Gravina, John Vincent

, an eminent scholar, and illustrious lawyer of Italy, was born of genteel parents at Roggiano, February 18, 1664; and educated under Gregory Caloprese, a famous philosopher of that time, and his cousin-german. He went to Naples at sixteen, and there applied himself to the Latin and Greek languages, and to civil law; which application, however, did not make him neglect to cultivate, with the utmost exactness, his own native tongue. He was so fond of stu<jy, that he pursued it ten or twelve hours a day, to the very last years of his life; and, when his friends remonstrated agakist this unnecessary labour, he used to tell them that he knew of nothing which could afford him more pleasure. He went to Rome in 1689, and some years after was made professor | of canon law, in the college of Sapieozia, by Innocent XL who esteemed him much; which employment he held as long as he lived. He does not, however, seem to have been of an amiable cast; at least he had not the art of making himself beloved. The free manner in which he spoke of all mankind, and the contempt with which he treated the greatest part of the learned, raised him up many enemies; and among others the famous Settano, who has made him the subject of some of his satires. It is said that he missed a cardinal’s hat because of his satirical turn of mind. When at Rome he used to bow to coach-horses, “because,” said he, “were it not for these poor beasts, these great people would have men, and even philosophers, to draw their coaches.” There were at one time doubts of his religious principles, and his pupil Metastasio seems inclined to justify these, by sinking this part of his history. Many universities of Germany would have drawn Gravina to them, and made proposals to him for that purpose; but nothing was able to seduce him from Rome. That of Turin offered him the first professorship of law, at the very time that he was attacked by the distemper of which he died, and which seems to have been a mortification in his bowels. He was troubled with pains in those parts for many years before; but they did not prove fatal to him till Jan. 6, 1718. He had made his will in April 1715, in which he ordered his body to be opened and embalmed.

His first publication was a piece entitled “Prisci Censorini Photistici Hydra Mystica; sive, de corrupta morali doctrina dialogus,” Coloniic, 1691, 4to but really printed at Naples. This was without a name, and is very scarce the author having printed only fifty copies, which he distributed among his friends. 2. “L’Endimione di Erilo Cleoneo, Pasture Arcade, con nn Discorso di Bione Crateo,Rome, 1692, 12mo. The Endymion is Alexander Guidi’s, who, in the academy of the Arcadians, went under the name of Erilo Cleoneo; and the discourse annexed, which illustrates the beauties of this pastoral, is Gravina’s, who conceals himself under that of Bione Crateo. 3. “Delle Antiche Favola,Rome, 1696, 12 mo. 4. A Collection of pieces under the name of “Opuscula,” at Rome in lu96, 12mo; containing, first, “An Essay upon an ancient Law;” secondly, “A Dialogue concerning the excellence of the Latin Tongue,” thirdly, “A Discourse of | the change which has happened in the Sciences, particularly in Italy;” fourthly, “A Treatise upon the Contempt of Death;” fifthly, upon “Moderation in Mourning;” sixthly, “The Laws of the Arcadians.” A collection of such of these as regard literary history and study was published in 1792, for the use of young students, by the present learned bishop of St. David’s. But the greatest of all his works, and for which he will be ever memorable, is, 5. His three books, “De Ortu et Progressu Juris Civiiis;” the first of which was printed at Maples, in 1701, 8vo, and at Leipsic in 1704, 8vo. Gravina afterwards sent the two other books of this work to John Burchard Mencken, librarian at Leipsic, who had published the first there, and who published these also in 1708, together with it, in one volume 4to. They were published also again at Naples in 1713, in two volumes, 4to, with the addition of a book, “De Romano Imperio;” and dedicated to pope Clement XI. who was much the author’s friend. This is reckoned the best edition of this famous work; for, when it was reprinted at Leipsic with the “Opuscula” abovementioned, in 1717, it was thought expedient to call it in the title-page, “Editio novissima ad nuperam Neapolitanam emt-ndata et aucta.” Gravina 1 s view, in this “History of Ancient Law,” was to induce the Roman youth to study it in its original records in the Pandects, the Institutes, and the Code, and not to content themselves, as he often complained they did, with learning it from modern abridgments, drawn up with great confusion, and in very barbarous Latin. Such knowledge and such language, he said, might do well enough for the bar, where a facility of speaking often supplied the place of learning and good sense, before judges who had no extraordinary share of either; but were what a real lawyer should be greatly above. As to the piece “De Romano Imperio,” Le Clerc pronounces it to be a work in which Gravina has shewn the greatest judgment and knowledge of Roman antiquity. The next performance we find in the list of his works is, 6. * c Acta Consistoriaiia creationis Em in. et Rev Cardinalium institute a S. D. N. Clemente XL P. M. diebus 17 Maii et 7 Junii anno salmis 1706. Accessit eorundem Cardinalium brevis delineatio,“Colonise, 1707, 4to. 7.” Delia Ragione Poetica Libri duo,“Rome, 1708, 4to. To a subsequent edition of this in 1716, was added a letter” De Poesi,“from which Blackwell, in his Inquiry into | the life and writings of Homer, has taken many observations. Dr. Warton says that Gravina’s remarks have a novelty and penetration in them. 8. << Tragedie cinque,” ISlapofi, 1712, 8vo. These five tragedies are, “II Papimano;” “II Palamede” “L'Andromeda” “L’Appio Ciaudio;” “II Servio Tullio.” Gravina said that he composed these tragedies in three months, without interrupting l^is lectures; yet declares in his preface, that he should look upon all those as either ignorant or envious, who should scruple to prefer them to what Tasso, Bonarelli, Trissino, and others, had composed of the same kind. This at least shews that Gravina, great as his talents were, had too high an opinion of them. They could not, it is true, have been written by Sophocles himself in a more Grecian style; but he is entitled to more fame from having educated and formed the taste of Metastasio, who was his pupil, and to whom he left a legacy, amounting in our money to nearly 4000l. with his library, and a small estate in the kingdom of Naples. 9. “Orationes,” Nap. 1712, 12mo. These have been reprinted more than once, and are to be found with his < Opuscula“in the edition of 61 Origines Juris Civilis,” printed at Leipsic, in 1717. 10. <l Delia Tragedia Libro uno,“Napoli, 1715, 410. This work, his two books” Delia Ragione Poetica,“his discourse upon theEndymion" of Alexander Guidt, and some other pieces, were printed together at Venice in 1731, 4to, but a more complete edition of his works was published at Naples by John Antony Sergi, 1756 1758, 3 vols. 4to. 1


Niceron, vol. XXIX. —Fabroni Vitae Italorum. Warton’s Essay on PoneBurney’l Life of Metastasio, vol. 1. p. 12.