a cura di Giovanni Caserta
Luigi Settembrini is to be included in the heritage of Lucanian culture and literature. Moreover, he never forgot his Lucanian ancestry. At the beginning of his Ricordanze (recollections), proudly asserting the moral and intellectual nobility of his ancestry, he reminds “his father’s name was Raffaele Settembrini, he was a lawyer, like his grand-father Vincenzo before him, and other elders at home. His grand-father, who was from Bollita, a small town on the Ionian Sea in Basilicata (today, Nova Siri), had come to Naples, as a young man, for his studies, and had finally settled down here. He had married three times and had had twenty-four children. His mother, Francesca Vitale, she was daughter to a lawyer, too.” She also was from Nova Siri. His grandparents’ last wishes were to be buried in their hometown.
His father had also been a figure of great moral integrity who had actively taken part in the 1799 Revolution and taught his son the meaning of consistency, loyalty, and courage. A significant detail, Luigi Settembrini wanted his wife to be from his family’s hometown. On the other hand, if Lucania was his ideal and familial background, his two most famous disciples were from Lucania, too. Giustino Fortunato and Francesco Torraca, who were to pass on many of his teachings to their own region during the 19th and the 20th centuries, thought highly of him and, with regard to their own education, considered him as important as Francesco De Sanctis. It is also significant how Nova Siri City Council decided to strengthen the bond with that family, by bestowing honorary citizenship on Luigi by means of a resolution of May, 31 1871. On the same day, by means of the same resolution, honorary citizenship was conferred on Luigi’s brother, Giuseppe, and Luigi’s son, Raffaele, a captain defined “hope of the nation,” who had wanted to visit his grand-father’s hometown. Moreover, there is plenty of passages and references which testify to Luigi’s constant interest in the events of such Lucanian towns as Tricarico, Ferrandina, Albano, Pietrapertosa, etc.
He was born in Naples, on April 17, 1813. After receiving his first education at home, when his family moved to Caserta he entered the boarding school of Maddaloni. In 1825, on occasion of his mother’s death, he returned home, but in 1830, after his father’s death, he went to live with his maternal grandfather in Santa Maria di Capua. He attended university in Naples, but most of all he was a disciple of Basilio Puoti, whose erudition and disinterested dedication to the youth he greatly admired. As a consequence of an exam/competition he passed, he was awarded a degree and a teaching post at the Liceo Classico in Catanzaro, where he moved in November 1835, happy to rejoin his brothers Giuseppe and Giovanni who were already living there. At this point he had already met the Calabrian Benedetto Musolino, whom he had set up a secret sect with, “Giovane Italia [Young Italy],” after Mazzini’s homonymous sect. On May 8, 1839 he was arrested and taken to Naples, where he served time from 1839 to 1842. Indomitable, in 1847 he wrote La protesta del popolo delle due Sicilie. Not to be arrested again, he escaped to Malta, whence he returned, after a few months, once the constitution was promulgated. When reaction set in, Settembrini was arrested once again and sentenced to death for joining the sect “Unità d’Italia.” Death penalty was commuted to life imprisonment. He served time for ten years, from 1849 to 1859, when Neapolitan government, pressured by international community, decided to exile to Argentina all the political dissidents imprisoned. The ship was attacked at Cadiz by Settembrini’s son, Raffaele, and Luigi took sanctuary in London. In 1860, after the fall of the Boubons, Settembrini returned to Naples and was appointed professor of Italian literature at the university. He struck up a close friendship with Francesco De Sanctis and set up the Associazione Unitaria Costituzionale. In 1873 Settembrini was appointed Senator of the Kingdom. Settembrini died in Naples on November 4, 1876.
No other southern intellectual knew how to constantly tune action to thought as Settembrini did. He went through a thousand trials and tribulations which affected his family as well, but he never gave in. He had a strong sense of duty, which he never betrayed, and was never driven by ambition or vanity. As for this, he was the typical Lucanian. He renounced his appointment as director of the Public Works explaining it would have been much better if people did just what they were good at.
Settembrini was a very modest person, but at the same time intolerant of any form of compromise and accommodation. He would oppose heatedly any idea he considered wrong. This explains the vibrant ardour of his writings, especially his Lezioni di letteratura italiana, where we can find the same Ghibelline spirit, full of that ferocious anticlericalism which was Dante’s. He did not even spare Manzoni whose works, according to him, were an invitation to resignation and servilism. On the contrary, in his recollections, he is calm and friendly, and even ironic and self-ironic when talking about himself. This was a consequence of his modesty, peculiar feature of any original Lucanian: in De Sanctis’ words, “he would not realize he was a good and great man.” If he really was, it was up to others to recognize it, declare it, and even write it. In case he really was, but no one admitted it, it was ok all the same.
Among the other works by Settembrini, a translation of Lucianus’ Dialogues, Scritti vari di letteratura, politica e arte (1879), edited by Francesco Fiorentino; Epistolario, edited by Francesco Fiorentino (1883), and by Francesco Torraca (1894); Scritti inediti (1909), edited by Francesco Torraca; Dialoghi (1909), edited by Francesco Torraca.