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Home > Mezzofanti > Biography > 1834 > Flemish

Mezzofanti's handwritting in Flemish : Click to enlarge picture
Mezzofanti's handwritting in Flemish
It will be recollected that Flemish was one of the minor languages which he acquired during his residence at Bologna. From the time of his settling at Home, his opportunities of practice in this and the kindred dialect of Holland, were almost of daily occurrence. One of the earliest appears to have been afforded by his intercourse with a young student of the Germanic College, the Abbé Malou, since one of the most distinguished of the Catholic literati of Belgium,  for several years Professor of Scripture in the University of  Louvain, and now Bishop of Bruges. Monseigneur Malou has been good enough to note down for me his recollections of his intercourse with Mezzofanti, in so far as they relate to his native language.

During my stay in Rome (1831-35),I conversed several times in Flemish with Cardinal Mezzofanti, and I was thus enabled to ascertain that he understood our language thoroughly. He spoke to me of the works of Cats and Vondel, two distinguished Flemish poets, which he had read. Nevertheless, I fancied that I perceived his vocabulary to be rather limited. He often repeated the same words and phrases. He spoke with a Brabant accent, for he had learned Flemish from some young men of Brussels, who studied at the University of Bologna, in which his Eminence was at that time Librarian. Monsignor Mezzofanti, after I had spoken, remarked of himself, that I, being a Fleming, did not speak as they do in Brabant; and hence he had a difficulty in catching some of my expressions, which he requested me to repeat. It is, therefore, not quite correct to say, that he knew our different dialects; but, if he had had occasion to learn them, he could, without doubt, have done so with great ease.
Some days before my departure from Rome, in May, 1835, I met this learned dignitary in the sacristy of S. Peter's. He at once accosted me in Flemish; and, when I had replied, he upbraided me with having forgotten my mother tongue, for I mixed up with it, he said, some German words. The reproach was well founded: for I had passed about three years in the German College, where I had learned a little German, and had had meanwhile no occasion to speak Flemish. Such a reproof from an Italian, who thus gave lessons in Flemish to a Fleming, struck me as exceeding droll, and amused me not a little. This anecdote shows what minute attention the learned Cardinal paid to the boundary lines of kindred tongues.

I have heard Mezzofanti, in the course of one evening, speaking Italian, English, German, Flemish, Russian, French, and the Sicilian and Neapolitan dialects of Italian."

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