(The following biographical details have been translated from the Academia Brasileira de Letras website.)
Humberto de Campos (H. de C. Veras), a journalist, critic, short-story writer and writer of memoirs, was born on 25 October 1886 in Miritiba (currently renamed after him) in the State of Maranhão. He died in Rio de Janeiro on 5 December 1934.
His parents were Joaquim Gomes de Faria Veras, a tradesman, and Ana de Campos Veras. His father died when he was six years old, and his mother took him to the State capital, São Luís. Because they were poor, he began working when he was still a child.
At the age of 17 he went to live in the State of Pará, where he got a job as a correspondent and editor for the Folha do Norte newspaper and, shortly afterwards, for the Província do Pará. In 1910 he published his first book, a poetry collection called Poeira (Dust).
In 1912 he moved to Rio, where he got a job at the Imparcial newspaper at a time when a group of famous writers were working there as editors or correspondents. José Eduardo de Macedo Soares, the director, was a part of the Second Civilian Campaign, and Humberto de Campos joined the movement.
He immediately transformed himself, however, from a militant journalist into an intellectual under the pseudonym – amongst others – of Conselheiro XX, with which he signed short stories and feuilletons that can still be found today in various collections. In 1923 he became a critic for the Correio da Manhã newspaper.
In 1920 he was elected federal deputy for Maranhão, but he lost his position when the Congress was dissolved after the revolution of 1930. President Getúlio Vargas, who admired Humberto’s talent, tried to ease his problems by making him a schools inspector and director of the Casa de Rui Barbosa.
In 1933 he published what became his most famous book, Memórias, based on his early life. His Diário Secreto, which was published posthumously, caused a scandal on account of the irreverence and sarcasm with which he referred to his contemporaries.
Self-taught, he was a voracious reader and acquired great erudition, which he used in his feuilletons. As a neo-parnassian poet, he was part of a transitional group before the advent of modernism in Brazil with the Modern Art Week in São Paulo in 1922. Poeira was one of the last parnassian books in Brazil. He also produced impressionistic – but contentious and unduly personal – literary criticism.
His principal tactic for his feuilletons was to take well-known stories and give them a make-over via commentaries, digressions and comparisons with other works. His criticism was shallow and has not stood the test of time.
Publications: Poeira, poetry, 2 series (1910 and 1917); Da seara de Booz, feuilletons (1918); Vale de Josaphat, short stories (1918); Tonel de Diógenes, short stories (1920); A serpente de bronze, short stories (1921); Mealheiro de Agripa, miscellaneous (1921); Carvalhos e roseiras, criticism (1923); A bacia de Pilatos, short stories (1924); Pombos de Maomé, short stories (1925); Antologia dos humoristas galantes (1926); Grãos de mostarda, short stories (1926); Alcova e Salão, short stories (1927); O Brasil anedótico, anecdotes (1927); Antologia da Academia Brasileira de Letras (1928); O monstro e outros contos, short stories (1932); Memórias 1886-1900 (1933); Crítica, 4 series (1933, 1935, 1936); Os países, miscellaneous (1933); Poesias completas (1933); À sombra das tamareiras, short stories (1934); Sombras que sofrem, feuilletons (1934); Um sonho de pobre, memoirs (1935); Destinos, miscellaneous (1935); Lagartas e libélulas, miscellaneous (1935); Memórias inacabadas (1935); Notas de um diarista, 2 series (1935 and 1936); Reminiscências, memoirs (1935); Sepultando os meus mortos, memoirs (1935); Últimas crônicas, feuilletons (1936); Perfis, 2 series, biographies (1936); Contrastes, miscellaneous (1936); O arco de Esopo, short stories (1943); A funda de davi, short stories (1943); Gansos do capitólio, short stories (1943); Fatos e feitos, miscellaneous (1949); Diário secreto, 2 vols. (1954).
Translator’s note: Humberto’s literary production had a phantasmal extension after his death: a spiritist called Chico Xavier claimed to be automatically writing new works by the author from beyond the grave. These were initially published under the name ‘Humberto de Campos’ but subsequently – after a court case in which Humberto’s family demanded payment of royalties (and the court declared it wasn’t competent to pronounce on supernatural matters) – under the name ‘Irmão X,’ a clear reference to one of Humberto’s pseudonyms, ‘Conselheiro XX.’
Humberto himself had no illusions about the fate of his literary reputation: in the entry for 9 November 1933 in his Diário secreto, he wrote: ‘I have no doubt at all that, 50 years from now, not one single book will be printed in which my name is quoted, however vaguely.’ Almost 50 years later, in 1980, in an interview in the Veja magazine, the renowned poet Carlos Drummond de Andrade managed to prove him right and wrong at the same time:
VEJA: Are you concerned about posterity?
DRUMMOND: Not at all. On the contrary, I don’t give a fig. When I think of the poets who dominated Rio when I came here and who now have no one who’ll re-issue their works… There was a writer called Humberto de Campos who was top dog – until he died. The whole country was transfixed by his illness; there was a national outpouring of emotion. Everyone used to read his books. Nowadays, it wouldn’t even occur to a publisher to publish him.
I wonder whether you, dear reader, think he deserves his literary oblivion.