1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Mezzofanti, Giuseppe Caspar
MEZZOFANTI, GIUSEPPE CASPAR (1774-1849), Italian cardinal and linguist, was born on the 17th of September 1774, at Bologna, and educated there. He was ordained priest in 1797, and in the same year became professor of Arabic in the university, but shortly afterwards was deprived for refusing to take the oath of allegiance to the Cisalpine Republic. In 1803 he was appointed assistant librarian of the institute of Bologna, and soon afterwards was reinstated as professor of oriental languages and of Greek. The chair was suppressed by the viceroy in 1808, but again rehabilitated on the restoration of Pius VII. in 1814, and continued to be held by Mezzofanti until his removal from Bologna to Rome in 1831, as a member of the congregation de propaganda fide. In 1833 he succeeded Angelo Mai as chief keeper of the Vatican library, and in 1838 was made cardinal and director of studies in the Congregation. He died at Rome on the 15th of March 1849. His peculiar talent, comparable in many respects to that of the so-called “calculating boys,” was not combined with any exceptional measure of intellectual power, and produced nothing of permanent value. It seems certain, however, that he spoke with considerable fluency, and in some cases even with attention to dialectic peculiarities, some fifty or sixty languages of the most widely separated families, besides having a less perfect acquaintance with many others.
See Russell, Life of the Cardinal Mezzofanti (London, 1857); A. Bellesheim, Giuseppe Cardinal Mezzofanti (Würzburg, 1880).