FERREIRA, ANTONIO (1528-1569), Portuguese poet, was a native of Lisbon; his father held the post of escrivão de fazenda in the house of the duke of Coimbra at Setubal, so that he must there have met the great adventurer Mendes Pinto. In 1547-1548 he went to the university of Coimbra, and on the 16th of July 1551 took his bachelor's degree. The Sonnets forming the First Book in his collected works date from 1552 and contain the history of his early love for an unknown lady. They seem to have been written in Coimbra or during vacations in Lisbon; and if some are dry and stilted, others, like the admirable No. 45, are full of feeling and tears. The Sonnets in the Second Book were inspired by D. Maria Pimentel, whom he afterwards married, and they are marked by that chastity of sentiment, seriousness and ardent patriotism which characterized the man and the writer. Ferreira's ideal, as a poet, was to win "the applause of the good," and, in the preface to his poems, he says, "I am content with this glory, that I have loved my land and my people." He was intimate with princes, nobles and the most distinguished literary men of the time, such as the scholarly Diogo de Teive and the poets Bernardes, Caminha and Corte-Real, as well as with the aged Sá de Miranda, the founder of the classical school of which Ferreira became the foremost representative.
The death in 1554 of Prince John, the heir to the throne, drew from him, as from Camoens, Bernardes and Caminha, a poetical lament, which consisted of an elegy and two eclogues, imitative of Virgil and Horace, and devoid of interest. On the 14th of July 1555 he took his doctor's degree, an event which was celebrated, according to custom, by a sort of Roman triumph, and he stayed on as a professor, finding Coimbra with its picturesque environs congenial to his poetical tastes and love of a country life. The year 1557 produced his sixth elegy, addressed to the son of the great Albuquerque, a poem of noble patriotism expressed in eloquent and sonorous verse, and in the next year he married. After a short and happy married life, his wife died, and the ninth sonnet of Book 2 describes her end in moving words. This loss lent Ferreira's verse an added austerity, and the independence of his muse is remarkable when he addresses King Sebastian and reminds him of his duties as well as his rights. On the 14th of October 1567 he became Disembargador da Casa do Civel, and had to leave the quiet of Coimbra for Lisbon. His verses tell how he disliked the change, and how the bustle of the capital, then a great commercial emporium, made him sad and almost tongue-tied for poetry. The intrigues and moral twists of the courtiers and traders, among whom he was forced to live, hurt his fine sense of honour, and he felt his mental isolation the more, because his friends were few and scattered in that great city which the discoveries and conquests of the Portuguese had made the centre of a world empire. In 1569 a terrible epidemic of carbunculous fever broke out and carried off 50,000 inhabitants of Lisbon, and, on the 29th of November, Ferreira, who had stayed there doing his duty when others fled, fell a victim.
Horace was his favourite poet, erudition his muse, and his admiration of the classics made him disdain the popular poetry of the Old School (Escola Velha) represented by Gil Vicente. His national feeling would not allow him to write in Latin or Spanish, like most of his contemporaries, but his Portuguese is as Latinized as he could make it, and he even calls his poetical works Poemas Lusitanos. Sá de Miranda had philosophized in the familiar redondilha, introduced the epistle and founded the comedy of learning. It was the beginning of a revolution, which Ferreira completed by abandoning the hendecasyllable for the Italian decasyllable, and by composing the noble and austere Roman poetry of his letters, odes and elegies. It was all done of set purpose, for he was a reformer conscious of his mission and resolved to carry it out. The gross realism of the popular poetry, its lack of culture and its carelessness of form, offended his educated taste, and its picturesqueness and ingenuity made no appeal to him. It is not surprising, however, that though he earned the applause of men of letters he failed to touch the hearts of his countrymen. Ferreira wrote the Terentian prose comedy Bristo, at the age of twenty-five (1553), and dedicated it to Prince John in the name of the university. It is neither a comedy of character nor manners, but its vis comica lies in its plot and situations. The Cioso, a later product, may almost be called a comedy of character. Castro is Ferreira's most considerable work, and, in date, is the first tragedy in Portuguese, and the second in modern European literature. Though fashioned on the great models of the ancients, it has little plot or action, and the characters, except that of the prince, are ill-designed. It is really a splendid poem, with a chorus which sings the sad fate of Ignez in musical odes, rich in feeling and grandeur of expression. Her love is the chaste, timid affection of a wife and a vassal rather than the strong passion of a mistress, but Pedro is really the man history describes, the love-fettered prince whom the tragedy of Ignez's death converted into the cruel tyrant. King Alfonso is little more than a shadow, and only meets Ignez once, his son never; while, stranger still, Pedro and Ignez never come on the stage together, and their love is merely narrated. Nevertheless, Ferreira merits all praise for choosing one of the most dramatic episodes in Portuguese history for his subject, and though it has since been handled by poets of renown in many different languages, none has been able to surpass the old master.
The Castro was first printed in Lisbon in 1587, and it is included in Ferreira's Poemas, published in 1598 by his son. It has been translated by Musgrave (London, 1825), and the chorus of Act I. appeared again in English in the Savoy for July 1896. It has also been done into French and German. The Bristo and Cioso first appeared with the comedies of Sá de Miranda in Lisbon in 1622. There is a good modern edition of the Complete Works of Ferreira (2 vols., Paris, 1865). See Castilho's Antonio Ferreira (3 vols., Rio, 1865), which contains a full biographical and critical study with extracts.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)