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"" with his Welsh. “Oh! replied he, ' I know it now: I have

' • : «« done with it." '* (Miss Mitford's Recollections of a Literary

" Life, vol. ii. p. 203.)

, It was not, however, in the mere capacity of a spectator, or even of a patron, that Mezzofanti was known in connexion with the exercises of the Propaganda. It was notorious in Rome that he took an active and good-natured part in the revision, and perhaps even the actual preparation, of the compositions intended for delivery. He was frequently himself,' writes Guido Görres, • the author of these polyglot poems; and there can be no doubt that there never was a poet who essayed his skill in such a variety of tongues. A disinterested act of good nature, • truly ! for in most cases, with the exception of himself and

the individual who is reciting, there is not a soul in the assembly who can understand a word of it, much less appreciate

the poetical merit of the composition. We can ourselves bear testimony to the truth of Görres's statement. The declamations in the Tamil dialect of Hindostanee, recited year after year by an East Indian student of our acquaintance, were invariably written by Mezzofanti.

Those, however, who desired to witness in its full perfection the extraordinary gift of this wonderful man, instead of these formal holiday exhibitions, sought rather, as we have occasionally done, to see him in his ordinary intercourse with the youths of the Propaganda. It was for years his favourite relaxation. In summer he generally spent an hour, in winter an hour and a half, among them; partly for the sake of practice in their various languages, partly as an innocent and instructive recreation. In the free and familiar intercourse which the good Cardinal encouraged and maintained with those youths, there sometimes arose sportive trials of skill, in which their great amusement consisted in endeavouring to puzzle the Cardinal by a confusion of languages, and to provoke him into answering in a language different from that in which he was addressed. The idea of these trials (which reminded us of the old-fashioned game of cross-question,') appears to have originated with the good-humoured old Pope, Gregory XVI. soon after Mezzofanti's arrival in Rome. One day,' says M. Manavit,



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* Mr. Watts, however, adds, that this statement could not imply that Mezzofanti could speak the language which he had thus acquired from a printed source. Mr. Watts was informed by Mr. Thomas 'Ellis of the British Museum, a Welsh gentleman who saw him more 'than once in his later years,' that he was quite unable to keep up a conversation in the language of the Cymry. Mr. Ellis even felt certain that he could not read with facility an ordinary book.

• Gregory XVI. provided an agreeable surprise for the polyglot

prelate, and a rare treat for himself, in an improvised conversa* tion in various tongues—a regular linguistic tournament. . Among the mazy alleys of the Vatican gardens, behind one of “the massive walls of verdure which form its peculiar glory, the • Pope placed a certain number of the Propaganda students in am• buscade. When the time came for his ordinary walk, he invited • Mezzofanti to accompany him; and, as they were proceeding

gravely and solemnly, on a sudden, at a given signal, these youths • grouped themselves for a moment on their knees before his Holi

ness, and then, quickly rising, addressed themselves to Mezzo' fanti, each in his own tongue, with such an abundance of words • and such a volubility of tone, that, in the jargon of dialects, it

was almost impossible to hear, much less to understand, them. • But Mezzofanti did not shrink from the conflict. With the promptness and address which were peculiar to him, he took them up singly, and replied to each in his own language, with such spirit and elegance as to amaze them all.'

Sometimes, however, a new language made its appearance in the Propaganda. In that case it was Mezzofanti's great delight to commence his studies once again. If the language had any printed books—as a Bible, Catechism, or similar work - he would learn from the new comer to read and translate them. But if, as more than once occurred, the language was entirely without books, he made the pupil speak or recite some familiar prayer, until he picked up first the general meaning, and afterwards the particular sounds, and what may be called the rhythm of the language. The next step was to ascertain and to classify the particles, both affixes and suffixes; to distinguish verbs from nouns, and substantives from adjectives; to discover the principal inflections, &c.* Having once mastered the preliminaries, his power of generalising seemed rather to be an instinct than an exercise of the reasoning faculty. With him the knowledge of words led almost without an effort to the power of speaking: and probably the most signal triumph of his career his mastery of Chinese — was the one which was accomplished at once latest in life and with fewest facilities. It was so complete, too, that he was able not only to converse freely with the

The latest instance of this, as it would appear, occurred during the residence of the present writer in Rome, that of two Californian youths, who arrived at the Propaganda utterly ignorant of all but their native dialect. Mezzofanti speedily succeeded in establishing a communication with them, and eventually was able to converse freely with them. Unhappily the Roman climate proved fatal to both these youths in a short time.


Chinese students in the Propaganda, but even to preach to them in their native language. In the year 1843, he delivered to them in Chinese a comprehensive series of religious instructions; or, to use the technical phrase employed by Roman Catholics, he conducted for them, in Chinese, a spiritual retreat, consisting of the celebrated Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola.

Mezzofanti died on March 15. 1849, in the seventy-fifth year of his age.

He was one of the cardinals who remained in Rome after the flight of Pius IX. to Gaeta ; and his last illness is believed to have been brought on, or at least accelerated, by the distress and anxiety not unnatural at such a crisis in so devoted a churchman and so affectionate a friend. It is no unequivocal evidence of the respect in which he was held, that, notwithstanding, on the one hand, his well-known devotion to the Papal interests, and, on the other, the hostility towards the reactionary clerical party which animated the councils of the Roman Republic at this period, an offer_of public funeral honours was made by the Minister of Public Instruction, which, however, was declined by Mezzofanti's family.

Such is a specimen of the available materials for a sketch of Mezzofanti's career. We have given them, with but little criticism or commentary, as they came from their authors, to be taken at what may be deemed their just value. It is impossible to resist the general impression produced by their united testimony. And yet, after the most careful consideration of them all, we find it extremely difficult even to form a precise estimate of the actual extent of his attainments in each of the languages, or of the exact number with which he was familiar.

If we turn first to the number of tongues with which he was conversant, we are met not only by considerable discrepancy in the statements of the different authorities, but by a vagueness and want of precision in several among them. Stewart Rose says that Mezzofantiread twenty and conversed in eighteen languages:' Baron von Zach extends the number to thirty-two, living and dead:' Blume, though he considers the Baron's account exaggerated as to degree, makes no objection to it in point of number; Molbech says, the total number extends to

more than thirty languages:' Fleck makes it some thirty.' Even of his own account of himself we have different reports : thus Lady Morgan says, that Mezzofanti himself, 'when she spoke of • his forty languages,' smiled at the exaggeration, though he had

gone over the outline of forty languages;' Mrs. Paget, on the contrary, says that, with affected humility, he told her "he spoke * only forty or fifty :' and the Russian traveller states that, in answer to a question addressed by him to Mezzofanti as to the

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number of languages in which he could express himself,' Mezzofanti sent him the name of God written with his own • hand in fifty-six languages.' To complete the embarrassment, M. Manavit gives* a detailed list of fifty-eight languages spoken by the Cardinal; while another writer, the author of a sketch which appeared in the Civiltà Cattolica' (whom M. Manavit quotes, and who states as his authority a conversation with Mezzofanti in 1846), makes the number no less than seventyeight ! |

So also, as regards his facility of speaking the several languages, we meet a certain, though by no means the same, amount of discrepancy. M. Manavit's list sets down Irish among his acquirements, upon the very same footing with English, Spanish,

, German, or any other of the languages in which he is known to have been perfect. Now, we ourselves know that he did not claim to speak Irish thoroughly. He understood and read it perfectly, and with an excellent accent: he was master of the ordinary conversational forms, and of a sufficient stock of words to initiate a conversation, and carry it through its early stages: and it was his habit, on meeting an Irish visitor, to address him in his native tongue, and, if he failed to reply, to banter him good-humouredly on his ignorance of the language of his country. Again, if we took literally Dr. Baines' account as recorded by Miss Mitford, we should conclude that Mezzofanti reported himself to that dignitary as perfect in Welsh, whereas we are informed by Mr. Ellis (himself a Welshman), who must have seen him at a later period, that he was quite unable to • keep up or even to understand a conversation in that lan'.'

guage. In like manner, while many of the authorities are loud in their praise of Mezzofanti's English, Herr Fleck declares that his English was ‘only middling.' The same writer, speaking generally of his talents, says that, of course he does not speak

all languages with equal readiness;' and Lady Morgan implies even more in the avowal which she attributes to the Cardinal himself, that, although he had gone over the outline of forty • languages, he was not master of them, as he had dropped such 6 as had not books worth reading.'

As regards the first of these points, we fear, it is now impossible to arrive at any precise and certain conclusion. It is plain that such accuracy could only be derived either from the testimony of the intimate associates of Mezzofanti, or from some precise and authentic statement of his own; and from all that has been published on the subject, as well as from the

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* Pp. 13-40. vOL. CI. NO, CCV.

+ P. 149.


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most careful inquiry in every available quarter, we are led to believe that no such authoritative information is now attainable. Mezzofanti does not appear, so far as can be inferred from the accounts both public and private which have come under our notice, ever to have taken the trouble of entering into a full explanation on this precise point. Even if we were to accept without any reserve (which we are by no means disposed to do the statement of the writer in the Civiltà Cattolica' it is plain that the languages there enumerated, are languages with which Mezzofanti was in some degree acquainted, but which he by no means professed to speak. The same, we think, is equally apparent in the case of the answer which he is reported to have made to the Russian traveller. One may be said to be able to express himself' in a language without its being implied that he speaks it fluently. At all events, he

. rather evaded this question than replied to it directly; and it is clear that the answer which he made to Mrs. Paget (whose superciliousness may well appear to have deserved a quiet rebuke even from so mild a man), that he did not know many lan

guages, as he spoke only forty or fifty,' was intended merely as a good-humoured quiz upon the lady's indiscretion. And, on the other hand, it is equally apparent (although we do not find any trace of his having drawn up such a classification) that the degrees of his familiarity with the various languages which he knew must have been very various. Although it is not strictly true, as alleged by Lady Morgan, that he cultivated only those languages which had a literature, and neglected all the rest, yet it is quite certain that there were some which, from superior opportunities as well, perhaps, as from greater intrinsic attractiveness, he cultivated much more than the rest. No vague statement, therefore, of his having spoken thirty, or forty, or fifty, languages, could convey an accurate notion of his actual power as a linguist. It would be necessary to classify the several languages, and to specify the degree of acquaintance which he possessed with each. Until we shall have some such classified statement before us, there must always remain much uncertainty as to the real extent of his attainments; and unless farther light should be thrown upon it by some of the papers which he left behind, much of the most interesting part of the history of his extraordinary gift must continue enveloped in mystery.

We are by no means left in the same uncertainty, however, regarding the second point; viz., the degree of familiarity which he possessed with (at least) the principal languages which he spoke. The authorities already alleged place it beyond all doubt

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