GIUSTI, GIUSEPPE (1809–1850), Tuscan satirical poet, was born at Monsummano, a small village of the Valdinievole, on the 12th of May 1809. His father, a cultivated and rich man, accustomed his son from childhood to study, and himself taught him, among other subjects, the first rudiments of music. Afterwards, in order to curb his too vivacious disposition, he placed the boy under the charge of a priest near the village, whose severity did perhaps more evil than good. At twelve Giusti was sent to school at Florence, and afterwards to Pistoia and to Lucca; and during those years he wrote his first verses. In 1826 he went to study law at Pisa; but, disliking the study, he spent eight years in the course, instead of the customary four. He lived gaily, however, though his father kept him short of money, and learned to know the world, seeing the vices of society, and the folly of certain laws and customs from which his country was suffering. The experience thus gained he turned to good account in the use he made of it in his satire.
His father had in the meantime changed his place of abode to Pescia; but Giuseppe did worse there, and in November 1832, his father having paid his debts, he returned to study at Pisa, seriously enamoured of a woman whom he could not marry, but now commencing to write in real earnest in behalf of his country. With the poem called La Ghigliottina (the guillotine), Giusti began to strike out a path for himself, and thus revealed his great genius. From this time he showed himself the Italian Béranger, and even surpassed the Frenchman in richness of language, refinement of humour and depth of satirical conception. In Béranger there is more feeling for what is needed for popular poetry. His poetry is less studied, its vivacity perhaps more boisterous, more spontaneous; but Giusti, in both manner and conception, is perhaps more elegant, more refined, more penetrating. In 1834 Giusti, having at last entered the legal profession, left Pisa to go to Florence, nominally to practise with the advocate Capoquadri, but really to enjoy life in the capital of Tuscany. He fell seriously in love a second time, and as before was abandoned by his love. It was then he wrote his finest verses, by means of which, although his poetry was not yet collected in a volume, but for some years passed from hand to hand, his name gradually became famous. The greater part of his poems were published clandestinely at Lugano, at no little risk, as the work was destined to undermine the Austrian rule in Italy. After the publication of a volume of verses at Bastia, Giusti thoroughly established his fame by his Gingillino, the best in moral tone as well as the most vigorous and effective of his poems. The poet sets himself to represent the vileness of the treasury officials, and the base means they used to conceal the necessities of the state. The Gingillino has all the character of a classic satire. When first issued in Tuscany, it struck all as too impassioned and personal. Giusti entered heart and soul into the political movements of 1847 and 1848, served in the national guard, sat in the parliament for Tuscany; but finding that there was more talk than action, that to the tyranny of princes had succeeded the tyranny of demagogues, he began to fear, and to express the fear, that for Italy evil rather than good had resulted. He fell, in consequence, from the high position he had held in public estimation, and in 1848 was regarded as a reactionary. His friendship for the marquis Gino Capponi, who had taken him into his house during the last years of his life, and who published after Giusti’s death a volume of illustrated proverbs, was enough to compromise him in the eyes of such men as Guerrazzi, Montanelli and Niccolini. On the 31st of May 1850 he died at Florence in the palace of his friend.
The poetry of Giusti, under a light trivial aspect, has a lofty civilizing significance. The type of his satire is entirely original, and it had also the great merit of appearing at the right moment, of wounding judiciously, of sustaining the part of the comedy that “castigat ridendo mores.” Hence his verse, apparently jovial, was received by the scholars and politicians of Italy in all seriousness. Alexander Manzoni in some of his letters showed a hearty admiration of the genius of Giusti; and the weak Austrian and Bourbon governments regarded them as of the gravest importance.
His poems have often been reprinted, the best editions being those of Le Monnier, Carducci (1859; 3rd ed., 1879), Fioretti (1876) and Bragi (1890). Besides the poems and the proverbs already mentioned, we have a volume of select letters, full of vigour and written in the best Tuscan language, and a fine critical discourse on Giuseppe Parini, the satirical poet. In some of his compositions the elegiac rather than the satirical poet is seen. Many of his verses have been excellently translated into German by Paul Heyse. Good English translations were published in the Athenaeum by Mrs T. A. Trollope, and some by W. D. Howells are in his Modern Italian Poets (1887).