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Brotero, Félix de Avelar, 1744-1828
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Félix da Silva Avelar was the name given at birth to Avelar Brotero, who was born on the 25th November 1744 in Santo Antão do Tojal, Loures (Portugal). Son of José da Silva Pereira e Avelar, doctor by the University of Coimbra, and his mother was Maria René da Encarnação. In 1746, Brotero at the age of two was trusted to his paternal grandfather, Bernardo da Silva, because of the premature death of his father and mental insanity that his mother suffered subsequently.

As a result of the death of his paternal grandfather, Félix de Avelar, only eight years old was cared for by his maternal grandfather, José Rodrigues Carreira Frazão, administrator of the royal household of Mafra. Félix de Avelar, from very early age showed an aptitude for arts and science and at the age of seven, supported by his grandfather, started school at the Colégio dos Religiosos Arrábidos of Mafra. He achieved the highest possible marks in, Portuguese, Latin, Rhetoric and Rational Philosophy. It was at this time that he became especially interested in church music, religious hymns for which he had a good voice.

In 1762, his maternal grandfather died, who was the only family member that could support him. Thus at 19 Félix de Avelar finds himself alone and without financial support. As he was a good hymn singer in 1763, he was employed has chief singer in the Patriarchal Church of Lisbon, this gave him enough income to survive. Meanwhile he continued his studies in Latin and music, and still had some time to get knowledge in cannon law. In 1768, he was ordained Deacon.

In 1770, Félix de Avelar enrolled at the Faculty of Cannon at the University of Coimbra. The courses were open, it was only necessary to do the exam at the end of the academic year. In 1772 after completing the exams successfully for three consecutive years, he was forced to interrupt his degree. The Pombaline reform brought great changes to the university, one of them was forbidding sitting exams without attending classes. The open courses ended and the students had to stay in Coimbra. Félix de Avelar could not afford to give up his position as chaplain-singer in Lisbon. This prevented him from moving to Coimbra.

Decided on following a clergyman career he achieved a subsidy of a measure of corn from the Royal household of Reguengo de Alviela, with the intention of being ordained. However he never got further than a Deacon, although throughout his life he dressed like a clergyman.

His duties as chaplain singer of the Lisbon Patriarchal left him with lots of free time to deepen his knowledge of Humanities. He continued in this way to study Latin and began the study of Greek, a language he later became fluent in. He later taught Greek and received an invitation to teach it in the city of Baía. An invitation that he was unable to accept.

When the Enlightment reached Portugal and began to get followers, Félix de Avelar was one of them. When the Lisbon Gazettes reappeared, Felix Avelar was their editor. His love for science, the philosophical ideas he had and the closeness with Francisco Manuel do Nascimento (Filinto Elísio), resulted in him being under the jurisdiction of the Holy See. On the 5th of July 1778, to escape the agents of Pina Manique, he left everything and emigrated to France, together with his friend Filinto Elísio. In June of the same year he arrived at Havre. Without any means of sustenance he went to Paris, where he was welcomed and helped by the Portuguese people residing there, amongst which were the Ambassador of Portugal, Vicente de Sousa Coutinho, as well as other important dignitaries of Portuguese politics, such as Fernandes de Lima, Francisco de Menezes and the doctor Ribeiro Sanches.

This stage of his life spent in Paris, brought great scientific and personal enrichment to Brotero. It is here, following the fashion of the learned to take on Philanthropic names, that he adds Brotero to his registered name, a word deriving from the Greek brohtos and eros, that meant lover of the mortals, and became thus Félix de Avelar Brotero.

For the 12 years of his stay in Paris he attended classes diligently on Natural History, taught by prominent figures of the Museum of Natural History of Paris such as Buffon, Lamarck, Jussieu, Valmont de Bomare, Vicq d’Azyr and Aubenton, amongst others. Brisson taught him Botany classes at the “Académie de Pharmacie”, a subject in which he became a distinguished professor and scientist.

After completion of his studies in Natural History he qualified as Medical Doctor at the University of Reims, because the Course Certificates were considerably cheaper there than in Paris. Due to his extreme sensibility he stopped practicing medicine and turned exclusively to the study of Botany. While studying Brotero earned an income by selling original works and translations to Parisian publishers.

In 1788, he published in Paris, his first Botany compendium, or Elementary Notions of this Science, according to the best Modern Writers, explained in the Portuguese Language. An important book aimed for the university courses. The subject content is well organised and explained clearly and accurately. This work includes the “Dictionary of Botany Terms”, which has been used as reference by many Portuguese botanists after him.

With the emergence of the French revolution, Brotero, who opposed the course of events returned to Lisbon in 1790 once again with Filinto Elísio.

On the 13th of March 1791, Brotero was given a degree freely by the Faculty of Philosophy of Coimbra, without defending a thesis or writing an exam. He was given the responsibility of teaching Botany and Agriculture (1791-1811), as well as managing the works of the Botanical Gardens that were still at the beginning. The preferential treatment given to Brotero when appointing him as lecturer came into conflict with the interests and promotions of the other professors employed who as a result were hostile to the Botanical Gardens. This was the case for a very long time, and in many occasions, isolated Brotero, who took refuge in his work as a lecturer and scientist, to forget the problems caused by this.

Under the leadership of Brotero the Botanical Gardens of the University of Coimbra achieved an extraordinary development. He re-structured the areas already built, and built new areas, built infra structures and re-directed the work of the Botanical Gardens. He installed the Systematic Schools, set according to the Sexual System of Lineu. The dynamics of the Gardens was centred in the study of medicinal plants, for the students of medicine, but Brotero opened the gardens to other scientific areas, turning it into a testing area for the various branches of Agriculture and Botany studies.

Filled the flowerbeds of the Botanical Gardens with plants from the whole country and overseas. This was used to teach students of Philosophy and Medicine. Under his management the D. Maria I gate was built at the entrance to the square, in front of the Lower level of Carrisso.

There was no herbarium of Portuguese plants. Brotero began herborizations and plant collections in a herbarium. A contribution that revealed to be essential for the study of the Portuguese Flora.

He was the author of various important scientific botany works, amongst which is «Phytographia Lusitaniae Selectior», divided in two volumes, published in 1816 and 1827 respectively and the «História Natural dos Pinheiros, Larices, e Abetos», published in 1827. Of great importance was the «Flora Lusitanica», published in 1804, in two volumes, the first shows the Portuguese floral diversity, being the base for all floras that subsequently emerged in Portugal. Over a period of 10 years, he recorded 1885 species, firstly classifying them in Latin. Some of these, were new species (100) classified by the Sexual System of Lineu.

In his Botany classes he used the compendium he produced in Paris, and for Agriculture classes he prepared a compendium “Principals of philosophical Agriculture ”, which deals with plant physiology, a work that was not totally published, but there is a complete manuscript in the Library of the Academy of Science of Lisbon.

In 1807, the advance of the French invasions reached Coimbra, forcing Brotero to make another change, as a result he took refuge in Lisbon. His house was burnt down and many of his books were destroyed. He only returned to Coimbra in 1810 with the aim to start proceedings to retire from teaching. He retired as per Royal Order of 27th April of 1811 and Decree of 16th August 1811. He moved once again to Lisbon to take up the post of Director of the Royal Museum and the Botanical Gardens of Ajuda, where he worked before at the time of the French revolution. He started to re-organise the museum and the Botanical Gardens, but the French Commissioner for Science and Art, Geoffrey de Saint-Hilaire took all the material to the Museum in Paris, making the organization of the Museum impossible. This left him the Botanical Garden, which he rehabilitated, and prepared the respective catalogue.

In 1821, he was elected representative at the extraordinary general court for Estremadura. He took part in the discussion of the cereal law where he encouraged farmers to grow rye and wheat to make it possible to produce bread for the whole population at an acceptable price to all. He asked to be relieved of his duties, after four months of assisting with the legislative works. His request was duly accepted.

He kept the title of Knight of the Order of São Bento de Avis, a century old Portuguese military religious order of knights.

As a man devoted to science, he was very active. His name is listed as a member of the Linnean Society of London and of the Royal Horticultural Society. He was also member of various academies, amongst which are: The Royal Academy of Science of Lisbon, the Academy of Natural History and Philomatic of Paris, the Academy Physiographic of Lunden in Sweden, the Academy of Natural History of Rostock and the Academy of Cesarea of Bonn.

He died on the 4th of August 1828, in Alcolena of Belem (Lisbon) and was buried in the church of S. José de Riba-Mar.

The prestige of Brotero amongst the Botanists of his time was great. In his honour some plants were named after him, as is the case of Brotera ovata and the Brotera trinervata.

In 1873, Júlio Henriques was appointed director of the Botanical Garden. He acknowledged the work of Brotero, and started in 1880, in his honour the Broterian Society and continued the works of herborization of Brotero. The statue of Avelar Brotero next to the main entrance of the Botanical Gardens of Coimbra tries to immortalize this great Botanist. This was also the result Dr. Júlio Henriques’ personal commitment.

Jorge Guimarães

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