Doctor, politician, writer and historian
Jaime Zuarte Cortesão was born in Ançã, Cantanhede, on 29 April 1884. He was the son of philosopher António Augusto Cortesão.
He studied Greek for a year at the University of Coimbra, followed by two years of Law, but then decided to change to Medicine, completing the degree in Lisbon in 1910 with the thesis "Art and Medicine. Antero de Quental and Sousa Martins" after a short period at the Porto Medical-Surgical School.
In 1910, he published the heroic poem "A Morte da Águia" [The Death of the Eagle], but before this he had already published some poems in periodicals in Coimbra and Porto. He wrote for the anti-clerical and anarchist magazine "Nova Silva" (1907), founded, among others, by Leonardo Coimbra. His poetry fit the "Saudosismo" [a feeling of longing] literary movement, also visible in his historical dramas: "O Infante de Sagres" [The Prince of Sagres], in 1916, "Egas Moniz", in 1918, and "Adão e Eva" [Adam and Eve] in 1921.
His medical career was very short, ending in 1912 when he moved to Porto. Here he taught History and Literature, at high school level (from 1911 to 1915), was a Member of Parliament between 1915 and 1917, wrote poetry and was involved in educational and cultural civic activities, especially in "Renascença Portuguesa" (1912), the Popular University of Porto and the magazine "A Vida Portuguesa" (1912-1915), which he directed and entered into controversy with António Sérgio. Later, in 1921, he joined the magazine "Seara Nova" (1921), published in Lisbon, with Raul Proença and Câmara Reis, but abandoned this movement as he had done before with "Renascença Portuguesa".
He sympathized with the anarchist ideals and defended democratic republicanism. He joined the Freemasonry in 1911, became involved in the 14 May 1915 revolutionary movement, and enlisted in the army to fight in the 1914-1918 War as a volunteer in the Portuguese Expeditionary Corps as Captain-doctor in the militia. In this capacity, he fought in the Flanders Campaign (1918), was wounded in combat and received a War Cross. He later wrote a book describing this episode in his life entitled "Memórias da Grande Guerra" [Memoirs of World War I]. He was elected Member of Parliament for the Democratic Party led by Afonso Costa, but left in 1917. He fought against the ideals of Sidónio Pais and participated in the monarchy uprisings of 1919. After the war, he assumed a non-political position, although he was critically watchful of power relations.
In 1919, he was appointed Director of the National Library of Lisbon, forming the "Library Group" along with renowned intellectuals. During this period, he continued to promote cultural and political ideals, collaborated in the magazines Lusitânia and Seara Nova, which he helped establish, and found his true vocation as a historian.
In 1922, he joined the literary mission that travelled with the President of the Republic, António José de Almeida, to Brazil, published his first historical work – "A expedição de Pedro Álvares Cabral e o Descobrimento do Brasil" [The expedition of P.A.C. and the Discovery of Brazil] – and took part in the Republican Propaganda Group. In 1923, he participated in the Civic Union and in the following year published "Do sigilo nacional sobre os Descobrimentos" [The secrecy about the Discoveries] in the magazine Lusitânia.
After the republican military uprising of 3 February 1927, in which he was an active member, he was dismissed as the Director of the National Library and forced to go into exile to Spain and France. During this period, he received support from Porto which, according to some authors, influenced his essay "Porto: uma república urbana." [Porto. An urban republic]
He returned to Portugal in 1940, but was imprisoned in Peniche and Aljube, and then left to Brazil, where he remained until 1957.
While in exile, he never stopped fighting for the restoration of democracy in Portugal and wrote a valuable historical work, consisting of: "The Democratic factors in the formation of Portugal", which served as the introduction to The History of the Republican Regime in Portugal; studies on the History of the Discoveries, included in History of Portugal directed by Damião Peres and in History of America and the American People, volumes III and XVII and The Portuguese Discoveries; The Charter of Pêro Vaz de Caminha and Alexandre de Gusmão and the Treaty of Madrid.
In Brazil, besides writing historical books, he collaborated in periodicals, gave conferences, taught courses and organized the Historical Exhibition of the 5th Centenary of S. Paulo, earning him the title of meritorious citizen.
He returned to Portugal in 1957, where he continued to fight for the restoration of democracy, participating in the Directory of the Social Democratic Party. He was nominated presidential candidate by the opposition, a charge he refused, became involved in Humberto Delgado’s campaign, and was arrested in 1958.
He was a member of the Lisbon Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Coimbra, the Historical Institute Varnhagen, in Rio de Janeiro, and of the "Société des Américanistes", in Paris. He collaborated in important encyclopaedias and books such as Grande Enciclopédia Portuguesa e Brasileira, Guia de Portugal, directed by Raul Proença, and Guide Bleu du Portugal.
He died in Lisbon on 14 July 1960. The news of his death was widely announced in the Brazilian and Portuguese press. His coffin was taken from the Portuguese Society of Writers, which he had chaired in 1958, covered by the Brazilian and Portuguese flags. A large crowd attended the funeral procession to Prazeres Cemetery. At the end of the lay service, his body was covered with a Franciscan habit, laid to rest in a vault and later was moved to a grave, as he had wished.
Jaime Cortesão is one of the most distinguished figures in mid-20th century Portuguese culture, along with Raul Proença and António Sérgio. He was a prominent intellectual and politician much involved in civic activities, an important historian, a singular person who left many works that include literature, poetry, short stories and drama, Portuguese and Brazilian history.
(Universidade Digital / Gestão de Informação, 2008)