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1. The importance of António Augusto de Aguiar in the academic background of Alfredo da Silva

The period Alfredo da Silva spent at the Industrial and Commercial Institute of Lisbon, from 1887/1888 to 1891/1892, was a so called a golden age for Chemistry in Portugal and covers grosso modo the last two decades of the XIX century, in particular the penultimate decade, where we can find, not only very alive but fully active, personalities such as, António Augusto de Aguiar (Lisbon, 1838 - Lisbon, 1887), Agostinho Vicente Lourenço (Goa, 1826 - Lisbon, 1893), José Júlio Bettencourt Rodrigues (Funchal, Madeira, 1845 - Lisbon 1893), Roberto Duarte Silva (Santo Antão, Cabo Verde, 1837 - Paris, 1889) this last figure geographically very distant but nevertheless very important in the structuring and dynamics of the group, or even António Joaquim Ferreira da Silva (1853 - 1923), who outlived his colleagues, and is remembered for his brilliance and dedication to the development of Analytical Chemistry at the Municipal Laboratory of Oporto during his early years - some of the names that made Chemistry what it was at the end of the XIX century in Portugal, not forgetting of course the valuable contribution given by the University of Coimbra.

Two of these names stand out immediately - in view of the influence they had on Alfred da Silva´s academic background - that of António Augusto de Aguiar and José Júlio Bettencourt, each one followed a different path in Chemistry, but both based on the absence of a "foreign school" methodology, at least in what regards the methods previously adopted by other Portuguese chemical scientists, who frequented courses and laboratories of a renowned chemist. This lack of a "foreign school" did not however prevent them from following a career dedicated to investigation (using the model that dominated the period, for Aguiar "pure", for Rodrigues "applied") or from being strong protagonists in what concerned the social implications of this science.

António Augusto de Aguiar and José Júlio Bettencourt Rodrigues are important references in the career of Alfredo da Silva, at least in what regards his academic education. The first of these two men was indirectly involved, in as much as it was he who upgraded a course (precisely a course of commerce) included in the curriculum of the Industrial and Commercial Institute of Lisbon, to higher education level (decree-law of 6th March 1884), and thus made the Institute, (whose main trump card was professional training by modern means, but which had suffered right from the beginning from the stigma of the low social level of its students), very attractive to the wealthy bourgeoisie.

This higher education course in Commerce was the first (and up to 1896, the only one) of its kind in the Industrial and Commercial Institute of Lisbon. Legitimately therefore this school can not be classified as an Institute of Higher Education, despite the ambiguity permitted by the terms of the law, which are omissive, and the quality of its teaching body, many members of which lecturers in Institutes of Higher Education. None the less, the upgrading of one course to higher education level must most certainly have been a strong incentive to continue on the same path.

For now, this is the only example we have regarding the influence of António Augusto de Aguiar on the academic career of Alfredo da Silva, as he did not, as was foreseen, live to take the chair of Mineral and Organic Chemistry, Chemical Analysis: Virgílio Machado took his place in 1887. He was however without doubt one of the great pioneers in the conception of system that made it possible for the young bourgeoisie aspiring to a business career, to enter this scholarly institution - an establishment that basically in its first phase (from 1852 to 1864), consisted in training skilled labourers and industrial officers as an alternative to and competing with the traditional system of Arts and Professions, and in a 2 nd phase (from 1864 onward), the "birthplace" of auxiliaries for the administrative machine of the Ministry of Public Works, Commerce and Industry - and provide them with an education particularly rich in the physical-natural scientific component.

Within this perspective, we can quite easily consider him as one of the people responsible (although indirectly) not only for the presence of Alfredo da Silva in the Industrial and Commercial Institute of Lisbon, but also for the solid bases he acquired in the scientific areas of Physics, Mineralogy, or Industrial and General Chemistry. As director of the Institute (1871), he turned his attention to the field of practical chemistry: in 1872 he organized the Chemistry laboratory on lines comparable to the best laboratories in Germany (AGUIAR, 1872, p.3), and established (although of an optional nature) the practical teaching of this science in terms complementary to the theoretical teaching of the corresponding subject, which was "Chemistry applied to the arts and industry" (subject nº4 on the curriculum). In this way one more step forward was taken towards changing the old system in which the general "habit "was for the lecturer responsible for the particular subject to decide whether or nor to support theoretical lessons with practical ones.




Magno Urbano