Cavour as a Journalist

THE two volumes of Cavour’s miscellaneous writings 1 with which the Zanichelli have inaugurated their proposed library of the works of Italian politicians have proved unexpectedly interesting. One hardly thought to receive any fresh light on the workings of that master mind, so much the greatest among the makers of new Italy. De la Rive and Castelli had given us speaking portraits of the man ; Chiala and Bianchi, minute details of his life as deputy and minister. All four had insisted on the importance of that period of transition — or rather of magically rapid development — when Piedmont stepped boldly forth upon the way which was to lead to Italian union, and Cavour first came to the front as one of the founders of a liberal newspaper called the Risorgimento, of which he subsequently assumed the direction, and to which he became a constant contributor. The editorials of this stirring time have now been collected, and it is wonderful how they stand the test of reproduction after the lapse of nearly half a century. In them the real Cavour reveals himself as never before nor afterward, either in those early days of repression and suspense, when no fit career seemed open to his great abilities, or in that later period of brilliant but too brief supremacy, when the good of his country appeared to him to demand a policy which his foes called tortuous, and which must be admitted by all to have been wary and discreet to the verge, at least, of the disingenuous.

For the same reason, the first of these two volumes is more interesting than the second, containing, as it does, such of his articles in the Risorgimento as were of a purely political character ; while the second comprises those which treated of financial, industrial, and kindred topics.2 Here, too, besides Cavour’s newspaper contributions are four long and elaborate articles which, though displaying solid information and sound judgment, have nothing like the fire and force of his short editorials. They were in fact all written before the time of Cavour’s connection with the Risorgimento, during the period of his Anglomania, when his nickname at Turin was Milord Camillo. Two refer to the repeal of the Corn Laws, and the probable effect of this measure in England and on the Continent ; they are written from the standpoint of an ardent admirer of Peel, and in a spirit of optimism which time has hardly justified. Another, published, with a prefatory note by the Due de Broglie, in the Revue Nouvelle, treats of Railways in Italy. The very title had a certain audacity at a time when Italia was a party cry, but Cavour took occasion to conclude his article with a plea for the nationalization of Italy, — not through violent means, but by a close alliance of all the true friends of liberty " with those thrones which have deep roots in the national soil.” Two years later, in the Risorgimento, he spoke out more plainly, arguing in his most masterly style that Casa Sabauda was the only reigning house upon Italian soil that had any claims whatever to nationality. Meanwhile, the censorship of the press excluded the Revue Nouvelle from Piedmont; but in spite of the prohibition the number containing the article on Italian railways found its way not only to Turin, but to the hands of the king, Carlo Alberto liimself, who read it, we are told, with a gratification not unmixed with alarm at the temerity of the writer. Twenty years before, the then Prince of Carignan had taken a strong dislike to his refractory page, who objected to going " dressed like a lackey.” Now, in 1846, the two were rivals in disinterested patriotism, and the time was close at hand when Carlo Alberto was to become the protomartyr of Italian unity, and Cavour its guiding spirit.

Some time previously, Cavour had published, in the Bibliothéque Universelle de Génève,3 an article on Ireland, which embodied the fruits not only of close study, but of observations made during his English tour of 1843. In all the tomes that have been written on this perpetually open question, there is hardly to be found a more lucid and sympathetic summing-up of Irish history than the abstract with which this article begins ; and it is hard, as we follow the vigorous reasoning in favor of union with England, to realize that the état actuel de l’Irlande of which the author is treating refers to a period all but fifty years ago. Page after page might have come out of a campaign document of to-day; and it is instructive as well as interesting to see what seemed, in 1843, to the most clairvoyant of modern statesmen, the legitimate grievances of Ireland, and the remedies most likely to alleviate her chronic ills. After a careful review of O’Connell’s platform, he reduces the grievances to two, — Protestant establishment and the oppressive land-tenure. The former he dismisses in a few words: “ The reform of the Established Church, after one fashion or another, is sure to come. With a national parliament it would be swifter and more complete, but at the same time it is probable that it would be violent and unjust, and possible that it would be cruel. If the union is maintained, it will take place gradually, by regular and legal methods. I can understand preferring the former course ; but, however strong one’s taste for revolutions may be, one should not underestimate the cost to humanity of those disasters which are always the consequence of brusque and violent changes.”

Passing to the second great wrong of Ireland, Cavour pronounces in favor of slow and careful legislation, and declares the just requirements of the Irish peasant to be five, namely: first, public, unsectarian schools; second, development of manufacture and commerce ; third, the construction of a system of railways, which would at first give work to the unemployed, and ultimately would enhance the commercial importance of the country by converting her harbors into international ports.

“ Imagine,” he says, with one of his prophetic flashes, “ to what an extent the relations of America and Europe would soon develop, if only seven days’ voyage separated the two hemispheres ! ” As the next remedial measures come emigration and a poor-rate, and last a thorough reform of the laws relating to the holding and transmission of real property. Cavour admits freely that the presence of a Protestant aristocracy, whose right to the land they control “ rests ultimately upon violence,” is an immense evil. He would break up the great estates and bring them into the market by rendering it obligatory that a man should divide his Irish real estate among his heirs; he would make the passing of a deed a simple and expeditious matter instead of the wearisome business it then was ; he would secure to the tenant farmer a longer lease and a betterment clause : and with these reforms he holds that Ireland would rehabilitate herself in that gradual fashion which alone insures stability. As for the confiscation of the estates of the Protestants, their forced sale, and other measures of these kinds, . . . such abominable expedients revolt every honest mind.”

So thought this keen - eyed and impartial observer in 1843, and thus he sums up his argument: " Would an Irish parliament be better adapted to carry out these reforms ? Surely not. That they may not exceed the limits of reason and justice, that they may be benelicent without becoming revolutionary, they demand in the legislator a moderation, prudence, and impartiality which are not to be expected, at least for a considerable time, in such a House of Commons as would result from the repeal of the union. Such an assembly, subservient to the demands of the populace and animated by violent passions, would be a bad judge and a partial arbiter in the case of tenant versus proprietor. It is to be feared that any verdict it might deliver would be marked by a reactionary and revengeful spirit, which would prove as destructive to Ireland in the future as the spirit of oppression and intolerance has been to her in the past.”

As for a union after the American or Swiss pattern between such unequal yoke-fellows as England and Ireland, similar to that on which the electors of Great Britain have recently given their voices, this he pronounces futile ; sure to prove, in its practical working, needlessly complicated to the English majority, and unprofitable to the Irish minority. Whether he would have thought the same had he lived till to-day — as a junior of Gladstone might well have done — who shall venture to say ? Here, at all events, comes clearly before the world the Cavour of what is already Italian history ; the man who, while he was almost the first firmly to believe in a united Italy, always repudiated so earnestly all mezzi revoluzionarii that the radical Valerio used to call Milord Camillo “ the greatest reactionary in the kingdom,”while at the same time it was impossible for him to obtain a passport to travel in the Roman States.

It would be difficult better to describe Cavour the politician than in these words of his own concerning the younger Pitt: “ Of broad and powerful intellect, he loved power as a means, not an end. . . . He was not one of those ardent souls who become inflamed in the cause of humanity; who, when this is at stake, heed neither the obstacles in their path, nor the unfortunate consequences which may result from their zeal. He was not one of those men who want to reconstruct society from base to summit, by the aid of general ideas and humanitarian theories. At once profound, cool, and void of all prejudice, he found his inspiration only in his love of his country and the love of glory.”

We come now, in their chronological order, to the editorials in the Risorgimento, where we find the same bold and resolute, yet essentially moderate Cavour. The journal had been started immediately after the first reforms granted by Carlo Alberto in 1847. Among its founders was Castelli, to whom Cavour relinquished the direction of the paper when a chance vacancy gave him a seat in the first Piedmontese Chamber of Deputies. Of the sixty-four editorials now collected by Zanichelli, sixty-one fall between February I and September 29, 1848, the memorable spring and summer of the great revolutionary year, the year of the preliminary and unsuccessful revolt of Lombardy. It is well enough known that at the moment when they appeared these articles met with scant favor at the hands of any of the political parties whose passions were then running so high. That juste milieu which was Cavour’s watchword was hurled at him from all sides as a term of reproach. He bears these gibes with imperturbable good temper. Valerio, for example, in the rival Concordia indulges in a piece of savage personal invective, accusing Cavour of getting up his subject from French textbooks, and so making a show of learning, and sneering at him for not having been returned at the first general election. Cavour replies demurely, at the close of the second of two articles on the Regulations of the Chamber of Deputies, wherein he has been urging the adoption of certain more simple, expeditious, and practical methods : " These doubts will perhaps be condemned as excessive by the editors of the Concordia, and will provoke fresh reproaches and yet more bitter accusations against ourselves. Not being obstinate by nature, we wail own ourselves in the wrong just as soon as they or their friends, coming down from those heights of theatrical declamation where they disport themselves with so much majesty, will condescend, with or without the aid of French treatises, to enlighten Parliament and the public concerning certain of the special questions which are perpetually brought up by the development of events.”

We shall perhaps never know just what it was that gave the coup de grâce to Cavour’s Anglomania. Possibly no more was needed than the shifty and most undignified course pursued at this time by England, who, after having abounded for many months in the sense of her sympathy for Italy and in profuse though vague promises of assistance in case of a revolt in the Austrian provinces, now, when war was really imminent, put the strongest possible pressure upon Piedmont to compel her to keep the peace. In the Risorgimento, at all events, as in the private correspondence of Cavour, we can mark almost the hour of revulsion, when the old admiring faith fell wholly away, never to be restored. We should like to give the whole of the truly extraordinary article, L’ Ora Suprema della Dinastia Sabauda, which appeared on the 23d of March, two days before Carlo Alberto and his troops crossed the Ticino, and which sets the nerves thrilling even at this distance of time. " For us to-day,” says Cavour, “ boldness is true prudence, rashness wiser than restraint.” Then, adopting his own maxim, the usually wary and collected statesman lets us see for once the heart that is in him, and speaks without reserve. And this is the reply of the whilom Milord Camillo to the fidgety warnings and futile threats of that England who had first encouraged the war with Austria, and then recoiled from its possible consequences to herself : —

“ England will cease to be our ally, will abandon us to our fate ? So be it! We have never shared the illusions of those of our fellow-citizens who have been hailing England for some months past as the deliverer of Italy. We have always thought that England’s policy included the preservation of Austria’s power. But will the cabinet of St. James, for the sake of preserving that power, break through its neutrality, make war on Italy, and identify itself with a spirit of absolutism ? We do not believe this. Not because we have any too much faith in the generosity and liberality of English statesmen. Though power is at present in the hands of the liberal party, should the political interests of England become compromised, it would not surprise us to see Lord Palmerston and Lord John Russell clasping the hands of Metternich, reeking as they are with Polish and Italian blood. . . . But will a ministry which has repudiated the traditions of Pitt be able to induce England to join in the barbarous project of keeping Italy enslaved, and this not for her own profit, but merely to preserve an edifice crumbling in every part? Neither is this likely. Yet if, through evil chance, blinded by the worn-out maxims of an obsolete policy, the English ministers should range themselves against Italy; if the Russells and the Greys, belying themselves, their past acts, and those of their party, were to adopt the system of the Castlereaghs and the Liverpools, and all Italy be made the victim of such treachery as the Sicilians suffered in 1815 ; if England should openly pronounce against the people’s cause, and become the defender of absolutism, then woe to her ! Against her would be formed a tremendous coalition, — no longer of princes, as in the case of Napoleon, but of nations. There would be no more peace in the world while a vestige of power remained to a people who had betrayed the cause of humanity, not from fanaticism, not inadverteRtly, but by deliberate choice of the most perfidious of policies.”

The gauntlet of Italian defiance rings on the same note in falling as that flung by Hancock and Adams in the last days of American subjection. Nothing, by the way, is more remarkable in these editorials than Cavour’s estimate of the position and power of the United States, and of the mingled jealousy and dread with which England regards the same. Who else would have said, in 1848, that England would “dread a war with the United States more than one with all the Continental powers combined”? Yet it became clear enough fifteen years later, when slavery had involved us in that civil conflict which also he had foreseen. Again, after the disastrous first campaign against Austria, when the brave generals of the defeated army were counseling peace, while the radicals, who had remained for the most part where that class of theorists usually remains. — that is to say, at home,— were howling for a prosecution of the war, Cavour, now a deputy, answers, in the Risorgimento of November 16,1848, Brofferio’s fiery plea for mezzi revoluzionarii, exposing calmly, one by one, the fallacies of his incendiary appeal. In the course of the argument in question he bids the Italian radicals look at France, whose faith in revolutionary methods is so ardent, who “ undertakes her 24th of June with so perfect an assurance of victory. French blood flows in torrents, and France pulls herself up on the brink of an abyss. . . . Wait a little longer and you will see the final result of these ' revolutionary methods,’— Louis Napoleon on the throne ! ”

Alone among the contemporaries of Camillo Cavour, Louis Napoleon was to boast, in after years, of having once outwitted the wily Italian. Meanwhile, the articles in the Risorgimento on the attempt of France, in the spring of 1848, to excite insurrection in Savoy throw a new and rather lurid light on that most dramatic scene in modern history, — the stormy interview between King Victor Emmanuel and his prime minister after the sudden peace of Villafranca, when the subject dared say to the sovereign, “ I am king of Italy.” He spoke prophetically when he wrote, “ The aim of the war undertaken by Carlo Alberto ” (against Austria) “ is to reunite in one single family the scattered members of our nation. To sacrifice a single one of these would be a sacrilege which would dishonor our most holy cause.”The sacrifice was made, as we know, and the cause was so far dishonored. Savoy and Nice were an all but ruinous price to pay for the provinces ceded in 1859. The prestige of the most truly regal of all reigning houses was weakened, the record of the one great creative statesman of our time tarnished, by that bargain.

Fulfilled prophecies do indeed meet us on almost every page of Cavour’s collected writings. Nay, it is almost impossible to find one which has been falsified by the events of forty years. One there is, however, whose limit of time has not quite expired, but which is worth giving as showing his opinion of that Russian power which it is sometimes thought clever to depreciate. " Woe to us if western Europe does not succeed, in no distant future, in reëstablishing, from the Vistula to the Niemem, a liberal Slav kingdom which may serve as a barrier to the absolute Slav empire " Woe to us if the Slavs of Poland, weary of fruitless grief for the loss of their fatherland, become fully reconciled to the Slavs of Russia, and enroll themselves under the banner of Panslavism ! For then grave danger would indeed menace those countries which are the home of civilization. The first part of the terrible prophecy of the prisoner of St, Helena would be on the eve of fulfillment, and Europe might ' become Cossack ’ before the end of the century ! ”

Yet the same comprehensive thinker offers, a few pages further on, these comments on the French project of sending armed assistance across an unfriendly country to the aid of Poland : " Should the French nation attempt to cross the Rhine against the manifest desire of the Germans, she would meet with unanimous and powerful opposition. She would have against her not only the governments and the regular armies, but the whole population. Forit is well to insist on this point: . . . if France were to provoke Germany by unjust aggression, all parties would unite, all differences of opinion disappear. There would be but one opinion, one party, — that of national independence ! ”

When Napoleon III. brought this to pass, Cavour had been nearly ten years dead, — cut off, to the irreparable misfortune of Italy, at the age of fifty-one. It is sad work and idle to speculate upon the difference it might have made to the land he loved and liberated in part if he had lived till now. Indeed, his career as a minister lies beyond the limits of these volumes, but editorials like his are not to be found to-day in the dull columns of our morning journals.

  1. Bibliotheca di Scrittori Politici Italiani. I. e II. Gli Scritti del CONTE DI CAVOUR. Nuovamente racfiolti e pubblicati da Domenico Zanichelli. Bologna. 1892.
  2. A third volume, of more miscellaneous character, will shortly be published.
  3. Edited by Cavour’s cousin, W. de la Rive.