The historian of Portuguese literature ought, therefore, to direct his particular attention to those apparently unimportant, and yet in themselves very remarkable properties, whereby Portuguese poetry has in the varied progress of its cultivation more or less deviated from the Castilian, or, as it is now usually styled, the Spanish; 2 and also to the manner in which 3 the differences not only of the two sister languages, but of the two nations, whose respective characters are impressed on those languages, have constantly preserved the boundary which divides the polite literature of Portugal and Spain, and which must otherwise have soon been obliterated.
The harmonious softness of the Portuguese language, probably contributed no less to its early cultivation in general than to its applicability to poetry in particular. Even the characteristic nasal sound, which the pronunciation of this language has in common with the French, is in no way detrimental to the rhythm of the Portuguese syllables; for that rhythm, as in the Spanish and Italian languages, depends on a certain accentuation, which is a valuable remnant of the latin syllabic forms, and which is not, as in the French, annihilated by a new rule of orthoepy.
That this ancient accentuation, and with it the groundwork of metrical perfectibility, should be preserved in the Portuguese language, is a circumstance rendered the more remarkable by that of a French prince having been the founder of the first dynasty of the kings of Portugal; for from this incidental occurrence, some critics and philologists have endeavoured to explain the similarity between the Portuguese and French pronunciation.
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The prince to whose influence this effect has been attributed is Henry of Burgundy, who was, in the year , appointed, 4 by his father-in-law, Alphonso VI. It is however not a little extraordinary, that under the dominion and influence of French princes and nobles, Portuguese poetry should from its origin have preserved unimpaired those romantic national forms, in which it soon appeared perfectly to coincide with the Castilian poetry; for notwithstanding that most of the French nobles, who settled in Portugal, came from the south of France, whence they brought with them the genuine poetry of the Troubadours, still the introduction of that poetry did not impede the developement of those poetic forms, which constituted a common source of pleasure for the Portuguese, the Galician, and the Castilian.
The favourable situation of Portugal could not fail to contribute in a considerable degree to the early developement of the Portuguese tongue. While the Castilians descending from their mountains, obtained no increase of wealth until they wrested it sword in 5 hand from the Arabs, the Portuguese, particularly after they recovered possession of Lisbon, enriched themselves by the peaceful pursuits of trade and navigation. Lisbon soon became a flourishing commercial city; and the nation learned to unite civic industry with warlike achievements.
The Portuguese, generally speaking, acquired a degree of practical dexterity which even to this day seems to distinguish them from the Spaniards, and which indeed is not sufficiently valued by the enemies of the Portuguese name, amongst whom must be more particularly included their Castilian neighbours. The benefits of civil industry, which were widely diffused from Lisbon, fortified in the Portuguese that feeling of self-esteem, which was necessary for the maintenance of their independence on so small a territory. In the reign of Alphonso I. The romance dialect of Portugal now advanced southward into the conquered districts, and thus acquired the dignity of a prevailing national language, the formation of which proceeded from a great capital.
These circumstances may serve to explain how two Portuguese poets came to be celebrated at so early a period as the reign of Alphonso I. One of these poets is Gonzalo Hermiguez, and the other Egaz Moniz; two knights descended from the most distinguished families of the country. The 6 verses of these ancient bards which have been preserved, are not wholly intelligible even to natives of Portugal. Gonzalo Hermiguez and Egaz Moniz wrote no rhymed chronicles or legends. Their lyric effusions, which are popular songs in the proper sense of the term, are composed in short trochaic verses, precisely in the style of the well-known Spanish and Portuguese ballads of the fifteenth centuries.
In the verses of Hermiguez scarcely any regular measure is discernible. These oldest relics of lyric composition in the Portuguese language seem to confirm the opinion, that the prevailing tone of romantic love, which characterised the poetry of the Spaniards and Portuguese, until the imitation of the Italian style was generally adopted, originated in Portugal.
To paint romantic despair, and all the storms of passion, combined with the deepest resignation, existing not only in fancy, but in real life, appears to have formed the poetic costume of chivalry in Portugal even earlier than in Spain. Thus, the susceptible Egaz Moniz is said to have survived only a short time the poetic expression of the 8 anguish occasioned by the infidelity of his beloved Violante.
In all literary probability, the Portuguese also preceded the Spaniards in essays in epic, or rather in historical poetry. An old Portuguese narrative in dactylic stanzas versos de arte mayor , whose unknown author related, as well as he was able, the history of the conquest of Spain by the Moors, may not be so old as it is supposed to be by Manuel de Faria y Sousa, who would refer the origin of these verses to the very period of the Arabic invasion.
They are, however, written in such antiquated language, that they may be regarded as of a date anterior to the Cantigas of Hermiguez and Moniz; and that they are the surreptitious fabrication of a later writer can scarcely be supposed, since no one could have hoped to acquire the least fame or reward by producing a counterfeit of so little value. No opinion could be formed of the merits of the whole narrative from the few stanzas, which are now extant, even though the language were more intelligible than it is.
In general all these remains of the most ancient Portuguese poetry must be considered only as first attempts. Throughout the whole of the thirteenth century, the poetic art in Portugal appears to have remained stationary in that degree of advancement to which it had arrived in the twelfth century. The language, however, became gradually more fixed and regular. In the latter half of the thirteenth century, king Diniz Dionysius of Portugal, promoted Portuguese literature in the same manner as his contemporary Alphonso the Wise, by his influence and example, improved the poetry of Castile.
Diniz, like Alphonso, was himself a poet and a prose writer. His poetic compositions were, according to the fashion of the age, collected in Cancioneiros song books , which bore the name of the author. But from the testimony of Portuguese writers, it appears that the poems of king Diniz are to be found only in old manuscripts.
They cannot, however, be very few in number, for two Cancioneiros are named, one containing the spiritual, and the other the temporal works of the king. This institution was first established in the capital, but it was soon transferred to Coimbra, where it is still maintained, in a great measure, according to its original forms.
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No accounts have been preserved of any other Portuguese writers, who, following the example of their king, may have more or less distinguished themselves in the cultivation of the national poetry; though at this period celebrated names might the more naturally be expected, as two poets had flourished in the twelfth century. But the Portuguese bards, who, in the thirteenth century delighted their contemporaries by their poetic compositions, shared no better fate than the writers of the oldest Spanish canciones and romances.
The fourteenth century is not much richer than the thirteenth in names, which shed a lustre on the history of Portuguese poetry. Scarcely any writers of verse are recorded, except those who were members of the royal family, as if they were considered the representatives of all the contemporary poets of their nation. Alphonso IV. Affonso Sanchez, a natural son of Diniz, appears to have been gifted with a similar poetic talent.
Pedro I. A Castilian poem by Pedro I. But this early influence of Italian poetry is also proved 12 by some Portuguese sonnets of the fourteenth or fifteenth century.go here
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Admitting the problematic sonnet to be really the production of the Infante Dom Pedro, and therefore written, at the earliest in the commencement of the fifteenth century, it is certain that at that period no imitation of the Italian style was thought of in Castile. In Portugal, however, the metrical form of the sonnet was not only known, as 13 it also was in Castile; but the Italian style was likewise imitated in sonnets. It is probable, that the mercantile intercourse between Lisbon and the ports of Italy, made the Portuguese early acquainted with Italian literature. But at the period now under consideration, the imitation of the Italian style appears to have been very limited in Portugal; for the old lyric poetry in the national style, began about this time more particularly to unfold its characteristic beauties.
According to the testimony of 14 a Spanish writer, 16 the Portuguese Cancioneiro Geral contains some poems of the fourteenth century, with the names of the authors affixed to them.
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In the fourteenth century too, Portuguese prose improved in precision, after a certain degree of literary consideration had been given to it, in consequence of chronicles being written in the national language. From this period the Portuguese vied with the Castilians in the patriotic task of recording the memorable events of their national history.
The style of the Portuguese chronicles of the fourteenth century is, however, completely in the chronicle manner. In Portugal as in Spain the fifteenth century was the period during which the old national songs and romances flourished in the greatest luxuriance. The correspondence between the Castilian and the Portuguese poetry, was at that time particularly promoted by the Galician poets, who though faithful subjects of the Castilian monarchy, still remained true to their mother tongue.
Galicia seems to have been the land of romantic sentiment whence the poetry of love exhibited in the lyric compositions of Spain and Portugal was transplanted. No Portuguese or Spaniard is so celebrated in poetic literature, for the influence of love on his fate, as the Galician poet and knight Macias, who lived in the first half of the fifteenth century, and of whose remarkable history a brief sketch may properly be introduced here.
Macias, who obtained the surnames of the enamoured and the great , distinguished himself as a brave warrior against the Moors of Granada, and as an accomplished writer in the literary retinue of the 16 Marquess of Villena.
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The marquess strictly prohibited him from continuing a secret intrigue in which he had embarked with a lady, who, through the intervention of the marquess, had become the wife of another knight. But Macias conceived that he could not better prove his chivalrous constancy in love, than by boldly disobeying the commands of his patron.
The marquess, however, availing himself of his power as grand master of the order of Calatrava, sent the refractory poet a prisoner to the kingdom of Jaen, on the frontiers of Granada.
In his captivity Macias composed his songs of ill-fated love in the Galician language, which at the period of their production were highly esteemed, but which are now lost with the exception of a few trifles. On the discovery of the correspondence, the poetic boldness of Macias roused the husband of the lady to the most furious pitch of jealousy. Armed cap-a-pee, he set out with the intention of slaying the unfortunate poet. He proceeded to the town of Arjonilla, where Macias was confined, and espying the prisoner at a window, he threw a javelin at him, and killed him on the spot.
But the story has more properly its place in the history of Portuguese poetry. The Spanish amatory poets, however extravagant might be their extacies in verse, confined themselves, in real life, within certain boundaries, which were consistent with the habits of society. The Portuguese, on the contrary, and as it would appear, the Galicians likewise, when they indulged in the poetic expression of violent and enthusiastic feelings of love, conceived that it was still necessary they should seek to impress the stamp of perfection on their songs, by exhibiting all kinds of sentimental excesses in their own personal conduct.
The Spaniards seem always to have felt convinced that they could not attain the romantic tenderness of the Portuguese. But in order to pursue the comparison between the romance and lyric poetry of Portugal and of Spain, an intimate acquaintance with the old Portuguese Cancioneiros geraes general song books , is indispensable. Writers on literature, however, usually refer to the Cancioneiro , which was printed in the year , by Garcia de Resende, a man of talent, who flourished at the courts of John II. The manuscript is dated It may, however, be presumed that the Portuguese poets, who were at this period so much more numerous than the Spanish, had advanced no farther than the latter in poetic refinement, for even Bernardim Ribeyro, called the Portuguese Ennius, 24 who lived until the commencement of the sixteenth century, and who is more celebrated than any other poetic writer of the fifteenth century, does not surpass the authors of the old Spanish ballads, in any thing connected with the cultivation of genius and the improvement of poetic language.
Thus in all literary probability the Portuguese Cancioneiro geral is merely a companion work to the Spanish collection. But the preponderating number of the poetic writers of Portugal, compared with those of Spain during the fifteenth century, is a circumstance particularly deserving of notice, since it proves that the soil of Portugal was then, as well as at an earlier period, even more fertile than Spain in poetic genius. Still, however, this indicates no peculiarly eminent talent.
It is also but fair to observe, lest the superior number of the Portuguese poets, in proportion to the limited extent of their native land, should be too highly estimated, that in the fifteenth century, the Castilian monarchy was not what it now is; for it was bounded on the south by 20 the Moorish kingdom of Granada, and on the east by the Arragonian dominions, where the Limosin language exclusively prevailed.
Narrative and particularly historical romances seem never to have been so highly esteemed by the Portuguese as by the Spaniards. It is probable that in this class of composition the Portuguese merely imitated the Spaniards, whom they instructed, on the other hand, in bucolic poetry.
The enthusiasm with which the Portuguese devoted themselves to the cultivation of lyric poetry in their native tongue, was not abated by the passion for latin poetry, which towards the close of the fifteenth century prevailed in Portugal as well as in Italy.
This literary coincidence was probably occasioned by the commercial intercourse which then subsisted between Portugal and Italy. The fame of Angelo Poliziano attracted one of his most ardent admirers, the ingenious Henrique Cayado, better known by the name of Ermigius, from Portugal to Italy, where he entered the ranks of the revivers of latin poetry.
Cayado was imitated by a considerable number of Portuguese writers who became celebrated for 21 the composition of latin verse. There is also very little ground for supposing that the Portuguese writers endeavoured to form the romantic poetry of their country on the model of the antique. A correct notion of the essential distinction between romantic and classic composition secured at this period the Portuguese as well as the Italians against the introduction of incongruous and spurious forms in their poetry; and taste was not yet sufficiently cultivated to admit of a judicious union of the classic and the romantic styles.
The general improvement of the language, and the renewed intimacy with ancient literature, had even as early as the first half of the fifteenth century an advantageous influence on the Portuguese chronicle writers. At this period a very copious chronicle of the reign of King John I.
This writer distinguished himself as early as the reign of King Duarte, or Edward, whose successor, Alphonso V. He neglects no opportunity of making his historical characters deliver speeches, after the manner of the ancient writers; and a certain degree of energetic simplicity is to be found in some of those harangues. Meanwhile the Portuguese monarchy approached the summit of its power and glory.
While Spain, under the dominion of Ferdinand and Isabella, began to form itself internally into a single state, the government and people of Portugal directed their attention to discoveries and conquests in Africa and India.