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FERNAO MENDES PINTO (1509–1583)

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Originally appearing in Volume V21, Page 630 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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FERNAO MENDES PINTO (1509–1583), Portuguese adventurer, was born at Montemor-o-Velho, of poor and humble parents, and entered the service of a noble lady in Lisbon, being afterwards for two years page to the duke of Aveiro in Setubal. Desiring to try his fortune in the East, he embarked for India In 1J37 in a fleet commanded by the son of Vasco da Gama, and for twenty-one years travelled, fought and traded in China, Tartary, Pegu and the neighbouring countries, sailing in every sea, while in 154.2-1543 he was one of the 'first Europeans to visit Japan, where he introduced the musket. Though he was thirteen times a captive and seventeen times sold into slavery, his gay and dauntless spirit brought him through every misfortune. He was soldier and sailor, merchant and doctor, missionary and ambassador; moreover, as the friend and travel-ling companion of St Francis Xavier, he lent the apostle of the Indies the money with which to build the first Jesuit establishment in Japan. In January 1 554 Mendes Pinto was in Goa, waiting for a ship to take him to Portugal, when he took a sudden resolution to enter the company of Jesus and devote a large part of the capital he had accumulated to the evangelization of Japan. The viceroy appointed him ambassador to the king of Bungo in order to give the mission an official standing, and on the 18th of April he set sail with the provincial, Father Belchior Nunes. Owing to bad weather and contrary winds, however, the missioners did not reach Japan until July 1556, but the success of the mission represented a notable service to the cause of Christianity and civilization. On the 14th of November 1556 Father Belchior and Mendes Pinto began their return voyage and reached Goa on the 17th of February 1557. During his stay of a twelve-month there, the latter left the company, being dispensed from his vows for want of vocation at his own request, though a modern authority states that he was expelled because he was found to be a marrano, i.e. to possess Jewish blood. He finally returned to Portugal on the 22nd of September 1558, and settled at Pragal near Almada, where he married and wrote his famous book, the Peregrination; the MS., in fulfilment of his wishes, was presented by his daughter to the Casa Pia for penitent women in Lisbon, and it was published by the administrators in 1614. When Philip II. of Spain came to Portugal as its king, he listened with pleasure to the account of Mendes Pinto's travels, and by letter of the 15th of January 1583 gave him a pension for his services in the Indies. But the reward came too late, for the great traveller died on the 8th of July. In the light of our present-day knowledge of the East, Pinto is regarded as having been on the whole a careful observer and truthful narrator, but this was not always the case. Some witty countryman of his own parodied his name into Ferndo, mentes? Minto 1 (" Ferdinand, do you lie? I do t" ) ; and the English dramatist Congreve only expressed the general opinion of the unlearned when he wrote in Love for Love " Mendez Pinto was but a type of thee, thou liar of the first magnitude." It must be remembered that Pinto wrote the Peregrination long subsequent to the events he records, and this fact and a certain fertility of imagination sufficiently account for inexactitudes. Furthermore, as the book was only published posthumously, he never had the opportunity of correcting the proofs. Some of his most marvellous stories are expressly given on the authority of writers belonging to the countries he describes; others he tells from hearsay, and Oriental informants are prone to exaggeration. But if he somewhat adorned the truth, he did not wilfully misrepresent it. The book itself gives the impression of sincerity, and the editors of the first edition bear witness to the probity, good faith and truthfulness of Mendes Pinto as a man. Herrera Maldonado prefaced his Spanish translation of the Peregrination (162o) by a lengthy and erudite apology to demonstrate its authenticity, and Castilho has reinforced his arguments by modern testimonies. In the narrative portions of his work Pinto's style is simple, clear and natural, his diction rich, particularly in sea terms, and appropriate to his varying subjects. There is an entire absence of artifice about the book, which must always rank as a classic, and it might fairly be argued that Mendes Pinto did for the prose of Portugal what Camoens did for its poetry; this is the more remarkable, because it does not appear that he ever received any education in the ordinary sense. He wrote the book for his children to learn to read by, and modestly excused its literary defects by alleging his rudeness and lack of talent. Tradition has it that the MS. was entrusted to the chronicler Francisco de Andrade for the purpose of being polished in style and made ready for press, but that all he did was to divide it into chapters. The Peregrination has gone through many editions subsequent to that of 1614, and in 1865 Castilho published excerpts in his Livraria classica portugueza with an interesting notice of Mendes Pinto's life and writings. Versions exist in German (3 editions), French (3 editions), Spanish (4 editions), and in English by Henry Cogan, London (1663, 1692 and—abridged and illustrated, with introduction by Arminius Vambery–1891). Cogan omits the chapters relating to Mendes Pinto's intercourse with, and the last days of, St Francis Xavier, presumably as a concession to anti-Catholic prejudice. See Christovao Ayres, Ferndo Mendes Pinto (Lisbon, 1904), Ferndo Mendes Pinto e o Japao (Lisbon, 1906); also Subsidios .. . Para a biographia de Ferndo Mendes Pinto by Jordao de Freitas (Coimbra, 1905). (E. PR.)
End of Article: FERNAO MENDES PINTO (1509–1583)
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