HC Deb 07 June 1861 vol 163 cc772-8

Sir, may I be permitted to call the attention of the Government and the House thus early to a subject which has been alluded to in the other House of Parliament, and which, I am quite sure, without any reference to party-feeling or prejudice, might now elicit an expression of feeling in this House—I refer to the death of Count Cavour? It does appear to me that this is a fitting occasion when the House of Commons might take an opportunity of expressing its deep feeling of regret and sympathy for the loss which Italy has just sustained in the premature death of that statesman—a man who was certainly the most conspicuous statesman that ever directed the destinies of any nation on the Continent in the path of constitutional liberty. I believe it would be well that some slight allusion should be made to this subject. It is not for us to scrutinize the decrees of Providence in the dispensation of human affairs, but I do think that the calamity which has fallen on Italy, and which has darkened the prospects and the peace of Europe at this moment, is a subject that ought to engage the attention of this House, and that, irrespectively of that tribute which the public opinion of this country will pay to the memory of Count Cavour, it becomes us to give an official expression to our own feelings of regret for the loss of the man, and of condolence with that nation on whom this loss must most heavily fall. I may remind the House of that which is, perhaps not, within its knowledge—that in 1850 the French National Assembly entered in the procès verbal of the 5th of July a record of its regret at the loss which at that moment this country was sustaining. I think that, without doing anything derogatory to this Assembly, we might take some such course now. The noble Lord at the head of the Government might suggest some mode by which we could enter on the records of this House an expression of our sense of the loss which Italy and Europe generally have sustained in the death of Count Cavour. Many hon. Gentleman in the House disapproved the policy of Count Cavour. Many of us—perhaps from not knowing the difficulties and dangers which encircled his course—questioned his policy and criticised his conduct. But he is gone; he lies wrapped in the sleep of death, and I believe it is befitting us, when we now see the merits of his character rising so conspicuously to our view, to give some expression to our sympathy and regret. I am sure I not only give utterance to the opinions of many in this House, but also of very many in this country, when I tender to the memory of that man my tribute of respect and regret as a simple Member of Parliament.


Sir, having been engaged in diplomatic transactions with Count Cavour, and the hon. Baronet having thought proper to mention the subject on this occasion, I cannot but feel it due to the memory of him who is gone to say that I believe there never was a man who devoted himself, heart, and mind, and soul, more entirely to his country than the late Count Cavour. Undoubtedly he had great ability, he had capacity for great labour, and that ability and that labour were devoted, from the earliest time at which he was capable of giving an opinion, to achieve the independence of the people of Italy. There is no one who looks back to the time when he commenced that enterprise but must see that it was a task attended with the greatest difficulty. The manner in which he began to interest the Powers of Europe, by proposing to act in concert with England and France in the Crimean war, and afterwards at the Congress of Paris, by stating, in the face of European statesmen, what he considered to be the grievances and wrongs of Italy, while it showed how deeply he felt those grievances and wrongs, showed also that he had an intuition as to the means by which alone the independence of Italy, now happily achieved, could be accomplished. This is not the time to speak of the various transactions in which he has been engaged. I had the good fortune both diplomatically to treat with him and to be personally and privately acquainted with him, and I cannot forbear offering this tribute to the memory of a man destined to stand conspicuous in history.


Sir, I rise for the purpose of expressing my entire dissent from the proposal of the hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth, and from the praises lavished on the late Count Cavour by the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary. One of the principal features of Count Cavour's policy was hostility to the temporal power of the Pope. And, Sir, the character of that policy was a persistent and systematic misrepresentation of the state of things in the States of the Church, in order to screen and favour the aggrandisement of Sardinia. Sir, this policy—such a policy—may, I have no doubt, harmonize with the prejudices of many hon. Gentlemen on both sides of this House, who are ready to believe every story about Papal misgovernment with that stupid bigotry of many of the people of this country, who are equally ready to believe it; but I have no doubt that it is a policy which is a gross outrage on the feelings of the great majority of Christians throughout the world. I say that I yield to no man—either to the hon. Baronet or the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary—in my desire to see the Italian people free. I say that I yield to no man in my desire that Italy should be entirely free of Austrian domination; but I refuse to accept the armed supremacy of Sardinia over the heretofore free peoples of Italy as a true definition of Italian liberty. Sir, I am not afraid, even in this House of Commons to say that I think I see the finger of God's justice in the death of Count Cavour. [Loud cries of "Oh, oh," and interruptions.] Sir, do not let the House misunderstand me. ["Oh, oh!" and renewed interruptions.] I am far from exulting ["Oh, oh!"] at the termination of his career. ["Oh, oh!"] On the contrary, I regret it. I regret the death of Count Cavour ["Oh, oh!" and continued interruptions], though, no doubt, I regret it for reasons very different from those of many other hon. Gentlemen. [Renewed cries of "Oh, oh!"]


Sir, I think that the hon. Gentleman opposite (the O'Donoghue) entirely misapprehended the intention of my hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth. It was not his intention that the House of Commons should dispute over the dead body of a great man. He desired, and I believe most Members of this House desired, without reference to any particular form of opinion, to pay the homage of constitutional opinion in this country to a statesman who founded constitutional institutions in his own, and who, in addition to that glorious achievement, has doubtless brought about a great national unity—has realized and made a fact what for so many years has been the dream of the best men in Europe. We feel here—I know that I feel—so deeply the disappearance of this foremost man in Europe from this earthly scene that I am conscious that words are utterly inadequate to express the solemnity of the occasion. We are not called on to discuss the character of an individual, but to express as solemnly and as simply as we can our sense of the mighty loss which Europe has sustained in the removal of a great guiding mind—a mind which had the power not only to grasp the destinies of Italy, but in a great degree to contribute to the peace of the world by the combination of a determination, a moral courage, and an intellectual vigour which I believe exist in no one other statesman of Europe. My hon. Friend has alluded, with a modesty which becomes the son of so great a man, to the fact that the National Assembly of France entered upon its formal records the sympathy of France and Europe for the death of Sir Robert Peel. Perhaps it is not so much in accordance with our usages—separated as we are from the immediate action of continental struggles—to adopt such a formal proceeding; but, as in the other House of Parliament, so in this, I believe it would be well that both sides should give expression to their sympathy and regret, all the better, perhaps, for being the less mixed up with political feelings and political opinions. And, Sir, on that matter I should not have said a word had it not been that the hon. Gentleman opposite has taken upon himself the function of interpreting the ways of Providence in a manner which I am sure he himself, in his better moments, will not approve. Even though led away by religious enthusiasm—[The O'DONOGHUE: No!]—it is hardly for him or for me, or for any mortal man, in the exercise of his miserable, feeble judgment, to say whether the disappearance of Count Cavour from this world will tend to that object which the hon. Gentleman himself wishes to promote—whether the confusion and difficulties which the Catholic Church has sustained in later times may not be rendered more distant, and those difficulties may not be increased—whether that humiliation, which I never wished to see, may not be effected in the absence of that great man, who, I believe, never let out of his mind the important fact of the constitution of the Catholic Church, and who, having lived and died a sincere member of that Church, did nothing more against it than he believed to be consistent with his character as a statesman, and necessary for the prosperity of his country. It would ill become me to pronounce a panegyric on his name, for the best panegyric is to be found in the sympathy of the whole civilized world. The feelings we entertain are not merely to be attributed to a sense of the loss we have sustained, but to the fear which, I believe, will agitate the mind of every far-seeing statesman who looks to the difficulties that may arise on the great questions which are now to be discussed, and which will be discussed without the aid of that great and powerful spirit whose wisdom and patriotism have so often directed such discussions to success.


Sir, I cannot refrain from adding a few words to what has been said by those who have preceded me. I must own that there can be no person more fitted to introduce this subject to the consideration of the House than the son of that eminent statesman whose memory was made the subject of a formal tribute of admiration by the Legislature of the neighbouring country of France. Sir, my hon. Friend has suggested that some proceeding of the same sort might be adopted on the present occasion. But, with all submission, I would say that every country is guided by its own habits in such cases, and that that which may be congenial to the customs of countries on the Continent may not be in accordance with our own. I believe there is no instance on record of any proceeding such as my hon. Friend would suggest even in the case of the most distinguished statesmen of our own land whose departure from among their contemporaries may have been the subject of regret. Therefore, I think the House will content itself with an expression of sympathy with what has fallen from my hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth, and from other Gentlemen who have taken part in this discussion. I am not going to follow the hon. Member who has spoken on the other side of the House (the O'Donoghue), who has introduced matter which I think had better been omitted. But I feel that I should be wanting to my own sentiments if I refrained from concurring with those who have expressed the deep regret which is felt for the loss of this distinguished man—a loss not only to his own country, which will deeply deplore him, but to the whole of Europe, and whose memory will live embalmed in the grateful recollection of his countrymen and in the admiration of mankind so long as history records his deeds. When I speak of what Count Cavour has done it ought to be borne in mind that the most brilliant acts of his Administration, and those which have most attracted the notice of the world—namely, the political extension of unity throughout Italy—are, perhaps, not those for which his countrymen will most revere his memory. It should be remembered that he laid the foundation of improvements in the constitutional, legal, social, and, indeed, in all the internal affairs of Italy, which will long survive him, and confer inestimable benefits on those who live and en those who are to come hereafter. It may be truly said of Count Cavour that be has left a name "to point a moral and adorn a tale." The moral which is to be drawn from the life of Count Cavour is this—that a man of transcendant talents, of indomitable energy, and of inextinguishable patriotism, may, by the impulses which his own single mind may give to his countrymen, aiding a righteous cause—for I shall so call it, in spite of what may be said to the contrary—and, seizing favourable opportunities, notwithstanding difficulties that appear at first sight insurmountable, confer on his country the greatest and most inestimable benefits. That is the moral to be drawn from the history of Count Cavour. The tale with which his memory will be associated is one of the most extraordinary—I may say the most romantic—recorded in the annals of the world. We have seen under his influence and guidance a people who were supposed to have become torpid in the enjoyment of luxury, to have been enervated by the pursuits of pleasures and to have had no knowledge or feeling on politics, except what may have been derived from the traditions of their history and the jealousies of rival States—we have seen that people, under his guidance and at his call, rising from the slumber of ages with the power of "a giant refreshed," breaking that spell by which they had so long been bound, and displaying on great occasions the courage of heroes, the sagacity of statesmen, the wisdom of philosophers, and obtaining for themselves that unity of political existence which for centuries had been denied them. Sir, I say these are great events in history, and that the man whose name will go down to posterity connected with such a series of events, whatever may have been the period of his death, however premature it may have been for the hopes of his countrymen, cannot be said to have died too soon for his glory and his fame.

Motion agreed to.