Galiani, Ferdinand

, an Italian wit, was born in Naples, about 1720. He was descended of a noble family, his father being a marquis, and his uncle archbishop and great almoner to the king, who is celebrated in the History of the two Sicilies, for hating been the chief author and promoter of the famous concordate of 1741, which happily terminated the jurisdictional disputes between the court of Naples and the holy see. To the high preferments and care of this uncle, Galiani was indebted for a liberal education, and it is said that he displayed very early an extraordinary genius in every study. At the age of sixteen, he had mastered the Latin and Greek languages, and was equally acquainted with classical literature, the mathematics, philosophy, and with the civil and canon law.

At the age of twenty, about 1740, he published a ludicrous work, which evinced the turn of his genius for wit and humour. It was a prevailing custom at that time in Naples (as well as in other cities of Italy), on the decease of any great or eminent person, to make a large collection of songs, sonnets, epigrams, elegies, and inscriptions, in praise of the real or reputed talents and virtues of the deceased. The abuse to which such a practice is liable, called loudly for reformation, and Galiani catching the opportunity of the death of a famous public executioner, named Jannaccone, sported a droll funereal collection of prose and verse in his praise, in which the manner and style of the respective authors, accustomed to that sort of compositions, were ingeniously personated and burlesqued. Much about the same time, Galiani had an opportunity in another work, of producing another specimen of his humour. Pope Benedict XIV. had applied to his uncle, the great almoner, to procure him a complete collection of the various materials which compose mount Vesuvius. This prelate intrusted the commission to his nephew, who actually undertook to make the collection, accompanying each article with a short philosophical comment. Soon after, he addressed them in a box to the pontiiT, with an humorous inscription to the whole, “Si filius Dei es, fae | ut Lapides isti Panes fiant.” The turn of this motto was easily apprehended by the pope, who was himself one of the wittiest men of his age, and it could not fail to procure Galiani what he hinted at. He accordingly received soon afterwards a rich abbey, worth four thousand ducats (nearly seven hundred pounds) per annum. Galiani soon afterwards displayed his abilities in philosophy, by publishing about 1745, his well-known political tract “Trattato della Moneta,” (a Treatise on Money). This was unanimously pronounced in Italy an original and capital publication, which firmly established his reputation in the world. He was now appointed secretary to the Neapolitan ambassador in Paris, where he soon exhibited other specimens of his philosophical abilities, by publishing an “Essay on the Commerce of Corn.” This new work was very favourably received in France, where some of their philosophers were candidly wont to say, “Le petit Italien est en cela plus instruit que nous.” By the word -petit, they allude to the diminutive stature of the author.

Being soon recalled to Naples, he was appointed a counsellor in the tribunal of commerce, an office of magistracy not incompatible with the order of a clergyman. He retained this place during the remainder of his life; and as it required much time and application to perform its duties, M. Galiani after this was no<t so active in literary exertions as he had been heretofore. In 1779 he published a work “on the Origin of the Neapolitan Dialect.” This performance, however, does not bear an accurate correspondence to the title, and was judged superficial and unsatisfactory. In 1780, he published a treatise on the Armed Neutrality, which he dedicated to the late empress Catherine of Russia. This work, on a question entirely new and complicated in the system of public law of Europe, fell likewise considerably short of the expectation entertained by his admirers. He died in 1789, and since his death it has been asserted that he was indebted to other writers for the substance of some of those volumes which he published under his own name, and by which he acquired his reputation; but we know not upon what authority this assertion has been made. Galiani was short in stature, full of vivacity, wit, and humour, and a great favourite on that account in all companies. 1