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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 Parini (1729–1799)

SETTEMBRINI, in his history of Italian literature, chooses Parini as the purest type of the satirist which his country has. Giuseppe Giusti, whose field is the same as that of Parini, and who is hardly his inferior, has written his eulogy in a glowing biography.

Parini was born in 1729, at Bosisio on the Lake of Pusiano. His parents had a small farm; but observing Giuseppe’s abilities, they sent him to Milan to study under the Barnabites in the Accademia Arcimboldi. Here he was obliged to support himself by copying manuscripts. In 1752 he published under the pseudonym “Ripano Eupilino” a volume of poems, which procured his election to the Accademia dei Transformati at Milan, and to that of the Arcadi at Rome. He became a tutor in the family of the Borromei and in that of the Serbelloni, and attained still further prominence through success in two controversies,—one with Alessandro Bandiera, the other with Onofrio Branda. He now began to utilize in the composition of a satire the knowledge which he had gained of aristocratic life. ‘Il Matino’ (Morning) and ‘Il Meriggio’ (Noon), which were published in 1763 and 1765, mark a distinct advance in the form of blank verse in Italy, and consist in ironical instructions to a young nobleman as to the way to spend his mornings and middays. This satire established Parini’s popularity and influence. Count Firmian, the Austrian plenipotentiary, who had been one of his patrons in the publication of the first volume of poems, now secured his appointment as professor of belles-lettres in the academy of Brera. Here with ardent enthusiasm he set forth the beauties of the classics, and was little by little recognized as the most powerful living exponent of letters and arts. At the time of the French occupation of Milan, Parini was appointed by Napoleon municipal magistrate of that city. The poet, however, soon retired to his literary pursuits, aware that the much-vaunted liberty of the day was made a means for securing private ends rather than for the public advancement. On the return of the Austrians he found his well-being threatened; but he was then seventy years of age, blind and infirm, and in 1799, before dangers could mature, he died. Despite the success of his career, he died as poor as at its commencement. He exerted a distinct influence for good, however, on a generation prostrated by the corruptions of the past, but in which there could yet be felt a restless discontent with itself. He brought his satire ‘Il Giorno’ (Day) to a close by ‘Il Vespro’ (Evening) and ‘Il Notte’ (Night); but these were not yet published at the time of his death. ‘Il Notte,’ indeed, remained unfinished; and so many and such varying draughts did he leave of this poem, that one scarcely knows what the ultimate result of his labors would have been.

The motive of Parini’s satires was not to ridicule the idiosyncrasies of his contemporaries: he attacked the whole corruption of his times. It was not to the mere theories of an individual conscience that he gave voice: he proclaimed the principles held by the whole moral world. His temperament was that of the student rather than of the genius; his productions the result of thought rather than of inspiration. He was a tireless reviser; and his form both of satire and of lyric is elegant and elaborate, but lacking in the charm of spontaneity. He is, for a satirist, peculiarly deficient in sparkle and in humor; but the high moral purpose of his work is strengthened by a grim pride and by uncompromising scorn.