« PreviousContinue »
school, kept by an Abbate Cicotti; but class for such proficiency in each of here, too, he so rapidly ran through his many studies as would have rewardthe curriculum, that the worthy priest ed undivided attention to it. advised his parents, young as the boy It is pleasant to read of his studies then was, to send him at once to some being shared by Clotilda Tambroniinstitution where he might devote herself a professor in the university of himself unrestrainedly to higher and Bologna, and a linguist of no mean more congenial studies.
eminence and to
to know that the The difficulties made by the father warm friendship thus formed endured were at length smoothed away, and the throughout life. But Mezzofanti's boy was entered at a school at Bologna Greek studies did not engross him. managed by the clergy, and among It was during this time that he learned them several Jesuits. The Jesuits, Arabic and Coptic. French and Gerwith their rapid insight into the poten- man he had already learned. The tialities of the young minds committed latter was taught him by a Swede of to their care, soon took note of their the name of Thuilus, who, having renpromising scholar, and treated him dered himself obnoxious to the revoluwith distinction and confidence. Lit- tionary party in Bologna, was exiled tle is known of the exact course of his about this time. His absence was the school-days, but we read of marvellous means of first calling out that extraorfeats of memory—a folio page of a dinary, that almost intuitive quickness Greek treatise read once and repeated in mastering a new language, with without a blunder—of uniform success which Mezzofanti in after years was in all classes, general popularity, and wont to amaze even those who knew friendships formed which lasted him best. Being sent for to act as inthroughout life. He early manifested terpreter to a youth newly arrived a desire to take holy orders, but this from Sweden, and consigned to the was contrary to his father's wishes, care of an uncle in Bologna, he found who, like all fathers of distinguished that the language the stranger spoke men, had views of his own for his son, was as unintelligible to him as to the diametrically opposed to that son's perplexed circle of relatives. What inborn vocation. However, his mother was to be done ? Difficulties were incame to the rescue, and he became a centives to the zealous linguist. He scholar in the Archiepiscopal Seminary asked for the books the boy had of Bologna, when only a boy of twelve. brought with him, took them home, At the age of fifteen, he took his degree discovered the affinities between Swein philosophy; but his health sank dish and German, mastered the pecubeneath study so continued and intense, liarities that distinguish the former and he was unable to enter upon from other Teutonic tongues, and, in a his theological course till four years few days, was able not only to act as later. Having completed it, as well as interpreter, but to converse with ease that of canon-law, he attended a cele- and rapidity! brated priest's lectures on Roman law, At the age of twenty-three, Mezzoand established a reputation in the fanti was admitted into full orders, and appointed professor of Arabic in the of support, the two small benefices University of Bologna; a high distinc- conferred upon him as a title to ordition, indeed, for one so young. But nation, not exceeding forty dollars. his tenure of the flattering post was a Another forty dollars had been settled very brief one. The revolutionary upon him by a clerical friend, and this party in Bologna having, early in yearly eighty dollars was all he had to 1796, invited the French to take pos- look to. Nothing daunted, however, he session of their city, the advancing proceeded at this juncture to take his army willingly complied. Before the sister and her family into his house ; year was over, Bologna was merged and to meet the necessary increase of in the Cisalpine Republic, the name expenditure, he, like many a bravegiven to Bonaparte's conquests in hearted man, in all times, bent his Northern Italy. The new rulers next genius to the lowly and laborious task proceeded to demand of all public offi- of teaching. We are glad to know cials an oath of fidelity to the republi- that this self-sacrifice had its compencan government, and this oath was en- sations. It brought him into friendly forced with especial strictness in the relations with several distinguished case of ecclesiastics. Nevertheless, to families, opened to him libraries rich their honor be it spoken, such was the in foreign books, and afforded him respect of the authorities for the talents frequent opportunities of meeting and of the young abbé, that they were conversing with foreigners. Indeed, willing to make an exception in his thanks to its political reverses, Bologna favor, and to dispense with the oath he was at that time a first-rate school for had refused to take, provided he a linguist. French or Austrian troops would consent to exchange overt acts alternately occupied it during four of courtesy with the republican gover- years, and amongst the latter were nor. On this point, however, Mezzo- found representatives of most of the fanti was alike inexorable: and ac- leading European languages, Teutonic, cordingly, in 1798, he lost his pro- Slavonic, Czealink, Magyar, Romaic, fessorship, as did also his friend etc., all of which were spoken by Clotilda, and the celebrated experi- Mezzofanti with rare perfection ; for mentalist Ludovico Galvani.
his religious zeal and his active benevoThis was no small sacrifice to loyalty lence had combined to strengthen the on Mezzofanti's part. At that time natural bias of his mind, and to give his parents were both in feeble health, him a lofty motive for its indulgence. his father unable to ply his trade, his The military hospitals were filled with mother's sight rapidly failing. His Hungarians, Slavonians, Germans, and sister had become mother of a large Bohemians wounded or invalided; and family, whom she found it difficult to to use Mezzofanti's own words: “It maintain-still more to educate. Mez- pained him to the heart, that for want zofanti had liberally assisted them all of means of communicating with them, out of his professional income, which he should be unable to confess those only amounted to a hundred and fifty among them who were Catholic." dollars but which was his chief means Accordingly, he was wont to apply
himself energetically to the study of of twenty-four languages. What a patient's language till he knew with constant study, his arduous enough to make himself understood; duties of librarian, family distress, then, by frequenting the sick wards, and loss of sleep, Mezzofanti's health he
acquired a considerable now began to give way. At this very vocabulary; and thus he came to know time he received a most flattering innot merely the generic languages of the vitation from the Emperor Napoleon to nations to which the several invalids transfer his residence to Paris, where belonged, but the peculiar scientific or literary eminence was then dialects of their various provinces. sure of distinction and reward. But
Then, again, Bologna was a capital his love for his native city and its unischool for a linguist, because, being on versity, and his attachment to his the high road to Rome, almost all sister's family, so dependent upon his travellers to the capital stopped there care, combined with a genuine modesty a while. The hotel-keepers, knowing which made him feel that the “shade Mezzofanti's passion for a new tongue, suited him best;" led him to decline were in the habit of apprising him of the invitation and all its brilliant posall new arrivals; and with his sociable, sibilities. The good man preferred to cheerful temperament, and perfect dwell among his own people, laboring freedom from insular mauvaise honte, at the wearisome compilation of the and dread of committing ourselves, it library catalogue, tending the sick-bed was to him the easiest and simplest of his blind mother, ' composing odes, thing in the world to “call on these sonnets, nay, on one occasion, a little strangers, interrogate them, make notes comedy for his nephews and nieces, of of their communications, and take les- whom he was the familiar friend and sons from them in pronunciation.” At playmate, as well as the earnest and this time, he tells us, “I made it a rule respected instructor. But one of the to learn every new grammar, and to most painfully-felt reverses in the even apply myself to every strange diction- tenor of Mezzofanti's way was now at ary that came within my reach. I hand. In 1808, the oriental professorwas constantly filling my head with ship, in which he took such delight, new words. I must confess that it cost was suppressed. This gave him, howme but little trouble ; for, in addition ver, more time to study, and he now to an excellent
excellent memory, God had first turned his attention to Sanscrit and blessed me with an incredible flexibility other Indian languages, with whose of the organs of speech." Early in vast importance Sir William Jones and 1803, the abbé's financial position was others had familiarized the English, a little improved by his appointment but to which Frederic Schlegel had of assistant-librarian to the Instituto of only just called the attention of the Bologna; and before the close of the learned in continental Europe. year he was chosen professor of oriental In 1814, a bright change came over languages. He was now about thirty the fortunes of our loyal churchman. years
age, and there is some reason Pius VII having been at last set free to believe that he was already master to return to his capital, reached Bologna sition;
in the month of April, and pressingly | like himself, had been reinstated in invited Mezzofanti to accompany him her Greek professorship upon the octo Rome, and undertake the secretary- casion of the Pope's return to his counship of the Propaganda, which is well try. She was herself an excellent known to be the first step in the direc- linguist; and Lady Morgan tells us tion of a cardinalate. But again the that it was a pleasure to hear how, modest student declined to exchange without any of the “comparative rehis quiet life for a more brilliant po- spect which means the absolute scorn,
and the pontiff could bestow her friend and coadjutor did ample on him no other mark of favor than justice to the profound—too often the his reëstablishment as oriental pro- clever woman's only portion-learning fessor.
which had raised her to an equality Hitherto, we have drawn our infor- of collegiate rank with himself. mation respecting Mezzofanti from It has been said that “happy are Italian sources only; but now that the the nations whose annals are dull ; peace of 1814 had turned the annual happy, too, was Mezzofanti, we cannot tide of tourists in the old southward doubt, during the next twelve years of direction, he began to be one of the his life-happy in constant occupation, chief objects of attraction at Bologna, in the culture and exercise of his speand we hear of distinguished men from cial gift, and the loving esteem of all quarters visiting him to test his ex- family and friends, we pass on to his traordinary gift of tongues. Amongst first visit to Rome in 1830, where he these was Lord Byron, who, disliking, was received by Gregory XVI with as he said, literary men, and especially the utmost kindness, and at his final foreigners, excepted Mezzofanti, and audience personally and pressingly inowned he should like to see him again, vited to settle in Rome, and accept the calling him, in his lively way, “a secretaryship of the Propaganda. It master of languages, a Briareus of was not, however, till after what the parts of speech, a walking polyglot pope himself called “a long siege." and omnium gatherum, who ought to that Mezzofanti consented, gracefully have existed at the time of the Tower acknowledging his obligations to the of Babel as universal interpreter-a pontiff, and declaring that though marvel indeed—unassuming also. I people said he could speak a great tried him," Lord Byron goes on to say, many languages, in no one of them, “in all the tongues in which I knew a nor in them all, could he find words to single oath or adjuration to the gods express how deeply he felt this mark against post-boys, savages, Tartars, of his holiness's regard. boatmen, sailors, pilots, gondoliers, And now do we indeed for once bemuleteers, camel-drivers, vetturini, hold “the right man in the right postmasters, etc., and, egad! he as- place.” At the great Urban College, tonished me—even to my English." whither students are gathered from When Mezzofanti was forty-five, he every quarter of the world, we have had the grief of losing his friend, the the tutor able to speak to the reprecelebrated Clotilda Tambroni, who, sentatives of forty-one distinct nation
alities in his own language. Mezzo-paganda ; and accordingly we find fanti, at the Propaganda ! His first that Chinese was one of the thirty visit there must have afforded a curi- languages of which his knowledge has
Making his way unat- been thoroughly tested and freely adtended to one of the corridors, the first mitted by competent judges. He room he chanced to enter was that of owned, however, that he had acquired a Turkish student, now Archbishop at it with unwonted . difficulty. His Constantinople. The abbé at once method, as he once told Cardinal began a Turkish conversation; next Wiseman, being to learn through the came a young Greek, and the Turkish ear, and not the eye, and Chinese, was changed for Romaic. On the ap- unlike all other tongues, having an proach of an Irish O'Connor, Romaic eye-language distinct from the eargave place to English. Soon the stu- language, of which he was obliged to dents, attracted by the novel sounds, make a separate and special study. came pouring in, each to be greeted in In 1838, Mezzofanti was called to his own tongue !
the purple, which of course brought him But there was one language unre- into still closer relations with the ponpresented at the Propaganda, and for tiff, to whom he was so sincerely atthat one-namely, Chinese-the in- tached. But his favorite studies went satiable linguist had long and ardently on undisturbed. Though now in his craved. However, there at grand climacteric, he did not think it too Naples a Chinese college, designed for late to set about acquiring several lanthe education, as catechists, of natives guages with which he had before had of China, Cochin-China, Pegu, Tonquin, little or no acquaintance. Of these, and the Indian peninsula. To Naples, one was Amarinna, an Abyssinian diaaccordingly, Mezzofanti went, and lect, and the other the proverbially "imthrew himself with his accustomed possible" Basque-Basque, with its ardor into the study of this most eleven-mooded and numberless tensed difficult and complicated language. verb, and its utter absence of affinity But he paid the penalty of immoderate with any European language whatever. application, for fever quickly ensued, The death of Pope Gregory XVI, and his life was for some time in danger. in 1846, was a great trial to his attached The effect of his illness was completely friend, though Pius IX regarded him to suspend his memory for the time. with friendship and favor equal to that He forgot all languages except his own shown by his predecessor. Mezzofanti native Italian. No sooner had health had never taken any part in politics and strength returned, than he devoted under the former pontificate, nor did he himself anew to his life-long pursuit, do so now. The fulfilment of his public and having before his attack succeeded duties as cardinal, the confessional in mastering the rudimental principles whenever a foreigner needed his serof the Chinese language, he now vices, and, above all, his pupils in the availed himself of the assistance of Propaganda, formed the business of his some Chinese students opportunely self-denying and laborious life. During transferred from Naples to the Pro-l the whole period of his cardinalate, he