The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIV. The Victorian Age, Part Two.

III. Critical and Miscellaneous Prose

§ 27. Lafcadio Hearn

Lafcadio Hearn began his career as a contributor to two Cincinnati journals, but it was a subsequent residence at St. Pierre, Martinique, that gave him the materials for his first noteworthy work, Two Years in the French West Indies. In this, he showed that power to receive and faithfully to reproduce impressions, which was his special gift; and his position in literature must depend upon this gift as it was exercised in relation to Japan, whither he migrated in 1891. Probably no one can instruct the man of the west about what Japan was before the completion of the process of modernisation so well as Hearn; but that he does so on the strength of mere impression is shown by the fact that, though he married a Japanese wife, he could neither speak to her or to his children in their own language, nor, after a residence of fourteen years, so much as read a Japanese newspaper. What is valuable in his work is not his reasoned opinions, but the feeling produced in his soul by what he saw and heard; and it is important to notice, as Gould insists, that what he saw was little more than a blur of colour; for he was “probably the most myoptic literary man that has existed.” Hence, the best of the Japanese books is the first, Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan, because in it he was forced to rely almost wholly on impression. In his later volumes, he reacts on the impressions and injures them. For this reason, the latest, Japan: An Attempt at Interpretation, though the most ambitious—for it is an attempt to present in one lordly dish the cream of all he had learnt about Japan—is far from being equal to those early glimpses. Besides scenes, Hearn produced tales, both in America and in the Japanese period. He betrays in them an unhealthy love of the gruesome; but he could, on occasion, rise to a high level, as he proved by his masterpiece in this form, the story of Karma.