|LIFE OF CARDINAL MEZZOFANTI|
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Joseph Mezzofanti early manifested a desire to embrace the ecclesiastical profession ; and although this wish seems to have caused some dissatisfaction to his father, who had intended him for some secular pursuit Note 1, yet the deeply religious disposition of the child and his singular innocence of life, in the end overcame his father's reluctance. Having completed his elementary studies unusually early, he was enabled to become a scholar of the archiepiscopal seminary of Bologna, while still a mere boy, probably in the year 1786 Note 2. He continued, however, to reside in his father's house, -while he attended the schools of the seminary.
Of his collegiate career little is recorded, except an incident which occurred at the taking of his degree in philosophy. His master in this study was Joseph Voglio, a professor of considerable reputation, and author of several works on the philosophical controversies of the period Note 3.
It is usual in the Italian universities for the candidate for a philosophical degree, to defend publicly a series of propositions selected from the whole body of philosophy. Mezzofanti, at the time that he maintained his theses, was still little more than a child ; and it would seem that, his self-possession having given way under the public ordeal, he had a narrow escape from the mortification of a complete failure. One of the
witnesses of his " Disputation," Dr. Santagata, in the Discourse already referred to, delivered at the Institute of Bologna, gives an interesting account of the occurrence. "For a time," says Dr. Santagata, "the boy's success was most marked. Each new objection, among the many subtle ones that were proposed, only afforded him a fresh opportunity of exhibiting the acuteness of his intellect, and the ease, fluency, and elegance of his Latinity ; and the admiring murmurs of assent, and other unequivocal tokens of applause which it elicited from the audience, of which 1 myself was one, seemed to promise a triumphant conclusion of the exercise. But all at once the young candidate was observed to grow pale, to become suddenly silent, and at length to fall back upon his seat and almost faint away. The auditors were deeply grieved at this untoward interruption of a performance hitherto so successful ; but they were soon relieved to see him, as if by one powerful effort, shake off his emotion, recover his self-possession, and resume his answering with even greater acuteness and solidity than before. He was greeted with the loud and repeated plaudits of the crowded
assembly." Note 4
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