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Home > Mezzofanti > Biography > 1823 to 1830 > M. Braunerhjelm

The Countess of Blessington, in the third volume of her " Idler in Italy," has given an account of her intercourse with Mezzofanti during this year. She adds but little to the facts already known as to Mezzofanti's linguistic attainments ; but it may not be uninteresting to contrast with the ponderous and matter of fact sketches of the professional scholars whom we have hitherto been considering, the lighter, but in many respects more striking portraiture of a lady visitor, less capable of estimating the solidity of his learning, but more alive to the minor peculiarities of his manner, to the more delicate shades of his character and disposition, and to the thousand minuter specialities, which, after all, go to form our idea of the man. Lady Blessington had been present at the solemn mass in the church of St. Petronius at Bologna on the morning of the Festival of the Assumption. An adventure which befel her at the close of the ceremony led to her first meeting with the great linguist, which she thus pleasantly describes.

" While viewing the procession beneath the arcades, I was inadvertently separated from my party, and found myself hurried along by the crowd, hemmed in at all sides by a moving mass of strangers who seemed to eye me with much curiosity. To disentangle myself from the multitude would have been a difficult, if not an impossible task; and I confess I experienced a certain degree of trepidation, inseparable from a woman's feelings, at finding myself alone in the midst of a vast throng not one face of which I had ever previously seen. Great then was my satisfaction at hearing the simple remark of ' We have had a very fine day for the fete,' uttered in English, and with as good a pronunciation as possible, by a person having the air and dress of a clergyman, to another who answered : ' Yes, nothing could be more propitious than the weather.' Though it is always embarrassing to address a stranger, the sound of my own language, and the position in which I was placed, gave me courage to touch the arm of the first speaker, and to state, that being separated from my party, I must request the protection of my countryman. He turned round, saluted me graciously, said that, though not a countryman, he would gladly assist me to rejoin my party, and immediately placed me between him and his companion.

'You speak English perfectly, yet are not an Englishman!' said I. ' Then you can be no other than professor Mezzofanti ?' Both he and his companion smiled, and he answered ; ' My name is Mezzofanti.'

I had a letter of introduction from a mutual friend, and, in-tendin to leave it for him in the course of the day, I had put it into my reticule, whence I immediately drew it and gave it to him. He knew the hand-writing at a single glance, and, with great good breeding, put it unopened into his pocket, saying something too flattering for me to repeat, in which the remark, that a good countenance was the best recommendation, was neatly turned. He presented his companion to me, who happened to be the Abbe Scandalaria, then staying on a visit to him, and who speaks English remarkably well.

My party were not a little surprised to see me rejoin them, accompanied by and in conversation with two strangers. When I presented them to my new acquaintances, they were much amused at the recital of my unceremonious encounter and self-introduction to Mezzofanti, who not only devoted a considerable portion of the day to us, but promised to spend the evening at our hotel, and invited us to breakfast with him to-morrow.

The countenance of the wonderful linguist is full of intelligence, his manner well-bred, unaffected and highly agreeable. His facility and felicity in speaking French, German, and English, is most extraordinary, and I am told it is not less so in various other languages. He is a younger man than I expected to find him, and, with the vast erudition he has acquired, is totally exempt from pretension or pedantry."Note 1

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Note 1
Idler in Italy, III. p. 321.

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