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Home > Mezzofanti > Biography > 1803 to 1806 > Correspondance

On the 26th of September, he writes to the Abate De Rossi, apologizing for delay in replying to a letter received from him.

"A complication of unfortunate accidents has, up to this moment, prevented me from answering your kind letter of last July. My poor mother has frequently, during the summer, been in extreme danger of death. My own chest, too, has more than once been threatened, and is still far from strong. All this, however, does not save me from a feeling of remorse at having been so tardy towards one whose scientific reputation, as well as his courteous manners, entitle him to so much consideration. My labour, as you say, is not yet over. The task, as I had indeed anticipated from the beginning, has proved an exceedingly difficult one. As an evidence of the difficulty I need only mention that the celebrated Giuseppe Assemani, in the similar work which he undertook,Note 1has made numerous mistakes, having in one instance given no less than six different titles to seven copies of the same work. This great orientalist, with all his learning, could not command the time necessary for so troublesome a task as that of ascertaining the titles and authors of books which are quite unknown and often imperfect. For my part, I resolved from the beginning that I would not, willingly at least, add to the other deficiencies of which I am conscious, that of haste and insufficient time. Nam quo minus ingenio possum, subsidio mihi diligentiam comparavi; and the condescension of his Serene Highness has in the end relieved me, by extending until April the time allowed for the completion of the task. The grammarians, rhetoricians, poets, prosodians, logicians, and theologians, have taken up all my time hitherto; in the course of the next two months, I hope to complete the enumeration of the other authors; and then I shall at last fulfil my promise of sending you, when occasion serves, whatever I think may interest you."

De Rossi, in his letter, to which this is a reply, had put some questions regarding the contents of the octavo edition of D'Herbelot's Bibliotheque Orientale, the preface of which had contained a promise of many important improvements. Mezzofanti, referring to these promised additions, goes on to say, " In the articles which I have compared, I have only found a few verbal corrections. But in the preface, we are promised additional articles, drawn from the narratives of travellers subsequent to D'Herbelot. From this promise you will be able to infer what information you may expect to derive from the edition, and whether it is likely to be useful for your purpose. I have not yet received the supplement, which was to contain certain articles which have been postponed for reasons explained in the preface. Perhaps the reason of its not having been printed, may be, that the articles in question, being of use to orientalists alone, may be found by them in the former editions.

"As it would be no small distinction for the collection of Oriental MSS. belonging to this Royal Library of ours, if among them there should be found any deserving of a place amongst the MSS. cited in your dictionary, I shall endeavour, in the hope that it may prove so, to complete my task as speedily as possible, so as to send you at least an index, out of which you may yourself choose the name of any author whom you shall judge deserving of notice.

" I believe Bombay's work has been published. I have the title, ' Geschichte der Mauritan. Konige; aus dem Arabischen übersetzt' ; Note 2 but without date or place. v I shall write to Vienna as soon as I can, to order it, if it should be published. I have made a good many interesting acquisitions lately ; as for instance, Albucasis ' De Chirurgia.'Note 3 Oxonii, 1778.

' Maured Allatafet Jemaleddini Jilii Togri Bardii ; seu JRerum Aegyptiacarum Annales ah Anno C. 971 ad 1453'; Note 4  several ' Anthologias1 and ' Chrestoma-thias / one of which, that of Rink and Vater,has at the end a Bibliotheca Arabica continued up to 1802; and some other books."

At this date, Mezzofanti's correspondence with De Rossi is interrupted ; and, although there appears to have been a pretty regular interchange of correspondence between them for some years longer, no further letter has been found among those of De Rossi's papers which are deposited in the library of Parma, except one written in the year 1812,

Scanty as are the details supplied by those which are preserved, they, at least, afford some insight into the process by which the writer's extraordinary faculty was developed and perfected. However acute and almost instinctive this faculty may have been, it is plain from these letters, that it was at this time most systematically and laboriously cultivated, However much Mezzofanti may have owed to nature, it is certain, that for all the practical results of his great natural gifts he was indebted to his own patient and almost plodding industry : and it may cheer the humble student in the long and painful course through which alone he can aspire to success, to find that even this prodigy of language was forced to tread the same laborious path; to see the anxious care with which he collected and consulted grammars, dictionaries, manuals, reading books, and other similar commonplace appliances of the study ; and to learn, that, with all his unquestioned and unquestionable genius, he did not consider himself above the drudgery at which even less gifted students are but too apt to murmur or repine.



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Note 1
He alludes to the Bibliotheca Orientalis Clementino- Vaticana. Joseph Assemani's nephew, Stephen Evodius, compiled a catalogue of the Oriental MSS. at Florence.

Note 2
The exact title is "Geschichte der Scherifen, oder der KSnige des jetzt regierendes Hauses zu Marokko." It was published, not at Vienna, as this letter supposes, but at Agram, in 1801.

Note 3
A Moorish physician of Cordova, in the twelfth century, variously called Albucasa, Buchasis, Bulcaris, Gafar; but properly Abul Cassem Khalaf Ben Abbas. There are many early Latin translations of his work. A very curious edition, with wood-cuts, (Venice, 1500,) is in the British Museum. The one referred to in this letter is in Arabic and Latin, 2 vols. 4to,

Note 4
"Arabisches, Syrisches, und Chaldaisches Lesebuch, Von Friederich Theodor Rink und J. Severinus Vater," Leipsic, 1802. Rink, Professor of Theology and of Oriental Languages, at Hei¬delberg, was an orientalist of considerable eminence. Vater is, of course, the well-known successor of Adelung as editor of the Mithri-dates

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