« PreviousContinue »
bishoprics and parishes, yet the distribution of that property was made with so little discernment that some bishops were living in opulence, whilst others scarcely got bread; and the royal treasury was burthened with a considerable sum to make good the allowance to the clergy of Savoy, of Genoa, and Nice. A number of convents were also re-established, but chiefly at the expense of a foundation for public education or school of industry. Assuredly the expulsion of the rightful inmates, to make room for a few monks fostered by the court, must have been a sight revolting to the whole nation; and even the enlightened classes of society participated in the general feeling, however disposed to favor the restoration of establishments designed to promote the interests of religion and society, when undertaken with due deliberation,
I think I have said enough to convey an idea of the internal situation of the kingdom; but the 1st of January, 1821, threw a clearer light on what was yet to befal Piedmont. Count Balba was now employed in giving directions as to the legislative and judicial codes commenced under the ministry of Count Borgarelli his predecessor, but with very different views-in fact rather to elude the wishes of the nation, than to satisfy them. Count Borgarelli had been placed at the head of the Senate of Turin; on the first day of the year, according to established custom, he addressed the King. "Sire," he exclaimed, "deign to remember that the ancient laws of the state are the guardians of its security and splendor. Suffer them not to be touched by an unskilful hand. Innovations may lead to great calamities..." The public indignation was at its height: never was courage more misapplied, or so ill rewarded. "What!" said they on all hands, "the King is desirous of giving laws to his people, and is seconded by a wise Minister, who commences the work by destroying abuses that undermine at once the fortunes of suitors, and the reputation of magistrates; and it is the person at the head of the magistracy that raises his voice to overthrow the hopes of the nation !" There were many who thought that the proceeding of the chief president had been concerted with some of the elder senators, on which they exclaimed: "Is it then only for the sake of preserving their hateful gains, that our magistrates can find courage? How many beneficial institutions have been changed since the year 1814! The senate that had been passing edicts in silence, awakens but to commit an offensive act!" It was hoped that the King would put an end to the public anxiety by disgracing Count Borgarelli; but not clearly discerning the real situation of affairs, and having but little confidence in Count Balba, there remained in the public mind an unpleasant doubt as to the impression pro
duced on him by the bold step of the chief president. Every man of sense in Piedmont, from that moment, made up his mind, that the great work in which the whole nation took so deep an interest, would either not be accomplished for a long time, or would be effected in an imperfect manner by an awkward alliance between the old and the new system: such an alliance would have occasioned great expense to the state without any advantage, and would have been but another step towards confusion.
Thus did Piedmont, subjected to an arbitrary government, lose all hope of averting painful consequences by the counterpoise of a legislature solemnly promulgated, and a magistracy of elevated character and strong in the reverence of the people. At the same time an approaching crisis in our finances seemed at hand: a crisis truly alarming for an absolute monarchy, since one or other of these results must happen: Either the government is strong-and it will grind its subjects by enormous contributions that trench on even capital, and otherwise prove destructive of property; or it is weak, and the state falls into dissolution; when the people, naturally driven to an open expression of their fears, eventually become an instrument of anarchy in the hands of the factious.
The more the situation of the country was considered by the enlightened Piedmontese, the more they were convinced of the necessity of a responsible ministry, and of a parliament that should place the government on a regular system, prevent a deficit in the finances, frame wholesome laws, and guaranty their execution. This truth, moreover, was generally admitted, so as to become the popular feeling. A minority, consisting of a portion of the nobility and of ex-magistrates, still resisted it. This minority was weak in numbers, yet more so in talent! The prejudices of the King, and still more of the Queen, constituted its chief strength: but unfortunately it was supported by some public men attached to that fatally timid and superficial policy which will be noticed hereafter. They, however, were themselves convinced that under the present system no good could be effected. What a way of showing love for their country!
If ever the measure of introducing a representative government into a country can be deemed legitimate and necessary, it was without doubt in Piedmont, and at the period of which I speak. It was legitimate because Piedmont was ruled by an absolute government under which subjects were abandoned to the arbitrary will of a master, which constitutes in the eyes of all politicians an illegal government. It was necessary because the government, arbitrary by privilege, was likewise so in act, from the instability of the laws, and the abusive facility with which they could be broken;
it was necessary because this arbitrary government was ruining the state by the defects of its administration. Unfortunately the want of any institution, even of an imperfect one, which might have furnished the means of enlightening the government by peaceable measures, made it every day more to be feared that the Parliamentary system could only be established in Piedmont, through the aid of a revolution; and however legitimate such a revolution might be, many persons who were impatient under their arbitrary yoke, yet shrunk from the thought of lacerating the heart of their prince, and agitated themselves between the chagrin of not being able to undeceive him, and their reluctance to constrain him by revolutionary movements. They might have remained long in this harassing and painful suspense, if the most imminent political considerations had not decided the question at once, and plainly laid down the line of conduct which they ought to pursue, in order to acquit themselves at the same time. of their duties towards the throne, and towards their country. The manner in which the allied powers had disposed of Italy at the congress of Vienna, far from augmenting the real strength of the house of Savoy, had deprived it of all preponderance in the affairs of Italy, and consequently of its place in the system of Europe. Before the French revolution, the King of Sardinia was the principal power in the Peninsula, both by the position and the population of his domi nions. The house of Austria possessed in it only the duchies of Milan and Mantua, almost separated by two rich Venetian provinces, Brescia and Bergamo. Since the congress of Vienna which sanctioned the annihilation of the republic of Venice, one of the most perfidious acts of Buonaparte's policy, the empire of Austria has most alarmingly extended itself in Italy, by the possession of Lombardy, that rich and populous district, siezing its hereditary property on every point of its long northern frontier. Add to this, Parma and Placentia, placed under the authority of an Austrian general, the gaoler of an unfortunate princess, Modena and Tuscany given up to Austrian princes, and Ferrara guarded by an Austrian garrison, which leaves the states of the church at the mercy of the Emperor; surely for any one, after considering this, to say that the king of Sardinia is enabled by the mere acquisition of Genoa to counterbalance the power of Austria in Italy, would be to add insult to our other injuries. Genoa moreover does not augment the strength of the house of Savoy so much as some may imagine. The city requires a larger Piedmontese garrison than the number of inhabitants in the duchy can furnish; the conscription is forced to spare such of the population as are destined for the sea. The Genoese nobility, depressed, discontented, and, with very few exceptions, not soothed by ribbands, and
chamberlains' keys, will for a long time be a dangerous element in the state. The middling ranks, well-informed, and liberal in their ideas, cannot accommodate their spirits to an absolute government, any more than the mountaineers can forget the times when the lands paid scarcely any thing. Genoa can only become a source of prosperity to the monarchy, by a liberal constitution, the only possible tie between two people, held in habitual disunion by the remembrance of long and unfortunate feuds.
Every thinking person in Europe saw that, after the division by the congress at Vienna, the house of Savoy could no longer be considered with reference to what she had been, but what she must become, in endeavoring by force to oppose the will of Italy. Her very being could only be a transient one. Pressed between two great powers, the King of Sardinia saw himself compelled to choose whether he would become the vassal of Austria, or contend for the crown of Italy. The remembrance of the warlike deeds of so many of the Princes of Savoy, of the fortitude of Emmanuel Philibert in misfortune, the undaunted resolution of Victor Amadeus, and the firmness of Charles Emmanuel III., excited an expectation that this house would fulfil its destiny, on the first occasion that should occur. The Lombards were discontented with their subjugation to the Emperor of Austria, the measures he observed towards them were of so dubious a nature as showed that they would be changed or thrown aside, as soon as the motives which dictated them should cease; and even whilst they lasted, the deserted state of Venice, and the thousands who were in want of bread, the remnant of a brave army humbled and neglected, the commercial welfare of the country sacrificed for the interests of Austrian industry, all made the unhappiness of a foreign sway bitterly felt.
In Piedmont a grand revolution had already taken place in the public mind. Emmanuel Philibert in removing his seat of Government to Turin, and Charles Emmanuel II. by his conduct, had long shown that their house and kingdom were no longer French; but it was not till the reign of Victor Emmanuel that the Piedmontese became fully convinced of this truth. A race of young people who had imbibed the sentiments of Victor Alfieri, and a host of brave men, from the ranks of Napoleon's armies, concurred to give this impulse to opinion, and it was strengthened by that hatred of the Austrian name, which is instinctive both in the Piedmontese and Genoese, coeval with their existence, and which will end only with it. A hatred which the Austrians themselves have taken care to nourish, every time they have appeared among us, by the insolence of their deportment, their extortions, and the hardships they impose upon the people.
Victor Emmanuel has been reproached with not having availed himself of the opportunity afforded him in 1814, to place. the crown of Lombardy upon his head. I doubt whether this reproach be just, and whether the enterprise would have succeeded at that time. What has been said of it, however, both in Piedmont, and throughout the rest of Italy, sufficiently shows the state of public opinion. Meanwhile it would be wrong to accuse Victor Emmanuel of not answering, by his sentiments, these wishes of the Piedmontese. Happy times, cherished in memory, when throughout my country we were all united by the same hopes, and all felt called to the same vocation! Then all eyes were turned towards this same Lombardy, which we called the land of our brothers; we had then no Piedmontese deafened with the noise of their chains, or with their blood boiling at the sight of a Milanese bending under the stick of an Austrian corporal. We might differ as to the means of remedying our internal evils, but we all agreed in the desire, and the necessity, of retaining that interest in Italy which formed the sole strength of our state, the only guarantee of its independence, the only reasonable motive for our national sacrifices. We eagerly repeated to each other the answers made by the King to the Ministers from Austria to Turin; we cherished every word which expressed how much he felt the patriotism of the Italians, and if at that time it had been asked who was at the head of the vague, but universal conspiracy which Italy contained within her bosom, the name of Victor Emmanuel would have burst from every lip.
But when reasonable men were constrained to abandon the sweet illusions of enthusiasm, they were reluctantly compelled to acknowlege that the noble chief of the Italian conspiracy entertained a repugnance to one of the measures best calculated to ensure its success. I have already said, that Victor Emmanuel was startled at the idea of a constitutional government. Nevertheless the rectitude of his heart was such, that the reunion of those loyal and courageous servants who had represented to him the duties which his political situation, and the welfare of his people imposed upon him, would have surmounted all his objections. Yes, this good prince would have yielded, notwithstanding the influence of the Queen and his affection for her. Victor Emmanuel loved his subjects also, and the honor of the nation above every thing. He only wanted to know the truth; but how was he to know it? What king can ever flatter himself with knowing it, in a country where the absence of every liberal institution raises clouds of impenetrable darkness between the throne and the people. These clouds, however, were dispersed when the Revolution in Spain sounded like a clap of thunder throughout Europe; and taught