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Royal linguists
Home > Mezzofanti > Eminent linguists > Other linguists > Royal linguists

The history of Royal Linguists, too, might afford much amusing material for speculation. Mithridates, King of Pontus, as we have seen, spoke twenty-two languages. Cleopatra was mistress, not only of seven languages enumerated by Plutarch, but, if we may believe his testimony, of most other known languages of the time. the accomplished., but ill-fated, Queen of Palmyra, Zenobia, was familiar with Greek, Latin, Syriac, and Egyptian; and it may be presumed from the notion which prevailed among some Christian writers of her being a Jewess, that she was also acquainted with Hebrew or its kindred tongues.# Most of the Roman Emperors were able indifferently to speak Greek or Latin. the mediaeval sovereigns, with the exception of Frederic II., referred to in a former page,f- and the great and learned Pope Sylvester II., better known by his family name Gerbert,J share, as linguists, the common mediocrity of the age. the learned Princess Anna Comnena does not appear at all distinguished in this particular ; Charlemagne's reputation rests on his acquaintance with Latin, arid perhaps also Greek; and our own Alfred was regarded as a notable example of success, although there is no evidence that his linguistic attainments extended beyond a knowledge of Latin. Very early, however, after the revival of letters, Matthias Corvinus, the learned and munificent King of Hungary, attained a rank as a linguist not unworthy of a later day. Besides the learned languages, he was also acquainted with most of the living tongues of Europe. Charles Y. knew and spoke five languages. Henry Y1IL spoke four. Several of the Roman Pontiffs, particularly Paul 1Y., in other respects also a most remarkable scholar, and the great Benedict XIV., were learned Orientalists, as well as good general linguists. the house of Stuart was eminent for the gift of tongues. the ill-fated Mary of Scotland spoke most of the European languages. James L, her son, with. all his silly pedantry, was by no means a contemptible linguist. His grandson, Charles II., spoke French and Spanish fluently ; and his brilliant grand-daughter, Elizabeth of Bavaria, who alone, according to Descartes, of all her contemporaries, was able to understand the Cartesian philosophy, was mistress, besides many scientific and literary accomplishments, of no fewer than six languages.% Christina of Sweden surpassed her in one particular. She knew as many as eight languages, the major part of which she spoke fluently. Nor are the courts of our own day without examples of the same acquirement. the late Emperor of Russia spoke five languages. Several of the reigning sovereigns of Europe, Queen Victoria, Alexander of Russia, and Napoleon III. among the number, enjoy the reputation of excellent linguists. the young Emperor of Austria is an accomplished classical scholar, and a perfect master of Preach, and of all the languages of his own vast empireó German, Italian, Hungarian, Czechish, and Servian ! Prince Lewis Lucian Bonaparte is a distinguished philologer, as well as a skilful linguist. His " Polyglot Parable of the Sower" is an interesting contribution to the former science. Even the remote kingdom of Siam furnishes, in its two Royal brothers, the First and the Second King, an example more deserving of praise than would be a far higher success in a more favoured land. the First King, Somdetch Phra Paramendt Maha Mongkut, has evinced a degree of intellectual activity, rare indeed among the potentates of the East. Besides the ancient language and literature of his own kingdom, and all its modern dialects and sub-divisions, he knows Sanscrit, Cingalese, and Peguan. Prom the Catholic missionaries, especially Bishop Pallegoix, he has learned Latin and also Greek, and from the American Baptists, English. His letters, though sometimes unidiomatical, are highly characteristic, and display much intelligence and ability. He is also well versed in European sciences, especially astronomy and mechanics. He has formed, moreover, a very considerable collection of astronomical and philosophical apparatus; has established printing and lithographic presses in the palace; and has imported steam machinery of various kinds from America. It is gratifying to add that his brother, the Second King, shares all his tastes, and is treading worthily in his footsteps.

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