Baretti, Guiseppe Marc' Antonio (DNB00)
|←Baret, John||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 03
Baretti, Guiseppe Marc' Antonio
BARETTI, GIUSEPPE MARC' ANTONIO (1719–1789), miscellaneous writer, traced his descent from a family which formerly flourished in the duchy of Monferrato in Italy. His grandfather, Marc' Antonio, a physician, settled at Mombertaro, where he married a lady who belonged to the illustrious family of the Marquises of Carretto, and who bore him two sons, Luca (born in 1688) and Giambattista. Luca established himself at Turin, where he studied architecture under the Abbé Filippo Juvara. By his first wife, Caterina, Luca had four sons, of whom Giuseppe Marc' Antonio, the eldest, was born at Turin on 25 April 1719. His education was much neglected by his father, who fostered the vanity of his children by reminding them of their descent from the Marquises of Carretto. On two occasions, when secrecy seemed expedient, Giuseppe assumed the name of Giuseppe del Carretto. His father at first destined him for the priesthood. Then it was thought he might become an architect, but the plan was abandoned on account of his habitual short-sightedness. He read much Italian; but a pedantic master disgusted him with Latin, and his father would not let him learn Greek. His father's marriage with a young opera-dancer rendered his position so intolerable that he left Turin for Guastalla (June 1735), where his uncle Giambattista procured for him employment as a merchant's clerk. There he became acquainted with two men of letters, Carlo Cantoni and Dr. Vittore Vettori. After staying more than two years at Guastalla, Baretti removed to Venice, where he contracted a friendship with Count Gaspare Gozzi, the ‘Venetian Addison.’ Subsequently he settled at Milan, and obtained introductions to the men of letters of the Accademia de' Trasformati. He sojourned at Milan nearly three years, studying hard and executing the metrical translation, published several years subsequently, of two of the works of Ovid.
His father having died, he returned to Piedmont, spent the autumn of 1742 at Cuneo, and from 1743 till 1745 was keeper there of the stores of the new fortifications. He returned to Turin in 1747, where he lived with his brothers for three years. He contributed to poetical collections issued in 1741 and the subsequent years. In 1744 he addressed to Father Serafino Bianchi his forty-five ‘Stanze,’ in which he interwove an account of his own career. Next he brought out an insipid translation in blank verse of the tragedies of Pierre Corneille, printed with the French original on the opposite pages. In 1750 he printed a small volume of ‘Piacevoli Poesie.’ Literary academies were the fashion in Italy in that age, and Baretti became a member of the Trasformati of Milan and the Granelleschi of Venice.
Baretti's frank and impetuous disposition brought him into various controversies. He had a literary passage of arms with Dr. Biogio Schiavo, and in 1750 he, in a satirical piece entitled ‘Primo Cicalamento,’ ridiculed Dr. Giuseppe Bartoli, professor of literature in the university of Turin, who pretended that he had discovered the true meaning of an ancient ivory bas-relief. His hopes of public employment were destroyed by this attack upon Bartoli, who appealed to the authorities. The matter was referred to the first president of the senate and rector of the university. Baretti escaped with a severe reproof and the forfeiture of the unsold copies of the obnoxious work; but he found that all chance of employment in his own country was at an end, and he seized the opportunity which presented itself at this juncture of an engagement in the Italian Opera House at London. He left for London towards the end of January 1751. On his arrival he opened a school for teaching Italian, and was engaged to teach Italian to Mrs. Lennox, the author of ‘The Female Quixote.’ After some time he was presented to Dr. Johnson, who introduced him to the family of Mr. Thrale, and to most of the distinguished scholars and artists of the day. His first literary performances in London were two facetious pamphlets, written in French and published in 1753, relating to the disputes between the actors and the lessee of the Italian Opera House. In the same year he printed in English a ‘Dissertation on the Italian Poets,’ in which he censured some superficial and inexact criticisms of Voltaire. Next he published in 1757 an ‘Introduction to the Italian Language,’ and ‘The Italian Library,’ containing an account of the lives and works of the principal writers of Italy. But his reputation as a scholar was made by his ‘Italian and English Dictionary,’ which first appeared in the beginning of the year 1760. This dictionary entirely superseded all previous works of the kind, and has been often reprinted. The author prefixed to his work a new grammar, and his friend Dr. Johnson wrote for him the dedication.
Determined to return to Italy, he left London on 14 Aug. 1760, and, after visiting Portugal and Spain, reached Genoa on 18 Nov. Previously to his departure from England he had been recommended by Dr. Johnson to write a journal of his travels, and to this suggestion we owe the charming narrative of his tour.
Baretti first visited his brothers at Turin; he afterwards stayed at Milan, where his friends introduced him to Count de Firmian, the Austrian minister, who was regarded as a Mæcenas. The account of his travels, in four volumes, was licensed for the press in the beginning of 1762. In the summer the first volume was published, but the complaints of the Portuguese minister in Italy, on account of certain reflections upon Portugal, induced the Count de Firmian to give orders that the publication should not proceed further. Baretti removed to Venice, much dejected, towards the close of the year 1762. There he prepared for the press the three unpublished volumes of his ‘Travels,’ from which he struck out all the passages relating to the government of Portugal. Baretti now undertook the publication of a periodical sheet which he entitled ‘La Frusta Letteraria’ (‘The Literary Scourge’), himself taking the name of Aristarco Scannabue. His object was to denounce the worthless books of all kinds with which the press of Italy teemed. In the second number his sarcastic remarks on the work of contemporary archæologists gave offence to the Marquis of Tanucci, who was president of the academy for publishing the Herculanean monuments. Tanucci insisted that the ‘Frusta’ should be suppressed and its author punished. Baretti respectfully appeased the marquis's wrath, but his merciless onslaught on bad writers raised up a host of other enemies, and the publication was suppressed in 1765 after the twenty-fifth number.
The suppression of the ‘Frusta’ gave Baretti such a shock that he was obliged to keep his bed for nearly two months after. He left Venice late in 1765 for Ancona, where for about five months he led a most secluded life. There he printed his reply to an attack upon him by Father Buonafede, called the ‘Bue Pedagogo,’ in the form of a continuation of the ‘Frusta Letteraria.’ In sending to his hated adversary a copy of this intemperate reply, he accompanied it with a letter or invective, which was printed in London in 1786 with many variations.
About the middle of February 1766 he proceeded to Leghorn, and after some delay, from illness and want of money, returned to London in the autumn. His old friends received him with cordiality, especially Dr. Johnson, who during Baretti's stay in Italy had kept up a confidential correspondence with him. He now published an ‘Account of the Manners and Customs of Italy,’ in answer to ‘Letters from Italy’ by Samuel Sharp. It passed through a second edition in London, was reprinted in Dublin, and led to the author's election as a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, besides bringing him 200l. It was with reference to this work that Johnson said: ‘His account of Italy is a very entertaining book; and, sir, I know no man who carries his head higher in conversation than Baretti. There are strong powers in his mind. He has not, indeed, many hooks, but with what hooks he has he grapples very forcibly’ (Boswell, Life of Johnson, ed. Croker, iii. 48). In 1768 he spent several months in France and Flanders in company with Thrale, the wealthy brewer, and in November of that year he visited Spain. An amplified account of his first journey to that country was published in 1770, and was highly praised by Johnson (see Letter to Mrs. Thrale of 20 July 1771), and brought him 500l. Johnson says that he was the first author who ever received money for copyright in Italy.
On 6 Oct. 1769 Baretti was accosted in the Haymarket by a woman of bad character, gave her a blow on the hand, was attacked by three bullies, and in self-defence inflicted mortal wounds upon one of them with a knife. At the next sessions Baretti was tried at the Old Bailey. Johnson and Burke went to see him in Newgate, and had small comfort to give him. ‘Why, what can he fear,’ said Baretti, placing himself between them, ‘that holds two such hands as I do?’ (Mrs. Piozzi, Autobiography, 2nd ed. i. 97). He declined to claim the privilege of being tried by a jury half composed of foreigners. Sir Joshua Reynolds, Dr. Johnson, Mr. Beauclerk, Fitzherbert, Burke, Garrick, Goldsmith, and Dr. Hallifax bore testimony to the quietness of his general character. The jury acquitted him. It has been supposed that Baretti was assisted in drawing up his defence by Dr. Johnson and Mr. Murphy, but on the other hand it is asserted that he claimed it as his own at Mr. Thrale's table in the hearing of both those gentlemen. The street scuffle and the subsequent trial were made the subject of a poem in Italian ottava rima published at Turin in 1857.
In 1770 Baretti determined to revisit Italy and repay his brothers a portion of the money advanced by them. At the end of April 1771 he returned to London after an absence of nine months. Among the works he published about this time were an improved edition of his Italian-English Dictionary; prefaces to the magnificent London reprints of the works of Machiavelli and other standard authors; and a volume of Italian-English dialogues. He likewise began an English translation of ‘Don Quixote,’ but abandoned it half finished in 1772.
From October 1773 to 6 July 1776 Baretti was domesticated in the family of Mr. Thrale. He had, at Dr. Johnson's request, undertaken to instruct his eldest daughter, Hester Thrale, afterwards Lady Keith, in the Italian language. In 1774 he received an offer of the professorship of Italian in the university of Dublin, but declined it (Gent. Mag. lx. 1063). In the autumn of 1775 Baretti accompanied the Thrales and Dr. Johnson on their well-known visit to France. They were about to make another continental tour in 1776 under Baretti's guidance, but were prevented by the sudden death of Thrale's only son. The bitterest enmity had by this time arisen between Mrs. Thrale and Baretti, who finally left the house on 6 July 1776. Baretti's strictures in the ‘European Magazine’ for 1788 on Mrs. Thrale's marriage with Piozzi are so brutal that even her enemy Boswell could not approve them (Boswell, Life of Johnson, ed. Croker, vi. 169 n.) Baretti's manuscript notes on Mrs. Piozzi's ‘Letters of Dr. Johnson’ are still more insulting. In a private communication to a friend he accused her of breaking a promise to pension him for teaching her daughter (Letter to Don Francesco Carcano, 12 March 1785). Mrs. Piozzi says that Baretti's overbearing insolence was intolerable (Mrs. Piozzi, Autobiography, 103 et seq.)
Baretti became embarrassed and again sought help from his brothers; but he received no reply. In 1777 he published in French a ‘Discourse on Shakespeare,’ which increased his reputation. In 1778 he brought out a Spanish and English dictionary, which has become a standard work. In 1779 he aided Philidor in producing a musical setting of the ‘Carmen Seculare’ of Horace. Baretti says this work ‘brought me in 150l. in three nights, and three times as much to Philidor, whom I got to set it to musick. It would have benefited us both (if Philidor had not proved a scoundrel) greatly more than those sums’ (Manuscript Note on Johnson's Letters, ii. 41). He next published, in Italian, ‘A Collection of Familiar Letters,’ ascribed to various historical and literary personages, but really composed by himself; and in a work entitled ‘Tolondron’ (1786) he violently attacked Bowle's edition of ‘Don Quixote’ [see Bowle, John].
In 1782 he had received from the government an annual pension of 80l. Not long afterwards he contracted a friendship with Richard Barwell [q. v.], whom he used to call his rich Nabob, and usually spent several months of the year at Barwell's country seat at Stanstead in Sussex.
He died on 5 May 1789, and was buried at Marylebone. Immediately after his death his legal representatives burnt every letter in his possession without inspection.
His portrait, painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds, has been engraved by Bromley.
Baretti was tall in stature, and had a robust constitution. He was exceedingly temperate. He early abandoned the doctrines of the Roman catholic church, without adopting those of any other; but his scepticism was never offensively displayed. In England he is chiefly remembered as the friend of Dr. Johnson, and as the compiler of the Italian and Spanish dictionaries, though the English account of his ‘Travels’ is still sometimes read, and always with pleasure. In Italy his fame has been kept alive by reprints of his lively prose writings, and his continued popularity among his countrymen is proved by the fact that in 1870 a philocritical society called after him was founded at Florence.
His works are as follows: 1. ‘Stanze al Padre Serafino Bianchi di Novara, M.O.R., che fa il Quaresimale di quest' anno in Cuneo,’ Cuneo, 1744, 12mo. 2. ‘Lettere ad un suo amico di Milano sopra un certo fatto del Dottor Biagio Schiavo da Este’ [Lugano], 1747, 4to. 3. ‘Poesie diverse scritte dal Baretti per varie occasioni dal 1741 al 1747.’ 4. ‘Tragedie di Pier Cornelio tradotte in versi italiani, con l'originale a fronte,’ 4 vols. Venice, 1747–8, 4to. 5. ‘Primo Cicalamento sopra le cinque Lettere del signor Giuseppe Bartoli intorno al libro che avrà per titolo “La vera spiegazione del Dittico Quiriniano”’ [Lugano], 1758, 8vo. 6. ‘Le piacevoli Poesie di Giuseppe Baretti Torinese,’ Turin, 1750, 1764, 8vo. Minute biographical details concerning Baretti's poems are given by the Baron Custodi in the ‘Scritti scelti di Baretti.’ 7. ‘Fetonte sulle rive del Po,’ Turin, 1750, 4to. A dramatic composition on the occasion of the marriage of Victor Amadeus, duke of Savoy. 8. ‘Dei rimedj d'Amore d'Ovidio volgarizzati,’ Milan, 1752, 4to. 9. ‘Li tre Libri degli Amori d'Ovidio volgarizzati.’ These are given in vols. xxix. and xxx. of the Milan collection of Latin poems in the Italian versions (1754). 10. ‘Projet pour avoir un Opéra Italien à Londres dans un goût tout nouveau,’ Lond. 1753, 8vo. 11. ‘La voix de la Discorde, ou la Bataille des Violons,’ &c. Lond. 1753, 8vo. Written in French and in English. 12. ‘A Dissertation upon the Italian Poetry, in which are interspersed some Remarks on Mr. Voltaire's “Essay on the Epic Poets,”’ Lond. 1753, 8vo. 13. The Italian translation which accompanied ‘An Account of an Attempt to ascertain the Longitude at Sea’ published under the name of Zachariah Williams in 1755, but really written by Dr. Johnson (Boswell, Life of Johnson, ed. Croker, ii. 55). 14. ‘The Italian Library; containing an Account of the Lives and Works of the most valuable Authors of Italy; with preface,’ Lond. 1757, 8vo. 15. ‘A Dictionary of the English and Italian Languages, augmented with above ten thousand words omitted in the last edition of Altieri. To which is added an Italian and English Grammar,’ 2 vols. Lond. 1760, 4to, and again 1770 and 1778; corrected and improved by P. Ricci Rota, 2 vols. Lond. 1790, 4to; 2 vols. Venice, 1795, 4to; 2 vols. Lond. 1807, 8vo (called the 4th ed.); revised and corrected by J. Roster, 2 vols. Florence, 1816, 4to; 7th ed. 2 vols. Lond. 1824, 8vo; 2 vols. Leghorn, 1828, 4to; 8th ed. corrected by C. Thomson, 2 vols. Lond. 1831, 8vo; 9th ed. also corrected by Thomson, 2 vols. Lond. 1839, 8vo; and with large additions by John Davenport and Guglielmo Comelati, 2 vols. Lond. 1854, 8vo. 16. ‘A Grammar of the Italian Language, to which is added an English Grammar for the use of the Italians,’ Lond. 1762, 8vo. A reprint, in a separate form, of the grammars prefixed to the ‘Dictionary.’ 17. ‘Lettere familiari a suoi tre fratelli Filippo, Giovanni e Amadeo,’ vol. i. Milan, 1762, vol. ii. Venice, 1763, 8vo; 3rd ed. 2 vols. Piacenza, 1805, 8vo. 18. ‘La Frusta Letteraria di Aristarco Scannabue, 1763 al 1765,’ 3 vols. 4to [see above]; reprinted at Carpi in 1799, and at Milan in 1804. 19. ‘An Account of the Manners and Customs of Italy, with observations on the mistakes of some travellers with regard to that country,’ Lond. 1768 and 1769, 4to. Baretti added to the second edition of his ‘Account’ ‘An Appendix in answer to Mr. Sharp's Reply.’ Baretti's book was translated into French and Italian. 20. ‘A Journey from London to Genoa, through England, Portugal, Spain, and France,’ 2 vols. Lond. 1770, 4to. This work was translated into French and Italian. 21. ‘Proposals for printing the Life of Friar Gerund,’ 1771, 4to. It was intended to print the original Spanish. The scheme proved abortive, but a translation by Dr. Warner was printed in 2 vols. 8vo. 22. ‘An Introduction to the most useful European Languages, consisting of select passages from the most celebrated English, French, Italian, and Spanish authors; with translations,’ Lond. 1772, 8vo. 23. Preface to the new edition of ‘Tutte le Opere di Niccolò Machiavelli,’ 3 vols. Lond. 1772, 4to. Baretti also wrote the prefaces to the reprints of other classical authors published in London. 24. ‘Easy Phraseology for the use of young ladies who intend to learn the colloquial part of the Italian language,’ Lond. 1775, 8vo, with preface by Dr. Johnson. 25. ‘Discours sur Shakespeare et sur Monsieur de Voltaire,’ Lond. 1777, 8vo. Luigi Morandi published at Rome in 1882, ‘Voltaire contro Shakespeare, Baretti contro Voltaire. Con otto lettere del Baretti, non mai pubblicate in Italia.’ These eight letters appeared in the ‘Scelta di Lettere Familiari,’ but were omitted from the reprint of that work in the ‘Classici Italiani.’ 26. ‘A Dictionary, Spanish and English, and English and Spanish,’ 2nd ed. 2 vols. Lond. 1778, fol.; reprinted in 1786, 1794, and 1800. Other editions corrected and amplified by Henry Neuman appeared in 1827 [1831?], 1853, 1854, and 1857. 27. ‘Delle Arti del Disegno, Discorsi del Cav. Giosuè Reynolds, Presidente della R. Accademia di Londra ec., trasportati dall' Inglese in Italiano,’ Leghorn, with the imprint of Florence, 1778, 8vo. 28. The Introduction to the ‘Carmen Seculare’ of Horace, as set to music by Baretti, in conjunction with Philidor, Lond. 1779, 8vo. 29. ‘Scelta di Lettere Familiari fatta per uso degli studiosi di Lingua Italiana,’ 2 vols. Lond. 1779, 8vo. All the letters except the first were really composed by Baretti himself, although they are ascribed to various eminent men. 30. ‘A Guide through the Royal Academy,’ Lond. 1781, 4to. 31. ‘Dissertacion Epistolar acerca unas Obras de la Real Academia Española, su auctor Joseph Baretii, secretario por la correspondencia estrangera de la Real Academia Británica di pintura, escultura y arquitectura. Al señor don Juan C. .... ,’ Lond. 1784, fol. 32. ‘Tolondron. Speeches to John Bowle about his edition of “Don Quixote,” together with some account of Spanish Literature,’ Lond. 1786, 8vo. 33. ‘Quattro Epistole,’ Lond. 1787, 8vo. Written in versi martelliani. 34. ‘Strictures on Signora Piozzi's Publication of Dr. Johnson's Letters.’ In ‘European Magazine,’ 1788, xiii. 313, 393, xiv. 89. 35. Numerous manuscript notes in English written in the margin of ‘Letters to and from the late Samuel Johnson, LL.D., published from the original MSS. in her possession by Hester Lynch Piozzi,’ 2 vols. Lond. 1788. The annotated copy, now in the British Museum, formerly belonged to George Daniel. 36. Letters in Italian addressed to his friends. One hundred and forty-eight of these, all—except four—previously unpublished, are printed in Baron Custodi's edition of the ‘Scritti Scelti,’ ii. 7–380.
An edition of Baretti's ‘Opere scritte in Lingua Italiana,’ in 6 vols., appeared at Milan, 1813–18, 8vo. His Italian writings are also included in the ‘Collezione de' Classici Italiani,’ 4 vols. Milan, 1838–9, 8vo. An admirable edition of his ‘Scritti scelti, inediti o rari’ was brought out by Baron Pietri Custodi, 2 vols. Milan, 1822.[Baron Pietro Custodi's Memorie della Vita di G. Baretti, Milan, 1822; Vita di G. Baretti per Giovanni-Battista Baretti, coll' aggiunta del processo ed assoluzione dell' omicidio da lui commesso in difesa di se medesimo in Londra, 1769, ridotto in ottava rima, Turin, 1857; Anecdotes of Baretti by Isaac Reed in Europ. Mag. (1789), xv. 349*, 440, xvi. 91, 94, 240; Campbell's Diary of a Visit to England in 1775 (Sydney, 1854), 32, 33, 123, 134; Gent. Mag. lix. (i.), 469, 569, lx. (ii.), 1063, 1127, 1194; Mazzuchelli, Gli Scrittori d'Italia, ii. part i. 345–9; Mrs. Piozzi's Autobiography (Hayward), 2nd ed. i. 36, 90–103, 243, 301, 315, 317, ii. 177; Notes and Queries, 1st ser. viii. 411, 477, 2nd ser. vi. 187; Evans's Cat. of Engraved Portraits, i. 17; Il vero carattere di. G. Baretti pubblicato per amor della virtù calunniata, per desinganno degl' Inglesi, e in difesa degl' Italiani (by C. F. Badini), Venezia (1770?); Athenæum, 20 July 1878.]