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Home > Mezzofanti > Biography > 1831 to 1833 > Rome

IT is one of Rochefoucauld's maxims, that " in order to establish a great reputation, if is not enough for one to possess great qualities, he must also economize them." If Mezzofanti had desired to act upon this prudent principle, he could not possibly have chosen a worse position than Rome.

From the very moment of his arrival there, his gift of language was daily, and almost hourly, exposed to an ordeal at once more varied and more severe than it would have encountered in any other city in the world. Without taking into account the many eminent linguists, native and foreign, for whom Rome has ever been celebrated ; without reckoning the varying periodical influx of sight-seers, from every country in Europe, who are attracted to that city by the unrivalled splendour of her sacred ceremonial, and the more constant, though less noisy, stream of pilgrims from the remotest lands, who are drawn by duty, by devotion, or by ecclesiastical affairs, to the great center of Catholic unity ;—the permanent population of the Eternal City will be found to comprise a variety of races and tongues, such as would be sought in vain in any other region of the earth. From a very early period, the pious liberality, sometimes of the popes, sometimes of the natives of the various countries themselves, began to found colleges for the education, under the very shadow of the chair of Peter, of at least a select few among the clergy of each people; and, notwithstanding the confiscations of later times, there are few among the more prominent nationalities which do not even still possess in Rome, either a special national establishment, or, at least, a special foundation for national purposes in some of the many general establishments of the city. In like manner, most of the great religious orders, both of the East and of the West, possess separate houses for each of the countries in which they are established ; and few, even of the most superficial visitors of Rome, can have failed to observe, among the animated groups which throng the Pincian Hill or the Strada Pia, at the approach of the .Ave Maria, the striking variety of picturesque costumes by which these national orders are distinguished. Each, again, of the several rites in communion with the Holy See—the Greek, the Syrian, the Coptic, the Armenian—has, for the most part, an archbishop or bishop resident at Rome, to afford information or counsel on affairs connected with its national usages, and to take a part in all the solemn ceremonials, as a living witness of the universality of the Church.

But before all, and more than all, is the great Urban College—the college of the Propaganda— which unites in itself all the nationalities already described, together with many others of which no type is found elsewhere in Europe. Every variety of language and dialect throughout the wide range of western Christendom ;—every eastern form of speech many of the half explored languages of the northern and southern continents of America ; and more than one of the rude jargons of north and northeastern Africa, may be found habitually domiciled within its walls. la the year 1837, when Dr. Wap, a Dutch traveler, who has written well and learnedly on Rome, visited the establishment, the hundred and fourteen students who appeared upon its register, comprised no less than forty-one distinct nationalities.

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