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Home > Mezzofanti > Biography > 1834 > Canon Aerts

This poverty of his Flemish vocabulary, however, disappeared with practice. Another learned Belgian ecclesiastic, Monsignor Aerts, who subsequently to the sojourn of M. Malou in Rome, resided there for many years, as Rector of the Belgian College, reports as follows of Mezzofanti's Flemish, such as he found it in 1837 and the following year.

I was intimately acquainted with Cardinal Mezzofanti, during my sojourn in Rome; that is to say, from 1837 to the moment of his death. I saw him frequently. After the establishment in Rome of the Belgian Ecclesiastical College, of which I was the first President, and he the Patron, I had still more frequent relations with his eminence. I spoke to him several times in each month. Part of our conversation always took place in Flemish. I can assure you that he never had to look for a word, and that he spoke our language most freely, and with a purity of expression and pronunciation not always to be met with among our own countrymen. One day that I was admitted along with the Car¬dinal, to an audience of the Pope Gregory XVI, during his hour of recreation, His Holiness expressed a desire to hear him speaking Flemish with me. We then began a little discussion about the relative difficulty of German and Flemish. His Eminence thought Flemish the harder of the two. The Pope called him 'a living Pentecost.' He also wrote Flemish poetry: and one day he gave me several verses of his own composition, to send in token of remembrance to a young gentleman from Bruges whom he had confirmed at Rome. Mezzofanti not only knew the language itself thoroughly, but he was moreover acquainted with its history and with the principal Flemish and Dutch authors. I heard him speak of the works of Vondel, Cats, David, &c. He spoke and pronounced Dutch equally well. He said, however, that, the modern Hollanders had changed the language by approximating to the German. He knew, also, some of the local dialects of Flemish, especially that of Brussels. He could even distinguish the inhabitants of Brussels by their accent, of which I have more than once been witness. When he saw a Fleming, he al-ways saluted him in his own tongue ; as he indeed did with all foreigners.

In i 838, Cardinal Sterckx, Archbishop of Malines, paid a visit to Rome, and I had the honour of being present during several conversations which he held in Flemish with Cardinal Mezzofanti. The latter once took a fancy to have a little Flemish conversation with his colleague, in a consistory which the Pope held at this time: and he himself playfully remarked that probably that was the first time, since the origin of the Church, that two cardinals had talked Flemish in a papal consistory. Cardinal Sterckx told me this anecdote the same day.

The complete success with which he overcame the deficiency that M. Malou had observed in 1831, and the curious mastery of the various dialects which his singularly exquisite perception of the minutest peculiarities of language enabled him to acquire, are attest¬ed by another witness of the same period, Father Van Calven of the same city.

On the 6th February,1841," he writes, "the Cardinal, who was no less kind and affable than learned, administered the first communion to my cousin, Leo van Oockerout, who was then with his friends in Rome. Being a Belgian, a friend, and a relative, I was invited to be present at the ceremony, which took place in the Church of S. Peter, over the tomb of SS. Peter and Paul. Cardinal Mezzofanti celebrated the Holy Sacrifice ; and after the Gospel, or perhaps immediately before the child's communion, he made a little discourse in French, in reference to the beautiful occasion which had drawn us together. This little discourse, which was very simple, was in excellent, French. After the ceremony was over, he called us all into the sacristy, and there we had a conversation in Flemish. His eminence distinguished the different dialects of our Belgian provinces perfectly. Thus I remember distinctly that he said to us: 'I learned Flemish from a native of Brabant, and this is the way I pronounce the word; but, you from Flanders, pronounce it thus.'—I forget what was the word about which there was question ; but at any rate, the Cardinal was quite correct in his observation.

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