Home > Mezzofanti > Eminent linguists > Slavonian linguists > Mentschikoff
The Czar's favourite, Mentschikoff, who from an obscure origin (1674-1729) built up the fortunes of what is now one of the greatest houses of Russia, was master of eight languages, most of which he spoke with perfect fluency. Demetrius Kantemir, (1673-1723), father of the celebrated poet of that name, deserves also to be noticed. He was descended of a Turkish family, and held the office of Hospodar of Moldavia; but he prized his literary reputation more than his rank. He appears to have been a scholar in the highest sense of the name, and was familiarly acquainted, not only with the living languages which are so easily acquired by his countrymen, but with several of the learned languages, both of the East and the West. the poet, his son Antiochus Demetrjewitsch, is also described as " master of several languages, ancient and modern." the same may be inferred regarding the great traveller, Basilius Gregorowitsch Barskj, who was born at Kiew, in 1702. He must necessarily have acquired, during his long and adventurous wanderings in Europe and the East, a familiarity with many of the languages of the various countries through which he journeyed, although he was prevented from turning it to account upon his return to Russia by his premature death in 17474 Basilius Nikititsch Tatisscheff, one of the youths sent abroad by Peter the Great, for the purpose of studying in the foreign universities, enjoyed a considerable reputation as a linguist.§ the History of Russia which he compiled, supposes a familiarity with several Asiatic, as well as European languages; but, as it is not improbable that part of the materials which he employed in this history were translated for his use by assistants engaged for the purpose, it may be doubted whether this can be assumed as a fair test of his own capabilities. the linguistic attainments of the celebrated poet Lemonossoff, || although considerable, form his least solid title to fame. His history is so full of interest, that its incidents almost utterly unvarnished, have supplied the narrative of one of the most popular of modern Russian novels, Born (1711) in a rude fisher's hut in the wretched village of Denissowka on the shore of the Frozen Ocean, he rose by his own unassisted genius not only to high eminence in science, but to the very first rank in the literature of his native country, of which he may truly be described as the founder; and, although he does not seem to have made languages a special study, he deserves to be noticed even in this department. He was perfect master of Greek, Latin, French, and German ; and possessed with other ancient and modern languages, an acquaintance sufficient for all the purposes of study. the attainments of his contemporary, Basilius Petrowitsch Petroff, (1736) were perhaps more profound. He was a scholar of the celebrated convent of Saikonosspassk; and having attracted notice by an ode which he composed for the coronation of the Empress Catherine, he was employed, through the influence of Potemkin, at the English and several other European courts. Through the opportunities which he thus enjoyed, he became one of the best linguists of his day, and we may form an estimate of his zeal and perseverance from the circumstance of his having learned .Romaic after his sixtieth year. Gabriel, Archbishop of St. Petersburg, (1775—1801) and one of the most distinguished pulpit orators of Russia, is also mentioned as a very remarkable linguist. His success, however, lay chiefly in modern languages. the most eminent scholars engaged in the philological and ethnological investigations undertaken by the Empress Catherine II. were foreigners; as, for example, Pallas, and Bakmeister. Some, however, were native Russians, but few details are preserved regarding them. Of Sujeff, who accompanied Pallas in the expedition to Tartary and China, and who translated the journals of the expedition into Russian, I have not been able to obtain any particulars. I have been equally unsuccessful as to the history of theodore Mirievo de Jankiewitsch, the compiler of the alphabetical Digest of Pallas's Comparative Vocabulary, described in a former page; but it can scarcely be doubted, from the very nature of his task, that he must have been a man of no ordinary acquirements as a linguist, at least as regards the vocabularies of language. During the present century a good deal has been done in Russia for the cultivation of particular families of languages. the " Lazareff Institute," founded at Moscow in 1813,§ by an Armenian family from which it takes its name, comprehends in its truly munificent scheme of education not only the Armenian, Georgian, and Tartar languages, but also the several members of the Caucasian family. || An Oriental . Institute on a somewhat similar plan was established at St. Petersburg in 1823. another was opened at the still more favourable centre of languages, Odessa, in 1829; and a fourth, yet more recently, at Kazan, the meeting point of the two great classes of languages which practically divide between them the entire Russian Empire. Individual scholars, too, have taken to themselves particular branches of the study, some of them with very remarkable success.
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