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      * M. Molbech
     · 1820 to 1823
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Home > Mezzofanti > Biography > 1817 to 1820 > M. Molbech

Very nearly at the same time with Lady Morgan's interview, Mezzofanti was visited by a tourist far more competent to form a just opinion of the extent of his attainments—M. Molbech, a Danish scholar, author of a Tour in Germany, France, England, and Italy. I shall close the chapter with his testimony. It is chiefly valuable, in reference to his own language, the Danish, in which he had an opportunity of fully testing Mezzofanti's knowledge, in an interview of nearly two hours' duration. It is clear, too, from the very tone of his narrative, that, while he carried away the highest admiration for the extraordinary man whom he had seen, he was by no means disposed to fall into that blind and indiscriminate eulogy of which other less instructed and more imaginative visitors have been accused.

"At last, in the afternoon," he writes, " I succeeded in meeting one of the living wonders of Italy, the librarian Mezzofanti, with whom I had only spoken for a few moments in the gallery,when I passed through Bologna before: I now spent a couple of hours with him, at his lodgings in the university building, and at the library, and would willingly, for his sake alone, have prolonged my stay at Bologna for a couple of days, if 1 had not been bound by contract with the vetturino as far as Venice. His celebrity must be an inconvenience to him ; for scarcely any educated traveller leaves Bologna without having paid him a visit, and the hired guides never omit to mention his name among the first curiosities of the town. This learned Italian, who has never been so far from his birthplace, Bologna, as to Florence or Rome, is certainly one of the world's greatest geniuses in point of languages. I do not know the number he understands, but there is scarcely any European dialect, whether Romanic, Scandinavian, or Slavonic, that this miraculous polyglottist does not speak. It is said the total amounts to more than thirty languages; and among them is that of the gipsies, which he learned to speak from a gipsy who was quartered with an Hungarian regiment at Bologna.

" I found a German with him, with whom he was conversing in fluent and well sounding German; when we were alone, and I began to speak to him in the same language, he interrupted me with a question in Danish,' Hvorledes har det behaget dem i Italien ?' ('How have you been pleased with Italy?') After this, he pursued the conversation in Danish, by his own desire, almost all the time I continued with him, as this, according to his own polite expression, was a pleasure he did not often enjoy; and he spoke the language, from want of exercise, certainly not with the same fluency and ease as English or German, but with almost entire correctness. Imagine my delight at such a conversation ! Of Danish books, however, I found in his rich and excellent philological collection no more than Baden's Grammar, and Hallage's Norwegian Vocabulary; and in the library Hal-dorson's Icelandic Dictionary, in which he made me read him a couple of pages of the preface as a lesson in pronunciation. Our conversation turned mostly on Northern and German literature. The last he is pretty minutely acquainted with; and he is very fond of German poetry, which he has succeeded in bringing into fashion with the ladies of Bologna, so that Schiller and Goethe, whom the Romans hardly know by name, are here read in the original, and their works are to be had in the library. This collection occupies a finely-built saloon, in which it is arranged in dark presses with wire gratings, and is said to contain about 120,000 volumes. Besides Mezzofanti, there are an under librarian, two assistants, and three other servants. Books are bought to the amount of about 1000 scudi, or more than 200/. sterling, a year. Mezzofanti is not merely a linguist, but is well acquainted with literary history and biography, and also with the library under his charge. As an author he is not known, so far as I am aware ; and he seems at present to be no older than about forty. I must add, what perhaps would be least expected from a learned man who has been unceasingly occupied with linguistic studies, and has hardly been out of his native town, that he has the finest and most polished manners, and, at the same time, the most engaging goodnature." Note 1

Herr Molbech is still the chief secretary of the Royal Library in Copenhagen. He is one of the most distinguished writers on Danish philology; his great Danish Dictionary Note 2 is the classical authority on the language; and, in recognition of his great literary merits, he has been created a privy councillor and a commander of the Danebrog order.

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Note 1
Molbech's Reise giennem en Deel af Tydskland, Frankrige England, og Italien, i Aarene 1819 og 1820, vol. iii. p. 319, and following.

Note 2
The Danske Ordbog; first published in Copenhagen in 1833. The veteran author, now in his seventy-first year, is actively employed in preparing a new edition with large additions and improvements.

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