Home > Mezzofanti > Eminent linguists > British and Irish linguists > Crichton
With others the study of languages, or of kindred sciences, formed almost the business of life. But it was not so with the wonder of his own and of all succeeding generations— the " Admirable Crichton"; who, notwithstanding the Universality of his reputation, became almost equally eminent in each particular study, as any of those who devoted all their powers to that single pursuit. James Crichton was born in 1561, in Scotland. the precise place of his birth is uncertain, but he was the son of Robert; Crichton of Eliock, Lord Advocate of James VI. lie was educated at St. Andrew's. the chief theatres of his attainments, however, were France and Italy. there is not an accomplishment which he did not possess in its greatest perfection—from the most abstruse departments of scholarship, philosophy, and divinity, down to the mere physical gifts and graces of the musician, the athlete, the swordsman, and the cavalier. His memory was a prodigy both of quickness and of tenacity. He could repeat verbatim, after a single hearing, the longest and most involved discourse. Many of the details which are told of him are doubtless exaggerated and perhaps legendary; but Mr. Patrick Frazer Tytlcr has shown that the substance of his history, prodigious as it seems, is perfectly reliable. As regards the particular subject of our present inquiry, one account states that, when he was but sixteen years old, he spoke ten languages. Another informs us that, at the age of twenty, the number of languages of which he was master exactly equalled the number of his years. But the most tangible data which we possess are drawn from his celebrated thesis in the University of Paris, in which he undertook to dispute in any of twelve languages—-Hebrew, Syriac, Arabic, Greek, Latin, Spanish,, Italian, French, English, German, Flemish, and Slavonic. I am inclined to believe that Crichton's acquirements extended at least so far as this. It might seem that a vague challenge to dispute in any one of a number of foreign tongues was an empty and unsubstantial boast, and a mere exhibition of vanity, perfectly safe from the danger of exposure. But it is clear that Crichton's challenge was not so unpractical as this, tie not only specified the languages of his challenge, but thore is hardly one of those that he selected which was not represented in the University of Paris at the time, not only sufficiently to test the proficiency of the daring disputant, but to secure his 'ignominious exposure, if there were grounds to suspect hi in of charlatanism or imposture. Unhappily, however, the promise of a youth so brilliant was cut short by an early death, in 1583, at the age of twenty-two years. Nor did Crichton leave behind him any work by which posterity might test the reality of his acquirements, except a few Latin verses printed by his friend> Aldus Manutius, on whose generous patronage, with all his accomplishments, he had been dependent for the means of subsistence during one of the most brilliant periods of his career.
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