BRAZIL – PHARMACOLOGY (MEDICINAL PLANTS) AND COMMERCIAL AGRICULTURE / EARLY RIO DE JANEIRO BROADSIDE:
Brazil is a land of astounding natural and human resources. By the 18th century, Brazil had become the crown jewel of Portugal’s global empire and, as tended to be the case with other global empires, Brazil and Metropolitan Portugal were locked in a mercantilist relationship. Brazil was one of the vertices of Portugal’s Transatlantic ‘triangle trade’, in that Portuguese Africa supplied Brazil with slaves (the lifeblood of its agrarian economy), while Brazil supplied Portugal with precious commodities (sugar, cotton, diamonds, precious metals and valuable hardwoods), in exchange for European manufactured good. This relationship was paternalistic and heavily skewed to Portugal’s favour, with Brazil forbidden from trading directly with foreign powers or developing its own manufacturing base. Moreover, Portuguese-Brazilian trade was run by inefficient cartels and nepotistic alliances, ensuring that production was incredibly wasteful, while many potentially lucrative resources were left entirely unexploited.
Napoleon Bonaparte’s invasion of Portugal in late 1807, caused the entire Portuguese royal court to relocate to Brazil. On November 29, 1807, a massive flotilla under the protection of the British Royal Navy, carrying Dom João (later King João VI), the Prince Regent of Portugal, and 15,000 of his nobles, officials and their families, set sail across the Atlantic.
Upon the flotilla’s arrival in Brazil, in January 1808, Rio de Janeiro became the capital of the Portuguese Empire, so turning the structure of colonialism on its head.
This momentous change opened the door to revolutionary economic reforms in Brazil. Rodrigo de Sousa Coutinho, the Count of Linhares (1755 – 1812), the de facto prime minster of Brazil, was a long-time radical liberal reformer, a follower of Adam Smith, who believed that Portugal and Brazil’s economic growth had been stifled by mercantilism. He advanced that open, global trade would jumpstart the empire’s commerce into hyperdrive. Brazil’s loss of connection to the motherland necessitated the colony’s internal development and its opening to foreign trade, such that for the first time Linhares was able to implement his vision unimpeded, overruling his many opponents at the royal court.
Under Linhares’s influence, Dom João proclaimed the Carta Régia (Royal Charter) of January 28, 1808, which ordered that “all and every kind of commodities, wares and merchandise transported either in foreign vessels belonging to the powers that remain at peace with my royal crown or in ships belonging to my vassals are to be admitted by the customs of Brazil”. While the proclamation was aimed squarely at Britain, then the only major trading power that remained truly at peace with Portugal, it opened the door to trading with other players in the future.
In order to make Brazil more self-reliant and to create more exportable commodities, Linhares saw the country develop its own manufacturing base and ‘national institutions’. Of special relevance to the present work, he created, in March 1808, the Impressão Regia, the first enduring and officially sanctioned printing house in Brazil, and the Tribunal da Real Junta do Commercio, Agricultura, Fabricas, e Navegação deste Estado do Brasil, e Domínios Ultramarinos (established August 23, 1808), a modern economic development agency that would reenergize existing sectors, while interim and promoting new and promising industries.
Brazil has the greatest biodiversity on the planet, and its thousands of endemic species of plants produced an immense variety of medicines, spices, dyes and industrial materials. However, it was well known that only a tiny fraction of the potential uses of Brazil’s flora was being exploited. Moreover, the country could also grow many useful plants from India and Africa, although this was not yet being done as extensively or efficiently as desired. The economic and public health benefits of exploiting this sector promised to be enormous.
The Tribunal da Real Junta do Comercio aimed it sights on this issue, with the case entrusted to Manoel Moreira de Figueiredo, a supreme court justice, who was one of the directors of and sometime secretary of the agency.
In the name of Dom João, Moreira de Figueiredo issued the present Edital (Notice), as a broadside that was intended to be sent to all of Brazil’s Captaincies (provinces) to be affixed to public message boards. Importantly, while by far and away the most widely read of all the works of the Impressão Regia, very few early Brazilian broadsides survive, making this a valuable original artifact of public communication in colonial Brazil.
To the point, the present Edital encourages Brazilians to cultivate Indian spice trees, and all manner of domestic and foreign plants that could be used for pharmacology, dyeing or other industrial uses (which included thousands of possible species). Cash rewards and medals were to be give the those who excelled as such endeavours, while those engaged in the industry were to be except from the dreaded obligation of military service.
The full text of the Edital reads (in translation):
NOTICE. Our Lord The Prince Regent by His Royal Resolution of the 27th of July of the current year in Consultation of the Tribunal da Real Junta do Comercio, Agricultura, Fabricas, e Navegação of this State of Brazil, and Overseas Domains: It was authorized by the same Court, thus to establish prizes, from the surplus found in their coffers, to people who cultivate anywhere in their States and Domains, fine spice trees from India, and who introduce the Culture of other plants, whether indigenous or foreign, which are precious to the uses it has in Pharmacy, Dyeing, and other Arts; as well as to reward with honorary Medals those who most distinguished themselves in any of the said branches; and in order to finally grant to the benefactors, Provisions, that exempt them from the recruitment for the Troops of the Line, and from the Militia service, as long as they are well occupied in objects of such importance to the prosperity of Commerce, and to the wealth of this State, and Overseas Domains, which the same August Lord has so unceasingly promoted and increased.
And so that the news of Royal Munificence may reach everyone, and they will be careful; sincerely in deserving, not only pecuniary prizes, but Privileges, and Graces so exuberant, and appear to petition before the Court with the samples of what they discover, and with the authentic certificates, that prove the new culture that they have established, and that they maintain, the present is affixed, which will be sent to all Captaincies for the same purpose. Rio de Janeiro August 7, 1809.
Manoel Moreira de Figueiredo.
A Note on Rarity
All works produced by Impressão Regia (in operation, 1808 – 1822) are rare, as they were made in very limited print runs for Brazil’s small literate elite, while the survival rate of such works in the country’s generally tropical climate is very low.
Broadsides, such as the present Edital, are the rarest of all early Brazilian imprints, as generally having been affixed to public message boards, their survival rate is close to nil. The only reason the present example remains today (and in such good condition), is that it was bound for over 200 years in a nonce volume.
We can trace only 2 institutional examples of the broadside, held by the Biblioteca Nacional do Brasil and the Lilly Library (University of Indiana). Moreover, we cannot trace any sales records for the work.
The present work should not be confused with the re-print of the notice by the Impressão Regia in Lisbon, issued in a smaller (alvará) format, in late 1809 (the Impressão Regia in Lisbon was reopened after the Portuguese regained control over Metropolitan Portugal at the Convention in Cintra on August 30, 1808). Please see a link to the example of the reprint held by the John Carter Brown Library, courtesy of the Biodiversity Heritage Library:
References: Biblioteca Nacional do Brasil: Livros Raros – 057D,005,055 n. 1 ex. 2;
Lilly Library (University of Indiana): SB109 .F476; Almeida CAMARGO & BORBA DE MORAES, Bibliografia da Impressão Régia do Rio de Janeiro, vol. II, no. 105 (p. 30).