Ugo Foscolo

Ugo Foscolo was born on the 6th of February in 1778 in Zante (old name of Zakynthos), one of the Ionic islands, at the time under the Venetian Republic. His father was Andrea Foscolo, a doctor married to the Greek Diamantina Spathis. His original name was Niccolò, but afetr 1795 he preferred to be called Ugo. His first approach to study was at the archbishop seminar of the Dalmatian city of Split. After the sudden death of his father (1788) and the consequential economic troubles, he moves to Venice together with his mother and siblings.

His natural restlessness and the growing poverty in 1804 led him to escape to France to take part to the invasion of England. He had a relationship with the young Lady Mary Hamilton, with whom he had a daughter, named Mary after her mother but always called Floriana by her father. After a short stay in Paris, and the acquaintance with a young Manzoni, Foscolo returned to Italy in 1806, first in Milan and later in Padua and Verona, where, thanks to the meetings with Ippolito Pindemonte, he started to develop the idea of I Sepolcri. In 1809 he became professor in the University of Pavia, but his professorship was abolished few months later. The poet had to face other economic issues, while the jealousy and conflicts between him and the rest of Milan intellectual scene increased, ending in a break-up with his friend Monti.

The situation became critical. In 1812 he was forced to move, with his large disappointment, to Florence. He remained there until July of the following year, living one of the calmest periods of his life in the suggestive solitude of Villa di Bellosguardo. On 30th March 1815 he escaped from Milan and decided to go  into exile. He first moved to Switzerland and later settled in London at the end of 1816. After some time spent in prison because of the debts, he had to live under a false name not to be found by his lenders.

The loving presence of the daughter Floriana and the affection of the few friends left managed to heal the solitude, the pain, and the illness of the last years. Niccolò Ugo Foscolo died of oedema on 10th September 1827 in the London suburb of Turnham Green. From the Cemetery of Chiswick, his remains were moved in 1871 to the Basilica di S. Croce in Firenze, the “temple” of Italian illustrious figures that had been celebrated by the poet in I Sepolcri.

by Ugo Foscolo