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Home > Mezzofanti > Biography > 1831 to 1833 > Propaganda

The Propaganda, however, itself a perfect microcosm of language, was his principal, as well as his favourite school. For his simple and lively disposition, the society of the young had always possessed a special charm ; and to his very latest hour of health, he continued to find his favourite relaxation among the youths of this most interesting institution. In summer, he commonly spent an hour, in winter an hour and a half, in the Propaganda, partly in the library, partly among the students, among whom he held the place alternately of master and of pupil;—and, what is still more curious, he occasionally appeared in both capacities, first learning a language from the lips of a student, and then in his turn instructing his teacher in the grammatical forms and constitution of the very language he had taught him !

Independently, indeed, of study altogether, the Propaganda was for years his favourite place of resort, and there was no place where his playful and ingenuŽous character was more pleasingly displayed. Pie mixed among the pupils as one of themselves, with all the ease of an equal, and without a shade of that laborious condescension which often makes the affability of superiors an actual penance to those whom they desire to render happy. While the cheerfulness of his conversation was often tempered by grave advice or tender exhortation, it was commonly lively and even playful, and frequently ran into an amusing exhibition which those who witnessed never could forget. In the free and familiar intercourse which ho encouraged and maintained, there sometimes arose sportive trials of skill, in which the great amusement of his young friends consisted in endeavouring to puzzle him by a confusion of languages, and to provoke him into answering in a language different from that in which he was addressed. The idea of these trials (which reminded one of the old-fashioned game of " cross-question," ) appears to have originated in a good-humoured surprise, which the Pope Gregory XVI. played off on Mezzofanti soon after his arrival in Home. The linguist, however, was equal to the emergency. Like the good knight, Sir Tristram, he proved

" Most master of himself, and least encumbered, When over-matched, entangled, and outnumbered."

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