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The Life of Napoleon I (Volume 1 of 2) by Rose

The Hapsburgs dominated the north


For

the exercise of all these gifts what land was so fitted as the mosaic of States which was dignified with the name of Italy?

That land had long been the battle-ground of the Bourbons and the Hapsburgs; and their rivalries, aided by civic dissensions, had reduced the people that once had given laws to Europe into a condition of miserable weakness. Europe was once the battle-field of the Romans: Italy was now the battle-field of Europe. The Hapsburgs dominated the north, where they held the rich Duchy of Milan, along with the great stronghold of Mantua, and some scattered imperial fiefs. A scion of the House of Austria reigned at Florence over the prosperous Duchy of Tuscany. Modena and Lucca were under the general control of the Court of Vienna. The south of the peninsula, along with Sicily, was swayed by Ferdinand IV., a descendant of the Spanish Bourbons, who kept his people in a condition of mediaeval ignorance and servitude; and this dynasty controlled the Duchy of Parma. The Papal States were also sunk in the torpor of the Middle Ages; but in the northern districts of Bologna and Ferrara, known as the "Legations," the inhabitants still remembered the time of their independence, and chafed under the irritating restraints of Papal rule. This was seen when the leaven of French revolutionary thought began to ferment in Italian towns. Two young men of Bologna were so enamoured of the new ideas, as to raise an Italian tricolour flag, green, white,

and red, and summon their fellow-citizens to revolt against the rule of the Pope's legate (November, 1794). The revolt was crushed, and the chief offenders were hanged; but elsewhere the force of democracy made itself felt, especially among the more virile peoples of Northern Italy. Lombardy and Piedmont throbbed with suppressed excitement. Even when the King of Sardinia, Victor Amadeus III., was waging war against the French Republic, the men of Turin were with difficulty kept from revolt; and, as we have seen, the Austro-Sardinian alliance was powerless to recover Savoy and Nice from the soldiers of liberty or to guard the Italian Riviera from invasion.

In fact, Bonaparte--for he henceforth spelt his name thus--detected the political weakness of the Hapsburgs' position in Italy. Masters of eleven distinct peoples north of the Alps, how could they hope permanently to dominate a wholly alien people south of that great mountain barrier? The many failures of the old Ghibelline or Imperial party in face of any popular impulse which moved the Italian nature to its depths revealed the artificiality of their rule. Might not such an impulse be imparted by the French Revolution? And would not the hopes of national freedom and of emancipation from feudal imposts fire these peoples with zeal for the French cause? Evidently there were vast possibilities in a democratic propaganda. At the outset Bonaparte's racial sympathies were warmly aroused for the liberation of Italy; and though his judgment was to be warped by the promptings of ambition, he never lost sight of the welfare of the people whence he was descended. In his "Memoirs written at St. Helena" he summed up his convictions respecting the Peninsula in this statesmanlike utterance: "Italy, isolated within its natural limits, separated by the sea and by very high mountains from the rest of Europe, seems called to be a great and powerful nation.... Unity in manners, language, literature ought finally, in a future more or less remote, to unite its inhabitants under a single government.... Rome is beyond doubt the capital which the Italians will one day choose." A prophetic saying: it came from a man who, as conqueror and organizer, awakened that people from the torpor of centuries and breathed into it something of his own indomitable energy.


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