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Infant phenomena
Home > Mezzofanti > Eminent linguists > Other linguists > Infant phenomena

"Infant Phenomena" of language would supply another curious and fertile topic for inquiry—an inquiry too in a psychological point of view eminently interesting. Many of the great linguists enumerated in this Memoir, Pico of Mirandola, Crichton, Martin del Rio, and several others, owed part of their celebrity to the marvelous precociousness of their gifts. A far larger proportion, however, of those who prematurely displayed this talent, were cut off before it had attained any mature or healthy development. Cancellieri mentions a child named Jacopo Martino, born at Racuno, in the Venetian territory, in 1639, who not only acquired a knowledge of Greek and Hebrew, between the age of three and seven, but made such progress in philosophical science as successfully to maintain a public thesis in philosophy at Rome, when no more than eight years of age. This extraordinary child, however, died of exhaustion in 1649, before he had completed his ninth year. It was the same for Claudio del Valle y Hernandez, a Spanish prodigy, mentioned by the same author. But probably the most extraordinary examples of this psychological phenomenon upon record, occur, by a curious coincidence, almost at the very same date in the commencement of the eighteenth century. Within the three years, from 1719 to 1721, were born in different countries, three children of a precociousness (even though we accept the traditions regarding them with great deductions,) entirely without parallel in history. the first of those, John Lewis Candiac, was born at Nismes, in 1719 This strangely gifted child, we are told, was able, in his third year, to speak not only his native French but also Latin. Before he was six years old he spoke also Greek and Hebrew. He was well versed, besides, in arithmetic, geography, ancient and modern history, and even heraldry. But, as might be expected, those premature efforts quickly exhausted his overtaxed powers, and he died of water on the brain in 1726, at seven years of age Christian Henry Heinecken, a child of equal promise, was cut off even more prematurely. He was born at Lubeck in 1721. He is said to have been able to speak at ten months old. By the time he attained his twelfth month, he had learned, if his biographers can be credited, all the facts in the history of the Pentateuch. In another month he added to this all the rest of the history of the old Testament; and, when he was but fourteen months old, he was master of all the leading facts of the Bible! At two and a half years of age, he spoke fluently, besides his native German, the French and Latin languages. In this year he was presented at the Danish court, where he excited universal astonishment. But, on his return home, he fell sick and died in his fourth year. the third of those marvels of precocity, John Philip Baratier, who is probably known to many readers by Johnson's interesting memoir, was born at Anspach in the same year with Heinecken, 1721. His career, however, was not so brief, nor were its fruits so ephemeral, as those of the ill-fated children just named. When Baratier was only four years old, he was able to speak Latin, French, and German. At six he spoke Greek; and at nine Hebrew ; in which latter language the soundness of his attainments is attested by a lexicon which he published in his eleventh year. Nor was Baratier a mere linguist. He is said to have mastered elementary mathematics in three months, and to have qualified himself by thirteen month's study for the ordinary thesis maintained at taking out the degree of Doctor of Laws. He was also well versed in architecture, in ancient and modern literature, in antiquities, and even the uncommon science of numismatics. He translated from the Hebrew Benjamin of Tudela's " Itinerary." He published a detailed and critical account of the Rabbinical Bible; and communicated to several societies elaborate papers on astronomical and mathematical subjects. This extraordinary youth died at the age of nineteen in 1760. Later in the same century was born at Rome a child named Giovanni Cristoforo Amaduzzi, if not quite so precocious as this extraordinary trio, at least of riper intellect, and destined to survive for greater distinction and for a more useful career. the precise dates of his various attainments do not appear to be chronicled; but, when he was only twelve years old, he published a poetical translation of the Hecuba of Euripides, which excited universal surprise; and a few years later, on the visit of the Emperor Joseph II. and his brother Leopold to Rome, he addressed to the Emperor a polyglot ode of welcome in Greek, Latin, Italian, and French. His after studies, however, were more serious and more practical. He is well-known, not only as a linguist, but also as a philologer of some merit; and in his capacity of corrector of the Propaganda Oriental Press, a post which he filled till his death, in 1792, he rendered many important services to Oriental studies.

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