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LIFE OF CARDINAL MEZZOFANTI
Home > Mezzofanti > Biography > 1803 to 1806 > Polyglot translations

This correspondence with De Rossi, also, shows very remarkably that, however, at a later period of  his career, Mezzofanti's wonderful faculty of language may have been sharpened by practice into what appears almost an instinct, his method of study at this time was exact, laborious, and perhaps even plodding. He appears, from the very first, to have pursued as a mean3 of study that system of written composition which was the amusement of his later years ; and he occasionally availed himself of De Rossi's superior knowledge and experience so far as to submit these compositions for his judgment and correction.

It is to one of these he alludes in the following letter :ó

Bologna, April 5, 1805.
I send you a translation in twelve languages of a short Latin sentence, in the hope that you will kindly correct any mistakes into which I may have fallen. I have been obliged to write it almost impromptu (su due piedi). I mention this, however, not to excuse my own blunders, but to throw the blame of them on those who have forced me to the task. Not having a single individual within reach with whom to take counsel, I have been obliged to impose this trouble upon one whose kind courtesy will make it seem light to him. Accept my thanks in anticipation of your compliance.

P. S. I should feel obliged if you could let me have your observations by return of post. Pray attribute this, perhaps excessive, liberty to the peculiar circumstances in which I am placed.

I have in vain endeavoured to ascertain what were the twelve languages of this curious essay. As no trace of the copy is now to be found among De Rossi's papers, it seems probable that De Rossi, in complying with the request contained in the letter, returned the paper to the writer with his own corrections. But whatever these "twelve languages" may have been, it is certain that, even at the date of this letter, Mezzofanti's attainments were by no means confined to that limit. My attention has been called to a notice of him contained in a curious, though little-known work, published at Milan in 1806, Note 1 which describes his range of languages as far more extensive.

Who was Mezzofanti ?
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Notes

Note 1
"Ragguaglio del Viaggio compendioso d'un DilettanteAntiquario sorpreso da' Corsari, condotto in Barberia, e felicemente ripatriato." 2 vols. Milan, 1805-6. The work is anonymous, but the authorship is plain from the passport and other circumstances. I am indebted for the knowledge of the book (which is now rare) to Mr. Garnett of the British Museum. A tolerably full account of it may be found in the Bibliotheque Universelle de GenÍve (a continuation of the Bibliotheque Britannique) vol. VIII., pp. 388-408.




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