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Home > Mezzofanti > Biography > 1817 to 1820 > Stewart Rose

Mr. Harford visited Bologna in the autumn of 1817, at which time he first made Mezzofanti's acquaintance. He renewed the acquaintance subsequently at Rome, and on both occasions had a full opportunity of observing and of testing his extraordinary gift of language. Mr. Harford has kindly communicated to me his recollections of Mezzofanti at both these periods of life, which, (although the latter part anticipates the order of time by nearly thirty years,) may most naturally be inserted together.

" I first made the acquaintance of the Abbe Mezzofanti," writes Mr. Harford, " at the table of Cardinal Lanti, brother of the Duke of Lanti, then Legate of Bologna. This was in the year 1817. The Cardinal was then the public palace at Bologna, but I had previously known him in Rome. He was a man of highly cultivated mind, and of gentlemanly and agreeable manners. He made his guests perfectly at their ease, and I well recollect, after dinner, forming one of a group around Abbe Mezzofanti, and listening with deep interest to his animated conversation, which had reference, in consequence of questions put to him, to various topics, illustrating his wonderful acquaintance with the principal languages of the world. Report, at this time, gave him credit for being master of upwards of forty languages; and i recollect, among other things, his giving proof of his familiar acquaintance with the Welsh. 1 had some particular conversation with him upon the origin of what is called Saxon, Norman, and Lombard architecture, and I remember his entire accordance with the opinion I threw out, that it resolved itself in each case into a corruption of Roman architecture.

" My next interview with him was after a long lapse of time, for I did not meet him again till the year 1846, the winter of which I passed in Rome. The Abbe was then changed into the Cardinal Mezzofanti. I found him occupying a handsome suite of apartments in a palazzo in the Piazza Santi Apostoli. He assured me he well remembered meeting Mrs. H. and myself at Cardinal Lanti's, on the occasion above referred to; and in the course of several visits which I paid him during the winter and ensuing spring, his conversation was always animated and agreeable. He conversed with me in English, which he spoke with the utmost fluency and correctness, and only with a slight foreign accent. His familiar knowledge of our provincial dialects quite surprised me. 'Do you know much of the Yorkshire dialect?' he said to me: and then, with much humour, gave me various specimens of its peculiarities ; ' and your Zummersetshire dialect,' he went on to say, laughing as he spoke, and imitating it.

"On another occasion he spoke to me with high admiration of the style of Addison, preferring it to that of any English author with whom he was acquainted. He commended its ease, elegance, and grace ; and then contrasted it with the grandiloquence of Johnson, whose powerful mind and copious fancy he also greatly admired, though he deemed him much inferior in real wit and taste to Addison. In all this I fully agreed with him ; and then inquired whether he had ever read Boswell's Life of Johnson, and, finding he had not, I told him he must allow me to send it to him, as I felt assured, from the interest he displayed in our English literature, it would much amuse and delight him. This promise I subsequently fulfilled. Note 1

" Speaking to me about an English lady with whom I was well acquainted, he eagerly inquired, ' Is she a blue-stocking ?

" He one day talked to me about the Chinese language and its difficulties, and told me that some time back a gentleman who had resided in China visited him. ' I concluded, he added, ' that I might address him in Chinese, and did so;óbut, after exchanging a few sentences with me. he begged that we might pursue our conversation in French. We talked, however, long enough for me to discover that he spoke in the Canton dialect.'

" That one who had never set his foot out of Italy should be thus able in an instant to detect the little peculiarities of dialect in a man who had lived in China, did, I acknowledge, strike me with astonishment.

" This sort of critical sagacity in languages enabled the Cardinal to render important services to the Propaganda College at Rome, in which he held a high office. I was not only struck with the fluency, but with the rapidity with which he spoke the English language, and, I might also add, the idiomatic correctness of his expressions.

" So much of celebrity attached itself to his name that foreigners of distinction gladly sought occasions of making his acquaintance. On being ushered into his presence on one of my visits I found him surrounded by a large party of admirers, including several ladies, who all appeared highly delighted with his animated conversation."

 We shall have other opportunities of adverting to his curiously minute acquaintance, not only with English literature, but even with the provincial dialects of English, by which Mr. Harford was so much struck. But, as some difference of opinion has been expressed -with regard to his acquaintance with Welsh, I think it right to note the circumstance that Mr. Harford distinctly remembers him, as early as 1817, to have given "proofs of familiar acquaintance" with that language. Note 2

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Note 1
I find the work (Croker's Edition, London, 1847) in the Catalogue of the " Libreria Mezzofanti," p. 72.

Note 2
I may add that, in order to guard against any possible misapprehension of Mr. Harford's opinion, I called his attention to the doubt which has arisen on the subject. In reply Mr. Harford assured me that he himself heard Mezzofanti speak Welsh at his first visit to Bologna, in 1817.

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