The Times, April 2, 1860, The Annexation of Savoy




Comummatum est.

This morning, at half-past 9 o'clock, the first detachment of the French Army–four companies of the 80th of the Line–arrived here from St. Jean de Maurienne. To-morrow au equal number is expected, until the whole regiment has arrived. Although the first French troops passed, as you know, on Friday last into Savoy, and although every one knew that it was not merely to pass through, but to remain there, up to this morning one could always keep up to a certain point the fiction that the glorious army of the magnanimous ally of good King Victor Emmanuel was returning home laurel-crowned. This is now over. Chambery, the capital of Savoy, is occupied by the troops of His Majesty the Emperor of the French.

All along in this Savoy question there was a feature which we find in every phase of it, and which will characterize this transaction as one of the most curious of our times. It is, that all parties concerned in it seem ashamed of the part which they have to play, and are always trying by subtle compromises to justify their own actions before themselves and before the world.

The reception of the French troops this morning had quite this character. They had been expected from day to day, and thus there had been sufficient time to make all preparations. Some of the most ardent supporters of the annexation to France–tapissiers. ferblantiers, and lampistes–had been preparing French flags, French transparencies, and lamps, and yet no one seemed inclined to make a beginning by buying, much less exhibiting, them. Those who are loudest in their praise of the future were as much behind when the decisive moment came as those who looked more gloomily at events. The result of this was that the tapissiers and lampistes, seeing themselves deceived in their expectations, relented somewhat in their patriotic ardour, and when at last the arrival of the French troops was officially announced there was not a sufficient supply of their patriotic articles. The municipality, similarly embarrassed, published a confused and rambling proclamation, speaking of the return of the laurel-crowned troops after creating a great State on the other side of the Alps, inviting the inhabitants to take leave of the old dynasty, telling them that their King Victor Emmanuel acquiesced in their wishes to unite with the great French nation, that they were to receive the French troops as brothers; on the top of the proclamation were the arms of the House of Savoy, and at the bottom “Vive Napoleon III.” and “Vive la France.” The proclamation by which the National Guard was convoked to receive the welcome guests at the station suffered equally from an embarrassing confusion of ideas. On the station itself flagstaffs had been erected, half decorated with the Sardinian and half with the French flag, bearing on one side a medallion with the cipher of the Emperor, and on the other one with the cipher of the King. In the decorations of the Hotel de Ville the same thing prevailed, the old master having his share as well as the new one; the only difference being the Imperial arms over the balcony, giving a decided advantage to the rising star. Most of the few decorated private houses showed the same anxiety to please two masters.

The National Guard, with their band, having taken up their position on the broad road before the station, to the number of a few hundreds, the municipality arrived to greet the French troops at their entry into the town.

Not the least curious part in this curious proceeding was the crowd, which cannot have been less than a couple of thousand. In every other town in which I have seen crowds there is a predominance of the male over the female sex. Now, I don't know whether the good King Victor Emmanuel has carried off most of the male Savoyards to gain an empire for him on the other side of the Alps, or whether whatever remained has gone to seek Fortune in Paris, or, lastly, whether the good town of Chambery wished to pay a compliment to the most gallant people of the globe; certain it is that the proportion usually existing in other crowds between men and women was here altogether reversed. Wherever you looked, nothing appeared but bonnets and crinolines, snow-white caps and blue aprons. One felt almost ashamed not to wear a petticoat, and there were moments when one almost regretted not to be at least a sergeant of the gallant 80th Regiment, so promising did the crowd look for a garrison town.

The train arrived in due time, the band struck up "Partant pour la Syrie," the men tried to get up a cheer, the soldiers answered, the women waved their handkerchiefs, the Syndic made his congratulatory speech to the Colonel, and the troops, accompanied by the National Guard and followed by the crowd, went to their barracks, preceded by the band. The thing passed off very respectably. Soon after this the soldiers were again in the streets, where many of them found hospitable entertainers, as you might judge by the visible effect of their efforts a few hours afterwards. The town was rather more animated than usual, and I heard here and there, in passing, attempts at cheering the soldiers. It may be that Savoyards are not such demonstrative people as Italians are, but the endeavours to get up such demonstrations are painful to witness. In vain did the limited number of enthusiasts do their best,–they were not supported by the rest. It was the very picture of this great Savoy movement as I have seen it all along–a small number of active agitators, and the rest dead and indifferent. The decorations on the houses produced the same effect. It may be that there were no flags ready, but I went all about the town, and have no hesitation in saying that not every twentieth house or shop showed any signs of welcome. Here, again, those who did tried to make up for the indifference of the rest by crowding their windows with two and more flags.

In an Austrian garrison town the lover of beer has only to follow the first artilleryman he meets, and he is sure to find out soon where the best beer is to be had. Here, if you are in want of refreshments, you have only to go in at the first shop with a flag. You wish for a tasse, and try the first shop with a flag outside. You have made a mistake, it is a liquor shop, where you may take your petit verre. Afterwards you want an hotel; look up and see whether there is a flag hanging out; the only mistake you can make is to go into the Hotel de Ville or to some nobleman's house. If you want a restaurant, pursue the same process, and all that can happen to You, if you have ill luck, is to go into a coiffeur's or barber's establishment.

In the evening the band of the National Guard played in the broad nameless street which intersects that leading to the Château, and the sound of its instruments soon brought out all that Chambery possesses in servant and milliner girls,–whole coveys of them, mostly without, and some times with, one single man among them. It was a repetition of the crowd in the morning. To complete the picture I must not forget a number of shovel hats with grins under them. I had been so much accustomed of late to see under shovel hats faces long and thin as the edge of a knife, it did one almost good to see that they had grown somewhat broader and shorter at Chambery. The illumination was tolerably general in the main thoroughfares, five candles in each window being the rule. By 9 p.m. everyone was in bed.

Thus, the great act of occupation is completed. As the troops will arrive they will be sent to the different Provinces, whether into Chablais and Faucigny, as the Swiss apprehend, who can tell? There are several crossroads, bad but passable, close to the descent from Mont Cenis; and why should not some detachment or other lose its way, if the Emperor should wish it ?

The civil administration of the Piedmontese still remains in a rather awkward position; so does the gendarmerie; they will probably remain until Parliament sanctions the annexation. I am more and more convinced that the wishes manifested by the Savoyard members will be the only manifestation resorted to. Any other would be absurd now that the country is occupied. It is impossible that Sardinia should consent or the Emperor wish to outrage public opinion in Europe to such a point as to have a vote under these circumstances. It would be making a farce of the principle which he has adopted as the basis of his own power.

There is only a little difficulty about the members of Parliament. In spite of the agitation of the French party, even in Lower Savoy, scarcely any voters come to the poll,–at Chambery out of 996 only 325, one-third; in some electoral colleges three or four; and scarcely in any one of them the required proportion of two-thirds. To-morrow there is a second election in the three districts, but I have heard nothing for this part.

The fact is, now, when the decisive moment has come, even many of those who seemed glad of the change feel a pang and presentiment which makes them unwilling to contribute in any way to help events, while there are likewise traces of a feeling of regret at quitting the old connexion. That this is a sentimental more than an active feeling I need not tell any one who knows this good-natured people, accustomed to be ruled and directed. Their feeling is most clearly indicated in the general dissatisfaction which the conduct of the Savoyards provoked who went to Paris.

They returned yesterday, full of dinners, smiles, and promises. Even in this part of Savoy they are blamed for having offered Savoy to the Emperor and spoken in the name of their country. The Savoyards obey, as they have always done, their King, but they don't wish to belong to France. I am speaking of the great majority. They are against the dismemberment, because they have a strong Savoyard national feeling, which they will find sooner or later in opposition to the new French national feeling which they ought to have.


To-day the Federal Assembly meets at Berne to consider the measures which are to be taken under the present critical circumstances. The general impression is that we ought to do as in the Neufchatel affair–give the Federal Council full powers to terminate this affair, and at the same time unlimited credit. This will be probably done to-day, without even a discussion. The occupation of Chambery, and the question on this side and the centre of it, is transferred to Berne. In reality the Savoyard question has never been in Savoy, but elsewhere–at Paris, Turin, and Geneva, but the last doubt in this respect has been removed since yesterday. You may place a cross on the map of Southern Savoy; it is French since yesterday.