Sacred Texts  Legends/Sagas  Index  Previous  Next 

p. xiv



WHEN the glory of the arms of Portugal had reached its meridian splendour, Nature, as if in pity of the literary rudeness of that nation, produced a great poet to record the numberless actions of high spirit performed by his countrymen. Except Osorius, the historians of Portugal are little better than dry journalists. But it is not their inelegance which rendered the poet necessary. It is the peculiar nature of poetry to give a colouring to heroic actions, and to express indignation against breaches of honour, in a spirit which at once seizes the heart of the man of feeling, and carries with it instantaneous conviction. The brilliant actions of the Portuguese form the great hinge which opened the door to the most important alterations in the civil history of mankind. And to place these actions in the light and enthusiasm of poetry--that enthusiasm which particularly assimilates the youthful breast to its own fires--was Luis de Camoëns, the poet of Portugal, born.

Different cities have claimed the honour of his birth. But according to N. Antonio, and Manuel Correa, his intimate friend, this event happened at Lisbon in 1517. * His family was of considerable note, and originally Spanish. In 1370 Vasco Perez de Caamans, disgusted at the court of Castile, fled to that of Lisbon, where King Ferdinand immediately admitted him into his council, and gave him the lordships of Sardoal, Punnete, Marano, Amendo, and other considerable lands; a certain proof of the eminence of his rank and abilities. In the war for the succession, which broke

p. xvi

out on the death of Ferdinand, Caamans sided with the King of Castile, and was killed in the battle of Aljabarrota. But though John I., the victor, seized a great part of his estate, his widow, the daughter of Gonsalo Tereyro, grand master of the Order of Christ, and general of the Portuguese army, was not reduced beneath her rank. She had three sons, who took the name of Camoëns. The family of the eldest intermarried with the first nobility of Portugal, and even, according to Castera, with the blood royal. But the family of the second brother, whose fortune was slender, had the superior honour to produce the author of the Lusiad.

Early in life the misfortunes of the poet began. In his infancy, Simon Vaz de Camoëns, his father, commander of a vessel, was shipwrecked at Goa, where, with his life, the greatest part of his fortune was lost. His mother, however, Anne de Macedo of Santarem, provided for the education of her son Luis, at the University of Coimbra. What he acquired there his works discover; an intimacy with the classics, equal to that of a Scaliger, but directed by the taste of a Milton or a Pope.

When he left the university he appeared at court. He was a polished scholar and very handsome, * possessing a most engaging mien and address, with the finest complexion, which, added to the natural ardour and gay vivacity of his disposition, rendered him an accomplished gentleman. Courts are the scenes of intrigue, and intrigue was fashionable at Lisbon. But the particulars of the amours of Camoëns rest unknown. This only appears: he hard aspired above his rank, for he was banished from the court; and in several of his sonnets he ascribes this misfortune to love.

He now retired to his mother’s friends at Santarem. Here he renewed his studies, and began his poem on the discovery of India. John III. at this time prepared an armament against Africa. Camoëns, tired of his inactive, obscure life, went to Ceuta in this expedition, and greatly distinguished his valour in several rencontres. In a naval engagement with the Moors in the Straits of Gibraltar, Camoëns, in the conflict of boarding, where he was

p. xvii

among the foremost, lost his right eye. Yet neither the hurry of actual service, nor the dissipation of the camp, could stifle his genius. He continued his Lusiadas; and several of his most beautiful sonnets were written in Africa, while, as he expresses it,

"One hand the pen, and one the sword employ’d."

The fame of his valour had now reached the Court, and he obtained permission to return to Lisbon. But while he solicited an establishment which he had merited in the ranks of battle, the malignity of evil tongues (as he calls it in one of his letters) was injuriously poured upon him. Though the bloom of his early youth was effaced by several years’ residence under the scorching sky of Africa, and though altered by the loss of an eye, his presence gave uneasiness to the gentlemen of some families of the first rank where he had formerly visited. Jealousy is the characteristic of the Spanish and Portuguese; its resentment knows no bounds, and Camoëns now found it prudent to banish himself from his native country. Accordingly, in 1553 he sailed for India, with a resolution never to return. As the ship left the Tagus he exclaimed, in the words of the sepulchral monument of Scipio Africanus, "Ingrata patria, non possidebis ossa mea!" (Ungrateful country, thou shalt not possess my bones!) But he knew not what evils in the East would awaken the remembrance of his native fields.

When Camoëns arrived in India, an expedition was ready to sail to revenge the King of Cochin on the King of Pimenta. Without any rest on shore after his long voyage, he joined this armament, and, in the conquest of the Alagada Islands, displayed his usual bravery. But his modesty, perhaps, is his greatest praise. In a sonnet he mentions this expedition: "We went to punish the King of Pimenta," says he, "e succedeones bem" (and we succeeded well). When it is considered that the poet bore no inconsiderable share in the victory, no ode can conclude more elegantly, more happily than this.

In the year following, he attended Manuel de Vasconcello in an expedition to the Red Sea. Here, says Faria, as Camoëns had no use for his sword, he employed his pen. Nor was his activity confined to the fleet or camp. He visited Mount Felix, and the adjacent inhospitable regions of Africa, which he so strongly pictures in the Lusiad, and in one of his little pieces, where he laments the absence of his mistress.

p. xviii

When he returned to Goa, he enjoyed a tranquility which enabled him to bestow his attention on his epic poem. But this serenity was interrupted, perhaps by his own imprudence. He wrote some satires which gave offence, and by order of the viceroy, Francisco Barreto, he was banished to China.

Men of poor abilities are more conscious of their embarrassment and errors than is commonly believed. When men of this kind are in power, they affect great solemnity; and every expression of the most distant tendency to lessen their dignity is held as the greatest of crimes. Conscious, also, how severely the man of genius can hurt their interest, they bear an instinctive antipathy against him, are uneasy even in his company, and, on the slightest pretence, are happy to drive him from them. Camoëns was thus situated at Goa; and never was there a fairer field for satire than the rulers of India at that time afforded. Yet, whatever esteem the prudence of Camoëns may lose in our idea, the nobleness of his disposition will doubly gain. And, so conscious was he of his real integrity and innocence, that in one of his sonnets he wishes no other revenge on Barreto than that the cruelty of his exile should ever be remembered. *

The accomplishments and manners of Camoëns soon found him friends, though under the disgrace of banishment. He was appointed Commissary of the estates of deceased persons, in the island of Macao, a Portuguese settlement on the coast of China. Here he continued his Lusiad; and here, also, after five years residence, he acquired a fortune, though small, yet equal to his wishes. Don Constantine de Braganza was now Viceroy of India; and Camoëns, desirous to return to Goa, resigned his charge. In a ship, freighted by himself, he set sail, but was shipwrecked in the gulf near the mouth of the river Meekhaun, in Cochin China. All he had acquired was lost in the waves: his poems, which he held in one hand, while he swam with the other, were all he found himself possessed of when he stood friendless on the unknown shore. But the natives gave him a most humane reception; this he has immortalized

p. xix

in the prophetic song in the tenth Lusiad; * and in the

seventh he tells us that here he lost the wealth which satisfied his wishes.

Agora da esperança ja adquirida, etc.

"Now blest with all the wealth fond hope could crave,
Soon I beheld that wealth beneath the wave
For ever lost;--
My life like Judah’s Heaven-doom’d king of yore
By miracle prolong’d."

On the banks of the Meekhaun, he wrote his beautiful paraphrase of the 137th Psalm, where the Jews, in the finest strain of poetry, are represented as hanging their harps on the willows by the rivers of Babylon, and weeping their exile from their native country. Here Camoëns continued some time, till an opportunity offered to carry him to Goa. When he arrived at that city, Don Constantine de Braganza, the viceroy, whose characteristic was politeness, admitted him into intimate friendship, and Camoëns was happy till Count Redondo assumed the government. Those who had formerly procured the banishment of the satirist were silent while Constantine was in power. But now they exerted all their arts against him. Redondo, when he entered on office, pretended to be the friend of Camoëns; yet, with the most unfeeling indifference, he suffered the innocent man to be thrown into the common prison. After all the delay of bringing witnesses, Camoëns, in a public trial, fully refuted every accusation against his conduct while commissary at Macao, and his enemies were loaded with ignominy and reproach. But Camoëns had some creditors; and these detained him in prison a considerable time, till the gentlemen of Goa began to be ashamed that a man of his singular merit should experience such treatment among them. He was set at liberty; and again he assumed the profession of arms, and received the allowance of a gentleman-volunteer,

p. xx

a character at that time common in Portuguese India.

Soon after, Pedro Barreto (appointed governor of the fort of Sofála), by high promises, allured the poet to attend him thither. The governor of a distant fort, in a barbarous country, shares in some measure the fate of an exile. Yet, though the only motive of Barreto was, in this unpleasant situation, to retain the conversation of Camoëns at his table, it was his least care to render the life of his guest . agreeable. Chagrined with his treatment, and a considerable time having elapsed in vain dependence upon Barreto, Camoëns resolved to return to his native country. A ship, on the homeward voyage, at this time touched at Sofála, and several gentlemen * who were on board were desirous that Camoëns should accompany them. But this the governor ungenerously endeavoured to prevent, and charged him with a debt for board. Anthony de Cabral, however, and Hector de Sylveyra, paid the demand, and Camoëns, says Faria, and the honour of Barreto were sold together.

After an absence of sixteen years, Camoëns, in 1569, returned to Lisbon, unhappy even in his arrival, for the pestilence then raged in that city, and prevented his publishing for three years. At last, in 1572, he printed his Lusiad, which, in the opening of the first book, in a most elegant turn of compliment, he addressed to his prince, King Sebastian, then in his eighteenth year. The king, says the French translator, was so pleased with his merit, that he gave the author a pension of 4000 reals, on condition that he should reside at court. But this salary, says the same writer, was withdrawn by Cardinal Henry, who succeeded to the crown of Portugal, lost by Sebastian at the battle of Alcazar.

But this story of the pension is very doubtful. Correa and other contemporary authors do not mention it, though some late writers have given credit to it. If Camoëns, however, had a pension, it is highly probable that Henry deprived him of it. While Sebastian was devoted to the chase, his grand-uncle, the cardinal, presided at the council board, and Camoëns, in his address to the king, which closes the Lusiad, advises him to exclude the clergy from State affairs. It was easy to see that the cardinal was here intended. And Henry, besides, was one of those statesmen

p. xxi

who can perceive no benefit resulting to the public from elegant literature. But it ought also to be added in completion of his character, that under the narrow views and weak hands of this Henry, the kingdom of Portugal fell into utter ruin; and on his death, which closed a short inglorious reign, the crown of Lisbon, after a faint struggle, was annexed to that of Spain. Such was the degeneracy of the Portuguese, a degeneracy lamented in vain by Camoëns, whose observation of it was imputed to him as a crime.

Though the great * patron of theological literature--a species the reverse of that of Camoëns--certain it is, that the author of the Lusiad was utterly neglected by Henry, under whose inglorious reign he died in all the misery of poverty. By some,

p. xxii

it is said, he died in an almshouse. It appears, however, that he had not even the certainty of subsistence which these houses provide. He had a black servant, who had grown old with him, and who had long experienced his master’s humanity. This grateful dependant, a native of Java, who, according to some writers, saved his master’s life in the unhappy shipwreck where he lost his effects, begged in the streets of Lisbon for the only man in Portugal on whom God had bestowed those talents which have a tendency to erect the spirit of a downward age. To the eye of a careful observer, the fate of Camoëns throws great light on that of his country, and will appear strictly connected with it. The same ignorance, the same degenerate spirit, which suffered Camoëns to depend on his share of the alms begged in the streets by his old hoary servant--the same spirit which caused this, sank the kingdom of Portugal into the most abject vassalage ever experienced by a conquered nation. While the grandees of Portugal were blind to the ruin which impended over them, Camoëns beheld it with a pungency of grief which hastened his end. In one of his letters he has these remarkable words, "Em fim accaberey à vida, e verràm todos que fuy afeiçoada a minho patria," etc.--"I am ending the course of my life, the world will witness how I have loved my country. I have returned, not only to die in her bosom, but to die with her." In another letter, written a little before his death, he thus, yet with dignity, complains, "Who has seen on so small a theatre as my poor bed, such a representation of the disappointments of Fortune. And I, as if she could not herself subdue me, I have yielded and become of her party; for it were wild audacity to hope to surmount such accumulated evils."

In this unhappy situation, in 1579, in his sixty-second year, the year after the fatal defeat of Don Sebastian, died Luis de Camoëns, the greatest literary genius ever produced by Portugal; in martial courage and spirit of honour nothing inferior to her greatest heroes. And in a manner suitable to the poverty in which he died was he buried. Soon after, however, many epitaphs honoured his memory; the greatness of his merit was universally confessed, and his Lusiad was translated into various languages. * Nor ought it to be omitted, that the man so

p. xxiii

miserably neglected by the weak king Henry, was earnestly enquired after by Philip of Spain when he assumed the crown of Lisbon. When Philip heard that Camoëns was dead, both his words and his countenance expressed his disappointment and grief.

From the whole tenor of his life, and from that spirit which glows throughout the Lusiad, it evidently appears that the courage and manners of Camoëns flowed from true greatness and dignity of soul. Though his polished conversation was often courted by the great, he appears so distant from servility that his imprudence in this respect is by some highly blamed. Yet the instances of it by no means deserve that severity of censure with which some writers have condemned him. Unconscious of the feelings of a Camoëns, they knew not that a carelessness in securing the smiles of fortune, and an open honesty of indignation, are almost inseparable from the enthusiasm of fine imagination. The truth is, the man possessed of true genius feels his greatest happiness in the pursuits and excursions of the mind, and therefore makes an estimate of things very different from that of him whose unremitting attention is devoted to his external interest. The profusion of Camoëns is also censured. Had he dissipated the wealth he acquired at Macao, his profusion indeed had been criminal; but it does not appear that he ever enjoyed any other opportunity of acquiring independence. But Camoëns was unfortunate, and the unfortunate man is viewed--

          "Through the dim shade his fate casts o’er him:
A shade that spreads its evening darkness o’er
His brightest virtues, while it shows his foibles
Crowding and obvious as the midnight stars,
Which, in the sunshine of prosperity
Never had been descried."

[paragraph continues] Yet, after the strictest discussion, when all the causes are weighed together, the misfortunes of Camoëns will appear the fault and disgrace of his age and country, and not of the man. His talents

p. xxiv

would have secured him an apartment in the palace of Augustus, but such talents are a curse to their possessor in an illiterate nation. In a beautiful, digressive exclamation at the end of the Lusiad, he affords us a striking view of the neglect which he experienced. Having mentioned how the greatest heroes of antiquity revered and cherished the muse, he thus characterizes the nobility of his own age and country.

"Alas! on Tago’s hapless shore alone
The muse is slighted, and her charms unknown;
For this, no Virgil here attunes the lyre,
No Homer here awakes the hero’s fire;
Unheard, in vain their native poet sings,
And cold neglect weighs down the muse’s wings."

[paragraph continues] In such an age, and among such a barbarous nobility, what but wretched neglect could be the fate of a Camoëns! After all, however, if he was imprudent on his first appearance at the court of John III.; if the honesty of his indignation led him into great imprudence, as certainly it did, when at Goa he satirised the viceroy and the first persons in power; yet let it also be remembered, that "The gifts of imagination bring the heaviest task upon the vigilance of reason; and to bear those faculties with unerring rectitude, or invariable propriety, requires a degree of firmness and of cool attention, which doth not always attend the higher gifts of the mind. Yet, difficult as nature herself seems to have rendered the task of regularity to genius, it is the supreme consolation of dullness and of folly to point with Gothic triumph to those excesses which are the overflowings of faculties they never enjoyed. Perfectly unconscious that they are indebted to their stupidity for the consistency of their conduct, they plume themselves on an imaginary virtue which has its origin in what is really their disgrace.--Let such, if such dare approach the shrine of Camoëns, withdraw to a respectful distance; and should they behold the ruins of genius, or the weakness of an exalted mind, let them be taught to lament that nature has left the noblest of her works imperfect." *


xiv:* A document in the archives of the Portuguese India House, on which Lord Strangford relies, places it in 1524, or the following year.--Ed.

xvi:* The French translator gives us so fine a description of the person of Camoëns, that it seems borrowed from the Fairy Tales. It is universally agreed, however, that he was handsome, and had a most engaging mien and address. He is thus described by Nicolas Antonio, "Mediocri statura fuit, et carne plena, capillis usque ad croci colorem flavescentibus, maxime in juventute. Eminebat ei frons, et medius nasus, cætera longus, et in fine crassiusculus."

xviii:* Castera tells us, "that posterity by no means enters into the resentment of our poet, and that the Portuguese historians make glorious mention of Barreto, who was a man of true merit." The Portuguese historians, however, knew not what true merit was. The brutal, uncommercial wars of Sampayo are by them mentioned as much more glorious than the less bloody campaigns of a Nunio, which established commerce and empire.

xix:* Having named the Mecon, or Meekhaun, a river of Cochin China, he says

Este recebera placido, e brando,
No seu regaço o Canto, que molhado
, etc.

[paragraph continues] Literally thus: "On his gentle hospitable bosom (sic brando poeticé) shall he receive the song, wet from woful unhappy shipwreck, escaped from destroying tempests, from ravenous dangers, the effect of the unjust sentence upon him, whose lyre shall be more renowned than enriched." When Camoëns was commissary, he visited the islands of Ternate, Timor, etc., described in the Lusiad.

xx:* According to the Portuguese Life of Camoëns, prefixed to Gedron’s, the best edition of his works, Diogo de Couto, the historian, one of the company in this homeward voyage, wrote annotations upon the Lusiad, under the eye of its author. But these, unhappily, have never appeared in public.

xxi:* Cardinal Henry’s patronage of learning and learned men is mentioned with cordial esteem by the Portuguese writers. Happily they also tell us what that learning was. It was to him the Romish Friars of the East transmitted their childish forgeries of inscriptions and miracles. He corresponded with them, directed their labours, and received the first accounts of their success. Under his patronage it was discovered, that St. Thomas ordered the Indians to worship the cross; and that the Moorish tradition of Perimal (who, having embraced Mohammedanism, divided his kingdom among his officers, whom he rendered tributary to the Zamorim) was a malicious misrepresentation, for that Perimal, having turned Christian, resigned his kingdom and became a monk. Such was the learning patronized by Henry, under whose auspices that horrid tribunal, the Inquisition, was erected at Lisbon, where he himself long presided as Inquisitor-General. Nor was he content with this: he established an Inquisition, also, at Goa, and sent a whole apparatus of holy fathers to form a court of inquisitors, to suppress the Jews and reduce the native Christians to the see of Rome. Nor must the treatment experienced by Buchanan at Lisbon be here omitted. John III., earnest to promote the cultivation of polite literature among his subjects, engaged Buchanan, the most elegant Latinist, perhaps, of modern times, to teach philosophy and the belles lettres at Lisbon. But the design of the monarch was soon frustrated by the clergy, at the head of whom was Henry, afterwards king. Buchanan was committed to prison, because it was alleged that he had eaten flesh in Lent, and because in his early youth, at St. Andrew’s in Scotland, he had written a satire against the Franciscans; for which, however, ere he would venture to Lisbon, John had promised absolute indemnity. John, with much difficulty, procured his release from a loathsome jail, but could not effect his restoration as a teacher. No, he only changed his prison, for Buchanan was sent to a monastery "to be instructed by the monks," of the men of letters patronized by Henry. These are thus characterized by their pupil Buchanan,--nec inhumanis, nec malis, sed omnis religions ignaris: "Not uncivilized, not flagitious, but ignorant of every religion."

xxii:* According to Gedron, a second edition of the Lusiad appeared in the same year with the first. There are two Italian and four Spanish translations p. xxiii of it. A hundred years before Castera’s version it appeared in French. Thomas de Faria, Bp. of Targa in Africa, translated it into Latin. Le P. Niceron says there were two other Latin translations. It is translated, also, into Hebrew, with great elegance and spirit, by one Luzzatto, a learned and ingenious Jew, author of several poems in that language, who died in the Holy Land.

xxiv:* This passage in inverted commas is cited, with the alteration of the name only, from Langhorne’s account of the life of William Collins.

Next: Dissertation on the Lusiad, and on Epic Poetry