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Home > Mezzofanti > Biography > 1774 to 1798 > Anecdote

At all events, the first occasion of his exhibiting this singular faculty of which I have been able to discover any authentic record, is the following:

A Bolognese musician, named Uttini, had settled at Stockholm, where he married a Swedish lady. Uttini, it would seem, died early ; but his brother, Caspar Uttini, a physician of Bologna, undertook the education of his son, who was sent to Bologna for the purpose. The boy, at his arrival, was not only entirely ignorant of Italian, but could not speak a word of any language except his native Swedish. In this emergency Mezzofanti, who. although still a student, had already acquired the reputation of a linguist, was sent for, to act as interpreter between the boy and his newly found relatives: but it turned out that the language of the boy was, as yet, no less a mystery to Mezzofanti than it had already proved to themselves. This discovery, so embarrassing to the family, served but to stimulate the zeal of Mezzofanti. Having made a few ineffectual attempts to establish an understanding, he asked to see the books which the boy had brought with him from his native country. A short examination of these books was sufficient for his rapid mind ; he speedily discovered the German affinities of the Swedish language, and mastered almost at a glance the leading peculiarities of form, structure, and inflexion, by which it is distinguished from the other members of the Teutonic family ; a few short trials with the boy enabled him to acquire the more prominent principles of pronunciation ; and in the space of a few days, he was able, not only to act as the boy's interpreter with his family, but to converse with the most perfect freedom and fluency in the language ! Note 1

Mezzofanti received the clerical tonsure in the year 1795. In 1796 he was admitted to the minor orders; and, on the 24th of September in the same year, to the order of sub-deacon. On the first of April, 1797, he was promoted to deaconship ; and a few months later he was advanced, on September 24th, 1797, to the holy order of priesthood. At this

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Note 1
Santagata " De Josepho Mezzofantio," p. 185. " Applausi dei Filopieri," p. 12-3. Mezzofanti was more fortunate in this experiment than the Frenchman mentioned in Moore's " Diary," (vol. VI., p. 190,) who, after he had taken infinite pains to learn a language which he believed to be Swedish, discovered, at the end of his studies, that the language which he had acquired with so much labour was Bas-Breton.

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