The Birth and Passion of Brazil’s Press

Hipólito José da CostaGiven the current precarious, uneasy, hybrid and indebted state of Brazilian journalism, in which the survival of the print medium is daily menaced by a media avalanche, the definition of June 1 as Press Day is worth noting.

Our calendar already has so many days devoted to this and that; there are not many dates left free. Nowadays, in this era of electronic spectacles, we can’t do much to halt the decline of former journalistic empires, but we can, however, seek consolation in a brief history trip to the extraordinary beginnings of the press in Brazil.

The date chosen as Press Day could hardly be more appropriate: June 1, 1808 was the day on which the first Brazilian newspaper, Correio Braziliense was published in London, making the publication fairly exotic right from its birth.

An exile’s newspaper, it was created, managed and written by one man – Hipólito José da Costa Pereira Furtado de Mendonça (1774-1823) – and it always had Brazil as its major focus.

With a personality bigger than his name, Hipólito is to this day claimed as a native son by both Brazilians and Portuguese, as he was born in Colônia do Sacramento (nowadays part of Uruguay), a Portuguese enclave in Spanish territory.

At nineteen, after some preliminary studies in Porto Alegre, the young Hipólito was packed off to Coimbra in Portugal, where he graduated in law, philosophy and mathematics. He never returned to Brazil.

At 24 he became a functionary of the Portuguese government, which later sent him to the US and Mexico to study the economies of these countries.

In Philadelphia, he joined the Freemasons, a step which influenced all of his thoughts and actions from that point on. Because of these “new thoughts”, Hipólito began to be persecuted on his return to Portugal, where the Holy Office of the Inquisition still held power.

In 1802, Hipólito traveled to London, ostensibly to buy books for the Lisbon Public Library and machinery for the Royal Press. Secretly, however, his motive was an attempt to forge connections between some Portuguese Masonic lodges and the Grande Orient of London.

Three or four days after his return to Portugal, he was arrested on the orders of the notorious chief of police, Diogo Inácio de Pina Manique, and sent to the cells of the Inquisition. He remained there until 1805, when he escaped in the disguise of a servant, aided by his fellow Masons.

As his new permanent home, Hipólito chose England, where the Duke of Sussex, son of King George the Third, was the head of English Masonry. The exile married an Englishwoman and was awarded the status of “denizen”, a resident foreigner with some political rights. When he died at 49 he left a number of British-born offspring.

The status acquired by Hipólito in England protected him from political persecution, to which he would have inevitable been exposed as a citizen of both Portugal and Brazil, and allowed him the full exercise of his profession.

He said, “We propose to write in England, protected by its wise laws, so that we can speak truths which need to be published in order to confound those who are evil, and to light the way for those to come”.

Infuriated, his principal enemy, the Count of Funchal, the Portuguese ambassador in London, called the Correio “This terrible invention of a Portuguese newspaper in England”, but was forced to swallow the paper’s great success.

The “papers from London” circulated in Portugal and all over Brazil, despite the numerous prohibitions emanating from the Portuguese throne.

The Correio continues to be favorably evaluated by historians, amongst whom is Varnhagen: “Perhaps Brazil has never gained more benefits from the press as those which were offered by this publication”.

The literary value of Hipólito’s style was fully recognized by many critics. Sílvio  Romero succeeded in having him become the patron of Chair 17 of the Brazilian Academy of Letters (Academia Brasileira de Letras).

The literary critic Antônio Cândido, in his book Formação da Literatura Brasileira, said, “Hipólito was the first Brazilian to use a modern, clear, vibrant and concise prose (…) he was the greatest journalist that Brazil has ever had, and the only one whose work is still read today with interest and for the example it presents. He was a thinker, both as journalist and man, who expressed better than anyone the central concerns of our Enlightenment”.

Hipólito’s Three Levels of Time

For contemporary journalists, plugged into the entire world and with instant access to the widest range of events, a reminder that at the beginning of the 19th century, before the telegraph, news of events in Rio de Janeiro could take up to six months to reverberate in London, and vice-versa, implies recognition that the profession in those days had a very different character.

It required a different type of intellectual training, appropriate to the time. The Correio Braziliense ou Armazém Literário (literally Brazilian Post or Literary Storehouse) was published monthly with absolute regularity from June 1808 to December 1822, functioning as champion and supporter of two major and interlinked political movements: the 1820 Revolution in Portugal and the Independence of Brazil.

In addition to literary journalism, Hipólito’s publication, in the book/newspaper format common at the time, also offered practical information, such as stock market prices or business trends, as well as full coverage of events in Europe.

Although out-of-date, these news items had the effect of at least inserting into the world the semi-barbarian Brazilians (brasiliense, as they were then called; brasileiro was reserved for those Portuguese who came to seek their fortunes in Brazil).

The historian Sérgio Goes de Paula, organizer of a book on Hipólito, characterizes the editorial line of the Correio Braziliense according to a time-based criterion: he perceives within the range of Hipólito’s journalism differences between three levels of time: long-term, medium term and short term.

The first, measured in years, aims at the creation of elites and orienting them with the publication of translations of the major economic and political works of the period, as well their critics.

The medium-term emphasis, measured in months, is focused on giving information. Both of these levels are present in a regular manner, while the short-term emphasis is only present in a varying manner. This latter level corresponds to items about recent events in Brazil and Portugal which deserve commentary.


Following the 1820 Revolution, the Correio took a more direct political slant and definitely had some influence in Portugal. This was the paper’s boldest period – events in Portugal were quickly reflected in London and other European capitals.

Hipólito’s newspaper added to its reputation that of “being the first to place Brazil as a protagonist ready to soon take its place on the political scene”.

The range of the paper continues to surprise: as well as offering continuing coverage of news from the Spanish colonies in South America, which shows his interest in continental politics, Hipólito defended the need for a new Brazilian capital (in the interior, on the banks of the São Francisco or Velhas Rivers) and was insistent in arguing for the gradual abolition of slavery and the stimulation of European immigration.

With his Enlightenment ideas and capacity to shape opinion, Hipólito was even able to manipulate the Portuguese court in Rio de Janeiro from a distance – beginning with King João VI himself. (Note: the Portuguese royal family fled to Brazil in 1807, when the French invaded the country.)

The king never abandoned his habit of reading, with a degree of indulgence, the Correio, which never attacked him personally, but the absolute monarchist regime and the excesses of ministers and other authorities.

The newspaper’s position was based on Hipólito’s five-year work translating and publishing the works of Simonde de Sismondi – considered by Karl Marx the leader of petit-bourgeois socialism.

This position solidified after 1820 into a constitutionalist stance, anti-aristocrat, and opposed to the tendency calling for the reunion of Portugal and Spain.

The paper was resolute, principally, in demonstrating to the Portuguese crown that, with the changes taking place in the world and the decline of absolutism, Brazil, which had been elevated to forming a united kingdom with Portugal and Algarve, would never go back to being a passive and exploited colony to be abandoned one day.

Irony was Hipólito’s great weapon. He used it brilliantly, as in the example cited by the historian Isabel Lustosa in her book, “Insultos Impressos” – a commentary from the Correio in 1808 on a decree by the Portuguese government recently installed in Rio de Janeiro, which declared “war on the Botocudos” (an indigenous group).

Pretending to take the decree seriously, Hipólito stated that he would only publish it when he had received “the response of His Excellency the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and War of the Botocudo Nation”, with the reservation that. “It is true that it [the Botocudo Nation] has not yet learned to read, although it will do so, I believe, in order to respond to this”.

It was during the two years leading up to Brazilian independence that this irony, the perfection of his style, which never lost its composure or lacked truth, served, more than any other writing of the period to strengthen Brazil’s position vis-à-vis Portugal.

Hipólito viewed the transference of the Portuguese court to Rio de Janeiro in 1808 as an inversion of roles: “Portugal turned into a colony of Brazil, the metropole”.

He also called his readers’ attention to the mistaken position held by the Europeans in regard to the American Colonies:

“The European obstinacy in considering these important and powerful regions as small, child-like colonies is an error which the example of the United States should have taught them to rectify”.

After the return of Dom João VI to Portugal, the efforts of those struggling for independence were concentrated on the Prince Regent, Dom Pedro, “ in the intense task of distancing him from the influence of the Portuguese courtiers and drawing him into the bosom of those seeking autonomy”, as the historian Caio Prado Junior described the situation.

In the opinion of another historian, Barbosa Lima Sobrinho, who organized and published the complete collection of the Correio Brazilense, there was definitely an understanding between José Bonifácio de Andrada e Silva, the Prime Minister, and Hipólito da Costa to influence the Prince, causing him to identify his own destiny with that of Brazil.

The result of this understanding was the independence of Brazil, according to various historians.

Insults and Blows

When the Portuguese court transferred itself to Brazil in 1808, the Prince Regent brought along a complete printing press. Once installed in Rio, he set up the Royal Press, but in the same decree instituted pre-emptive censorship.

Only publications like the Gazeta do Rio Janeiro, founded in 1808 and which only carried official minutes of the government, were permitted to circulate.

First page of first edition of Correio Braziliense
Correio Braziliense‘s first issue’s first page

It was only in 1821, when the imperial family returned to Portugal, that the censorship ended, and a number of new newspapers appeared, such as the Revérbero Constitucional Fluminense, O Espelho and A Malagueta in Rio de Janeiro, and the Diário Constitucional in Bahia.

All of these were deeply involved in political debate, initially in regard to the staying on of Dom Pedro in Brazil, and later in regard to independence. Of note amongst the newspapers in this period is the Sentinela da Liberdade, published in Pernambuco by Cipriano Barata.

This freedom of expression did not last long, because shortly after independence censorship was re-established, although it had little effect, being openly defied by various organs of the court and in the provinces.

This was a particularly fertile period for small papers, weeklies and reviews, which were characterized by aggressive and offensive language, often vulgar and replete with gutter talk.

We know that political tempers ran high at the time, when formal independence opposed the continuing conflict of opinions and political factions; the Portuguese party was still active, while the activities of masons and republicans passed from verbal insults, to conspiracy and armed assaults.

Of interest is one journalist who, cloaked in as many as 29 pseudonyms, filled column after column, distributing literary blows left and right. His original name, and the one by which he is best-known, was Pedro de Alcântara de Bragança e Bourbon, but for eight years he used the cover of a number of other names.

In his journalistic debut of January 15th, 1822, His Royal Highness used the pseudonym of “Simplício Maria das Necessidades, Sacristão da Freguesia de São João de Itaboraí – Sacristan of the Parish of São João de Itaboraí “; later, “P. Patriota – Father Patriot”, “O Ultra-Brasileiro – The Ultra-Brazilian”, “O Quitute – The Titbit”, “O Inimigo dos Marotos – The Enemy of the Portuguese Rascals”, “Piolho Viajante – Itinerant Louse”, “Duende – Imp”, “O Espreita – The Watch”, “O Derrete-Chumbo-a-Cacete – The Tiresome Lead Melter”, “O Destemido – Intrepid”, “O Açoite dos Patifes – The Rogue Whipper”, “O Verdadeiro e Sincero Amigo do Sistema Monárquico Constituciona. – The True and Sincere Friend of the Constitutional Monarchy”, etc.

In many of these articles the Prince collaborated with his best friend and counselor, Chalaça.

But in his study of the humorous press in the time of the Empire, Délio Freire dos Santos (in a preface to the reproduction edition of the magazine, O Cabrião) notes that, under the pseudonym of “O Filantropo”, the prince shows himself to have been a precursor of the end of the slave traffic and its abolition.

As Emperor he wrote articles under his own name. Never-published and languishing in the archives of the Brazilian royal family, these documents are considered important by historians like Hélio Vianna.

The journalist-monarch was silenced in 1830 by the Marquis of Barbacena, his Prime Minister, who made him “promise to never again write for the papers”, while journalists were prohibited  from hiding behind pseudonyms.

Highly sensitive to this lack of liberty of expression, the Emperor used his Fala do Trono [state-of-the-nation speech] to protest it.

Reading the letters and articles published by His Imperial Majesty leaves little doubt that Barbacena had a strong influence on them.

The vulgarity of his style, filled with swearwords and crudeness, makes it impossible to provide examples here, as we would like to do.

Those interested should consult the book, “Dom Pedro I Jornalista”, as well as the recent book by Isabel Lustosa cited above.

Press Martyrs

The fact that the fury of the governors against their enemies in the press was not limited to verbal insults is exemplified by the example of the aggression suffered by the Portuguese journalist, Luiz Augusto May, who edited A Malagueta, a journal which had the support of its enlightened partner, Hipólito da Costa.

On the night of June 6, 1823, May was at home conversing with friends and waiting for “a promised visit from the minister Bonifácio de Andrada e Silva”, following the publication of an extraordinary issue of the periodical, which had directly attacked the Andrada family.

May’s house was invaded by masked assassins, armed with clubs and swords. According to Varnhagen, the journalist only escaped being murdered thanks to the presence of a female slave who put out the lights in the house, allowing the wounded May to flee to a neighbor’s.

The repercussions of this event were great, especially given that among the participants, it was said, were “members of the Emperor’s inseparable clique, who would never have participated without the acquiescence of their chief”.

Luiz Augusto May thus became “the first press martyr” in Brazil, although since the beginning of 1822 several cases of imprisonment of “subversive” journalists had taken place.

To João Soares Lisboa, the editor of the Correio do Rio de Janeiro, went the honor of being the first Brazilian journalist to be charged under the Lei de Imprensa (Press Law) in August, 1822. He had the temerity to demand from the Prince Regent the promised direct elections to the Constituent Assembly.

A more tragic fate would be met a few years later by the Italian journalist, Giovanni Baptista Líbero Badaró, murdered in never clearly defined circumstances in São Paulo in 1830. He was also a doctor and gave geometry classes in the Curso Anexo, which prepared students for entry into law school.

He had founded in 1829 the Observatório Constitucional, which became a focus against the autocracy of Pedro I. Legend has it that the dying Badaró said, “A liberal is dying, but not liberty”.

Protests against the death of the journalist spread all over Brazil, with some openly hostile to the Emperor. The latter shortly afterward undertook a tour of the state of Minas Gerais, where he was greeted by the sound of church bells tolling for the martyred journalist.

The result came soon: on April 7, 1831, the Emperor, his absolutist impulse opposed, was forced to abdicate in favor of his son, still a child, but the future Dom Pedro II, and to retire to Portugal.

Cecília Prada is a well-known Brazilian journalist, fiction-writer and playwright. Her book O Caos na Sala de Jantar, (Chaos in the Dining-room), published in 1978, has been awarded three literary prizes.

She is considered a stylist and several of her short stories have been published also in Italy, Germany, Switzerland and Sweden, in anthologies. Her career as a playwright began in the 60’s, in New York City, where she worked with Joe Chaikin’s The Open Theater.

In 1964, her play Central Park Bench Number 33, Flight 207 was staged at the Judson Poets’ Theater in New York. She is also a former diplomat. She is divorced, has two married sons and three grandchildren and lives now in São Paulo, Brazil. You can email her at

Mike Allan translated this article. He worked as a translator in Rio de Janeiro from 2001 to 2004, and is currently based in Vancouver, Canada, where he continues to translate, as well as working in international education and playing guitar. He can be contacted at


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