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Home > Mezzofanti > Biography > 1774 to 1798 > Early education

Far from being entirely neglected, as these tales would imply, Mezzofanti's education commenced at an unusually early period. His parentsó A virtuous household, but exceeding poor, conscious of their own want of learning, appear, from the very first, to have bestowed upon the education of their son all the care which their narrow circumstances permitted According to an account obtained from the Cavaliere Minarelli, he was sent, while a mere child, not yet three years old, to a dame's school, more, it would seem, for security, than for actual instruction. Being deemed too young to be regularly taught, he was here left for a time to sit in quiet and amuse himself as best he could, while the other children were receiving instruction ; but the mistress soon discovered that the child, although excluded from the lessons of his elders, had learned without any effort, all that had been communicated to them, and was able to repeat promptly and accurately the tasks which she had dictated. He was accordingly admitted to the regular classes; and, child as he was, passed rapidly through the various elementary branches of instruction, to which alone her humble school extended.

From this dame's school he was removed to the more advanced, but still elementary, school of the Abate Filippo Cicotti, in which he learned grammar, geography, writing, arithmetic, algebra, and the elements of Latin. But, after some time, the excellent priest who conducted this school, honestly advised the parents, young as was their boy, to remove him to another institution, and to permit him to apply himself unrestrainedly to the higher studies for which he was already fully qualified.

His father appears to have demurred for a while to this suggestion. Limiting his views in reference to the boy to the lowly sphere in which he himself had been born, he had only contemplated bestowing upon him a solid elementary education in the branches of knowledge suited to its humble requirements; and, with the old-fashioned prejudices not uncommon in his rank, he was unwilling to sanction his son's entering upon what appeared to him an unnatural and unprofitable career, for one who was destined to earn his bread by a mechanical art. Fortunately, however, his wife entertained higher and more enlightened views for their child, and understood better his character and capabilities.

Who was Mezzofanti ?
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