Lacaita, James Philip (DNB01)

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LACAITA, Sir JAMES PHILIP (1813–1895), Italian scholar and politician, only son of Diego Lacaita of Manduria in the Terra d'Otranto, and of Agata Conti of Agnone in the Molise, was born at Manduria, in the province of Lecce, Italy, on 4 Oct. 1813. He took a law degree at the university of Naples, was admitted an advocate in 1836, and practised his profession. An acquaintance with Enos Throop, United States chargé d'affaires at Naples, begun in December 1838, helped him in the study of English, and this knowledge gained him the post of legal adviser to the British legation at Naples, and the friendship of the minister, Sir William Temple, at whose table he met many English travellers of distinction. Lacaita's political opinions were liberal but moderate, and he never belonged to any secret society. He was an unsuccessful candidate for the representation of the city of Naples in 1848, and on 7 April was appointed secretary to the Neapolitan legation in London, but did not start for his post, which he resigned after the fall of the liberal Troya ministry in May. In November 1850 he met Gladstone, who was in Naples in order to collect information about Bourbon misrule. This led to the arrest of Lacaita on 3 Jan. 1851, and he remained in custody for nine days. In a letter from Gladstone to Panizzi, in September, he is referred to as 'a most excellent man, hunted by the government' (Fagan, Life of Panizzi, ii. 97, 205-6).

The publication of Gladstone's letters to Lord Aberdeen, for which Lacaita supplied many striking facts, aroused the hostility of the court and clerical partisans in Italy, and Lacaita found it advisable to leave Naples for London, where he arrived on 8 Jan. 1852. He was at Edinburgh on 14 Feb., in May he was an unsuccessful candidate for the office of librarian of the London Library, and on 15 June married Maria Clavering (d. 1853), daughter of Sir Thomas Gibson Carmichael, seventh baronet. His means were small, but he made many powerful friends in the best political and literary circles in London and Edinburgh. From November 1853 until April 1856 he was professor of Italian at Queen's College, London, was naturalised in July 1855, and published 'Selections from the best Italian Writers' (1855, 2nd ed. 1863, sm. 8vo). In the winter of 1856-7 he accompanied Lord Minto to Florence and Turin. From 1857 to 1863 he acted as private secretary to Lord Lansdowne, and towards the close of 1858 went with Gladstone to the Ionian Islands as secretary to the mission, being made K.C.M.G. for his services in March 1859.

Lacaita was entrusted by Cavour with a delicate diplomatic negotiation in 1860 connected with schemes to prevent Garibaldi from crossing from Sicily to Calabria, and subsequently the Neapolitan government offered him the post of minister in London with the title of marquis, both of which he declined (ib. ii.208). In December 1860, after the expulsion of the Bourbons, he revisited Naples, caused his name to be reinstated on the municipal registry, and in July 1861, while back in England, was returned as deputy to the first Italian legislature. He generally supported the new Italian government. After the dissolution of 1865 he did not seek re-election, and was made a senator in 1876. Though speaking but seldom in the chamber, he exercised a considerable influence upon public affairs between 1861 and 1876 through his intimacy with Ricasoli, La Marmora, Minghetti, Visconti-Venosta, and other leading men. Florence became his headquarters in Italy after the removal of the government thence from Turin, and so it remained even after the transfer of the capital to Rome. He spent a portion of each year in England, and during the last fifteen years of his life wintered at Leucaspide, near Taranto, where he had made large purchases of monastic lands in 1868. He was a director of the Italian company for the Southern Railways from its formation, and took a share in the management of several Anglo-Italian public companies. Besides his English title, he was a knight of the Brazilian order of the Rose, and knight commander of S. Maurizio e Lazzaro and of the Corona d'Italia.

During his earlier years in England he frequently lectured on Italian subjects at the Royal Institution, the London Institution, and elsewhere. He wrote nearly all the Italian articles for the eighth edition of the 'Encyclopædia Britannica,' and revised several editions of Murray's 'Handbook for South Italy.' In 1865 he edited the third or album volume of the great edition of the 'Inferno di Dante,' after the death of Lord Vernon, having helped in the production of the former volumes (London, 1858-65, 3 vols. folio). He compiled the 'Catalogue of the Library at Chatsworth' (London, 1879, 4 vols. large 8vo) for the seventh Duke of Devonshire, and edited the first complete publication of the famous Latin lectures on Dante of Benvenuto da Imola, delivered in 1375, 'Comentum super Dantis Aldigherij Comoediam nunc primum integre in lucem editum, sumptibus Guil. Warren Vernon,' Florence, 1887, 5 vols. large 8vo.

He died at Posilipo, near Naples, on 4 Jan. 1895, in his eighty-second year, leaving an only son, Charles Carmichael Lacaita (b. 1853), M.P. for Dundee, 1885-7.

During forty-five years his life and interests were divided between this country and Italy; in the one a polished Englishman, in the other a vivacious Neapolitan and a conscientious landowner. He was a notable Dante scholar, an excellent, bibliographer, a man of wide reading and intellectual sympathy, of great social tact and goodness of heart.

[Information kindly furnished by Mr. C. C. Lacaita; see also the Times, 8 Jan. p. 10, 10 Jan. p. 1, 4, 1895; Lettere ad Antonio Panizzi, pubbl. da L. Pagan, 1880, p. 463, &c.; Minghetti, Miei Ricordi, 1890, iii. 228; Burke's Peerage, 1894, p. 1607.]

H. R. T.