Anatoly quoted my post from yesterday, singling out the quote beginning “It is possible to take too many notes; the task of sorting, filing and assimilating them can take for ever, so that nothing gets written. The awful warning is Lord Acton…”; he finished his post by linking to this poem (in Russian), which the story reminded him of. I liked the poem so well I thought I’d try my hand at translating it, but I was stymied at the very beginning because I wasn’t sure how to render the title, Ментелли. It transliterates as Mentelli, but the problem was that the name in question was that of a Hungarian, and of course I wanted to know the original Hungarian spelling, so I started googling.
That sent me down one of those endless rabbit holes the internet is so full of, and I have just come up for air. When I googled Ментелли, I got his Russian Wikipedia article. Excellent! (I thought): it will link to a Hungarian Wikipedia article, and my problems will be over. Alas for premature rejoicing—there was no link to any other Wikipedia articles on him. Further, the next-to-last sentence of the article said that he was “described in the story ‘The Hungarian Diogenes from Paris’ by the Hungarian lawyer and writer István Ráth-Végh.” I immediately began to suspect that Ráth-Végh had invented him. I found the story in Russian translation (here; scroll down to ВЕНГЕРСКИЙ ДИОГЕН ИЗ ПАРИЖА, the last section), which did nothing to dispel my suspicion that it was an elaborate hoax (nor, of course, did it help me with the spelling issue). After much googling, I managed to find the original Hungarian in Google Books (A könyv komédiája, p. 83: “A párizsi magyar Diogenes”); unfortunately, not only was it the thrice-damned snippet view, but OCR rendered the crucial name as “Menteili.” More googling made it clear it was actually Mentelli, however, and I found what seems at the moment to be the original source of the story, Descuret’s La Médecine des passions, ou les passions considérées dans leurs rapports avec les maladies, les lois et la religion (Paris,  2nd ed. 1844). The story begins on page 717; by clicking on this clipped bit, you will be taken to the book, where you can read the whole thing, if you read French:
And if you don’t read French, there is a brief retelling in English in Théodule Ribot, The psychology of the emotions (New York, 1897), beginning:
and ending “Mentelli left no work behind him, in fact there remains no trace of his long researches.” There is also “Mentelli, the Hungarian Diogenes,” Notes and Queries (1913) s11-VIII: 350 (available here if you have a subscription, which I don’t). And Victor Hugo wrote this in his notebooks:
Mentelli était un grand savant. Il mourut.
On me demanda une épitaphe pour lui.
J’écrivis sur sa tombe cette ligne:
- Il est allé savoir le reste.
I don’t know if I’ll ever get around to translating the poem, but now you know about Mentelli. If he existed at all, with his hundred languages and his ill-paid library work, he died in 1836; I still harbor a faint suspicion that Descuret made him up.