Gateway to the Classics: Growth of the British Empire by M. B. Synge
Growth of the British Empire by  M. B. Synge

King of United Italy

"I write of days that will not come again,—

Not in our time. The dream of Italy

Is now a dream no longer; and the night

Is over."

— Mrs. Hamilton King  (The Disciples)

D ARK indeed was the outlook in Italy, when Victor Emmanuel of Sardinia took up the sceptre, that his father had flung aside, after the battle of Novara. The year of revolution had come and gone, leaving the country more hopeless than ever. But Mazzini had not lifted his voice in vain, though the prospect was of the gloomiest, as he sat amid the ruins of Rome, after the departure of Garibaldi. "He waited for friends to rally round him, but none dared to rally; for foes to slay him, but no man dared to slay." And at last he went his way into exile once more. His work for Italy was done.

Ten years passed away, and war with Austria again became inevitable. Instead of the lofty dreamer, Italy had now a practical man of affairs in Count Cavour to lead her. His idea was to drive the Austrians from the country, by force of arms, and establish a united northern kingdom under his master Victor Emmanuel. But he saw clearly that Italy could not succeed single-handed. So he turned to France, and the Emperor Napoleon agreed to come and help.

War was declared in 1859, and at Genoa, Victor Emmanuel met his new ally Napoleon.

"I have come to liberate Italy from the Alps to the Adriatic," said the Emperor confidently, as together the two monarchs made their way to the front. They carried all before them. The victory of Magenta was followed by that of Solferino, and then, for some unknown reason, Napoleon stayed his hand. He met Francis Joseph, Emperor of Austria, at Villafranca, and made a peace, which filled the Italians with dismay, for it gave the province of Venice to Austria, making union impossible. Cavour was terrible in his anger and grief.

"Before Villafranca," he cried, "the union of Italy was a possibility: since Villafranca, it is a necessity."

The events of 1859 had brought Garibaldi to the fore again. He had been summoned before Cavour. Wearing the historic red shirt, he presented himself at the door and demanded audience of the great Italian minister. He refused his name, and the servant, alarmed by his fierce appearance, refused him admittance. At last, as Garibaldi refused to go away, Cavour was consulted.

"Let him come in," said the minister. "It is probably some poor beggar with a petition."

Such was the first meeting between the great statesman and the no less famous volunteer. Garibaldi now fought against the Austrians, and at the sudden termination of the war, he was hailed as a national deliverer throughout the country. He was now to win yet higher fame.

Sicily and Naples were ruled by one king, and Sicily now raised the standard of revolt, declaring her intention of joining Italy in her struggle for unity. Garibaldi determined to join them with his volunteers.

"Italians," ran his proclamation, "the Sicilians are fighting for Italy. To help them with money, arms, and men is the duty of every Italian. To arms, then! Let us show the world, that this is truly the land once trodden by the great Roman race."

He waited for no orders in this rash undertaking. "I know," he wrote to Victor Emmanuel, "that I embark on a perilous enterprise. If we achieve it, I shall be proud to add to your Majesty's crown a new and glorious jewel."

It was a calm moonlight night in May, when the red-shirted band stole away from the shores of Italy in two steamers, under the command of Garibaldi, bound for Sicily. When fairly out to sea, Garibaldi planned his coming campaign. On May 11, the thousand landed at Marsala.

"Sicilians," cried Garibaldi, "I have brought you a body of brave men. To arms all of you! Sicily shall once again teach the world, how a country can be freed from its oppressors by the powerful will of a united people."

The name of Garibaldi acted like magic. Sicilian peasants flocked to his standard, till his numbers were doubled. An army from Naples was now sent to oppose him. The armies met at a little mountain town, called Calatifimi. After a sharp conflict the Neapolitans, in their gaudy uniforms with gold lace and epaulettes, fled before the red-shirted band of half-armed enthusiasts, and Garibaldi entered Calatifimi as a conqueror. Two hundred of his men were wounded, including his son Menotti. Those who knew his utter devotion to the boy, had begged him not to risk so precious a life rashly.

"I only wish I had twenty Menottis, that I might risk them all," was the heroic answer.

On to Palermo marched the liberators. Now they had to creep along goat-tracks on the mountain-side, now they were drenched to the skin by heavy rain, but hungry, shelterless, they trudged on.

"If you join me, you must learn to live without bread and to fight without cartridges," Garibaldi had once told them.

They forced their way into Palermo, and with the capture of Milazzo, they had practically conquered the whole island. It was an achievement, which stands alone in modern history.

Garibaldi now turned his eyes towards Naples. He would yet proclaim Victor Emmanuel king of a united Italy!

As he advanced towards the city, enthusiastic crowds surrounded him. "Viva Garibaldi!" arose from every side, as he made his triumphal entry.

The king of Naples and Sicily had fled, but troops sullenly guarded the royal palace. They waited but one word to fire on Garibaldi. It was an anxious moment. One shot, and the work of the last month was undone. The Liberator stood up in his carriage, and, folding his arms, looked earnestly at the uncertain troops. He was within range of the guns.


Garibaldi stood up in his carriage.

Amazed and almost terrified, the soldiers suddenly threw aside their matches, and, waving their caps in the air, shouted with the crowd, "Viva Garibaldi!"

Two months later, Victor Emmanuel and Garibaldi entered Naples side by side. Then, having laid this new kingdom of Naples and Sicily at the feet of his king, the simple-hearted chief, refusing all honours and decorations, passed quietly away to his island home at Caprera.

He had fought for Italy and he had conquered. This was reward enough.

Garibaldi outlived Cavour, he outlived Mazzini. All three men had played their part in the union of Italy. For the first time since the downfall of the great Roman empire, one king ruled over Italy, though ten years more passed, before the kingdom was complete and the Italian flag floated over Rome.

It is not the banner of Mazzini's ideal Republic. The attainment of unity fell far short of the high purpose, which inspired Young Italy. But that unity, which once seemed an impossible dream, is to-day an accomplished fact; and it may be, that as her national life develops, Italy will yet prove worthy of her great past and of a yet greater future.

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