Camoens, Luis De

, a very celebrated Portuguese poet, and from his much-admired poem the “Lusiadas,” called the Virgil of Portugal, was descended from an illustrious, and originally, Spanish family, and was born at Lisbon about the year 1524. His father Simon Vaz de Camoens is said to have perished by shipwreck in the year which gave being to his son, although this is somewhat doubtful. It appears, however, that our poet was sent to the university of Coimbra, and maintained there by his surviving parent. On his arrival in Lisbon, he became enamoured of Donna Catarina de Ataide, whom he addressed with all the romantic ardour of youth and poetry, but according to the prescribed reserve, or prudery of the age, obtained no higher mark of her favour, after many months of adoration, than one of the silken fillets which, encircled her head. His impatience, however, hurried him into some breaches of decorum, while pursuing his coy mistress, who was one of the queen’s ladies, and her parents took this opportunity to terminate an intercourse which worldly considerations rendered, on her part, of the highest imprudence. This interference produced its usual effect. Camoens was banished the court, and on the morning of his departure, Catarina confessed to him the secret of her long-concealed affection. Thus comforted, he removed to Santarem, the place of his banishment, but is | said to have speedily returned to Lisbon, where he was again detected, and again sent into exile.

He now sought and obtained permission to accompany king John III. in an expedition concerted against the Moors in Africa. His conduct in this campaign was so heroic, that he obtained permission to return home, where he found that his mistress was dead. To aggravate his sorrows, he obtained no reward for his services, after much application; and stung with the ingratitude of his country, he determined to leave it. Mr. Mickle, but without quoting his authority, attributes this event to the discovery of an intrigue which he carried on with the wife of a Portuguese nobleman, a circumstance not very improbable, as all his biographers allow that he was not very correct in his morals. He sailed, however, for India, and contributed, in no small measure, to the success of an expedition against the Pimenta Isles, carried on by the king of Cochin and his allies the Portuguese. In the following year (1555), Manuel de Vasconcelos conducted an armament to the Red Sea. Our poet accompanied him, and with the intrepid curiosity of genius, explored the wild regions of Africa by which Mount Felix is surrounded. Here his mind was stored with sketches of scenery, which afterwards formed some of the most finished pictures in his Lusiad, and in his other compositions.

The mal-administration of affairs in India was at this time notorious; and Camoens, with more justice than prudence, took an opportunity of expressing his disgust in a satirical account of some amusements -exhibited before the governor of Goa, in consequence of which he was banished to China. His adventures, while in China, are amply detailed by Mr. Mickle. After an absence of sixteen years, he returned to Portugal, poor and friendless as when he departed*. His Lusiad, after being delayed for some time by the raging of the plague in Lisbon, was published in the summer of 1572. From this display of uncommon genius, the author derived much honour, but little emolument. King Sebastian, it is said, rewarded him with a pension of 375 reis, a sum so small (for 20 reis make only one penny), that we know not how to reconcile it with the lowest computation of maintenance, yet even this he lost on Sebas-,

*

In his passage homeward, he was shipwrecked by a storm, and lost all his effects, except his Lusiad, which he is said to have held with his left hand, while he swam with his right.

| dan’s death, and his latter years present a mournful picture, not merely of individual calamity, but of national ingratitude. “He,” says lord Strangford, " whose best years had been devoted to the service of his country, he, who had taught her literary fame to rival the proudest efforts of Italy itself, and who seemed born to revive the remembrance of ancient gentility and Lusian heroism, was compelled in age to wander through the streets, a wretched dependent on casual contribution. One friend alone remained to smooth his downward path, and guide his steps to the grave with gentleness and consolation. It was Antonio, his slave, a native of Java, who had accompanied Camoens to Europe, after having rescued him from the waves, when shipwrecked at the mouth of the Mecon. This faithful attendant was wont to seek alms throughout Lisbon, and at night shared the produce of the day with his poor and broken-hearted master. But his friendship was employed in vain: Camoens sunk beneath the pressure of penury and disease, and died in an almshouse early in 1579, and was buried in the church of St. Anne of the Franciscans. Over his grave, Gonçalo Coutinho placed the following inscription, which, for comprehensive simplicity, the translator ventures to prefer to almost every production of a similar kind;

Here lies Luis de Camoens:

He excelled all the Poets of his time.

He lived poor and miserable;

And he died so,

MDLXXIX.”

Some years afterwards, Don Goncalves Camera caused a long and pompous epitaph to be engraved on the same tomb. But this posthumous panegyric only added deeper disgrace to the facts recorded in the former inscription.

Camoens wrote a variety of poetical compositions, some of which have been lately very elegantly translated into English by lord viscount Strangford, who has also prefixed a life of the author, from which we have extracted some remarks. According to the researches his lordship has* made into the character of Camoens, he appears to have possessed a lofty and independent spirit, with a disposition to gallantry which may probably have involved him in difficulties. His genius, however, appears principally io the “Lusiad,” the subject of which is the first discovery of the East Indies by Vasco de Gama the poem is conducted | according to the epic plan: both the subject and the in r cidents are magnificent, but the machinery is perfectly extravagant. Not only, says Blair, is it formed of a singular mixture of Christian ideas and pagan mythology, tout it is so conducted, that the pagan gods appear to be the true deities, and Christ and the blessed Virgin, to be subordinate agents. One great scope of the Portuguese expedition, our author informs us, is to propagate the Christian faith, and to extirpate Mahometanism. In this religious undertaking, the great protector of the Portuguese is Venus, and their great adversary is Bacchus, whose displeasure is excited by Vasco’s attempting to rival his tame in the Indies. Councils of the gods are held, in which Jupiter is introduced, as foretelling the downfall of Mahometanism, and the propagation of the gospel Vasco, in a great distress from a storm, prays most seriously to God; implores the aid of Christ and the Virgin; and begs for such assistance as was given to the Israelites, when they were passing through the Red Sea; and to the apostle Paul, when he was in hazard of shipwreck. In return to this prayer, Venus appears, who, discerning the storm to be the work of Bacchus, complains to Jupiter, and procures the winds to be calmed. Such strange and preposterous machinery, shews how much authors have been misled by the absurd opinion, that there could be no epic poetry without the gods of Homer. Towards the end of the work, indeed, the author gives us an awkward salvo for his whole mythology: making the goddess Thetis inform Vasco, that she, and the rest of the heathen deities, are no more than names to describe the operations of Providence. There is, however, says the same judicious critic, some fine machinery of a different kind in the Lusiad. The genius of the river Ganges, appearing to Emanuel king of Portugal, in a dream, inviting that prince to discover his secret springs, and acquainting him that he was the destined monarch for whom the treasures of the East were reserved, is a happy idea. But the noblest conception of this sort is in the fifth canto, where Vasco is recounting to the king of Melinda all the wonders which he met with in his navigation. He tells him, that when the fleet arrived at the Cape of Good Hope, which never before had been doubled by any navigator, there appeared to them on a sudden, a huge and monstrous phantom rising out of the sea, in the midst of tempests and thunders, with a head | that reached the clouds, and a countenance that filled them with terror. This was the genius, or guardian, of that hitherto unknown ocean. It spoke to them with a voice like thunder: menaced them for invading those seas which he had so long possessed undisturbed, and for daring to explore those secrets of the deep, which never had been revealed to the eye of mortals; required them to proceed no farther: if they should proceed, foretold all the successive calamities that were to befall them: and then, with a mighty noise, disappeared. This is one of the most solemn and striking pieces of machinery that ever was employed, and is sufficient to show that Camoens is a poet, though of an irregular, yet of a bold and lofty imagination. The critical student will find a more severe censure of Canioens in Rapin, Dryden, and Voltaire. But the Lusiad lias generally been considered as a poem of very superior merit, and has been often reprinted and translated into several languages, once into French, twice into Italian, four times into Spanish; and lately, with uncommon excellence, into English, by Mr. Mickle; but it had beea translated in the 17th century by sir Richard Fanshaw. Mickle’s translation will be considered in his life. It was translated into Latin by Thomas de Faria, bishop of Targa in Africa; who, concealing his name, and saying nothing of its being a translation, made some believe that the Lusiadas was originally in Latin. Large commentaries have been written upon the Lusiadas; the most considerable of which are those of Emanuel Faria de Sousa, in 2 vols. folio, Madrid, 1639. These commentaries were followed the year after with the publication of another volume in folio, written to defend them; besides eight volumes of observations upon the miscellaneous poems of Camoens, which this commentator left behind him in manuscript. 1

1 Mickle’s Lusiad. Lord Strangford ubi supra. Gen. Dict. —Moreri. Blair’s Lectures. Antonio Bibl. Hisp.