· Biography
     · 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
      · Literary
      · circles
      * Regrets
      · Criticisims
      · Writers
      · Conclusion
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Home > Mezzofanti > Biography > Recapitulation > Regrets

It would be a very mistaken zeal for the honour of Cardinal Mezzofanti to deny the literal truth of several of these criticisms. Most of the branches of knowledge in which he is here represented as deficient, are in themselves the study of an ordinary life. To have added them all to what he really did possess, would have been a marvel far exceeding the greatest ivonder that has ever been ascribed to him ; nor was anyone more ready than the modest Cardinal himself, not merely to admit many particulars in which his learning was defective, but even to disparage the learning which he actually possessed. He confessed over and over again, that he was no philologer—that he was nothing but" an ill bound dictionary." He expressed his regret to Guido Gorres, that he had begun his studies at a time when this science was not cultivated. He lamented the weakness of his chest and other constitutional infirmities, which prevented him from writing. He deplored to Cardinal Wiseman, that, when he should be gone, he would have left behind him no trace of what he knew. But, notwithstanding his own modest estimate of himself, I think enough will be found in the testimonies of many unsuspected witnesses embodied in this Memoir, to shew that the depreciating strictures, to which I have here alluded, are grievously exaggerated. Cardinal Mezzofanti , certainly was not a scientific philologer; but the Abbe Gaume's memorandum proves that, while he had little taste for the mere speculative part of the subject—for those

Cloud-built towers by ghostly masons wrought, On shadowy thoroughfares of thought—

he was fully sensible of the true use of the science, and had not neglected the study, especially in its most important aspect—its bearing upon religious history. He was not a professed archaeologist. He may have failed in the interpretation of the particular Greek inscription, to which Baron Bunsen refers j nor did he pursue Greek criticism as a special study. But his friends Cavedoni and Laureani, themselves accomplished archaeologists, entertained the highest respect for his judgment in that study. The Abate Matranga bore ample witness to the depth and accuracy of his Greek scholarship j and I myself, in the few observations which I heard him offer on the Eugubian inscriptions, was struck by the sagacity, the precision, and the suggestive spirit which they evinced.

Far more unjust, however, are Mr. Hare's remark about the keys, and the still more disparaging saying, quoted by Baron Bunsen, which describes Mezzofanti as, " with all his forty-two languages, never saying anything." The numberless reports of visitors at every period of his life, from Mr. Stewart Rose, in 1817, downwards, which are detailed in this volume, put entirely beyond question both his capacity and his actual attainments in general literature. Each visitor, for the most part, found him well acquainted with the literature of his own country. Very many of them (as Baron Glucky de Stenitzer for Hungary*) bear witness to his familiarity with their national histories. His conversation with M. Libri, "on the most difficult points in the history of India," evinced a mind of a very different calibre from what these supercilious criticisms suppose: and, from the historian of the Mathematical Sciences, it is no ordinary compliment towards one with whom these can have been but a subordinate study, that, without a moment's preparation, (the subject having been only casually introduced by M. Libri,) he " spoke for half-an-hour on the astronomy and mathematics of the Indian races, in a manner which would have done honour to a man whose chief occupation had been tracing the history of the sciences."  I must dissent strongly, also, from the disparaging opinion that M. Bunsen expresses as to the Cardinal's capacity for the more strictly professional sciences of Biblical criticism and Theology. M. Bunsen, no doubt, when he speaks of Biblical criticism, speaks mainly of the German School of that science, and very probably of the last and most popular critic, Lachmann. Now with all their merits, there is much in the spirit and the language of many of these writers, and, I may specially say, of Lachmann, against which Mezzofanti's whole mind would have revolted j and I can well understand that, between his opinions and those of the Baron regarding them, there would have been but little sympathy. But it is most unjust to Mezzofanti to say that " he had no idea" of the subject. One of his earliest literary friends was the great Biblical scholar and critic, De Rossi. While he was still professor at Bologna, the Abate Cavedoni, of Modena, spoke with high praise of his ability as a biblical critic. The Abate Mellini, professor of Scripture in Bologna, gratefully acknowledges the assistance which he derived from him in reference to the versions of the Bible : and Cardinal Wiseman, who will not be suspected of undervaluing any branch of Biblical science, told me that, although it is quite true that Mezzofanti had no love for the German critics, and though he never was a professed critic himself, he was nevertheless quite conversant with the science, and understood its history and its principles, and the divisions of MMS., recensions, families, &c, perfectly well.

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