1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Garrett, João Baptista da Silva Leitão de Almeida

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1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 11
Garrett, João Baptista da Silva Leitão de Almeida by Edgar Prestage

GARRETT, JOÃO BAPTISTA DA SILVA LEITÃO DE ALMEIDA, Visconde de Almeida-Garrett (1799–1854), perhaps the greatest Portuguese poet since Camoens, was of Irish descent. Born in Oporto, his parents moved to the Quinta do Castello at Gaya when he was five years old. The French invasion of Portugal drove the family to the Azores, and Garrett made his first studies at Angra, beginning to versify at an early age under the influence of his uncle, a poet of the school of Bocage. Going to the university of Coimbra in 1816, he soon earned notoriety by the precocity of his talents and his fervent Liberalism, and there he gained his first oratorical and literary successes. His tragedy Lucrecia was played there in February 1819, and during this period he also wrote Merope as well as a great part of Cato, all these plays belonging to the so-called classical school. Leaving Coimbra with a law degree, he proceeded to Lisbon, and on the 11th of November 1822 married D. Luiza Midosi; but the alliance proved unhappy and a formal separation took place in 1839.

The reactionary movement against the Radical revolution of 1820 reached its height in 1823, and Garrett had to leave Portugal by order of the Absolutist ministry then in power, and went to England. He became acquainted with the masterpieces of the English and German romantic movements during his stay abroad.

Imbued with the spirit of nationality, he wrote in 1824 at Havre the poem “Camões,” which destroyed the influence of the worn-out classical and Arcadian rhymers, and in the following year composed the patriotic poem “D. Branca,” or “The Conquest of the Algarve.” He was permitted to return to Portugal in 1826, and thereupon devoted himself to journalism. With the publication of O Portuguez, he raised the tone of the press, exhibiting an elevation of ideas and moderation of language then unknown in political controversy, and he introduced the “feuilleton.” But his defence of Liberal principles brought him three months’ imprisonment, and when D. Miguel was proclaimed absolute king on the 3rd of May 1828, Garrett had again to leave the country. In London, where he sought refuge, he continued his adhesion to romanticism by publishing Adozinda and Bernal-Francez, expansions of old folk-poems, which met with the warmest praise from Southey and were translated by Adamson. He spent the next three years in and about Birmingham, Warwick and London, engaged in writing poetry and political pamphlets, and by these and by his periodicals he did much to unite the Portuguese émigrés and to keep up their spirit amid their sufferings in a foreign land. Learning that an expedition was being organized in France for the liberation of Portugal, Garrett raised funds and joined the forces under D. Pedro as a volunteer. Sailing in February 1832, he disembarked at Terceira, whence he passed to S. Miguel, then the seat of the Liberal government. Here he became a co-operator with the statesman Mousinho da Silveira, and assisted him in drafting those laws which were to revolutionize the whole framework of Portuguese society, this important work being done far from books and without pecuniary reward. In his spare time he wrote some of the beautiful lyrics afterwards collected into Flores sem Fructo. He took part in the expedition that landed at the Mindello on the 8th of July 1832, and in the occupation of Oporto. Early in the siege he sketched out, under the influence of Walter Scott, the historical romance Arco de Sant’ Anna, descriptive of the city in the reign of D. Pedro I.; and, in addition, he organized the Home and Foreign offices under the marquis of Palmella, drafted many important royal decrees, and prepared the criminal and commercial codes. In the following November he was despatched as secretary to the marquis on a diplomatic mission to foreign courts, which involved him in much personal hardship. In the next year the capture of Lisbon enabled him to return home, and he was charged to prepare a scheme for the reform of public instruction.

In 1834–1835 he served as consul-general and chargé d’affaires at Brussels, representing Portugal with distinction under most difficult circumstances, for which he received no thanks and little pay. When he got back, the government employed him to draw up a proposal for the construction of a national theatre and for a conservatoire of dramatic art, of which he became the head. He instituted prizes for the best plays, himself revising nearly all that were produced, and a school of dramatists and actors arose under his influence. To give them models, he proceeded to write a series of prose dramas, choosing his subjects from Portuguese history. He began in 1838 with the Auto de Gil Vicente, considering that the first step towards the recreation of the Portuguese drama was to revive the memory of its founder, and he followed this up in 1842 by the Alfageme de Santarem, dealing with the Holy Constable, and in 1843 by Frei Luiz de Sousa, one of the few great tragedies of the 19th century, a work as intensely national as The Lusiads. The story, which in part is historically true, and has the merit of being simple, like the action, is briefly as follows. D. João de Portugal, who was supposed to have died at the battle of Alcacer, returns, years afterwards, to find his wife married to Manoel de Sousa and the mother of a daughter by him, named Maria. Thereupon the pair separate and enter religion, and Manoel becomes the famous chronicler, Frei Luiz de Sousa (q.v.). The characters live and move, especially Telmo, the old servant, who would never believe in the death of his former master D. João, and the consumptive child Maria, who helps Telmo to create the atmosphere of impending disaster; while the episodes, particularly those of the return of D. João and the death of Maria, are full of power, and the language is Portuguese of the best.

Entering parliament in 1837, Garrett soon made his mark as an orator. In that year he delivered many notable discourses in defence of liberal ideas. He also brought in a literary copyright bill, which, when it became law in 1851, served as a precedent for similar legislation in England and Prussia. In 1840 he made his famous speech known as Porto Pyreu, in which he skilfully turned the well-known anecdote of the “mad Athenian” against his opponents. While attending with assiduity to his duties as a deputy, he wrote, about this time, the drama D. Filippa de Vilhena, founded on an incident in the revolution of 1640, for representation by the pupils of the conservatoire, and the session of 1841 saw another of his oratorical triumphs in his speech against the law of tithes. In July 1843 an excursion to Santarem resulted in his prose masterpiece Viagens na minha terra, at once a novel and a miscellany of literary, political and philosophic criticism, written without plan or method, easy, jovial and epigrammatic. He took no part in the civil war that followed the revolution of Maria da Fonte, but continued his literary labours, producing in 1848 the comedy A Sobrinha do Marquez, dealing with the times of Pombal, and in 1849 an historical memoir on Mousinho da Silveira. He spent much of the year 1850 in finishing his Romanceiro, a collection of folk-poetry of which he was the first to perceive the value; and in June 1851 he was created a viscount. In the following December he drew up the additional act to the constitutional charter, and his draft was approved by the ministers at a cabinet meeting in his house. Further, he initiated the Conselho Ultramarino; and the Law of the Misericordias, with its preamble, published in 1852, was entirely from his pen. In the same year he became for a short time minister of foreign affairs. In 1853 he brought out Folhas Cahidas, a collection of short poems ablaze with passion and exquisite in form, of which his friend Herculano said: “if Camoens had written love verses at Garrett’s age, he could not have equalled him.” His final literary work was a novel, Helena, which he left unfinished, and on the 10th of February 1854 he made his last notable speech in the House. He died on the 9th of December 1854, and on the 3rd of May 1903 his remains were translated to the national pantheon, the Jeronymos at Belem, where they rest near to those of Camoens. As poet, novelist, journalist, orator and dramatist, he deserves the remark of Rebello da Silva: “Garrett was not a man of letters only but an entire literature in himself.”

Besides his strong religious faith, Garrett was endowed with a deep sensibility, a creative imagination, rare taste and a singular capacity for sympathy. Thus, though a learned man and an able jurist, he was bound to be first and always an artist. His artistic temperament explains his many-sided activity, his expansive kindliness, his seductive charm, especially for women, his patriotism, his aristocratic pretensions, his huge vanity and dandyism, and the ingenuousness that absolves him from many faults in an irregular life. From his rich artistic nature sprang his profound, sincere, sensual and melancholy lyrics, the variety and perfection of his scenic creations, the splendour of his eloquence, the truth of his comic vein, the elegance of his lighter compositions. Two books stand out in bold relief from among his writings: Folhas Cahidas, and that tragedy of fatality and pity, Frei Luiz de Sousa, with its gallery of noble figures incarnating the truest realism in an almost perfect prose form. The complete collection of his works comprises twenty-four volumes and there are several editions.

Authorities.—Gomes de Amorim, Garrett, memorias biographicas (3 vols., Lisbon, 1881–1888); D. Romero Ortiz, La Litteratura Portuguesa en el siglo XIX (Madrid, 1869), pp. 165-221; Dr Theophilo Braga, Garrett e o romantismo (Oporto, 1904), and Garrett e os dramas romanticos (Oporto, 1905), with a full bibliography; Innocencio da Silva, Diccionario bibliographico Portuguez, vol. iii. pp. 309-316, and vol. x. pp. 180-185. See Revue encyclopédique Larousse, No. 284, for a bibliography of the foreign translations of Garrett. Frei Luiz de Sousa was translated by Edgar Prestage under the title Brother Luiz de Sousa (London, 1909). (E. Pr.)