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Robert Jones
Home > Mezzofanti > Eminent linguists > British and Irish linguists > Robert Jones

But thore is more of curious interest in the career of a very extraordinary individual, Richard Roberts Jones, of Aberdarvan, in Carnarvonshire, who, if not for the extent of his attainments, at least for the exceedingly unfavourable circumstances under which they were acquired, deserves a place among examples of the "pursuit of knowledge under difficulties." A privately printed memoir of this singular character, by Mr. Roscoe, who took much interest in him, and exerted himself warmly in his behalf, contains several most curious particulars regarding his studies and acquirements, as well as his personal habits and appearance. Mr. Roscoe first met him in 1806, and described him to Dr. Parr as " a poor Welsh fisher-lad, as ragged as a colt, and as uncouth as any being that has a semblance of humanity. But beneath such an exterior," he adds, " is a mind cultivated, not only beyond all reasonable expectation, but beyond all probable conception. In his fishing boat on the coast of Wales, at an age little more than twenty, he has acquired Greek, Hebrew, and Latin; has read the Iliad, Hesiod, theocritus, &c.; studied the refinements of Greek pronunciation; and examined tlie connection of that language with Hebrew." An attempt was made to raise him to a position more befitting his acquirements. But his habits were of the rudest and most uncleanly. " He loved to lie on his back in the bottom of a ditch. His uncouth appearance, solitary habits, and perhaps weak intellect, made him an object of ridicule and persecution to the children of the district; and, he often carried an iron pot on his head to screen him from the stones and clods which they threw at him. He wore a large filthy wrapper, in the pockets and folds of which he stowed his library j and his face, covered with hair, gave him a strangely uncouth appearance; although the mild and abstracted expression of his features took from it much of its otherwise repulsive character." Mr. Roscoe gives a very curious account of an interview between Dr. Parr and this strange genius, in 1815, in the course of which Jones "exhibited a familiarity with French, Italian, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and Chaldee." He described too, for Dr. Parr, his mode of acquiring a new language, which consisted in carefully examining its vocabulary, ascertaining what words in it corresponded with those of any language which he had previously learned, and having struck such words out of the vocabulary, proceeding to impress the remaining words upon his memory, as being the only ones which were peculiar to the new language which he sought to acquire. It may easily be believed that Jones's irreclaimably uncouth and eccentric habits defeated the efforts made by his friends to place him in a condition more befitting his acquirements. Clothes with which their thought-fulness might replace, his habitual rags, in a few days were sure to present the same filthy and dilapidated appearance. When a bed was provided for him, he chose to sleep not upon, but under it; and all his habits bespoke at once weakness of mind and indisposition, or perhaps incapacity, to accommodate himself to the ordinary usages of other men.

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