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A Brazilian poet, born of a white father and a negro mother at Rio Janeiro in 1740; died in Lisbon, 9 November, 1800. Trained at the Jesuit college in Rio Janeiro, he developed a power of literary improvisation which he indulged at the expense of the Portugese whites and thereby stirred them up against him. His enemies had him forcibly enrolled in a body of troops setting forth for the colony of Sacramento, where he remained until 1762. Returning to Rio Janeiro he soon embarked for Portugal, and there obtained the patronage of two nobles of the Vasconcellos family, the Conde de Pombeiro and the Marquez de Castello Melhor. Taking minor orders he received a religious benefice, being attached as chaplain to the Casa da Supplicaçáo.
Although he was a mulatto, he obtained entrance into high society in the Portugese capital, chiefly because he was a clever entertainer who could improvise cantigas and play his own accompaniment on the viol. Hence the somewhat humiliating sobriquet of cantor de viola which was given to him. Well aware that his social status was an uncertain one, he retained his self possession even in the face of the insulting attitude of the poet Bocage and others. With most of the Portugese poets of the time he had pleasant relations, consorting with them in one or another literary academy. His cantigas acquired great popularity, and it is sometimes difficult to single out his compositions from the mass of those claimed by the people as their own. Yet he was not a great genius; he was rather a minor poet of a facile vein, able to express himself simply, and to avoid the bombast and the sensuality so common in his age. His poetical definition of the characteristically Portugese quality of saudades remains famous.
See edition of his poems published under his academic name of LERENO, Viola de Lereno: collecçao das suas cantigas, etc. (Lisbon, 1825); DE VARNHAGEN, Florilegio da poesia brazileira (Lisbon, 1850), I, II, III (Madrid, 1853); WOLF, Le Brésil littéraire (Berlin, 1863); SYLVIO ROMERO, Hist. da litt. brazileira (Rio de Janeiro, 1902).
J. D. M. FORD