Author Giuseppe Marc’Antonio Baretti was born in Turin on 24 April 1719. Having spent two years in Venice, Baretti moved to Milan in 1740 where he joined the literary circle of the Accademia dei Trasformati. He left for London in January 1751 where he met another immigrant from Turin, the violinist Felice Giardini, who obtained employment for him at the Italian opera.
Two years after his arrival in London, Baretti was introduced to the writer Charlotte Lennox. He became her tutor and was introduced to her circle of artists and literary friends, amongst them Henry Fielding, Joshua Reynolds (who later painted Baretti’s portrait), David Garrick, and Samuel Johnson. In 1753 he published a Dissertation upon the Italian Poetry. In the same decade he produced a bilingual collection of Italian prose and verse, entitled An Introduction to the Italian Language (1755), and The Italian Library (1757).
He issued A Dictionary of the English and Italian Languages in 1760, in two volumes (with a dedicatory letter written by Samuel Johnson). It became a standard reference work. He was a member of Johnson’s Literary Club, where he was introduced to Oliver Goldsmith, James Boswell, and Edmund Burke. In 1768 he published An Account of the Manners and Customs of Italy. Soon after he was appointed secretary for foreign correspondence to the Royal Academy of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture. In 1770 he achieved success with his Journey from London to Genoa.
Johnson called it one of the best travel books ever written. Between 1773 and 1776 Baretti became language tutor to Hetty Thrale, daughter of Henry (a rich brewer and politician) and Hester, to whom he was introduced by Johnson. During these three years Baretti lived on and off at their Streatham Park estate in Wandsworth. However, the relationship between Baretti and Hester was tense and led to a break up of the friendship.
Three years after her husband’s death, Hester Thrale created a scandal by marrying the singer Gabriele Mario Piozzi, whom she had met at a party hosted by Charles Burney in 1777. Baretti’s animosity towards Hester reached its peak when in 1788 she published two volumes of Letters to and from the Late Samuel Johnson, among which there were passages that were offensive to Baretti. Their disagreements were fought out in public (the book also led to a feud between Hester and James Boswell, Johnson’s biographer). Baretti died in London in May 1789.