|LIFE OF CARDINAL MEZZOFANTI|
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The notoriety which this and other similar narratives procured for the modest professor, speedily rendered him an object of curiosity to every stranger visiting Bologna; and as there was no want of critics not unwilling to question, or at least to scrutinize, the truth of the marvels recounted by their predecessors, it may easily be believed that his life became in some sort a perpetual ordeal. Thus Blume, the author of the Iter Italicum. who visited Bologna some time after Von Zach, does not hesitate to take the Baron to task, and to declare his account very much exaggerated.
“Bianconi and Mezzofanti,” says Blume, "are the librarians. The latter, as is well known, is considered throughout all Europe as a linguistic prodigy, a second Mithridates; and is said to speak and write with fluency two-and-thirty dead and living languages. Willingly as I join in this admiration, especially as his countrymen usually display little talent for the acquisition of foreign tongues, I cannot but remark that the account recently given in the fourth and fifth volumes of Von Zach's ' Correspondance Astronomique,' is very much exaggerated. Readiness in speaking a language should not be confounded with philological knowledge. I have heard few Italians speak German as well as Mezzofanti; but I have also heard him maintain that between Platt-Deutsch, or the Low German, and the Dutch language, there was no difference whatever." Note 1
It will be remarked here, however, that these condemnatory observations of Herr Blume do not regard Mezzofanti's attainments as a linguist, but only his skill as a philologist. On the contrary, to his linguistic talents Blume bears testimony hardly less unreserved than that which he criticises in the Baron ; and as regards the rest of Blutne's criticism, the mistake in philology, (as to the identity of Platt-Deutsch with Dutch,) which he alleges, and which appears to be the sole foundation of his depreciatory judgment of Mezzofanti's philological knowledge, is certainly a very minor one, and one which may be very readily excused in any other than a German ; especially as Adelung (II. 261), distinctly states of at least one dialect of Platt-Deutsch, that spoken in Hamburg and Altona, that it contains a large admixture of Dutch words so large that a cursory observer, if we may judge from the specimens which Adelung gives (II. 268), might very readily consider the two dialects almost identical. As to another statement of Blume's, which imputes to Mezzofanti a want of courtesy to strangers visiting or studying in the library, it is contradicted by the unanimous testimony of all who ever saw him whether at Bologna or at Rome, He was politeness and good nature itself. But it must not be supposed that all the visits which Mezzofanti received were of the character hitherto described, and were attended with no fruit beyond a passing display of his wonderful faculty.
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