Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 3/Last week (November 24, 1860)

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Once a Week, Series 1, Volume III  (1860) 
Last week (November 24, 1860)
by Alexander Andrew Knox


The intelligence from Italy has almost become wearisome, because day after day the telegraph brings us little more than scraps of foregone conclusions. Victor Emmanuel was to enter Naples—the young Bourbon Francis was to quit Gaëta: the first of these events has come to pass—the other, not. The troops who a week ago were still numbered as adherents of the falling king, during the last seven days have been gradually passing over to the Italian side. The French admiral, who at first had opposed himself to the operations of the Sardinian fleet, after having consulted his oracle at Paris, has ceased to hamper its officers with threats and demonstrations. The drag-net is drawn closer and closer around Gaëta, and in all probability by the time this number of our publication is delivered to the reader, the fallen sovereign will have perceived the uselessness of further resistance, and will have taken his final departure from the kingdom which he and his father so grievously misgoverned. So far it is well; but during the Last Week the eyes of all Englishmen have been turned not only to the other side of the Atlantic, but upon the broad surface of the Atlantic itself. Our young Prince, the heir to the proud sceptre of the British Isles, had been lingering somewhat too long upon his homeward road. There had been, it could scarcely be called, anxiety about him—for reason and experience told us that there was no real cause for apprehension—but at least we should gladly have seen him back amongst us once more. The feeling was honourable to the nation, and to the Sovereign who has discharged the duties of the Royal office in so gracious and temperate a manner, that any anxiety which might have fallen upon her was felt as though it intimately concerned every private household in the land. There was far more in this than mere adulation of the Porphyrogeniti, for it is much to be doubted if many Englishmen, not being actually connected with the Court, would have very seriously disquieted themselves about the sorrows of old Queen Charlotte. The Lady who now sits upon the throne of the Three Kingdoms may fairly reckon upon the love of her subjects, for she has deserved it. She has not only played her own part well, but she has brought up her children in a way which will fit them to discharge the duties of their station; so that, in England at least, loyalty will not be a feeling of by-gone centuries. The greatest concern was everywhere expressed for Queen Victoria—it was almost worth while that she should have endured those few days of suspense, that she might know how strong was the feeling of personal attachment to herself throughout these islands, independently of mere political considerations.

The southerly gale of Wednesday se’nnight, and the telegraph of last Thursday, have put an end to the public solicitude and the private apprehension. The young Prince is back again in the country which one day—may it be a far distant one!—he will be called upon to govern. But how about these lumbering war-steamers, which, upon trial made, turn out to be no steamers at all, but just the old frigates and line-of-battle ships, with a skuttle of coals on board to be used in case of dire emergency? Not so had we understood the matter, although of course we ought so to have understood it. The long continued easterly gales of this November will have done us good service after all—although at the Prince of Wales’s expense—by proving to us that despite of all our mechanical improvements, and all our outlay, we have not as yet succeeded in getting a steam fleet, but only a fleet which can be used as such for a brief space—and at critical moments. Our task is not yet accomplished—we can scarcely be said to have entered upon it. Whatever the truth may be as to this or that particular form of iron-clad vessel, or as to what may be the preferable lines upon which our war-steamers should be laid down for the future, there can be no doubt that we are but just entering upon the scientific epoch of ship-building. With our unbounded command of iron and coal, with our ascertained superiority in engineering skill, and with the longest purse in our hands, it will be strange, indeed, if we do not keep easily a-head of our rivals. If the British sailor ruled the broad seas in former days, the British engineer must do so in days to come. If under such conditions, and with such means at our disposal, we do not hold our own against the world, we deserve our fate.

This visit of the young English Prince to the United States has been made at no ordinary period either of the world’s history or of the history of the States. How is it in all our difficulties—how is it in all their difficulties—that we, the subjects of the British Queen, and they, the citizens of that wonderful confederation of Republics, do not perceive that the best and wisest policy for us both lies in close and cordial union? If we would measure the advantageous consequences which would follow from such an union, not only to all who speak with British tongue on either side of the Atlantic—but to the whole human race—we have but to consider the inevitable results of hostilities between Great Britain and the United States. These would be nothing less than the total extinction of political liberty throughout the world. The principle of military despotism, as put in practice upon the continent of Europe, would, for a time at least, be imposed upon mankind. Where in Europe at the present moment, save in the British Islands, is freedom of thought upon political subjects to be found? Is it in France? ask M. Berryer,—ask all the great statesmen and writers of the Orleans dynasty who have been reduced to silence under the iron rule of the present Emperor! Or is it in Austria, where a free thought, if expressed but in a whisper, is an overt act of high treason against the Hapsburgs? Is it in that miserable Prussia, where human beings, under the vain fictions of constitutional forms, are ticketted, and labelled, and registered, and handled like botanical specimens in a hortus siccus? Is it in Spain, where political life might be regarded as dead altogether, if it were not that every now and then a military émeute takes place at Madrid, and one general is ousted, and another takes his place, whilst the Sovereign majestically continues her calm profligacy without reference to the Ins or the Outs, or who may be lying dead yonder about the Puerta del Sol? Is it in Russia—the traditionary land of serfdom—where the Czar is at once Despot and High Priest, and where the only question which, at the present moment, is seriously agitating the minds of men, is whether or no the bulk of the rural population shall be slightly elevated above the status of mere cattle? Let us say it—for we have the right to say it—England is the only country in Europe in which the lamp of freedom still burns with undiminished light. Even in the new Italian kingdom—in which we see such promise for the future—there would be total darkness within a few weeks, if the vote given, and to be given, by England amongst the nations, was annulled. How is it, then, that smaller matters (such, for example, as the question about the Island of San Juan, with which the name of General Harney has been so discreditably involved) should ever be allowed to imperil relations which, for the sake of mankind, if not for the immediate benefit of the two nations, ought never to be in doubt for one moment? Presuming a perfect accord and harmony of political sentiments between Great Britain and her Australian colonies, the Canadas, and the United States of North America, should such an Alliance as this fear, for one moment, all that could be done by a world in arms? Of course, diplomatic traditions, and dynastic considerations, stand in the way upon our own side of the Atlantic; and upon the other there are the first upheavings of a young nation which is just becoming conscious of its own strength, and a kind of robust contempt for the old political experience of Europe. The best thing that could happen to us both would be to be forced into united action for a common object, and the certain result, as we hope, would be that we should be better understood by our Transatlantic friends. At the present moment they seem to be engaged in the consideration of a problem, the solution of which, in a rational sense, concerns us all; it is nothing more nor less than, whether or no, the confederation which was the work of Washington and of the great civil champions of the revolutionary war, shall be dissolved.

It is the old bone of contention which is cast down upon the floor every four years for American politicians to growl and wrangle over which has given rise to the present dispute. How is it possible that the North American Confederation should ever stand upon a secure or settled basis as long as the opinions of the different states are divided upon the subject of Slavery? It must not be supposed that the consideration of this great topic is, in the States, remitted to the mere Philanthropists. The Northern States with reference to Slavery constitute one vast Exeter Hall. As long as we by our cruisers, by our denunciations, by the tongues of our orators, and the pens of our writers, maintained an unceasing crusade against the “domestic institution,” so long, even in the Northern States, did the feeling of irritated patriotism prevail over the belief that the maintenance of slavery was a heinous blot upon the national escutcheon. When we desisted from our well-intended but irrational endeavours, the still small voice was heard in place of the broadsides of our cruisers and the abuse of our Philanthropists, and the burghers of New York and Boston took the matter in hand upon their own account. How they have sped we know well enough by the accounts we have received from beyond the great sea during the last fifteen years. Until the present moment the South has been triumphant. The Southerns have compelled the Northerns to act as policemen, and to return to them their runaway slaves. There has been the decision in the highest courts of law upon the Dred Scott case. There has been the extension of slavery from territory to territory, in direct defiance of an arrangement made many years ago, and which was supposed to be a permanent settlement of the question. There have been the sanguinary measures of repression employed the other day when, as it was supposed, a servile war had been set on foot in one of the slave-holding provinces. Northern members of either House of the Legislature who had made themselves conspicuous on the Slavery question have been openly attacked by the Southerners, not with words merely, but with blows—and that in the very chambers where freedom of speech and thought should have been preserved inviolate. All that real ability, and blackguardism still more real, could accomplish to maintain the South as the governing power in the Union has been tried, and until the present moment with signal success: but now the unnatural strain has given way, and the Northern Provinces in their turn have asserted their right to make their voices heard upon the great subject which has for so long a time been agitating the minds of all citizens of the United States. The return move upon the part of the southern states to this apparent triumph has been a threat of the dissolution of the Union.

Now it is scarcely credible that, under any circumstances, this threat should be carried into execution; and it would be a great calamity to mankind in general, and to these islands in particular, if such should be the case. Without reference to the serious inconvenience which would follow to us from an interruption in the supply of cotton, and regarding the point upon broader grounds even than those which affect the welfare of our own manufacturing districts, we, in England, require for the maintenance of our present influence in Europe, that the North American Confederation should be united and strong. England has not struck a blow for Italy, but Italian independence is largely the work of England. In the same way, without requiring that the States should give us national support, we derive an enormous accession of strength from the mere fact that so important a portion of the earth’s surface is inhabited by a race of men who could not in any way, in last resort, be induced to throw in their lot with the military despots of continental Europe. If North America were blotted from the map of the world, we and our colonists must stand alone. Possibly, with the help of insurrectionary movements in the various continental countries, we might come off victorious in the contest; but it is an experiment which one would rather not see tried. It is not very probable that this threat of a dissolution of the Union will amount to much more than the ordinary menace of our own more infuriated politicians in former days to move the stoppage of the supplies. Such a measure was of course possible; but before it came to that, something—most commonly the mover’s courage—gave way. One would with difficulty admit the conclusion that the whole population of the slave-holding States—being a slender majority—would be willing to accept the task of keeping down the slaves—being a vast majority—by their own unassisted efforts. A servile war, to be waged by the masters under very unfavourable conditions, would be the well-nigh inevitable result. The fuel to keep the lire alight is there in abundance. Who can doubt that, if animosity between the Northerns and Southerns were carried to an extreme point, but the Northern hands would be ready to apply the match? On the whole, it would seem to be the most fortunate thing that could happen to the Union, that the election of Mr. Lincoln should be carried, if only because it will then be ascertained that a Northern President, elected upon non-slavery principles, cannot by a scratch of his pen bring about the ruin of the Southern provinces; and because the Southerns will discover by experience that their threat of carrying a dissolution of the Union, unless their ideas are accepted without one jot of abatement, falls upon deaf ears. Northern statesmen will end by saying, “We dare not ruin the South.” Southern statesmen will be compelled to add, “Nor dare we recommend a separation between the North and the South.”

There has been very little done or said as yet in the way of practical suggestions for the abolition or modification of existing arrangements with regard to slavery; but there can be no reason why slavery should not be confined within its actual limits with a view to its total extinction at a future day. As yet the effort has been to extend slavery into freshly acquired territories, which would in due course be hardened into states, and so claim a voice in the supreme legislature, because it is deemed necessary to obtain fresh votes in order to secure the predominance of the South over the North. The necessity for this ceasing, the necessity for the indefinite extension of slavery would also cease in the eyes of Southern politicians, and events would be allowed to take their natural course. There has been a vast amount of party feeling—an exaggerated apprehension of an untried future—in the course hitherto adopted by the Southerners. Let a Northern and anti-slavery President try his hand at the solution of this terrible problem for the next four years, and the slave owners will probably discover that they have little to apprehend from this change in the personnel of the supreme administration. After all, we Englishmen can play very effectually into the hands of the anti-slavery party in the Northern States of the American Union if we exert all our energies to procure supplies of cotton from British India, from Africa, or elsewhere. The real way to run the slave owner to the wall is to meet him, and beat him in the open markets of the world. If this will not do, what will? We have tried gunpowder—we have tried philanthropy—but in vain. As far as theology is concerned, the slave-owners twist Scripture to their purpose, and almost twit us with irreligion because we have liberated the slaves in our own West Indian Islands. For sixty years every effort has been tried by us to abolish slavery. The young Prince of Wales who has just returned from the States—having caught the barest glimpses of the fringe of the system at Richmond—can tell with what result. Surely our philanthropists must admit that sixty years constitute a long period in the world’s history, and this period has been given to them; but as far as the North American Union is concerned, the slavery question is in a worse condition than when they first took the matter in hand. It is needless to say that we should rejoice to see the day when the States of the North American Union have purged themselves of this national crime. Until this is done, American liberty is of so dubious a character, that it is scarcely worth talking about it.

It is pleasant to turn from a country, even though it be one with which all our sympathies are bound up by community of language, of religion, of race, but upon which rests so direful a stain, to another which is shaking off chains as heavy as those which ever oppressed the poor negro’s limbs. It is something to have lived to see the independence of Italy all but consummated, and to feel that, if life be spared but a short while longer, the consummation will be achieved. Victor Emmanuel has now taken possession of Southern Italy. He is accepted by the all but unanimous voice of the Neapolitan nation, as he was accepted before by Central Italy. No doubt there is a considerable amount of personal sympathy for the King—and he deserves it—for it must never be forgotten that, whereas all other Italian patriots—even when we include amongst them the pure and glorious name of Joseph Garibaldi—only played their lives, Victor Emmanuel threw a crown and sceptre on the board, and dared to stake the Royal condition of his family, that he might throw for the independence of Italy. This was the movement of a great and magnanimous heart. People say that his head is not equal to his heart; but this is the stereotyped form of reproach against every Italian who does not contrive to hit off the precise view for the moment of our public writers and speakers. At least he has had the discretion to choose his counsellors wisely, and when one reflects upon the enormous blunders which a man in the position of Victor Emmanuel might have committed, and upon the fact that he has not committed any blunder at all (except the enforced cession of Nice and Savoy be one), it must be admitted that he has not done so badly after all. Louis Napoleon has made mistakes in the Italian business. Francis Joseph of Austria has made enormous mistakes—so has the Pope—so has the ex-King of Naples—so has the Grand Duke of Tuscany—so has the Duke of Modena—but where is Victor Emmanuel’s blunder? It is very possible that the downright diplomacy has been the work of Count Cavour; but even if this be so, he is no ordinary Sovereign who, during such troublesome times, had the good sense to select the ablest adviser, and to stand or fall by his decisions. It was no slight enterprise to exchange the sovereignty of Piedmont and Sardinia for the sovereignty of the Italian Peninsula, and yet Victor Emmanuel has accomplished this task. There is the more reason that this should be remembered at the present moment, because so bright a lustre surrounds the name of our Italian Patriot, that the deserts of others may be lost sight of, if not forgotten. True, Victor Emmanuel is not Joseph Garibaldi, but he is a brave soldier, and a true lover of his country. All things considered, it is very doubtful if the Italians could have found a better leader for the present movement. A man of daring and aggressive genius—one cast in the mould of the Bonaparte family—would have aroused the suspicions and fears of Europe; but every one knows that Victor Emmanuel’s imagination does not run riot beyond the true Italian boundaries. He may yet have a dispute to settle with the Pope, and a final argument with the young Austrian Emperor; but when these matters are concluded in a satisfactory way, Italy has work enough before her for a couple of generations, without entertaining designs upon the territories of her neighbours. It is a country which, after a term of military trials, must be guided in the long run by the maxims of constitutional government—could there be a fitter man for either contingency than Victor Emmanuel? He has shown himself a valiant man in war, and in peace he is content to be guided by the advice of responsible ministers. Italy could better spare a better man.

Last Week, however, has produced a really notable event, in the temporary retirement of Garibaldi from active service. The event is scarcely one which we ought to regret, either for his own sake, or that of Italy. It was not fit that such a man should be mixed up with the ordinary business and ordinary intrigues of public life. He is the man to step forward in great public emergencies, and to represent the heroism and fortitude of the nation. Whilst Garibaldi lives, Italy has a great chief—a leader whom all would follow in days of public difficulty and danger. Of course the instruments to be employed for winning and maintaining the independence of any country must be regularly trained troops, resting upon citadels and arsenals. These, however, are not sufficient in themselves, for the young Austrian Emperor has legions at his disposal, trained to martial exercises and perfect in discipline. Why have they been beaten? Why do their leaders shrink from bringing them again into the field? Simply because their heart is not in their work, and because when they are ranged inline of battle the only motives which induce them to struggle for victory are the soldier’s instincts and the natural human desire to save their own lives. There is a great difference between martial ardour of this class and the divine frenzy which fills a man’s breast when he is struggling to preserve everything that makes life worth having, and when he knows that it is a less misery to perish than to fail in his attempt. Garibaldi represents this patriotic principle; and should matters take an untoward turn—which seems improbable enough—he is in himself a future insurrection. It will be found, in days to come, that the popular voice—in this respect just enough—will select Garibaldi from amongst all those who have borne a share in this great Italian struggle, and name him pre-eminently as his country’s champion. This man’s deeds will justify the choice.

There was nothing so very remarkable in the fact that the highly trained divisions of the French army should have beaten the Austrians in the field; and at any rate, since Louis Napoleon has exacted the price of the service, the less said about magnanimity the better. When France talks about “gratitude,” Italy can talk about “Savoy.” France preferred gratitude in a material form, and she has got it. The Central Italians saw their rulers fly away, and no one in particular was the hero of the hour, because the circumstances of the case were not such as to call heroism into play. Victor Emmanuel, with his Generals and his Statesmen to back him, has done wonders; but what he has done has all been done with the help of great armies, and of the usual instruments of success. Besides, independently of the means at his disposal, in the crown of Italy Victor Emmanuel will receive a great reward for all that he has risked, and all that he has gained.

But look at the case of Joseph Garibaldi by the side of any or all of these! With a very few followers he lands in Sicily, and fairly tears the island from the grasp of the Bourbon king. He crosses to the mainland, enters the capital of the Neapolitan sovereign, and assumes the government of the kingdom. With such raw levies as he can get together, and backed by the devotion and enthusiasm, rather than by the military skill, of his followers, he holds the disciplined army of the legitimate sovereign in check, and finally defeats it in a great battle under the walls of Capua. He continues to beleaguer the city until a Piedmontese division reaches the ground; and upon the general of that division, from political considerations, and not because the triumph was his own, devolves the duty of receiving the surrender of the citadel. Having done all this, Garibaldi did something more. He directed that machinery should be organised for testing the real wishes of the Neapolitan people upon the question of the annexation to Northern Italy, and, when this was done, he calmly handed over the fruits of his own perils and triumphs to another. Sic vos non vobis. The name of Joseph Garibaldi will take its place in history by the side of that of George Washington. Where can a third be found?

And now his task is done—and yet not done. Garibaldi has retired to his little rocky islet in the Straits of Bonifazio; and, unless Italy should again claim his life, and his sword, there he will be content to remain. One or two questions, however, must be finally settled, or he will speedily reappear upon the scene. Whilst a priest holds temporal power in Italy, or an Austrian soldier remains in Venetia, Garibaldi’s task is not at an end. He himself has strongly expressed his own consciousness of this when he proclaimed it in his last address before leaving the scene of his last triumphs—“By next spring, if Italy would be free, let her show 1,000,000 men under arms!”