Algarotti, Francis

, an eminent Italian writer, was born at Venice, Dec. 11, 1712. His father, a rich merchant, had two other sons, and three daughters; one | of the sons died an infant; the other, Bonomo Algarptti, who took the charge of the family on the father’s death, survived the subject of this article, and was his executor. Francis studied first at Rome, then at Venice, and lastly at Bologna, under the two celebrated professors Eustace Manfredi and Francis Zanotti, who loved him for his sweetness of temper, and by whose instructions he made a very rapid progress in mathematics, geometry, astronomy, philosophy, and physics. He was particularly fond of this last study, and of anatomy. Nor was he less assiduous in, acquiring a perfect knowledge of ancient and modern languages. Before his first visit to France he became known to the learned world, by the many excellent papers he had printed in the Memoirs of the institute of Bologna; and in one of his rural retreats, in 1733, he wrote his “Newtonianismo per le Dame,” in which he endeavoured to familiarize Newton’s system to the ladies, as Fontenelle had done that of Des Cartes. He was now only in his twenty -first year, and this work, which was published in 1734, acquired him much reputation. It was almost immediately translated into French by Duperron de CastCra; and, although very incorrect, this was the only edition from which the French critics formed their opinion of its merits, and from which a translation was also made into German, but not into English, as the French biographer asserts. Our celebrated countrywoman, Mrs. Carter, used the original, in her translation, published in 1739, and revised in the press by Mr. (afterwards Dr.) Samuel Johnson,. It was entitled “Sir Isaac Newton’s philosophy explained, for the use of the ladies, in six dialognes on Light and Colours,” 2 vols, 12mo.

In his early years Algarotti had cultivated a poetical turn, and after some favourable attempts of the lyric kind, he wrote several poetical epistles on subjects of philosophy and science. These were collected, with others of Frugoni and Bettinelli, and published with some pretended letters of Virgil, in which a bold attack was made on the merits of Dante and Petrarch. This publication made a considerable noise in Italy, and gave great offence to the admirers of these illustrious poets; but’Algarotti declared himself ignorant of the writer, who is now known, to be Bettinelli.

Algarottihad also studied the fine arts, and produced many excellent specimens of painting and engraving. In | particular he designed and engraved several plates of heads in groupes, one of which, containing thirteen in the antique style, is dated Feb. 15, 1744. He travelled likewise over Italy, with a painter and draftsman in his suite; and what he has published on the arts discovers extensive knowledge and taste. Frederick II. who had become acquainted with his talents when prince-royal, no sooner mounted the throne, than he invited him to Berlin. Algarotti was then in London, and, complying with his majesty’s wish, remained at Berlin many years. Frederick conferred on him the title of count of the kingdom of Prussia, with reversion to his brother and descendants. He made him also his chamberlain, and knight of the order of Merit, bestowing on him at the same time many valuable presents, and other marks of his esteem; and after Algarotti left Berlin, the king corresponded with him for twenty-five years. The king of Poland, Augustus III. also had him for some time at his court, and gave him the title of privy-­counselloir of war. Nor was he held in less esteem by the sovereigns of Italy, particularly pope Benedict XIV. the duke of Savoy, and the duke of Parma. The excellence of his character, the purity of his morals, his elegant manners, and the eclat which surrounds a rich amateur of the arts, contributed to his celebrity perhaps as much as the superiority of his talents, and his acknowledged taste. Wherever he travelled he was respected equally by the rich, and the learned, by men of letters, by artists, and by men of the world. The climate of Germany having sensibly injured his health, he returned first to Venice, and afterwards to Bologna, where he had determined to reside, but his disorder, a consumption of the lungs, gained ground rapidly, and put an end to his life, at Pisa, March 3, 1764. He is said to have met death with composure, or, as his biographer terms it, with philosophical resignation. In his latter days he passed his mornings with Maurino (the artist who used to accompany him in his travels), engaged in the study of painting, architecture, and the fine arts. After dinner he had his works read to him, then printing at Leghorn, and revised and corrected the sheets: in the evening he had a musical party. The epitaph he wrote for himself is taken from Horace’s non omnis moriar, and contains only the few words, “Hicjacet Fr. Algarottus non omnis” The king of Prussia was at the expense of a magnificent monument in the Campo | Santo of Pisa; on which, in addition to the inscription which Algarotti wrote, he ordered the following, “Algarotto Ovidii emulo, Newtoni discipulo, Fredericus rex,” and Algarotti’s heirs added only “Fredericus Magnus.” The works of Algarotti were published at Leghorn, 1765, 4 vols. 8vo; at Berlin, 1772, 8 vols. 8vo; and at Venice, 17 vols. 8vo, 1791--1794. This last, the most complete and correct edition, is ornamented with vignettes, the greater part of which were taken from the author’s designs. These volumes contain 1. Memoirs of his life and writings, and his poetry. 2. An analysis of the Newtonian system. 3. Pieces on architecture, painting, the opera, essays on vario is languages, on history, philology, on Des Cartes, Horace, &c. 4 and 5. Essays on the military art, and on the writers on that subject. 6. His travels in Russia, preceded by an Essay on the metals of that empire: the congress of Cytherea, the life of Pallavicini, the Italian poet; and a humorous piece against the abuse of learning. 7. Thoughts on different subjects of philosophy and philology. 8. Letters on painting and architecture. 9 and 10. Letters on the sciences. 11 to 16. His correspondence, not before published, with the literati of Italy, England, and France. 17. An unfinished critical essay on the triumvirate of Crassus, Pompey, and Gassar. Among his correspondents we find the names of the Italians, Manfredi and Zanotti, his first masters, Fabri of Bologna, Metastasio, Frugoni, Bettinelli, Frisi the celebrated mathematician and physician, Mazzuchelli, Paradisi, &c.; the Prussians, Frederic II. several princes of the same family, and Form ey, &c.; the English, lords Chesterfield and Hervey, Mr. Hollis, lady Montague, &c.; jand the French, Voltaire, Maupercuis, du Chastellet, mad. du Boccage,; &c. His Essays on painting, on the opera, his Letters to lord Hervey and the marquis Maffei, and his Letters, military and political, have been translated and published in English. His biographers have generally handed down his character without a blemish; aiui Fabroni, on whom ive mostly rely, is equally lavish in his praises. Wiule we take his personal merits from these authorities, we have evident proof from his works that he was an universal scholar, and wrote with facility and originality on every subject he took in hand. They present a greater variety of reading and thought than almost any scholar of the eighteenth century; but they are not | without redundancy, and sometimes affectation. His fame is said to be fixed on a more solid basis in his own country, than in those where he has been viewed only througn the medium of translations. 1


Biographie Unirerselle.—Dict. Hist.orique.—Fabroni Vitæ Italorum, vol. V. p. 304.—Mazzucbelli Scrittori d’Italia, vol. ISaxii Onomasticon.Strutt’s Dict. of Engravers.