OLL Blog – Brazilian Incunables?

The word ‘incunable’ comes from the Latin incunabula, which means ‘swaddling clothes’ or ‘cradle’. In the context of books, the term refers to the printed word in its infancy, which began with Gutenberg’s invention of movable type some time around 1450 and was first manifested in 1455 by Gutenberg’s 42-line Bible. Starting in Mainz, printing presses with movable type quickly spread from Germany to all of Europe throughout the 15th century: Spain in 1474, England in 1476 and Portugal in 1487. Strictly speaking, the period of incunables ends in Europe in 1501, a date by which many of the trappings of a printed book as we know it today – title page, numbered pages, illustrations and, importantly for catalogers, publication information – had been firmly established in European printing.

Montalboddo’s ‘Paesi Nouamente Retrouati….’ (1507)

However, beyond this restricted sense the word incunable is often adjectivized to describe early printing in a specific geographic or cultural area. In Margaret Bingham Stillwell’s opinion, it is eminently proper to speak of incunabula in the context of the Americas because both Gutenberg and Columbus “altered the course of history more effectively than anyone since the birth of Christ.” (p. x) This seems especially apt when we consider that history itself is nothing more than the documentary record of human memory and furthermore, that during the Age of Exploration the printed word was essential to publicizing the so-called discoveries of the various European powers in the New World, both enabling them to stake their claims and igniting the imaginations of rival European monarchs with the possibility for commerce and evangelism and goading them into the fray of imperial conquest.

We may thus initiate the period of American incunables with Columbus’ arrival in the Americas and the subsequent publication in 1493  his Epistola Cristofori Colom… In 1500 the first Europeans, led by Pedro Álvares Cabral, set foot on the land that would come to be called Brazil. The first printed account of Cabral’s voyage is to be found in Fracanzano da Montalboddo’s Paesi Nouamente Retrouati…. in Venice in 1507. It is the oldest printed book in the Oliveira Lima Library’s holdings.

As Stillwell notes, throughout the 16th century the majority of works on the Americas were still being printed in Europe, but by 1700 “the art of bookmaking…had become an established and influential factor in colonial life” in both North and South America. For many bibliographers, the various independence movements in the colonies during the late 18th and early 19th centuries mark the end of early printing in the Americas.

‘Warhafftige Beschreibunge aller und mancherley sorgfeltigen Schiffarten…’ (1567)

So when did printing begin in Brazil? How long did its period of early printing last? The answer to this question, like that of so many others, is deceptively complex and provides one of a host of examples of Brazil’s truly unique and cosmopolitan development.

Rocha Pitta’s ‘Historia da America Portugueza’ (1730)

The history of printing in Brazil offers a peculiar example within the context of the other European colonies in the New World, for whereas printing presses appeared within decades of the establishment of colonies in Spanish and English America, none would be officially recognized in Brazil until the arrival of the Portuguese court to Rio de Janeiro in 1808, a full 300 years after the arrival of Europeans in Brazil.

That is not to say that this Portuguese colony did not pique the interest of learned Europeans throughout its first three centuries of existence, nor that the inhabitants of Brazil did not publish works during the colonial period. The Oliveira Lima Library’s holdings provide a wealth of material as evidence to the contrary, such as Hans Staden’s Warhafftige Beschreibunge aller und mancherley sorgfeltigen Schiffarten… published in Frankfurt am Main in 1567 and Sebastião da Rocha Pitta’s Historia da America Portugueza, desde o anno de mil e quinhentos de seu descobrimento, até o de mil e setecentos e vinte e quatro, the first history of Portuguese America written by a Brazilian, published in Lisbon in 1730. Yet the fact nevertheless remains that it took 300 years for printing to be officially established in Brazil. Why is that?

Van Baerle’s ‘Rerum per octennium in Brasilia’ (1647)

At the risk of nuance, the lack of publishing houses in colonial Brazil can be attributed to two major factors. The first was the Portuguese crown, which jealously guarded the benefits of the mercantilist system which maintained Lisbon as the center of political, economic and cultural power of Portugal’s immense and far flung empire. Though this apprehension on the part of the Portuguese metropole was shared by Spain, Portugal’s policies seemed particularly restrictive of the production or entry of books into its colony. The second force at play was that of the Holy Office of the Inquisition, whose censorial power focused on ensuring that no publication run afoul of the Inquisition’s moral strictures.

Despite these eminently unfavorable conditions, three attempts were made at establishing printing houses in Brazil prior to 1808. The first was initiated by the Dutch during their brief reign over northeastern Brazil in the 17th century. It was fruitless, for Pieter Janzsoon, the printer hired for the task, died weeks after his arrival in Brazil in 1643. While unsuccessful in producing any books inside of Brazil, Dutch rule did produce many accounts of Brazil published in Europe, including Caspar van Baerle’s wonderfully illustrated Rerum per octennium in Brasilia… printed in Amsterdam in 1647.

A second attempt at establishing a press was made in Recife, Pernambuco, though the only evidence of its existence lies in two royal orders, the first from 1706 and the second from 1747, to seize the press’s materials.

The last and only successful attempt at printing in Brazil before 1808 was undertaken by Antonio Isidoro da Fonseca, who, for reasons as of yet uncertain, departed Lisbon in 1746 to found a publishing house in Rio de Janeiro. This daring endeavor would last a mere two years, from 1747-1749, producing a few pamphlets and the first book ever printed in Brazil, Relaçaõ da entrada que fez o excellentissimno, e reverendissimo senhor D. Fr. Antonio do Desterro Malheyro Bispo do Rio de Janeiro. According to Jerônimo Estrada de Barros (2012), the Oliveira Lima Library’s is one of less than ten known copies in the world.

‘Relaçaõ da entrada…’ (1747)

The arrival of the Portuguese court to Rio de Janeiro in 1808 led to the founding that very same year of Brazil’s first officially sanctioned publishing house and resulted in an explosion of books in the colony. Indeed, between 1808 and 1822, the Impressão Régia (Royal Publishing House) “would print nearly 1,500 books and over 700 laws, decrees, alvarás, royal letters, etc” an output which exceeded that of its counterpart in Lisbon. (Gauz, p. 43) Among the Oliveira Lima Library’s many books and pamphlets printed by the Impressão Régia during the waning years of the colonial period is Reflexões sobre alguns dos meios propostos por mais conducentes para melhorar o clima da cidade do Rio de Janeiro, the first book printed by the Impressão Régia in 1808.

‘Reflexões…’ (1808)

By 1822, Brazil had all but achieved independence. No longer beholden to the colonial metropole or the censorship of the Inquisition, publishing would greatly expand, marking the end of the period of early printing in Brazil and the beginning of a period of growth in the book industry in which academics and bibliophiles such as Manoel de Oliveira Lima surely must have reveled.

Bibliography

Borba de Moraes, Rubens. Bibliographia brasiliana: rare books about Brazil published from 1504 to 1900 and works by Brazilian authors of the Colonial period. Los Angeles: UCLA Latin American Center Publications, 1983.

Estrada de Barros, Jerônimo Duque. Na oficina de Antônio Isidoro da Fonseca: levantamento e análise das obras produzidas pelo primeiro tipógrafo da América portuguesa. Fundação Biblioteca Nacional, 2012

Gauz, Valéria. Early Printing in Brazil.

Stillwell, Margaret Bingham. Incunabula and Americana, 1450-1800: a Key to Bibliographical Study. New York: Cooper Square, 1961

OLL Blog – Farewell to a Friend of Books

Manoel de Oliveira Lima offered to bequeath his library to Catholic University in a letter to the University's Rector in 1916
Letter from Manoel de Oliveira Lima to Bishop Thomas J. Shahan, Rio de Janeiro, 10/12/1916. American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives, The Catholic University of America.

Today marks the 92nd anniversary of the passing of Manoel de Oliveira Lima. The Brazilian diplomat and world renowned scholar had moved permanently to the United States with his wife Flora de Oliveira Lima to fulfill a dream. They arrived in 1921, settling in the nation’s capital with one main goal in mind : organizing his colossal personal library of approximately 40.000 volumes at the Catholic University of America (CUA). The donation of this treasure trove of books, manuscripts, maps, photographs, works of art and memorabilia was formalized in 1916 in a letter sent to University’s rector Bishop Thomas J. Shahan. The Board of Trustees promptly accepted the donation and agreed to the conditions imposed: Dr. Lima himself would be the librarian in charge, the collection should bear his name, and it was never to be dispersed or incorporated in the university’s general library. 

Ever since his retirement from the diplomatic service in 1913, Dr. Lima was planning to devote the rest of his life to become a full time scholar. He had travelled extensively, lecturing in the United States in 1912 after teaching a course in Stanford. In the fall of 1915, he had the honor to be invited by Harvard University to be the first occupant of the newly created Chair of Latin American History and Economy, which he accepted. Returning to Brazil in 1916, the Oliveira Limas had to patiently wait for safer travel conditions and ended up staying in their hometown of Recife in Brazil during World War I. 

Our Professorial Corner, The Harvard Illustrated Magazine. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Illustrated, v.17 (1915-1916), p. 87.

Boxes filled with books were shipped  straight to the CUA campus not only from Brazil but also from London and Brussels, the last locations of the diplomatic residencies in Europe. The organization of the library took longer than Dr. Lima and his wife expected. The extenuating work took a toll on his already fragile health and they went for a health-related trip to Europe in 1923. A tireless scholar, Lima found time to give a series of lectures to inaugurate the Chair of Brazilian Studies at the University of Lisbon before heading to Karlsbad, a famous spa town. The time spent in Lisbon, where he grew up and was educated, and the treatments at the sanatorium were reinvigorating, but more work awaited him back home. 

J. De Siqueira Coutinho, Manoel de Oliveira Lima, Bishop Thomas J. Shahan, Fr Bernard A. McKenna, Ruth Holmes at the Oliveira Lima Library on the 3rd floor of McMahon Hall. The Oliveira Lima Library, The Catholic University of America.

Upon his return, Dr. Lima was appointed Associate Professor of International Law in the School of Canon Law at Catholic University. He took great pleasure in lecturing and advising students while simultaneously focusing on the organizational work of the library, however his health continued to deteriorate. With the support of his wife and the librarian Ruth Holmes, he finally opened the Oliveira Lima Library to the public in 1924. The custom-made wooden shelves occupied rooms on the third floor of McMahon Hall while construction of Mullen Library was on the way. 

Unfortunately, Dr. Lima did not live to see his library installed in the space he had selected in the new building. On March 24, 1928, the founder of the Oliveira Lima Library passed away in his home in Washington DC. Bishop Shahan celebrated the Requiem mass at the Shrine, during which he described the late Professor as ”one of the foremost men of letters of the time”  and a “pioneer in the work of establishing Pan American amity and universal peace”.  (The Tower, Wednesday, March 28, 1928, p. 1 ).

Manoel de Oliveira Lima was buried at the Mount Olivet Cemetery in Washington DC. Per his instructions, his epitaph in Portuguese says only “Aqui jaz um amigo dos livros” (“Here Lies a Friend of Books” in English). 

Mount Olivet Cemetery, Washington D.C.