Oliveira Lima (Manoel)
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On 25 December 1867 in house number 813 on the former street Corredor do Bispo in Recife, today called Rua Oliveira Lima, researcher, journalist and historian Manoel de Oliveira Lima was born. His father was the Portuguese merchant Luís de Oliveira Lima and his mother Maria Benedita Miranda, a Brazilian born in Rio Formoso, Pernambuco.
In 1873, at the age of six, the boy Manuel went with his parents to live in Portugal. There he finished primary and intermediate school, respectively, at the Lazarist College and the Academic School, both in Lisbon. He entered the Higher School of Letters in 1885, when he began his correspondence with the Jornal do Recife. In it, he began to write articles on the plastic arts and the theatrical movement of Lisbon, and to comment on English politics.
Dominating perfectly the French and English languages, in addition to Portuguese, Oliveira Lima graduated in 1887 and was interested in a diplomatic career and in history. In spite of nourishing a great admiration for the Portuguese imperial family – in particular, for Dom João VI – the young Manuel became a Republican.
He returned to Recife seventeen years later – in September 1890 – on the occasion of the death of his father. He then fell in love with Flora Cavalcanti, a young English and French teacher born on the Cachoeirinha plantation in the city of Vitória de Santo Antão, who taught at Poço da Panela in Recife. Ten months later, a civil wedding – by proxy – was held in Cachoeirinha, and the religious wedding took place in Lisbon. Manuel lived with Flora for his whole life. However, the couple never had children.
Oliveira Lima embarked for Germany in 1892 after being named Secretary of Brazilian Legation in Berlin. In this city, he published his first book in 1894: Pernambuco – seu desenvolvimento histórico [Pernambuco – its historical development]; and later he published a new piece: Aspectos da literatura colonial brasileira [Aspects of Brazilian Colonial Literature]. He also founded the Correio do Brasil newspaper in Lisbon; and as a young man, contributed to the Revista Brasileira and became a correspondent for several newspapers: Jornal do Recife, the Jornal do Commercio from Rio de Janeiro, and O Estado de São Paulo.
In 1896, Manuel Oliveira Lima entered the diplomatic career as the secretary of Brazilian Legation in Washington. However, due to a serious disagreement with one of his superiors – in the case, Assis Brasil – which almost ends in a duel, the diplomat was transferred to London in January 1900. In this city, he published the books Nos Estados Unidos [In the United States], Memória sobre o descobrimento do Brasil [Memory on the Discovery of Brazil] and Reconhecimento do Império [Recognition of the Empire]. It is also in this city that Oliveira Lima became closer friends with a Brazilian: Joaquim Nabuco, the abolitionist leader for whom he had great admiration. As the latter was very sensitive to criticism, in general, and the diplomat always spoke bluntly, the friendship between the two was broken.
From London, Oliveira Lima went to Tokyo, Japan, where he remained for two years as representative and ambassador for Brazil. In that city, he published a new book: No Japão [In Japan]. The historian-diplomat’s great desire, however, was to serve in Europe, since he had started the work of Dom Joao VI in Brazil and his main documentary sources were in London, Lisbon, Paris and Vienna. Thus, he requested to be transferred to London, but because of his sympathy for the monarchist system (he always extolled the benefits that the monarchy brought to the formation and progress of Brazil), the Baron of Rio Branco did not grant his request – encouraged by Joaquim Nabuco and his colleagues in the Senate. The Chancellor suggested the transfer of the diplomat to the city of Lima, in Peru. Very upset with the fact, Oliveira Lima did not accept the position.
Only after negotiating with Baron of Rio Branco for a year and a half was Manuel finally appointed Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary of Brazil to the Government of Venezuela. The man from Pernambuco then departed for Caracas, with the main purpose of negotiating a very delicate question: the delimitation of the borders between the two countries, which since 1884, could not be resolved. The diplomat remained in the country until 1906.
As one of the first literates, Manuel Oliveira Lima took a seat at the Brazilian Academy of Letters on 17 July 1903. Continuing chronologically, Brussels and Stockholm were new destinations for the diplomat. In Brussels, he publishes Dom João VI no Brasil [Dom John VI in Brazil] (in two volumes), which he considered to be his primary work. In 1907, he published Panamericanismo [Pan-Americanism] and Cartas de Estocolmo [Letters from Stockholm].
Considered an important intellectual, Oliveira Lima was invited to give lectures at several American universities in 1912. A year before, at the University of Paris, the historian gives a series of lectures entitled Formação da nacionalidade brasileira [Formation of Brazilian nationality].
Due to a series of declarations in which he emphasised the superiority of the monarchic regime (in some aspects) in relation to the republic at the time (which was then committing outrages and acting in an overpowering way), and the pressures arising from his adopted positions, Oliveira Lima asked to retire from diplomatic life in 1913. However, the Pernambuco historian continued to produce: he published the book Na Argentina [In Argentina], contributed to several newspapers and magazines, taught Brazilian Studies at the University of Lisbon (1923); launched the book D. Pedro I and D. Miguel in 1925; and another in 1927: O Império brasileiro [The Brazilian Empire]. The writer always said that he wrote “with the colours that his brain and heart dictated.”
In turn, he feared that Brazil’s European cultural heritage would be diminished if the country followed United States foreign policy instead of remaining more connected to Europe – the place of origin of its cultural and political traditions. Defending a policy based on a context of bipolarity, therefore, and contrary to any attempt at supremacy, Oliveira Lima – beginning to counter the dogmas of Brazilian foreign policy that were valid for a long time – even criticised the Monroe Doctrine, which had been transformed into an instrument of political and economic expansion by Washington. Through this doctrine, which preached Pan-Americanism, the United States – then governed by Theodore Roosevelt – wished to impose its leadership on the South American continent.
With regard to the modernisation of Brazilian diplomacy, Oliveira Lima declared: “Contemporary imperialism is based on business. The booming North American democracy was born of the convoy of liberty with interest: the fruits of the leafy tree are the golden orbs of the old fable. The primary duty of our rulers is to try to place and thus render national production profitable, since without fortune there is no vigour, and without vigour, no respect can be infused.” In this sense, the historian-diplomat’s thinking about conducting Brazil's foreign affairs – always defending the dignity of his country of origin – did not coincide with the Baron de Rio Branco’s priority objectives, nor did it please him.
The historian was living in London at the outbreak of the First World War. For not agreeing also with Allies’ doctrine, he travelled from Europe to the United States and established his residence in Washington. On the morning of 24 March 1928, while still writing two other books – D. Miguel no trono [D. Miguel on the Throne] and Memórias [Memoirs] – which were published posthumously, he died in that city. All of his bibliographic collection – forty thousand books – was donated to the University of Washington. The diplomat-historian was buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery, in the city where he resided. On the tomb of the illustrious man of letters, archivist and reader of secular papers, only the words that he most appreciated can be read: “Aqui jaz um amigo dos livros” [Here lies a friend of books].
The Pernambuco-born Manuel Oliveira Lima was one of the most controversial and intellectual men of letters in Brazil in the early 20th century. He participated in important debates and raised flags in the interest of all humanity. Even today, when it comes to modern international relations, many still consider him to be one of the most representative figures in diplomacy. A famous Swedish writer emphasised that the historian-diplomat was “the ambassador of the Brazilian intelligentsia”. As one of the honours made to him, today the State Council of Culture of Pernambuco operates from the house where Oliveira Lima was born, in the neighbourhood of Boa Vista, Recife.
Recife, 21 July 2003.
(Updated on 10 October 2008).
Translated by Peter Leamy, December 2016.
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OLIVEIRA Lima [Foto neste texto]. Disponível em: <http://www.cafecolombo.com.br/imagens//2015/09/oliveira-lima1.png>. Acesso em: 20 fev. 2017.
SILVA, Jorge Fernandes da. Vidas que não morrem. Recife: Secretaria de Educação do Estado de Pernambuco, 1982.
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Source: VAINSENCHER, Semira Adler. Oliveira Lima (Manoel). Pesquisa Escolar Online, Fundação Joaquim Nabuco, Recife. Disponível em: <http://basilio.fundaj.gov.br/pesquisaescolar>. Acesso em: dia mês ano. Ex: 6 ago. 2009.