Lafcadio Hearn.

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KWAIDAN : Stories and Studies of Strange Things.

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generously contributed their treasured letters I wish
to express my sincere thanks. Especially is gratitude
due to Professor Masanubo Otani, of the Shinshu
University of Tokyo, for the painstaking accuracy
and fulness of the information he contributed as to
the whole course of Hearn's life in Japan.

The seven fragments of autobiographical remi-
niscence, discovered after Hearn's death, added to the
letters, narrowed my task to little more than the
recording of dates and such brief comments and
explanations as were required for the better com-
prehension of his own contributions to the book.

Naturally some editing of the letters has been
necessary. Such parts as related purely to matters
of business have been deleted as uninteresting to
the general public; many personalities, usually both
witty and trenchant, have been omitted, not only
because such personalities are matters of confidence
between the writer and his correspondent, a con-
fidence which death does not render less inviolable,
but also because the dignity and privacy of the living
have every claim to respect. Robert Browning's just
resentment at the indiscreet editing of the Fitz-
Gerald Letters is a warning that should be heeded,
and it is moreover certain that Lafcadio Hearn him-
self would have been profoundly unwilling to have
any casual criticism of either the living or the dead
given public record. Of those who had been his
friends he always spoke with tenderness and respect,
and I am but following what I know to be his wishes
in omitting all references to his enemies.

That such a definite and eccentric person as he


should make enemies was of course unavoidable.
If any of these retain their enmity to one who has
passed into the sacred helplessness of death, and are
inclined to think that the mere outline sketch of
the man contained in the following pages lacks the
veracity of shadow, my answer is this : In the first
place, I have taken heed of the opinion he himself
has expressed in one of his letters: "I believe
we ought not to speak of the weaknesses of very
great men" — and the intention of such part of
this book as is my own is to give a history of the
circumstances under which a great man developed
his genius. I have purposely ignored all such epi-
sodes as seemed impertinent to this end, as from my
point of view there seems a sort of gross curiosity
in raking among such details of a man's life as he
himself would wish ignored. These I gladly leave
to those who enjoy such labours.

In the second place, there is no art more difficult
than that of making a portrait satisfactory to every
one, for the limner of a man, whether he use pen or
pigments, can — if he be honest — only transfer to
the canvas the lineaments as he himself sees them.
How he sees them depends not only upon his own
temperament, but also upon the aspect which the
subject of the picture would naturally turn towards
such a temperament. For every one of us is aware
of a certain chameleon-like quality within ourselves
which causes us to take on a protective colouring
assimilative to our surroundings, and we all, like the
husband in Browning's verse,

"Boast two soul-sides," . . .


which is the explanation, no doubt, of the apparently
irreconcilable impressions carried away by a man's

Which soul-side was the real man must finally
resolve itself into a matter of opinion. Henley,
probably, honestly believed the real Stevenson to be
as he represented him, but the greater number of
those who knew and loved the artist will continue to
form their estimate of the man from his letters and
books, and to them Henley's diatribe will continue to
seem but the outbreak of a mean jealousy, which
could not tolerate the lifting up of a companion for
the world's admiration.

Of the subject of this memoir there certainly
exists more than one impression, but the writer can
but depict the man as he revealed himself throughout
twenty years of intimate acquaintance, and for con-
firmation of this opinion can only refer to the work
he has left for all the world to judge him by, and to
the intimate revelations of thoughts, opinions, and
feelings contained in his letters.




I. Boyhood 3

II. The Artist's Apprenticeship ... 40

III. The Master Workman 103

IV. The Last Stage 136



Lafcadio Hearn (photogravure) Frontispiece

From a photograph taken about 1900.

Lafcadio Hearn 50

From a photograph taken about 1873.

Lafcadio Hearn and Mitchell McDonald .... 110
Lafcadio Hearn 198

From a photograph taken in the 'TO's.

Facsimile of Mr. Hearn's Earlier Handwriting . . 340

Saint-Pierre and Mt. Pelee 410

From a photograph in the possession of Dr. T. A. Jaggar, Jr.




Lafcadio Hearn was born on the twenty-seventh
of June, in the year 1850. He was a native of the
Ionian Isles, the place of his birth being the Island
of Santa Maura, which is commonly called in
modern Greek Levkas, or Lefcada, a corruption of
the name of the old Leucadia, which was famous
as the place of Sappho's self-destruction. This
island is separated from the western coast of Greece
by a narrow strait; the neck of land which joined it
to the mainland having been cut through by the Cor-
inthians seven centuries before Christ . To this day
it remains deeply wooded, and scantily populated,
with sparse vineyards and olive groves clinging to
the steep sides of the mountains overlooking the
blue Ionian sea. The child Lafcadio may have
played in his early years among the high-set, half-
obliterated ruins of the Temple of Apollo, from
whence offenders were cast down with multitudes of
birds tied to their limbs, that perchance the beating
of a thousand wings might break the violence of the
fall, and so rescue them from the last penalty of

In this place of old tragedies and romance the
child was born into a life always to be shadowed by


tragedy and romance to an extent almost fantastic
in our modern workaday world. This wild, bold
background, swimming in the half-tropical blue of
Greek sea and sky, against which the boy first
discerned the vague outlines of his conscious life,
seems to have silhouetted itself behind all his later
memories and prepossessions, and through whatever
dark or squalid scenes his wanderings led, his heart
was always filled by dreams and longings for soaring
outlines, and the blue, "which is the colour of the
idea of the divine, the colour pantheistic, the
colour ethical."

Long years afterward, in the "Dream of a Sum-
mer Day," he says: —

"I have memory of a place and a magical time, in
which the sun and the moon were larger and brighter
than now. Whether it was of this life or of some life
before, I cannot tell, but I know the sky was very
much more blue, and nearer to the world — almost
as it seems to become above the masts of a steamer
steaming into equatorial summer. . . . The sea was
alive and used to talk — and the Wind made me
cry out for joy when it touched me. Once or twice
during other years, in divine days lived among the
peaks, I have dreamed for a moment the same wind
was blowing — but it was only a remembrance.

"Also in that place the clouds were wonderful and
of colours for which there are no names at all, —
colours that used to make me hungry and thirsty.
I remember, too, that the days were ever so much
longer than these days, — and every day there were
new pleasures and new wonders for me. And all


that country and time were softly ruled by One who
thought only of ways to make me happy. . . .
When day was done, and there fell the great hush of
light before moonrise, she would tell me stories that
made me tingle from head to foot w^ith pleasure. I
have never heard any other stories half so beautiful.
And when the pleasure became too great, she would
sing a weird little song which always brought sleep.
At last there came a parting day; and she wept and
told me of a charm she had given that I must never,
never lose, because it would keep me young, and
give me powder to return. But I never returned.
And the years went; and one day I knew that I had
lost the charm, and had become ridiculously old."

A strange mingling of events and of race-forces
had brought the boy into being.

Surgeon-Major Charles Bush Hearn, of the 76th
Foot, came of an old Dorsetshire family in
w^hich there was a tradition of gipsy blood —
a tradition too dim and ancient now to be verified,
though Hearn is an old Romany name in the west of
England, and the boy Lafcadio bore in his hand all
his life that curious "thumb-print" upon the palm,
w^hich is said to be the invariable mark of Romany
descent. The first of the Hearns to pass over into
Ireland went as private chaplain to the Lord Lieu-
tenant in 1693, and being later appointed Dean of
Cashel, settled permanently in West Meath. From
the ecclesiastical loins there appears to have sprung
a numerous race of soldiers, for Dr. Hearn's father
and seven uncles served under Wellington in Spain.
The grandfather of Lafcadio rose during the


Peninsula Campaign to the position of lieutenant-
colonel of the 43d regiment, and commanded his
regiment in the battle of Vittoria. Later he married
Elizabeth Holmes, a kinswoman of Sir Robert
Holmes, and of Edmund Holmes the poet, another
member of her family being Rice Holmes, the his-
torian of the Indian Mutiny. Dr. Charles Hearn,
the father of Lafcadio, was her eldest son, and an-
other son was Richard, who was one of the Barbizon
painters and an intimate friend of Jean Fran9ois

It was In the late '40's, when England still held
the Ionian Isles, that the 76th Foot was ordered to
Greece, and Surgeon-Major Hearn accompanied
his regiment to do garrison duty on the island of
Cerigo. Apparently not long after his arrival he
made the acquaintance of Rosa Cerigote, whose
family is said to have been of old and honourable
Greek descent. Photographs of the young surgeon
represent him as a handsome man, with the flowing
side-whiskers so valued at that period, and with a
bold profile and delicate waist. A passionate love
affair ensued between the beautiful Greek girl and
the handsome Irishman, but the connection was
violently opposed by the girl's brothers, the native
bitterness toward the English garrison being as
intense as was the sentiment in the South against the
Northern army of occupation immediately after
the American Civil War. The legend goes that the
Cerigote men — there was hot blood in the family
veins — waylaid and stabbed the Irishman, leaving
him for dead. The girl, it is said, with the aid of


a servant, concealed him in a barn and nursed him
back to life, and after his recovery eloped with her
grateful lover and married him by the Greek rites in
Santa Maura. The jSrst child died immediately
after birth, and the boy, Lafcadio, was the second
child; taking his name from the Greek name of the
island, Lefcada, Another son, James, three years
later in Cephalonia, was the fruit of this marriage, so
romantically begun and destined to end so tragically.

When Eno-land ceded the Ionian Isles to Greece
Dr. Hearn returned with his family to Dublin,
pausing, perhaps, for a while at Malta, for in a
letter written during the last years of his life Lafca-
dio says: "I am almost sure of having been in
Malta as a child. My father told me queer things
about the old palaces of the knights, and a story
of a monk who on the coming of the French had
the presence of mind to paint the gold chancel
railing with green paint."

The two boys were at this time aged six and
three. It was inevitable, no doubt, that the young
wife, who had never mastered the English tongue,
though she spoke, as did the children, Italian and
Romaic, should have regretted the change from her
sunlit island to the dripping Irish skies and grey
streets of Dublin, nor can it be wondered at that,
an exile among aliens in race, speech, and faith,
there should have soon grown up misunderstand-
ings and disputes. The unhappy details have died
into silence with the passage of time, but the wife
seems to have believed herself repudiated and be-
trayed, and the marriage being eventually annulled,


she fled to Smyrna with a Greek cousin who had
come at her call, leaving the two children with the
father. This cousin she afterwards married and
her children knew her no more. The father also
married again, and the boy Lafcadio being adopted
by Dr. Hearn's aunt, a Mrs. Brenane, and remov-
ing with her to Wales, never again saw either his
father or his brother.^

The emotions are not hard to guess at of a
passionate, sensitive boy of seven, suddenly flung
by the stormy emotions of his elders out of the

* The following version of the story is reproduced from a letter written
by Mrs. Hearn in reply to a request for any knowledge she might have gained
on this subject from her husband's conversations with her during their life
together in Japan. Its poignant simplicity is heightened by the transmuta-
tions through two languages.

"Mama San — When about four years old I did very rude things. Mama
gave me a struck on my cheek with her palm. It was very strong. I got
angry and gazed on my Mama's face, which I never forget. Thus I remem-
ber my Mama's face. She was of a little stature, with black hair and black
eyes, like a Japanese woman. How pitiable Mama San she was. Unhappy
Mama San; pitiable indeed! Think of that — Think: you are my wife,
and I take you with Kazuo and Iwao to my native country: you do not know
the language spoken there, nor have any friend. You have your husband
only, who prove not very kind. You must be so very unhappy then. And
then if I happened to love some native lady and say 'Sayonara' to you, how
you would trouble your heart! That was the case with my Mama. I have
not such cruel heart. But only to think of such thing makes me sad. To
see your face troubled just now my heart aches. Let us drop such subject
from our talk."

"Papa San — It is only once that I remember I felt glad with my papa.
Yes, on that occasion! Perhaps I was then a boy like Iwao or Kiyoshi. I
was playing vsdth my nurse. Many a sound of 'gallop-trop' came from
behind. The nurse laughed and lifted me high up. I observed my papa
pass; I called him with my tiny hand — now such a big hand. Papa took
me from the hands of nurse. I was on horseback. As I looked behind a
great number of soldiers followed on horseback with 'gallop-trop.' I imag-
ined myself that I was a general then. It was only on that time that I thought
how good papa he was."


small warm circle of his narrow sphere. To a
young child the relations of its parents and the
circle of the home seem as fundamental and eternal
as the globe itself, and the sudden ravishment of
all the bases of his life make his footing amid the
ties and affections of the world forever after timid
and uncertain.

A boy of less sensitive fibre might in time have
forgotten these shocks, but the eldest son of Charles
Hearn and Rosa Cerigote was destined to suffer
always because of the violent rending of their ties.
From this period seems to have dated his strange
distrusts, his unconquerable terror of the potentialities
which he suspected as lurking beneath the frankest
exterior, and his constant, morbid dread of betrayal
and abandonment by even his closest friends.

Whatever of fault there may have been on his
mother's part, his vague memories of her were
always tender and full of yearning affection.

To the brother he never saw he wrote, when he
was a man, "And you do not remember that
dark and beautiful face — with large, brown eyes
like a wild deer's — that used to bend above your
cradle ? You do not remember the voice which
told you each night to cross your fingers after the
old Greek orthodox fashion, and utter the words —
FiV TO ovofjia Tov ITarpo? /cat tov Tlov kol tov 'Aytou
Ili/ev/xaro?, 'In the name of the Father, and of the
Son, and of the Holy Ghost ' ? She made, or had
made, three little wounds upon you when a baby
— to place you, according to her childish faith,
under the protection of those three powers, but


especially that of Him for whom alone the Nine-
teenth Century still feels some reverence — the
Lord and Giver of Life. . . . We were all very dark
as children, very passionate, very odd-looking, and
wore gold rings in our ears. Have you not the
marks yet ? . . .

"When I saw your photograph I felt all my
blood stir, — and I thought, 'Here is this unknown
being, in whom the soul of my mother lives, —
who must have known the same strange impulses,
the same longings, the same resolves as I ! Will he
tell me of them ? ' There was another Self, — would
that Self interpret This ?

"For This has always been mysterious. Were
I to use the word 'Soul' in its Hmited and super-
annuated sense as the spirit of the individual in-
stead of the ghost of a race, — I should say it had
always seemed to me as if I had two souls: each
pulling in different ways. One of these represented
the spirit of mutiny — impatience of all restraint,
hatred of all control, weariness of everything me-
thodical and regular, impulses to love or hate
without a thought of consequences. The other
represented pride and persistence; — it had little
power to use the reins before I was thirty. . .. .
Whatever there is of good in me came from that
dark race-soul of which we know so little. My
love of right, my hate of wrong; — my admiration
for what is beautiful or true; — my capacity for
faith in man or woman; — my sensitiveness to ar-
tistic things which gives me whatever little success
I have, — even that language-power whose physical


sign is in the large eyes of both of us, — came from
Her. ... It is the mother who makes us, — makes
at least all that makes the nobler man: not his
strength or powers of calculation, but his heart
and power to love. And I would rather have her
portrait than a fortune."

Mrs. Brenane, into whose hands the child thus
passed, was the widow of a wealthy Irishman, by
whom she had been converted to Romanism, and
like all converts she was " more loyal than the
King." The divorce and remarriage of her nephew
incurred her bitterest resentment; she not only in-
sisted upon a complete separation from the child,
but did not hesitate to speak her mind fully to the
boy, who always retained the impressions thus early
instilled. In one of his letters he speaks of his
father's "rigid face, and steel-steady eyes," and
says : "I can remember seeing father only five times.
He was rather taciturn, I think. I remember he
wrote me a long letter from India — all about
serpents and tigers and elephants — printed in
Roman letters with a pen, so that I could read it
easily. ... I remember my father taking me
up on horseback when coming into the town with
his regiment. I remember being at a dinner with a
number of men in red coats, and crawling about
under the table among their legs." And elsewhere
he declares, "I think there is nothing of him in
me, either physically or mentally." A mistake of
prejudice this; the Hearns of the second marriage
bearing the most striking likeness to the elder half-
brother, having the same dark skins, delicate,


aquiline profiles, eyes deeply set in arched orbits,
and short, supple, well-knit figures. The family
type is unusual and distinctive, with some racial
alignment not easy to define except by the inde- *
finite term "exotic;" showing no trace of either its
English origin or Irish residence.

Of the next twelve years of Lafcadio Hearn's life
there exists but meagre record. The little dark-
eyed, dark-faced, passionate boy with the wound
in his heart and the gold rings in his ears — speak-
ing English but stammeringly, mingled with Italian
and Romaic — seems to have been removed at
about his seventh year to Wales, and from this
time to have visited Ireland but occasionally. Of
his surroundings during the most impressionable
period of his life it is impossible to reconstruct
other than shadowy outlines. Mrs. Brenane was
old; w^as wealthy; and lived surrounded by eager
priests and passionate converts.

In "Kwaidan" there is a little story called " Hi-
Ma wari," which seems a glimpse of this period: —

On the wooded hill behind the house Robert and
I are looking for fairy-rings. Robert is eight years
old, comely, and very wise; — I am a little more
than seven, — and I reverence Robert. It is a
glowing, glorious August day; and the warm air is
filled with sharp, sweet scents of resin.

We do not find any fairy-rings; but we find a
great many pine-cones in the high grass. ... I
tell Robert the old W^elsh story of the man who
went to sleep, unawares, inside of a fairy-ring, and


SO disappeared for seven years, and would never
eat or speak after his friends had delivered him
from the enchantment.

"They eat nothing but the points of needles,
you know," says Robert.

"Who?" I ask.

"Goblins," Robert answers.

This revelation leaves me dumb with astonish-
ment and awe. . . . But Robert suddenly cries
out: —

" There is a harper ! — he is coming to the house ! "

And down the hill we run to hear the harper.
. . . But what a harper! Not like the hoary
minstrels of the picture-books. A swarthy, sturdy,
unkempt vagabond, with bold black eyes under
scowling brows. More like a brick-layer than a
bard, — and his garments are corduroy!

"Wonder if he is going to sing in Welsh.?" mur-
murs Robert.

I feel too much disappointed to make any remarks.
The harper poses his harp — a huge instrument —
upon our doorstep, sets all the strings ringing with a
sweep of his grimy fingers, clears his throat with
a sort of angry growl, and begins, —

"Believe me, if all those endearing young charms.
Which I gaze on so fondly to-day ..."

The accent, the attitude, the voice, all fill me with
repulsion unutterable, — shock me with a new sen-
sation of formidable vulgarity. I want to cry out
loud, "You have no right to sing that song!" for
I have heard it sung by the lips of the dearest and


fairest being in my little world; — and that this rude,
coarse man should dare to sing it vexes me like
a mockery, — angers me like an insolence. But
only for a moment! . . . With the utterance of the
syllables " to-day," that deep, grim voice suddenly
breaks into a quivering tenderness indescribable;
then, marvellously changing, it mellows into tones
sonorous and rich as the bass of a great organ, —
while a sensation unlike anything ever felt before
takes me by the throat. . . . What witchcraft has
he learned — this scowling man of the road ? . . .
Oh! is there anybody else in the whole world who
can sing like that.^ . . . And the form of the
singer flickers and dims ; — and the house, and the
lawn, and all visible shapes of things tremble and
swim before me. Yet instinctively I fear that man;
— I almost hate him ; and I feel myself flushing with
anger and shame because of his power to move me
thus. ...

"He made you cry," Robert compassionately
observes, to my further confusion, — as the harper
strides away, richer by a gift of sixpence taken
without thanks. . . . "But I think he must be a
gipsy. Gipsies are bad people — and they are

Online LibraryLafcadio HearnThe life and letters of Lafcadio Hearn (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 29)