Italy – Prescience Of Count Cavour

IN response to the request to write some pages for The Book of Italy, I am sure that nothing I could offer would be of so much interest and value as a few passages culled here and there from the speeches and letters of the greatest Italian statesman, Count Cavour, which reveal both his life-long sympathy and admiration for England, and also his extraordinary clear-sightedness. In 1855 he pointed out that England had begun all her wars with forces not in proportion to her real strength : ” The history of all the wars in which England has taken part shows us that at the outset she had the worst of it, but the disasters suffered, the reverses encountered, instead of disheartening her, had the effect of inciting her to greater efforts and greater sacrifices, and while her adversaries, after having had some successes, began to lose courage and exhaust their forces, with the progress of the war she went on gaining in strength and in the means of attack. This is what happened in the great war of the French Revolution. In 1792 and in 1793 the English only met with defeats ; their means were small in comparison with the other Allies, but the other Allies wore themselves out, instead of which the English developed their forces more and more the longer the war lasted, and they reached such a point that in 1814, if I am not mistaken, they had four hundred thousand men in their pay. What happened to them in Europe has happened to them several times in India. Almost all the first under-takings attempted there by the English turned out badly ; it was only after a thorough mishap that the East India Company sent forth sufficient means to carry out the proposed plan. Everyone remembers, perhaps, the expedition to Cabul, attempted in 1839, which resulted in the destruction of an entire corps d’armée. Out of fourteen or fifteen thousand men only four officers, I think, returned home.” (A voice : ” Only one man, who was a doctor.”) ” Well, after this great disaster, which is almost without a parallel, many people prophesied the destruction of the English power in India, thinking that its last hour had rung. But far from this prediction being fulfilled, the year after, the English returned to Cabul with more than twice the number of men ; and what happened in the last century in the wars of the French revolution, what has happened now at Cabul, will, I believe, also happen in the Crimea. I am therefore convinced that we may hope to find our Allies on the field of battle stronger and more powerful than they ever were before.”

On another occasion Cavour said : ” The English people have many great virtues, among which patriotism is pre-eminent. The Englishman judges every question from a national standpoint, and when he judges that the interest of England is at stake, all other considerations lose their weight.”

Again, ” When her interests are involved in a cause, England promotes and sustains it with a tenacity and an energy which till now no other people has known how to equal.” As early as 1837, Cavour wrote : ” I have entire faith in the good sense of the English people, and in the energy of the ruling classes.” And twenty years later he declared that he was not one of those who believed England not to be in a condition to make war a belief which in 1914 contributed more than any-thing else to the outbreak of the European conflagration. Cavour knew better : ” I believe, on the contrary,” he said, ” that if there arose a cause with which her national interests and her amour propre were bound up, she would be ready to support it, sword in hand, with more fire and vigour than she has ever displayed.”

This deep and acute observer remarked that ” British patriotism begins to transform itself, and to become less exclusive and egotistical ; it no longer holds that English prosperity depends on diminishing that of other states, but seeks, rather, to establish international bonds founded on humanity and justice.”

In one of his great speeches in the old Chamber of Deputies at Turin, the cradle of Italian liberties, where a few, though I fear too few, Englishmen have gone to look with reverence at the seat so long occupied by the maker of Italy as we see her now, Cavour made a profession of faith with regard to England which it is certain he would repeat, were he living, without altering a word :

” No one in this Chamber attaches more importance to the opinions of English statesmen than I do. From my youth upwards I have been used to respect that country as being the source of the greater part of the political knowledge which has guided my career ; I value and respect England as one of the first Powers of the world ; I venerate her as the rock on which liberty has found, and may find again, an impregnable refuge. In so far as it was possible, I have always preferred an alliance with England to any other.”

It has to be remembered that Cavour did not pronounce these words, and others like them, before an audience of naturally-approving Englishmen. He did make one speech in England it was his ” maiden speech “—and being a very young man, and never a very ready speaker, he was a good deal embarrassed when called upon to deliver it. I think it was at a dinner of the Royal Geographical Society. But his speeches in the Sardinian Chamber were meant entirely for his own countrymen ; certainly he never imagined that extracts from them would be given in an English Book of Italy in the year 1916, though it would have surprised him little to find the Italy of his making ranged on the side of England and her brave Allies indeed, it would have surprised him infinitely not to have found her there ! But Cavour’s speeches were meant for his own countrymen alone, and they were meant not to obtain applause he cared nothing for that but to convince. I will not say that any among his hearers disliked England was there ever an Italian who did so ?—but a large number disliked and mistrusted English statesmen, and the ideal of a constitutional monarchy on the British pattern, with its lack of romance, its concessions to human imperfections, failed to satisfy the dreamers of sublime dreams. These last placed their hopes elsewhere, and looked for help and for an example, not to England, whose free institutions formed the great bulwark against revolution, but to the countries which were then plunging one after the other into the revolutionary vortex towards which their despotic governments drove them. I speak of the autumn of 1848, and of a memorable sitting in the Chamber of Deputies at Turin, to which Senator F. Ruffin, the greatest Italian authority now on Cavour, has lately dedicated an interesting study. The Radicals in the Chamber hoped in the risings at Vienna and in the assistance which was to be expected from the noble Hungarian nation, from the Slays of Bohemia and Croatia lastly from ” liberal and learned Germany,” which was then lifting the curtain on the vision of an United Empire at the Frankfort Parliament.

Cavour rose to answer deputy Brofferio, the eloquent speaker who was the mouthpiece of the Piedmontese Radicals, and, without preparation of any kind, he delivered what must be held to be the most prescient speech ever pronounced by a statesman. Vienna ? when, after the revolution of the previous March, the Viennese hoped to obtain liberal concessions from their sovereign, the very same students who had fought on the barricades, went willingly to fight against their struggling brothers in Italy. Hungary ? The Magyars, devoted to their own liberties, cruelly oppressed the Slays under their rule. All that had happened in that part of Europe was only ” the prelude to a terrible war of races, the war of Germanism against Slavism ”

After predicting, in passing, that the revolution in France, which had also inspired so many hopes in Italy, ” would have for its final result, Louis Napoleon on the throne,” Cavour went on to consider what of good there was to be expected from the new transformation of ” liberal and learned Germany.” For the passage just quoted relating to the Austrian Empire I have to thank Senator Ruffini, as I had either not noticed its significance or had forgotten it. But I believe I was the first to call particular attention to the following prophetic words uttered in the autumn of the year 18481

” England feels a singular jealousy of that new Germanic Power which has constituted itself at Frankfort with outlooks of extreme ambition. Scarcely born, Germanism threatens to disturb the European equilibrium : already it reveals thoughts of preponderance and usurpation. The Diet of Frankfort does not conceal its design to extend its dominion to the shores of the North Sea, to invade Holland by treaties or by force, in order to become a maritime Power, and contest on the seas the empire wielded by England.”

On showing this prophecy in a detached form to one who is a master rather than a student of English political history, he expressed the doubt whether the nascent schemes of the Frankfort Parliament were realised in the England of that day, or, at any rate, whether they produced the effect, which Cavour went on to say was natural, of causing the new German Empire to be regarded in England with strong feelings of suspicion. But Cavour was the last person to make an assertion not fully justified by facts. Fie read the English papers, and he states positively that they were full of articles in which the prospect of the German peril was openly discussed. More than that, he pointed to the acts of the English Government, which threatened war with Prussia and Germany on behalf of ” oppressed Denmark,” if mediation were not accepted on the question of Schleswig. The moral he drew from it all was, that England was bound in the long run to uphold Italian aspirations. The Austrian Empire would either become a Slav Power or be absorbed in Germany. The separation of Italy from Austria would in the end become the best means for resisting the ambitious policy of a rival Empire the Germany of today !