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Home > Mezzofanti > Biography > 1817 to 1820 > Clotilda Tambroni

The year 1819 is further notable as the date of ; Mezzofanti's only published composition, the above-named panegyric of his early friend and instructor Emanuel Aponte. The death of this excellent and venerable man had occurred more than three years earlier, (November 22, 1815), and his funeral oration had been pronounced by Filippo Schiassi, the professor of numismatics, as also by Pacifico Deani, whose discourse was translated into Spanish by Don Camillo Salina. Aponte's grateful pupil, nevertheless, took advantage of the opportunity afforded by the opening of the public studies of the university, to offer his own especial tribute to the piety and learning of the good old father, and particularly to the excellence of his method of teaching the Greek language and the merits of a Grammar which he had published for the use of the higher schools.

The Discourse is chiefly occupied (after a sketch of Aponte's life and character) with a criticism of the method pursued in this Grammar, —a criticism chiefly noticeable as embodying the method, (which we know from other sources to have been the speaker's own,) of studying a language rather by rhythm than by rule ; " by ascertaining its normal structure, the principle which governs its inflexions, and especially the dominant principle which regulates the changes of letters according to the different organs of speech."

As a specimen of this general manner of the Discourse, I shall translate the concluding paragraphs,— the exhortation to the study of Greek literature with which the professor takes leave of his audience.

" And still shall these studies flourish, my dear young friends, perpetuated by you under the guidance of the instructions which Father Emanuel bequeathed to us. His method, which, in the acquisition of the language, rather exercises the reason than burdens the memory, and which makes good sense the chief basis for the right interpretation of an author, will assuredly conduct to the desired end that ardour which, on this solemn occasion, you feel renewed within you : an ardour so great that, had I to-day spoken solely of the difficulties and obstacles in the path of learning, it would, nevertheless, give you strength and courage to encounter and overcome them. Well, therefore, may we have confidence in you, and believe that you will preserve to your native land the fame achieved bv your forefathers in Grecian studies. These studies are the special inheritance of our countrymen. In Italy the muses of Greece sought an asylum, when they fled before the invader from their ancient glorious abode. Learned Greeks were at that period dispersed through our principal cities, where, establishing schools, they found munificent patrons and zealous pupils. In Rome Grecian literature enjoyed the generous patronage of Nicholas V.; and around Cardinal Bessarion were gathered men of vast erudition, who renewed the lustre of the old Athenian schools, cultivating a wiser philosophy, however, than the ancients employed ; and, thanks to the precious volumes accumulated by those two illustrious Maecenases and by the princes of Italy; thanks to the skill of the masters and the aptitude and excellence of Italian genius, Grecian literature, conjointly with Latin, quickly attained the highest pitch of cultivation amongst us, ushering in the golden age of Italian letters. A countless series of names distinguished in this branch of learning presents itself before me: but I delight rather to consider in prospect the future series which begins in you. Be not disturbed by any fear that the pursuitto which I am exhorting you will hinder the profounder study of the sciences. Alas, very different are the thoughts, very different, indeed, the cares which distract the mind of youth and turn its generous fervour aside, miserably disappointing the bright hopes that were formed of it. No: theologians, lawyers, philosophers, physicians, mathematicians, all men of science and learning,have ever found in the Greek literature their most agreeable solace. Many of the sciences had, in Greece, early reached a high degree of perfection ; others made a noble beginning in that country ; most of them are embellished with titles borrowed from its language; and all of them have recourse to Greek when they wish, with precision and dignity, to denominate, and thereby to define, the objects of their consideration. ' These studies,' says one who owed much of his eloquence to the industry with which he cultivated them, ' furnish youth with profitable and delightful knowledge; they amuse maturer years; they adorn prosperity, and in adversity afford an asylum from care; they delight us in the quiet of home, and are no hindrance inaffairs of the gravest moment; they discover for us many a useful thing ; for the traveller they procure the regard of strangers, and, in the solitude of the country, they solace the mind with the purest of pleasures.' Let your main study, then, be the sterner sciences ; Greek shall follow as a faithful companion, affording you useful assistance therein as well as delightful recreation. And thus, thinking of nothing else, having nothing else at heart, than religion and learning, let the expectations of your friends and of your country be fulfilled in you. Thus shall you correspond with the paternal designs of our best of princes,His Holiness, the Sovereign Pontiff, who, in his munificence and splendour, daily enlarges the dignity of this illustrious University, promoting, by wise provisions, your education and your glory, And, whilst you vigorously prosecute the career so well begun, while your love for Greek increases with the increasing profit you derive from it, I, too, will exult in your brilliant progress. To this I will look for a monument, truly durable and immortal, of my dear Father Emanuel, to whom I feel myself bound by eternal gratitude; since gratitude, reverence, and devotion are surely due to them who, by example and by precept, point out to us the road to virtue and to learning, inviting and exhorting us, with loving solicitude, to direct our lives to praiseworthy pursuits and to true happiness." Note 1 (pp. 22-26.)

Soon after the death of Father Aponte, Mezzofanti had the further grief of losing his friend, the cele¬brated Signora Clotilda Tambroni, who, although considerably older than he, had been, as we have seen, his fellow pupil under Father Aponte, and with whom he had ever afterwards continued upon terms of most intimate friendship. Like Mezzofanti, the Signora Tambroni was, after the publication of the concordat, reinstated in the Greek professorship from which she had been dispossessed at the occupation of Bologna by the French. She was an excellent linguist, being familiar with Greek, Latin, Spanish, French, and English, Note 2 and a poetess of some reputation, not only in her own, but also in the learned languages. Note 3 The Breslau professor, already referred to, Herr Kephalides, was much interested by her conversation; and that the interest which she , created did not arise merely from the unusual circumstance of a lady's devoting herself to such studies, but from her own unquestioned learning and ability, is attested by all who knew her. " It was a pleasant thing," says Lady Morgan," Note 4 to hear her learned coadjutor [Mezzofanti] in describing to us the good qualities of her heart, do ample justice to the profound learning which had raised her to an equality of collegiate rank with himself, without an innuendo at that erudition, which, in England, is a greater female stigma than vice itself."

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Note 1
Bologna, 1820. It was on the occasion of the celebration of Father Aponte's " Jubilee" the fiftieth anniversary of his ordination as priest that Mezzofanti addressed to him the Hebrew Psalm which will be found in the Appendix.

Note 2
Reise durch Italien, I. p. 30-2.

Note 3
Biographie Universelle (Brussels Edition), XIX..

Note 4
Italy, I., 292.

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