1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Sá de Miranda, Francisco de
SÁ DE MIRANDA, FRANCISCO DE (1485–1558), Portuguese poet, was the son of a canon of Coimbra belonging to the ancient and noble family of Sa, and passed his early years by the banks of the river Mondego, the source of inspiration to poets in every age. He probably made his first studies of Greek, Latin and philosophy in one of the colleges of the Old City, and in 1505 went to Lisbon University, beginning at the same time to frequent the court. Verse-making and gallantry occupied much of his time there, and by virtue of his talents and name he became one of a group comprising the greatest nobles and most celebrated poets of the age, including Bernadim Ribeiro and Christovao F alcao, who surrounded the beautiful and gifted D. Leonor de Mascarcnhas. He seems to have resided for the most part in the capital down to 1521, dividing his time between the palace and the university, in the latter of which he had taken the degree of doctor of law by 1516. Honoured by the friendship of Prince John (afterwards John III.), he accompanied the court as it moved from place to place during the reign of King Manoel, and witnessed the triumphs of the Fortunate Monarch; and at a time when the flag of Portugal floated victorious in every sea and her ships encircled the globe, it was not surprising that the youthful poet should aspire to be the Virgil of a new Augustus ruling a universal monarchy. His studious and reflective mind and sound sense did not allow him, however, to nourish these illusions for long, and we find him pointing out in tones of prophetic melancholy the signs of decadence and future disaster. He had come out of the university so good a lawyer that he was able to act as ad interim professor of his faculty, and he was offered a judicial post, but his independent spirit and punctilious conscience led him to refuse it. He had only embarked on a legal career to please his father, and on the latter's death he abandoned law for moral and stoic philosophy and poetry, and resolved to travel. He had observed with regret the modest intellectual position of his country, for all her wealth and epic achievements, the latter of which had found no echo in poetry; and if he were to learn and be able to introduce new forms of art fed by fresh ideals, as he desired, he felt he must go abroad. The Cancioneiro de Resende, which represented the poetical efforts of courtiers for almost a century and contained Miranda's early verses, showed the extent of the national poverty by its artificiality, and lack of ideas, of sincerity and of good taste. These defects are not surprising, seeing that during most of that long period the literary movement had been confined to court circles and had remained essentially imitative of Spanish models, with hardly a vestige of national or popular inspiration about it. Portugal had been too busy building up a world-empire to imbibe much of the mental culture of the Renaissance, and even the classics were for the most part only known through Spanish translations. Direct intercourse between Portugal and Italy partook of a commercial rather than a literary or artistic character, and, previously to Miranda's journey, Italian poetry was practically unknown.
In the middle of July 1520 he set out across Spain for Italy, and spent the years 1521 to 1525 abroad, visiting Milan, Venice, Florence, Rome, Naples and Sicily “with leisure and curiosity.” He enjoyed intimacy with Giovanni Ruccellai, Lattanzio Tolomei and Sanazarro; he saluted the illustrious Vittoria Colonna, a distant connexion of his family, and in her house he probably talked with Bembo and Ariosto, and perhaps met Machiavelli and Guicciardini. He assisted at the rebirth of the Italian drama and saw the performance of classical prose comedies, a form of art which he was to transplant to Portugal. Lastly he heard the echoes of the Protestant revolt, and witnessed with horror the dissolution of morals which prepared the way for the Reformation.
Returning home in 1525, he brought with him the sonnet and canzone of Petrarch, the tercet of Dante, the ottava rima of Ariosto, the eclogue in the manner of Sanazarro, and Italian endecasyllabic verse. He did not, however, like his disciple Antonio Ferreira (q.v.), abandon the national redondilha, but rather continued to employ it and carried it to perfection in his Cartas. Settling down in Coimbra or its environs, he lived there from 1526–1527 until 1532. The visit of King John III. and his court to the city enabled him to resume his old relations with the reigning house and the cultivated members of the nobility, who received him affably and listened with interest to the story of his Italian tour. Gil Vicente, the court dramatist, was then at the height of his fame, but his autos appeared poor things to sa de Miranda as compared with the comedies he had seen in Italy; and urged by his friends to present an example of the new style, he wrote the Estrangeiros. Produced in 1527–1528, it was the first Portuguese prose comedy, and was composed on the lines of the classical Roman drama as modified by contemporary Italian authors like Ariosto; it had a great and immediate success, notwithstanding the opposition of the partisans of the popular auto, who saw themselves attacked in the prologue, In 1528 Miranda made his first real attempt to introduce the new forms of verse by writing in Spanish a canzon, entitled Fabula do Mondego, and in 1530–1532 he followed it up with the eclogue Aleixo, which among its redondilhas has some endecasyllables—the earliest attempt at ottava rima in Portuguese. Various sonnets dedicated to friends also belong to this period. The foundations of the Italian school were now laid, and hence# forth Miranda's reputation as a poet grew visibly, while he was also one of the most esteemed of courtiers; but the opposition of his literary foes increased with his very success. Moreover, in the sphere of politics pessimism had taken firm hold of him. From being a land of promise, India had become for him, as for Camoens, “the mother of villains, the stepmother of men of honour”; and though the wealth of the East poured into Lisbon, Portugal remained poor because agriculture was neglected and corn had to be imported from abroad. Miranda protested in vigorous terms against the fever of adventure and lust of gold, but few gave ear to his moralizing or had leisure to read poetry, and in 1534 he left the court.
The year 1532 had marked his passage from the active to the contemplative life, and the eclogue Basto, in the form of a pastoral dialogue written in redondilhas, opened his new manner. It has a pronounced personal note, and its episodes are described in a genuinely popular tone. The shepherds Gil and Bento represent, the one city sociability, the other rustic aloofness, or the contrast between life at court and in the country, and serve as a vehicle for the poet's ideas. The same epoch saw the composition of his Cartas or sententious letters in quintilhas, which, with Basto and his satires, make up the most original, if not the most valuable, portion of his legacy, and served as models for two centuries. His allusion in Aleixo to the exile of Bernardim Ribeiro, and his defence of his friend, seem to have offended that powerful grandee, the count of Castanheira, and probably hastened his retirement from court, and the royal gift of a Commenda of the Order of Christ, situate by the river Neiva on the borders of Galicia, came opportunely, because the rents sa de Miranda drew from it and a small private fortune enabled him to live in modest comfort at the neighbouring Quinta da Tapada. Poetry with him was never a mere pastime, and, after a short period of repose, the gift of a MS. of the verses of Garcilasso and Boscan, founders of the Italian school in Castile, encouraged him to resume the work of reform commenced at Coimbra; between 1535 and 1538 he composed five eclogues in endecasyllables, four in Spanish and one in Portuguese, which show evident traces of their influence.
Before long he heard echoes of his new song, first from the province, then from the court. In 1536 he married D. Briolanja de Azevedo, a lady of rare qualities and education, belonging to an illustrious Minho family. He spent the rest of his life in retirement at the Quinta da Tapada, which became a centre from which the reform of Portuguese poetry spread; for he developed great poetical activity in his retreat, and while he read and annotated Homer in the original Greek, he did not disdain domestic pleasures and country sports. His evenings were occupied by music and the performance of comedies and mimes, and by readings of Bembo and Ariosto with cultivated neighbours; and he extended hospitality to savants like Nicholas Cleynarts and Francisco de Hollanda, and launched on the career of letters such men as Diogo Bernardes, the author of the Lima.
In 1538 he wrote his second classical prose comedy, the Vilhalpandos, which was played before the Cardinal Infant Henry, afterwards king, at his request, and on the poet's death that prince saw to the printing of this and the earlier comedy. During the years 1543 to 1553, except for a few occasional poems Sá de Miranda kept silence, and the cause is not far to seek; the Inquisition had got to work, and the Jesuits had acquired control of the university and displaced the humanists. When the king and court lent their presence to autos da fé and organized public penances, initiating a reign offanaticisms and sadness, there was no place for poetry. Sá de Miranda could only deplore in private the misfortunes of his country and 'devote himself to polishing his verses and educating his children. His life's work was done, for the year 1550 saw Camoens writing his admirable sonnets, canzons and elegies, and the Italian school had definitely triumphed. The last eight years of Sá de Miranda's life produced a cycle of beautiful poems evoked by the personality of Prince John, the heir-apparent, who loved letters and especially poetry, and whose precocity of talent made him the hope of all patriots. In 1550 and 1551, after the prince's visit to the university of Coimbra, he honoured the master by asking for a collection of his poems, and on three occasions we ind the latter dispatching portions of his song-book to Lisbon accompanied by dedicatory sonnets. Moreover, he had the further gratification of receiving verses from Antonio Ferreira, jorge de Montemayor, Diogo Bernardes, and André Falcao de Resende, which were So many proofs of the vitality of his school. Three misfortunes, however, came on him in quick succession. He lost his eldest son in 1553, Prince John died in 1554, and in 1555 his Wife died. His friend King John III. passed away in 1557, and on the 15th of March 1558 Sá de Miranda followed him to the grave.
He was not a great writer and never entered into the hearts of his countrymen, remaining the poet of the cultured, who could understand him and pardon his metrical imperfections. He led the way, however, in a revolution in literature, and especially in poetry, which under his influence became higher in aim, purer in tone and broader in sympathy. He is obviously not at ease in the new forms which he had introduced, and his verse is, as a rule, austere, inharmonious and often difficult of understanding, but these remarks, do not, of course, apply to his redondilhas. Some of his sonnets are, however, admirable, and display a grave tenderness of feeling, a refinement of thought, and a simplicity' of expression which give them a high value. As examples it is only necessary to mention the one beginning “O sol he grande . . ., ” and the lines he composed on the death of his wife. Sá de Miranda wrote much and successfully in Castilian, several of his best eclogues being in that language. The charm of these compositions lies in their convincing descriptions of natural scenery and county life, which he loved and comprehended to perfection.
Sá de Miranda's works were first published in 1595, but the admirable critical edition of Madame Michäelis de Vasconcellos (Halle, 1885), containing life, notes and glossary, supersedes all others so far as the poems are concerned. His plays can best be read in the 1784 edition of the collected works. No modern or critical edition is available. See also Oswald Crawford, Portugal Old and New (London, 1880); Dr Sbusa Viterbo, Estudos sobre Sá de Miranda (3 parts, Coimbra, (1895–1896); Decio Carneiro, Sá de Miranda e a sua obra (Lisbon, 1895); and Dr The0philo. Braga, Sá de Miranda (Oporto, 1896). (E. Pr.)
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