Lafcadio Hearn.

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LAFCADIO HEARN. Drawn by Krieghoff

A new collection of Mr. Hearn's writings will be published
t.i-s fal. under the title "American Miscellanies" (Dodd

1 i .,-, ~., r< . aru j Defoe's


from the lectures of

Selected and Edited with an Introduction


Professor of English
Columbia University




COPYRIGHT, 1915, 1916, 1917, 1931

dt Outon ft 9ttotn





THESE chapters, for the most part, are reprinted
from Lafcadio Hearn's "Interpretations of Lit-
erature," 1915, from his "Life and Literature,"

1916, and from his "Appreciations of Poetry,"

1917. Three chapters appear here for the first
time. They are all taken from the student notes
of Hearn's lectures at the University of Tokyo,
1896-1902, sufficiently described in the earlier
volumes just mentioned. They are now pub-
lished in this regrouping in response to a demand
for a further selection of the lectures, in a less
expensive volume and with emphasis upon those
papers which illustrate Hearn's extraordinary
ability to interpret the exotic in life and in books.

It should be remembered that these lectures
were delivered to Japanese students, and that
Hearn's purpose was not only to impart the in-
formation about Western literature usually to be
found in our histories and text-books, but much
more to explain to the Oriental mind those pe-
culiarities of our civilization which might be hard
to understand on the further side of the Pacific
Ocean. The lectures are therefore unique, in that
they are the first large attempt by a Western
critic to interpret us to the East. That we shall



be deeply concerned in the near future to continue
this interpretation on an even larger scale, no one
of us doubts. We wish we might hope for an-
other genius like Hearn to carry on the work.

The merit of the chapters printed or reprinted
in the present volume seems to me their power to
teach us to imagine our familiar traditions as
foreign and exotic in the eyes of other peoples.
We are accustomed, like every one else, to think
of our literature as the final product of other lit-
eratures as a terminal in itself, rather than as
a channel through which great potentialities might
flow. Like other men, we are accustomed to
think of ourselves as native, under all circum-
stances, and of other people at all times as for-
eign. While we were staying in their country, did
we not think of the French as foreigners? In
these chapters, not originally intended for us, we
have the piquant and salutary experience of see-
ing what we look like on at least one occasion
when we are the foreigners; we catch at least a
glimpse of what to the Orient seems exotic in us,
and it does us no harm to observe that the pe-
culiarly Western aspects of our culture are not
self-justifying nor always justifiable when looked
at through eyes not already disposed in their
favour. Hearn was one of the most loyal advo-
cates the West could possibly have sent to the
East, but he was an honest artist, and he never
tried to improve his case by trimming a fact. His


interpretation of us, therefore, touches our sen-
sitiveness in regions and in a degree which
perhaps his Japanese students were unconscious
of; we too marvel as well as they at his skill in
explaining, but we are sensitive to what he found
necessary to explain. We read less for the ex-
planation than for the inventory of ourselves.

Any interpretation of life which looks closely
to the facts will probably increase our sense of
mystery and of strangeness in common things. If
on the other hand it is a theory of experience
which chiefly interests us, we may divert our at-
tention somewhat from the experience to the
theory, leaving the world as humdrum as it was
before we explained it. In that case we must
seek the exotic in remote places and in exceptional
conditions, if we are to observe it at all. But
Lafcadio Hearn cultivated in himself and taught
his students to cultivate a quick alertness to those
qualities of life to which we are usually dulled
by habit. Education as he conceived of it had
for its purpose what Pater says is the end of
philosophy, to rouse the human spirit, to startle it
into sharp and eager observation. It is a sign
that dulness is already spreading in us, if we
must go far afield for the stimulating, the won-
drous, the miraculous. The growing sensitiveness
of a sound education would help us to distinguish
these qualities of romance in the very heart of our
daily life. To have so distinguished them is in


my opinion the felicity of Hearn in these chapters.
When he was writing of Japan for European or
American readers, we caught easily enough the
exotic atmosphere of the island kingdom easily
enough, since it was the essence of a world far
removed from ours. The exotic note is quite as
strong in these chapters. We shall begin to ap-
preciate Hearn's genius when we reflect that here
he finds for us the exotic in ourselves.

The first three chapters deal from different
standpoints with the same subject the character-
istic of Western civilization which to the East is
most puzzling, our attitude toward women.
Hearn attempted in other essays also to do full
justice to this fascinating theme, but these illus-
trations are typical of his method. To the Orien-
tal it is strange to discover a civilization in which
the love of husband and wife altogether super-
sedes the love of children for their parents, yet
this is the civilization he will meet in English and
in most Western literatures. He can understand
the love of individual women, as we understand
the love of individual men, but he will not easily
understand our worship of women as a sex, our
esteem of womankind, our chivalry, our way of
taking woman as a religion. How difficult, then,
will he find such a poem as Tennyson's "Princess,"
or most English novels. He will wonder why
the majority of all Western stories are love
stories, and why in English literature the love


story takes place before marriage, whereas in
French and other Continental literatures it usually
follows marriage. In Japan marriages are the
concern of the parents; with us they are the con-
cern of the lovers, who must choose their mates
in competition more or less open with other
suitors. No wonder the rivalries and the pre-
carious technique of love-making are with us an
obsession quite exotic to the Eastern mind. But
the Japanese reader, if he would understand us,
must also learn how it is that we have two ways
of reckoning with love a realistic way, which
occupies' itself in portraying sex, the roots of the
tree, as Hearn says, and the idealistic way, which
tries to fix and reproduce the beautiful illusion of
either happy or unhappy passion. And if the
Japanese reader has learned enough of our world
to understand all this, he must yet visualize our
social system more clearly perhaps than most of
us see it, if he would know why so many of our
love poems are addressed to the woman we have
not yet met. When we begin to sympathize with
him in his efforts to grasp the meaning of our
literature, we are at last awakened ourselves to
some notion of what our civilization means, and
as Hearn guides us through the discipline, we
realize an exotic quality in things which formerly
we took for granted.

Lecturing before the days of Imagism, before
the attention of many American poets had been


turned to Japanese art, Hearn recognized the
scarcity in our literature of those short forms of
verse in which the Greeks as well as the Japanese
excel. The epigram with us is or was until re-
cently a classical tradition, based on the brief
inscriptions of the Greek anthology or on the
sharp satires of Roman poetry; we had no native
turn for the form as an expression of our con-
temporary life. Since Hearn gave his very sig-
nificant lecture we have discovered for ourselves
an American kind of short poem, witty rather
than poetic, and few verse-forms are now prac-
tised more widely among us. Hearn spoke as a
prophet or as a shrewd observer which is the
same thing when he pointed out the possibility
of development in this field of brevity. He saw
that Japan was closer to the Greek world in this
practice than we were, and that our indifference to
the shorter forms constituted a peculiarity which
we could hardly defend. He saw, also, in the
work of Heredia, how great an influence Japanese
painting might have on Western literature, even
on those poets who had no other acquaintance
with Japan. In this point also his observation
has proved prophetic; the new poets in America
have adopted Japan, as they have adopted Greece,
as a literary theme, and it is somewhat exclusively
from the fine arts of either country that they draw
their idea of its life.

The next chapters which are brought together


here, consider the origin and the nature of Eng-
lish and European ethics. Hearn was an artist
to the core, and as a writer he pursued with undi-
vided purpose that beauty which, as Keats re-
minded us, is truth. In his creative moments he
was a beauty-lover, not a moralist. But when he
turned critic he at once stressed the cardinal im-
portance of ethics in the study of literature. The
art which strives to end in beauty will reveal even
more clearly than more complex forms of expres-
sion the personality of the artist, and personality
is a matter of character, and character both gov-
erns the choice of an ethical system and is mod-
ified by it. Literary criticism as Hearn practised
it is little interested in theology or in the system
of morals publicly professed; it is, however, pro-
foundly concerned with the ethical principles upon
which the artist actually proceeds, the directions
in which his impulses assert themselves, the ver-
dicts of right and wrong which his temperament
pronounces unconsciously, it may be. Here is the
true revelation of character, Hearn thinks, even
though our habitual and instinctive ethics may
differ widely from the ethics we quite sincerely
profess. Whether we know it or not, we are in
such matters the children of some educational or
philosophical system, which, preached at our an-
cestors long ago, has come at last to envelop us
with the apparent naturalness of the air we
breathe. It is a spiritual liberation of the first


order, to envisage such an atmosphere as what it
truly is, only a system of ethics effectively incul-
cated, and to compare the principles we live by
with those we thought we lived by. Hearn was
contriving illumination for the Japanese when he
made his great lecture on the "Havamal," identi-
fying in the ancient Northern poem those' precepts
which laid down later qualities of English char-
acter; for the Oriental reader it would be easier
to identify the English traits in Thackeray or
Dickens or Meredith if he could first consider
them in a dogmatic precept. But the lecture gives
us, I think, an extraordinary insight into our-
selves, a power of self-criticism almost disconcert-
ing as we realize not only the persistence of ethical
ideals in the past, but also the possible career of
new ethical systems as they may permeate the
books written to-day. To what standard will the
reader of our contemporary literature be uncon-
sciously moulded? What account will be given of
literature a thousand years from now, when a
later critic informs himself of our ethics in order
to understand more vitally the pages in which he
has been brought up?

Partly to inform his Japanese students still
further as to our ethical tendencies in literature,
and partly I think to indulge his own speculation
as to the morality that will be found in the litera-
ture of the future, Hearn gave his remarkable
lectures on the ant-world, following Fabre and


other European investigators, and his lecture on
"The New Ethics." When he spoke, over twenty
years ago, the socialistic ideal had not gripped us
so effectually as it has done in the last decade, but
he had no difficulty in observing the tendency.
Civilization in some later cycle may wonder at our
ambition to abandon individual liberty and re-
sponsibility and to subside into the social instincts
of the ant; and even as it wonders, that far-off
civilization may detect in itself ant-like reactions
which we cultivated for it. With this description
of the ant-world it is illuminating to read the two
brilliant chapters on English and French poems
about insects. Against this whole background of
ethical theory, I have ventured to set Hearn's
singularly objective account of the Bible.

In the remaining four chapters Hearn speaks of
the "Kalevala," of the mediaeval romance "Amis
and Amile," of William Cory's "lonica," and of
Theocritus. These chapters deal obviously with
literary influences which have become part and
parcel of English poetry, yet which remain exotic
to it, if we keep in mind the Northern stock which
still gives character, ethical and otherwise, to the
English tradition. The "Kalevala," which other-
wise should seem nearest to the basic qualities of
our poetry, is almost unique, as Hearn points out,
in the extent of its preoccupation with enchant-
ments and charms, with the magic of words.
"Amis and Amile," which otherwise ought to seem


more foreign to us, is strangely close in its glori-
fication of friendship; for chivalry left with us at
least this one great ethical feeling, that to keep
faith in friendship is a holy thing. No wonder
Amicus and Amelius were popular saints. The
story implies also, as it falls here in the book,
some illustration of those unconscious or uncon-
sidered ethical reactions which, as we saw in the
chapter on the "Havamal," have a lasting influence
on our ideals and on our conduct.

Romanticist though he was, Hearn constantly
sought the romance in the highway of life, the
aspects of experience which seem to perpetuate
themselves from age to age, compelling literature
to reassert them under whatever changes of form.
To one who has followed the large mass of his
lectures it is not surprising that he emphasized
those ethical positions which are likely to remain
constant, in spite of much new philosophy, nor
that he constantly recurred to such books as Cory's
"lonica," or Lang's translation of Theocritus, in
which he found statements of enduring human
attitudes. To him the Greek mind made a double
appeal. Not only did it represent to him the best
that has yet been thought or said in the world, but
by its fineness and its maturity it seemed kindred
to the spirit he found in ancient Japan. Lectur-
ing to Japanese students on Greek poetry as it
filters through English paraphrases and transla-
tions, he must have felt sometimes as we now feel


in reading his lectures, that in his teaching the long
migration of the world's culture was approaching
the end of the circuit, and that the earliest appari-
tion of the East known to most of us was once
more arriving at its starting place, mystery return-
ing to mystery, and its path at all points mysteri-
ous, if we rightly observe the miracle of the human



INTRODUCTION . . .. .-. A y
















" IONICA " 279






I WISH to speak of the greatest difficulty with
which the Japanese students of English literature,
or of almost any Western literature, have to con-
tend. I do not think that it ever has been prop-
erly spoken about. A foreign teacher might well
hesitate to speak about it because, if he should
try to explain it merely from the Western point
of view, he could not hope to be understood; and
if he should try to speak about it from the Jap-
anese point of view, he would be certain to make
various mistakes and to utter various extrava-
gances. The proper explanation might be given
by a Japanese professor only, who should have
so intimate an acquaintance with Western life as
to sympathize with it. Yet I fear that it would
be difficult to find such a Japanese professor for
this reason, that just in proportion as he should
find himself in sympathy with Western life, in that
proportion he would become less and less able to
communicate that sympathy to his students. The
difficulties are so great that it has taken me many
years even to partly guess how great they are.


That they can be removed at the present day is
utterly out of the question. But something may
be gained by stating them even imperfectly. At
the risk of making blunders and uttering extrava-
gances, I shall make the attempt. I am impelled
to do so by a recent conversation with one of the
cleverest students that I ever had, who acknowl-
edged his total inability to understand some of the
commonest facts in Western life, all those facts
relating, directly or indirectly, to the position of
woman in Western literature as reflecting West-
ern life.

Let us clear the ground at once by putting down
some facts in the plainest and lowest terms pos-
sible. You must try to imagine a country in which
the place of the highest virtue is occupied, so to
speak, by the devotion of sex to sex. The highest
duty of the man is not to his father, but to his
wife; and for the sake of that woman he abandons
all other earthly ties, should any of these happen
to interfere with that relation. The first duty of
the wife may be, indeed, must be, to her child,
when she has one; but otherwise her husband is
her divinity and king. In that country it would be
thought unnatural or strange to have one's par-
ents living in the same house with wife or husband.
You know all this. But it does not explain for
you other things, much more difficult to under-
stand, especially the influence of the abstract idea
of woman upon society at large as well as upon


the conduct of the individual. The devotion of
man to woman does not mean at all only the de-
votion of husband to wife. It means actually this,
that every man is bound by conviction and by
opinion to put all women before himself, simply
because they are women. I do not mean that any
man is likely to think of any woman as being his
intellectual and physical superior; but I do mean
that he is bound to think of her as something
deserving and needing the help of every man. In
time of danger the woman must be saved first.
In time of pleasure, the woman must be given the
best place. In time of hardship the woman's share
of the common pain must be taken voluntarily by
the man as much as possible. This is not with
any view to recognition of the kindness shown.
The man who assists a woman in danger is not
supposed to have any claim upon her for that
reason. He has done his duty only, not to her,
the individual, but to womankind at large. So we
have arrived at this general fact, that the first
place in all things, except rule, is given to woman
in Western countries, and that it is given almost

Is woman a religion? Well, perhaps you will
have the chance of judging for yourselves if you
go to America. There you will find men treating
women with just the same respect formerly ac-
corded only to religious dignitaries or to great
nobles. Everywhere they are saluted and helped


to the best places; everywhere they are treated as
superior beings. Now if we find reverence, loy-
alty and all kinds of sacrifices devoted either to a
human being or to an image, we are inclined to
think of. worship. And worship it is. If a West-
ern man should hear me tell you this, he would
want the statement qualified, unless he happened
to be a philosopher. But I am trying to put the
facts before you in the way in which you can
best understand them. Let me say, then, that the
all-important thing for the student of English
literature to try to understand, is that in Western
countries woman is a cult, a religion, or if you like
still plainer language, I shall say that in Western
countries woman is a god.

So much for the abstract idea of woman. Prob-
ably you will not find that particularly strange;
the idea is not altogether foreign to Eastern
thought, and there are very extensive systems of
feminine pantheism in India. Of course the
Western idea is only in the romantic sense a fem-
inine pantheism; but the Oriental idea may serve
to render it more comprehensive.. The ideas of
divine Mother and divine Creator may be studied
in a thousand forms; I am now referring rather
to the sentiment, to the feeling, than to the philo-
sophical conception.

You may ask, if the idea or sentiment of di-
vinity attaches to woman in the abstract, what
about woman in the concrete individual woman?


Are women individually considered as gods?
Well, that depends on how you define the word
god. The following definition would cover the
ground, I think: "Gods are beings superior to
man, capable of assisting or injuring him, and to
be placated by sacrifice and prayer." Now ac-
cording to this definition, I think that the attitude
of man towards woman in Western countries
might be very well characterized as a sort of wor-
ship. In the upper classes of society, and in the
middle classes also, great reverence towards
women is exacted. Men bow down before them,
make all kinds of sacrifices to please them, beg
for their good will and their assistance. It does
not matter that this sacrifice is not in the shape
of incense burning or of temple offerings; nor does
it matter that the prayers are of a different kind
from those pronounced in churches. There is
sacrifice and worship. And no saying is more
common, no truth better known, than that the man
who hopes to succeed in life must be able to please
the women. Every young man who goes into any
kind of society knows this. It is one of the first
lessons that he has to learn. Well, am I very
wrong in saying that the attitude of men towards
women in the West is much like the attitude of
men towards gods?

But you may answer at once, How comes it,
if women are thus reverenced as you say, that men
of the lower classes beat and ill-treat their wives


in those countries? I must reply, for the same
reason that Italian and Spanish sailors will beat
and abuse the images of the saints and virgins to
whom they pray, when their prayer is not granted.
It is quite possible to worship an image sincerely,
and to seek vengeance upon it in a moment of
anger. The one feeling does not exclude the
other. What in the higher classes may be a re-
ligion, in the lower classes may be only a super-
stition, and strange contradictions exist, side by
side, in all forms of superstition. Certainly the
Western working man or peasant does not think
about his wife or his neighbour's wife in the rev-
erential way that the man of the superior class
does. But you will find, if you talk to them, that
something of the reverential idea is there; it is
there at least during their best moments.

Now there is a certain exaggeration in what I
have said. But that is only because of the some-
what narrow way in which I have tried to express
a truth. I am anxious to give you the idea that
throughout the West there exists, though with a
difference according to class and culture, a senti-
ment about women quite as reverential as a sen-
timent of religion. This is true; and not to under-
stand it, is not to understand Western literature.

How did it come into existence? Through
many causes, some of which are so old that we
can not know anything about them. This feeling
did not belong to the Greek and Roman civiliza-

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