THE NEAPOLITAN CIRCLE
THE city of Naples was, during the latter part of the eighteenth century, one of the most cosmopolitan of European centers. In the intricate juggling of political weights and counterweights that followed the War of the Polish Succession ( 1733-1735), the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies passed from Austrian domination to the Spanish Bourbons. Under Charles III ( 1734-1759), and then under his son Ferdinand IV, the first whiffs of the Enlightenment were wafted in. Tanucci, the minister of Charles III, was alive to the new political and intellectual currents. Badly needed civil reforms were adopted, the Jesuits were ousted, the Inquisition was stripped of its authority, and many educational and ecclesiastical improvements were made. New buildings were erected, excavations were begun at Herculaneum and Pompey, an Academy of Sciences was founded, and the ancient University was infused with new life. The court became one of the most sumptuous in all Europe. Brilliant under Charles III, it was even more so under Ferdinand IV after his marriage to Maria Carolina, the ambitious sister of Marie Antoinette. Furthermore, the position of Naples as a major port, and one of the principal stops for anyone making the fashionable tour of Europe, gave the city an added cosmopolitan luster.
In this ferment of activity, the Neapolitans quickly demonstrated a marked bent for what today we would call the social sciences. Even before the advent of the Spanish Bourbons, that strange philosopher Giambattista Vico, with visionary penetration into cultural history, had laid the foundations for the Neapolitan school of social thinkers, and Pietro Giannone had been persecuted for his daring condemnation of ecclesiastical temporal power. The appointment of Antonio Genovesi to a chair of political economy at the University in 1754, the first such post ever instituted, is a clear indication of the importance ascribed by the Neapolitans to social and political studies. An intensively active group of philosophers followed to bring to flower in the last quarter of the century the pioneering efforts of Vico, Giannone, and Genovesi.
At the very close of the eighteenth century, a combination of factors--a stupid king, an erratic, unscrupulous queen infatuated for fashion's sake with the new notions of progress and reform, an uncontrolled welter of liberal thought and masonic activity, the inflammatory impact of the French Revolution--motivated a group of idealists and humanitarians to lead a revolt against their Bourbon