Alexandre Herculano and Pinheiro Chagas



Alexandre Herculano was notable not only for his historical works, but also for his fiction.

In April 1842, Alexandre Herculano de Carvalho e Araújo (1810-1877) sent a set of letters to the editors of the Universal Lisbon Magazine, in which he discussed the History of Portugal and ways of conceiving it. After narrating the origins, mapping the ancient geography of the country – a narrow strip of the Spanish Peninsula – and tracing the genealogy of the kings (grouped into four dynasties), the historian focused on the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries, suggesting that the height of the kingdom would have reached during the Fourteenth Century, and decadence marked the Fifteenth Century.

To reinforce his point of view, the historian established metaphors between the trajectory of the country and the cycles of man (from childhood to decrepitude), suggesting that the time in which he, Herculano, lived (XNUMXth century) represented an invigorating period of Portuguese nation, agitated by the political debate, social change, economic clash and culture, in a kind of re-edition of the period when that people were considered “barbaric”. Among the most relevant issues addressed by the also novelist, was the need to situate the chronology of his country with greater precision and rigor:

Our history begins only in the first decade of the twelfth century; not because historical times do not go back to a much more remote era, but because before that date Portuguese society did not exist, and the biographies of collective individuals, as well as that of singular ones, cannot begin beyond their cradle. (HERCULANO, undated, p. 121)

Disturbed by the argument of contemporary historians, who chose the XNUMXth century as the period in which the Portuguese kingdom would have reached its peak, thanks to overseas disputes and the expansion of the kingdom across Africa, Asia and America, Herculano sentenced just the opposite. For this very reason, he considered it inappropriate to call that period “Renaissance”.

In the study of the period commonly known as the Renaissance, a name that perhaps only suited it as an antiphrasis or cruel mockery, it had been necessary to close one's eyes to the brightness of apparent greatness, and to illuminate with the torch of history the sick body of Portuguese society, which hastened its time to die with the fever of conquests. (HERCULANO, undated, p. 139)

The letters allow us to assume that the historian was guided by the belief in progress, as a way to overcome the period of impotence, located between 1580 and 1640 (period of the unification of the Spanish and Portuguese crowns), and dormancy (between the end of the XNUMXth century and the beginning of the XNUMXth century). In short, Herculano had chosen his time as the one in which Portuguese society had most opposed the Renaissance and was closest to the country's original period, between the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries. To validate this premise, he chose the political instability of the XNUMXth century as the characteristic that most brought him closer to the XNUMXth century – when national identity was constituted under the influence of “conquests” and the power of kings had not yet become absolute.

What are the political revolutions of our time? They are a protest against rebirth; a rejection of absolute unity, a renewal of attempts to organize variety. Today the peoples of Europe are tying up the broken thread of their childhood and youth traditions. The nineteenth century is the eleventh of what can only be called modern socialism. The three that preceded him were a kind of hibernation in which human progress was not suspended, but latent and concentrated in the intelligences that were accumulating strength to translate it into social realities. This is where the analogies of the so-called barbarian centuries with the times in which we live come from. (HERCULANO, s/d, pp. 144-145)

Once again, Alexandre Herculano resorted to the metaphor that identified the history of his country with the phases of a man's life: an image with which he reinforced the analogy between youth and vigor (XNUMXth century); old age and decay (XNUMXth century); youth and revolt (XNUMXth century). Like most historians of his time, he seemed convinced that, in contrast to almost three centuries of latency, the Portuguese people had woken up again, now under the lights of progress, although it was a weak flame, disoriented between the dogma and nostalgia; between sanctimoniousness and the invincible Sebastianist appeal.

Alexandre Herculano died on September 13, 1877. Thirteen years later, Manuel Pinheiro Chagas (1842-1895) was tasked with preparing/delivering a laudatory speech to honor him in a public section of the Royal Academy of Sciences in Lisbon. Taking the interval between death and tribute, the author, right at the beginning of the panegyric, said that it was no longer time to mourn the loss of a great man, but to canonize his memory and recognize his virtues. The praise, marked with conventions typical of the encomiastic genre, sounds sincere because the list of merits attributed to Herculano is compatible with the resources mobilized by Chagas in his historical and fictional work.

Herculano was notable not only for his historical works, but also for his fiction. According to Chagas, he prioritized “living ignored by the people, which no one knew when history was just the bas-relief in which the characters who composed it appeared on the same plane”. To characterize his literary production, Chagas established counterpoints between Garret and Herculano: if the first “studyed in the song of the peasant woman that sprouted from her smiling lips the naive formation of national legends”, the second “patiently deciphered the charters, so often written in blood, the laborious formation of popular law”; if Garret entertained himself with “the rays of the June moonlight woven by the hands of the enchanted Moiras”, Herculano portrayed the “moaning of the wind in the solitary cloisters, with the murmurs that rose from the spectral chorus of the oppressed generations, whose protests had become immobilized in the delicate words from the old parchments”; both presented a performance compatible with the grandeur of the Ocean, but Garret allowed himself to be moved by the “Ocean that moans in a loving night, reflecting the moonlight, and accompanying the sad and sweet song of the passing boatman”; with Herculano, the Ocean “roars, breaking on the cliff and illuminated by lightning” (CHAGAS, 1890, pp. 12-13).

With regard to historical production, Alexandre Herculano would have given importance to aspects commonly overlooked by historians, reconstructing “the extinct generations, as if he had witnessed their tumultuous passage on the surface of the earth”, scrutinizing “the intimacy of the first kings” and “ the most secret of your thoughts.” (CHAGAS, 1890, p. 17). These characteristics were once listed by Pinheiro Chagas in his Critical Tests, published in 1866. On the occasion, he wrote that the mission of the historical novelist was “greater, more sublime than that of the historian himself”. Both consult the histories and from them “pull the specters of extinct generations from their secular tomb”. The historian, however, “lays the cadaver out on the anatomical table” and is satisfied with “coolly explaining” the mysteries of the organism and investigating “the way in which the vital fluid made those springs play, which death shattered, and whose secrets time obliterate”. The novelist, on the other hand, “galvanizes the corpse, restores its movement” so that the reader “seees passing in front of him, not the rigid and icy skeleton, but the body animated with the warmth of life, with the fire of the passions, which had animated him, which had once burned him” (CHAGAS, 1866, p. 58).

in the novel The Duchess's Oath (1873), Chagas embraced the task of celebrating not “the great deeds of the Restoration campaigns”, but “the court plots, the slander, the betrayals that unfolded on the reverse of this brilliant picture of epic battles and superhuman feats ”. The weaknesses and defects of the ancestors were still “bitter lessons”, just as the virtues were converted into “glorious incitement” (CHAGAS, 1902, p. 100). In preliminary instances of The shipwreck of Vicente Sodré (1894), he admitted the importance of the “romantic form” to present the “intimate life” of the illustrious ancestors of the Portuguese and elaborated some recommendations: “do not look for drama outside of reality, do not invent episodes, nor fantasize characters, try simply to see the scenes as the story describes them, understanding the characters as they reveal themselves in their actions”.

His proposal is to “relive” historical times without harming the dramatic interest of the narratives. Chagas then stated that he resorted to legends of india, by Gaspar Correia and avoided fantasy, limiting himself to using historical characters and putting on their lips “the words that were in their minds, but which they perhaps could not express with the clarity with which we can formulate them now”. For him, history “has two faces, and neither should be hidden” (CHAGAS, 1894, pp. IV-V). It is evident, therefore, that the merits of Alexandre Herculano, highlighted in his encomium, do not come from his biography, but result from the way in which his work adjusted to the precepts once systematized by Pinheiro Chagas. From this, it can be deduced that: the boundaries between history and fiction were tenuous; imagination and rhetoric did not constitute contradictory references; poetic and historiographic works could serve the res publica, insofar as they included ethical-political lessons.

*Cleber Vinicius do Amaral Felipe He is a professor at the Institute of History at UFU.

*Jean Pierre Chauvin is a professor at the School of Communications and Arts at USP.


CHAGAS, Manuel Pinheiro. New Critical Essays. Porto: House of the Widow More, 1867.

CHAGAS, Manuel Pinheiro. The Duchess's Oath. Original Historical Romance. 3rd ed. Lisbon: Empreza da História de Portugal, 1902.

CHAGAS, Manuel Pinheiro. The shipwreck of Vicente Sodré. Lisbon: Antonio Maria Pereira bookstore, 1894.

CHAGAS, Manuel Pinheiro. Historic praise. Lisbon: Typographia da Academia, 1890.

HERCULANO, Alexander. Letters on the History of Portugal. In: _____. Opuscules, Volume V – Controversies and Historical Studies, Volume II. 5th ed. Lisbon: Bertrand Bookstore; Rio de Janeiro: Francisco Alves Bookshop, s/d, pp. 33-155. 

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