The Life and Times of Cavour - Vol. 1

By William Roscoe Thayer | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IX
THE FIRST YEAR OF THE PREMIERSHIP. 1852-1853

SUCH was the condition of Italy, such the general temper of Europe, in November, 1852, when Cavour became Prime Minister of Victor Emanuel II. The outside world, so far as it concerned itself with Piedmont, was either lukewarm or hostile. Austria, and her prottégés in the Peninsula, hated the little oasis which refused to be Austrianized. France, having fallen back on her traditional rivalry with Austria, was pleased to offer to the Subalpine Kingdom a friendship which she did not intend should be exacting. In England, the Court was pro-Austrian, but Liberals and Conservatives alike felt a certain Platonic admiration for the sturdy people who had stuck to representative principles in spite of the example of all their neighbors and of the actual danger it involved. But Cavour knew that in case Piedmont were attacked neither the French sympathy nor the English would solidify in armed help. He regarded the goodwill of the Western Powers as indispensable, and he foresaw that it could be secured only by making Piedmont strong, progressive, and self-reliant, a model of those ideals which the best men in France and England cherished.

He came to the premiership not a day too soon. The impetus towards Liberalism, which the young King's loyalty to the Constitution in 1849 had kept up, was beginning to slacken. Massimo d'Azeglio, charming as man and chivalrous as patriot, had no talent for political organization.1 Whatever fighting quality his ministry had shown, it owed to Cavour, the subordinate, whose self-assertion at last wore the aspect of mutiny. The Connubio needed to be followed up by a vigorous forward movement; without it, the Liberals wavered from May to November, 1852, and the Reactionaries grew proportionately aggressive. The

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His wound also hampered him seriously. A prime minister who was obliged for weeks at a time to hold his cabinet meetings stretched on a sofa and was prevented from facing Parliament, was at a great disadvantage.

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