militias again

Patrick Caulfield, Braque Cortina, 2005


Considerations on the life and work of Manoel Antônio de Almeida

Manoel Antônio de Almeida was born in 1831 in a humble house in Gamboa (a name that refers to a fish trap), an unhealthy mangrove at the time. He was the son of a lieutenant and a housewife, probably Portuguese. Although not much is known about his early childhood – Francisco Joaquim Bethencourt da Silva, probably his school friend, left no testimony about the period – we do know that his family moved shortly afterwards to the center. As soon as they had settled in, his father died and his mother took care of the maintenance of the house for a long time, with Maneco, a brother and two sisters. The author took preparatory courses at Colégio São Pedro de Alcântara and managed to enter the Faculty of Medicine on 01/04/1848, aged seventeen.[I]

Pause: the prestige and income of physicians in the mid-nineteenth were far from what we have today. It is enough to see, just ahead, that Almeida will choose the profession of journalist, when he could already make use of medicine. There was a lot of mistrust about the methods and results of the professionals' practices. in the novel Memorias de um sargento de milicias, in the chapter “Arranjei-me do compadre”, the profession will be satirized in the figure of the barber godfather, who takes part in the slave trade to make bloodletting without any qualification, and he gets along well. In practice, it was a possible path for those who were unable to attend law courses in São Paulo or Olinda. Incidentally, even more accessible, Manoel Antônio had difficulties to attend regularly, eventually interrupting or delaying the annual enrollment.

Back: the first publication of Manoel Antônio de Almeida was two poems in a collection, in 1849. Then, it was only published in February 1852, a reply to a text by Varnhagen reproduced in the magazine soursop (directed by Joaquim Manoel de Macedo, Gonçalves Dias and Manoel de Araújo Porto Alegre, printed at the Tipografia Dois de Novembro, by Francisco de Paula Britto). The author started doing translations from French into Catholic Tribune.

His mother died soon after, which immediately pushed him into journalism as a means of livelihood. He started working on the Mercantile Mail, a periodical with a broad liberal tradition. In practice, in the agendas, there was no such substantial difference between liberals and conservatives, Luzias and saquaremas, in terms of time, except for the criticism of the Portuguese influence in Rio society and the debates on the risk of regressism (JAROUCHE, 2006). (This “anti-Portugueseness”, it should be said, is sensitive in the novel, although it is not even mentioned in the canonical essay by Antonio Candido. If Jarouche underlines this note a lot, when it seems to me that the atmosphere of grace modulates everything, the fact that Candido says nothing , nadinha, about it is really a reading problem.)

Finally, precisely in 1852, the Sunday edition entirely in French of the newspaper was replaced by the “Pacotilha”, a critical, satirical and multiform section (composed of news, firecrackers, feuilletons, etc.). Memorias de um sargento de milicias it was first published in “Pacotilha”, between June 1852 and July 1853, when Manoel Antonio de Almeida was 23 years old. Although contemporary with the first successful Brazilian serials, the novel was not very successful; not even when it was published as a book, two volumes, in 1854 and 1855 – some publications in newspapers some time later indicate that the edition was stranded. (A curiosity is that the second edition of the book, clandestine, was published in Pelotas, in 1862.)

To have a comparison, they were fair contemporaries of Memorias de um sargento de milicias: last corners (1851), by Gonçalves Dias, Úrsula (1852), by Maria Firmino dos Reis, twenty years lira (1853) Macarius (1855) and night at the tavern (1855), by Álvares de Azevedo, and the novice (1853), by Martins Pena. In light of the moment of intense activity at the IHGB, the troubled political life of the cabinets with the young D. Pedro II and the collective and uncoordinated effort to “foundation of Brazilian literature”, Memorias de um sargento de milicias it turns out to be quite unpretentious, that is, it does not seem very committed to national construction.

Probably inspired by the reports of Antônio Cesar Ramos, a veteran of the Cisplatine War (1817) who worked at the Mercantile Mail. Often written at Francisco JB da Silva's father's house, in the midst of declamations, fados, lundus and political discussions at a young people's meeting. The style “without wheels or rebuçoes”, an expression by Ronald de Carvalho, brings inaccuracies and naps that make the soap opera more pulsating, erratic, tense, and less positive. D. Maria's daughter in the first part of the serial becomes a niece in the second part. The descriptions of the Priest and Vidigal are very close, as are the scenes in which the laughable nature of these figures is revealed. In spite of all these slights, the biggest oscillation is certainly the construction of the novel's diegetic passage of time.

“It was in the king's time”, which opens the narrative, brings a fair cut in historical terms, between 1808 and 1821. This sentence is said in the chapter temporally later in the novel, the opening chapter, with Leonardo Pataca already a veteran among the meirinhos, with a cane, acquired after the age of fifty. In chapter VII, ”Pátio dos Bichos”, Leonardinho is seven years old and we know that it was also the time of the king because the monarch appears in the story. Based on these parameters, would Leonardo and Maria da Hortaliça have arrived in Rio before the Portuguese Court, no later than 1803? The real Vidigal, who lived to be almost a hundred years old, between 1745 and 1843, certainly didn't chase Leonardinho at sixty, seventy, right?

Where, in the novel, are the important dates of the Johannine period (such as the commercial treaties with England in 1810, the Congress of Vienna in 1814, the death of D. Maria I in 1816 or the Pernambuco Revolution in 1817, for example)? “Quantas Glórias gozei”, by Candido Inácio da Silva, is sung by Vidinha in chapter VII of the second part, but the composer, born in 1800, would have been a maximum of 17 years old at the time of that same chapter – a slip already repaired by Mário de Andrade. The Cidade Nova neighborhood, where Leonardo will make his fortune at the very beginning of the novel, was only born from an April 1811 decree, exempting the Décima (a tax on urban constructions), which again causes serious problems to the timeline.

Finally, the most reasonable, the possible reading contract, is to think that diverse movements combine in the construction of the novel and its time. That is, to put it bluntly, we cannot be strict with the time frames of Memorias de um sargento de milicias. The period account of the retired military man, the recollection of the young writer, the chronicle of present and past customs and the critical, satirical and political disposition of the periodical section in which the chapters were published, to name four of the protagonist forces, pull the time of the narrative to and fro. That is, the time of the novel is not strictly "the king's time", but a time that goes, in retrospect, from the mid-nineteenth to the end of the eighteenth.

The realism of the novel, which will be duly captured by Antonio Candido in his classic essay, is the result of this combination, but realize that it is not a precise discrimination of the forces at play. It is something much more comic and eerie, much less serious and materialistic, compared to the readings that Erich Auerbach (2021) makes of Stendhal or Balzac. Seeing to what extent this realism and that of Martins Pena were available at that time, before the novels of José de Alencar (a friend, by the way, of Manuel Antônio de Almeida, to whom the feuilleton writer turned when in debt) and Machado from Assisi. To see, in the same way, how much a strictly balzacian realism would be, in effect, comic, on these beaches.

To get an idea of ​​how Manuel Antônio de Almeida's realism works, it is worth analyzing in detail the representation of two prominent categories in the novel: the bailiffs and the militia.

The bailiffs are the bailiffs of that time. With the arrival of the Portuguese Court, and the entire structure of the metropolitan administration – and noting that only the chief bailiffs came from Portugal, with the King – it is reasonable that in the eyes of the population it was called a Corner of the Bailiffs, as their number greatly increased after 1808. As they were one of the extremes of the “formidable judicial chair” of Rio de Janeiro, “they were fearsome and feared people, respectable and respected”. The types of that time (recalls the narrator, who is in the present of 1852), differently, had “a certain air of forensic majesty” formed by the awareness of their terrible position, reflected in the clothes and accessories, usually derivations of clothes used by the nobility.

Leonardo Pataca is presented as a “rounded and extremely fat character with white hair and a reddish face”, the “dean of the corporation”. He was always on the corner with the bailiffs, because they didn't look for him anymore. As an old man, he “delayed the business of the parties” and received “the modest amount of 320 réis”, one pataca, which gave him his nickname. (To get an idea of ​​the value: an 18-year-old shoemaker slave, 243$000; a complete sege, 160$000; the half-yearly subscription to the News Gazette, 50$000; the value received from a commendation of Christ, the lowest, from a militia colonel, 16$000 réis; a cod, 1$500 an arroba; a cheap book, 950 réis; potatoes, 800 réis arroba; and a horse shoe, 360 réis [1821 prices]). Originally from Algibebe (Muscat), he had gotten the job “for whose protection it is unknown”. We may suspect that it was the help of the lieutenant colonel, protector of Leonardo, Maria and Leonardinho, but the narrator tells us nothing about it in chapter X.

A bailiff, therefore, already consists of a certain social position, so much so that Vidigal scolds Leonardo: “Well, man, you, a bailiff, should set an example…” When he picks him up, he takes him to the Casa da Guarda and then to jail, where he will spend a few days until he is released by Vidigal. At the same time, among the big fish, the craft does not seem noteworthy. When the lieutenant-colonel appeals to a worthy nobleman for Leonardo's release, the nobleman ponders: “Man, why should I go to the palace because of a bailiff? The King will laugh at my godson”. The existence of a protector, obviously, makes Leonardinho a special bailiff.

Manuel Antônio de Almeida manages to fix these movements in his novel, this kind of “dance”, as Antonio Candido says, or “feud”, in Otsuka’s modulation, or a “behavior governed by an insistent and sophisticated sense of theater, people playing roles at all times”, an expression by Richard Graham (in MALERBA, 2000) to describe the moment of courtship in Brazil. This endless rivalry, milder or less mild, in which revenge, cheating, reprimands and even imprisonment are allowed, is perhaps restricted to the middle strata of the novel.

As far as I can see, the cousins ​​of Mangue and Chico Juca, on the one hand, and D. Maria and Luiza on the other – as well as Leonardinho, in the time after the end of the novel – are left out of this game. In any case, the radical question is: to what extent this feeling that there is something false, something unreal, is based on our bourgeois reading of realism, while what the author is managing to apprehend responds to this combination of Ancien Régime and the bourgeoisie of Rio de Janeiro in the first half of the XNUMXth century?

The civil militias, in turn, are the second line of the military organization of the Old Regime: the army, generally organized by the nobility; the civil militias, recruited to maintain order or defend the village; and the ordinances, healthy free men between 18 and 60 years old. In ancient times, with the army often absent, its performance was decisive. Its function was also always to discipline the recruited civilian population, in exchange it conferred prestige and means of ascension to the militiamen. (I clarify that although the word police is in people's mouths in the novel, the General Intendency of the Police had a broader function, security, but also monitoring works, inspection, planning, also contemplating hygienist aspects. (BRETAS, 1998)) With Pombal, a more relevant role was once again attributed to the militias in the defense of territory, especially colonial.

As can be read in the work, although the militias were organized, their military training was rudimentary or non-existent, poorly trained and with scarce weapons. There were four companies of grenadiers, one for each infantry regiment (plus a cavalry regiment, with seven companies) – one of the infantry regiments was pardos and libertos; which is relevant because it was not Leonardinho's regiment. Every regiment had its “small staff” and its attached officers. One last aside, in the Johannine period “there was a clear predominance of the professional army over the other lines” (WEHLING & WEHLING, 2008, p.30), especially if we consider the performance of the troops raised in previous battles.

Having said that, it is clear that the lieutenant-colonel, “son of Portugal, who had accompanied the King to Brazil”, Leonardo and son’s highest protective figure, is superior to Major Vidigal in ways that are more crooked than might initially appear (well how the protection of the leonardos has to do, in the outermost arch, with Portuguese relations and, in the innermost arch, with the “Brazilian ones”). Vidigal's statute also has a curious lack of definition. Although he is called "absolute king, the supreme arbiter of everything that concerned that branch of administration", his historical status was probably that of head of a company of grenadiers, plus other soldiers chosen by him, to patrol the city at the night

In other words, the size of Vidigal, the Bicho Papão of the novel, is determined by his relationship with the protagonist. And we see this real size when his authority is blocked by the intervention of the lieutenant colonel or in the episode with the employee of the ucharia, in which the narrator observes: “he was the width-taker, people of the royal house, and at that time such a quality brought with it not small immunities” – to justify why Vidigal did not arrest him. For Leonardo's fate, however, power is more than enough: “With his influence he achieved everything; and in a week he handed Leonardo two papers: – one was his discharge from the line troop; another, his appointment of Sergeant of Militias” As is known, the promotion removes him from the dangerous condition of grenadier, the “cubit and a half behind his back”, and promotes him to sergeant of militias.

For our terms, the main thing seems to me to be the representation of this state of affairs in which the position does not guarantee dignified treatment, up or down. In other words, the vagrant does not have the slightest rights in the face of the arbitrariness of the militia major, who in turn has little power in the face of the lieutenant colonel of the Portuguese Army or people from the Royal House – this is the nexus, incidentally, between malandragem and arbitration, between Maneco and Machado, between Candido and Schwarz. Reality is not fixed (or solid perhaps…), irony is in handy and any serious claim reveals a certain lack of knowledge of the rules of the game. The finished and far-reaching form of this arrangement seems to come with the modern part of Machado's work, but it is not possible to underestimate Manoel Antônio de Almeida's accuracy.

In order not to leave the end of the biography loose, after the publication of the novel, the author wrote a literary review in the newspaper, called Bibliographic Magazine, in 1854, he was one of the founders of the first carnival society in Rio de Janeiro in 1855 – Congresso das Sumidades Carnavalescas, with the young Alencar, among others –, he was secretary of the Sociedade Protetora das Belas Artes, in 1856, director of the Imperial Academia de National Music and Opera in 1857; he was appointed to the National Typography in 1858 – where he met and was a kind of first tutor to Machado de Assis –, he wrote an opera in three acts, staged a few months after his death; he was named second officer of the Secretariat of Finance Affairs, with two annual contos, tried to escape creditors in Petrópolis for a season and was encouraged by the possibility of a political career. On a trip to Campos, for his future as a deputy, he died in a shipwreck at the age of 31.[ii]

* Guto Leite, writer and composer, he is professor of Brazilian literature at UFRGS.



AUERBACH, Erich. Mimesis: the representation of reality in western literature; trans. George B. Spender, Perspective Team; to see. from trans. and trans. of the appendix, Rainer Patriora. São Paulo: Perspective, 2021.

CANDID, Antonio. “Dialectic of malandragem”, in _________. The speech and the city. Rio de Janeiro / São Paulo: Gold over Blue / Two Cities, 2004.

JAROUCHE, Mamede Mustafa. “Galhofa sem Melancholy: the Memories in a world of lights and saquaremas”, in ALMEIDA, Manoel Antônio. Memorias de um sargento de milicias. Cotia, SP: Ateliê Editorial, 2006.

MALERBA, Jurandir. The court in exile: civilization and power in Brazil on the eve of independence🇧🇷 São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2000.

OTSUKA, Edu. “Rixious Spirit”, in IEB Magazine, no. 44, 2007, p.105-124.

REBELLO, Marques. Life and work of Manoel Antônio de Almeida [2nd ed. magazine]. São Paulo: Martins Fontes Bookshop, 1963.

SILVA, Maria Beatriz Nizza da. “The Court in Brazil and the Distribution of Honorary Mercies”, in History, nº54, 2008, p.51-73.

WEHLING, Arno & WEHLING, Maria Jose. “Army, militias and ordinances in the Joanine Court: permanencies and modifications”, in DaCultura Magazine, year VIII, nº4. FUNCEB, 2008.



[I] The data of his biography were collected in several texts, but especially in REBELO (1963).

[ii] Text derived from a class at the UFRGS Graduate Course in Letters in 2022, taught with professors Luís Augusto Fischer and Homero Vizeu Araújo, whom I always thank for the guidance, but who are not responsible for these lines.

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