HC Deb 15 February 1848 vol 96 cc659-68

rose to move for copies or extracts of correspondence on the subject of the Commercial League of Italy, He could not refrain, in doing so, from taking a passin; glance at the state of political affairs in that country. It had been the unhappy destiny of Italy in modern times, notwithstanding all her former grandeur, her learning, her high position in the scale of nations, and the universality of her language, to fulfil the denunciation of the poet— Conquering or conquered, still to be a slave. Whilst the great men of that country had poured the light of genius over the universal earth, and their claims to admiration had been recognised by the world, Italy herself had been condemned to a long period of darkness, from which she seemed about to emerge. He was not aware that any events had taken place of late years which had filled men of thought and hope with more agreeable anticipations than the events which had occurred in Italy; and sure he was that that House would join in the prayer that they might lead to the great consummation of Italian freedom, and that Italian freedom might be associated with Italian happiness. No one could have read without paying a tribute of admiration to the noble Lord the documents which had been laid on the table of the House, and the communications with the Austrian Government as to the territorial arrangements and political relations of Italy. No doubt, in many respects the position of Austria was an embarrassing one. She had conveyed her policy to Europe in one short emphatic phrase; she declared that, as far as she was concerned, Italy was only a geographical abstraction, a mere name. She saw nothing that was common to the Italian people, nothing in the universality of its language, nothing in the character of its literature, nothing in the sentiments of ancient nationality which pervaded the Italian peninsula, nothing in those great influences which had been acting for centuries on the Italian mind. Prince Metternich, who ought to be keenly alive to all that was passing in Italy, saw in the demand for reform only a subversive spirit at work; the policy of Austria towards free and independent nations such as Switzerland had been directed to one great object, to prevent the establishment of a free and national Government; acting upon the maxim divide et impera; and impeding the consolidation of that influence which free and constitutional States ought to exercise. Austria had been compelled within her own territories to make great concessions to public opinion, to allow to Hungary a constitutional Government. He hoped that a reconsideration of her position in Italy would induce her to make similar concessions to the people of Lombardy. From the time of Dante downwards, it was remarkable how many evidences were to be found of a mutual sympathy between those two portions of the Austrian dominions—how Lombardian hopes and feelings had vibrated to Hungary from Lombardy, and Hungarian feelings to Lombardy from Hungary. And in what language did Prince Metternich designate what was passing in Italy? He made no allowance for the force of opinion which had influenced the Sovereigns of Italy, and induced them to float with that great tide of public sentiment which was flowing towards constitutional government. The action of the current of national feeling he ascribed to the machinations of the "chiefs of sects," who had, he declares, for some years undermined the institutions of the peninsula. The progress of events he called the utopia of an advanced radicalism, and saw with horror the influence of public opinion such as existed in Switzerland. He did not know how any statesman could expect the Italians to reverence his authority, or could hope to exercise influence within the peninsula, except by associating himself with Italian feelings, and trying to represent Italian interests. Nothing could be more satisfactory than the language which the noble Lord had held in his despatches to the Austrian Government. Whilst recognising the right of Austria to some territorial possessions in Italy, the noble Lord had laid down distinctly and broadly the important principle of —"the right which belongs to the sovereign power in every State to make such reforms and internal improvements as may be judged by such sovereign power proper to be made, and conducive to the wellbeing of the people whom it governs. Most admirable was the advice offered by the noble Lord in reference to this principle:— That right it appears that some of the Sovereigns of Italy are now willing and prepared to exercise, and Her Majesty's Government would hope that the Government of Austria may think fit to employ that great political influence which Austria legitimately possesses in Italy with a view to encourage and support those Sovereigns in such laudable undertakings. The noble Lord went on to point out the causes which had produced the present state of irritation and anxiety prevailing in some quarters, and remarked, almost prophetically— Her Majesty's Government have been convinced, by the information which has reached them from a great variety of quarters, that deep, widely-spread, and well-founded discontent exists in a large portion of Italy; and when it is considered how full of defects and how teeming with abuses of all kinds the present system of government in several of those States, and more especially in the Roman States and in the kingdom of Naples, are known to be, it cannot be surprising that such crying evils should generate the strongest discontent; and it is very possible that men who feel the full intensity of the grievances under which they now are and have for a long series of years been suffering, and who see no hope of redress from their present rulers, should take up any scheme, however wild, from which they may fancy they could derive a chance of relief. The noble Lord then proceeded to do justice to the admirable and excellent man lately placed at the head of the Pontifical dominions, whose knowledge of the state of the Italian mind, and conviction of the deeply-rooted evils which has spread through the whole of his territories, had induced him to undertake the great work of reform, and to aid it by those religious influences which he alone was able to bring to bear upon the subject. The noble Secretary for Foreign Affairs observed, that— This observation does not indeed apply with full force to the Roman States, because the present Pope has shown a desire to adopt many of those much-needed reforms and improvements which in 1832 Austria, in conjunction with Great Britain, France, Russia, and Prussia, urgently advised the late Pope to carry into execution; and it may be hoped that if the Pope be encouraged and assisted by Austria and the other four Powers, in removing the grievances of which his subjects have long complained, the discontent which those grievances have created will soon die away. The advent of the present Pope to power had enabled him to give effect to the yearnings of the Italian mind; his conviction of the enormous extent and deep rooted foundation of the evils and grievances by which his territorial dominions were overspread, induced him to undertake the great work of reform, and to associate it with the religious influences which, as the head of the Roman Catholic Church, were placed under his control. With regard to Naples, the noble Lord offered some suggestions on which Austria would do well to act:— But there are other States in Italy, and more especially the kingdom of Naples, where reforms and improvements are required almost as much as in the Roman territory; and Her Majesty's Government would hope, that as no European Power is more interested than Austria in preserving the internal tranquillity of Italy, so will the great and well-known influence of Austria in Naples be beneficially exercised in encouraging those reforms and improvements which will tend to remove the discontent from which alone would spring any dangers by which that tranquillity is likely to be threatened. He should be greatly grieved if it were supposed that he would desire to see this Government meddling in the internal affairs of other States; but indisposition to interfere appeared to him perfectly compatible with a great sympathy for the maintenance and spread of free institutions. He desired to see the establishment of liberty in every portion of the globe, and had the strongest wish that the moral influence of the Government and people of England should be generously and liberally exerted in that struggle of the oppressed against the oppressors which was going on throughout Europe. The religious influences of Rome, the free-trade principles of Tuscany, he trusted, would gradually spread through the Italian States, and become the lawgivers of the Italian people. Though Austria might feel some alarm at the political and military power of Sardinia, it was to be hoped she would see the necessity of consenting to those ameliorations which would add so materially to the happiness of her Italian dominions. Then might they look forward with confident expectation to the establishment, in every one of the Italian States, of free and representative Governments. The interests of peace, the interests of liberty, the interests of mankind, required this. The power which the Pope exercised rested only in the individual, and was referable to a happy accident; but it ought to be the object of British policy to assist with all our moral influence the consolidation of a free Government in the various States. It had been said with great truth, that in the Italian Free Trade Confederation, Sardinia occupied much the same place as Prussia in the Zollverein. The conduct of Carlo Alberto had been in every respect most honourable to him; he had gone from step to step without bloodshed and violence, towards the establishment of a constitutional form of government, which would be most acceptable to his people. Tuscany had always been a particularly interesting portion of the Italian peninsula, especially to those who had seen the happy effects of the development of the principles of free trade in the felicity of the Tuscan people. The influence of Tuscany was widely spread; no doubt it was she who had contributed the largest portion of illustration to the literature of Italy; and it was matter of congratulation that the Grand Duke had not been backward in moving in the path of constitutional reform. With respect to Naples he could not speak without some apprehen- sion and hesitation; but even there the good seed had been sown, and would, no doubt, grow to a flourishing tree; and he could not doubt that the Sovereign, taught by long and sad experience, and impelled by the events passing around him, would yield to the general feelings of the Italian people. The Sicilians, too, had sought to burst their bonds; and if blood had unfortunately been shed, we could not forget it was the example and instructions of England which awakened in the minds of the Sicilian people the desire for independence. No one could have trodden Sicilian ground without hearing the name of Lord William Bentinck spoken of with intense affection; and through all the vicissitudes of her late history there was no Sicilian who did not ardently expect the day when his countrymen should be entrusted with the making of Sicilian laws, and the public mind should be reflected in its institutions. The idea of the Commercial League appeared to him to have been most fortunate. There were no means by which Italian feeling could be so effectively condensed and brought to a focus as by the establishment of a league of that nature. No more federalism than free communication was desired. Although a strong national feeling pervaded Italy generally, the individual States were distinguished by long-cherished local prepossessions and peculiarities. Much that characterised the Neapolitan was not to be found in the inhabitants of Tuscany; whilst strong points of difference were to be found between the Roman and the Venetian, the Lombard and the Sicilian. The commercial spirit of Italy was still alive and active. Notwithstanding the great changes that had been effected by the discovery of the countries beyond the Cape, and the alterations that had been introduced in our mode of intercourse with the Oriental world, Italy had preserved a large portion of the trade of Europe, and many of her ports were distinguished for the excellence of her mariners and the enterprise of her merchants. But he hoped the Italian Commercial League would guard against making that mistake which had been made by the Germans on the Rhine. He trusted that their tariff would recognise no discriminating duties, and that while facilitating communication among themselves, they would not raise a barrier to the friendly intercommunication with other nations. That was the great fault which had been committed in Germany. If the tariff of Tuscany, for example, should be made the groundwork of future commercial legislation, he had no doubt that Italian commercial glory would again return—that Genoa, Leghorn, and Venice—the great commercial marts of that peninsula would see the return of those days of splendour with which their remoter history was associated. He was not aware whether the noble Lord at the head of Foreign Affairs would find himself in a condition to make any communication to the House on the present occasion; but, certain as he (Dr. Bowring) was that the active intelligence of the noble Lord had been directed towards that interesting portion of the world—Italy, and considering as he (Dr. Bowring) did that the commercial interests of this country involved, in effect, the commercial interests of the world, he had no mistrust as to the welfare of Italy or of England being well guaranteed so long as they were in the keeping of that noble Lord. Without, therefore, trespassing any further upon the House, he begged to move that copies or extracts of correspondence on the subject of the Commercial League in Italy be laid upon the table of the House.


My hon. Friend has no doubt called the attention of the House to some of the most remarkable and interesting events which have occurred in our times. It is impossible for any man to witness the progress which constitutional opinions and institutions are now making in Italy without feelings of the deepest and liveliest interest. Sir, Italy is not only at all times one of the most interesting countries from its peculiar position, but one may say, that its history has been the most remarkable of any country on the face of the earth; for it has gone through every change of political condition—from being the mistress of the known world to being reduced to a state almost of political extinction. I trust that a brighter day is now dawning upon that country, favoured as it is by nature in many respects—the birthplace of some of the greatest geniuses that have ever lived, though unhappily Italy has been for a long time unlucky in respect to its political condition. The confidence with which we may look to the future prospects of Italy is founded on the gifts which nature has bestowed upon the people who inhabit that land, for in the political vicissitudes to which the country has been subject, the natural vigour of the mind of the Italian people, the extent of their intellectual resources, and I may say the splendour of their genius, has invariably made way, and even in the darkest periods of their political history, there have shone forth bright examples of intellectual ability, which have been not only the ornament of the country, but the admiration of the civilised world. It is gratifying to see that the progress which rational liberty is now making in Italy is brought about by the harmonious accord of sovereigns and people. It is upon that circumstance more especially that I venture to found my hopes that the improvements which are now making will be permanent and stable, because they are founded upon mutual concord, and are therefore less likely to be shaken by any future and untoward events. My hon. Friend has adverted to the position in which Austria stands with respect to the events now passing in Italy. It is a satisfaction to me, and I am sure it will be gratifying to the House, that I should be able to say, that as far as Her Majesty's Government are informed of the intentions of the Cabinet of Vienna, they see no reason to apprehend that the policy of that Cabinet will be to meddle in any way whatever of hostile interference with the events which are taking place beyond the Po. I have indeed within the last four-and-twenty hours received communications from the British Ambassador at Vienna, which contain very satisfactory assurances on that subject. That course is one which might naturally be expected from the prudence and the wisdom of the Austrian Government; and I am happy to find it is the course which that Government is likely to pursue. With respect to the particular transaction to which my hon. Friend's Motion relates, the formation of the Commercial League, I should rather wish my hon. Friend and the House to allow me to defer to some future period the communication of the diplomatic correspondence on that subject. For this wish, I will shortly state the reason, if it is not obvious to the House. That Commercial League is at present founded only in principle. The details of the arrangements are still matters of negotiation between Members who seek to form it. If I were to lay before this House communications which have been confidently made to our representatives at the different Courts of Italy of the views with which the several Governments are entering into that negotiation, I am sure my hon. Friend will see that such publication would tend, perhaps, to defeat the purpose which he and I, and I am sure every Member of this House, would wish to see accomplished. The mere ordinances which form the basis of that future league have already been made public. I can have no objection whatever to lay them on the table; but I should wish not to be asked to lay on the table any confidential communications which have been made to us as to the present state and progress of the negotiation. I can assure my hon. Friend and the House, however, that we have witnessed that union of the different States of Italy, with a view to establish some uniform system of commercial intercourse founded on a basis of commercial liberty, with the greatest interest and sympathy; and as far as it becomes the Government of this country to tender advice or express wishes upon this subject, my hon. Friend may be assured that no proper effort shall be omitted by us to persuade the States, of whom that union is composed, to found the tariff, and the calculated regulations of the tariff, upon principles which shall be consistent with the utmost development of commercial intercourse and freedom. My hon. Friend has adverted to the share which the British Government may be disposed to take in regard to the political events now passing in Italy. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend, and in that which I have no doubt is the opinion of this House, that whatever may be the wishes, whatever the gratification with which Her Majesty's Government may see the progress of political events in Italy, it is not fitting that the British Government should interfere, further than may be required with a view to the best interests of the parties concerned. But I am satisfied it will be gratifying to the House, as a proof of the confidence with which England is looked to by parties in remote quarters of Europe, and engaged in affairs more exclusively concerning themselves, that I should say that Lord Minto is gone from Rome to Naples, in consequence of a desire expressed by the Sicilians on the one hand, and by the Government of Naples on the other, that the effective assistance of British diplomacy should be afforded towards a satisfactory settlement of the points in dispute between them. I am sure those who are acquainted with my noble Friend will feel that that task, delicate and difficult as it may be, cannot be placed in better hands; and. that my noble Friend, in any advice which, upon the solicitation of the parties he may think him- self at liberty to offer to them, will be actuated by the most disinterested and enlightened desire to bring them to such an adjustment as may be consistent with the happiness of the people, and the dignity and honour of the Sovereign.


was quite sure that the circumstance which the noble Lord had mentioned, of Lord Minto having been directed to go to the Court of Naples, proceeded from no want of confidence in those who, in the ordinary course of things, it might have been supposed would have been the parties to be charged with the mission. He felt confident that the language in which the noble Lord had expressed himself would prove to France, and to those Gentlemen in the French Chambers who had commented upon the conduct of the noble Lord on various occasions, that the principles of the English Government were those of constitutional liberty, and that their object was to develop, as far as they could, without an injudicious interference, the principles of constitutional liberty in every country. Those Gentlemen who paid attention to the French debates would, he was sure, feel a proud gratification at the tone of the noble Lord, and the language held in that House, as compared, he was sorry to say, with some of the speeches delivered upon the other side of the channel.

Motion withdrawn.