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Something About Solferino And Ships
by [?]

Our host of the Feder was not wrong. There was not a word of exaggeration in what he said of Spezia. It could contain all the harbours of France and England, and have room for all the fleets of Europe besides. About seven miles in depth, and varying in width from two to three and a half, it is fissured on every side by beautiful little bays, with deep water everywhere, and not a sunk rock, or shoal, or a bar, throughout the whole extent. Even the sea-opening of the Gulf has its protection by the long coast-line of Tuscany, stretching away to the southward and eastward, so that the security is perfect, and a vessel once anchored within the headlands between Lerici and Palmaria is as safe as in dock.

The first idea of making a great arsenal and naval depot of Spezia came from the Great Emperor. It is said that he was not more than one day there, but in that time he planned the fort which bears his name, and showed how the port could be rendered all but impregnable. Cavour took up the notion, and pursued it with all his wonted energy and activity during the last three or four years of his life. He carried through the Chamber his project, and obtained a vote for upwards of two millions sterling; but his death, which occurred soon after, was a serious blow to the undertaking; and, like most of the political legacies of the great statesman, the arsenal of Spezia fell into the hands of weak executors.

The first great blunder committed was to accord the chief contract to a bubble company, who sold it, to be again resold; so that it is said something like fifteen changes of proprietary occurred before the first spadeful of earth was turned.

The inordinate jealousy Italians have of foreigners, and their fear lest they should “utilise” Italy, and carry away all her wealth with them, has been the source of innumerable mistakes. From this, and their own ignorance of marine engineering, Spezia has already, without the slightest evidence of a commencement, swallowed up above eight millions of francs–the only palpable results being the disfigurement of a very beautiful road, and the bankruptcy of some half-dozen contractors.

There is nothing of which one hears more, than of the readiness and facility with which an Italian learns a new art or a new trade, adapts himself to the use of new tools, and acquires a dexterity in the management of new machinery.

Every newly-come English engineer was struck with this, and expressed freely his anticipations of what so gifted a people might become. After a while, however, if questioned, he would confess himself disappointed–that after the first extraordinary show of intelligence no progress was made–that they seemed marvellous in the initiative, but did nothing after. They speedily grew weary of whatever they could do or say, no matter in what fashion, and impatiently desired to try something new. The John Bull contentedness to attain perfection in some one branch, and never ask to go beyond it, was a sentiment they could not understand. Every one, in fact, would have liked to do everything, and, as a consequence, do it exceedingly ill.

Assuredly the Count Cavour was the political Marquis de Carabas of Italy. Everything you see was his! No other head seemed to contrive, no other eye to see, nor ear to hear. These railroads–as much for military movements as passenger traffic–this colossal harbour, even to the two iron-clads that lie there at anchor–were all of his designing. They are ugly-looking craft, and have a look of pontoons rather than ships of war; but they are strong, and have a low draught of water, and were intended especially for the attack of Venice, just when the Emperor pulled up short at Villafranca. It is not generally known, I believe, but I can vouch for the fact, that so terrified were the Austrians on receiving at Venice the disastrous news of Solferino, that three of the largest steamers of the Austrian Lloyd’s Company were brought up, and sunk within twelve hours after the battle. So hurriedly was the whole done that no time was given to remove the steward’s stores, and the vessels went down as they stood!