Between History and Periodicity:
I. a) The Earthquake
On November 1st 1755, at about 9:40 a.m., an enormous earthquake, followed by a tidal wave and a succession of fires, devastated the city of Lisbon. Thousands of people perished under the ruins or in the flames. Innumerable houses were destroyed or affected, including some of the most important churches, palaces and royal buildings of the Court of Portugal. Five days later, the weekly Lisbon gazette, the Gazeta de Lisboa, the only printed periodical published at the time in Portugal, reported the event as follows:
The first day of this month will be remembered throughout the centuries because of the earthquakes and fires that have destroyed a large part of this city; fortunately, the safes of the royal exchequer, as well as those of many private citizens, have been recovered from the ruins [Gazeta de Lisboa (GL), No. 45, 1755]1
This was all the Gazeta had to say in its first issue after the terrible catastrophe. Memorable though the event was to become in the future, nothing was recorded that a 21st-century reader would consider essential reporting — no details about the exact circumstances surrounding the event, when and where, what parts of the city were affected, the main buildings that were ruined, the number of victims, what happened to the royal family, what happened in the city over the following days, etc. One week later (November 13th), information was just as scarce, consisting of another few lines concerning the repair work being carried out to the royal archives.
The Portuguese gazette’s almost total silence on the subject of the great earthquake has not gone unnoticed by Portuguese historians, but it was dismissed as a confirmation of the lack of historical interest shown by such Old Regime periodicals2. In my opinion, this is a clear case of anachronism and the question should be inverted: it is the “silence” that requires explanation. In fact, the brief news that was published in the gazette should lead us to raise a number of general historical questions. How was information conceived, written, exchanged and read in Early Modern Portugal? What was the role of printed information in such an era? The aim of this paper is not to give a general answer to these questions, but to approach such problems through the particular focus of the Gazeta de Lisboa3
I. b) Political restraint
When the Lisbon gazette was first published in August 1715, there were already several periodicals of the same kind in existence throughout Europe. In fact, we may see printed gazettes as a particular typographic product that spread all over Europe from the 17th Century onwards4. Although the periodicity, publishing and legal existence of such gazettes might differ from state to state, they formed a sort of large international text. Foreign gazettes were well-known to Portuguese readers before 1715, when gazettes written in Portuguese reappeared in the kingdom5. International information itself (usually called ‘political’ news) — focusing on diplomatic events, treaties, warfare, ambassadors’ activities and the representation of royal families at Court ceremonies — represented the most important part of the text of the new Portuguese gazette. In fact, most of its content was a translation from foreign gazettes. Once again, this was not original. In European gazettes, foreign news prevailed over domestic news at least until the end of the 18th century6. This prevalence can certainly be explained by the existence of powerful political control, both formal and informal, over the publication of domestic information. The apparently insignificant size of the news items in the Lisbon gazette concerning the earthquake of November 1755 was thus not exceptional: it was the traditional way of publishing Court information all over Europe. It had its logical counterpart in the fact that foreign gazettes issued much more information about the catastrophe than the Portuguese gazette. Conversely, the Gazeta de Lisboa reported more about the earthquake’s consequences in the cities of Seville, Cadiz, Cordoba, the Algarve and a number of small Portuguese cities than it did about Lisbon, where destruction was much more severe7.
The royal letter of privilege that in May 1715 gave rise to the legal birth of the Gazeta took foreign gazettes as the model for the Portuguese newspaper and made no reference to the reporting of domestic information in the new periodical8. The privilege, granted to the printerAntónio Correia de Lemos, created a situation of monopoly: no one else was allowed to translate, print or sell printed news translated from foreign gazettes. Granted by a royal court (the ‘Desembargo do Paço’), the gazette was submitted to previous censorship, just like any other printed object in Old Regime Portugal. Monopoly and censorship are basic features for understanding the Gazeta de Lisboa in the 18th century: no competitors were allowed to exist and its contents had to be scrutinized weekly by a competent reader who was situated in a position close to the king.
Even though the letter of privilege doesn't mention them, small items of news provided by the Court had been published in the new periodical ever since its first issue. Not only news about the Court, in fact: the range of (usually short) domestic news published in the Gazeta ranged from information about the king and queen’s public movements to news about the main ecclesiastical and noble dignitaries of the kingdom (first rank nobility, bishops, archbishops, governors and militaries, ambassadors). Their births, baptisms, marriages and deaths represented an important part of the periodical's news. Information concerning political or social dissent was strictly absent from this social theater. In fact, the gazette was supposed not only to reproduce but also produce the rigid, unequal social order of Old Regime, in other words the order determined by the Court and the king. We know that in the 1740s reference to non-courtly marriages was to be avoided in the news, because that was the king's wish9. Popular news items emerged in the gazette only on very rare occasions, being reported as an extraordinary natural event or as a vague, non-individualized backdrop to the representation of Court characters.
If the political dimension — in this sense one of political restraint — of the Court gazettes and particularly of home news is well-known to historians, less has been said about describing it as a "literary genre"10. And, if we read the newspaper more closely, we understand that it cannot be characterized only by political heteronomy, but also by the autonomy of its discourse. Gazettes were considered by their readers and authors as historical texts. Or, at least, as a minor part of historical discourse, involved in a paradoxical relationship with information occurring in the present.
I. c) Historical discourse and the fear of the present
Between 1715 and 1760, the editor of the Gazeta de Lisboa was José Freire de Monterroyo Mascarenhas. Known in the Portuguese “Republic of Letters” for his erudition and his considerable genealogical research, he made an unsuccessful attempt to enter Portugal’s most important academy, created in December 1720 by Dom João V, the Academia Real da História Portuguesa. According to a letter he wrote to the 4th Count of Ericeira, Dom Francisco Xavier de Meneses, who supported his election, the reason alleged for his exclusion was that he was too busy working on the gazette11. In this letter of self-justification, Monterroyo denies the incompatibility between writing the gazette and conducting research work at the new Real Academia and argues in favor of the periodical’s utility. However, Monterroyo is indeed more concerned with stressing his skills and experience in the field of historical erudition than with discussing the gazette. Although there may have been reasons for the exclusion of Monterroyo from the new academy that were not mentioned in the letter, we can see that the gazette’s rhetorical role is not a central one for Monterroyo himself. Such undermining of importance is connected to the fact that gazettes — and the periodical press in general — were not considered a source of social pre-eminence and authorship in the ‘Republic of Letters’. On the contrary, they could be used to legitimize a decision to exclude Monterroyo from a new and very important source of literary status and authorship: the royal academy, composed of illustrious Académicos Reais, a title which would distinguish its members in the future, connecting them directly to royal power. Monterroyo, who had no titles of nobility, no university degrees and had not made a career in administration, was thus left standing at the threshold to an important form of social distinction. He continued with the same work throughout his long literary life: genealogical and heraldic research. This production was largely kept in manuscript form. He also wrote and translated printed news, some shorter (the gazette) and some larger (dozens of other non periodical newsbooks (papéis) that were also included in the gazette’s letter of privilege). We can say that, while such literary and historical work guaranteed Monterroyo a regular income, it seems to have failed to provide him with a higher social position.
Monterroyo wanted to be considered as both a historian and an author. The word ‘journalist’ (jornalista) was not used in Portugal in the first half of the 18th century, being derived from the French journaliste and immediately being given a pejorative sense. The translator and editor of the Portuguese gazette was sometimes referred to as a gazeteiro (gazetteer), a name that occurs more than once in the context of satires directed against the gazette. In the advertisements of his own printed works made in the gazette, where his full name seldom appears, Monterroyo is occasionally mentioned as the ‘author of the gazette’. In Monterroyo’s life, periodical and occasional newsbooks did not give a name to an author. Authors were understood to be authors of books.
The gradual undermining of gazettes and other papéis of news can be analyzed through the physical form of the periodical itself. If we consider it as a printed and commercial object, we can see that it had an intrinsic ambiguity. In fact, it was published and distributed to its subscribers on a weekly basis throughout each of the 52 weeks of one year. But the accumulated issues also gave rise to an annual book, a yearbook that gazette readers could either bind themselves or buy in a directly bound form. Each periodical issue contained the typographic features usually found in a book: the gazette’s page numbers continued on from those of the previous week. The reading of Monterroyo’s correspondence shows us that the selling of annual collections of gazettes could take place several years after their publication: issues that followed on from one another gave rise to annual books, which in turn gave rise to collections of books. This was a common feature of periodicals in the 17th and 18th century in Portugal and other European countries12.
Thus, retrospectively, the gazette increasingly took on the appearance of a book. More particularly, it was supposed to be a historical book. The annual compilation of gazettes had a different title to the periodical, presented in a book-like title page: it was the Historia Annual Chronologica, e politica do Mundo…13. Several of the preserved collections of the gazette have this title page, which describes the accumulated content of the gazette as a historical work, divided into several parts. In other sources, such as the royal letter of privilege of 1752, it is said that the author followed a 'not only Historical, but also Chronological and Geographic method'14. Skilled readers of the periodical also perceived it in this way. Barbosa Machado, the author of the most important dictionary of Portuguese writers in the 18th Century, the Bibliotheca Lusitana (1741-1759), included the compilation of gazettes in the branch of 'secular History'15. In this metaphorical library, periodicals were not afforded an autonomous place, only books and their authors. Once again, it was "bookishness" that defined authorship: authors of periodicals were denying themselves as authors.
This doesn't mean that we must think of the gazette as a history book and not as a periodical publication. It means that it was a hybrid object intrinsically inhabited by a tension between both forms. This tension is perhaps the most interesting aspect of the gazette’s typographic form. Moreover, we can correlate this tension in form with a tension in content, a tension between past and present.
After the appearance of gazettes, in the 17th century, their authors were aware of the difficulty of recording the present. Unlike the events of the past, the present had not yet been turned over. Writing about the present had to be different from historical writing. This contributed to the disqualification of the gazette’s discourse when compared to the historical one, a limitation that the authors themselves were well aware of. To quote the father of the French Gazette, Théophraste Renaudot, in 1632:
History is the account of things that have happened; the gazette is only the noise that comes from it. The former must always tell the truth. The latter is good enough when it prevents the spread of lies; and it doesn’t lie even when it publishes false information that was transmitted as being true16.
In Renaudot’s sentence, the reference to history and the truth is very important. There were role models for the gazette. But there was a contradiction between periodical information and historical method. According to Renaudot, the first echoes of events deserved little credit. Orality and rumors were enemies of solid, document-based history. The distinction between right and wrong, true and false news, required a comparison between different written sources and the elimination of information that was unworthy of credit. Detailed, accurate information and haste were also opposed to one another. The practical consequences of this method were a delay in the reproduction of information. In the 40th edition in 1716, for example, Monterroyo justifies the delay of the ‘individual and exact’ report on the ‘battle of Hungary’ with the need to base it on a ‘large number of manuscripts and printed papers coming from several Courts’. If gazetteers were to be good historians, they had to wait. In a sense, the historian-gazetteer was afraid of the present.
With a discourse that was limited by the fact that it occurred in the present, gazettes became a minor part of history: they would consist of a first record of true events, a first analysis of reality. Gazettes could be, at best, an assemblage of materials for the future writing of history. This also explains why it was considered necessary to read gazettes in sequence: in this way, false information could be corrected with the passing of time. We arrive at a paradox that now becomes fully explicit: it was the periodical form of the gazette which prevented it from being history; it had to be published weekly and report versions of events that sometimes the passing of time showed to be false. Because of its implicit contract with the readers, a gazette could not stop to see what happened in the end, when a war was over or all the consequences of a catastrophe had ceased to be visible17. In this sense, periodicity was a restraint on the discourse used, a restraint that we must add to the political one in our understanding of its information.
II. a) Printed and Hand-written News
What has been said until now, I believe, gives us a general framework for understanding the scarcity of printed domestic news in the gazette. My intention was to explain exactly why the short piece of news on the earthquake was the one given and not others. What I wanted to show was that there were political reasons for it, but also reasons connected to the conception of the gazette as a (historical, periodical) discursive genre. To these we might add very practical restraints connected to the demands of typographic work.
But, if we think of the enormous amount of information exchanged all over Europe about the Lisbon earthquake, in all possible forms of media (orality, print, manuscript, theater, engraving), what obviously lies hidden behind the short lines of the gazette is an immense non-printed text. Let us then move away from the earthquake and take our analysis a little further.
It is difficult to visualize our gazetteer-historian at work. However, the letters he addressed to a correspondent in Santarém, Dr. Rodrigo Xavier Pereira de Faria (a notary in the Casa da Misericórdia de Santarém), represent an important source of information for the reconstitution of Monterroyo’s work environment. The letters, sent on a regular basis, usually weekly, between January 1741 and October 1749, show us the close connection between hand-written and printed news. To begin with, letters sent directly by correspondents placed in different cities of Portugal or Europe were, together with foreign gazettes, the sources of the newspaper’s information. Dr. Pereira de Faria was one of these correspondents, feeding Monterroyo with first-hand information. Prior to Monterroyo’s selection, correspondents undertook a first operation of distinguishing and establishing a hierarchy for disorderly events. The gazette’s editor lived and worked in Lisbon. Fundamental for him was the constitution of a network of correspondents whom he considered reliable and trustworthy. Information was thus gathered and reported by letter to Monterroyo, who then made his own selection and had his manuscript censored and finally printed. In the course of such a succession of operations, from orality or manuscript into print, an important amount of information would not be published in the Gazeta de Lisboa. This happened for a complex number of reasons that, once again, cannot be simply summarized as political restraint: Monterroyo’s own criteria of historical credibility or social relevance seem to have been very important in his selection of the news.
Letters are a good source of information: uncensored, they included remarks, comments and important details for understanding both the news that was circulating and the news that was being published in the gazette. If we read the gazettes for the 1740s along with letters written by the reporter, the scarcity of the printed gazette’s information makes a lot more sense. Although we have not yet found any letters from Monterroyo contemporary to the earthquake, what he printed was obviously only a small part of the news he accumulated about the event.
The reading of Monterroyo's correspondence with Dr. Pereira de Faria also shows us that the flow of news was not only being sent from Santarém to Lisbon, but that the reverse was also true. Monterroyo sent his own news to Santarém, in his regular letter to Pereira de Faria or in a different pamphlet, usually composed of three to four written pages known as a folheto ('leaflet'). This folheto was sent either to Pereira de Faria or to Father Luís Montez Mattozo, (an apostolic notary) another key character in the network of information that was built up around the gazette. These folhetos, along with a series of other newsletters which undoubtedly circulated18, may be considered the Portuguese equivalent of the French nouvelles à la main, as they have been described in the texts of François Moureau19.
Montez Mattozo (and Pereira de Faria himself) was similarly responsible for the writing of the hand-written periodical Folheto de Lisboa, also entitled Mercúrio de Lisboa or Mercúrio Histórico de Lisboa. Unlike Monterroyo’s already-mentioned folheto, it had a large headline that could be printed, drawings or engravings and other features that imitated a printed gazette. The existence of at least three different copies of it in Portuguese archives (the Biblioteca da Academia das Ciências and Biblioteca Nacional in Lisbon, and the Biblioteca Pública de Évora) demonstrates the extent of its circulation. This is a clear case of publishing through the manuscript20. Though we still lack essential background about its production, copying, trading and the extent of its circulation and reading21, we know that it was sent from Santarém to several readers. As with the printed gazette, the folhetos could be assembled in one-year volumes, with a different title from the weekly issue: this was the case with the Anno noticioso e historico, which was started in January 1740. Like the gazette, the folhetos were thus conceived as a periodical publication that gathered together historical material. The folheto also imitated the internal structure of printed gazettes: geographical division into ‘chapters’, each one representing the geographical origin of the news, as well as a chronological progression from the oldest to the most recent news.
The hand-written folhetos only make sense if we consider a legal regime in which there was a monopoly of printed information. If competition in print was forbidden because of the letter of privilege, it could be carried out at another, less public, level of circulation, through the manuscript. In the first number of the Folheto for the year 1740, Luís Montez Mattozo explains to the readers in a prologue (a typical feature in a book) the reasons for the new periodical’s appearance. The reference to the printed gazette is immediate: since its foreign news was too slow in being reported, the folheto would announce it sooner; on the other hand, the domestic news that was not usually printed in the gazette would be published in the folheto22. At the end of the prologue, an important reference is made to the method of gathering information: only news deserving of credit, either directly eyewitnessed or given by trustworthy correspondents, was to be published. Historical credit seems to have the same grounds both in the printed and in the hand-written gazette.
A systematic comparison between the two periodicals’ news items will certainly reveal other similarities, but also differences in content. For the moment, we may confirm that domestic news was indeed more prolific in the manuscript. To the very restricted social order of the printed gazette, the folhetos brought a wider world. The popular element is often present in its news, mostly in contexts of violence and riots. If the fact that news was hand-written in the folheto — and thus uncensored — does indeed make a difference, we should not try to see in the manuscript, at least not in this particular case, a clandestine version of the gazette. At the end of the first volume of the Anno Noticioso..., Luís Montez Mattozo signs a statement in which he denies the contents of his book in the event of any conflict with God’s commandments or royal dictates.
II. b) Conclusion: a model for the reading of the Gazeta de Lisboa
The fact that Monterroyo and his fellow information-gatherers from Santarém exchanged news between one another shows us that printed news and hand-written news were not in conflict with each other and that their roles were complementary. The logic of this complementarity is by no means casual: it is political (based on censorship), technological (based on the difference between print and manuscript), but also sociological. Montez Mattozo’s literary and historical interests belonged to the same world as Monterroyo’s: local erudition, history and genealogy. They were all members of small-sized literary academies in Lisbon and Santarém. They seem to have shared the same conceptions of history when writing news. They existed in a wider network of social exchange, where not only information circulated, but also other goods, both symbolic and material. The composition and extent of such a network remains to be reconstituted. We can see, for instance, through the letters preserved in the Academia das Ciências (Lisbon), that there was an important relationship between Montez Mattozo and the Convent of the Theatines in Lisbon23. Through Monterroyo, he was presumably in contact with Dom Francisco Xavier de Menezes, a regular supplier of Court news to the gazette24, thus having access to the Court’s own news.
The Gazeta de Lisboa was thus situated at the confluence of different networks of manuscript and printed information. Besides periodicals and letters, historical agents had other means of information that were very important and are not considered here: orality and images. They enjoyed a wide range of sources, which they manipulated according to an evaluation of the different social qualities of the different media. We thus reach one of the conclusions of our research: we must always consider the Gazetade Lisboa in a wider context of information. Letters, folhetos and other manuscripts are fundamental aids for reading it in a double sense: for reading it methodologically and for reading it historically. The news of the earthquake should not be read alone by the historian because it was not read alone by its readers.
This leads us also to the definition of one model for the reading of the gazette, the one that occurred in the inner circle of the social agents involved with the writing, exchange and publishing of information. I will call it, through an appropriation of literary categories relating to Early Modern Portugal and Spain, a "discrete reading" (leitura discreta). The "discrete reading" of the printed gazette was a secondary-level reading. It was produced by the gazetteers or other people who were able to produce and exchange information. As well-informed members of networks where news circulated rapidly and was abundant, they did not read first-hand news in the printed gazette. They learned it from the best placed persons in the Court and they read it in manuscript form before it was eventually published in the gazette. In this restricted public sphere where several sources of information could be manipulated, reading the gazette meant comparing it with other sources — a critical method. To read it was to confirm what was already known by other sources. Particularly in the case of domestic information, what was important was how it was written in the gazette, how news became — or did not become — public.
Copyright 2004, ISSN 1645-6432