The Life and Times of Cavour - Vol. 1

By William Roscoe Thayer | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XIX
WINNING THE GRAND ALLIANCE -- ORSINI -- PLOMBIERES

AT half past eight o'clock on the evening of January 14, 1858, three bombs were exploded as the French Emperor and Empress drove up to the Opera House in Rue Lepelletier, Paris. A cordon of police, lancers and special guards had been unable to protect their Majesties. One hundred and fifty-six persons, including women and children, were killed or wounded, but, by what seemed a miracle, the Imperial couple escaped unharmed, although their carriage was blown almost to pieces. Recovering quickly from the shock of the explosion, Napoleon and Eugénie went with great composure into the theatre,1 took their places in the Imperial box, and, as if nothing had happened, witnessed the performance. "Let us show these wretches that we have more courage than they," said the Empress.2 A few scratches from flying splinters, and here and there a dab of blood that had spirted over Eugénie's dress, were the only outward signs they bore of the tragedy.

The police arrested suspects right and left, and before the next morning they had what proved to be the right clue in their hands. Shortly before the explosion, a sergeant happened to recognize in Rue Lepelletier Giuseppe Pieri, an Italian of bad reputation, whom the prefecture had sought since 1852. The sergeant who arrested Pieri found on him a bomb. Cross-examination of the prisoner and search in his room in the Hôtel de France et Champagne, led to the arrest of his comrades, Felice Orsini, Antonio Gomez and Carlo di Rudio. Investigation soon revealed Orsini as the leader of the conspiracy.

Orsini, now 39 years old, was born at Medola, in the States of

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1
Artom-Blanc, II, 663.
2
Witnesses differ as to this composure, but the majority report that the Empress was the cooler of the two. On Jan. 16, Eugénie told the ambassadors that, after getting out of the carriage, the Emperor wished to go and speak to the wounded. "But I dragged him into the hall, saying: 'Don't be such a fool! We have had enough of farces like that.' " Hübner, II, 91.

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