I FOUND IT AT THE JCB: An occasional series in which JCB Fellows, staff, and friends write about a particularly memorable reading or research experience in the Library.
Christian Hausser (April 2012)
Doing time-consuming archive research sometimes is rewarded by rather unexpectedly relevant findings. This is true for Francisco Gomes da Silva’s Memorias Offerecidas à Naçao Brasileira [Memories presented to the Brazilian Nation], published interestingly in London in 1831. Silva was a colorful figure at the Portuguese court in Brazil at the beginnings of the 19th century. A parvenu, da Silva had fled with the Portuguese king and his entourage to Rio de Janeiro where he was servant at the court. Pedro, pleasure-loving heir to the Portuguese throne, found in da Silva a congenial friend that shared his affectations that made him, among other things, supplying mistresses for the young prince. Together with a rather loose living and non-serious presence, this friendship turned da Silva, whose nickname was ‘Chalaça’ (joke), into a prominent public figure after Brazilian independence in 1822. As a supposed Portuguese partisan he encountered opposition, the mighty Marques de Barbacena became one of his fiercest critics. All this controversy resulted in his marginalization as a public figure—in 1830 he left Brazil forever—and in historic record.
It is not surprising, therefore, that the purpose of his writing theMemorias is a defense of his reputation before the Brazilian political audience. However, the text is also a very insightful account of Luso-Brazilian politics in the revolutionary era. Naturally, da Silva’s depiction of the events is partisan: he postulates the union between Portuguese and Brazilians when this union had already weakened; he justifies Pedro’s dissolution of the Constituent Assembly as an act against “demagogues”; in a similar way he rejects the charge of what Pedro’s political opponents called ‘absolutism’, and he sees in the emperor’s abdication from the Brazilian throne nothing more than the result of a conspiracy led, among others, by his arch-rival Barbacena. Notwithstanding, the account is of great value not only because it contains one of the very few, if not the only eyewitness testimony of Brazilian declaration of independence, in a version quite different to the subsequent patriotic romanticizing that left its mark in historical memory until our days. Beyond that, da Silva shows a remarkable comprehension for transatlantic Luso-Brazilian political correlations. His comparisons between the situations in Portugal and Brazil go together with a fine sense for political actions and their reciprocal effects upon the respective other side of the Atlantic, a perception which only in recent years has come to emancipate itself from traditional nation-centered historiography. Thus, albeit an apologia written in retrospective, the Memoria also tells about the complexity of Luso-Brazilian imperial relations in the 1820s. In this sense, referring to Pedro’s role as the successor of the Portuguese throne after his father’s death in 1826, da Silva makes a maybe involuntarily laconic, however highly appropriate, observation about a central issue of Pedro’s political existence never resolved: his fate has been to be calumniated by two rivals, Portuguese and Brazilians—“Those from Brazil accused the emperor to be thoroughly Portuguese, and some Portuguese to be thoroughly Brazilian” (p. 90).
Christian Hausser, Center for New World Comparative Studies Fellow 2011/12