Baretti, Joseph

, was born at Turin about the year 1716. His father was an architect under don Philip Invara, the famous Sicilian, who left many specimens of his abilities in and about Turin. From this parent he appears to have received a good education, and had some little property left him, which he tells us himself he gamed away at faro by which means he was forced to have recourse to | his wits, and thus turned author in spite of his teeth, as he phrases it, to keep them going. To the early part of his life we are strangers, except that we learn from himself, that he had been employed two years at Cuneo assisting at the fortifications there, but left the place a few days before the siege of it, by the combined powers of France and Spain, commenced in 1744. What became of him after this period we are not informed, except that in 1748 he was at Venice a teacher of Italian to English gentlemen. From circumstances scattered through his works, we can collect that he had travelled much had experienced some vicissitudes of fortune had encountered several difficulties and at length, with little money in his pocket, with a very imperfect knowledge of the English tongue, and without any recommendations, he bent his course towards England, where he arrived in 1750, and where he continued to reside (with a short interval) during the rest of his life.

A facility to acquire languages he possessed in a very extraordinary degree, and his perseverance was not inferior to his natural genius. With such advantages he soon overcame those difficulties which obstruct a foreigner on his arrival in England. In a short time he was sufficiently master of the English language to be enabled to write in it; and in 1753 published, what we apprehend td have been his first performance, a defence of the poetry of his native country against the censures of Voltaire, who had treated it with too great contempt. About the same time accident brought him acquainted with a person who was the means of introducing him to the notice of Dr. Johnson, who to the end of his life regarded him with great esteem. The origin of this intimacy has been frequently mentioned by Mr. Baretti to have happened in the following manner Mrs. Lennox, the authoress of “The Female Quixote,” having an intention to publish a translation of the novels from whence Shakspeare had taken some of his plays, wished to acquire a sufficient knowledge of the Italian language to enable her to execute the work with some degree of credit. To accomplish this point Mr. Lennox, her husband, went to the Orange coffee house to learn whether any foreigner was desirous of improving himself in the English language, and by that means receive the same advantage as he should communicate. Mr. Baretti happened to be present when the inquiry was made, and eagerly accepted the offer. After some time he was introduced to Dr. | Johnson, when an intimacy commenced, which appears to have continued until nearly the end of Dr. Johnson’s life.

From the time of Mr. Baretti’s arrival in England he subsisted by teaching the Italian language, and by his writings. Through the means of Dr. Johnson he was introduced to the family of Mr. Thrale, in which he passed much of his time and his employment of teacher, added to some agreeable and some useful qualities, gave him access to the houses of other persons of distinction. As he possessed nothing but what his industry enabled him to obtain, he was under the necessity of exerting himself, and his efforts were not unsuccessful. What his avocations procured him, his ccconomy rendered sufficient and he was never charged with’ meanness or servility. By his writings he certainly procured both money and reputation, though he appears to have set but little value on his literary performances. Very late in life he said, “Whatever I have written in the long course of my life was all done out of necessity rather than choice.” Again “As want was incessantly pushing and pushing at my back, whatever I scribbled was always done in a most confounded hurry and it is a miracle greater, I think, than St. Anthony ever performed, how I came to get bread and cheese, and now and then a beef-steak, by my ill-chopt performances. Conscious of the numberless and supreme faults and imperfections of all my poor doings that way, I wish now, and to my sorrow I wish it in vain, that every page I have sent to the press in Italy or in England were at the bottom of the sea.” “After this declaration, drawn from the very core of my heart, I give you most ample leave to massacre all my literary offspring.

Mr. Baretti, it is said, received his first encouragement to come to England from lord Charlemont, to whom he became known in Italy, and to whom he afterwards dedicated his Account of the manners and customs of his native country. “Upon your arrival in Italy several years ago,” he says, addressing himself to this nobleman, “a lucky chance brought me within the sphere of your notice and from that fortunate moment a friendship began on your lordship’s side, that has never suffered any abatement; and an attachment on mine, which will never cease as long as I have. life.” During his stay in London, he met with much kindness from its inhabitants. To most of the first persons both for rauk and literature he procured himself to | be introduced, with many he lived on terms of friendship, and with some he was permitted to make a part of their family during their seasons of retirement. At length he resolved on his return to Italy, and accordingly left London on the 13th of August 1760. In his first letter to his brothers, he thus speaks of the kingdom he was about to leave. “Now therefore, England, farewell I quit thee with less regret, because I am returning to my native country, after a very long absence, considering the shortness of life. Yet I cannot leave thee without tears. May heaven guard and prosper thee, thou illustrious mother of polite men and virtuous women Thou great mart of literature I thou nursery of invincible soldiers, of bold navigators and ingenious artists, farewell, farewell I have now forgotten all the crosses and anxieties I have undergone in thy regions for the space of ten years but never will I forget those many amongst thy sons who have assisted me in my wants, encouraged me in my difficulties, comforted me in my adversities, and imparted to me the light of their knowledge in the dark and intricate mazes of life Farewell, imperial England, farewell, farewell

His journey home was taken through Portugal and Spain. Previous to his setting out, he was recommended by Dr. Johnson to write a daily account of the events that might happen, and with all possible minuteness, and by him were pointed out the topics which would most interest and most delight in a future publication. To those who have read the narrative which he afterwards gave the world, it will be unnecessary to applaud Dr. Johnson’s suggestion. It must be admitted to be one of the most entertaining journals which the public had then received, containing a description of places then little known, and placing the character of the writer (as far as any dependence can be had on an author’s character, as drawn from his writings) in a very amiable point of view. During the progress of his tour, good sense and good humour, a playfulness not inconsistent with youth, nor yet unworthy of age, seem always to have attended him. He arrived at Genoa on the 18th of November.

He had been settledbut a short time in Italy, before he projected a periodical paper which was published in Venice under the title of “Frusta Literaria,” written in the name and character of an old, ill-natured, and ferocious soldier, who was supposed to have quitted his native | try when scarcely fifteen years old, and to have returned home no less than fifty years after his departure. In this the satire was very pointed and severe, and the publication had great success. One who appears to have known him asserts, that it brought him in a considerable profit, but raised such a flame in Venice, as to make his stay in that country at least disagreeable, if not dangerous. After six yeans absence he returned to England, and almost immediately dipped his pen in a controversy with Mr. Sharp, who had just then published “Letters from Italy, describing the customs and manners of that country in the years 1765 and 1766.” Mr. Sharp’s representation was certainly extravagant, and perhaps taken on too slight grounds. It excited Mr. Baretti’s resentment, and it is well known that he seldom expressed himself in gentle terms when he felt himself entitled to shew his anger.

To Mr. Baretti’s defence of his country Mr. Sharp published a reply, and from the writings of his opponent endeavoured to justify the fidelity of his representation. This produced a rejoinder from Mr. Baretti, which concluded the controversy. If the picture drawn by Mr. Sharp was extravagant in some particulars, it certainly did not arise from a design to misrepresent. Ill health, which prevented him from viewing the scenes he described, and some misrepresentation from interested people, seem to have contributed to the mistakes into which he was led in his account of Italy. The dispute was productive of this consequence it destroyed the reputation of Mr. Sharp’s work, which since that time has been totally neglected.

After Mr. Baretti’s return to England he made several excursions abroad. He particularly attended Dr. Johnson and the Thrale family to Paris; and in February 1769 he made a second tour through part of Spain, from whence he had but just returned, when an accident happened which hazarded his life at the time, and probably diminished, in the event, some of the estimation in which, until then, he had been held amongst his friends. On the 6th of October, returning from the Orange coffee-house between six and seven o’clock, and going hastily up the Haymarket, he was accosted by a woman, who behaving with great indecency, he was provoked to give her a blow on the hand (as he declared) accompanied with some angry words. This occasioned a retort from her, in which several opprobrious terms were used towards him and | three men, who appeared to be connected with the woman, mimed lately interfering, and endeavouring to push him from the pavement, with a view to throw him into a paddle, in order to trample on him, he was alarmed for his safety, and rashly struck one of them with a knife. He was then pursued by them all, and another of them collaring him, he again struck the assailant, Evan Morgan, with his knife several times, and gave him some wounds, of which he died in the Middlesex hospital the next day. Mr. Baretti was immediately taken into custody, and at the ensuing sessions tried at the Old Bailey. He refused to accept the privilege of having a jury of half foreigners. The, evidence against him were the woman, the two men, the constable, a patient in Middlesex hospital, and the surgeon. When called upon for his defence, he read a paper which contained a narrative of the unfortunate transaction, with the reasons which obliged him to act with so much violence. “This, my lord, and gentlemen of the jury,” he concluded, “is the best account I can give of my unfortunate accident for what is done in two or three minutes, in fear and terror, is not to be minutely described, and the court and jury are to judge. I hope your lordship, and every person present, will think that a man of my age, character, and way of life, would not spontaneously quit my pen to engage in an outrageous tumult. I hope it will easily be conceived, that a man almost blind could not but be seized with terror on such a sudden attack as this. I hope it will be seen, that my knife was neither a weapon of offence or defence I wear it to carve fruit and sweet-meats, and not to kill my fellowcreatures. It is a general custom in France not to put knives upon the table, so that even ladies wear them in their pockets for general use. I have continued to wear it after my return, because I have found it occasionally convenient. Little did I think such an event would ever have happened let this trial turn out as favourable as my innocence may deserve, still my regret will endure as long as life shall last. A man who has lived full fifty years, and spent most of that time in a studious manner, I hope, will not be supposed to have voluntarily engaged in so desperate an affair. I beg leave, my lord and gentlemen, ta add one thing more. Equally confident of my own innocence, and English discernment to trace out truth, I resolved to wave the privilege granted to foreigners by the | laws of this kingdom nor was my motive a compliment to this nation my motive was my life and honour that it should not be thought I received undeserved favour from a jury, part my own countrymen. I chose to be tried by a jury of this country; for, if my honour is not saved, I cannot much wish for the preservation of my life. I will wait for the determination of this awful court with that confidence, I hope, which innocence has a right to obtain. So God bless you all.*


It is supposed Mr. Baretti was assisted in drawing up his defence by Dr. Johnson and Mr. Murphy. We have heard it said, that a short time after his trial he claimed it however as his own, at Mr, Thrale’s table,in the late hearing of both these gentlemen. “The public,” said Baretti vauiuingly, “knew I had a mind; it became necessary I should exert myself for my reputation, and therefore I drew up my defence the night preceding my trial,

In his defence he had the testimony of several persons of two of his friends to the effects of the attack on him of an accidental passenger to the assault; of justice Kelynge and major Alderton to the frequency of such kind of practices on the spot where He was attacked of Mr. Beauclerk, sir Joshua Reynolds, Dr. Johnson, Mr. Fitzherbert, Mr. Burke, Mr. Garrick, Dr. Goldsmith, and Dr. Hallifax, to the quietness of his general character. These, added to the bad reputation of his prosecutors, impressed the court much in his favour. He was acquitted of the murder., and of the manslaughter the verdict was self-defence.

After this unfortunate transaction he again sat down to his studies, and in 1770 published his Travels, for which, it is said, he received 500/, He procured the Mss. of the History of Friar Gerund, which he caused to be translated and he superintended a magnificent edition of Machiavel’s works. For some years he was domesticated at Mr. Thrale’s house, and lived on terms of friendship with that family.

In 1779 he made an effort to improve his fortune, by uniting with Philidor in producing to the public the Carmen Seculare of Horace, set to music. This plan was patronized by Dr. Johnson, but met with no success. On the establishment of the Royal Academy he was appointed foreign secretary, a post of more honour than profit. He was, however, more successful in the application of one of his friends for a pension, during lord North’s administration. He obtained the sum of fourscore pounds a year from government, which, though insufficient for independence, relieved him from the apprehensions of want. It ought to | be mentioned to the honour of one of his pupils, Mrs. Middleton, that he received from her a present which opportunely relieved him from some difficulties.

With the indolence which sometimes accompanies old age, he became negligent, inattentive to the state of his finances, spent the principal of his 500l. and, at the conclusion of his life, felt himself scarce out of the gripe of poverty. His pension, from circumstances of public embarrassment well known, was in arrear, and he had received from the booksellers, by whom he was employed to revise his dictionary, as much money as they conceived he was entitled to expect, considering the state the work was then in. An application to them for an immediate supply had not met with a ready acquiescence, and the vexation occasioned by his disappointment is supposed to have had an ill effect on his health. A fit of the gout ensued, which he at first neglected, and apprehended himself to be in no danger until the middle of the day preceding his death, when he consented that the vultures, as he called the medical people, might be called in. He acknowledged his obligations to Dr. Blane who attended him, and by whose means he would probably have been restored to health, if he had continued to follow his prescriptions, as he had before much recovered under his management, until he relapsed in consequence of drinking cold water. Ice and cold water had alone been used by him as medicine for a giddiness in his head.

He expressed his concern at the contempt with which he had been accustomed to speak of the faculty, as it might he prejudicial, he feared, to many young persons who had heard his opinions, and who might be induced by them to neglect medical assistance. On the morning of his death he said, that he had often dreaded that day, and expected it would be a very melancholy one. On his barber’s calling to shave him, he desired he would come the next day, when he should be better able to undergo the operation. He took leave about four o’clock, with the greatest cheerfulness, calmness, and composure, of Dr. Vincent, Mr. Milbanke, Mr. Turner, and Mrs. Collins, and expressed an earnest wish to see Mr. Cator. On their leaving the room he desired the door to be shut, that he might not be disturbed by the women, who would perhaps be frightened at seeing him die. He expired about a quarter before eight, on May 5, 1789, without a struggle or a | sigh, the moment after taking a glass of wine. He preserved his faculties to the last moment

He was buried on the 9th of May in the new buryingground Marybone, followed by Dr. Vincent, sir William Chambers, John Milbanke, esq. Mr. Wilton, and Mr. Richards.

The person of Baretti,” says one who appears to have known him, “was athletic, his countenance by no means attractive, his manners apparently rough, but not unsocial his eye, when he was inclined to please or be pleased, when he was conversing with young people, and especially young women, cheerful and engaging he was fond of conversing with them, and his conversation almost constantly turned upon subjects of instruction: he had the art of drawing them into correspondence, and wished by these means to give them the power of expression and facility of language, while he himself conveyed to them lessons on the conduct of life and the best answer that can be given to all those accounts which have represented him as a man of a brutal and ferocious temper, is the attachment which many of his young friends felt while he was living, and preserve to his memory now he is no more. He was not impatient of contradiction, unless where contempt was implied but alive in every feeling where he thought himself traduced, or his conduct impeached. In his general intercourse with the world he was social, easy, and conversible his talents were neither great nor splendid but hvs knowledge of mankind was extensive, and his acquaintance with books in all modern languages which are valuable, except the German, was universal his conduct in every family, where he became an inmate, was correct and irreproachable; neither prying, nor inquisitive, nor intermeddling, but affable to the inferiors, and conciliatory between the principals in others which he visited only, he was neither intrusive nor unwelcome; ever ready to accept an invitation when it was cordial, and never seeking it where it was cold and affected. In point of morals he was irreproachable with regard to faith, he was rather without religion than irreligious the fact was, possibly, that he had been disgusted with the religion of Italy before he left it, and was too old when he came to England to take an attachment to the purer doctrines of the protestant church but his scepticism was never offensive to those who had settled principles, never held out or | defended in company, never proposed to mislead or corrupt the minds of young people. He ridiculed the libertine publications of Voltaire, and the reveries of Rousseau he detested the philosophy of the French pour lesfemmes de cJiambre^ and though too much a philosopher (in his own opinion) to subscribe to any church, he was a friend to church establishments. If this was the least favourable part of his character, the best was his integrity, which was, in every period of his distresses, constant and unimpeached. His regularity in every claim was conspicuous his wants he never made known but in the last extremity and his last illness, if it was caused by vexation, would doubtless have been prevented by the intervention of many friends who were ready to supply him, if his own scruples, strengthened by the hopes of receiving his due from day to day, had not induced him to conceal his immediate distress till it was too late to assist him.

To this character, his biographer adds, that he was chaVitable in the extreme and, like Goldsmith, would divide the last shilling he possessed with a friend in distress. He also kept small money of various kinds in a pocket by itself to relieve distress. He was improvident enough to be always anticipating his income, and spent a good deal of it in post-chaise hire, in travelling through the country. He was no dealer in compliment. Avoiding the practice of it himself, he would not knowingly permit it to be used towards him. He would not receive money from any one, and actually refused 6l. from his brother at a time when he was in want, though he accepted from him some wine and macaroni. Immediately after his death, his legal representatives (for no other persons could be authorised to interfere in so extraordinary a manner) either as executors or administrators burnt every letter in his possession without inspection an instance of gothic precipitation which ignorance itself would blush to avow, and which, with the papers of a man of letters, may be attended with very mischievous consequences. We hope the practice is not frequent. Among these letters were several from Dr. Johnson, which Mr. Baretti a few weeks only before his death had promised to make known to the public and from the value of those that have already been published, the world may form some judgment of their loss. The following is a correct list of Mr, Baretti’s works 1. “A Dissertation upon the Italian poetry in which are inter^ | spersed some remarks on Mr. Voltaire’s essay on the epic poets,” 1753, 8vo. 2. “An Introduction to the Italian language,; containing specimens both of prose and verse. Selected from Francisco Redi, Galileo Galilei, &c. &c. &c. With a literal translation and grammatical notes, for the use of those who being already acquainted with grammar, attempt to learn it without a master,1755, 8vo,

3. “The Italian Library containing an account of the lives and works of the most valuable authors of Italy with a preface exhibiting the change of the Tuscan language from the barbarous ages to the present time,1757, 8vo.

4. “A Dictionary of the English and Italian languages; improved and augmented with above ten thousand words omitted in the last editio*n of Altieri. To which is added, an Italian and English grammar,1760, 2 vols. 4to.

5. “A Grammar of the Italian language with a copious praxis of moral sentences. To which is added an English grammar for the use of the Italians,1762, 8vo. 6. “The Frusta Literaria, published in Italy in 1763, 1764, and 1765.” 7. f An Account of the manners and customs of Italy with observations on the mistakes of some travellers with regard to that country,“1768, 2 vols. 8 vo. 8.” An Appendix in answer to Mr. Sharp’s Reply,“1769, 8vo. 9. < 6 A Journey from London to Genoa, through England, Portugal, Spain, and France,” 1770, 4 vols. 8vo. 10. “Proposals for- printing the Life of friar Gerund,' 7 1771, 4to. This was for printing the original Spanish. The scheme was abortive but a translation by Dr. Warner was printed in 2 vols. 8vo. 11.” An Introduction to the most useful European languages consisting of select passages from the most celebrated English, French, Italian, and Spanish authors with translations as close as possible, so disposed in columns, as to give in one view the manner of expressing the same sentence in each language,“1772, 8vo. 12.” Tutte Topere di Machiavelli,“1772, 3 vols. 4 to with a preface, and several- pieces omitted in former editions. 13.” Easy Phraseology for the use of young ladies who intend to learn the colloquial part of the Italian language,“8vo, 1776. 14.” Discours sur Shakespeare et sur Mons. de Voltaire,“1777, 8vo. 15.” Scelta di Lettere familiari“or, a selection of familiar letters, for the use of students in the Italian tongue, 1779, 2 vols. 12mp. 16.” Carmen Seculare of Horace, as performed at Free-Masons’ Hall,“1779, 4to. 17.” Guide through | the Royal Academy,“1781, 4to. 18.” Dissertacion Epistolar accrea unas Obras de la Real Academia Espanola su auctor Joseph Baretii, secretaria por la correspondencia estrangera de la Real Academia Britannica di pintura, escultura, y arquitectura. Al senor don Juan C****,“4to. 19.” Tolondron. Speeches to John Bowie about his edition of Don Quixote together with some account of Spanish literature," 1786, 8vo. 1

1 From our last edition, drawn up by Mr. Isaac Reed, for the European Magazine, 1789. -—Gent. Mag. vol. LIX. and LX.BosweH’s Life of Johnson.