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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

Critical and Biographical Introduction

By Lafcadio Hearn (1850–1904)

LAFCADIO HEARN was a painter with the pen. He had the rare gift of sympathetic observation, and the rarer gift of words to express what he saw and felt. It is no exaggeration to say that he was a great colorist, filling his canvas sometimes with glowing hues, again with mists of pearl or opaline lights, and always showing Nature’s esoteric as well as her physical charms.

Although he is classed as an American author, Lafcadio Hearn was born in Santa Maura, Ionian Islands,—the ancient Leucadia,—June 27th, 1850; the son of an Englishman and a native Greek. After receiving his education in England he came to America, and became engaged in journalism in Cincinnati and New Orleans. His first long story was ‘Chita: A Memory of Last Island’ (1889), a marvelous description of the destruction of L’Île Derniüre, the fashionable watering-place of the aristocratic families of Louisiana. The book is full of remarkable descriptive passages; as for example:—

  • “On the Gulf side of these islands you may observe that the trees—when there are any trees—all bend away from the sea; and even on bright hot days, when the wind sleeps, there is something grotesquely pathetic in their look of agonized terror. A group of oaks at Grande Isle I remember as especially suggestive: five stooping silhouettes in line against the horizon line, fleeing women with streaming garments and wind-blown hair,—bowing grievously and thrusting out arms desperately northward so as to save themselves from falling. And they are being pursued, indeed,—for the sea is devouring the land.”
  • Mr. Hearn had published previously ‘Stray Leaves from Strange Literatures,’ a collection of stories from various sources, including Egyptian, Indian, the Kalevala, and Talmud traditions. This was followed by ‘Some Chinese Ghosts,’ which like the ‘Stray Leaves’ consists of gems artistically cut and reset by a literary lapidary. In the preface the author calls himself “a humble traveler, who, entering the pleasure grounds of Chinese fancy, culls a few of the marvelous flowers there growing,—a self-luminous hwa-wang, a black lily, a phosphoric rose or two,—as souvenirs of his curious voyage.”

    After ‘Two Years in the West Indies’ and ‘Youma’—a story of the fidelity of the “da” (nurse or bonne) to her little white charge during the insurrection of Martinique—were published in 1890, Mr. Hearn went to Japan, where he became naturalized under the name of Yakumo Koizumi, married a Japanese wife, and was appointed lecturer on English literature at the Imperial University in Tokyo. Henceforth his publications all deal in some way with Japan. Among them are: ‘Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan’ (1894), ‘Kokoro’ (1896), this title meaning “the heart” in its most extended application, ‘In Ghostly Japan’ (1899), and ‘Japan, an Attempt at Interpretation’ (1904). In all of these books Mr. Hearn shows his comprehension of and sympathy with Oriental philosophy and art, myth, and tradition, and paints in tender and vivid fashion the scenes and landscapes of his adopted country. He gained gradually a worldwide reputation, both as an interpreter of Japan and “as a writer of exquisite art.”

    Of mixed race, a fact which by modern theory is conducive to rare gifts in the individual; one who has absorbed impressions from picturesque lands and civilizations, and looked, as well, beneath the surface to the deep sources of human action and feeling, and who is able to express the romantic and the mystic, the brilliantly exotic, with rare literary power,—Mr. Hearn is a striking figure in the English literature of the late nineteenth century.

    He was in failing health for two years before his death at Tokyo, on September 26th, 1904. His ‘Life and Letters’ (1906) and his ‘Japanese Letters’ (1910) were edited by Elizabeth Bisland. Two volumes of miscellanies from his lectures and note books were edited (1915) by John Erskine.