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Home > Mezzofanti > Biography > 1774 to 1798 > Ecclesiastical studies

Joseph Mezzofanti early manifested a desire to embrace the ecclesiastical profession ; and although this wish seems to have caused some dissatisfaction to his father, who had intended him for some secular pursuit Note 1, yet the deeply religious disposition of the child and his singular innocence of life, in the end overcame his father's reluctance. Having completed his elementary studies unusually early, he was enabled to become a scholar of the archiepiscopal seminary of Bologna, while still a mere boy, probably in the year 1786 Note 2. He continued, however, to reside in his father's house, -while he attended the schools of the seminary.

Of his collegiate career little is recorded, except an incident which occurred at the taking of his degree in philosophy. His master in this study was Joseph Voglio, a professor of considerable reputation, and author of several works on the philosophical controversies of the period Note 3.

It is usual in the Italian universities for the candidate for a philosophical degree, to defend publicly a series of propositions selected from the whole body of philosophy. Mezzofanti, at the time that he maintained his theses, was still little more than a child ; and it would seem that, his self-possession having given way under the public ordeal, he had a narrow escape from the mortification of a complete failure. One of the witnesses of his " Disputation," Dr. Santagata, in the Discourse already referred to, delivered at the Institute of Bologna, gives an interesting account of the occurrence. "For a time," says Dr. Santagata, "the boy's success was most marked. Each new objection, among the many subtle ones that were proposed, only afforded him a fresh opportunity of exhibiting the acuteness of his intellect, and the ease, fluency, and elegance of his Latinity ; and the admiring murmurs of assent, and other unequivocal tokens of applause which it elicited from the audience, of which 1 myself was one, seemed to promise a triumphant conclusion of the exercise. But all at once the young candidate was observed to grow pale, to become suddenly silent, and at length to fall back upon his seat and almost faint away. The auditors were deeply grieved at this untoward interruption of a performance hitherto so successful ; but they were soon relieved to see him, as if by one powerful effort, shake off his emotion, recover his self-possession, and resume his answering with even greater acuteness and solidity than before. He was greeted with the loud and repeated plaudits of the crowded assembly." Note 4

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Note 1
Manavit, "Esquisse Historique," p. 12.

Note 2
Manavit assigns a much later date, 1791. But the short memoir by Signor Stoltz, [Biografia del Cardinal Mezzofanti; Scritta dall' Avvocato G. Stoltz, Roma 1851,] founded upon information supplied by the Cardinal's family, which states that he had completed his philosophy when he was but fifteen, (p. 6,) is much more reconcilable with facts otherwise ascertained. His philosophical course occupied three years. (See De Josepho Mezzofantio, Sermones Duo auc-lore Ant. Santagata, published in the acts of the Institute of Bologna, vol. V. p. 169, et seq.) His theological course (probably of four,) was completed in 1796, or at farthest early in 1797. This would clearly have been impossible in the interval assigned by Manavit.

Note 3
One of these, Reflessioni sul Manuale dei Teofilantropi, is directed against the singular half-religious, half-social confederation, entitled " Theophilanthropists," founded in 1795, by La Reveillere-Lepeaux, one of the directors of the French Republic. These treatises are noticed in the Memorie di Religione, 1822, 1823, and 1824. Joseph Voglio is not to be confounded with the physiologist of the same name, (John Hyacinth,) who was also professor in Bologna, but in the previous generation.

Note 4
 " De Josepho Mezzofantio Sermones Duo," p. 172. Manavit, p. 13.

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