|LIFE OF CARDINAL MEZZOFANTI|
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Summing up, therefore, all the authentic accounts of him as yet made public ; discarding the loose statements of superficial marvel-mongers, and divesting the genuine reports, as far as possible, of the vagueness by which many of them have been characterized, it appears that, in addition to a large number of (more than thirty) minor dialects, Mezzofanti was acquainted in various degrees with seventy-two languages, popularly, if not scientifically, regarded as distinct:—almost the exact number which F. Bresciani ascribes to him ; that of these he spoke with freedom, and with a purity of accent, of vocabulary, and of idiom, rarely attained by foreigners, no fewer than thirty ; that he was intimately acquainted with all the leading dialects of these ; that he spoke less perfectly, (or rather is not shown to have possessed the same mastery of) nine others, in all of which, however, his pronunciation, at least, is described as quite perfect; that he could, (and occasionally did,) converse in eleven other languages, but with what degree of accuracy it is difficult to say; that he could at least initiate a conversation, and exchange certain conversational forms in eight others ; and that he had studied the structure and the elementary vocabularies of fourteen others. As regards the languages included in the latter categories, it is quite possible that he may also have spoken in a certain way some at least among them. So far as I have learned, there is no evidence that he actually did speak any of them : but with him there was little perceptible interval between knowledge of the elementary structure and vocabulary of a language, and the power of conversing in it.
Such is the astounding result to which the united evidence of this vast body of witnesses, testifying without consent, and indeed for the most part utterly unknown to each other, appears irresistibly to lead. I am far, I confess, from accepting in their strict letter many of the rhetorical expressions of these writers— the natural result of warm admiration, however just and well founded. I do not believe, for example, that in each and all the thirty languages enumerated in the first category, the Cardinal actually spoke, as some of the witnesses say, " with all the purity and pro¬priety of a native ;" that he could not in any one of them " be recognized as a foreigner ;" or that, in them all, he " spoke without the slightest trace of peculiar accent." On the contrary, 1 know that, in several of these, he made occasional trips. I do not overlook the " four minor mistakes " in his German conversation with Dr. Tholuck; nor his occasionally " forgetting the marked l in his Polish," nor the criticism of his manner in several other languages, as " formed rather from books than from conversation." Neither do I believe that he had mastered the entire vocabulary of each of these languages. Nor shall I even venture to say to what point his knowledge, of the several vocabularies extended. So far from shutting out from my judgment the drawbacks on the undiscrimina-ting praise heaped upon the Cardinal by some of his biographers, which these criticisms imply, I regard them as (by recalling it from the realm of legend,)
forming the best and most secure foundation of a reputation which, allowing for every drawback, far transcends all that the world has ever hitherto known. I do not say that in all these languages, or perhaps in any of them, Cardinal Mezzofanti was the perfect paragon which some have described him ; but, reverting to the standard with which I set out, I cannot hesitate to infer from these united testimonies, that his knowledge of each and every one of the leading languages of the world, ancient and modern, fully equalled, and in several of these languages excelled, the knowledge of those who are commonly reputed as accomplished linguists in the several languages, even when they have devoted their attention to the study of one or other of these languages exclusively. I do not say that he was literally faultless in speaking these languages ; nor that what I have said is literally true of each and every one of the thirty that have been enumerated : but, if the attestations recorded in this volume have any meaning, they lead to the inevitable conclusion, that in the power of speaking the languages in which he was best tried,—whether Hebrew, or Arabic, or Armenian, or Persian, or Turkish, or Albanese, or Maltese, or Greek, or Romaic, or Latin, or Italian, or Spanish, or Portuguese, or French, or Swedish, or Danish, or Dutch, or Flemish, or English, or Russian, or Bohemian, or Magyar, or Chinese;—his success is entirely beyond suspicion, and will bear comparison with that of the most accomplished non-native masters of these languages, even those who have confined themselves to one or two of the
number. For the few languages upon which I myself may presume to speak, I most unhesitatingly adopt this conclusion, comparing my recollections of the Cardinal with those I retain of almost any other foreigner whom I have ever heard speak the same languages.
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