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Home > Mezzofanti > Biography > 1843-1849 > English

Mezzofanti's handwriting in English : Click to enlarge picture
Mezzofanti's handwriting in English
We have already passingly alluded to the account of Mezzofanti given by the Rev. Ingraham Kip, a clergyman of the Episcopalian Church in America : but the details into which this gentleman enters, regarding his Eminence's knowledge of the English language and literature, are so important, that it would be unpardonable to pass them by.

He is a small lively looking man," says Mr. Kip, "apparently over seventy. He speaks English with a slight foreign accent—yet remarkably correct. Indeed, I never before met with a foreigner who could talk for ten minutes without using some word with a shade of meaning not exactly right; yet, in the long conversation 1 had with the Cardinal, I detected nothing like this. He did not use a single expression or word in any way which was not strictly and idiomatically correct. He converses, too, without the slightest hesitation, never being at the least loss for the proper phrase.

In talking about him some time before to an ecclesiastic, 1 quoted Lady Blessington's remark, ' that she did not believe he had made much progress in the literature of these forty-two languages; but was rather like a man who spent his time in manufacturing keys to palaces which he had not time to enter;' and I inquired whether this was true.  Try him,' said he, laughing; and, having now the opportunity, I endeavoured to do so. I led him, therefore, to talk of Lord Byron and his works, and then of English literature generally. He gave me, in the course of his conversation, quite a discussion on the subject which was the golden period of the English language; and of course fixed on the days of Addison. He drew a comparison between the characteristics of the French, Italian, and Spanish languages; spoke of Lockhart's translation from the Spanish, and incidentally referred to various other English writers. He then went on to speak of American literature, and paid high compliments to the pure style of some of our best writers. He expressed an opinion that, with many, it had been evidently formed by a careful study of the old authors—those ' wells of English undefined '—and, that within the last fifty years we had imported fewer foreign words than had been done in England. He spoke very warmly of the works of Mr. Fennimore Cooper, whose name, by the way, is better known on the continent than that of any other American author.

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