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Home > Mezzofanti > Biography > 1798 to 1802 > Difficulties

The years which followed this forfeiture of his professorship were a period of much care, as well as of severe personal privation, for the Abate Mezzofanti. Both his parents were still living;—his father no longer able to maintain himself by his handicraft; his mother for some years afflicted with partial blindness, and in broken or failing health. The family of his sister, Teresa Minarelli, had already become very numerous, and the scanty earnings of her husband's occupation hardly sufficed for their maintenance, much less for the expenses of their education. In addition, therefore, to his own necessities, Joseph Mezzofanti was now in great measure burdened with this twofold responsibility—a responsibility to which so affectionate a brother, and so dutiful a son could not be indifferent. To meet these demands, he had hitherto relied mainly upon the income arising from his professorship, although this was miserably inadequate, the salaries attached to the professorships in Bologna, at the time when Lalande visited Italy, ' (1765-6,) not exceeding a hundred Roman crowns, (little more than £25). Small, however, as it was, this salary was Mezzofanti's main source of income. As a title to ordination, the archbishop of Bologna, Cardinal Giovanotti, had conferred upon him two small benefices, the united revenues of which, strange as it may sound in English ears, did not exceed eight pounds sterling Note 1 and an excellent ecclesiastic, F. Anthony Magnani, who had long known and appreciated the virtues of the family, and had taken a warm interest in Joseph from his boyhood, settled upon him from his own private resources about the same amount. Now, as Mezzofanti had devoted himself to literature, and lived as a simple priest at Bologna, declining to accept any preferment to which the care of souls was annexed, this wretched pittance constituted his entire income. It is true that he was about this period chaplain of the Collegio Albor Note2 an ancient Spanish foundation of the great Cardinal of that name Note 3but his services appear either to have been entirely gratuitous, or the emolument, if any, was little more than nominal.

Andthus, when the Abate Mezzofanti, relying upon Providence, had the courage to throw up, for conscience sake, the salary which constituted nearly two-thirds of his entire revenue, he found himself burdened with the responsibilities already described, while his entire certain income was considerably less than twenty pounds sterling ! Nevertheless, gloomy and disheartening as was this prospect, far from suffering himself to be cast down by it, he was even courageous enough to venture, about this time, on the further responsibility of receiving his sister and her family into his own house. The renewal of hostilities in Italy, in 1799, filled him with alarm for her security ; and his nephew, Cavaliere Minarelli, who has been good enough to communicate to me a short MS. Memoir of the events of this period of his uncle's life, still remembers the day on which, while the French and Austrian troops were actually engaged before the walls, and the shot and shells had already begun to fall within the city, his uncle came to their house, at considerable personal risk, and insisted that his sister and her children should remove to his own house which was in a less exposed position. From that date (1799) they continued to reside with him.

Who was Mezzofanti ?
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Note 1
Manavit, p. 19.

Note 2
Ibid, p. 29.

Note 3
The learned and munificent Egidio Albornoz, whom English readers probably know solely from the revolting picture in Bulwer's " Rienzi." The Albornoz College was founded in pursuance of his will, in 1377, with an endowment for twenty-four Spanish students, and two chaplains. See Tiraboschi " Letteratura Italiana," V. p. 58. 10

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