* Number his
|LIFE OF CARDINAL MEZZOFANTI|
Home > Mezzofanti > Biography > 1834 to 1836 > Number his languages
The exact number of languages to which this extraordinary facility extended, had long been a matter of speculation. Mezzofanti himself—averse to everything that bore the appearance of display—although repeatedly questioned on the subject, generally evaded the inquiry, or passed it off with a jesting answer. It is probable too, that- he was deterred from any enu¬meration by the difficulty of distinguishing between languages properly so-called, and dialects. The first distinct statement of his own, bearing directly upon the point, which I have been able to trace on good authority to himself, was made soon after his appointment as Vatican Librarian, in an interview with a gentleman of Italian family, long resident in England, who was introduced to him by Dr. Cox, at that time vice-rector of the English College. The particulars of the interview were communicated to me by Dr. Cox himself, in a letter which 1 received from him a very short time before his death. The gentleman referred to was Count Mazzinghi, the well known composer, who, if not born in England, had resided in London for so long a time, that in language, habits, and associations, he was a thorough Englishman.
While he thus professed, however, to speak forty-five languages, he took care, as in his similar conversation with Dr. Tholuck, to convey that his knowledge of some of them was much less perfect than of others.
Nor did it remain stationary at this limit. Its progress, even while he resided at Bologna, had been steady, and tolerably uniform. But the increased facilities for the study which he enjoyed in Rome, enabled him to add more rapidly to his store. Cardinal Wiseman assures me, that, before he left Rome, Mezzofanti's reply to the inquiry as to the number of his languages, was that which has since become a sort of proverb, " Fifty, and Bolognese." Even as early as 1837, Mezzofanti himself, in his extempore reply to Dr. Wap's Dutch verses, as we have seen, used words to the same effect :—
I have been anxious to obtain, on this interesting point, an authentic report from persons who enjoyed almost daily opportunities of intercourse with Mezzofanti at this period, for the purpose of testing more satisfactorily, the accuracy of a contemporary sketch of him, which appeared in a work of considerable pretensions, published in Germany, in 1837—Fleck's "Scientific Tour,''—which describes
him, from popular report, as speaking " some thirty languages and dialects, but of course, not all with equal readiness."
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