Antero de Quental


Antero de Quental : biography

April 18, 1842 – September 11, 1891

Throughout the latter part of his life Quental would dedicate his studies to poetry, politics and philosophy. By 1855, at the age of 16, he had returned to Lisbon, then to Coimbra where he graduates from the Colégio de São Bento in 1857.

Coimbra years

In the fall of 1856 he enrolled at the University of Coimbra, where he studied Law, manifesting his first socialist ideals.

He soon distinguished himself for his oral and written talents, as well as turbulent and eccentric nature. While in Coimbra, he founded the Sociedade do Raio, which pretended to promote literature to the masses, but which launched blasphemous challenges to religion.

In 1861, he published his first sonnets. Four years later, he published Odes Modernas, influenced by the Socialist Experimentalism of Proudhon, who championed an intellectual revolution. During that year a conflict (which would later be known as Questão Coimbrã) would develop between the traditionalist poets, championed by António Feliciano de Castilho (at that time the chief living poet of the elder generation), and a group of students (which included Antero Quintal, Teófilo Braga, Viera de Castro, Ramalho Ortigão, Guerra Junqueiro, Eça de Queiros, Oliveira Martins, Jaime Batalha Reis and Guilherme de Azevedo, among others). The contact with the nation’s cultural and literary elite, the liberal and progressives in academia, did not identify with the aesthetic formalism in the literature of the day. Accusing this modernist group of poetic exhibitionism, obscurity, and generally a lack of good sense and taste, Castilho attacked the modernist poets for instigating the intellectual revolution. In response, Antero published Bom Senso e Bom Gosto, A Dignidade das Letras and Literaturas Oficiais in which he defended their independence, pointing to the mission of poets in an era of great transformation, the necessity of being the messengers of the great ideological questions of the day, and included the ridiculousness and insignificance of Castilho’s style of poetry under the circumstances. This gave rise to the 1865 controversy known as the "Coimbra Question", and his groups reference as the 70s Generation which opposed the ultra-romantic group of António Feliciano de Castilho.

A late portrait of Antero de Quental by [[Columbano Bordalo Pinheiro]]

Unquiet maturity

He then traveled, engaged in political and socialist agitation, and found his way through a series of disappointments to the mild pessimism. Strangely, it animated his latest poetry. In 1866 he went to live in Lisbon, experimented with proletarianism, worked as a typographer (at the National Press), a job that he also continued in Paris (where he went to support French workers), between January and February 1867.

He briefly went to the United States, but returned to Lisbon in 1868, where he formed Cenáculo, along with Eça de Queirós, Guerra Junqueiro and Ramalho Ortigão; an intellectual group of anarchists against many of the political, social and intellectual conventions of the day.

Paradoxically, he was a founder of the Partido Socialista Português (Portuguese Socialist Party). In 1869, he founded the newspaper, A República – Jornal da Democracia Portuguesa with Oliveira Martins, and in 1872, along with José Fontana, he began to edit the magazine O Pensamento Social. In the year of the Paris Commune (1871) he organized the famous Conferências do Casino (), which marked the beginning of the spread of Socialist and Anarchist ideas in Portugal, distinguishing himself as a crusader for republican ideals.

In 1873, he inherited a sizable amount of money, which allowed him to live reasonably. Owing to tuberculosis in the following year, he rested, but returned to re-edit his Odes Modernas. He moved to Oporto in 1879, and in 1886 he published his best poetic work, Sonetos Completos, which included many passages considered autobiographical and symbolistic.

In 1880, he adopted the two daughters of his friend, Germano Meireles, who died in 1877. During a trip to Paris he became seriously ill, and in September 1881, under counsel from his medic, he began residing in Vila do Conde, where he remained until May 1891 (with a few intervals in the Azores and Lisbon). His time in Vila do Conde was considered by the author the best of his life. To Carolina Michaelis de Vasconcelos, a friend, he wrote of his need to end his poetry and begin a philosophical phase in his writing, to develop and synthesize his philosophy, adding:

In 1886, his Sonetos Completos, collected and prefaced by Oliveira Martins, were published. Between March and October 1887 he returned to the Azores, then back to Vila do Conde. The Spaniard, Miguel de Unamuno, considered them "one of the greatest examples of universal poetry, which will live as long as people have memories."

In reaction to the English Ultimatum, on 11 January 1890, he agreed to preside over the minor Liga Patriótica do Norte (), although his involvement was ephemeral. When he eventually returned to Lisbon, he stayed at the home of his sister, Ana de Quental.

Throughout his life Antero had oscillated between pessimism and depression; afflicted with what have been Bipolar Disorder, at the time of his last trip to Lisbon he was in a state of permanent depression, which was also accentuated by spinal disease. After one month in Lisbon he returned once again to Ponta Delgada around June 1891. On September 11 of the same year, at approximately 20:00 PM, he committed suicide by a double gunshot wound through the mouth in the bunk of a local garden park on which a wall read the word Esperança (Hope). "Of all things, the worst is having been born", he wrote in a poem.