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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

Critical and Biographical Introduction

By Giuseppe Giusti (1809–1850)

GIUSEPPE GIUSTI, an Italian satirical poet, was born of an influential family, May 12th, 1809, in the little village of Monsummano, which lies between Pistoja and Pescia, and was in every fibre of his nature a Tuscan. As a child he imbibed the healthful, sunny atmosphere of that Campagna, and grew up loving the world and his comrades, but with a dislike of study which convinced himself and his friends that he was born to no purpose. He was early destined to the bar, and began his law studies in Pistoja and Lucca, completing them a number of years later at Pisa, where he obtained his degree of doctor.

In 1834 he went to Florence, under pretence of practicing with the advocate Capoquadri; but here as elsewhere he spent his time in the world of gayety, whose fascination and whose absurdity he seems to have felt with equal keenness. His dislike of study found its exception in his love of Dante, of whom he was a reverent student. He was himself continually versifying, and his early romantic lyrics are inspired by lofty thought. His penetrating humor, however, and his instinctive sarcasm, whose expression was never unkind, led him soon to abandon idealism and to distinguish himself in the field of satire, which has no purer representative than he. His compositions are short and terse, and are seldom blemished by personalities. He was wont to say that absurd persons did not merit even the fame of infamy. He leveled his wit against the lethargy and immoralities of the times, and revealed them clear-cut in the light of his own stern principles and patriotism.

The admiration and confidence which he now began to receive from the public was to him a matter almost of consternation, wont as he was to consider himself a good-for-nothing. He confesses somewhat bashfully however that there was always within him, half afraid of itself, an instinct of power which led him to say in his heart, Who knows what I may be with time? His frail constitution and almost incessant physical suffering account for a natural indolence against which he constantly inveighs, but above which he was powerless to rise except at vehement intervals. No carelessness, however, marks his work. He was a tireless reviser, and possessed the rare power of cutting, polishing, and finishing his work with exquisite nicety, without robbing it of vigor. His writings exerted a distinct political and moral influence. His is not alone the voice of pitiless and mocking irony, but it is that of the humanitarian, who in overthrow and destruction sees only the first step toward the creation of something better. When war broke out he laid aside his pen, saying that this was no time for a poet to pull down, and that his was not the power to build up. His health forbade his entering the army, which was a cause of poignant sorrow to him. His faith in Italy and her people and in the final triumph of unity remained unshaken and sublime in the midst of every reverse.

His mastery of the Tuscan dialect and his elegance of idiom won him membership in the Accademia della Crusca; but his love for Tuscany was always subservient to his love for Italy. To those who favored the division of the peninsula, he used to reply that he had but one fatherland, and that was a unit. He died in Florence, March 31, 1850, at the home of his devoted friend the Marquis Gino Capponi. In the teeth of Austrian prohibition, a throng of grateful and loving citizens followed his body to the church of San Miniato al Monte, remembering that at a time when freedom of thought was deemed treason, this man had fearlessly raised the battle-cry and prepared the way for the insurrection of 1848. Besides his satires, Giusti has left us a life of the poet Giuseppe Parini, a collection of Tuscan proverbs, and an unedited essay on the ‘Divine Comedy.’