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LIFE OF CARDINAL MEZZOFANTI
Home > Mezzofanti > Biography > Recapitulation > Stages

Looking back over the narrative of Cardinal Mezzofanti's life, we can trace a tolerably regular progress in the number of languages ascribed to him through its several stages. In 1805, according to Father Caronni, " he was commonly reported to be master of more than twenty-four languages." Giordani's account of him in 1812, seems, although it does not specify any number, to indicate a greater total than this. Stewart Rose, in 1817, speaks of him as "reading twenty languages, and conversing in eighteen." Baron von Zach, in 1820, brings the number of the languages spoken by him up to thirty-two. Lady Morgan states, that by the public report of Bologna he was reputed to be master of forty. He himself, in 1836, stated to M. Mazzinghi that he knew forty-five ; and before 1839, he used to say that he knew " fifty, and Bolognese." In reply to the request of M. Mouravieff, a little later, that he would give him a list of the languages that he knew, he sent him a sheet containing the name of God in fifty-six languages. In the year 1846 he told Father Bresciani that he knew seventy-eight languages and dialects ;* and a list communicated to me by his nephew, Dr. Gaetano Minarelli, by whom it has been compiled after a diligent examination of his deceased uncle's books and papers, reaches the astounding total of one hundred and fourteen!

It is clear, however,'that these, and the similar statements which have been current, require considerable examination and explanation. It is much to be regretted that the Cardinal did not, with his own hand, draw up, as he had often been requested, and as he certainly intended, a complete catalogue of the languages known by him, distinguishing, as in the similar statement left by Sir William Jones, the degrees of his knowledge of the several languages which it comprised. In none of the statements on the subject
which are in existence, is any attempt made to discriminate the languages with which he was familiar from those imperfectly known by him. On the contrary, from the tone of some of his panegyrists, it would seem that they wish to represent him as equally at home in all; a notion which he himself, in his conversations with Lady Morgan, with Dr. Tholuck, with M. Mazzinghi, and on many subsequent occasions, distinctly repudiated and ridiculed. In his statement to Father Bresciani, in 1846, the Cardinal did not enumerate the seventy-eight languages and dialects which he knew or had studied ; but in the year before his death, 1848, he told Father Bresciani that he was then engaged in drawing up a comparative scheme of languages, their common descent, their affinities, and their ramifications ; together with a simple and easy plan for acquiring a number of languages, however dissimilar.* At my request, Father Bresciani kindly applied to Dr. Minarelli, the nephew and representative of the deceased, for a copy of this interesting paper; but unfortunately no trace of it is now discoverable, and Dr. Minarelli supposes that, as was usual with him when dissatisfied with any of his compositions, the Cardinal burnt it before his death.




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