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Sicily did not, however, remain long under Austrian domination. In 1735 it passed, together with Naples, under the rule of the new Bourbon dynasty of Spain, in the person of Don Carlos, the son of the Spanish monarch Philip V.
During the wars of the French revolution, it was the influence of England, “the self-constituted champion of the Bourbons all over Europe,” that preserved Sicily to the representative of this line, Ferdinand IV.; first in 1799, when the troops of the French republic invaded Naples, and afterwards, in 1806, when Napoleon made Naples a subsidiary kingdom. At this period England, seeing the Continent overrun by the French, entered into a closer alliance with the King of Naples, with a view to check their further progress, and to preserve Sicily from their grasp. She agreed, therefore, to maintain an army in the island, and furnish, besides, a considerable subsidy to the Neapolitan government.
The French, under Championnet, worked their way not the less successfully to Naples. The Parthenopean republic was proclaimed, and on the night of the 23rd of December Lord Nelson brought off the royal family to Palermo. Sicily was now occupied by an English force, and the king remained there until the treaty of Amiens, when he returned to Naples. On the renewal of hostilities, the French advanced into the peninsula, Murat became King of Naples, and Ferdinand was again obliged to seek a safe asylum in Sicily, under the protection of the English,
The Sicilian parliament, as constituted by the Normans, was composed at first of the representatives of only two privileged classes, the braccio militare and the braccio ecclesiastico. In 1240, the representatives of the people were superadded, under the head of braccio domaniale. Ferdinand having, upon taking refuge in Sicily, imposed an arbitrary tax, the parliament protested against the act as being unconstitutional, whereupon the king replied by putting certain patriotic barons in prison. The parliament appealed in these straits to the English, who could not do otherwise than uphold the principles of constitutional freedom. Lord William Bentinck was sent, to demand the abolition of the tax and the release of the barons. As the court proved refractory, the British envoy marched the English troops on Palermo, and obliged the king to abdicate, leaving him the title, but appointing the prince his son as his substitute. The English minister also set to work to remodel the constitution after that of England: electing two chambers, the legislative functions to reside in the parliament, the executive power in the king. Feudal privileges and baronial jurisdiction, so long the curse of Sicily, were abandoned. The taxes were to be voted by parliament. Constitutional freedom does not appear, however, to be suited to all people and all climates. The Sicilian parliament was soon rent asunder by factions, which coalesced to overwhelm it, and public business came to a stand-still. Add to this, that, to use the words of a French writer, “the king was seeking an occasion to shake off the yoke of Bentinck, the real king of Sicily.” The opportunity soon presented itself in the fall of Murat. On the 8th of December, 1816, appeared an edict, wherein the King of Naples declared that Sicily having been incorporated with his other dominions by the Congress of Vienna, he should henceforth assume the title of King of the Two Sicilies. Thus (says Bartlett), by a single stroke of the pen the ancient liberties of the island were laid prostrate at the feet of a despot; or, according to Du Pays, “he broke the Sicilian parliament, and annulled the constitution of 1812, which had become the gospel of Sicilian policy." True, indeed, stipulation was made that the rights and privileges of the Sicilians should be respected; but having no longer the formal guarantee of England, such promises were speedily forgotten, and the reign of absolutism recommenced. It is true, also, that indignant protestations were made in parliament by Lord William Bentinck and Sir James Mackintosh, against the gross inconsistency of virtually abandoning a people whose affairs we had so lately shaped after our own will. But the temporary failure of the experiment was unfortunately obvious, and the Sicilian parliament, which, indeed, had never taken, practically, any active share in the general government of the island, was contemptuously decried by Lord Castlereagh as, in fact, a mere political pullity, existing only in name.
In 1816, Ferdinand further exasperated the Sicilians by declaring the island to be a mere province of Naples ; and this discontent was aug. mented by the conscription and stamp acts, and on the breaking out of the revolution at Naples, in 1820, the Paler:nitans also took up arms. The policy pursued by the Bourbons upon that occasion was precisely similar to that which they are adopting at the present crisis. It will remain to be seen whether with similar success. Whenever years of misrule, tyranny, and oppression bring about an inevitable rising, the stereotyped order of proceeding is to concede for the moment any reforms extorted by fear, and, notwithstanding the most solemn oaths, revoke them as soon as government has again obtained the ascendancy, no matter how solemnly the monarch may have promised—10 matter if he have invoked the witness of the Almighty to the fidelity of his contract; the devilish casuistry of Jesuitism can always find a means of escape, by suggesting that oaths made to rebellious subjects, under the pressure of necessity, have no obligation for a king who rules by divine right alone.
On this occasion the king proclaimed for the Neapolitans a popular constitution upon the model of that in Spain. The democratic party at Palermo, demanding the same constitution, almost proclaimed their independence of Naples. General Pepe was sent to suppress the revolt, and entered into a convention with the rebels ; but no sooner had they laid down their arms than the king refused to ratify it, at which Pepe indignantly resigned his post. So at the present crisis General Lanza was authorised to tender to the Sicilians a constitution and an amnesty, which the islanders refusing contemptuously, General Filangieri was deputed to make an offer of a general amnesty, a separate government, and a viceroy. History had, however, taught the Sicilians that no faith could be placed in the promises of a priest-ridden government, extorted by fear, and meant to be broken even at the very time they are made.
Further attempts at acquiring independence were made in 1831 and 1837-on the occasion of the outburst of cholera, which committed frightful ravages among the Sicilians. Catania hoisted the national colours, but on the 6th of August, 1837, the Neapolitan troops, led by the minister of police, Del Carretto, obtained possession of the revolted city, and exercised severe retribution. Sicilians were excluded from all public employments ; even the works that circulated in Naples were interdicted the island. Another deep source of discontent had its origin in the efforts made by the Neapolitan government to introduce into Sicily the French Code Civil, which had survived in Naples the ephemeral rule of Joseph Bonaparte and of Murat. The barons all leagued against this innovation.
A fresh revolt took place at Messina in 1847, and it was suppressed only to break out with fresh vehemence the next year. On the king's birthday, 1848, Palermo sent forth a combatant from almost every house. The convent gates were thrown open, and even the Capuchins distributed arms and ammunition. Ten thousand peasants joined the populace, and the Neapolitan troops, overpowered, were obliged to evacuate the city. The rebels were equally successful at Messina and at the other large towns. A provisional government was formed, headed by Ruggiero Settimo, an officer of high standing, and by the Duke of Serra-di-falco, distinguished as a scholar and an antiquary.
It happened that, at this crisis, Lord Minto was in Italy upon a mission from Lord Palmerston, to encourage and direct, so far as possible, the liberal movements then in progress. His mediation was earnestly requested both by the King of Naples and by the Sicilians themselves, who demanded the re-establishment of the constitution of 1812, originated by Lord Bentinck. Their feelings are well expressed in a despatch from Lord Napier to the Foreign Secretary. " There is," he observes, " a strong root of separate nationality in Sicily. The history of that country diverges in many epochs and in many particulars from that of Naples; and, thanks to the protection and ascendancy of Great Britain, it did not even in the general catastrophe fall under the conquest of a foreign power, but even preserved to its legitimate sovereign who, by the advice of Great Britain, confirmed and improved the ancient institutions of the island in the parliament of 1812. The Sicilians assert with pride, that neither when attached to the vast dominion of ancient Spain, nor when incorporated with the Bourbon family after the Spanish line expired, have they ever lost the tradition of a national parliament. Under the stern rule of Philip II.-against the levelling arts of Charles III.--they maintained their baronial assemblies; and when the feudal system fell, those mediæval forms were modified in a constitution still embodying the aristocratic principle, which, established under the care of a great, and, as they fondly believed, a kindred nation, was recognised by the laws of 1816, and though arbitrarily dissolved and suspended ever since, has not lost its legitimate force, nor died in the remembrance or the affections of the people.”
Under the pressure of the moment the king issued a new constitution, incorporating Sicily and Naples in one common parliament. To this arrangement, however, the Sicilians would not consent, although it was warmly advocated by Lord Palmerston himself as being most suitable to the actual state of Europe. “Sicily," as he well observed, although a fine island, full of natural resources, and inhabited by a highly-gifted people, is nevertheless not large enough to be in the present state of the world a really independent country; and were it entirely separated from Naples, it would soon run the risk of becoming an object of contest for foreign influence, and of sinking at last into the condition of satellite to some of the more powerful states of Europe." Acting upon these instructions, Lord Minto laboured to reconcile the Sicilians to the proffered constitution, at the same time assuring the Neapolitan king, that should they insist on their separate and national parliament, always recognised by Great Britain, it must necessarily be conceded to them. As the Sicilians were now triumphant, the king, finding them determined on this head, promised compliance. Unfortunately, a vital difficulty still remained. The Sicilians, aware that their liberties never could be safe while the island was full of Neapolitan troops, demanded that they should be withdrawn ; but to this the king refused his consent, not without insinuating that it was with the view of ultimately possessing herself of the island that England supported them in this demand.
The Sicilian parliament had been summoned by the provisional government when the French republic was proclaimed in February, and came, as French writers avow, to precipitate events. The Sicilian parliament met amidst the greatest enthusiasm of the people, and solemnly decreed the deposition from the throne of Ferdinand de Bourbon and his dynasty, with the object, so soon as their constitution should be adapted to the wants of the age, to call to the throne some other Italian prince. The British government, at this crisis, formally recognised the independence of Sicily, and, curiously enougb, advised the Sardinian court that, should the Duke of Genoa accept the crown offered to him, his claim would be acknowledged by Great Britain. This proposed arrangement had no issue. Ferdinand had been able to amass an army of twenty-four thousand men, which he despatched in September of the same year, under General Filangieri, Prince of Satriano, to reduce the island. It is remarkable that, upon this occasion, Garibaldi, although invited by the Sicilians, refused to act, because, he said, their cause was not that of Italy. Messina. was bombarded and taken by storm after a frightful struggle. Catania and Taorminia exhibited an equal amount of ineffectual courage and patriotism. Unable to witness the horrors that ensued, the English and French admirals imperatively enforced a cessation of hostilities, while the ministers of those nations repaired to Gaeta, and endeavoured to obtain terms for the rebels from the king. Ferdinand acceded so far as granting a separate legislature, but, as the island was to be once more occupied by Neapolitan troops, the Sicilians, having no confidence in the king's promises, refused to accept the proffered conditions. The consequence was that hostilities were recommenced, and, by the assistance of several Swiss regiments, Filangieri, after three days' gallant resistance on the part of the inhabitants, obtained possession of Palermo.
From that moment, regarding the island as virtually conquered, all former stipulations were cast aside, and the reign of despotism was fully established. The constitution was suspended, and has ever since remained so till Garibaldi landed as a liberator. New burdens were imposed; worse than all, although an amnesty was, as usual, proclaimed, it is believed, Mr. Bartlett says, that as many as fifteen hundred persons were either shot or immured in dungeons, after the fashion of poor Pierio, described in Mr. Gladstone's letters. It is notorious that, under the rule of the Bourbons, and with a police composed of the vilest of mankind, who never hesitate to make false accusations and to suborn others to bear false witness, in order to criminate individuals obnoxious to government, and with a corrupt judicial administration, no security whatever has existed for any one, whilst it is now well known, from responsible witnesses, that the most grievous crimes that ever sullied a Christian government have been committed under the ægis of the law.
With a reactionary government on the one hand-maintained by force alone-and, on the other, a people profoundly detesting their oppressors, and ready to seize the first opportunity to throw off the yoke, insurrections have been constant. On the 27th of January, 1850, a popular movement took place at Palermo. It was put down, and Filangieri had six citizens seized-it is declared perfectly innocent men-and shot the same evening. “ The notoriety of the fact,” says Mr. Bartlett, “ places this assassination at the head of all the crimes of the Neapolitan government in Sicily." No wonder that Sicily should have become a desert! One of the latest writers, who describes a visit to this unhappy island, exclaims, “Certainly that saying of the Scripture has been accurately fulfilled in Sicily, · The inhabitants of the villages ceased' (Judg. v. 7); and I believe from the same cause as that which prevailed in the Holy Land at the time alluded to—viz. insecurity."* “ It is a strange and touching fact,” remarks also a lady traveller in the same persecuted country," that every peasant's song in Sicily is in the minor key. One never hears an exception; and their voices are so sonorous, subdued, and patient, that the sound comes forth like that of a soul complaining to itself of something it is determined to bear.”+
No wonder, either, that the Sicilians should have hailed the living representative of an idea, possibly incapable of development-a united Italy—the much-abused, the well-decried, and yet the ever-heroic Garibaldi, and that its people should have gathered round his standard. There was something indescribably simple, and yet eloquent in its very simplicity, in the landing of the liberator. By a curious coincidence, two English men-of-war brought up off Marsala on the morning of the 11th of May. Two Neapolitan steamers accompanied them, it is surmised to watch their proceedings, but stood on. Hardly were the latter out of sight, when two other steamers were seen coming in from seaward with Sardinian colours. Both made straight for the mole; one of them unfortunately grounding about a hundred yards short of the mole-head.. The landing forthwith commenced, and the liberators “walked up in small parties to the town, as leisurely as a party of English yachtsmen: from Malta.” Boats ran alongside the steamer aground, and the men went down the ladder in perfect order. But, in the mean time, the two Neapolitan steamers had made their appearance cleared for action, and · joined by a large sailing frigate, which came down with a strong breeze. One of the steamers bore up to the port, and was within easy range of her guns before half the men were out of the vessel aground, but, for some reason, did not open fire till they were all formed and marching into the town.
The number of men that landed with Garibaldi is described as about fourteen hundred in number, fine men, and some of them wearing the
* A Ride in Sicily. By Oxoniensis. Longman and Co.
† Elfie in Sicily, vol. č. p. 196. Two Vols. Chapman and Hall. July-VOL. CXIX. NO. CCCCLXXV.