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Home > Mezzofanti > Biography > 1831 to 1833 > Return to Rome

The fatigues of the homeward journey brought on a renewal of the fever; and for some weeks after his return to Rome, (from which he had been absent about two months,) he suffered considerably from its effects. Happily, however, it left no permanent trace in his constitution, and the autumn of 1832 found him engaged once more with all his usual energy in his favourite pursuit. The intention of the Pope in inviting him to Rome, had been to place him at the head of the Vatican Library, as successor of the celebrated Monsignor Angelo Mai, then First Keeper of that collection, who was about to be transferred to the Secretaryship of the Propaganda. The arrange- ments connected with this change of offices, however, were not yet completed, and Mezzofanti availed himself industriously of this interval of comparative leisure which the delay placed at his disposal. His position at Rome brought him into contact with several languages of which he had never before met any living representative ; and many of those which he had hitherto had but rare and casual opportunities of speaking or hearing spoken were now placed within his reach as languages of daily and habitual use. In the Maronite convent of Sant' Antonio he had ancient and modern Syriac, with its various modifications, at his command. For Armenian, Persian, and Turkish, the two learned Meehitarist communities of San Giuseppe and Sant' Antonio supplied abundant and willing masters. One of these, the eminent linguist Padre Aucher, whose English-Armenian Grammar Lord Byron more than once commemorates as their joint production, was himself master of no less than twelve languages. To the Ruthenian priests of S. Maria in Navicella, he could refer for more than one of the Sclavonic languages. The Greek college of St. Athanasius, owing to the late troubles in Greece, was then untenanted, but there were several Greek students in the Propaganda, awaiting its re-opening, which took place in 1837. The celebrated Persian scholar, Sebastiani, had just recently returned to Rome. Signor Drach, a learned Hebrew convert, was Librarian of the Propaganda ; and a venerable Egyptian priest, Don Georgio Alabada, supplied an opportunity of practice in the ancient Coptic, as well as in the Arabic dialect of modern Egypt.

In the German College were to be found not only all the principal tongues of the Austrian Empire, German, Magyar, Czechish and Polish, but many of its more obscure languagesóRomanic, Wallachian, Servian, and many minor varieties of German, Rhetian, (the dialect of the GraubŁnden, or Grisons) Dutch, Flemish, and Frisian. In reference to some of these languages, I have been unable to avail myself of the recollections of more than one student of this noble institution, as witness of Mezzofanti's extraordinary proficiency.

He was on terms of the closest intimacy with the Abbe Lacroix, of the French church of St. Lewis, since known as the editor of the Systerna Theologicum, of Leibnitz. The Rector of the English College, Dr. (now Cardinal) Wiseman, even then a distinguished orientalist, and professor of oriental languages in the Roman university, and the Rector of the Irish College, the present Archbishop of Dublin, were his especial friends. In both these establishments, he was a welcome and not unfrequent visitant.

The several embassies, also, afforded another, though of course less familiar school. He often met M. Bunsen, the Minister Resident of Prussia ; he was frequently the guest of the Marquis de Lavradio, the Portuguese ambassador, and Don Manuel de Barras, whose letter attesting the purity and perfection of Mezzofanti's Castilian, is now before me, was an attache of the Spanish Embassy.

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