|LIFE OF CARDINAL MEZZOFANTI|
Home > Mezzofanti > Biography > 1817 to 1820 > Tourists
Southey, in one of his pleasant gossiping letters to Bedford, tells that when M. de Sagrie was going to publish a French translation of Southey's " Roderick," his publisher, Le Bel, insisted upon having a life of the poet prefixed. M. de Sagrie objected; and at last, in order to get rid of the printer's importunities, said that he knew nothing whatever of the life of Mr. Southey. " N' irnporte!" was the printer's cool reply, " Ecrivez toujours, brodez ! Brodez-la un peu; que ce soit vrai ou non, ce ne fait rien." Note 1 We have come to a part of Mezzofanti's quiet and uniform life in which there are so few incidents to break the monotony of the uneventful narrative, that, at least in so far as its interest is concerned, his biographer is almost in the same condition with M. de Sagrie. The true purpose of this narrative, however —to exhibit the faculty rather than the man—seems to me to depend less on the accumulation of piquant anecdotes and striking adventures, than upon a calm and truthful survey of his intellectual attainments in the successive stages of his career. Instead, therefore, of having recourse to the device suggested by De Sagrie's enterprising publisher, and supplying, by a little ingenious " broderie," the deficiency of exciting incident, I shall content myself with weaving together, in the order of time, the several notices of Mezzofanti, by travellers and others, which have come within my reach; interspersing such explanations, incidents, illustrations, and anecdotes, as I have been able to glean, among the scanty memorials of this period which have survived. Fortunately, from the year which we have now reached, there exists a tolerably connected series of such sketches. They are, of course, from the most various hands—from authors of all tongues and creeds;
Some were those who counted beads,
but their value, it need hardly be said, is enhanced by this very variety- Proceeding from so many in- dependent sources, produced for the most part, too, upon the spot, and in the order of time in which they appear in the narrative ;—these unconnected sketches may be believed to present, if a less minute and circumstantial, certainly a more vivid as well as more reliable, portraiture of Mezzofanti, than could be hoped even from the daily scrutiny of familiar friends, intimately conversant with his every day life, but always viewing his character from the same unvarying point, and rather submitting the result of their own matured observations of what Mezzofanti seemed to them to be, than affording materials for a calm and dispassionate estimate of what he really was. Nor must it be forgotten that no single chronicler, even had he the circumstantiality of a Boswell, could be capable of keeping a record of Mezzofanti's life, which could be available as the foundation of a satisfactory judgment as to the real extent and nature of his linguistic accomplishment. It is only another Mezzofanti who would be a competent witness on such a question ; and, in default of a single Polyglot critic of his attainments in all the languages which he is supposed to have known, we shall best consult the interests of truth and science, by considering severally, in reference to each of these languages, 'the judgment formed regarding his performance there-in by those whose native language it was.
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