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Saturday, February 22, 2014


Manuel Maria Barbosa du Bocage, by Joaquim Pedro de Souza, 18th century.


Recently I have bought a small book about a Portuguese poet, of whom I have spoken in a previous post about a coffee house downtown Lisbon - Nicola. His name is Bocage and he was a very well known person of the late 18th century, not only in poetry, but also in the intellectual world. At the height of his life he would be not only guest, but also protégé to all the important Portuguese noble families and also monarchy. He would also be adviser to all sorts of issues and quarrels. And not only did he got the attention of all the social classes, so did he got it from the Holy Inquisition (must remember that the Portuguese Inquisition only ended with the French Invasions, being the most lasting Inquisition in Europe; something not to be proud of). Every time he would be arrested for “questioning” because of his somewhat rebellious lifestyle and his general adverse opinion of the national politics and remaining society, he would call it «a vacation».
Well, the most famous side of this poet was his wit. And most of the jokes and comments he made survived the test of time and are still written about in books today. And this is what I will share with you, in a small portion, of course.

Taken from the book “Anedotas do Bocage”, by Nova Vega, Almanaque Collection, 7th edition,2013

At the Nicola:

«Bocage was playing chess at the Nicola. His partner was a copyist of Fazenda, retired, called Queiroz, of ill temper, with whom not many wanted to play. Bocage was one of the few that had enough patience to put up with him.
At a certain point of the game the argument becomes worse.
- Do you know - ended Queiroz - the distance between an ass and a man?
- Perfectly, replied Bocage, it is the same between you and me.»

«Shouted one day Bocage at the Nicola:
- Times are bad and I have, for the time being, abandoned literature.
- So what do you do know? - asked him a friend.
- I dedicated myself to trading now.
- Which trade?
- Furnishing.
- And do you sell a lot?
- So far I have sold all of mine.»

On a daily basis:

«The great poet, having had the knowledge of the death of the daughter of a neighbor grocer, dedicated her as an epitaph, some very sentimental verses.
The next day, the merchant, wanting to reward the poet, sent him 2 kilos of his best coffee.
Bocage accepted and replied to the delivery boy:
- Tell your boss that I don't drink my coffee without sugar...»

«Asks a spinster Bocage:
- How long do you think a man should “study” a woman before marrying her?
- All his life - answered the poet?»

Other social jokes, but with geographical references of the time, that still exist today:

«At the Rossio, Bocage was running on an afternoon of rebellion. Since there were rumors of uprisings in the North, everything that was extraordinary looked suspicious.
And Bocage was yelling:
-News! News! There are news!
Many people, in good faith, followed Bocage, running.
At the Rua do Ouro, where at the time were the Armazéns Grandela, about 500 people gathered behind him. Bocage continued until the Terreiro do Paço. There, stepping onto a peer bench, surrounded by many people, he asked for silence.
Everyone got quiet to hear the news. Showing his boots, he said:
- New, bought them right now.»

18th century painting showing the view of the Praça do Comércio and Terreiro do Paço in Lisbon. This is the newest part of the city, after the earthquake and yo can see, under the arch, the Rua Augusta (name of the street) and even Rossio (at the back end, behind the statue) and left and right of the arch Rua do Ouro and Rua da Prata.

«A man, on an afternoon at Rossio, asked Bocage, how he could get to Limoeiro prison.
- Look - started Bocage - you go to Rua Augusta, take a watch or any other jewelry at Sentena's (a famous jeweler at the time), run away with them, in a manor that the police can see where you're going, and in a short time you can be at Limoeiro

He was known to criticize the medical profession:

«A certain doctor, to whom he dedicated a lot of satires, wanted to get his revenge and finding him on the street, said to him after greeting him:
- Well hello! People lie a lot! I was told that my friend Bocage had lost his mind!
- Yes, people lie a lot in fact! You was told that I had lost my mind and I was told that you had found it! What a bunch of liars!»

«People were talking about a very famous medic.
- His reputation is vast. – says D. Carlota de Atouguia.
- So vast that is reaches the other side. – answers Bocage.»

The poet was known for his ill language:

«This man wanted to embarrass the poet. One day he asks him loudly, in a place where the society young men of Lisbon would meet:
-Hey Bocage, how do you break a d... in two?
Answers the questioned man with a deep voice:
- With half an ass!»

«A braggart, meeting him on the street, wanted to make fun of the poets puny looks, looked at him with arrogance and said:
- What a Manuel Sh... (a sh... Manuel)!
Replied the poet:
- Manuel I am. Now, Sh..., you would have to prove (taste) it 1st

«In the old days, there were iron rings at the walls of the houses to tie horses and other animals to them.
Bocage was hanging on one of them, in broad daylight, yelling:
- It will come out!
People started gathering. They would say:
-Hey Bocage, look, it cannot come out. Don't you see it's too stuck?
The poet continued:
- It will come out!
Suddenly he passed gas very loudly and turning to the crowd, exclaimed triumphantly:
-Did it or didn't it came out?»

18th century Holy Inquisiton executions at Lisbon's Praça da Ribeira (pre-earthquacke, which then would become the Terreiro do Paço).


Nikolai Ivanovich said...

Thank you for this wonderful blog. There's far too little available in English on Bocage, despite the fact he's a huge draw for me and a number of others to come to Portugal.

Sadly, I've been forced to use my pitiful Portuguese to attempt to translate much of his poetry for my own enjoyment! He's definitely hilarious, charming, and quite risque. A very Wildean figure in every sense...

Sara Seydak said...

Thank you Nikolai!