He was a philosopher, historian, senator, minister. A lifetime of study crossed by many personal and political vicissitudes: he was a victim of the earthquake of Casamicciola, where he was wounded in the collapse of the house, as he was against the fascism suffered a raid by fascists in his house.
Benedetto Croce was born February 25, 1866 in Pescasseroli (Abruzzo). The father, Pasquale Croce, was a Neapolitan member of a wealthy family of the Abruzzo. The mother Luisa Sipari belonged to the most important family of Pescasseroli (L’Aquila).
The Croce was an ancient family that was originally in the ‘400 in Montenerodomo (Chieti), where already there was sign of the surname in the form of “Sancta Crux”; in 1660 a branch of the Croce, through one of its members Angelo Croce, who had the job of land surveyor with the task of registered the vast property of the local nobility, was able to give his family a degree of prosperity economic. His three sons, one of whom became a priest, managed to put together the ownership of a herd consists of about eleven thousand sheeps. Through successive generations of the Croce built a land property located in Capitanata (Foggia).
The father of Benedetto, Pasquale, was residing for work in Pescasseroli. In that town he met and married Luisa Sipari. They lived in noble palace that belonged to the bride’s family, in the center of Pescasseroli. They had three sons: Benedetto, Alfonso and Maria. Following the couple decided to move in Naples, birthplace of Pasquale, where his relatives lived.
On 28 July 1883 the Croce family was on holiday in Casamicciola, on the island of Ischia, a guest at Villa Verde, in a pleasant place of the island. That evening Benedetto, his father Pasquale, his mother Luisa and his sister Maria were present in the hause; his brother Alfonso had returned a few hours before in Naples for some commitments. At 21.30, right after dinner while the family was staying still at the table, there was a tremendous earthquake which, although lasting only 13 seconds, completely destroyed Casamicciola, collapsing almost all houses.
The house fell in on itself in a moment; Benedetto remained stuck from the ruins, fortunately with his head free from debris; the father, remained under the rubble, died after several hours urging his son to resist; his mother and sister Maria immediately gave no signs of life.
The seventeen year old Benedetto only to 11am of the following day was extracted from the rubble. He fractured an arm and a leg. It was calculated that the quake had reached X degree on the Mercalli scale. There were about 2,300 dead on the island.
His cousin, Paolo Petroni, who had rushed to Ischia just had spread the news of what had happened, he rescued him and took him to his home in S. Cipriano Picentino (Salerno) together with his cousin Alfonso, brother of Benedetto. Having recovered from the numerous fractures, Benedetto and his brother were welcomed by their uncle Silvio Spaventa at his home in Rome.
The mother of Silvio Spaventa was the aunt of the father of Benedetto. Spaventa in his youth had been a tutor in the house of his aunt, then, for family reasons, he had not kept good relationships with Croce family. However, on the occasion of the accident, he housed with affection the two brothers taking care of their education.
Silvio Spaventa, brother of the philosopher Bertrando, had been involved in the rising of 1848 in Naples, he was accused by the Bourbon authorities of being a follower of Guglielmo Pepe and was sentenced to death, the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, which began serving in Santo Stefano penitentiary. In ’59 his sentence was commuted to exile, but the steamer, which was to take him to America together with 68 other convicts, was diverted to Ireland following a mutiny of convicts. Silvio Spaventa went to Turin, where he made contact with Cavour, with whom he collaborated in the expedition of the Thousand (Spedizione dei Mille) and the subsequent unification of Italy.
In the Roman house of Spaventa, haunt of intellectuals, Croce knew Labriola by whom he was initiated in the knowledge of Marxism. He, joined the faculty of jurisprudence of Naples, was admitted to attend the lectures of Labriola at the University of Rome. In 1886, twenty years old, he decided to leave the house of his uncle and to return to Naples, where he did not complete his studies but he devoted himself to the study of philosophy and history, having the financial support of the income which derives from the family assets.
In 1893 Benedetto met a girl, Angelina Zamparelli, in the Salerno station cafe, of which he fell in love and with whom, while not married, he lived together for 20 years.
Angelina Zamparelli was borned in Savignano of Romagna, she was the illegitimate daughter of a landowner and a woman of humble origins; only after some time the father and mother were married regularizing the position of the Angelina. A few years later both her father and her mother died; the girl was raised by her maternal uncles, both primary school teachers who, besides having loving care, they gave her a good education. When his uncle moved to Salerno, where he had acquired the management of the railway station buffet, Angelina followed him.
Angelina was beautiful, cheerful and sociable, she appreciated the conversation of Benedetto intellectual friends and she was always well liked by all, a lot of friends believed that the two were regularly married, however, she was treated as the wife of Benedetto; even relatives of the Croce family showed affection towards Angelina.
In 1903 Benedetto Croce founded the magazine “La Critica” with the collaboration of Giovanni Gentile, with whom he had a long friendship, then scratched from agreement to the Fascism of Gentile; Studies of the Croce began to have national and international attention, he was a proponent of “social liberalism” and then was a member of the Italian Liberal Party, which pursued through political action the philosophical goals of liberalism; in 1910 he was appointed Senator of the Kingdom.
Benedetto Croce lived in Naples in Viale Elena (today Viale Gramsci), then, between 1900 and 1911, in the Palazzo Filangieri-Arianiello of Via Atri; that building had guest Goethe and had been attended by the heroes of the Neapolitan Republic of 1899, guests of the revolutionary Gaetano Filangieri.
In 1911 he took over an apartment in Filomarino building, at the intersection of S. Biagio dei Librai (now Via Benedetto Croce) and Via S. Sebastiano, after an unsuccessful attempt to buy a house in the new district of Via Crispi. This historic home, where the philosopher Giambattista Vico had lived, Croce spent the rest of his life. Meanwhile his brother Alfonso had moved with his family in Puglia where taked care of the management of large estates that he and his brother possessed in the province of Foggia.
Croce and his partner Angelina, nicknamed Nella, spent their summers in Raiano in Abruzzo, guests of a Benedetto cousin, Teresa Petroni Rossi. In the summer of 1913 they were in that location; Angelina, who suffered for some years from “angina pectoris”, had a sudden deterioration and died on September 25. The priest recorded her as wife of Benedetto Croce on the death certificate; it certainly was a mistake, maybe it was done on purpose to conceal the state of coexistence which was considered unseemly at the time.
Benedetto Croce, during one of his frequent stays in Piedmont, met Adele Rossi, a Piedmontese of 34 years; he married her on march on 7 March 1914, a few months later by the death of Angelina. Benedetto, writing to hid friend Gentile, presented the bride with these words: “a good and Piedmontese girl I’ve known for a few years, which I helped the studies for graduation (graduated in letters), …..”, in effect Adele Rossi already attending the Croce family, keeping good relations with the deceased Angelina.
Five children borned after his marriage with Adele: Giulio, the only his son dead newborn in 1917, Elena, Alda, Lidia and Silvia.
During The first World War the philosopher sided with the neutralist, but he was aware that sometimes war is a painful necessity to reach patriotic purposes, such as the liberation of Istria and of Triveneto part occupied by the Austrians, he was not contrary regardless of the conflict with Austria and even with Germany if necessary, however, because of the age he was not expected to perform service in the army.
In 1920 he was appointed Minister of Education in the last Giolitti government. In 1922 Croce sided with fascism belief that it was the means to affirm the liberal identity in Italy, in fact he participated fascist muster in the San Carlo theater which preceded the “March on Rome”. Soon he realized that the liberal ideal, espoused in words by Mussolini, were replaced by the fascist maximalism, which culminated in the assassination of Matteotti. On that occasion Croce wrote the “Manifesto of the Anti-Fascist Intellectuals”, as opposed to the “Manifesto of the Fascist Intellectuals” written by his friend Gentile.
The adherence to fascism of Gentile breaking up the friendship between the two but nevertheless the two continued to show a great mutual respect. Croce might continue to freely express his ideas and his teachings perhaps because of its great international reputation, perhaps for that friendship stilled but not extinguished with Gentile, who had become the greatest philosopher of fascism. However, on the night of 1 November 1926, a group of fascists broke into his house, intimidating the family and smashing furniture; This was the only act of physical hostility that the philosopher suffered because of his anti-fascism.
Croce and his family lived in a villa in Sorrento during World War II and after the liberation of South Italy. Here the philosopher received major political figures with which he reasoned on the reconstruction of the country and of what kind of government he had to have Italy after the final release, even in his capacity as President of the Italian Liberal Party. His idea was to preserve a constitutional monarchy, but it was necessary that the king abdicated in favor of Vittorio Emanuele directly jumping, in the line of succession, to his son Umberto, also to create a clean break between the new monarchic state and the esponents of Savoia compromise with fascism.
He entered as a without portfolio minister in the executive led by Badoglio and again, as without portfolio minister, in the Bonomi Government. He was elected to the Constituent Assembly, and he was proposed as interim head of state, but he refused to devote himself to his studies. In 1946 he founded the Istituto Italiano degli Studi Storici (I.I.S.S.) which was located in the apartment next to his.
He suffered a stroke and he retired to private life; on November 20, 1952 he died while he was in his office.
His wife Adele Rossi and daughters continued the work of the Croce, who in his life had published over fifty volumes ranging on various topics in philosophy, history and literary criticism; in the following years they took care of the direction of Istituto Italiano degli Studi storici and the Fondazione Biblioteca Benedetto Croce, both based in Filomarino palace.