· Biography
     · 1774 to 1798
     · 1798 to 1802
      · Difficulties
      · Private Tuition
      · Marescalchi
      · Family
      · Military
      · Hospitals
      · Hungarian
      · Foreigners
      · Confessional
      * Intense
      * Application
     · 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
     · About the book
   · FAQ
   · Characters
   · Places
   · Highlights
   · Language table

Learn That Language Now -- Learn a New Language 3 Times Faster
Home > Mezzofanti > Biography > 1798 to 1802 > Intense Application

It might be instructive to trace the order in which the several languages which he mastered in this earlier part of his career were successively acquired. But unfortunately neither the papers and letters which have been preserved, nor the recollections of the few friends who have survived, have thrown much light upon this interesting inquiry. All accounts, however, agree in representing his life during these years as laborious almost beyond belief. The weary hours occupied in the drudgery of tuition ; the time given to the manifold self-imposed occupations described in this chapter ; the time spent in the ordinary devotional exercises of a priest, and in the performance of those duties of the ministry in the hospitals and elsewhere which he had undertaken ; above all, the time regularly and perseveringly given to his great and all-engrossing study of languages ; may well be thought to form an aggregate of laborious application hardly surpassed in the whole range of literary history. 

It fully confirms the well-known assurance of the noble Prologue of Bacon's " Advancement of Learning : "Let no man doubt that learning will expulse business, but rather it will keep and defend the possession of the mind against idleness and pleasure, which otherwise may enter at unawares to the prejudice of both." Other students may perhaps have devoted a longer time to continuous application. The celebrated Jesuit theologian, Father Suarez, is said to have spent seventeen hours out of the twenty-four between his studies and his devotions. Castell, the author of the Heptaglot Lexicon, declares, in the feeling address which accompanied its publication, that his thankless and unrequited task had occupied him for sixteen or eighteen hours every day during twenty years. Note1 

Theophilus Raynaud, during his long life of eighty years, only allowed himself a quarter of an hour daily from his studies for dinner ; Note 2 and the Puritan divine, Prynne, seldom would spare time to dine at all. Note 3It may be doubted whether the actual labour of Mezzofanti, broken up and divided over so many almost incompatible occupations, did not equal and perhaps exceed them all in amount, if not in intensity. According to the account of Guido Görres, Note 4  his time for sleep, during this period of his life, was limited to three hours. Note 5 

His self-denial in all other respects was almost equally wonderful. He was singularly abstemious both in eating and in drinking ; and his power of enduring the intense cold which prevails in the winter months throughout the whole of Northern Italy, especially in the vicinity of the Apennines, was a source of wonder even to his own family. During the long nights which he devoted to study he never, even in the coldest weather, permitted himself the indulgence of a fire.

I may here mention that he continued the same practice to the end of his life. Even after his elevation to the cardinalate, he could hardly ever be induced to have recourse to a fire, or even to the little portable brazier, called scaldino, which students in Italy commonly employ, as a resource against the numbness of the feet and hands produced by the dry but piercing cold which characterizes the Italian winter.

Lord Coke was fully satisfied with eight. Much, of course, must depend on the individual constitution ; but of the two opinions the latter is certainly nearer the truth.

Who was Mezzofanti ?
Table of contents


Note 1
Lexicon Heptaglotton, Preface.

Note 2
Disraeli's Curiosities of Literature, p. 372.

Note 3
Ibid, p. 189.

Note 4
Historisch-Polit. Blatter, Vol. X., p. 204.

Note 5
It would be curious to collect the opinions of scholars upon the amount of time which may profitably be devoted to study. Some students, like those named above, and others who might easily have been added;—as the celebrated Pęre Hardouin ; or the ill-fated Robert Heron, who died in Newgate in 1807, and who for many years had spent from twelve to sixteen hours a day at his desk [Disraeli, p. 84] ;—place no limit to the time of study beyond that of the student's physical powers of endurance. On the other hand,-Sir Matthew Hale (see Southey's Life, IV., 357) said that six hours a day were as much as any student could usefully bear j and even

Copyright 2009 - All rights reserved
No part of this website may be copied by any means without my written authorization.
Printed from