Poet and critic Ugo Foscolo was born on 6 February 1778 on the Ionian island of Zante, then under the control of Venice, the son of an Italian physician and his Greek wife. Following the death of his father he moved to live in Venice, where he completed his studies and made his way in literary circles. His enthusiasm for the Napoleonic cause received a setback in 1797 when the Emperor ceded Venice to the Austrians.
The young poet fled to Milan. Out of this experience grew his epistolary novel Ultime lettere di Jacopo Ortis (1802), which features a youthful hero who flees from Venice to escape the Austrian occupation and commits suicide in despair at the loss of his fatherland and the woman he loves. He also translated Laurence Sterne’s Sentimental Journey (1813).
With the defeat of Napoleon, Foscolo went into exile, first to Switzerland, and then to England. He arrived in London in September 1816. He was soon writing for various literary journals. In 1821 a volume of his Essays on Petrarch was privately printed in London; in 1825 he provided a Discorso for an edition of Boccaccio’s Decamerone, and in 1826 he wrote an essay on Dante intended for an edition of the Divina commedia. Throughout his exile in London and living at no. 19 Edwardes Square in Kensington, he repeatedly fell into debt and suffered frequent periods of ill health. The poet died in poverty at Turnham Green, Middlesex, in September 1827. He was buried in Chiswick cemetery, but his remains were disinterred in 1871 and transferred to Santa Croce in Florence.