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Home > Mezzofanti > Biography > 1834 > Welsh

Welsh language
Sample of Mezzofanti's handwriting in Welsh
IT may perhaps be convenient to interrupt the narrative at this point, for the purpose of bringing together a number of miscellaneous reports regarding certain languages of minor note ascribed to Mezzofanti, which, through the kindness of many friends, have come into my hands. I shall select those languages especially, respecting his acquaintance with which some controversy has arisen. As my principal object in collecting these reports has simply been to obtain a body of trustworthy materials, whereupon to found an estimate of the real extent of the great linguist's attainments, I shall not consider it necessary here to follow any exact philological arrangement ; but shall present the notices of the several languages, as nearly as possible in the order of the years to which they belong, reserving for a later time the general summary of the results.

I shall commence with a language to which some allusions have been made already the Welsh.

Mr. Watts, in his admirable paper so often cited, has recorded it, as the opinion of Mr. Thomas Ellis of the British Museum—" a Welsh gentleman, who saw Mezzofanti more than once in his later years—that he was unable to keep up, or even understand, a conversation in the language of the Cymry."* It is difficult to reconcile this statement with the positive assertion of Mr. Harford, which we have seen in a former page;—that, even as early as 1817, he himself " heard Mezzofanti speak Welsh." It might perhaps be suggested, as a solution of the difficulty, that in the long interval between Mr. Harford's visit, and that of Mr. Ellis, Mezzofanti's memory, tenacious as it was, had failed in this one particular -, but, about the period to which we have now arrived, there are • other witnesses who are quite as explicit as Mr. Harford.

Early in the year 1834, Dr. Forster, an English gentleman who has resided much abroad, and who (although, from the circumstance of his books being privately printed, little known to the English public) is the author of several curious and interesting works, visited Mezzofanti in the Vatican Library.

"To-day," (May 14,1834) he writes in a work entitled Annales d'un Physicien Voyageur, " I visited Signor Mezzofanti, celebrated for his knowledge of more than forty ancient and modern languages. He is secretary of the Vatican—a small man with an air of great intelligence, and with the organs of language highly developed in his face. We talked a great deal about philology, and he told me many interesting anecdotes of his manner of learning different languages. As I was myself acquainted with ten languages, 1 wished to test the ability of this eminent linguist; and therefore proposed that we should leave Italian for the moment, and amuse ourselves by speaking different other languages. Having spoken in French, English, Spanish, Portuguese, German, and Dutch, I said at last:—
' My friend, I have almost run out my stock of modern languages, except some which you probably do not know.'
' Well,' said he, ' the dead languages, Lalin and Greek, are matters which every one learns, and which every educated man is familiar with. We shall not mind them. But pray tell me what others you speak.' ' I speak a little Welsh,' 1 replied.
' Good,' said he, ' I also know Welsh.' And he began to talk to me at once, like a Welsh peasant. He knew also the other varieties of Celtic, Gaelic, Irish, and Bas-Breton."

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