Trechos de Memórias de um sargento de milícias

Manuel Antonio de Almeida

Veja a maneira divertida e sedutora com a qual o genial autor inicia a sua narrativa:

Era no tempo do rei.

Uma das quatro esquinas que formam as ruas do Ouvidor e da Quitanda, cortando-se mutuamente, chamava-se nesse tempo O canto dos meirinhos; e bem lhe assentava o nome, porque era aí o lugar de encontro favorito de todos os indivíduos dessa classe (que gozava então de não pequena consideração). Os meirinhos de hoje não são mais do que a sombra caricata dos meirinhos do tempo do rei; esses eram gente temível e temida, respeitável e respeitada; formavam um dos extremos da formidável cadeia judiciária que envolvia todo o Rio de Janeiro no tempo em que a demanda era entre nós um elemento de vida: o extremo oposto eram os desembargadores. Ora, os extremos se tocam, e estes, tocando-se, fechavam o círculo dentro do qual se passavam os terríveis combates das citações, provarás, razões principais e finais, e todos esses trejeitos judiciais que se chamava processo.

Daí sua influência moral.

Mas tinham ainda outra influência, que é justamente a que falta aos de hoje: era a influência que derivava de suas condições físicas. Os meirinhos de hoje são homens como quaisquer outros; nada têm de imponentes, nem no seu semblante nem no seu trajar; confundem-se com qualquer procurador, escrevente de cartório ou contínuo de repartição. Os meirinhos desse belo tempo não, não se confundiam com ninguém; eram originais, eram tipos, nos seus semblantes transluzia um certo ar de majestade forense, seus olhares calculados e sagazes significavam chicana. Trajavam sisuda casaca preta, calção e meias da mesma cor, sapato afivelado, ao lado esquerdo aristocrático espadim, e na ilharga direita penduravam um círculo branco, cuja significação ignoramos, e coroavam tudo isto por um grave chapéu armado. Colocado sob a importância vantajosa destas condições, o meirinho usava e abusava de sua posição. Era terrível quando, ao voltar uma esquina ou ao sair de manhã de sua casa, o cidadão esbarrava com uma daquelas solenes figuras que, desdobrando junto dele uma folha de papel, começava a lê-la em tom confidencial! Por mais que se fizesse não havia remédio em tais circunstâncias senão deixar escapar dos lábios o terrível – Dou-me por citado. -Ninguém sabe que significação fatalíssima e cruel tinham estas poucas palavras! eram uma sentença de peregrinação eterna que se pronunciava contra si mesmo; queriam dizer que se começava uma longa e afadigosa viagem, cujo termo bem distante era a caixa da Relação, e durante a qual se tinha de pagar importe de passagem em um sem-número de pontos; o advogado, o procurador, o inquiridor, o escrivão, o juiz, inexoráveis Carontes, estavam à porta de mão estendida, e ninguém passava sem que lhes tivesse deixado, não um óbolo, porém todo o conteúdo de suas algibeiras, e até a última parcela de sua paciência.

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It was at the time of the king[1].

Where the Rua do Ouvidor[2] crosses the Rua da Quitanda[3], one of the four corners was at this time called The Bailiff’s Corner – and the name suited it well, because it was the favourite meeting place for all these officers of the courts (who, at that time, inspired no little respect).  The court officers of today are a mere shadow, a caricature of the court officers at the time of the king; these were men who were both fearsome and feared; respectable and respected.   They formed the first link in the formidable legal chain that entangled the whole of Rio de Janeiro at a time when legal actions were a part of everyday life among us; the final link in the chain was formed by the appeals court judges.  Now ends meet, and these two, coming together, closed the circle within which were fought the terrible battles of summonses, indictments, opening and closing arguments, and all the judicial quirks and foibles that went by the name of ‘lawsuit’.

And hence their moral influence.

But they exerted another influence too, precisely that that is lacking in those of today: the influence that derived from their imposing appearance.  The court officers of today are men like any others; there is nothing imposing about them, neither in their appearance nor in their dress; they could be mistaken for any attorney, notary’s clerk or office menial.  But not the court officers of this fine time; they could not be mistaken for anyone.  They were original, they were characters, their faces shone with an air of judicial majesty; their calculated, sagacious mien signified guile.  They wore sober black jackets, knee-length breeches and stockings of the same colour, buckled shoes, on the left a lordly sword and on the right a white circle, the significance of which is no longer known; and the whole was crowned with an impressive cocked hat.  Endowed with such importance by these advantageous conditions, the bailiffs both used and abused their position.  It was a terrible thing for a man, on turning a corner or on leaving home in the morning, to run into one of these solemn personages who, unfolding a sheet of paper before him, began to read it in a confidential tone!  Try as one might, there was no alternative in the circumstances but to let slip from one’s lips the fateful words “I accept the summons.”  No one today has any idea of the devastating, cruel significance of those few words!  They were a sentence of eternal pilgrimage pronounced against oneself: they signified the beginning of a long and exhausting journey, whose far-off conclusion was the pay clerk at the court of the Relação[4]; a journey during which fees of passage had to be paid at countless locations; the lawyer, the barrister, the examiner, the clerk of the court, the judge, inexorable Charons[5], were standing  at the door with hands outstretched, and no one passed without having left, not an obolus[6], but the entire contents of his pockets, and the very last drop of his patience.




[1]Rio de Janeiro was the seat of the Portuguese monarchy from 1808 to 1821.  D. João VI had taken power in Portugal in 1792, due to his mother’s mental illness, becoming Prince Regent in 1799 when she was finally declared mentally incapable, and King of the United Kingdom of Brazil, Portugal and the Algarves on her death in 1816.  He decided on the drastic measure of transferring the court to Brazil to avoid his arrest by Napoleon, and that of his family and government.  The king arrived in Rio de Janeiro escorted by a British fleet under the command of Admiral Sidney Smith, accompanied by members of the Portuguese government, church and aristocracy (whose numbers had grown to 15,000 by the end of that year), as well as the contents of the royal palaces and of many of the churches of Lisbon.  In 1821 D. João was obliged to return to Portugal after the Liberal Revolution of Oporto.  The following year his son, D. Pedro I, declared the Independence of Brazil

[2] The Rua do Ouvidor -  named after the key political post of Senior Appeals Court Judge (literally translated ‘the Listener’), was the street where the aristocratic shops and cafés were located.

[3] The Rua da Quitanda – literally translated ‘Market Street’, crosses the Rua do Ouvidor at right angles.  Today they are both important commercial streets in the downtown area.

[4] Tribunais da Relação – the Portuguese High Courts; in this case the court having jurisdiction over theRio de Janeiro district.

[5] Charon – the name in Greek mythology of the ferryman who rowed the dead to Hades across the River Styx.

[6] Obolus – a Greek coin that was placed on the eyes or tongue of the deceased to pay the ferryman.