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Home > Mezzofanti > Biography > 1774 to 1798 > Deprivation of professorship

Unhappily his tenure of the Arabic professorship was a very brief duration. The political relations of Bologna had just undergone a complete revolution. Early in 1796, very soon after the advance of the French army into Italy, Bonaparte had been invited by a discontented party in Bologna to take possession of their city, and, in conjuction with Saliceti, had occupied the fortresses on the 19th of January. At first after the French occupation, the Bolognese were flattered by a revival of their old muncipal institutions ; but before the close of 1796, the name of Bologna was merged in the common designation of the Cisalpine Republic, by which all the French conquests in Northern Italy were described.

By the treaty of Tolentino, concluded in February, 1797, the Pope was compelled formally to cede to this new Cisalpine Republic, the three Legations of Bologna, Ferara, and Romagna; and, in the subsequent organization of the new territory, Bologna became the capital of the Dipartimento del Reno.

One of the first steps of the new rulers was to require of all employes an oath of fidelity to the Republic. The demand was enforced with great strictness ; and especially in the case of ecclesiastics, who in Italy, as in France, were naturally regarded with still greater suspicion by the Republican authorities, than even those civil servants of the old government who had been most distinguished for their loyalty. Nevertheless the republican authorities themselves consented that an exception should be made in favour of a scholar of such promise as the Abate Mezzofanti. The oath was proposed to him, as to the rest of the professors. He firmly refused to take it. In other cases deprivation had been the immediate consequence of such refusal; but an effort was made to shake the firmness of Mezzofanti, and even to induce him without formally accepting the oath, to signify his compliance by some seeming act of adhesion to the established order of things. An intimation accordingly was conveyed to him, that in his case the oath would be dispensed with, and that he would be allowed to retain Ms chair, if he would only consent to make known by any overt act whatsoever, (even by a mere interchange of courtesies with some of the officials of the Republic,) his acceptance of its authority as now established. Note 1

But Mezzofanti was at once too conscientious to compromise what he conceived to be his duty towards his natural sovereign, and too honour-able to affect, by such unworthy temporizing, a disposition which he did not, and could not, honestly entertain. He declined even to appear as a visitor in the salons of the new governor. He was accordingly deprived of his professorship in the year 1798.
He was not alone in this generous fidelity. His friend Signora Tambroni displayed equal firmness. It is less generally known that the distinguished experimentalist, Ludovico Galvani,f was a martyr in the same cause. Like Mezzofanti, on refusing the oath, he was stripped of all his offices and emoluments. Less fortunate than Mezzofanti, he sunk Tinder the stroke. He was plunged into the deepest distress and debility ; and, although his Republican rulers were at length driven by shame to decree his restoration to his chair, the reparation came too late. He died in 1798. Note 2

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Note 1
Manavit, p. 28.

Note 2
Whewell's Inductive Sciences, III. p. 86.

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