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Domingos Caldas-Barbosa

B. of a white father and a negro mother at Rio Janeiro in 1740; d. in Lisbon, 9 Nov., 1800

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Caldas-Barbosa, DOMINGOS, a Brazilian poet, b. of a white father and a negro mother at Rio Janeiro in 1740; d. in Lisbon, November 9, 1800. Trained at the Jesuit college in Rio Janeiro, he developed a power of literary improvisation which he indulged at the expense of the Portuguese whites and thereby stirred them up against him. His enemies had him forcibly enrolled in a body of troops setting forth for the colony of Sacramento, where he remained until 1762. Returning to Rio Janeiro he soon embarked for Portugal, and there obtained the patronage of two nobles of the Vasconcellos family, the Conde de Pombeiro and the Marquez de Castello Melhor. Taking minor orders he received a religious benefice, being attached as chaplain to the Casa da Supplicacao.

Although he was a mulatto, he obtained entrance into high society in the Portuguese capital, chiefly because he was a clever entertainer who could improvise cantigas and play his own accompaniment on the viol. Hence the somewhat humiliating sobriquet of cantor de viola which was given to him. Well aware that his social status was an uncertain one, he retained his self-possession even in the face of the insulting attitude of the poet Bocage and others. With most of the Portuguese poets of the time he had pleasant relations, consorting with them in one or another literary academy. His cantigas acquired great popularity, and it is sometimes difficult to single out hit compositions from the mass of those claimed by the people as their own. Yet he was not a great genius; he was rather a minor poet of a facile vein, able to express himself simply, and to avoid the bombast and the sensuality so common in his age. His poetical definition of the characteristically Portuguese quality of saudades remains famous.


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