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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.
The Library of the World’s Best Literature. An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

Critical and Biographical Introduction by Henry Roseman Lang (1853–1934)

By Luís de Camões (c. 1524–1580)

PORTUGUESE literature is usually divided into six periods, which correspond, in the main, to the successive literary movements of the other Romance nations which it followed.

First Period (1200–1385), Provençal and French influences. Soon after the founding of the Portuguese State by Henry of Burgundy and his knights in the beginning of the twelfth century, the nobles of Portugal and Galicia, which regions form a unit in race and speech, began to imitate in their native idiom the art of the Provençal troubadours who visited the courts of Leon and Castile. This courtly lyric poetry in the Gallego-Portuguese dialect, which was also cultivated in the rest of the peninsula excepting the East, reached its height under Alphonso X. of Castile (1252–84), himself a noted poet and patron of this art, and under King Dionysius of Portugal (1279–1325), the most gifted of all these troubadours. The collections (cancioneiros) of the works of this school preserved to us contain the names of one hundred and sixty-three poets and some two thousand compositions (inclusive of the four hundred and one spiritual songs of Alphonso X.). Of this body of verse, two-thirds affect the artificial style of Provençal lyrics, while one-third is derived from the indigenous popular poetry. This latter part contains the so-called cantigas de amigo, songs of charming simplicity of form and naïveté of spirit in which a woman addresses her lover either in a monologue or in a dialogue. It is this native poetry, still echoed in the modern folk-song of Galicia and Portugal, that imparted to the Gallego-Portuguese lyric school the decidedly original coloring and vigorous growth which assign it an independent position in the mediæval literature of the Romance nations.

Composition in prose also began in this period, consisting chiefly in genealogies, chronicles, and in translations from Latin and French dealing with religious subjects and the romantic traditions of British origin, such as the ‘Demanda do Santo Graal.’ It is now almost certain that the original of the Spanish version of the ‘Amadis de Gaula’ (1480) was the work of a Portuguese troubadour of the thirteenth century, Joam de Lobeira.

Second Period (1385–1521), Spanish influence. Instead of the Provençal style, the courtly circles now began to cultivate the native popular forms, the copla and quadra, and to compose in the dialect of Castile, which communicated to them the influence of the Italian Renaissance, with the vision and allegory of Dante and a fuller understanding of classical antiquity. These two literary currents became the formative elements of the second poetic school of an aristocratic character in Portugal, at the courts of Alphonse V. (1438–1481), John II. (1481–95), and Emanuel (1495–1521), whose works were collected by the poet Garcia de Resende in the ‘Cancioneiro Geral’ (Lisbon, 1516).

The prose-literature of this period is rich in translations from the Latin classics, and chiefly noteworthy for the great Portuguese chronicles which it produced. The most prominent writer was Fernam Lopes (1454), the founder of Portuguese historiography and the “father of Portuguese prose.”

Third Period (1521–1580), Italian influence. This is the classic epoch of Portuguese literature, born of the powerful rise of the Portuguese State during its period of discovery and conquest, and of the dominant influence of the Italian Renaissance. It opens with three authors who were prominently active in the preceding literary school, but whose principal influence lies in this. These are Christovam Falcão and Bernardim Ribeiro, the founders of the bucolic poem and the sentimental pastoral romance, and Gil Vicente, a comic writer of superior talent, who is called the father of the Portuguese drama, and who, next to Camões, is the greatest figure of this period. Its real initiator, however, was Francesco Sa’ de Miranda (1495–1557) who, on his return from a six-years’ study in Italy in 1521, introduced the lyric forms of Petrarch and his followers as the only true models for composition. Besides giving by his example a classic form to lyrics, especially to the sonnet, and cultivating the pastoral poem, Sa’ de Miranda, desirous of breaking the influence of Gil Vicente’s dramas, wrote two comedies of intrigue in the style of the Italians and of Plautus and Terence. His attempts in this direction, however, found no followers, the only exception being Ferreira’s tragedy ‘Ines de Castro’ in the antique style. The greatest poet of this period, and indeed in the whole history of Portuguese literature, is Luiz de Camões, in whose works, epic, lyric, and dramatic, the cultivation of the two literary currents of this epoch, the national and the Renaissance, attained to its highest perfection, and to whom Portuguese literature chiefly owes its place in the literature of the world.

Among the works in prose produced during this time are of especial importance the historical writings, such as the ‘Décadas’ of João de Barros (1496–1570), the “Livy of Portugal,” and the numerous romances of chivalry.

Fourth Period (1580–1700), Culteranistic influence. The political decline of Portugal is accompanied by one in its literature. While some lyric poetry is still written in the spirit of Camões, and the pastoral romance in the national style is cultivated by some authors, Portuguese literature on the whole is completely under the influence of the Spanish, receiving from the latter the euphuistic movement, known in Spain as culteranismo or Gongorismo. Many writers of talent of this time used the Spanish language in preference to their own. It is thus that the charming pastoral poem ‘Diana,’ by Jorge de Montemor, though composed by a Portuguese and in a vein so peculiar to his nation, is credited to Spanish literature.

Fifth Period (1700–1825), Pseudo-Classicism. The influence of the French classic school, felt in all European literatures, became paramount in Portugal. Excepting the works of a few talented members of the society called “Arcadia,” little of literary interest was produced until the appearance, at the end of the century, of Francisco Manoel de Nascimento and Manoel Maria Barbosa du Bocage, two poets of decided talent who connect this period with the following.

Sixth Period (since 1825), Romanticism. The initiator of this movement in Portugal was Almeida-Garrett (1799–1854), with Gil Vicente and Camões one of the three great poets Portugal has produced, who revived and strengthened the sense of national life in his country by his ‘Camões,’ an epic of glowing patriotism published during his exile in 1825, by his national dramas, and by the collection of the popular traditions of his people, which he began and which has since been zealously continued in all parts of the country. The second influential leader of romanticism was Alexandre Herculano (1810–1877), great especially as national historian, but also a novelist and poet of superior merit. The labors of these two men bore fruit, since the middle of the century, in what may be termed an intellectual renovation of Portugal which first found expression in the so-called Coimbra School, and has since been supported by such men as Theophilo Braga, F. Adolpho Coelho, Joaquim de Vasconcellos, J. Leite de Vasconcellos, and others, whose life-work is devoted to the conviction that only a thorough and critical study of their country’s past can inspire its literature with new life and vigor and maintain the sense of national independence.

LUÍS DE CAMÕES, Portugal’s greatest poet and patriot, was born in 1524 or 1525, most probably at Coimbra, as the son of Simão Vaz de Camões and Donna Anna de Macedo of Santarem. Through his father, a cavalleiro fidalgo, or untitled nobleman, who was related with Vasco da Gama, Camões descended from an ancient and once influential noble family of Galician origin. He spent his youth at Coimbra, and though his name is not found in the registers of the university, which had been removed to that city in 1537, and of which his uncle, Bento de Camões, prior of the monastery of Santa Cruz, was made chancellor in 1539, it was presumably in that institution, then justly famous, that the highly gifted youth acquired his uncommon familiarity with the classics and with the literatures of Spain, Italy, and that of his own country. In 1542 we find Camões exchanging his alma mater for the gay and brilliant court of John III., then at Lisbon, where his gentle birth, his poetic genius, and his fine personal appearance brought him much favor, especially with the fair sex, while his independent bearing and indiscreet speech aroused the jealousy and enmity of his rivals. Here he woos and wins the damsels of the palace until a high-born lady in attendance upon the Queen, Donna Catharina de Athaide,—whom, like Petrarch, he claims to have first seen on Good Friday in church, and who is celebrated in his poems under the anagram of Natercia,—inspires him with a deep and enduring passion. Irritated by the intrigues employed by his enemies to mar his prospects, the impetuous youth commits imprudent acts which lead to his banishment from the city in 1546. For about a year he lives in enforced retirement on the Upper Tagus (Ribatejo), pouring out his profound passion and grief in a number of beautiful sonnets and elegies. Most likely in consequence of some new offense, he is next exiled for two years to Ceuta in Africa, where, in a fight with the Moors, he loses his right eye by a chance splinter. Meeting on his return to Lisbon in 1547 neither with pardon for his indiscretions nor with recognition for his services and poetic talent, he allows his keen resentment of this unjust treatment to impel him into the reckless and turbulent life of a bully. It was thus that during the festival of Corpus Christi in 1552 he got into a quarrel with Gonçalo Borges, one of the King’s equerries, in which he wounded the latter. For this Camões was thrown into jail until March, 1553, when he was released only on condition that he should embark to serve in India. Not quite two weeks after leaving his prison, on March 24th, he sailed for India on the flag-ship Sam Bento, bidding, as a true Renaissance poet, farewell to his native land in the words of Scipio which were to come true: “Ingrata patria non possidebis ossa mea.” After a stormy passage of six months, the Sam Bento cast anchor in the bay of Goa. Camões first took part in an expedition against the King of Pimenta, and in the following year (1554) he joined another directed against the Moorish pirates on the coast of Africa. The scenes of drunkenness and dissoluteness which he witnessed in Goa inspired him with a number of satirical poems, by which he drew upon himself much enmity and persecution. In 1556 his three-years’ term of service expired; but though ardently longing for his beloved native land, he remained in Goa, influenced either by his bent for the soldier’s life or by the sad news of the death of Donna Catharina de Athaide in that year. He was ordered to Macao in China, to the lucrative post of commissary for the effects of deceased or absent Portuguese subjects. There, in the quietude of a grotto near Macao, still called the Grotto of Camões, the exiled poet finished the first six cantos of his great epic ‘The Lusiads.’ Recalled from this post in 1558, before the expiration of his term, on the charge of malversation of office, Camões on his return voyage to Goa was shipwrecked near the mouth of the Me-Kong, saving nothing but his faithful Javanese slave and the manuscript of his ‘Lusiads’—which, swimming with one hand, he held above the water with the other. In Cambodia, where he remained several months, he wrote his marvelous paraphrase of the 137th psalm, contrasting under the allegory of Babel (Babylon) and Siam (Zion), Goa and Lisbon. Upon his return to Goa he was cast into prison, but soon set free on proving his innocence by a public trial. Though receiving, in 1557, another lucrative employment, Camões finally resolved to go home, burning with the desire to lay his patriotic song, now almost completed, before his nation, and to cover with honor his injured name.

He accepted a passage to Sofala offered him by Pedro Barreto, who had become viceroy of Mozambique in that year. Unable to refund the amount of the passage, he was once more held for debt and spent two years of misery and distress in Mozambique, completing and polishing during this time his great epic song and preparing the collection of his lyrics, his ‘Parnasso.’ In 1559 he was released by the historian Diogo do Couto and other friends of his, visiting Sofala with the expedition of Noronha, and embarked on the Santa Clara for Lisbon.

On the 7th of April, 1570, Camões once more set foot on his native soil, only to find the city for which he had yearned, sadly changed. The government was in the hands of a brave but harebrained and fanatic young monarch, ruled by the Jesuits; the capital had been ravaged by a terrible plague which had carried off fifty thousand souls; and its society had no room for a man who brought with him from the Indies, whence so many returned with great riches, nothing but a manuscript, though in it was sung in classic verse the glory of his people. Still, through the kind offices of his warm friend Dom Manoel de Portugal, Camões obtained, on the 25th of September, 1571, the royal permission to print his epic. It was published in the spring of the following year (March, 1572). Great as was the success of the work, which marked a new epoch in Portuguese history, the reward which the poet received for it was meager. King Sebastian granted him an annual pension of fifteen thousand reis (fifteen dollars, which then had the purchasing value of about sixty dollars in our money), which, after the poet’s death, was ordered by Philip II. to be paid to his aged mother. Destitute and broken in spirit, Camões lived for the last eight years of his life with his mother in a humble house near the convent of Santa Ana, “in the knowledge of many and in the society of few.” Dom Sebastian’s departure early in 1578 for the conquest in Africa once more kindled patriotic hopes in his breast; but the terrible defeat at Alcazarquivir (August 4th of the same year), in which Portugal lost her king and her army, broke his heart. He died on the 10th of June, 1580, at which time the army of Philip II., under the command of the Duke of Alva, was marching upon Lisbon. He was thus spared the cruel blow of seeing, though not of foreseeing, the national death of his country. The story that his Javanese slave Antonio used to go out at night to beg of passers-by alms for his master, is one of a number of touching legends which, as early as 1572, popular fancy had begun to weave around the poet’s life. It is true, however, that Camões breathed his last in dire distress and isolation, and was buried “poorly and plebeianly” in the neighboring convent of Santa Ana. It was not until sixteen years later that a friend of his, Dom Gonçalo Coutinho, caused his grave to be marked with a marble slab bearing the inscription:—“Here lies Luis de Camões, Prince of the Poets of his time. He died in the year 1579. This tomb was placed for him by order of D. Gonçalo Coutinho, and none shall be buried in it.” The words “He lived poor and neglected, and so died,” which in the popular tradition form part of this inscription, are apocryphal, though entirely in conformity with the facts. The correctness of 1580 instead of 1579 as the year of the poet’s death is proven by an official document in the archives of Philip II. Both the memorial slab and the convent-church of Santa Ana were destroyed by the earthquake of 1755 and during the rebuilding of the convent, and the identification of the remains of the great man thus rendered well-nigh impossible. In 1854, however, all the bones found under the floor of the convent-church were placed in a coffin of Brazil-wood and solemnly deposited in the convent at Belem, the Pantheon of King Emanuel. In 1867 a statue was erected to Camões by the city of Lisbon.

‘The Lusiads’ (Portuguese, Os Lusiadas), a patronymic adopted by Camões in place of the usual term Lusitanos, the descendants of Lusus (the mythical ancestor of the Portuguese), is an epic poem which, as its name implies, has for its subject the heroic deeds not of one hero, but of the whole Portuguese nation. Vasco da Gama’s discovery of the way to the East Indies forms, to be sure, the central part of its action; but around it are grouped, with consummate art, the heroic deeds and destinies of the other Lusitanians. In this, Camões’ work stands alone among all poems of its kind. Originating under conditions similar to those which are indispensable to the production of a true epic, in the heroic period of the Portuguese people, when national sentiment had risen to its highest point, it is the only one among the modern epopees which comes near to the primitive character of epic poetry. A trait which distinguishes this epic from all its predecessors is the historic truthfulness with which Camões confessedly—“A verdade que eu conto nua e pura Vence toda a grandiloqua escriptura”—represents his heroic personages and their exploits, tempering his praise with blame where blame is due, and the unquestioned fidelity and exactness with which he depicts natural scenes. Lest, however, this adherence to historic truth should impair the vivifying element of imagination indispensable to true poetry, our bard, combining in the true spirit of the Renaissance myth and miracle, threw around his narrative the allegorical drapery of pagan mythology, introducing the gods and goddesses of Olympus as siding with or against the Portuguese heroes, and thus calling the imagination of the reader into more active play. Among the many beautiful inventions of his own creative fancy with which Camões has adorned his poem, we shall only mention the powerful impersonation of the Cape of Storms in the Giant Adamastor (c. v.), an episode used by Meyerbeer in his opera ‘L’Africaine,’ and the enchanting scene of the Isle of Love (c. ix.), as characteristic of the poet’s delicacy of touch as it is of his Portuguese temperament, in which Venus provides for the merited reward and the continuance of the brave sons of Lusus. For the metric form of his verse, Camões adopted the octave rhyme of Ariosto, while for his epic style he followed Virgil, from whom many a simile and phrase is directly borrowed. His poem, justly admired for the elegant simplicity, the purity and harmony of its diction, bears throughout the deep imprint of his own powerful and noble personality, that independence and magnanimity of spirit, that fortitude of soul, that genuine and glowing patriotism which alone, amid all the disappointments and dangers, the dire distress and the foibles and faults of his life, could enable him to give his mind and heart steadfastly to the fulfillment of the lofty patriotic task he had set his genius,—the creation of a lasting monument to the heroic deeds of his race. It is thus that through ‘The Lusiads’ Camões became the moral bond of the national individuality of his people, and inspired it with the energy to rise free once more out of Spanish subjection.

Lyrics. Here, Camões is hardly less great than as an epic poet, whether we consider the nobility, depth, and fervor of the sentiments filling his songs, or the artistic perfection, the rich variety of form, and the melody of his verse. His lyric works fall into two main classes, those written in Italian metres and those in the traditional trochaic lines and strophic forms of the Spanish peninsula. The first class is contained in the ‘Parnasso,’ which comprises 356 sonnets, 22 canzones, 27 elegies, 12 odes, 8 octaves, and 15 idyls, all of which testify to the great influence of the Italian school, and especially of Petrarch, on our poet. The second class is embodied in the ‘Cancioneiro,’ or song-book, and embraces more than one hundred and fifty compositions in the national peninsular manner. Together, these two collections form a body of lyric verse of such richness and variety as neither Petrarch and Tasso nor Garcilaso de la Vega can offer. Unfortunately, Camões never prepared an edition of his Rimas; and the manuscript, which, as Diogo do Couto tells us, he arranged during his sojourn in Mozambique from 1567 to 1569, is said to have been stolen. It was not until 1595, fully fifteen years after the poet’s death, that one of his disciples and admirers, Fernão Rodrigues Lobo Soropita, collected from Portugal, and even from India, and published in Lisbon, a volume of one hundred and seventy-two songs, four of which, however, are not by Camões. The great mass of verse we now possess has been gathered during the last three centuries. More may still be discovered, while, on the other hand, much of what is now attributed to Camões does not belong to him, and the question how much of the extant material is genuine is yet to be definitely answered.

In his lyrics, Camões has depicted, with all the passion and power of his impressionable temperament, the varied experiences and emotions of his eventful life. This variety and change of sentiments and situations, while greatly enhancing the value of his songs by the impression of fuller truth and individuality which they produce, is in so far disadvantageous to a just appreciation of them, as it naturally brings with it much verse of inferior poetic merit, and lacks that harmony and unity of emotion which Petrarch was able to effect in his Rime by confining himself to the portraiture of a lover’s soul.

Drama. In his youth, most likely during his life at court between 1542 and 1546, Camões wrote three comedies of much freshness and verve, in which he surpassed all the Portuguese plays in the national taste produced up to his time. One, ‘Filodemo,’ derives its plot from a mediæval novel; the other two, ‘Rei Seleuco’ (King Seleucus) and ‘Amphitryões,’ from antiquity. The last named, a free imitation of Plautus’s ‘Amphitryo,’ is by far the best play of the three. In these comedies we can recognize an attempt on the part of the author to fuse the imperfect play in the national taste, such as it had been cultivated by Gil Vicente, with the more regular but lifeless pieces of the classicists, and thus to create a superior form of national comedy. In this endeavor, however, Camões found no followers.

Bibliography. The most complete edition of the works of Camões is that by the Viscount de Juromenha, ‘Obras de Luiz de Camões,’ (6 vols., Lisbon, 1860–70); a more convenient edition is the one by Th. Braga (in ‘Bibliotheca da Actualidade,’ 3 vols., Porto, 1874). The best separate edition of the text of ‘The Lusiads’ is by F. A. Coelho (Lisbon, 1880). Camões’ lyric and dramatic works are published in his collected works, no separate editions of them existing thus far. In regard to the life and works of Camões in general cf. Adamson, ‘Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Camoens’ (2 vols., London, 1820); Th. Braga, ‘Historia de Camoens’ (3 vols., Porto, 1873–75); Latino Coelho, ‘Luiz de Camoens’ (in the ‘Galeria de varões illustres,’ i., Lisbon, 1880); J. de Vasconcellos, ‘Bibliographia Camoniana’ (Porto, 1880); Brito Aranha, ‘Estudos Bibliographicos’ (Lisbon, 1887–8); W. Storck, ‘Luis’ de Camoens Leben’ (Paderborn, 1890); and especially the judicious and impartial article by Mrs. Carolina Michaelis de Vasconcellos in Vol. ii. of Gröber’s ‘Grundriss der romanischen Philologie’ (Strassburg, 1894). The best translations of Camões’ works are the one by W. Storck, ‘Camoens’ Sämmtliche Gedichte’ (6 vols., Paderborn, 1880–85), into German, and the one by R. F. Burton, who has also written on the life of the poet, ‘The Lusiads’ (2 vols., London, 1880), and ‘The Lyricks’ (3 vols., London, 1884, containing only those in Italian metres), into English. The extracts given below are from Burton.