Historians of colonial and nineteenth-century Brazil are accustomed to the difficulties of locating long out-of-print works. Fortunately, in recent years, under the guidance of Brazilian academics, many relatively rare books have been republished. The works of the nineteenth-century journalist and historian João Francisco Lisboa, perhaps because of their literary value, never quite fell into obscurity, but nevertheless often proved difficult to locate. This new edition of his Apontamentos para a História do Maranhão is therefore welcome. Two separate critical biographical and bibliographical essays by Peregrino Júnior and Graça Aranha further enhance the value of the study by permitting the reader to place Lisboa’s efforts in the context of the time and author’s personality.

Nineteenth-century Maranhão, at the time Lisboa wrote, was in the process of slipping into national obscurity. The late eighteenth-century and early nineteenth-century boom had faded, to be revived only briefly by the demand for cotton stimulated by the Civil War in the United States. Long-range prospects for the north appeared anything but bright. Moreover, the culture of Maranhão, still attached to Lisbon rather than Rio de Janeiro, increasingly was out of step with the more dynamic southern areas of the nation. From a cultural standpoint São Luis do Maranhão had become a nether land. João Francisco Lisboa thus set out to provide a cultural base anchored in the region’s own distinctive history. He did so in a literary style still much admired for its simple eloquence.

Lisboa based much of his historical work on archival material collected during his years of residence in Portugal. Interestingly, he demonstrated a critical approach to previous studies of the region’s history worthy of a much more sophisticated age. Yet, in keeping with his century, he saw history as a romance made so by the extremes of human actions.

Nobility balanced by deviltry, kindness by cruelty are all recalled and worked into the rich tapestry of Portugal in the north. Frequently he compared Maranhão’s history with English North America demonstrating a respectable knowledge of the history of the United States in the process. The work is more complete than the title indicates, and substantially covers the period from discovery through the eighteenth century. Included are useful documents, some abstracted others reproduced in full, dealing with Indian affairs. Unfortunately, archival citations are limited making it difficult to trace his sources.

Lisboa’s work perhaps is of most interest to the historian of ideas. Others interested in hard data will be less pleased, and will want to consult some of the studies Lisboa himself criticized for their lack of interpretation.