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Home > Mezzofanti > Biography > 1841 to 1843 > Physical aspect

I saw Cardinal Mezzofanti for the first time, in July, 1841. He was then in his sixty-seventh year : but, although his look and colour betrayed the delicacy of his constitution, his carriage, as yet, exhibited little indication of the feebleness of approaching age. He was below the middle stature, and altogether of a diminutive, though light, and in youth most active frame. His shoulders, it is true, were slightly rounded, and his chest had an appearance of contraction ; but his movements were yet free, tolerably vigorous, and, although perhaps too hurried for dignity, not ungraceful. His hair was plentifully dashed with gray ; but, except on the crown, where the baldness was but partially concealed by the red zucchetto, (skull cap,) it was still thick and almost luxuriant. More than one portrait of him has been published, and several of those who saw him at different times have recorded their impressions of his appearance : but I cannot say that any of these portraitures, whether of pencil or of pen, conveys a full idea of the man. His countenance was one of those which Madame Dudevant strangely, but yet significantly, describes as " not a face, but a physiognomy." Its character lay far less in the features than in the expression. The former, taken separately, were unattractive, and even insignificant. The proportions of the face were far from regular. The complexion was dead and colourless, and these defects were made still more remarkable by a small mole upon one cheek. There was an occasional nervous winking of the eyelids, too, which produced an air of weakness, and at times even of constraint; but there was, nevertheless, a pervading expression of gentleness, simplicity, and open-hearted candour, which carried off all these individual defects, and which no portrait could adequately embody. Mr. Monckton Milnes told me that the best likeness of the Cardinal he ever saw, . was the kneeling figure in Eaffaelle's noble picture, the Madonna di Foligno : and undoubtedly, without any close affinity of lineament, it has a strong general similitude of air and expression :—the same " open brow of undisturbed humanity," on which no passion had written a single line, and which care had touched only to soften and spiritualize ; the same quiet smile, playful, yet subdued, humility blended with self-respect, modesty unmarred by shyness or timidity ;— above all the same

Eyes beaming courtesy and mild regard

radiant with a sweetness which I have seldom seen equalled ; singularly soft and winning, and possessing that undefined power which is the true beauty of an honest eye—a full and earnest, but not scrutinizing look—deep, but tranquil, and placing you entirely at ease with yourself by assuring you of its own perfect calmness and self-possession. But the great charm of Cardinal Mezzofanti's countenance was the look of purity and innocence which it always wore. I have seldom seen a face which retained in old age so much of the simple expression of youth, I had almost said of childhood; although, with all this gaiety and light-heartedness, there was a gentle gravity in his bearingwhich kept it in perfect harmony with his years and character. He had acquired, or he possessed from nature, the rare and difficult characteristic of cheerful old age, to which Rochefoucault alludes when he says :—Peu de gens savent etre vieux. And thus he was equally at home among his venerable peers of the Consistory, and in the youngest and most light-hearted camerata of the Propaganda. No old man ever illustrated more clearly that

The heart—the heart, is the heritage Which keepeth the old man young !

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