“Everything is worth doing if the soul is not small” is the oft-quoted noble sentiment from the pen of Fernando Pessoa, the Portuguese poet of this century, and one that might rightly be applied to this effort by Vamireh Chacon, one of Brazil’s leading intellectual historians. Brazilianists will already be familiar with his earlier work, Historia das idéias socialistas no Brasil.

The task of writing superior intellectual history is a very special one calling for a rare combination of the best of the philosopher’s and historian’s talents. Few would quarrel with the generalization that scholars of Latin America—whether national or foreign—have until quite recently seldom included intellectual historians of the first order in their ranks. The reasons may be various, but perhaps the most damning is that given by João Cruz Costa in his Contribuição à história das idéias no Brasil to the effect that great histories of ideas are not possible if there are no great thinkers and ideas to deal with. This judgment will no doubt demand revision in the future, now that Latin American writers are moving to the fore in the world of letters. In the meantime, intellectual historians must work with the materials provided them; and it is vital for all those seeking insights into Latin American culture and society that they do so. In practice what this most often means is charting the course of great philosophical ideas from elsewhere and their impact on the local cultural milieu.

Chacon has undertaken to study the men and ideas of the famous “Escola do Recife,” for the most part those who taught or studied at the Faculty of Law in the capital of Brazil’s Northeast during the period running from the last quarter of the nineteenth century and the demise of the Brazilian monarchy to the year 1916, when the Civil Code was voted into law by the Congress of the fledgling Republic. The author is uniquely suited to his task, since he is a native pernambucano, a lineal “descendant” of the Escola, and presently a professor at the Faculty of Law of the University of Recife.

This volume is subtitled Artur Orlando e sua geração, and Chacon argues in his Introduction that Orlando “became the focal point and common denominator among the leading figures of the Escola, who were diverse and often opposed to one another; in Orlando’s relations with friends the Brazilian cultural world of the tune can be seen to pass in review.” We are thus led to believe that this heretofore rather obscure figure in Brazilian history will provide the thread of continuity throughout this study. Things do not work out quite that way, however, because Orlando is treated as only one of the major figures examined, the others being Tobias Barreto, Sílvio Romero, Clóvis Beviláqua (author of the Civil Code), and Higino Cunha. If there is a touchstone here, it is surely Tobias Barreto rather than Artur Orlando.

What emerges from these studies is a microcosmic view of the intellectual forces at work during the crucial period of the end of the Empire and the beginning of the Republic in Brazil. Chacon shows how the Germanophile current ran strong in Tobias Barreto and his disciples of the Escola. He also demonstrates that the different currents of positivism, socialism, and neo-capitalism were competing for the minds and hearts of the Brazilian intelligentsia. In the adoption of Beviláqua’s Civil Code, Brazil’s leadership opted for neo-capitalism, reflecting the marriage of the petite and grande bourgeoisie in Brazil during this period. Lest we hasten to condemn this turn of events, Chacon reminds us that the Code represented a great step forward for its time; the proletariat in Brazil at the time was “neither very numerous nor cohesive.”

For all its merits, this study is much too brief (190 pages of text) to explore all the facets of its many-sided topic. Although some of the original documents drawn from the private collections of the figures under study here are worthwhile, they are not worth the 143 pages devoted to them.

Luckily, Chacon’s soul is not small, and we have ample proof of the fact in this pioneer work. Brazilianists should be grateful for his effort and reward it with their most serious attention.