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      * Cornish Dialect
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Home > Mezzofanti > Biography > 1823 to 1830 > Cornish Dialect

Dr. Tholuck's letter is specially important, also, as establishing the fact that Mezzofanti's acquisitions were by no means so easy, or so much the result of a species of instinctive intuition as has been commonly supposed. Many of the circumstances which Dr. Tholuck notes, indicate labour; all point plainly to successive stages of advancement, to various degrees of perfection, in a word, to all the ordinary accompaniments of progress. The little vocabulary and grammatical paradigms of the Cornish language, an extinct and almost forgotten dialect, Note 1 which even our English philologists have come to disregard, tell of themselves the character of the man. Of course the main attraction of the Cornish dialect for him, was as one of the representatives of the old British family ; but it cannot be doubted that he took a pleasure in the systematic pursuit of the structure of a language for the mere sake of the mental exercise which it involved. I am assured by the Cavalier Minarelli that the deceased Cardinal's books and papers Note 2 contain many such grammatical and phraseological skeletons, even in languages which might be supposed to have less interest than that in the study of which Dr. Tholuck found him engaged. Note 3 In reply to further inquiries which I addressed to him, Dr. Tholuck added :

"Among the twenty languages which he then professed to know accurately, he pointed out specially the English and the Albanese; among these he professed to know imperfectly, wa3 also the Quichua, or old Peruvian, which he learned from some of the American missionaries. He mentioned that ho was then engaged in learning the Bimbarra language, studying it from a catechism translated by a French missionary; an instance which shows that his knowing a language was in some instances nothing more than having got a smattering of it, as the Americans say. Note 4 As to the Persian distich, which it took him about half an hour to compose, it was an imitation of the distichs in Sadi's Gulislan Note 5 and contained, as is the case with these distichs, some elegant enqumhneis."  

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Note 1
At the time of the Restoration, Cornish was still a living Language, especially in the West; but, a century later it had quite disappeared, its sole living representative being an old fish-women, Dolly Pentrath, who was still able to curse and scold in her expressive vernacular. See Adelung, II. 152.

Note 2
It was in great part from these papers that Cav. Minarelli compiled the list of the several languages cultivated at various times by Cardinal Mezzofanti, to which I shall have occasion to refer soon after.

Note 3
There is another circumstance of Dr. Tholuck's narrative which it is not easy to reconcile with the account already cited (p. 239,) from M.Molbech's Travels;—namely, that "when addressed in Danish he replied in Swedish," since the former was the only language in which, during an interview of about two hours, Mezzofanti conversed with M. Molbech. In order to remove all uncertainty as to this point, I have had inquiry of M. Molbech in person, through the kind offices of the Rev. Dr. Grüner,a learned German Missionary resident at Copenhagen, who himself knew Cardinal Mezzofanti, and whose testimony to the purity and fluency of his Eminence's German con¬versation I may add to the many already known. M. Molbech re¬iterates and confirms all the statements made by him in his 'Travels.' He has even taken the trouble to forward a note in his own hand¬writing, referring to the page in the Transactions of the Philological Society, which contains M. Watts's translation from his book. He adds, that when in 1847, his son waited upon the Cardinal in Rome, for the purpose of presenting him some of M. Molbech's works, he found his Eminence's recollection of the interview perfectly fresh and accurate as to all its details.

Note 4
It was in great part from these papers that Cav. Minarelli compiled the list of the several languages cultivated at various times by Cardinal Mezzofanti, to which I shall have occasion to refer soon after. longed opportunities of intercourse with Father Escobar and other South American Jesuit missionaries, who had settled at Bologna, and from whom he may have acquired the language, much more solidly than he could be supposed to learn it from a few casual inter¬views such as Dr. Tholuck most probably contemplated.

Note 5
The Gulistan is found in the Cardinal's catalogue, p. 109.

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