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     · 1831
     · 1831 to 1833
     · 1834
     · 1834 to 1836
     · 1836 to 1838
     · 1838 to 1841
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      * Basque
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     · 1841 to 1843
     · 1843-1849
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Home > Mezzofanti > Biography > 1838 to 1841 > Basque

Mezzofanti's handwriting in Basque : Click to enlarge picture
Mezzofanti's handwriting in Basque
One of my companions in Rome in 1841, the lamented Guido Gorres, of Munich, son of the venerable author of that name, and himself one of the most accomplished writers of Catholic Germany, having chanced to say to the Cardinal that he was then engaged in the study of Basque, the latter proposed that they should pursue it in company. Their readings had only just commenced when I last saw Herr Gorres ; but M. d'Abbadie's testimony at a later date places the Cardinal's success in this study likewise entirely beyond question. He had not only learned before the year 1844, tlie general body of the language, but even mastered its various dialects so as to be able to converse both in the Labourdain and the Souletin ; which, it should be observed, are not simply dialects of Basque, but minor sub-divisions of one out of the four leading dialects which prevail in the different districts of Biscay and Navarre.

My friend M.Dassance," says M. d'Abbadie, "who has published several works, and who, after declining a bishopric, is still a canon in the Bayonne Cathedral, told metheotherday, that, on visiting the Cardinal in 1844, he was surprised to hear him speak French with that peculiar Parisian accent which pertains to the ancient nobility of the Faubourg St. Germain. This is a nice distinction of which several Frenchmen are not aware. On hearing that Dassance was a Basque, the Cardinal immediately said: Mingo zilugu ? (verbatim—' Of whence have we you' ?) thus shewing that he had mastered the tremendous difficulty of our vernacular verb. The ensuing conversation took place in the pure Labourdain dialect, which is spoken here (at Urrugne,) but one of the professors of the Bayonne Seminary, Father Chilo, from Soule, avers that the Cardinal spoke to him in the Souletin dialect.

I afterwards shewed to M. d'Abbadie a short sentence in Basque which the Cardinal wrote with his own hand, and which is printed among the fac similes prefixed to this volume.

Tauna! zu servitzea da erreguinatea ;
Zu maitatzea da zoriona,
'' Lord ! to serve Thee is to reign ;
To love Thee, is happiness."

M. d'Abbadie, as also his Highness Prince Lewis L. Bonaparte, to whom M. d'Abbadie submitted it, had some doubt as to the propriety of the form, 'zu servitzea,' lzu maitatzea' ; both of them preferring to write zure. But, as the dialect in which the sentence is written is that of Guipuscoa, both his Highness and M. d'Abbadie have kindly taken the trouble to refer the question to native Guipuscoan scholars ; and I have had the gratification to learn by a letter of M. d'Abbadie, (January 18th, .1858,) that " the construe tion 'zu servitzea,' is perfectly correct in Guipuscoan."

M. d'Abbadie subjoins, that, in addition to the authority of his friend, M. Dassance, for the Cardinal's knowledge of Basque, he has since been assured by a Spanish lady, a native of San Sebastian, the capital of Guipuscoa, that the Cardinal had also conversed with her in her native Guipuscoan dialect. Moreover, when M. Manavit saw him in Rome in 1846, he translated freely in his presence a newly published Basque catechism, which M. Manavit presented to him on the part of the Bishop of Astros : and several distinguished Biscayan ecclesiastics assured M. Manavit that the Cardinal spoke both the dialects of Basque with equal fluency.* In a word, it appears impossible to doubt the complete success of this, one of his latest essays in the acquisition of a new language.

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