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Home > Mezzofanti > Biography > 1803 to 1806 > De Rossi

The Oriental Professorship in the neighbouring University of Parma, was at this time held by the celebrated John Bernard de Rossi. Mezzofanti had long desired to form the acquaintance of this distinguished Orientalist; and more than once projected a visit to Parma, for the purpose of placing himself in communication with him on the subject of his favourite study. His duties as assistant Librarian at length afforded the desired opportunity. Having occasion to order some of De Rossi's works from Parma, he addressed to De Rossi himself a letter which soon led to a warm and intimate friendship, and was the commencement of an interesting, although not very frequent, correspondence, which continued, at irregular intervals, up to the time of De Rossi's death. Some of Mezzofanti's letters to De Rossi, which are preserved in the Library of Parma, have been kindly placed at my disposal. They are chiefly interesting as throwing some light on the progress of his studies.

To the Abate John Bernard de Rossi,
Professor of Oriental Languages,
Bologna, September 15, 1804.

Most illustrious Signor Abate.—I have long admired and profited by your rare acquirements, which your learned works have made known all over Europe ; and I have, for some time, been projecting a visit to Parma, for the double purpose of tendering to you a personal assurance of my esteem, and of examining your far-famed library. Finding my hope disappointed for the present, I take advantage of a favorable opportunity to offer you, at least in writing, some expression of the profound respect which I feel for one so distinguished in the same studies which I myself pursue with great ardor, although with very inferior success. I am desirous also to procure those of your works marked nos. 22, 24, 25, and 26, in the catalogue kindly forwarded by you through Professor Ranzani. Pray give to the bearer of this letter any of the above numbers which may be in readiness : he will immediately settle for them.

May I venture to hope that, for the future, on will allow me, when any difficulty occurs to me in my Oriental reading, to have recourse to your profound knowledge of Oriental literature, and also that you will accept the sincere assurance of the esteem with which I declare myself

Your most humble and devoted servant
D. Joseph Mezzofanti,
Professor of Oriental Languages.

De Rossi replied by an exceedingly courteous letter, accompanied by a present of several books connected with Oriental literature, and manifesting so friendly an interest in the studies of his young correspondent, that Mezzofanti never afterwards hesitated to consult him when occasion arose. Their letters, in accordance with the ceremonious etiquette which characterizes all the correspondence of that period, are somewhat stiff and formal; but their intercourse was marked throughout by an active and almost tender interest upon the one side, and a respectful but yet affectionate admiration upon the other.

Meanwhile, however, Mezzofanti's own increasing reputation led to his being frequently consulted upon difficulties of the same kind. On one of these—a book in some unknown character which had been sent for his examination, by Monsignor Bevilacqua, a learned prelate at Ferrara—he, in his turn, consults De Rossi. His letter is chiefly curious as showing (what will appear strange to our modern philologers) that up to this date Mezzofanti was entirely unacquainted with Sanscrit. The importance of that language and the wide range of its relations, which Frederic Schlegel was almost the first to estimate right, were not at this time fully appreciated.

To Professor Ah. John Bernard De Rossi.
Bologna, February 4, 1805.

The works which I lately received from you have only served to confirm the estimate of your powers which I had formed from those with which I was previously acquainted; while the obliging letter and valuable present which acccompanied them, equally convinced me of the kindness of your heart. May I hope that this kindness, as well as your profound erudition, may establish for me a title to claim the permission which I solicited in my last letter ? I venture, therefore, to enclose to you a printed page in unknown characters, which the owner of the original, Mgr. Alessandro Bevilacqua of Ferrara, tells me has been already examined by several savants, but to no purpose. The book comes originally from Congo ; Note 1 having been brought, thence to Ferrara by a Capuchin of the same respectable family. Being full of the idea of Sanscrit, to which I earnestly long to apply myself as soon as I shall find means for the study, I was at first inclined to suspect that this might be the Sanscrit character; but this is a mere fancy of mine, or at best a guess. I look, therefore, to your more extensive knowledge for a satisfactory solution of the doubt; and meanwhile pray you to accept the assurance of my sincere gratitude and esteem.

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Note 1
A Mission had existed in Congo since the end of the fifteenth century.

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