Notes From Emil Reich’s “Foundations of Modern Europe” Part VI

This is the second part of the section on the unity of Italy beginning from, “…in order to place them under obligations to Italy, had sent out a considerable corps of Italian soldiers to the Crimea as an auxiliary army for the allies.”


The decisive event, however, was the attempted crime of Orsini. It appears that Napoleon III., long before he succeeded in ascending the throne of France, and when he was still a roaming adventurer, had promised to the Italian patriots that whenever he should succeed in his aspirations he would extend to them a helping hand and put an end to the political and social anarchy of Italy. There is little doubt that Napoleon took these promises pretty seriously. Like all the members of the Napoleon family, ha had deep Italian sympathies; and, moreover, his general policy made him take his early promises to the Italian patriots as part of a policy both practical and sublime. However, the exigencies of his home as well as his foreign policy, the great war with Russia from 1854 to 1856, had prevented him from realizing his promises; and to numerous secret reminders of the part of the Italian patriots he answered evasively. These patriots had always threatened him with death unless he redeemed the promises made to them in the autumn of 1857. The most resolute of these patriots, Orsini, left London fro Paris, determined to put an end to the life of Napoleon. With several accomplices he ambushed Napoleon in a street near the Opéra in Paris, whither Napoleon, his wife Eugénie, and other members of his court were repairing in the evening of the 14th January, 1858. Orsini and his accomplices threw several bombs at the carriage of the Emperor; the bombs exploded, and killed and wounded over one hundred and forty persons; however, the Emperor and his wife escaped unscathed. Orsini in prison behaved with the most heroic steadfastness. Napoleon really wanted to pardon him, but it appeared that it would have been unwise to pardon the assassin of so many persons; the indignation of the French public was too intense. Orsini, however, made the Emperor promise that a French army would enter Italy and wage war with Austria, and having obtained this formal promise from Napoleon, Orsini mounted the scaffold with serenity. Napoleon could no longer doubt the very serious character of the threats constantly levelled at him by the Italian patriots. Under the pretence of taking the waters at Plombiéres in central eastern France, he had an interview with Cavour, and there a formal alliance was made and a promise given that at an early date war should be made against Austria both by France and Sardinia, and after the successful termination of the war Austria’s power in Italy would be put an end to.

Although Napoleon, as already remarked, was quite sincere in his ideas about the principle of nationality, and seriously believed that nothing but good could come from a still greater union amongst the distracted territories of Italy and other countries, yet personally he was not in favour of the union of the whole of the Italian Peninsula. At that time a number of French diplomatists and politicians warned him of the inevitable consequences that a unity of all Italy could not but entail upon the prestige and power of France. Italy, they said, if united, will only be the prelude to a similar union in Germany and in other portions of Europe, and France will inevitably suffer from the rise of new and powerful national states. Napoleon did not deny the force of these arguments. However, he hoped to keep the patriotic enthusiasm of the Italians within bounds, and to make of Italy, not one kingdom under the rule of the House of Savoy, but four kingdoms under the suzerainty of France. In this entirely false view he was confirmed by the subtlety and diplomacy of Cavour, who himself very well knew that once Austria’s power was broken in Italy, and the friendship and moral support of France and England secured, nothing could prevent the Italians from establishing themselves as one single united monarchy. Napoleon declared war against Austria, and the war was rapidly finished by the campaign of 1859, the two most important engagements being at Magenta, near Milan, and at Solferino, close to Mantua. The Austrian army, although in no wise inferior to that of the French, was badly generalled, and a few misunderstandings sufficed to produce the defeat of Austria in both engagements. The Italians, drunk with enthusiasm, wanted to force Napoleon to continue the campaign, hoping to oust the Austrians from Italy altogether. However, Napoleon now took fright at the vast waves of national enthusiasm roused in Italy. In order to keep it within bounds he hurried on a peace with Austria at Villa Franca. According to that peace the Austrians were still to retain very considerable Venetian territory in Italy; but the rest of Lombardy they handed over to Napoleon, who ceded it to the King of Sardinia. The Italians were furious in their disappointment. They considered Napoleon a greater enemy of theirs than were the Austrians. They claimed, and not without a fair show of justice, that one more battle, the success of which was scarcely doubtful, would have made secure the unity of Italy. They reproached Napoleon with a childish fear of the anger of the Pope, Pius IX., and with the intention of keeping Italy in her old anarchy. Garibaldi and other Italian patriots, especially Mazzini, published innumerable pamphlets, calling upon the Italian nation to rise in a body and to drive out her enemies. Cavour, who continually clung to his diplomacy, and who was, moreover, crushed by illness, overwork, and the considerable strain of continuous vigilance and diplomatic negotiations, still managed to hold the balance between the wavering of Napoleon, the hostility of the Austrians and the Pope, and the excessive claims of the ultras. He died in June, 1861, and by that time the unity of Italy was a foregone conclusion. The patriots under Garibaldi had, by their bold initiative in Sicily and Naples, so irretrievably engaged and compromised the people of southern Italy, that one part of Italy after another declared for Victor Emmanuel, hitherto only King of Lombardy, as King of Italy. The inevitable and necessary advent of the unity of Italy was finally quite clearly shown in 1866, when Victor Emmanuel, although beaten by Austria on sea and on land at Lissa and at Custozza, nevertheless made good his claim to the Venetian territory still in the hands of Austria, so that the whole of Italy, except the city of Rome, was in August, 1866, under the rule of Victor Emmanuel as King of Italy. The City of Rome was entered by the Italians a few weeks after the commencement of the Franco-German War, and ever since Italy has been a united monarchy.

The events of the fifties and sixties of the last century fully proved the correctness of Cavour’s policy. He was right in thinking that the famous saying, “Italia fara da sè” (“Italy will do it all alone”), was a useful war-cry, but historically and diplomatically the greatest untruth. It was not Italy that made the unity of the Peninsula: it was France; it was, to a certain extent, England; it was Prussia. The result of Cavour’s policy redounds to his personal glory as much as did later on the results of the policy of Bismarck to the glory of the Germans. We say, to Cavour’s personal glory, for we mean to intimate that his policy exalted far more his own genius than it contributed to the greatness of Italy. No nation that has won her liberty and independence at the hands of another people can ever hope to rank as a really great nation before many a generation after her liberation. Had the Italians won the battles of Magenta and Solferino single-handed, and without the aid of any one else, as the Greeks did the battle of Salamis, and the English their battles against the Armada, or the Germans the battles against France, there would undoubtedly have been a far more rapid growth in the social economy and political reconstruction of Italy. The forces that made Italy were not her own forces; and so the immense impetus given to a nation by the triumphs on all-important battlefields has been lacking to her. More than thirty-five years has now elapsed since Victor Emmanuel was made King of all Italy, and while the Italians have been making great efforts to work the regeneration of their nation, and while by international courtesy they are considered a great Power, yet in reality they are far from being so. Internally sapped by the relentlessly hostile agitation of the Catholic Church; her southern provinces cankered by ignoble poverty, brigandage, and total lack of industrial enterprise; her population constantly drained by emigration to South America; Italy is still far from that greatness that her patriots hoped to see as soon as the enemy, more particularly Austria, should leave the country. There is of course no reason to despair of Italy. Her people as individuals are in many ways the most gifted in Europe. The resources both of her moral and intellectual nature are boundless; her position in the centre of the Mediterranean opens immense vistas of material success for her in the near future, but the initial mistake of winning her independence at the hands of others will tell on her heavily for many a year to come.

One thought on “Notes From Emil Reich’s “Foundations of Modern Europe” Part VI

  1. Overgrown_Path says:

    I’ll have to give your blog a read 🙂

    Your first/oldest post was really good. I think I’ll enjoy the rest!

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