Lafcadio Hearn.

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_from the lectures of_


_Selected and Edited with an Introduction by_


_Professor of English Columbia University_


London: William Heinemann

[Transcriber's note: Contents moved to precede the Introduction.]




These chapters, for the most part, are reprinted from Lafcadio Hearn's
"Interpretations of Literature," 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 published 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 information
about Western literature usually to be found in our histories and
text-books, but much more to explain to the Oriental mind those
peculiarities 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 another 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
literatures - 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 circumstances, and of other
people at all times as foreign. 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
seeing 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 peculiarly 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 advocates 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
sensitiveness 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 explanation 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 attention 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 wondrous, 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 appreciate 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 characteristic 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 illustrations
are typical of his method. To the Oriental it is strange to discover a
civilization in which the love of husband and wife altogether supersedes
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 concern of the lovers, who
must choose their mates in competition more or less open with other
suitors. No wonder the rivalries and the precarious 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
recently - 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 contemporary life. Since Hearn
gave his very significant lecture we have discovered for ourselves an
American kind of short poem, witty rather than poetic, and few verse-forms
are now practised 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 English and European ethics. Hearn was an artist to the
core, and as a writer he pursued with undivided purpose that beauty which,
as Keats reminded 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 importance 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 expression the personality of the artist, and personality
is a matter of character, and character both governs the choice of an
ethical system and is modified by it. Literary criticism as Hearn
practised it is little interested in theology or in the system of morals
publicly professed; it is, however, profoundly concerned with the ethical
principles upon which the artist actually proceeds, the directions in
which his impulses assert themselves, the verdicts 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 ancestors
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 inculcated, 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," identifying in
the ancient Northern poem those precepts which laid down later qualities
of English character; 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 ourselves, a power of
self-criticism almost disconcerting 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 unconsciously 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 literature 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
responsibility 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
mediæval romance "Amis and Amile," of William Cory's "Ionica," 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
otherwise should seem nearest to the basic qualities of our poetry, is
almost unique, as Hearn points out, in the extent of its preoccupation
with enchantments and charms, with the magic of words. "Amis and Amile,"
which otherwise ought to seem more foreign to us, is strangely close in
its glorification 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 unconsidered 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 "Ionica," 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. Lecturing to Japanese students on Greek poetry as
it filters through English paraphrases and translations, 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 apparition of the East known to most of us
was once more arriving at its starting place, mystery returning to
mystery, and its path at all points mysterious if we rightly observe the
miracle of the human spirit.




I wish to speak of the greatest difficulty with which the Japanese
students of English literature, or of almost any Western literature, have
to contend. I do not think that it ever has been properly 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
Japanese point of view, he would be certain to make various mistakes and
to utter various extravagances. 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 extravagances, 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 acknowledged 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 Western life.

Let us clear the ground it once by putting down some facts in the plainest
and lowest terms possible. 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 parents 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 understand, 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 devotion 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 religiously.

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 accorded 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, loyalty 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 Western 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. Probably 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 feminine
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 philosophical conception.

You may ask, if the idea or sentiment of divinity 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 according to this definition, I
think that the attitude of man towards woman in Western countries might be
very well characterized as a sort of worship. 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

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 religion, in the lower classes may be only a
superstition, 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 reverential 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 somewhat 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
sentiment about women quite as reverential as a sentiment of religion.
This is true; and not to understand it, is not to understand Western

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 civilization but it belonged to the life of the old
Northern races who have since spread over the world, planting their ideas
everywhere. In the oldest Scandinavian literature you will find that women
were thought of and treated by the men of the North very much as they are
thought of and treated by Englishmen of to-day. You will find what their
power was in the old sagas, such as the Njal-Saga, or "The Story of Burnt
Njal." But we must go much further than the written literature to get a
full knowledge of the origin of such a sentiment. The idea seems to have
existed that woman was semi-divine, because she was the mother, the
creator of man. And we know that she was credited among the Norsemen with
supernatural powers. But upon this Northern foundation there was built up
a highly complex fabric of romantic and artistic sentiment. The Christian
worship of the Virgin Mary harmonized with the Northern belief. The
sentiment of chivalry reinforced it. Then came the artistic resurrection

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