The Life and Times of Cavour - Vol. 1

By William Roscoe Thayer | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XV
PIEDMONT THE NATIONAL LEADER

IN the ebb-and-flow of the seasons, there comes a turning point when we say, "Yesterday was winter; today is spring." The change may have been long brooding, unexpected, almost unhoped-for; but we recognize it immediately. At a given moment, we are surprised to note a new feel in the air, to see buds peep forth on twig and tree, to find a new strange exaltation in the heart. When we looked last, the fields were stubble; now a delicate verdure is creeping across them. Nature, which for many months has seemed utterly absorbed by death, now pours life and more life into every nerve and fibre of the visible world. History too has its equinoctials. Such a seasonal divide was the Congress of Paris for the Italians.

At the outset, the result seemed too merely "moral" to satisfy persons who thought that Providence paid only in material coin. But soon it was perceived that the implications were of far more importance than the formal acts of the Congress. Europe had listened to Piedmont as the spokesman of Italy; the wrongs of the Peninsula were ventilated; Cavour, Piedmont's pilot, had suddenly acquired international fame and had sown in the minds of the statesmen of England and France his plan of redemption. Next to gaining their goodwill, he valued his achievement in holding up Austria as the irreconcilable enemy of Piedmont, the direct cause of Italy's terrible condition. To focus the patriotism of the Italians on the great enemy of Italy was indispensable; but it was far less simple then than it appears now: because everywhere outside of Piedmont, patriots of every party -- Moderates, Radicals and Reds -- still deceived themselves by thinking that local insurrections could do good. Untaught by the lesson of 1849, that Austria would step in to restore Absolutism in every province, they still cherished the delusion of 1848 -- that no matter where the spark of revolution were dropt, it would light a fire that would sweep from Sicily to the Alps.

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