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Home > Mezzofanti > Biography > 1841 to 1843 > English church

In all this, however, I have been anticipating. My own conversations with him, during my first visit to Rome, had but little reference to languages or to any kindred subject. He questioned me chiefly about our college, about the general condition of the Church in Ireland, and the relations of religious parties in Ireland and England. My sojourn in Rome occurred at a time of great religious excitement in the latter country. The Tractarian Movement had reached its highest point of interest. The secessions from the ranks of Anglicanism had already become so numerous as to attract the attention of foreign churches. The strong assertion of catholic principles brought out by the Hampden Controversy; the steady advance in tone which the successive issues of the Tracts for the Times, and still more of the " British Critic," had exhibited ; above all, the almost complete identification in doctrine with the decrees of the Council of Trent, avowed in the celebrated Tract 90 ; had created everywhere a confident hope that many and extensive changes were imminent in England : and there were not a few among the best informed foreign Catholics, who were enthusiastic in their anticipation of the approaching reconciliation of that country with the Church. It was almost exclusively on this topic that Cardinal Mezzofanti spoke during my several interviews with him, in 1841. He was already well informed as to the general progress of the movement; but he enquired anxiously about individuals, and especially about the authors of the Tracts for the Times. I was much struck by the extent and the accuracy of his information on the subject, as well as by the justice of his views. He was well acquainted with the relations of the High and Low Church parties and with their history.

"Rest assured," he one day said to me, " that it is to individual conversions you are to look in England. There will be no general approximation of the Churches. This is not the first time these principles have been popular for a while in the English Church. It was the same at the time of Laud, and again in the time of the Catholic King, James II. But no general movement followed. Many individuals became Catholics ; but the mass of the public still remained Protestant, and were even more violent afterwards."

More than once during the many outbursts of fanaticism, which we have since that time witnessed in England, I have called to mind this wise and far-seeing prediction.

But, although the Cardinal did not partake in the anticipation, which some indulged, of a general movement of the English Church towards Rome, his interest in the conversion of individuals was most anxious and animated. It was his favourite subject of conversation with English visitors at this period. Mr. Grattan has kindly permitted me to copy from his journal an account of one of his interviews with the Cardinal, (a few months after this date) which describes a half serious, half jocular, attempt on the part of his Eminence to convert him from Protestantism. Mrs. Grattan, who is a Catholic, was present during the interview.

Having referred, in the course of a very interesting discussion on English literature, which the reader has already seen, to Sir Thomas More, as the earliest model of English prose, the Cardinal observed that More was a truly great and good man.

He made an enemy of his King,' said he, 'but he made a friend in his God.' He then inquired of Mrs. Grattan, how it happened that I had not changed my religion, and become a Catholic—' Now-a-days,' said he, ' there is no penalty and no shame attached to the step ; on the contrary, a great party in England esteem you the more for it, and many learned men of your own day have set you the example. You have, besides, the venerable Bede; you have St.Patrick, too—both the greatest of your countrymen in their age; you have King Alfred, and the Edwards, all inviting you to the Church.' He then approached me in the most affectionate manner, took my hand and pressed it, with a mixture of tenderness, drollery, and good nature. ' Now you must change,' he continued. 'You will not be able to escape it; your religion is but three hundred years old: the Catholic dates from the beginning of Christianity. It is the religion of Christ; its head on earth is the Pope—not, as yours once was, an old woman, but the Pope !' Here he became quite animated, took Mrs. Grattan's hand, and drew her over, holding each of us by the hand; his manner became most fervent, his old eye glistened, he looked up to Heaven, and exclaimed,—' There is the place to make a friend !* Then turning to me, he said, ' Ireland is the garden of religion, and you must one day become a flower in it.

Mr. Grattan was deeply affected by this remarkable interview ; and I may add that I have known few Protestant visitors of the Cardinal, who did not carry away the most favourable impressions regarding him. With all the earnestness and fervour of his own religious convictions, he was singularly tolerant and forbearing towards the followers of another creed. "His gentleness and modesty," writes Chevalier (now Baron) Bunsen," have often struck me. Once, some misrepresentations of Lady Morgan in her book on Italy, being mentioned in his presence with strong vituperation, he gently interposed. " Poor Lady Morgan !" said he ; " it is not yet given to her to see truth."

But although in my conversations with the Cardinal in 1841, his Eminence confined himself entirely to English, yet on one occasion, at the.close of a meeting of the Accademia della Cattolica Religione, I heard him converse, with every appearance of fluency and ease, in six different languages with the varions members of a group who collected around him ; in Romaic with Monsignor Missir, a Greek Archbishop ; in German with Guido Gorres ; in Magyar with a Hungarian artist who accompanied him ; in French with the Abbe La Croix, of the French church of St. Lewis ; in Spanish with a young Spanish Dominican; and in English with myself and my companions.. It was only however, during a second and more prolonged visit to Rome in the first six months of 1843, that I was witness, in its full reality, of the marvellous gift of which I had read and heard so much.

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