Giuseppe Marc'Antonio Baretti

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Giuseppe Baretti

Giuseppe Marc'Antonio Baretti (24 April 1719, Turin, Piedmont – 5 May 1789, London) was an Italian-born English literary critic and author of two influential language-translation dictionaries. During his years in England he was often known as Joseph Baretti.[1] Baretti's life was marked by controversies.


Baretti was intended by his father for the profession of law, but at the age of sixteen fled from Turin and went to Guastalla, where he was for some time employed in a mercantile house. He devoted himself to the study of literature and criticism, in which he became an expert, though his writings were so controversial that he had to leave Italy. For many years he led a wandering life, supporting himself chiefly by his writings. At length he arrived in London, where he remained for the remainder of his life (when not traveling). He was appointed Secretary to the Royal Academy of Arts,[2] and became acquainted with Samuel Johnson, Garrick and others of that society.

Baretti was a frequent visitor at the home of Hester Thrale, and his name occurs repeatedly in Boswell's Life. In 1769 Baretti was tried for murder after inflicting a mortal wound with his fruit knife on a man who had assaulted him on the street. Johnson and others gave evidence in his favour at the trial, which resulted in Baretti's acquittal.

He died in London in May, 1789. He was buried in Marylebone Chapel with a monument by Thomas Banks.[3]


Baretti's first notable work was the Italian Library (1757), a useful catalogue of the lives and works of several Italian authors. The Lettere famigliari, giving an account of his travels through Spain, Portugal and France during the years 1761-1765, were well received, and when afterwards published in English (4 vols., 1770), were highly commended by Johnson.

Baretti was an enemy of the English Hispanist John Bowle, and published a scathing and personal attack on him: Tolondron. Speeches to John Bowle about his edition of Don Quixote, together with some account of Spanish literature.[4] See Ronald Hilton, "Un Duel entre Hispanophiles: Baretti et John Bowle", Chapter VII of Hilton's La Légende Noire au 18e Siècle: Le Monde Hispanique Vu du Dehors.[5]

While in Italy on his travels Baretti started a journal of literary criticism, titled Frusta letteraria (Literary Scourge). The publication met with considerable difficulties and was soon discontinued. His many other works include a Dictionary and Grammar of the Italian Language,[6] a similar Dictionary of the Spanish Language,[7] and dissertations on Shakespeare and Voltaire. His collected works were published at Milan in 1838.

The words of the recantation attributed to Galileo, "eppur si muove" (meaning "nevertheless it moves"), were first set down by Baretti in his Italian Library.[8]:357 [9]:52 This record was published some 125 years after Galileo is purported to have made the statement sotto voce (under his breath).

Murder trial[edit]

The trial[edit]

On 18th October 1769 Baretti was accused for the murder of Evan Morgan in a trial at the Old Bailey. In this trial Baretti is called with the English name Joseph. Being Italian he had the right to be tried by a jury of half foreigners, which he refused, as we read from the first lines of the Proceedings, so that he was normally tried by a jury of Englishmen. [10]

Testimonies and versions of the facts[edit]

The Haymarket some years later in the 19th century, still the place of London prostitution
An example of 1760s breeches, with slits on each side

The trial opened with the testimony of Elizabeth Ward, a well-known prostitute who described when and where the events started. Following her own account, in the evening on 6th October 1769, between nine and ten, she was sitting down on a step together with another woman in the Haymarket, an area which used to be popular for being a place of prostitution and frequented by footpads, with plenty of coffeehouses and shops too. She claimed the other woman approached Baretti, who was passing there, and Ward thought she had touched him and then she accused him of having struck her on her own face. She said there was nobody around, but when she cried three men arrived, namely Evan Morgan, Thomas Patman and John Clark. One of them asked Baretti how he could strike a woman and then they shoved each other, Baretti ending up being on the ground. She saw Baretti took out his knife, but did not see him using it against the men. She also said that then Baretti ran away and they ran after him. She saw him going into a shop in Panton-street. In the cross-examination she is asked to give more information about the woman who was with her, but Ward says she did not know her, she could only describe her physically. She is asked also more and more details, for example where the other lady did put her hands when grabbing Baretti and she answered she put them towards his private parts.[10] This was possible because eighteen-century breeches used to have some slits on the side, and prostitute often tried to slip a hand as a way of attracting a possible client. [11] She added she did not know the three men who arrived, but that she remembered having kissed one of them (namely Clark) the night before. The court asked if Baretti was insulted, she firstly denied, then seemed to be unsure, and added at the end that maybe somebody called him bad names, but she did not know who. [10]

The second person to testify was Thomas Patman, one of the three men who came up at the Haymarket. He told the court he was with his two friend that evening, they had been drinking together and then decided to go to a house in Golden Square, but when they were in the Haymarket they saw a gentleman, meaning Baretti, striking a woman, who was Elisabeth Ward. He said he was pushed against Baretti, who gave him a blow. He denied any insult or offense to Baretti. He said also that Morgan ran after Baretti and was struck by him. In the cross-examination he was also long asked about the stabbing he received. [10]

John Clark was the next to speak and confirmed the version of his friend, Patman. In particular he was asked about the stabbings, how, when, where they happened. He claimed Morgan was stabbed in Panton Street, but then there seemed to be some inconsistencies about when it happened. During the trial Clark said Morgan was stabbed after Patman, but during the examination by the magistrate and coroner he had said Morgan was the first to be stabbed. He also added that somedoby then collared Baretti and he thought it was Morgan himself. [10]

John Lambert testified as he was the constable who caught Baretti. He said he was having dinner that night when he heard the cry of "murderer" or "stop murderer" and saw a man pursued by other two or three going into the grocer's shop in front of his house. So he went there and saw Patman had blood on him and heard him say he had been stabbed by Baretti. In the meanwhile a crowd gathered and Lambert asked Baretti to surrender. He then seized Baretti and thought to carry him to the round-house. But hearing the name of John Fielding, Baretti expressed his will to go to him. In the cross-examinations he confirmed that Baretti did not try to escape nor to conceal the knife. He added that he himself also tried to find the other prostitute at the Haymarket responsible of having assaulted Baretti, but could not. [10]

Finally, it was the turn of two patients and a surgeon, who were at the hospital when Patman and Morgan were brought there. John Llyod and Robert Lelcock were two patients who found themselves in Middlesex hospital that night and they were told the story by Morgan, the victim. Morgan told them he was stabbed thrice and this was then confirmed by the doctor, John Wyatt. He said that Morgan's death was caused by the abdomen wound and he again recollected the sequence of the events, as they were narrated to him. [10]

Baretti's version[edit]

The title page of the Dictionary of the English and Italian languages, the dictionary Baretti was working on at the time

After having heard different versions of the facts and the witnesses for the victim, the court let Baretti defend himself and he took the chance to read a text he had previously prepared and written in his defense. He started by narrating the fact of that day. He had spent his day at home working, correcting his Italian and English dictionary and then after 4 pm he went to the club of the Royal Academicians in Soho and he went on explaining his other movements, till he got to the Haymarket. He said he was passing near there when he saw a woman, who firstly asked him for a glass of wine and then clapped his hand on his genitals with violence, hurting him very much. He also said there might have been two women as well, as other testimonies claimed, but he only saw one: "They say there were two, but I took notice of but one, as I hope God will save me: there might have been two, though I only saw one: that is a fact". [10]Therefore, he stroke her hand and the woman insulted him for being a foreigner, he said "she called me several bad names [...] among which French bugger, d-ed Frenchman, and a woman-hater, were the most audible". By then he was going away when a man struck him with a fist, asking him how he dared striking a woman. He was beat by them and other people who surrounded him, but found a little place to escape, even if they then caught him again. When he later managed to get into a grocer's shop to find protection, he said he was grateful for the arrival of the constable and other people who gathered there. He said he then went to Fieldings and he also described his several wounds and bruises on his face and body.

Having concluded his own account of the facts, he turned to the jury saying "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 insult." And finally he explained his short-sight as a possible cause for not having seen the other woman and for what regards his carrying a knife with him, he said as justification: "I wear it to carve fruit and sweetmeats, and not to kill my fellow-creature" - which was a common habit in France where people did not used to put knives on the tables, so that also ladies wore them in their pockets. Moreover, he explained his refuse of being tried by a jury of half foreigners, saying that he did for his life and for his honour, "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". And in this way he concluded his speech, showing he trusted England's law system and with the confidence that he would have been acquitted, as he believed he had the right to.[10]

Testifying for Baretti[edit]

As we read in The Proceedings the next to testify was a passenger, Ann Thomas, who told the story and what she saw.

What we find next are a series of testimonies of Baretti's friend or acquaintances, who all testify for him. The first to talk were Mr. Peter Molini and Mr. Low, who said they saw themselves the bruises on Baretti's body, on his back, shoulders, cheek and jaw. They also affirmed it was common for them too, to use and carry knives such as the one Baretti had, confirming in this way the explanation Baretti had previously given.

Other gentlemen commented upon the Haymarket, describing it as an unsafe place to go. Justice Kelnynge and Mr. Perrin stated it was a place "impossible to walk up [...] in the evening" because of the indecent women you could find there and Kelnynge said that a similar episode happened to him as well before. Major Alderton added that around the Haymarket aggressions happened frequently.

There were then many witnesses which testified Baretti's good character and quiet lifestyle. Hon. Mr. Beauclerck described him as a gentleman of letters and a studious man, Sir Joshua Reynolds said he was a man with great humanity and always ready to help his friends, he outlined his sober disposition, saying that he never drank more than three glasses with him. Doctor Johnson described him as very diligent and peaceable, a man who did not frequented prostitutes. Edmund Burke claimed he was an ingenious and good-natured man, whereas David Garrick said of him he was a man of great probity and morals.

As we read from The Proceedings there were other several gentlemen who were there to testify for Baretti's good temperament, but the court did not think it necessary to call them all.[10]


Evan Morgan died at the Middlesex hospital the day after the quarrel took place. The death was caused by one of the three wounds Baretti gave him with his knife. Baretti could have been sentenced to death, as the felony he was accused of was murder, which led to capital punishment. However, Baretti was found not guilty and acquitted, as his acting was considered self-defence.

This trial is reported in Hitchcock and Shoemaker's book Tales from the hanging Court as an example of how important were at the time testimonies of friends and neighbours, who could assert for the good character of the accused. Defendants usually tried to call them to testify, talking of the accused good behaviour, quite ways etc. These testimonies could influence a lot the perception of the accused person and also have a weigh on the jury's verdict and choice of the punishment. [11]

Trials in the Eighteenth Century[edit]

The Old Bailey before 1770

At that time trials at the Old Bailey had the purpose of establishing the facts of what had happened and of outlining the victim's and defendant's character, also and mostly by witnesses.

In eighteenth-century England there were no policemen and Baretti was actually caught by John Lambert, a constable. Constables were ordinary men whose job was to prevent crime and to arrest people suspected of felony by taking them to a justice of the peace. [12]

After having being heard by Sir John Fielding, Baretti was sent to Tothill Fields Bridewell till they could gather more information about the conditions of Evan Morgan. Being a wealthy man Baretti did not walk to the prison, but a coach was called and once there he paid for a private room, where he had also some food and drinks. These were not the conditions of ordinary poor people, who normally had to suffer much worse and primitive treatments, being pushed into an overcrowded cell, without much provision.[11]

It is also necessary to consider that most information about trials come from The Proceedings, a publication which from 1664 to 1913 took note and told all (or at least most) of the trials which took place at the Old Bailey. However, in these accounts and transcriptions of what was said in court we do not find everything. Many details are missing, therefore these are not to be intended as fully and complete accounts of trials. [13]


  1. ^ [1] A Dictionary of the Italian and English Languages . . (1787 ed.) by Joseph Baretti
  2. ^ Luigi Piccioni, BARETTI, Mario, Enciclopedia Italiana, Istituto dell'Enciclopedia italiana Treccani
  3. ^ Dictionary of British Sculptors, 1660-1851, Rupert Gunnis
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ A Dictionary of the English and Italian Language
  7. ^ A Dictionary, Spanish and English, and English and Spanish, containing the signification of their words and their different uses; together with The TERMS of ARTS, SCIENCES, and TRADES; . .
  8. ^ Drake, Stillman (2003). Galileo at Work: His Scientific Biography (Facsim. ed.). Mineola (N.Y.): Dover Publications Inc. ISBN 0486495426. 
  9. ^ Baretti, Giuseppe (1757). The Italian Library. Containing An Account of the Lives and Works of the Most Valuable Authors of Italy. With a Preface, Exhibiting The Changes of the Tuscan Language, from the barbarous Ages to the present Time. London: Printed for A. Millar, in the Strand. p. 52. This is the celebrated Galileo, who was in the inquistion for six years, and put to the torture, for saying, that the earth moved. The moment he was set at liberty, he looked up to the sky and down to the ground, and, stamping with his foot, in a contemplative mood, said, Eppur si muove, that is, still it moves, meaning the earth. 
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Old Bailey Proceedings Online (, version 7.2, 12 October 2015), October 1769, trial of Joseph Baretti (t17691018-9)
  11. ^ a b c Tim Hitchcock & Robert Shoemaker, Tales from the Hanging Court, Hodder Education 2007
  12. ^ The Old Bailey Online
  13. ^ "The Proceedings - Publishing History of the Proceedings - Central Criminal Court". Retrieved 2015-11-17. 


  •  Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Baretti, Giuseppe Marc' Antonio". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 
  • Hitchcock T., Shoemaker R., (2007),Tales from the Hanging Court, Hodder Education
  • Old Bailey Proceedings Online (, version 7.2, 12 October 2015), October 1769, trial of Joseph Baretti (t17691018-9)

External links[edit]