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     · 1774 to 1798
     · 1798 to 1802
     · 1803 to 1806
     · 1807 to 1814
     · 1814 to 1817
     · 1817 to 1820
     · 1820 to 1823
     · 1823 to 1830
     · 1831
     · 1831 to 1833
     · 1834
     · 1834 to 1836
     · 1836 to 1838
     · 1838 to 1841
     · 1841 to 1843
     · 1843-1849
     · Recapitulation
      · Introduction
      · Definition
      · Stages
      · Table
      · Languages
      · Analysis
      · Reader's
      · recollection
      · System to study
      · Natural gift
      * Mental process
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Home > Mezzofanti > Biography > Recapitulation > Mental process

With such a memory as this to guide its action, and to supply the material for its operation, the extraordinary and almost intuitive power of analysis-something in its own order like what Wollaston called in William Phillips, the " mathematical sense "—-which Mezzofanti possessed, and which enabled him at once to seize upon the whole system of a language—• form, structure, idiom, genius, spirit—led by a process which it is easy to understand, to the wonderful results which this great linguist accomplished. Memory supplied the material with unfailing abundance and regularity. The analytic faculties were the tools which the mind employed in operating upon the material thus supplied for- the use.

Such appears to have been the mental process. But for the practical power of speaking the languages thus mastered in theory, Mezzofanti was also indebted to his singularly quick and delicate organization of ear and tongue. It might seem that the former of these, organs could only enter as a very subordinate element, and in a purely mechanical way, into the faculty of speech. Indeed the French journals of the past month, (February, 1858,) contain an account of a deaf and dumb man, M. Moser, who (of  course entirely unaided by ear,) has mastered, besides Greek and Latin, no fewer than fourteen modern languages. But, strange as this may seem, it is certain that in Mezzofanti's case the ear, in addition to its direct and natural use in comprehending and catching up the sounds of languages, and appreciating all their delicate varieties and shades, (in which it is admitted to have been ready and infallible beyond all precedent,) had a nobler, and as it were, more intellectual function; that its office was a thing of mind as well as of organization ; that he possessed, as it were, an inner and higher sense, distinct from the material organ; and that the impressions which this sense conveyed, helped him to the structure and the philosophical character of language, as well as to its rhythm, its vocal sounds, and its peculiar intonations. It is difficult to explain the exact mental operation, by which this curious result was attained j but the Cardinal himself repeatedly declared his consciousness of such an operation, and ascribed to it, in a great degree, the rapidity and the ease with which he overcame what to others form the main difficulty in the study of a language, and with which, having once made the first step in each language, he mastered, as if by intuition, all the mysteries of its structural system.

Another element of his wonderful talent was his genuine enthusiasm and the unpretending simplicity of his character. " Pretension," says Emerson, " may sit still, but cannot act." There was no pretension about Mezzofanti; nor had he anything of that morbid intellectual sensitiveness which shrinks from the first blunders to which a novice in a foreign language is exposed, and which restrains many from the attempt to speak, by the very apprehension of failure. Children, as is well known, learn to speak a language more rapidly than their elders. I cannot doubt that Mezzofanti's child-like simplicity and innocence, were among the causes of his wonderful success as a speaker of many tongues.

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