The introduction of the Italian style into Portuguese poetry was unaccompanied by any remarkable struggle or sensation. No mention is made by writers on general literature, of the existence of a party strenuously opposed to that style in Portugal; and even 60 the works of the Portuguese poets present few or no traces of any literary conflict on the subject. That a change which excited so violent a storm in Spain passed tranquilly in Portugal, was certainly not owing to indifference on the part of the Portuguese in matters of taste.
But the Portuguese most distinguished for cultivation, were not attached to the old romance poetry by so decided a predilection as the Castilians. Besides, as has already been stated, that class had become, at an early period, acquainted with Italian poetry. Thus the way was already traced out for the thorough reform of the old taste, and the natural flexibility of the Portuguese character was more easily reconciled than Castilian stubbornness to that reform.
When, therefore, even Spanish poets had set the judicious example of improving their national poetry, an opposition which would have appeared the mere imitation of an unreasonable party spirit was not to be expected in Portugal. Finally, the poet with whose works the new epoch in Portuguese poetry commences, so successfully seized the delicate tone by which the union of the Italian and the old Portuguese styles was to be accomplished, that the national taste found in him precisely what it required, and the innovation was accommodated to the Portuguese character under the most pleasing forms.
The romantic Theocritus, Saa de Miranda, one of the most distinguished poets of the sixteenth century, has already been noticed in the History of Spanish Poetry. The present is, therefore, the fit place to relate the necessary particulars of his biography. Saa de Miranda, the descendant of a noble family, was born at Coimbra, in the year His parents destined him for the study of the law, and wished, if possible, that he might become professor of jurisprudence in his native city.
To occupy the chair of a teacher of law was at that period considered an object worthy of the ambition of persons of rank; and to take an interest in the prosperity of the university of Coimbra was found to be a strong recommendation to the favour of the sovereign. Saa de Miranda had but little taste for jurisprudence, yet, for the sake of pleasing his parents, he pursued his study of legal science until he obtained the degree of doctor.
He was afterwards appointed to a professorship, and is said to have distinguished himself by his lectures.
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But on the death of his father, Saa de Miranda immediately bade farewell to jurisprudence, and resolved to live after his 62 own taste. We are not informed what age he had attained at this period. That his character was, however, truly poetic, is sufficiently obvious, not only from his writings, but from several anecdotes which are related of him. In mixed companies he often sat in a state of silent abstraction, without observing or being aware that he was himself observed. Tears would sometimes flow from his eyes, without any apparent cause, and he himself was so little conscious of their presence, or cared so little to conceal them, that if any one happened to address him, he would, while he suffered himself to be quietly drawn into conversation, frequently forget to dry his moistened cheeks.
He next travelled to Italy, and visited the cities of Venice, Rome, Florence, Naples, and Milan, where he found sufficient opportunities for rendering himself intimately acquainted with the Italian poetry.
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On his return to his native country he was appointed to a place at court, and enjoyed the favour of the king. He was now accounted one of the most accomplished courtiers in Lisbon, notwithstanding the cast of melancholy which still distinguished him. His pastoral poetry, however, peaceful as its character was, involved him in a dispute with a Portuguese nobleman, who discovered in an eclogue some allusions which he applied to himself. He retired to his estate of Tapada near Ponte de Lima, in the province of Entre Minho e Douro, where he devoted himself wholly to his literary studies, and to the cultivation of rural and domestic happiness.
Next to poetry, he took most interest in practical philosophy.
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His acquaintance with ancient literature was sufficient to enable him to enrich his books with passages from Homer, in the form of marginal notes. He also understood music, and was a performer on the violin. Notwithstanding the gentleness of his temperament, he was fond of chivalrous exercises, and took particular delight in hunting the wolf. He lived happily with his wife, though she was not handsome nor even young at the period when he married her.
During his life, his poetic fame was widely spread. Several poets, who reflect honour on their native country, particularly Antonio Ferreira and Andrade Caminha, formed themselves chiefly on the model of Saa de Miranda. His two comedies so highly pleased the Infante Cardinal Henry, that they were performed in the palace of that prince, before a company of prelates, and other persons of rank. Having reached the sixty-third year of his age, he died universally admired and beloved, at Tapada, in the year No trace of resemblance to a style produced by imitation, distinguishes the works of Saa de Miranda from the more ancient Portuguese poetry.
What he 64 learnt from the Italians was a genuine though not perfect refinement of the old Portuguese style, under more beautiful forms. He was indeed, and ever continued to be, too true a Portuguese to aim at the highest degree of Italian correctness, though it appears, from what he has himself stated, that he was most industrious in the revisal of his works.
That feeling under the dominion of which he always lived and moved, was, in the dernier resort, his critical rule and guide. The Italian models only directed him to the course which he himself would naturally have adopted. To use his own expression, he culled flowers with the muses, the loves, and the graces.
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Had Saa de Miranda been in a greater degree an imitator than a self-dependent poet, his sonnets would, doubtless, have been more numerous; for he was peculiarly fitted, from his knowledge of the delicacies of the Italian style, to shine in that form of composition. Besides indulging himself in the use of masculine rhymes, he represented the complaints of love in the old strain of despair, and contributed his share in pourtraying the endless conflict between passion and reason.
The reiterated allusion to 66 the joys and sorrows of human existence, and the transitoriness of all things, is a grecian trait in the compositions of this poet. The greater number and by far the most beautiful of his eight eclogues are, however, in the Spanish language, for he wrote only two in Portuguese. It can scarcely be doubted, therefore, that Saa de Miranda considered the Spanish language to be more expressive or more elegant than the Portuguese, or that for some other reason he preferred it to his mother tongue; and yet as far as a foreigner may presume to judge between the two languages, his choice ought to have been reversed, for the Portuguese 67 seems expressly formed for romantic pastoral poetry.
Perhaps Saa de Miranda thought, without being himself clearly conscious of entertaining such an idea, that it was more poetic to give dignity to the soft pastoral style, by the help of the sonorous Castilian tongue, than to suffer it to be altogether naturally expressed through the medium of the Portuguese idiom. For the character of his pastoral style was to be romantic and wholly national, to resemble the idyllic style of Theocritus only in the simplicity of rural expression, but by no means to be popular, in a prosaic sense.
On this account the first of the two Portuguese eclogues of this modern Theocritus, is partly unintelligible to the foreigner, who possesses only a literary knowledge of the peculiarities of the rural idiom of Portugal. The poet himself observes, at the conclusion of his dedicatory stanzas to the Infante Dom Manoel, that he discourses in a new language. But the effect of the union is very imperfectly appreciated by a foreigner; and the finest charm of the expression is lost in the labour of studying a poetic language of this kind.
It is a pastoral dialogue in tercets concerning love and indifference, happiness and unhappiness. Three cantigas, the first in octaves, the second in redondillas and in the Spanish language, and the third in the syllabic measure of an Italian canzone, form the poetic essence of this, simple composition.
The romantic conversation which forms the frame work to the cantigas in this eclogue, consists chiefly of general observations, which in the simple pastoral language in which they are expressed, have a very piquant character, but which are rendered scarcely intelligible to a foreigner, by the occurrence of broken popular phrases in a half ironical, half serious tone. In a word this eclogue is entirely national. None but a Portuguese can justly estimate its poetic merits and demerits. To a foreigner the cantigas are decidedly the best portion.
The second Portuguese eclogue, included in the works of Saa de Miranda, has essentially the same tone and character as the first; with this difference, that it is versified throughout in national stanzas of ten lines decimas. It was only on the Castilian Parnassus that Saa de Miranda established his fame as one of the most distinguished of bucolic poets.
With the exception 71 of elegant language and versification, his Portuguese eclogues are not much superior to the cordial effusions of Ribeyro. Saa de Miranda seems to have wished to display his native language to advantage in another department of composition, in which, however, he did not shine with equal lustre. A series of poetic epistles which in the collection of his works follow the pastoral poems, are all, except one, written in Portuguese.
At the time of their appearance, no similar productions existed in Portuguese literature: but they were speedily surpassed by other writers. Nevertheless it is not merely for the circumstance of their being first attempts that they claim attention. They are distinguished from other poems of this class by the delicate and characteristic union of that peculiar style of pastoral poetry which Miranda formed for his eclogues, with a didactic diction which indicates the disciple of Horace. The poetry in which he endeavoured to approach the style of Horace, is of the romantic didactic class—full of sound morality, conveyed in ingenious reflections and pleasing representations—full of truth and warmth of feeling—but like all romantic poetry, it is somewhat too prolix, and its learning like the most of that which has passed through the scholastic conduits of the cloister, is not drawn from a very profound source.
To interest by new views and ideas in didactic poetry, was not a task suited to a catholic poet of the sixteenth 72 century, and least of all to one who so piously adhered to the principles of his faith as Saa de Miranda. The verse chiefly employed consists of light redondilhas, running in stanzas of five lines; and thus, even in metrical form, these epistles depart considerably from the style of Horace.
The two last, which, together with those written in the Spanish language, are versified in tercets, must in other respects be ranked in the same class with the rest.
Miranda, according to the old custom, styles the whole series of these compositions Cartas letters , and not Epistolas , the term which at a somewhat later period was properly, though not generally employed by Portuguese writers, to designate poems of a didactic or amusing description under the form of individual correspondence. The first is addressed to the king. After a long series of introductory compliments, full of the accustomed phrases of servile devotion to the throne, the author enters into popular reflections on the art of government, and particularly on the risk of deception, to which sovereigns of the best intentions are constantly exposed.
Some of these reflections resolve very happily into practical traits of didactic description. In recompense, the legitimate character of the poet predominates throughout the whole composition.