Write, philosopher, translator, journalist and orator Clóvis Beviláqua, considered to be the greatest Brazilian jurist, was born in Vila Viçosa, in the interior of the (at that time) Ceará province, on 4 October 1859, to José Beviláqua and Martiniana Maria de Jesus.
At the age of ten, his father sent him to the town of Sobral (CE) with the purpose of giving him a better education, as it was clear that Clóvis possessed an intelligence well above the average of the other children in the community. He stayed only two years in Sobral. In 1871, we was sent to Fortaleza, where he lived with his paternal grandmother, Luiza Gaspar de Oliveira, and studied at Atheneu Cearense and at the Ceará Lyceum. His preparatory course for entering the Recife Law Faculty (1878) was at Externato Jasper and, soon after, at the Mosteiro de São Bento (St Benedict Monastry), both in Rio de Janeiro, which was the capital of the Empire at the time. It was in Rio where he reconnected with the poet and his home-town friend, Francisco de Paula Ney, and they strengthened their friendship that had begun at the Ceará Lyceum. Together, Clóvis, Francisco de Paula Ney and their classmate Silva Jardim founded the academic newspaper Labarum Literário.
Returning to Recife, Clóvis Beviláqua attended the juridical course (1878-1882) at the Law Faculty, which was considered at the time to be the leader in the nation. Tobias Barreto was his professor, and had a strong influence on his intellectual development.
A Law graduate, his professional trajectory began in Alcântara, Maranhão, where he was appointed Crown Prosecutor (1883) by the provincial president, José Manoel de Freitas. Not only this, but the president had a daughter, Amélia Carolina de Freitas, with whom Clóvis was in love, and this appointment brought the couple closer together. Still in 1883, Clóvis and Amélia married and Clóvis’ father-in-law was appointed president of the province of Pernambuco, a fact which contributed to Clóvis, together with his wife and father-in-law going to Recife.
From 1884 to 1891 he held the positions of librarian (1884-1889), professor at Curso Anexo (1889) and of the 3rd paper of the social science course at the Recife Law Faculty (1891), besides being appointed secretary of the Piauí state government (1889-1890), elected constituent congressman of Ceará Republicano and president of the Constituent Congress of Ceará (1891). In 1886, he published Problemas da codificação do direito civil no Brasil (Codification Problems of Civil Law in Brazil).
With the 20th century looming, already aged forty, Clóvis Beviláqua faced one of the greatest challenges of his career: he was invited by the then-Minister of Justice, Epitácio Pessoa, to develop the Projeto de Código Civil Brasileiro (Brazilian Civil Code Project). Biographers and researchers have documented that this choice did not please Rui Barbosa, a big name in Brazilian juristic thinking and senator of the Republic at the time. Rui considered Clóvis too immature to develop a project of such magnitude. Clóvis Beviláqua would not be intimidated by his critics and wrote the general plan of the Code (1899) which, after revisions by in the House of Representatives and in the Senate, was approved on 26 December 1915, sanctioned on 1 January 1916, and passed into law on 1 January 1917.
It was not just through the development of the Code that he received recognition for his juristic competence. Clóvis was a consultant for the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Relations, from 1906 to 1934, wrote relevant judicial opinions like the delimitation of territorial waters, the definition of crimes committed by crowds, the vindication of the coding of the Rights of People and the broadening of the right to asylum.
Clóvis Beviláqua held chair 14 of the Brazilian Academy of Letters (ABL), whose patron was Franklin Távora of Ceará. His wife, Amélia Carolina de Freitas Beviláqua, stood for a chair on the ABL, but was unsuccessful. Incidentally, the distancing of Clóvis from Academia has been attributed, by some biographers, to his shy and reserved temperament, and, by others, to the fact that the immortals had rejected the candidacy of his wife. The institution did not accept women to its ranks, and Amélia, despite having her own intellectual brilliance, was not accepted. There were opinions for and against, and an article written by Clóvis in a Rio de Janeiro periodical, which subtly stated that the academics “didn’t want the company of the fairer sex”. Gustavo Barroso, reiterating the opinion of some intellectuals of the time, went as far to say that the election of a female would be “dangerous for the Academy”, and Constâncio Alves understood that “women should found another academy for the glory of Letters, to which men wouldn’t have access”.
The intellectual production of Clóvis Beviláqua, of books, opinions and articles, totals almost 70 works. Works: Vigília literária, 2 papers, with Martins Júnior (1879-1882); A filosofia positiva no Brasil (Positive Philosophy in Brazil) (1884); Estudos de direito e economia política (Legal Studies and Economic Policy) (1886); Épocas e individualidades (Ages and Individualities) (1889); Teoria geral do direito civil (General Theory of Civil Law) (1890); Lições de legislação comparada sobre o direito privado (Lessons of Legislation Compared Under Private Law) (1893); Frases e fantasias (Phrases and Fantasies) (1894); Direito de família (Family Law) (1896); Direito das obrigações (Obligatory Law) (1896); Juristas filósofos (Philosopher Jurists) (1897); Em defesa do projeto de Código Civil Brasileiro (In Defence of the Brazilian Civil Code Project) (1906); Código Civil comentado (Civil Code Commented), 6 volumes (editions taken, separately, by volume; complete edition 1916); Princípios elementares de Direto Internacional Privado (Elementary Principles of International Private Law) (1944).
Clóvis Beviláqua founded, with Isidoro Martins Júnior, the periodical O Escalpelo, and the critical literary magazine O Stereógrafo, as well as writing for almost every Brazilian newspaper. He also translated the work of Jules Soury, Jesus and the Evangelists; The Hospitality of the Past, by Jhering, Brazil in Compared Penal Legislation, by Franz von Liszt; and Sobre os princípios gerais do Direito (Thoughts on the General Principles of Law), by Giorgio del Vecchio. He wrote the literary essays: Naturalismo russo: Dostoiewski (Russion Naturalism: Dostoyevsky); O teatro brasileiro e as condições de sua existência (Brazilian Theatre and the Conditions of its Existence); Esboço sintético do movimento romântico brasileiro (A Synthetic Outline of the Brazilian Romantic Movement); and Frases e fantasias (Phrases and Fantasies).
Clóvis Beviláqua died in Rio de Janeiro, on 26 July 1944. In his honour, his name was given to many public places, streets, universities and academic centres, and his likeness has been sculptured in statues and bust in innumerable Brazilian towns and cities.
Recife, 26 September 2008.
(Updated on 14 September 2009).
Translated by Peter Leamy, January 2011.
CLÓVIS Beviláqua. Disponível em: <http://www.casadobruxo.com.br/poesia/c/clovisbio.html>. Acesso em: 24 set. 2008.
CLÓVIS Beviláqua. Disponível em: <http://direitoce.com.br/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=62&Itemid=>. Acesso em: 24 set. 2008.
MONTENEGRO, João Alfredo. Clóvis Beviláqua, obra filosófica. In: COSTA SOBRINHO, Pedro Vicente; PATRIOTA NETO, Nelson Ferreira. Vozes do Nordeste. Natal, RN: Edufrn, 2001. p. 19-35.
ROCHA, César Asfor. Clóvis Beviláqua. Fortaleza: Edições Demócrito Rocha, 2001. (Coleção terra bárbara).
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Source: BARBOSA, Virgínia. Clóvis Beviláqua. Pesquisa Escolar On-Line, Joaquim Nabuco Foundation, Recife. Available at: <http://basilio.fundaj.gov.br/pesquisaescolar/>. Accessed: day month year. Exemple: 6 Aug. 2009.