Petrarch (It. Petrarca or Petrarcha), Francesco, an Italian poet, born in Arezzo, July 20, 1304, died at Arqua, near Padua, July 18, 1374. His father, Pietro or Petracco (whence the surname of the son), a notary at Florence, was exiled like Dante by the Neri; but his wife, a member of the distinguished Castegiani family, was allowed in the year following Petrarch's birth to return to the vicinity of Florence, whence in 1312 she went to Pisa, joined her husband at Avignon in 1313, and in 1315 moved to Carpentras, where Petrarch received the rudiments of education. Against his wishes he was made to study law at Montpellier (1319-'23) and Bologna (1323-'6), but devoted most of his time to the classics and poetry. During the latter period he lost both of his parents and most of his patrimony, and he and his brother subsequently Qualified themselves for ecclesiastical preferments. His favorite authors were Cicero, Seneca, Livy, and Virgil; he assiduously collected and transcribed precious Latin manuscripts, and at a later period studied Greek, especially Plato. In 1327 (April 6) he first beheld Laura, the object of his lifelong admiration and love, at the church of St. Clara, Avignon. His friend Boccaccio regarded her as an imaginary being. Others denied, not her existence, but her being married.
Nothing positive was known about her until the 18th century, when the abbe de Sade, a French biographer of Petrarch, identified her as the daughter of a Provencal nobleman, Audibert de Noves, the wife of Hugues de Sade, and the mother of numerous children, who died of the plague in her 40th year, April 6, 1348, the date given by Petrarch. De Sade's assertions, however, are not generally accepted, and the poet himself throws no light upon Laura's history. He pic^ tures her as a lady of ideal beauty of person and mind, who cherished his homage without requiting his love. He in vain attempted to stifle his passion by the excitement of travels in France, Flanders, Germany, and Italy, and of public affairs, and by an illicit connection with another woman, who bore him several children.
Disgusted with Avignon, which he called the western Babylon, he fixed his abode in 1337 in the valley of Vaucluse. In 1340 both the senate of Rome and the university of Paris designated him as poet laureate, and after an examination by King Robert of Naples, he was crowned at the capitol in Rome, April 8, 1341. In 1342 he was sent by the Romans to Avignon, jointly with Rienzi, on a fruitless mission to induce Clement VI. to return to Rome. In 1343 the pope sent him on a mission to Naples. He next spent some time at the court of Parma, returning to Avignon in 1347, where he saw Laura for the last time. He set out for Italy with strong hopes of Rienzi's abiding success, but at Parma received the news of his overthrow (Dec. 15,1347). He now alternately resided at Padua, where Jacopo Carrara procured him a canonry, and at Parma, where the pope made him an archdeacon, and visited many Italian cities. His Florentine citizenship and property were restored to him in 1351, and he was invited to assume the direction of the projected university, but declined to settle in Florence. At Venice he became acquainted with the doge Andrea Dandolo, and repeatedly attempted to restore peace between that republic and Genoa. He was once more at Vaucluse and Avignon in 1351-2, and in 1353 began his connection with the Visconti in Milan, who sent him on diplomatic missions to Venice (1354), to Charles IV. of Germany at Prague (1356), and to Paris (1360). He resided in Venice and its vicinity from 1361 to 1370, when he proposed to visit the pope at Rome, but was taken ill at Ferrara and withdrew to the village of Arqua in company with his natural daughter and her husband, Francesco da Brossano. Despite his infirmities, he finished in the last year of his life a Latin translation of Boccaccio's story Griseldis, and sent it to the latter about ten days before his death.
He was buried in the parish church of Arqua. - Petrarch's erudition was immense. His principal Latin works, Be Vera Sapientia, Be Remediis utriusque Fortune, De Vita Solitaria, and Be Contemptu Mun-di, combined Platonic ideas with the doctrines of Seneca, and were regarded as the first protest against the subtleties of the age and as the forerunners of modern philosophy. Among the many important manuscripts which he brought to light are Quintilian's "Institutes," Cicero's "Familiar Letters," and the "Epistles to Atti-cus." His Africa, an epic, and other Latin poems, though faulty in many respects, were superior to most preceding works of the kind. By promoting the revival of classical learning he rendered immortal service to the intellectual progress of mankind, and the Italian language is indebted to him for great improvements. He was equally illustrious as the opponent of ecclesiastical corruption and as the poetical and political champion of Italian unity. In Italian lyrical poetry he is without a rival.
His principal work, Il canzoniere, or Rime di Petrar-ca, consists of more than 300 sonnets, about 50 canzoni or odes after the model of the troubadour songs (including three dedicated to the eyes of Laura, called by the Italians the three sister graces), and three short poems in terza rima (Trionfo d'amore, Trionfo della morte, and Trionfo della fama). His Latin writings appeared at Basel in 1496, and a more complete edition in 1581. A new and revised edition of his Be Rebus Familiaribus et Varia has been published by Fracasetti (3 vols., Florence, 1859-'63). His Italian poetry, first printed at Venice in 1470, has passed through hundreds of editions, the best being by Marsand (2 vols., Padua, 1819-'20). Marsand collected a library of 900 volumes relating to Petrarch's life, a catalogue of which appeared at Milan in 1826; in 1829 it was purchased by Charles X. for the Louvre. A portion of his inedited writings was published by " A. H." in Trieste in 1874. Besides the early commentaries on Petrarch, many have been written in modern times, including those of Tassoni, Muratori, Biagioli, and Leopardi. Still greater is the number of biographies, of which the most important are those by De Sade (French, 3 vols., Amsterdam, 1764-'7; abridged English translation by Mrs. Dobson, 2 vols., London, 1775); Baldelli (Italian, Florence, 1797; 2d ed., 1837); Thomas Campbell, " Life of Petrarch " (2 vols., 1841); Alfred Mezieres, Petrarque, etude apres de nouveaux documents (Paris, 1867); Ludwig Geiger, Petrarka (Leipsic, 1874), the most analytical of all; and a multiplicity of poetical and prose writings relating to his life, genius, and relations with Laura, published in 1874 in various places on the anniversary of his death.
English translations of his Italian poetry have appeared from time to time in the present century, and a complete edition by various authors was published in 1860. The most recent specimen versions are contained in " The Sonnet: its Origin, Structure, and Place in Poetry," by Charles Tomlinson (London, 1874).