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ration of Savoy and Nice in France. He thought, in fact, that, as he had only given Piedmont one half the extension which he had foreshadowed at Plombieres, he was not entitled to any portion of the reward which he had stipulated should be paid to him on the completion of his whole programme.
In truth, Napoleon rose to his zenith on the day on which he signed this famous treaty. He had never before, he never again, attained so striking a position. For, on that day he stood, beyond dispute, the most powerful man in Europe. He had gone to war for an idea, but for an idea which found favour with all that was best in liberal Europe; he had defeated the army which was supposed to be the most highly organised on the Continent; and he had displayed a moderation in victory which was as creditable to him as his success in arms. Thenceforward it seemed certain that no great change could be effected on the map of Europe without his concurrence. Thenceforward the statesmen of Europe thought it their first business to endeavour to fathom his thoughts, and to forecast his intentions. Even in this country the sense of the power which he had displayed on the battlefield created the panic which Lord Palmerston did so much to encourage, and which Mr. Cobden vainly endeavoured to allay. We sometimes forget that the great Volunteer movement, which has done, and is doing, so much for England, was due to the impression produced by the campaign which was concluded at Villafranca.
Yet at that very moment, when the Emperor might have been forgiven for thinking that fate had declared itself in his favour, and that he might safely rely on the destiny which was still before him, the tide which had borne him to fame and fortune was already turning. During the eleven years in which he had occupied the first place in the French Republic and Empire everything had gone well with him. France had enjoyed an increasing prosperity which was reflected in the new boulevards, new streets, new buildings which were being constructed not only in Paris but in almost every provincial town. Whatever opinion might be formed of the autocratic government which the Emperor had established, there was no doubt that France, as a whole, had derived advantage from the good order which resulted from his rule. The mere fact that he was on the throne, receiving and repaying the visits of contemporary sovereigns, was a proof that he had triumphed over the traditions of 1815, and over the prejudices of European Courts. The birth of a son had apparently given fresh stability to the Empire, and had given his people a new interest in his dynasty. And yet the writing was already on the wall, if any Daniel had been there to read it. The very campaign which had just concluded so successfully, the very arrangements which he had dictated at Villafranca, were to involve him in difficulties and embarrassments from which he was never to extricate himself. For, if Villafranca saw the Emperor at the height of his power, it saw the commencement of his fall. And in Italy, to use M. de la Gorce's striking language, the fate of the Second Empire was sealed.
In the first place, powerful as he had proved himself on the battlefield, the Emperor was unable to give effect to the arrangements which he had made. He had set a flood in motion which he could not control, and Italy was enabled, in defiance of his will, to carry out the settlement on which she had set her heart. The Emperor had decided that Central Italy should take back her old rulers; and Central Italy showed an increasing disinclination to do anything of the kind. Had the Emperor been endowed with the resolution of Count Cavour, or with the iron determination of Prince Bismarck, he would have insisted on the conditions which he had laid down at Villafranca being fulfilled. No power in Italy could have withstood his will if he had had the courage to enforce it. But Prince Napoleon had told the Emperor of Austria that France would not suffer force to be used to effect the restoration of duke or grand duke. And Lord John Russell was always asking for some definite pledge that France would not employ herself the force which she had refused to allow Austria to exert. Short of force, however, nothing could restore the old system which the Italian campaign had destroyed. There was literally no mean between marching troops into Tuscany and the adoption of Lord John Russell's policy of leaving the Italians to settle their own affairs for themselves. As the months wore on after Villafranca it was accordingly evident that a great military success was likely to be followed by a great diplomatic reverse. The Central States of Italy, against the will of the Emperor, and in defiance of his orders, were, one after another, throwing in their lot with Piedmont; and the Emperor, pledged not to allow Austrian interference, and reluctant to discredit the whole of his Italian policy by employing the arms of France against the Italians, was compelled to stand by and see Northern and Central Italy consolidate themselves against his will. The Emperor was learning for the first time that the doctrine of nationalities, which it had been so convenient to raise, was very difficult to control. He endeavoured to cover his failure by acquiring fresh boundaries for his own Empire. We do not wish to condemn, if we cannot wholly excuse, the annexation of Nice and Savoy. It was not altogether unreasonable on the Emperor's part to maintain that, if Savoy and Nice were the price which Piedmont had agreed to pay for the extension of her kingdom to the Adriatic, the forfeiture should be exacted if a larger and more populous territory than Venetia were added to Victor Emanuel's dominions in Central Italy. But if, from this point of view, the annexation of Savoy and Nice was excusable, there is no doubt that the act itself increased the Emperor's difficulties. Nothing in his career had done him such good service as the close alliance which he had formed with this country. He was ready to make large sacrifices to maintain the friendly relations with England which he had satisfied himself formed a strong guarantee for the permanence of his rule. And the annexation of Savoy and Nice deprived him, at a single stroke, of this advantage. He never recovered from the effect of the suspicions which the act excited; he never completely regained the confidence of the Prime Minister of England, or the goodwill of the English people. They felt that he had entered on a new policy of extending the bounds of his Empire which might, in the near future, be productive of results opposed to the peace of Europe and the best interests of England.
The course of events, moreover, increased the embarrassments in which the Emperor had been involved in the closing months of 1859 by the attitude of Central Italy, and in which he had involved himself in the opening months of 1860 by the annexation of Nice and Savoy. For, before this controversy was settled, the action of Garibaldi in invading Sicily raised a new issue which could not be otherwise than disquieting to the Emperor. Opposed as he had been throughout to the union of Italy, he saw other Italian provinces abandoned by their old rulers, and prepared to throw themselves into the arms of Piedmont. He tried again to stem the tide which was running steadily against him; and if he had had his own will would have prevented Garibaldi from crossing the Straits of Messina. But this country, through Lord John Russell, kept on repeating the eternal conclusion that Italy should be left free to settle its own affairs, and the Emperor hesitated to act alone or against the opinion of the ally whose friendship he still desired to preserve. He contented himself with stationing a French fleet at Gaeta to afford a possible refuge for the King of Naples. And this policy only emphasised the failure of his diplomacy. For France, and indeed Europe, received an object-lesson of the Emperor's incapacity. He showed himself opposed to the union of Southern and Northern Italy, yet powerless to prevent it; the crowning act—the capture of Gaeta—was actually accomplished in the presence of the French fleet.
This discomfiture was preceded by an occurrence still more fatal to the prestige of the Empire. The Piedmontese Cabinet considered that it could only prevent Garibaldi's march on Rome by itself invading the Roman provinces. Rome, however, was occupied by a French garrison; the Pope had enlisted in his support volunteers from every Catholic nation; and a French officer, General Lamoriciere, had been permitted, against the strong advice of some of Napoleon's own counsellors, to assume the command of the contingent. Thus the invasion of the Romagna involved an attack upon territory whose capital was occupied by a French garrison, and whose frontiers were defended by a force commanded by a French officer. Such a proceeding seemed so dishonourable to France that her Foreign Minister, M. Thouvenel, wished the Emperor to dispatch an ultimatum to Turin; and the Due de Gramont, the French Ambassador at Rome, inferring that M. Thouvenel spoke the mind of the Emperor, told the Papal Government that the Emperor would not tolerate Piedmontese aggression. The Emperor was thus committed by his agents to the defence of the Pope, and the defeat of the Papal troops seemed to emphasise his inability to resist the march of the Piedmontese. The sovereign of Northern Italy, who knew his own mind and who was supported by his minister, seemed able to defy at every turn the powerful Emperor, who was vibrating between resolution and irresolution, and whose ministers were unable either to guide or influence their master. Italy, so the Emperor had decided, should not be united, and the union of Italy was practically complete. Rome, so the Emperor had promised, should be defended against aggression, and the Pope had been stripped of his richest provinces by the Piedmontese soldiery.
Only a little more than a year had passed since Napoleon at Villafranca had laid down the conditions on which the question of Italy was to be settled. Every portion of his programme had been torn up. Italian federation had passed out of the possibilities of practical politics, and the union of Italy, notwithstanding the Emperor's opposition, had been almost completely accomplished. Everything that the Emperor had desired had been abandoned; every end which he had resisted had been attained. The victory on the battlefield had been followed by diplomatic disaster, and the Emperor had shown that, if he was still the master of many legions, his will was no longer law.
The discredit into which the Emperor thus fell weakened his authority, and his treatment of the Pope exposed him to severe criticism. Both in the inner circle of the Emperor's Court and in French society there was a difference of opinion on the events which had been thus accomplished. At Court the Empress was passionately devoted to the cause of the Pope, while Prince Napoleon was equally zealous for the union of Italy. The Empress, on the one side, endowed with all the religious fervour of her race, could not even contemplate the desertion of the head of her Church in the hour of his necessity. 'Mort soit, Rome jamais' was her comment on the report that Garibaldi was inviting the Italians to bind themselves under the oath 'Roma o morte.' But, if the Empress was inspired with a passionate desire to save the head of her Church, Prince Napoleon was actuated by at least as strong a determination to extend the rule of his father-in-law. The government of the Pope, so the Prince openly argued in the Senate, was unworthy, effete, and did not deserve a defence. United Italy, moreover, was in need of Rome, and Rome must be surrendered to it. This was the policy which the Emperor ought to pursue, and this was the policy which the Prince believed, notwithstanding all the assurances to the contrary, he would ultimately adopt.
The contrary views which were thus pressed on the Emperor by his wife and his cousin found expression in the country. Catholic and Conservative France—the France to which the Emperor owed his throne, and on whose support he relied for the maintenance of his dynasty—warmly espoused the cause which the Empress was unceasingly pleading. Liberal France, on the contrary—the France which was still suffering from the extinction of liberty and the repression of opinion—as eagerly adopted the views of the Prince. The Emperor found himself in this dilemma.