* Birth and
* family history
|LIFE OF CARDINAL MEZZOFANTI|
Home > Mezzofanti > Biography > 1774 to 1798 > Birth and family history
A MEMOIR of Cardinal Mezzofanti can be little more than a philological essay. Quiet and uneventful as was his career, its history possesses few of the ordinary attractions of Biography. The main interest of such a narrative must consist in the light which it may tend to throw on the curious problem; —what degree of perfection the human mind, concentrating its powers upon one department of knowledge, is capable of attaining therein; and the highest hope of the author is to escape the reproach which Warburton directed against Boileau's biographer, Desmaiseaux, of having " written a book without a life. "
Joseph Caspar Mezzofanti Note 1, was born at Bologna on the 17th of September, 1774 Note 2. His father, Francis Mezzofanti, a native of the same city, was of very humble extraction, and by trade a carpenter. Though almost entirely uneducated, Francis Mezzofanti is described by the few who remember him, as a man of much shrewdness and intelligence, a skilful mechanic, and universally respected for his integrity, piety, and honourable principles. For Mezzofanti's mother, Gesualda Dall' Olmo, a higher lineage has been claimed ;—the name of Dall' Olmo being extremely ancient and not undistinguished in the annals of Bologna ; but the fortunes of the immediate branch of that family from which Gesualda Dall' Olmo sprung, were no less humble than those of her husband. Her education, however, was somewhat superior; and with much simplicity and sweetness of disposition, she united excellent talents, great prudence and good sense, and a profoundly religious mind.
Of this marriage were born several children ; but they all died at an early age, except a daughter named Teresa, and Joseph Caspar, the subject of the present biography. Teresa was the senior by ten years, and, while her brother was yet a boy, married a young man named Joseph Lewis Minarelli Note 3, by trade a hair dresser, to whom she bore a very numerous family, several of whom still survive Note 4. To the kind courtesy of one of these, the Cavaliero Pietro Minarelli, I am indebted for a few particulars of the family history, and of the early years of his venerated uncle Note 5.
In the Via Malcontenti. The house still exists, but has been entirely remodelled. An inscription for the apartment in which Mezzofanti was born was composed by D. Vincenzo Mignani: — Heic Mezzofantus natus, notissimus Orbi, Unus qui linguas calluit omnigenas. Some years later Francis Mezzofanti removed to a house on the opposite side of the same street, in which he thenceforward continued to reside. This house also is still in existence, but has been modernized. In the early part of the year 1800, Mezzofanti established himself, together with the family of his sister, Signora Minarelli, in a separate house, situated however in the same street: but, from the time of his appointment as Librarian, in 1815, till his final removal to Rome, he occupied the Librarian's apartments in the Palazzo Dell' Università.
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