Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from Gaetano Filangieri, 24 August 1782

From Gaetano Filangieri3

Translation of ALS in Italian:4Historical Society of Pennsylvania

Naples, August 24, 1782

Most respectable Sir,

Your precious gift has finally reached me after many months, and I consider it one of the greatest prizes I received for my work. Your graciousness would have provoked a feeling of vanity in me had it not been prevented by my knowledge of the generosity of your soul. To show you my gratitude, I sent a few copies of my work to Signor Pio, Embassy Secretary in Paris of the Court of Naples5 and I asked him to give you a copy in my name—6 also to beg you to accept a few more, should you be inclined to give them to some friends.

I have almost completed the third book, the one dealing with criminal law. It will take up two volumes, one of which is concerned with the procedural system, and the other with the penal code. The novelty of my ideas on both objects frightens me. In a century during which so much has been written and thought about everything that has to do with public prosperity, it is quite easy to see originality as akin to strangeness. This thought disturbs me and sometimes even oppresses me. In order to surmount that feeling, I keep repeating to myself: “If you had merely repeated the ideas of other people, what benefit could humanity have expected from your writings? If my ideas are strange, they will be rejected and in that case humanity will not suffer any damage; but if, while novel, they are also reasonable, applicable and opportune, if they manage to diminish the suffering of a single person, if they result in preventing just one injustice, shouldn’t you applaud yourself for having spoken out, shouldn’t you regret to have kept your ideas secret because of a cowardly feeling of doubt and of fear of seeing those ideas condemned and ridiculed?”

Such is the reasoning that propelled me to pursue my enterprise with all possible vigor. As I have said, I am almost at the end and you, respectable man and remarkable being, will be the first to judge it, you who struggling against men and against the gods, snatched the lightning from Jupiter and the scepter from tyrants. Once I receive your opinion on this part of my work, I shall tell you about a personal project.7 You, who can ensure my happiness and make me an instrument of use to my fellow men, please allow me to hide a secret that I shall reveal to you when I have obtained your promise not to communicate it to anybody.

I kiss your hand with the respect inspired by your talents and your virtues, and I subscribe myself Your truly devoted servant

Il Cavalier Gaetano Filangieri

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

3This is the first extant letter between BF and Filangieri (1752–1788), one of the leading writers of the Italian Enlightenment and a disciple of Montesquieu. His master work, La scienza della legislazione, was to have comprised seven books covering different aspects of the law. Filangieri completed only four of the projected seven (some of which were divided into multiple volumes) before his untimely death. Books I and II, one volume each, were published in Naples in 1780. The first covered general rules of the science of legislation. Book II, political and economic laws, compared, as did Montesquieu’s Esprit des lois, the laws, political institutions, and economic policies of various ancient and modern states. Filangieri was a fervent advocate of free trade but feared the economic consequences of American independence: Marcello Maestro, Gaetano Filangieri and His Science of Legislation (Philadelphia, 1976); Antonio Pace, Benjamin Franklin and Italy (Philadelphia, 1958), pp. 139, 147–66; Franco Venturi, The End of the Old Regime in Europe, 1776–1789: the Great States of the West, trans. R. Burr Litchfield (Princeton, 1991), pp. 25–32.

4Prepared by the late Robert S. Lopez, Sterling Professor of History, Yale University. The Italian original is printed in Pace, Benjamin Franklin and Italy, pp. 398–9 and in Eugenio Lo Sardo, ed., Il mondo nuovo e le virtù civili: L’epistolario di Gaetano Filangieri (1772–1785) (Naples, 1999), pp. 231–2.

5On Sept. 11, 1781, Luigi Pio wrote Filangieri that he had loaned BF the first two volumes of La scienza della legislazione. In exchange, BF gave Pio “a large quarto edition of his essays on scientific experiments.” BF reads Italian slowly, Pio said, but understands it well, and found Filangieri’s theories “presented with the utmost clarity and precision.” BF asked Pio to tell the author that he was eagerly awaiting the volumes dealing with criminal legislation, “because they will be of special interest to his nation, still needing to be enlightened on this subject.” Pio wrote again on Sept. 23, 1781, saying that BF had asked him to forward to Filangieri some of his “political publications.” Maestro, Gaetano Filangieri, p. 26. The gift may have been Political, Miscellaneous, and Philosophical Pieces (XXXI, 210–18).

Pio was chargé d’affaires of the court of the Two Sicilies (Naples and Sicily) at the French court from April, 1781, until August, 1783: Repertorium der diplomatischen Vertreter, III, 423.

6These two volumes, inscribed “From S. Pio” and signed by BF, are in the Loganian Library at the Library Company of Philadelphia: Edwin Wolf 2nd, catalogue of books and pamphlets in BF’s library (XXXVI, 331n).

7See Filangieri’s letter below, Dec. 2.

Index Entries