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ArribaAbajo Camões Among American Authors: Sarah Hutchins Killikelly
Norwood Andrews, Jr.

Texas Tech University

Born in Vincennes, Indiana, in 1840, Sarah Hutchins Killikelly graduated from Eden Hall Seminary in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, where she studied piano and organ with the German-born teacher Karl Merz.22 She took up residence in Pittsburgh in 1861. There she «conducted a private school... for many years, with marked success»; she also taught «in the department of literature and art in Columbia Institute, a university extension enterprise in New York city» (NCAB). A Fellow of the Society of Science, Letters and Art in London, she devoted much of her time to literary pursuits and, in 1897, won the Society's gold crown award for papers on the Victorian era. She died in Washington, D. C., in 1912.

Killikelly published two books. The second, The History of Pittsburgh, Its Rise and Progress, appeared only a few years before her death (Pittsburgh, Pa.: B. C. and Gordon Montgomery, 1906). It had one edition. The first book, Curious Questions in History, Literature, Art, and Social Life Designed as a Manual of General Information, had appeared in three volumes, beginning in 1886, with the next in 1889 and the last in 1900. Volumes I and II seem to have had a second edition in 1895.23 Henry Coppée, the former president of Lehigh University and a professor of English there, reviewed volume I prior to its publication and his opinion, included by Killikelly, describes succinctly the work's contents and purpose:

At the request of Miss Killikelly, I have reviewed these questions and notes, and desire to express my pleasure and satisfaction at the able manner in which she has accomplished her task. She explains with clearness many things in history, literature and art, of which the young pupil is ignorant, and which it costs pains and study to find out. She makes each question a nucleus around which to gather much valuable information.

I heartily recommend the volume to teachers for use in classes, and also as a basis for supplementary lectures, and the solution of similar problems.

(Curious Questions, 1:vii)                

Each volume opens with a Table of Questions, the «curious questions» themselves, each of which contains a page reference to the answer in the text (which Coppée terms the «notes»). Question number 106 in Volume I asks, «Who is the hero of 'The Lusiad'? Page 128» (xvi). The answer goes as follows:

Vasco da Gama is the chief hero of «The Lusiad»; but the poem presents a grouping of all the great people and events in the history of Portugal, -ancient Lusitania.

«The Lusiad» is one of the noblest monuments ever raised to the national glory of any people.

Camoens, the author, resolved to do for Portugal what Homer had done for Greece.

The poem was written in the sixteenth century, which has been called the heroic age of Portugal, and was the result of the general impetus, literary as well as commercial, which pervaded Europe after the many maritime discoveries.

The rounding of the Cape of Good Hope by Vasco da Gama is the main feature of the poem; but one of the most interesting episodes is the crowning, after death, of Inez de Castro as Queen of Portugal.

Greek mythology forms the machinery, as it were, of this epic; and it is named «The Lusiad» after the mythological Lusius, who is said to have visited Portugal, and founded Lisbon.

(1: 128-29)                

For her information Killikelly leaned heavily on Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's Poets and Poetry of Europe and J. C. L. Simonde de Sismondi's Historical View of the Literature of the South of Europe in Thomas Roscoe's translation, both of which she cites in her List of Authorities (viii; Roscoe's name omitted). The two episodes she specifies are the same two which Longfellow had anthologized, in William Julius Mickle's translation. Sismondi had earlier included them, likewise in Mickle's translation, commenting that he had «thus given, in full, two of the finest episodes contained in the whole   —509→   poem..., those of Inez de Castro and of Adamastor» (2: 497-500, 507-11). Mrs. Hemans's version of the «Appearance of the Spirit of the Cape to Vasco da Gama» had also circulated widely (358-60). This kind of popular emphasis probably contributed to Killikelly's mistaking the passage around the Cape as «the main feature of the poem». It very possibly occasioned in addition her twin errors of overstating da Gama's role in the poem and failing to observe Camões's innovation in making Portugal its hero, even though Sismondi had carefully pointed these things out:

It is by mistake that Vasco da Gama has been represented as the hero of Camoens, and that those portions of the work not immediately connected with that commander's expedition, are regarded as episodes to the main action. There is, in truth, no other leading subject than his country, nor are there any episodes except such parts as are not immediately connected with her glory.

(2: 480)                

While Killikelly evidently read The Lusiad and at least one of its commentators imperfectly, she reacted favorably to the poem, to the point where she could comfortably support the value judgement of it as a noble monument to national glory.24 She also felt comfortable, as not only Sismondi but Thomas Wentworth Higginson and even Longfellow had not, with its mythological «machinery».25 Unlike her predecessors, she either did not perceive any conflict between Camões's classical figures and his orthodox Christianity or, having in this context understood the poem more fully than was common among nineteenth-century readers of it in English, she realized that none exists.

Writing at a point in time that had allowed her to witness the crass commercialism of the Gilded Age, Killikelly strikes a note which would have sounded discordant to Henrietta Hall Shuck with her frank admiration for The Lusiad as «the epic poem of commerce» (533). She comes very close to expressing instead the view that the «general impetus» brought about in Europe by the voyages of discovery had two separate and distinct manifestations, the one commercial, the other literary, and that Camões's poem results from the latter, not the former. In doing so she points faintly but perceptibly toward that quality which renders it invulnerable to the passing fancies of any given age by making it adaptable to all ages. Together with Mrs. Shuck, although far more briefly and in large part because the two of them could not have agreed on the reason why, she anticipates Isaac Goldberg's emphasis on the universality with which Camões «easily transcends his country's boundaries» (61).

A biographical note on Camões follows the discussion of The Lusiad in Killikelly's text. While it adds nothing new, it gives near the end of the century renewed currency to the principal sentimental stories about Camões which Mickle had popularized initially more than a hundred years earlier and which, beginning in 1803, had gained an even wider circulation through the Remarks in Lord Strangford's Poems from the Portuguese of Luis de Camoens. Retold also by Longfellow and Sismondi, from whom Killikelly apparently drew them as she did her comments on the poem, they include Camões's «fruitless love for Catharina de Atayde», how his «pension was taken away after the king's death», and how «a faithful Indian servant begged in the streets of Lisbon for the support of the great epic poet of Portugal» who «died in the hospital at Lisbon...» (129), an institution which reappears in Herman Melville's late poem «Camoens».26

The story of Inês de Castro in particular appealed to Killikelly, as it had done long before to Voltaire and would again, long after and for different reasons, to the Ezra Pound who had read him.27 Admittedly, Killikelly followed a familiar path in singling it out as «one of the most interesting episodes» but she demonstrated her own interest in it when she presented it as the very first «curious question» of all: «What queen was crowned with all due ceremony, after her death? Page 1» (1: ix). Apart from some concluding remarks about later events in Portugal, the answer (1: 1-2) adds little to what Camões himself had related, less to what Sismondi and Longfellow had added already, but it keeps the story itself current.

Killikelly did not systematically cross-reference the Curious Questions and the answer to number 1 does not mention Camões. Readers unfamiliar with him must therefore wait until they have also read the answer to number 106 before they can identify The Lusiad as the source. At that point, of course, the similarity between Killikelly's description of the story and her wording of question number 1 leaves no doubt about the relationship between the two questions.

The line in Curious Questions' subtitle which describes it as A Manual of General Information reveals that Killikelly considered a knowledge of Camões and his epic integral to the kind of general information which educated persons of her era should have at their disposal. She had, in fact, already taken steps as a teacher to see that   —510→   some of them would have it, as she states indirectly but unmistakably in her Preface:

«Wednesday Afternoons with my Literature Class», would perhaps have been a better title, and one requiring no preface; but since these questions have formed the most interesting feature of our class, and are the only part of the course here represented, we call our book «Curious Questions». I say «our book»; for in association, at least, it is the joint property of many successive classes of young friends, who, having laid aside the text-books of school, were ready and eager to enter the broader fields of polite literature.


Although Curious Questions gives no readily visible signs of adoption by other teachers, despite Coppée's hearty recommendation, the materials which went into volume I, Camões among them, had first undergone discussion in Killikelly's own classroom, presumably at her private school in Pittsburgh. Naturally, given the volume's total of two hundred and seventy-five questions, Camões cannot have enjoyed undivided attention for more than a portion of any semester's Wednesday afternoons but, even so, Killikelly exposed at least some of her «many successive classes» to him. She thus assured that they would recognize his place in «the broader fields of polite literature», something which the magazinist and educator William Gordon McCabe had do ne as a recently graduated schoolboy in Virginia thirty years before.28


Andrews, Norwood, Jr. «Camões among American Authors: William Gordon McCabe». Journal of the American Portuguese Society 16 (1982-83): 14-18.

_____. The Case against Camões: A Seldom Considered Chapter from Ezra Pound's Campaign to Discredit Rhetorical Poetry. New York: Lang, 1988.

_____. Melville's Camões. Bonn: Bouvier, 1989. Book of the Writers. Pittsburgh, Pa.: The Writers Club of Pittsburgh, 1897.

Burke, W. J., and Will D. Howe. American Authors and Their Books, 1640 to the Present Day. 3rd ed. Rev. Irving Weiss and Anne Weiss. New York: Crown, 1972.

Goldberg, Isaac. Camões: Central Figure of Portuguese Literature (1524-1580). Little Blue Book No. 530. Ed. E. Haldeman-Julius. Girard, Kan.: Haldeman-Julius Co., 1924.

Hemans, Felicia Dorothea (Browne). The Poetical Works of Felicia Hemans. Complete in One Volume. Introd. Mrs. L. H. Sigourney. Boston: Crosby, Nichols, Lee and Co., 1860.

Higginson, Thomas Wentworth. «Portugal's Glory and Decay». The North American Review 83.173 (October, 1856): 456-77.

Killikelly, Sarah Hutchins. Curious Questions in History, Literature, Art, and Social Life Designed as a Manual of General Information. 3 vols. Philadelphia: David McKay, 1886, 1889, 1900.

NCAB 19: 98.

National Union Catalog Pre-1956-Imprints.

Who Was Who 1 (1897-1942).

Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth, ed. The Poets and Poetry of Europe. Philadelphia: Carey and Hart, 1849.

Roscoe, Thomas, trans., introd., and notes. Historical View of the Literature of the South of Europe. By J. C. L. Simonde de Sismondi. 2nd ed. 3 vols. London: Henry G. Bohn, 1846.

Shuck, Henrietta Hall. «Cave of Camões, in Macao: Notices of His Life and Works, Especially of His Lusiad. Communicated for the Repository, by H. S». The Chinese Repository (Canton) 8.11 (March, 1840): 553-60. (Also appeared, by «Mrs. Shuck», in The Southern Literary Messenger 6.12 [December, 18401: 822-25.)

Sismondi, J. C. L. Simonde de. See Roscoe.