the cosmopolitan temper of his order a warm appreciation and sympathy for the society of both countries. He returned to Turin in 1842, where the spirit of the Government kept him away from public affairs, and where he devoted himself to the development of the prosperity of the country through the Agricultural Society, which he helped to establish and to conduct. Like similar associations in other countries, where the absence of freedom, obliging Government to seek a substitute for public opinion in espionage, and the people to seek it in secret societies, gives to every recognised society a political character, the Associazione Agraria became, from its organisation, an important channel and instrument of political influence. When the Italian movement began it became a centre of political action; “and,” says Brofferio, in his autobiography, “in more than one discussion on the felling of timber, the germs of an imperfectly understood democracy revealed themselves.”
Besides articles on agricultural and economical questions in the journal of the society, Cavour published during these years several essays on political subjects, not brilliantly written, but remarkable for grasp of thought, and because they are authentic memorials of the views by which he was guided in his after-career. In the paper on the Communistic theories, there is a character of Pitt closely resembling that given by Macaulay, some touches of which have been applied to Cavour himself. “He was not one of those who seck to reconstruct society from its foundations with the aid of general, philanthropic theories. A cold, deep intellect, free from prejudice, he was animated solely by the love of glory and of his country.” And at the conclusion of this essay occurs a passage which distinguishes him favourably from those modern economists whose inflexible abstractions give an easy victory to the Communists:—
To every one his own work. The philosopher and the economist, in the seclusion of their studies, will confute the errors of Communism; but their labour will bear no fruit unless men practise the great principle of universal benevolence, and act upon the hearts, while science acts upon the intellects.
It is no small merit to have understood that political economy is as much an ethical as a material science in an age when philanthropists and economists agree in condemning each other’s efforts, and when both seem to have forgotten that the same holy doctrine which teaches the precept of charity supplies the basis of economical science, by inculcating alike the duties of benevolence to the rich and of industrious independence to the poor; for “the poor we have always with us,” but “if any man will not work, neither let him eat.”
In 1847 the reforms of Pius IX. produced a reaction against absolutism throughout Italy, which was soon felt in Piedmont; and in September Charles Albert began to follow the footsteps of the Pope in the path of concession. At the end of the year Cavour, in conjunction with Balbo and others, took advantage of the new liberty of the press to found the paper Il Risorgimento, which he conducted with great ability. Whilst others were demanding reforms, he was the first to insist on a constitution, and in January 1848 he petitioned the king “to remove the controversy from the dangerous arena of irregular agitation to a scene of legal, peaceful, and regular discussion.” On the 5th of February, his friend Santa Rosa carried a similar vote in the Municipal Council of Turin; and on the 7th a Constitution, based on the French Charter of 1814, was granted by the king. Cavour was not elected at first; when he obtained a seat in the Chamber his friends Balbo and Boncompagni were Ministers, and he joined the Right. The war against Austria was undertaken by the Ministry, with the condition that Italy should owe her deliverance to herself. France was at that time a Republic, and her aid, it was apprehended by the monarchical advisers of Charles Albert, would cause the triumph of the Republicans at Milan and elsewhere, and would deprive the Sardinian monarchy of every advantage. The Ambassador at Paris, the Marquis Brignole, declared in words which later events have made still more remarkable:—
The essential character of the movement which agitates Italy, that distinguishes it from all that went before, is that it aims at being above all Italian. Each party deems itself called upon to direct it, and to concentrate in one last attempt all the scattered efforts which would be fruitless separately; but there is no one that desires to substitute France for Austria. It is necessary that it should be well understood in France, that if the army of the Republic crosses the Alps without being summoned by events, by interests, and by desires, the influence of France and of French ideas would be lost in Italy for a long time. Throughout Northern Italy, as at Florence, at Rome, and at Naples, everywhere except among the Republicans of Milan, they will not have the military aid of France until the day when a tremendous defeat has proved that Italy is unable alone to drive the Austrians over the Alps.
Cavour was opposed to the Republican party which sympathised with France, but he condemned the policy of the maxim, L’Italia farà da sè. “Republics,” he said, “have always pursued a policy of selfishness, and were never promoters of civilisation.” His hopes were directed towards England. “My confidence in England rests partly on the honourable character of the statesmen to whose hands the reins of power are committed—on Lord John Russell and on Lord Palmerston. Lord John Russell, I will say it openly, at the risk of being considered more and more an Anglo-maniac, is the most liberal Minister in Europe.” As the war went on, the democratic party gained power, and Cavour was thrown out at the elections in January 1849. In December he recovered his seat. Azeglio was Minister, and Cavour supported him, separating himself farther from his old leader Balbo. That great man was opposed to the laws proposed by Siccardi on the civil condition of the clergy, which Cavour supported in a speech by which he gained great popularity, and which placed him in closer connection with the Left Centre, the party of Ratazzi, than with his original friends.
Hitherto he had not stood in the front rank. The revolutionary period afforded no opening for a man of his stamp. He was too far from the Conservatives to join in their resistance, and from the Democrats to join in their movement. In revolutions the extremes prevail, and Cavour detested both extremes. But the new reign opened a new career for men of the Centre, after Balbo had been thrust aside by the Revolution and Gioberti by the reaction, and the candidates for the leadership of the new party were Azeglio and Cavour. Less scrupulous both as regards political and ecclesiastical rights than the real Conservatives, but decidedly hostile to democracy and disorder, they nearly agreed in opinions, whilst they differed widely in character. The energy, boldness, and ambition of Cavour inevitably placed him in a victorious opposition to his dignified, careless, and somewhat indolent rival. He became Minister of Commerce in October 1850, and Minister of Finance in April 1851. His first administration was devoted chiefly to reforms in the fiscal system, which always bore with him a political character. “The political regeneration of a nation,” he said, “is never separate from its economic regeneration. The conditions of the two sorts of progress are identical.”
The commercial reforms of Sir Robert Peel had filled him with interest and admiration, and he had written an essay upon the consequences they would involve for Italy. The lesson he learnt was the same as that which has been since put in practice in England by the ablest of Peel’s disciples—to make the laws of economic science subservient to considerations of policy. Accordingly he concluded a series of commercial treaties, both for financial reasons and for the purpose of making friends for Sardinia in other States. In one respect his position differed remarkably from that of Mr. Gladstone. The chief opponents of his commercial reforms were the democratic party. In Piedmont, finance is an instrument for democratic purposes; in England, questions of finance have reared democracy.
The Government was opposed, therefore, by the extreme Left, and also by the extreme Right, in consequence of its ecclesiastical legislation. Azeglio relied on the support of the Right Centre, and sought to conciliate the Left by reforms in Church matters. The Left Centre, headed by Ratazzi, cared less for internal reform than for external aggrandisement; they were the aggressive party in the Parliament. During the war of 1848 Ratazzi, then in office, demanded the suspension of all securities of liberty, saying that there would be no greater danger of abuse of power in the absence of those laws than with them. At that time Cavour had declared that the Left wished to rule in Piedmont, as the Emperor Nicholas ruled at Petersburg. But when he had attained a leading position, the principles of these men suited his bold and active mind. A party who, in the desire for power, were ready to make a sacrifice of freedom, was the natural ally of a statesman who was ambitious of acquiring power by heroic means. Azeglio had nothing but the canon law to sacrifice to them; Cavour offered them the destruction of international law, and they took the higher bribe. Hence, under Azeglio, the religious reforms were the question of the day; under Cavour they became secondary and subsidiary to the question of national aggrandisement. The alliance was concluded on the occasion of the coup d’état. The new despotism seemed to menace its feeble neighbours, and a law on the licence of the press was proposed by the Government at Turin.
“Sardinia,” said the Prime Minister, “has gained great renown; now it must be our object to obtain obscurity. . . . We are passing by a sleeping lion, and must tread softly. If one amongst us refuses to take the necessary precaution, we must compel him to be quiet; if the lion attacks us, we must defend ourselves.”
The Right wished to go farther than the Ministers—to introduce into Piedmont the system of the 2nd of December, to curtail liberties, to alter the electoral law, and to abolish the National Guard. These events determined the breach between Cavour and the reaction and his alliance with Ratazzi,—an alliance similar to that by which, ever since the Reform Bill, the Whigs have obtained their majorities. On the 5th of February, without consulting his colleagues, Cavour, in a speech in defence of their proposal, publicly invited Ratazzi to combine with him, promising a national policy as the prize. The excitement was extreme; but no breach ensued until, on the 11th of May, Cavour proposed and carried the election of Ratazzi as President of the Chamber.
He became by this manœuvre the leader of the most powerful party in Parliament, but he lost his place in the Government, and Azeglio formed a new administration without him. There was no event of his public life, he said afterwards, of which he was prouder than this.
So long as the Republic continued in France, so long as the fate of that nation seemed uncertain and the phantom of the Revolution was not put down, I could be sure that the reaction at home would undertake nothing for the destruction of our constitutional freedom. But when the 2nd of December removed the danger of disorder in France, when the red phantom had vanished, I thought that from that time forward the Constitution was more seriously menaced by that party than it had formerly been by the revolutionary faction. For this reason I deemed the formation of a great Liberal party not only right, but necessary and essential; and I invoked for that purpose the patriotism of all who agree in the great principles of progress and of freedom, and who differ from each other only on subordinate questions.
He had already gained the good will of the Emperor Napoleon by his conduct in the debates on the freedom of the press. During his retirement he visited Paris, and appeared with Ratazzi at the Tuileries. That was the beginning of the league between the two friends who projected a national policy, and the ally who was to profit by their enterprise. Cavour’s dread of an alliance with Republican France did not apply to the alliance of Imperial France. The difference of principle had disappeared. Meantime Azeglio attempted to prolong his tenure of power by new ecclesiastical changes, and by introducing a law on civil marriage; but the dismissal of Cavour had deprived him of the energetic support of the Radicals, and he could not prevail against the resistance of the Holy See and of the Catholic party. He persisted, even after the Sardinian envoy in Rome had come to Turin without leave, to press on the Ministers the necessity of modifying their policy. At length, on the 26th of October, he resigned. The condition of the accession of the new Ministry was an altered tone towards Rome. Charvaz, Archbishop of Genoa, who had full instructions from the Pope, was at this critical moment the chief counsellor of the king. He wished that Balbo should succeed Azeglio, and when that hope failed, a fruitless attempt was made by Alfieri di Sostegno. Cavour’s turn then came. First of all an attempt was made to bring about an understanding between him and the Archbishop. It failed, and the difficulty of the crisis seemed insuperable. But Cavour was master of the situation, and on the 4th of November he formed an administration untrammelled by any condition, which was joined twelve months later by Ratazzi. The programme of this famous Ministry was to use the Italian movement and the friendship of Napoleon III. for the advantage of Sardinia. The ecclesiastical policy of Azeglio and Siccardi would be pursued or suspended, according to the exigencies which might arise in the pursuit of that more ambitious design. In reality there was a close internal connection between aggression abroad and the oppression of the Church; and in Cavour’s mind, as in that of many Italians, there was a strict union between Rome and Austria. From the speeches and writings of the Ministers we can discern how both were connected in his policy.
One of his biographers and admirers affirms that Cavour’s notions of government and of freedom were English, not French; but he adds that he never displayed them in his policy, because circumstances hindered him from carrying them out beyond the department of finance—quantunque le quistioni ora di finanze, ora di politica, gli abbiano preoccupato l’ animo, ed impedito di attuarlo in altro che nelle sue consequenze economiche. In truth his policy was directed to the greatness of the State, not to the liberty of the people; he sought the greatest amount of power consistent with the maintenance of the monarchical constitution, not the greatest amount of freedom compatible with national independence. To this question of State, this ragion di stato, everything else but the forms of the government was to be sacrificed.
Tocqueville has shown that the French Revolution, far from reversing the political spirit of the old State, only carried out the same principles with intenser energy. The State, which was absolute before, became still more absolute, and the organs of the popular will became more efficient agents for the exercise of arbitrary power. This was the work, not of the Reign of Terror and the period of convulsion, which was barren of political results, but of the ideas of 1789, incorporated in that Constitution of 1791 which continued for seventy years the model of all foreign Constitutions, until Austria returned to the mediæval originals which England alone had preserved. The purpose of all the Continental governments, framed on that pattern, is not that the people should obtain security for freedom, but participation of power. The increase in the number of those who share the authority renders the authority still more irresistible; and as power is associated with wealth, those who are interested in the augmentation of power cannot be interested in the diminution of expenditure: and thus parliamentary government generally results in an improved administration and increased resources, but also in addition to the pressure and the expenses of the State. All this was singularly verified in Cavour’s administration in Piedmont.
Like most of the continental Liberals, and like most men who are not religious, he considered the State as endowed with indefinite power, and individual rights as subject to its supreme authority; whilst, like the revolutionists in France, he accepted the legacy of absolutism left by the old régime, and sought to preserve its force under contrary forms. Societies are really divided not into monarchies and republics, but into democracies and aristocracies; whatever the form of Government, there are in fact only two types, organised and atomic society, and the commonest and most visible sign of the two is equality or inequality. The real basis of inequality is the privilege of a part as contrasted with the rights of the whole, and its simplest essential form is the privilege not of class, but of age—that is, inheritance by primogeniture. Nothing else is required for an aristocracy; nothing else can create an aristocracy. Cavour, though a noble, and an enemy of democracy, was a decided assertor of its fundamental principle. “Civil equality,” he wrote in Il Risorgimento, “is the great principle of modern society.” The statute gave the nomination of senators to the king; he wished to make them elective. “Often accused of blind admiration for England, and of secretly entertaining the guilty design of introducing amongst us the aristocratic portion of their institutions,” he loudly declared—
that to imitate Great Britain in this respect would be a fatal error, and would introduce into the Constitution the sure germs of future resolution. To attempt to institute a peerage similar to that of England would be the height of folly.
On the other hand, he was opposed to the sequestration of Church property; for he had learnt from the theories of Lamennais, perhaps from the experience of the countries he had studied, that a clergy dependent for support on the people is emancipated from the influence of the State, and directly subject to the authority of the Holy See. He desired that religious liberty should be one of the foundations of the Constitution; and in this he approached the French more than the English type, for he understood by it not that one religion should be favoured and the others tolerated, but that the State should be indifferent to religious diversities.
The Constitution, by altering the position and distribution of authority, rendered it necessary that the relations between the State and the Church should undergo a revision, and should obtain the guarantee of the nation’s consent. The passage of a State from absolutism to constitutionalism involves a great alteration in its position towards the Church, and the manner in which her rights are respected is the test by which we may determine whether the Constitution is a step towards liberty, or a new and popular form of absolutism. For the Church is affected not by the form of government, but by its principle. She is interested not in monarchy or republicanism, but in liberty and security against absolutism. The rights and duties which she upholds are sacred and inviolable, and can no more be subject to the vote of a majority than to the decree of a despot. In many cases constitutions have been her protection against tyranny; but in many cases also constitutions have imposed on her a new tyranny. The period which immediately succeeded the Revolution of 1848 has been rich in conflicts between the Church and the States, for the Liberty which it sought to obtain was understood in two different ways. The Catholics saw in it the triumph of religious freedom and of independence for the Church; the Liberals, in most cases, used it as a transfer of power to their hands; between these contrary interpretations of the movement and of its institutions, frequent conflicts were inevitable. In Austria, in Holland, and in Wirtemberg the Catholic opinion prevailed. In Baden and in Piedmont the Revolution only added to the power of the State. The theory of liberty insists on the independence of the Church; the theory of liberalism insists on the omnipotence of the State as the organ of the popular will. It was accordingly affirmed by Azeglio that there was no necessity to treat with Rome, and that the ecclesiastical reforms which had become necessary through the civil reforms belonged exclusively to the jurisdiction of the civil power. He reversed the ancient theory that the Church alone decides on all things that trench on the domain of conscience and religious life, and declared that the State alone might determine all questions affecting civil society. The quarrel that ensued was not so much on account of the reforms themselves as of the principle on which they were made. The Church resisted not so much the changes that were introduced, as the principle of arbitrary authority. But among the laws proposed by the Ministry under Azeglio was a law introducing civil marriage, and it was under discussion when the change of Government occurred. Cavour had never insisted on this measure, and when the Senate resolved to modify the Bill, he consented to withdraw it. The spirit of the ecclesiastical legislation remained unchanged at Turin, but it was not pressed forward at first by the new Ministers, for they had a more popular bait to throw out to the Liberal party.
To the Conservative patriots of 1848 the war with Austria was a war of deliverance, not a war of principles. Balbo wished the Austrians to be expelled, not out of hatred against them, but for the sake of Italy; and he wished that Austria should obtain on the Lower Danube and in the Turkish dominions an equivalent for the loss of her Italian provinces. With Cavour, the patriotic cause became an antagonism of political principles. The Austrian system was diametrically opposed to his ideas, not only when it was oppressive under Metternich, but when the great internal changes were commenced by the Concordat which have been carried out by Schmerling in the Constitution of the Empire. The Austrian notions of liberty were as hateful to him, in their way, as the Austrian absolutism had been; and the strength of his hatred increased as the emperor proceeded with his reforms. “Thanks to our political system,” he said in the Parliament, 6th May 1856, “which King Victor Emmanuel has introduced and maintained, and which you have supported, we are farther removed from Austria than ever.” In opposition to the policy of Balbo, he wrote in favour of the union of the Danubian Principalities:—
Austria has long had her eye fixed on the banks of the Danube. . . . Can it be believed that two small States, weakened by separation, will be able to resist her ambitious and aggressive policy? The influence of the Cabinet of Vienna will produce in the Principalities, especially at Bucharest, effects similar to those which are exhibited in the secondary States of Italy.
The relations between Austria and Piedmont grew more and more unfriendly and bitter, when the Crimean war broke out, and the Western Powers became most anxious for the support of the Austrian arms. In the course of negotiations it was made a condition of the Austrian alliance that the safety of her Italian dominions should be guaranteed whilst her armies marched against the Russians. Sardinia would thus have been overreached; and the proposal of Lord Clarendon, that she should join the Western Powers, was extremely welcome. The arrangement with Austria was concluded on 22nd December 1854; that with Sardinia on 26th January 1855. The Western alliance, said Lord Palmerston, thus became a league against tyranny. The first proposal having come from the Great Powers, Piedmont, having no prospect of immediate advantage, was able to make tacit stipulations for a later reward. The same condition which had been granted to Austria was also conceded to Sardinia, and there a defensive alliance was formed.
In immediate connection with the strain which this ambitious policy laid on the finances, came the secularisation of the religious Orders. The debate began on 9th January 1855, in the midst of the negotiations with the Western Powers. “The Budget,” said Cavour, “could no longer provide for the support of religion.” Financial reasons made an extreme measure necessary, in order that the expenditure of the State might be diminished and its resources increased, whilst the large number of poor and active priests would be enriched out of the property of the useless Orders, and out of the superfluity of the wealthier clergy. The moment was also perilous, from the combination of the democrats with the Conservatives against the Crimean war. Brofferio declared that they ought rather to have allied themselves with Russia, which was the only Power in Europe representing national independence. The act of spoliation was an instrument against this alliance.
“If we did not present,” said the Minister, “a measure demanded by the majority of public opinion, we might have lost at a critical moment the support of the Liberals as well as that of the Reactionists. The postponement of this measure would alienate the first without conciliating the second. By presenting the law we secure the support of the Liberals, and the country will be united and powerful against every trial.”
It is obvious that, whenever similar conjunctures should recur, the same policy would be pursued against all Church property. The Bill became law on 25th May 1855; and on 26th July the Pope declared that all who had proposed, approved, or sanctioned it had incurred excommunication. The ideal of Cavour was the French system of dependence of the clergy on the Government as their paymaster. He was with the king on his journey through Savoy when the Archbishop of Chambéry concluded an address in these words:—
Your Majesty has seen in France a noble example of intimate union between the authorities and the clergy, and we trust that you will bestow this great benefit on your country by putting an end to the persecution of the Church by the Government.
Victor Emmanuel, in his reply, took advantage of the opportunity afforded by this imprudent speech:—
You are right in quoting the relations between Church and State in France as a good example. I am so thoroughly convinced of it that I am resolved to place the clergy of my kingdom on the same footing as that of France.
The union between the ecclesiastical and the Austrian question was made closer by the conclusion of the Austrian Concordat. The oppressed clergy of Piedmont looked to Austria as the ally of the Church, and doubly therefore the enemy of Piedmont. On the other hand, the Government believed that the Holy See, strengthened by its recent triumph, would be little disposed to give way to Piedmont, and would be more uncompromising than before. Whilst, therefore, the abandonment of the Josephine system at Vienna widened the breach with a Government which was walking in the footsteps of Joseph II., it heightened at the same time the antagonism between Turin and Rome. Boncompagni went to Florence with the mission to prevent the conclusion of a Tuscan Concordat, and to support the revival of the Leopoldine laws. Cavour said:—
We must wait till an improvement in the Roman Government reconciles people’s minds with the Sovereign of those States, confounded in popular opinion with the Head of the Church. This opinion is shared by the eminent men of France and other countries, who formerly blamed, but who now approve, our conduct on these questions. This result we owe to the Austrian Concordat, and for this reason we must rejoice at that act.
The discontent of Romagna afforded a convenient diversion in the contest with Rome, which was ingeniously used at the Congress of Paris. The Sardinian Plenipotentiary took no share in the negotiations on the peace; he was waiting for an opportunity to obtain the reward for which he had joined in the war. When that opportunity arrived, he used it solely to discuss the state of Romagna. That was where the Papal and the Austrian interests were combined, and where he could strike both his adversaries with the same blow. Minghetti sent him from Bologna the materials for his memorandum, in which be recommended things grateful to French ears—secular administration, conscription, and the Code Napoleon. It must be remembered that at that time the belief was gaining ground in Romagna, and was shared by the informants of Cavour, that it would soon be annexed to the Austrian dominions. On his return to Turin he said of his mission to Paris:—
We may rejoice at one great result. The Italian question has become for the future a European question. The cause of Italy has not been defended by demagogues, revolutionists, and party men, but has been discussed before the Congress by the plenipotentiaries of the Great Powers.
Mamiani declared that the Holy Alliance was at an end and Italian nationality recognised, as the Minister of an Italian State had been heard in the Congress pleading for Italy.
Whilst the reforms in Austria increased the bitterness with which she was regarded by the Liberal Ministers in Piedmont, their position towards Russia became extremely friendly. No incompatibility of political ideas was felt at that time between them. The intensity with which Austria was hated by Prince Gortschakoff made him recognise an ally in the Cabinet of Turin; and a marked difference was made at Moscow, after the peace, in the consideration shown to the Sardinians, compared to their former position, as well as to their English and Austrian colleagues. Hatred of Austria was not, however, the only recommendation of Piedmont in the eyes of Russia.
The period which followed the Congress of Paris was marked by a great increase in the Catholic party at Turin. They threw out, in May 1856, a Bill placing all education under the control of the State; and, in order to diminish their opposition, Ratazzi retired from office. In 1858 the crime of Orsini obliged Cavour to introduce a conspiracy Bill, like our own, in which he encountered the resistance of the Left, but by which he strengthened the bonds of union with Napoleon.
This measure called forth a letter from Mazzini to Cavour, dated June 1858, in which the writer exhibits his own character and system as truly as he describes that of his antagonist, and which is one of the most expressive documents of the Italian movement.
“I have long known you,” he begins, “more solicitous for the Piedmontese monarchy than for our common country, a materialist worshipper of the event more than of any sacred and eternal principle, a man of an ingenious rather than a powerful mind. . . . To that party whose extraordinary vitality is now admitted even by yourself, in the teeth of your friends who declared it at every moment dead and buried, Piedmont owes the liberty she enjoys, and you owe the opportunity of making yourself the useless and deceitful defender of Italy.”
This is so far true, that the notion of Italian unity belonged originally to Mazzini, not to the Italian Liberals; and that the success of the Roman movement, which the sect encouraged and then diverted, gave the impulse to the reforms of Charles Albert. The tone of Cavour, in speaking of the sanguinary practices of the sect, provoked a passionate but elaborate vindication of their theory:—
I loved you not before, but now I scorn you. Hitherto you were only an enemy; now you are shamefully, infamously my enemy. . . . I believe that in principle every sentence of death—no matter whether applied by an individual or by society—is a crime, and if it were in my power I should deem it my duty to abolish it. . . . The abolition of capital punishment is an absolute duty in a free country. . . . But so long as war for the deliverance of one’s country shall be a holy thing, or the armed protection of the weak against the powerful tyrant that tramples on him, or the defence by every means of the brother against whom the assassin’s knife is raised, the absolute inviolability of life is a lie. . . . I see among your supporters, among those who cry out against the newly invented theory of the dagger, men who, before 1848, were active leaders of the Carboneria. But Young Italy banished the dagger, and condemned even the perjurer only to the horror of his brethren. . . . There must be law or war, and let him conquer who can. Where every bond is broken between the law and the people of the State, force is sacred wherever it undertakes, by whatever means they may be, to reconnect the one with the other. Where the equipoise is lost between the power of one and the power of all, every individual has the right and the mission to cancel, if he is able, the occasion of the mortal defect, and to restore the equipoise. Before the collective sovereignty the citizen reverently pleads his own cause; before the tyrant rises the tyrannicide—divanti al tiranno sorge il tirannicida. . . . Is there not between the tyrant and the victim of his oppression a natural and continual war? . . . To despatch the tyrant, if on his death depends the emancipation of a people, the welfare of millions, is an act of war, and if the slayer is free from every other thought and gives his life in exchange, an act of virtue. . . . If the malediction of a tortured people, miraculously concentrated into poison, could, instantly and without time for resistance, destroy all those who contaminate with their stupid tyranny, with the tears of mothers, with the blood of honest men, the soil that God has given us, the malediction would be sanctified before God and man.
This theory, that a tyrant is an outlaw, is an ingenious adaptation of the old doctrine of tyrannicide, which was borrowed from pagan and Jewish antiquity, and maintained of old in the schools from John of Salisbury to Mariana. The distinction between the two theories is, that whilst the divines held the tyrant condemned by actual law and implicitly sentenced by a visible tribunal, Mazzini, by means of his doctrine of popular sovereignty, invokes no higher decision than the individual subjective will. Unfortunately, guilty acts may be very easily justified by an obscure theory; and the crimes of Clément, Ravaillac, Guy Fawkes, were as horrible as those of Milano, Pianori, or Orsini, and it is not easy for the vulgar mind to distinguish between killing and murder, between the assassination of William the Silent or of Wallenstein, and that of Henry IV. or of Rossi. The doctrine is pernicious and perilous at best; as Mazzini defines it, it is untenable, because it is founded on the democratic principle. An outlaw may be slain; and it may be said that a sovereign who unites the guilt of usurpation with the guilt of tyranny is an outlaw at war with society; but he must be tried by public law, not by private judgment, and the act must be in acknowledged obedience to the laws by which society is bound, not to an arbitrary code. Private vengeance in a savage community is the commencement of civil law; in a civilised society it is the inauguration of barbarism. The crime of Mazzini lies not so much in the theory of the dagger as in the principle by which that theory is applied, and he sacrifices even the speculative basis of his view by denying, with Robespierre, that society has any jurisdiction over life and death.
“Victor Emmanuel,” he declares, “is protected, first by the statute, then by his insignificance—prima dallo statuto poi dalla nessuna importanza. Even mutilated and often betrayed by you, the liberty of Piedmont is protection enough for the days of the king. Where truth can make its way in speech, where even, though by sacrifices, the exercise of one’s duties is possible, regicide is a crime and a folly.”
He defines the difference between himself and the party of Cavour, of the monarchical revolutionists, in a manner extremely remarkable.
If life is sacred, how as to war? . . . Did you not send forth two thousand of our soldiers’ lives to be lost on the fields of the Crimea in battles not your own, solely because you discerned in that sacrifice a probability of increasing in Europe the lustre of the Sardinian Crown? . . . So long as I behold your laws constructed to protect the life of the man who was at war with his country and with the liberty of Europe, and who reached the throne over thousands of dead, and not for the good of the slaughtered people,—so long as I see you silent and inert before every crime crowned with success, and without daring for nine years once to say to the invader of Rome, “In the name of the rights of Italy, quit this land that is not yours,”—I shall deem you hypocrites, and nothing more. . . . Did they not conspire with me for ten years in the name of a regenerating faith—the men who in your Chamber quote Machiavelli to prove that politics know no principles, but only calculations of expediency and opportunity? Do not the journalists of your party recite the daily praises of Bonaparte, the tyrant in possession, whom they contemned when he was merely a pretender? Are not you ready to betray your country, and to cede Southern Italy to Murat, in order that the Empire may secure to you a compensation in land which is beyond your frontier? Partisans of opportunity, you have no right to invoke principles—partito d’ opportunisti, voi non avete diritto d’ invocare principii; worshippers of the fait accompli, you may not assume the garb of priest of morality. Your science lives in the phenomenal world, in the event of the day—you have no ideal. La vostra scienza vive sul fenomeno, sull’ incidente dell’ oggi; non avete ideale. Your alliances are not with the free, but with the strong; they rest not on notions of right and wrong, but on notions of immediate material utility. Materialists, with the name of God on your lips, enemies in your hearts, but ostensible venerators of the words of the Pope, seeking by desire of aggrandisement to break those treaties of 1815 on which you rely to deprive the people of the right of insurrection,—between you and me there is no difference but this one: I say, holy is every war against the foreigner, and I reverence him that tries it, even though he succumb; you say, holy is every war that succeeds, and you insult the fallen. You heaped insults on the bold people of Milan on the 6th of February; you would have proclaimed them magnanimous saviours of their country if they had prevailed. Surely you do not deem that a people subject to foreigners, and capable of delivering itself, may not do it, simply because the arms that are left in its hands have not a given length. . . . If the people of Italy brandished their knives to the cry, Viva il rè Sardo! and conquered, you would embrace them as your brethren. And if they conquered even without that cry you would embrace them the next day, in order to take advantage of their success.
And then, in that tone of prophecy which he often affects but has seldom assumed so successfully, he says:—
Piedmont is not a definite, limited State, living of its own vitality. It is Italy in the germ. It is the life of Italy, concentrated for a time at the foot of the Alps. . . . Italy, whatever happens, cannot become Piedmont. The centre of the national organism cannot be transferred to the extremity. The heart of Italy is in Rome, not in Turin. No Piedmontese monarch will ever conquer Naples; Naples will give herself to the nation, never to the prince of another Italian province. The monarchical principle cannot destroy the papacy, and annex to its own dominions the States of the Pope.
In all this declamation there is not a little truth. It is hard to show the error of the conclusions drawn by Mazzini from premises which he holds in common with Cavour. There is a vast difference between the amount of misery inflicted by the French Revolution and by the absolutism of the old monarchy; but there is an intense similarity of features and character between the crimes of the Revolutionists and the crimes of the Legitimists. The ancient monarchy does not stand higher in political ethics than the republic, and it is only from the habits and sympathies of a society accustomed to monarchy that we judge more leniently the partition of Poland, the suppression of the Jesuits, the lettres de cachet, and the royal police—which enforced, like the master in the fable, a perpetual tribute of the daughters of the defenceless class of Frenchmen—than we judge the horrors of the period of vengeance. There is not much to rejoice at that the same wrong should be committed by a constitutional Minister instead of a republican, for the sake of monarchy instead of democracy. Monarchy is not essentially connected with order, nor democracy with disorder, nor constitutionalism with liberty. Blinded by our superstitious belief in forms, we forget that the destruction of the faith of treaties, the obliteration of the landmarks of States, the spoliation and oppression of the Church, the corruption of religion, the proclamation of unjust wars, the seizure of foreign possessions, the subversion of foreign rights,—all these are greater crimes and greater calamities than the establishment of republican institutions,—and all this has been done by a constitutional Minister; and Mazzini, who has seen the best part of his purpose accomplished for him by those who denounce him as a criminal and a fanatic, has no instrument of agitation remaining to him but the Republic. Cavour made him powerless, simply by making him superfluous, and allowed him to do nothing, by doing his work for him. He triumphed while he lived, because the governments are as corrupt as the demagogues, and because the revolution was his weapon instead of his foe. But he saved Italy from no evil except the Republic, and the highest praise that men can give him is, that he died like Mirabeau, when he alone could yet preserve the monarchy. He had destroyed things more precious than monarchy, and he had trampled on rights more sacred than the crowns of kings.
The crime of Orsini was skilfully turned to account by the Italian refugees, who surrounded the Emperor. On his return from the opera he saw the prefect of police, Pietri, who has since been so instrumental in advancing the designs of his master in Italy. Pietri was received with a storm of frantic rage; and the calmness which the Emperor had exhibited in the moment of peril, and during the time that he remained in public, gave way to a passion of anger such as terror alone can inspire. Pietri, an old conspirator, perceived in this unwonted humour an occasion for the realisation of those schemes for which he and Prince Louis Napoleon had formerly intrigued, and for which Orsini had just exposed his life. There was no security for the Emperor, he said, until he had achieved something for Italy. Thus the instinct of self-preservation and of ambition coalesced with the projects of Cavour, and Napoleon resolved to promise the aid which had been so long and so earnestly demanded. The Piedmontese Minister had succeeded in preparing his country for war by erecting new fortifications, and in persuading the more politic of his friends that the danger of bringing French armies into Italy would be balanced by the resistance of England and of the other Powers. In July he accepted the Emperor’s invitation to Plombières, and on his return he gave to his countrymen the signal for action. Then began that vast intrigue of the party of national union in Central Italy by which the popular insurrections were organised which broke out simultaneously with the war, and by which one part of the French designs was effectually baffled. Service in the National Guard was made compulsory on all men under thirty-five, and a severe system of discipline was introduced. On the occasion of the marriage of the Princess Clotilda, the Deputy Sineo made a declaration of political principles, which were those of his leader:—
In accepting this union the ancient dynasty of Savoy pays a new homage to the principles consecrated in France in 1789, which constitute to this day the basis of the public law of that nation. . . . Let us endeavour to seal anew the solemn and indelible compacts by which Charles Albert united his dynasty with the cause of the liberty and independence of nations.
Mamiani spoke quite as suggestively:—
If there is provocation, it exists on both sides; it is not in the facts only, but in the moral order. On this side of the Ticino there is liberty; beyond it slavery. Here everything is done to secure the dignity of our country; there, to oppress it. That is the real provocation, which cannot be prevented.
In order to identify himself entirely with the event, Cavour took everything into his own hands; at the opening of hostilities he was President of the Council, Minister of the Interior, of Foreign Affairs, and of War. His resignation after the Peace of Villafranca added vastly to his popularity, and he returned to office afterwards with redoubled power, but at a time of still greater difficulty. It was now his part to finish the work which France had left undone; to accomplish alone, and in defiance of his ally, what Napoleon had pronounced impossible; to conclude the revolution without permitting the triumph of the revolutionary party, which had been deemed so formidable on the morrow of Solferino; to prepare for the treaty of Zürich the fate which had overtaken the treaties of Vienna.
A paper was circulated among the Great Powers, bearing no signature, and appealing to their interest in the independence of Italy from France, in order to justify the annexation of the Duchies. It was the last attempt to save Savoy and Nice, which the principles of annexation by popular suffrage, and of national unity, required as a penalty for the Italian Revolution. By a just retribution, it happened that the conduct of the Ministry in the course of the negotiations in which this sacrifice was made, was as ignominious and dishonourable as that by which they had gained their ambitious ends in Italy. Circumstances rendered their position hopeless; they themselves made it infamous. On the 10th of January 1860, the new governor of Savoy received the Municipality of Chambéry, with the assurance that “in Turin there had never been a question of surrendering Savoy to France.” On the 18th the organ of the annexionists, the Avenir de Nice, declared:—
We repeat with still greater confidence that the annexation of Nice to France is certain: the time of its accomplishment is a question not of months, but of days.
The editor was told to leave the country, and then forgiven. On the 29th the Governor of Savoy said:—
The policy of the Government is sufficiently known: it has never entertained the design of surrendering Savoy. As to the party which has started the question of separation, it is useless to give it an answer.
On the 3rd of February Sir James Hudson writes that he had seen Count Cavour, who expressed his astonishment at the report about the annexation of Savoy, and declared that he did not know how it could have arisen. He wondered, he said, at the change of opinion among many people in Savoy, who wished to join France before the war and were now against it. Sardinia, he averred, had never had the remotest intention of surrendering, selling, or exchanging Savoy. On the 24th, the French Government wrote to Turin, that if Sardinia incorporated in her dominions part of Central Italy, the possession of Savoy became a geographical necessity for the protection of the French frontier. Sardinia lost no time in replying:—
March 2nd: We feel too deeply what Italy owes to the Emperor, not to consider most earnestly a demand which is founded on the principle of respect for the wishes of the people. At the moment when we are loudly insisting on the right of the inhabitants of Central Italy to decide on their own fate, we cannot refuse to the subjects of the king beyond the Alps the right of freely expressing their will, and we could not refuse to recognise the importance of their demonstration, expressed in a legal way and consistently with the directions of Parliament.
The last words were omitted in the Moniteur, as France did not wish the transaction to be left to the Chambers, to which Cavour looked as the last resource, to prevent the loss or to share the blame.
These matters were hardly settled when a prospect of compensation opened out in Southern Italy. Early in the year Mazzini had offered to Victor Emmanuel to create a rising in the Neapolitan dominions, on condition of receiving indirect assistance. The Government of Turin was not ready to incur the chances of a new war; time was needed to consolidate the State and to reorganise the army. But it suited the policy of France that the delivery of the South should not be the work of Sardinia, and that she should not enjoy the fruit of it. Cavour could not resist the pressure of the Republicans supported by the connivance of France, and he determined so to conduct himself as to turn the enterprise to his own advantage. This he accomplished in a way which was a triumph of unscrupulous statesmanship. Garibaldi went forth as the instrument of a party that desired a Republican Italy and of a power that desired a Federal Italy, and he did the work of monarchy and unity. When Palermo had fallen, the Piedmontese party insisted on annexation. Garibaldi refused to surrender the dictatorship, which he required in order to complete the conquest of the mainland. “Garibaldi,” said La Farina, “wished the annexation to follow only after the deliverance of all Italy, including Rome and Venice.” He thought that by retaining the power in his own hands he would be able ultimately to compel the Turin Government to follow him against the Pope and the Quadrilateral; and his Mazzinist allies supported him, in order that the deliverance might be achieved by the revolution alone, and that the revolution might then be master of Italy. La Farina, Cavour’s agent with Garibaldi, and the head of the national party organised by Manin, which aimed at unity without democracy, was forced to give way.
“I openly and quietly informed the General,” he says, “of the reasons of my discontent. He treated me kindly at first; but he reproached me with my friendship for Cavour, my approbation of the treaty of cession, and my opposition to his design on Central Italy.”
Garibaldi sent him to Genoa, and declared that he would retire rather than annex Sicily to Sardinia before his work was done. “I came to fight for the cause of Italy, not for Sicily alone.” If the annexation of Sicily had been obtained Cavour could have postponed the attack on Naples, and the imminent quarrel with the Power that held Rome. At Naples Garibaldi was entirely in the hands of the Republicans, and in open hostility to the Turin Ministry, and he declared that he was resolved to go on to Rome, and to deliver Italy in spite of them,—piaccia ó non piaccia ai potenti della terra.
In this extremity, with the Mazzinists masters of the situation by their influence over Garibaldi, with the prospect of a breach with France, of an attack on Rome,—which would make peace with the Catholics impossible for ever,—of a great democratic movement and an untimely war, Cavour took that desperate resolution which, next to the introduction of the French into Italy, is the most important of his whole career. In defiance of the angry protests of all the great Powers, and of the traditions and forms of the law of nations in time of war, he decreed the invasion of the Roman and Neapolitan dominions.
“If we are not in La Cattolica before Garibaldi,” he wrote, 11th September, “we are lost; the revolution would spread all over Italy. We are compelled to act.”
On the same day Cialdini entered the Marches, and Cavour found himself at last master of Italy, reaping where Mazzini and Napoleon had sown. His triumph was completed when Garibaldi carried his opposition into the Chamber.
Our purpose has been, not to give a biographical account of the life of Cavour, but to point out the words and deeds most illustrative of his character. He conducted the Italian revolution with consummate skill, and his means were, on the whole, better than his end. The one great reproach against his foreign policy is, that he was the author of the Italian war; that he sought to deliver Italy from foreign oppression. And yet great part of Italy was atrociously misgoverned, and the misgovernment was due to the presence of the Austrians. A vast pressure weighed down religion and literature; society was penetrated with corruption; self-government was almost unknown. Down to 1848 this was due to the Austrians. Their policy has to answer for the degradation of Italy, and for the perils which have befallen the Church. Nor has the change that has passed over the Empire in the reign of Francis Joseph brought any serious improvement in the condition of Italy. For this the Italians alone are responsible; for they have rejected every advance, and have feared nothing so much as Austrian concessions. The war of 1859 had not the moral excuse of the war of 1848. The justification of a rising against the old régime did not apply to the new. In the recent war Austria was attacked, not because of misgovernment, but because of national antagonism. The first plea was fiercely repudiated by the Italian patriots, and that which they substituted is absolutely revolutionary and criminal. The fall of the other thrones followed, by the law of gravitation, when the Austrian supremacy was removed; and the reason urged against the government of the Pope and of the King of Naples, whether rightly or wrongly applied, was sound in principle; whilst Tuscany and Lombardy were taken from the Austrians on grounds which are in all cases false. The real charge against Austria was, that she prevented reforms in the States which she influenced; the misgovernment of these States was the chief weapon by which she was expelled. That Austria alone should be expelled, whilst the other sovereigns remained, would have been an inversion of the order both of ideas and of things. The events of the last two years are secondary to the Italian war, and possess neither the same importance in principle nor the same proportion of guilt which give to that event its foul pre-eminence in modern history.
But the policy of Cavour was revolutionary at home as well as abroad; and it is his notion of government and of the position of the State, more than his ambitious policy, that brought him into collision with the Church. He was not intentionally a persecutor, or consciously an enemy of religion. Nothing in his whole life could justify a suspicion of the sincerity of his Christian end, or lead us to imagine that he would make any retractation. The writings of Gioberti show how bitter a hatred of the clergy may, in Catholic countries, coexist with an earnest faith. Such sentiments, in the years that preceded the Reformation, were common among men who recoiled with horror from the heresy of Luther. In the mind of an ambitious and keen-sighted statesman, inspired with the ideas and with the knowledge of his own age only, and aware of its aspirations and feelings; who finds that in all great questions of secular interest which he knows that he understands he is opposed by almost all the priesthood, and supported by the ablest men out of the Church; who has been accustomed from his youth to connect the clergy with a system of government which excites his just and honest indignation,—is not necessarily an unbeliever if he cannot distinguish between the party and the cause, and fails to discover the true solution of the great problem in which better men have gone astray. He thought he could reconcile religion and modern society without injury to either, and he was mistaken; but not more grievously and fatally mistaken than the mass of those by whom he was denounced. His ignorance of religion has been a great calamity, but not a greater calamity than his ignorance of the true nature of liberty. The Church has more to fear from political errors than from religious hatred. In a State really free, passion is impotent against her. In a State without freedom, she is almost as much in danger from her friends as from her enemies. The annexation of all Italy under the Sardinian Crown would not have been, perhaps, so much an evil as a blessing to religion, if the political system of Sardinia had been sound. The incompatibility of the Piedmontese laws and government with the freedom of the Church is the real danger in the loss of the temporal power. If Cavour had been what he believed himself to be, a liberal statesman, the Roman question would have lost much of its complication. A State in which rights are sacred, in which the independence of the two orders is a fundamental and essential principle, in which property is secured, and in which government usurps no social functions; where, in short, the Episcopate is safe in the discharge of its duties and in the enjoyment of its rights, from the encroachments of a hostile or patronising sovereign and from the changes and caprices of popular will; and where the sphere of religion is removed from the interference of the legislative as well as of the executive power, in that State, if such there be, it would be possible for the Holy See to enjoy perfect independence and immunity from even the suspicion of influence, supported by a system of domains and guaranteed by the public faith of Europe.
But Piedmont was more remote than many foreign countries from the character of freedom. The spirit of her institutions was profoundly hostile to the Church, and she did great injury more by her laws than by her policy: of these Cavour was not the author; Azeglio and others are as deeply responsible as he. It is the common policy of foreign Liberals, founded on those ideas of 1789, which are in irreconcilable opposition with liberty and with religion. Unfortunately those among the Italian clergy who, considering religious interests, ardently desire an extensive change, seem hardly aware of the real nature of that constitutional government which promises so much but commonly fulfils so imperfectly its promise; and there is as much to deplore in the partiality of one party of Catholics for the internal policy of Cavour as in the injustice of others towards his feelings of religion.
Cavour had seen the clergy in alliance with a tyrannical government, and he dreaded their influence in the State. He deemed that the Austrian supremacy and the temporal power must stand and fall together, and he united them in the same attack. He was a stranger to that fierce animosity which inflames so many of his countrymen, and especially that party whom he most resolutely opposed. But he did much of their work for them, impelled by very different motives, and aiming at a widely different end. At any time he would have been ready to sacrifice ecclesiastical as well as any other rights, if they were obstacles to the accomplishment of his purpose. He had been Minister for several years when Gallenga wrote of his administration:—
Since the legislative power was taken from the hands of the Crown, gaming, theft, robbery, and all other crimes have increased greatly; the Government plays and sports with public morality. Whilst whole bands of robbers steal with impunity, the Ministry says that the police are not yet organised. One Minister coolly proposes to sacrifice the fat monks, and to spare the lean ones for a time, and makes of every sacred principle a mere question of finance. . . . Our Constitution was dictated by haste and uncertainty, not to say by confusion, despondency, and disorder. Never before was there a real tyranny in the land.
His enthusiastic biographer, writing in the last year of his life, says:—
Certainly the internal administration does not proceed with order and expedition in any of the Italian provinces. Assuredly in every part of it there are many errors, old and new, to be repaired. . . . Assuredly the decay of the finances is appalling, and makes it necessary to require the people to make sacrifices for liberty before they have felt and discovered from her benefits that she is a goddess.
The political ideas which have led to so much evil are common to the majority of Liberals with Cavour. But whilst few possessed his ability and courage, he was more free than many others from passion and from ill-will towards those whom he thrust aside from his path; and whilst he was resolute in the pursuit of certain practical ends to which he was enthusiastically devoted, he disliked extremes, and was never carried away by the wish of realising a theory and completing a consistent system. In all this he was far superior to the men who are to carry on his work, and he is justly regretted by all parties. While the Revolutionists have to fear that the cause of national unity will fail in less powerful hands, the Catholics have to fear that many fierce passions will be let loose which he restrained, and that principles will be carried to their worst results which had no power over the practical mind of Cavour.
[1 ]The Rambler, July 1861.