Scipione Piattoli (b. 10 November 1749, Florence, Italy - d. 12 April 1809, Altenburg, Germany)
Piattoli was born into an artistic family and joined the Piarist order when in his teens. He obtained his doctorate in Law from the University of Florence, and taught rhetoric in Piarist schools. In 1774 Piattoli received permission to leave the order and returned to his Christian name Scipione, but later used the title Abbé (‘the priest’) and applied for the offices of the Church. He settled in Modena in the early 1770s. He was a professor at the local university and taught history of the Church at the Faculty of Theology and Greek at the Faculty of Philosophy. Piattoli also participated in the work of the institution reforming the university. In 1774 he published (anonymously) a pamphlet titled Saggio intorno al luogo del sepellire, in which he opposed burial near churches for reasons of hygiene. The case aroused strong emotions and Piattoli’s brochure was condemned, but gained fame and appeared in French and Spanish translations. After 1780 and the death of his protector, Piattoli’s situation in Modena became difficult because of various intrigues.
In 1782 he accepted an invitation to Warsaw, where he arrived as a tutor for the sons of Piotr Potocki. He was not a successful pedagogue and experienced great troubles with his pupils. Moreover, his educational methods were not shared by the influential female relatives of his employer. The work with the young Potockis lasted for two years. During that time, Piattoli gained some knowledge about Poland as he travelled in the country and made contact with other wealthy families. He also became an honorary member of The Society for Elementary Books, where he was given the task to develop an "elementary textbook of history of sciences, arts/learning and crafts." He was also actively involved in the Polish Freemasonry.
Piattoli left Poland in 1785, accompanying Isabella Lubomirska as a tutor to her ward. During the next few years of residence abroad, mainly in Paris, he established numerous contacts with the politically active members of the Polish aristocracy, as well as with Filippo Mazzei, the Parisian agent to King Stanislaw August Poniatowski. Thanks to the latter connection he was invited back to Warsaw, to the royal court. Trusted by both the King and the opposition, Piattoli quickly became an influential figure on the Polish political scene. Shortly after arriving in Poland, he offered the King to write a book about the country, intended for foreigners. He was known by the name of the Royal Librarian or lector/reader, and was involved in bringing in the latest literary works from Paris. Above all, however, Piattoli was a link between the King and the magnates and a participant in numerous political actions backstage. He wrote several memorials and essays on the Polish political issues. He was engaged in the drafting of the Constitution. Piattoli’s most significant role was as project editor and organizer for the adoption of the new legislation. Many secret meetings with King Stanislaw August took place in his private office in the Royal Castle, where, among others, a decisive session of the Parliament was agreed on the 3rd of May 1791. After the adoption of the Act, Piattoli became co-organizer of the Friends of the Constitution. His office remained an important centre of political and diplomatic life in Poland.
He continued working and despatching numerous memoranda and conducted an extensive correspondence (defined by E. Roztworowski as “vast, exalted, inventive and nervous writing, full of encrypted allusions and codenames”). He worked on the issues of the Church, dissenters and the bourgeoisie. He was involved in the regulation of the affairs of the Courland fiefdom (after establishing a close and lasting relationship with the Duchess of Courland) and the status of Jews in Poland. After the failure of his diplomatic mission in Dresden in 1792, he decided not to return to Poland, despite the calls of the King. He received an official discharge from the service at the court in December 1793, retaining the title of Royal Advisor (he corresponded with Stanislaw August until February 1794, and offered the King part of his library). He officially undertook writing the history of the recent events in Poland and some minor literary essays, while continuing discreet diplomatic activities.
After the outbreak of the Kościuszko Uprising, the Austrian authorities arrested him in July 1794 in Karlsbad and held him captive; this was in response to the imprisonment of Russian diplomats in Warsaw. Piattoli spent the next six years in prison, initially in the Czech fortress Josephstadt, then in Prague. The authorities conducted a broad investigation trying to show links between Piattoli and France. The King of Poland Stanislaw August, Prince Jozef Poniatowski and Napoleon unsuccessfully intervened asking for his release. In prison he worked on the "universal bibliography of human knowledge" and was preparing new political visions. He was finally released in the spring of 1800. After his release from prison, Piattoli became private secretary to the Duchess of Courland, accompanying her on her travels, frequently residing in Dresden, Leipzig and Berlin. He re-established contact with Prince Adam Jerzy Czartoryski, and was the inspiration, if not the author, of the memorial Mémoire sur le système politique que devrait suivre la Russie (1803), attributed to Czartoryski, and containing a vision of ensuring peace in Europe on the principle of counterbalancing large federations. In 1804 Piattoli went to St. Petersburg (simultaneously arranging matters connected with the Duchess of Courland’s lawsuit), met Czartoryski (then head of Russian diplomacy) and had a series of consultations on the implementation of the idea of European federations. In May 1805 he introduced a project with a proposal for the creation of several federations (including the rebuilding of Poland), a codification of the national law and the law of the sea, as well as the introduction of European arbitration. He was appointed correspondent to the Regulatory Commission (later editor) and honorary member of the University of Vilnius. From 1807 onwards Piattoli was back in Mitau (today Jelgava), at the court of the Duchess of Courland. He married her lady-in- waiting Julia von Vietinghoff, and was preoccupied with the issues of education in Courland. He died in the spring of 1809 in Altenburg.