Japanese Letters of Lafcadio Hearn
EDITED BY ELIZABETH BISLAND
GREAT letter-writers, like other artists, must needs have the original birth-gift; but this gift, to ripen to complete fruition, requires certain fostering circumstances. Without these propelling forces, possessors of this charming art let it languish for want of constant use. Some loneliness of character or of circumstance there must be to make it a needed resource. Either shyness, or a lack of the power of oral expression, drives the letter-writer to his pen for the expression of his intimate self; or lack of sympathetic companionship obliges him to send his fancies far afield for that echo without which his thoughts seem to him as unresonant as “ditties of no tone.”
Madame de Sévigné and Lord Chesterfield were both reputed stiff and dry in conversation. FitzGerald was exaggeratedly diffident. Lamb’s family sorrows forced him to turn to others for intimate intercourse; and the same was true of Thackeray. Stevenson’s long exile made his pen his best means of fellowship.
All these conditions combined to make of Lafcadio Hearn a creator of famous letters. His shyness was extreme. His life, from his nineteenth year, was a sojourn in foreign lands. Without family ties for twenty years, those ties, when formed in middle age, bound him to aliens in race and tongue. He never mastered Japanese sufficiently to express his thoughts freely and completely in the language of his wife and children. Though, as with most of the great letter-writers, literature was his profession, the writing of books is a formal expression: an episode in which the artist walks on cothurns, and speaks through a mask to a large and dimly realized audience. Intimate communication, mental companionship, could be had only by letters. Through this medium only could he find an adequate outlet for the crowding flood of his emotions, observations, and reflections. And through this vent he let them flow with astonishing fullness and intensity.
In one who wrote with such conscientious labor, such almost agonized care, the number and fluent richness of his letters is the more surprising. At times he wrote to some one of his correspondents almost daily, and at great length. After a day of teaching, or of many hours of drudgery at uncongenial journalism, he would bend himself to further long hours of intense toil at creative work, and at the end of all throw off page after page to some friend, describing his travels, retailing the touching or amusing incidents of the life about him, or discussing the books recently read; analyzing the condition of public affairs (some of his political predictions have been curiously verified), the trend of education, the characters of his associates. Little vignettes of men he had known would be sketched in a few lines of subtle and conclusive portraiture. Reminiscence of past impressions and experiences, philosophic speculation, daring psychological conjecture, criticism, comment, suggestion, were poured out, according to his mood, without stint or haste — as only the born letter-writer can, or will, pour them out.
His insatiable intellectual curiosity, the large range of his interests, made these letters so delightful to the recipients that, with unstudied unanimity, they preserved every one of those many little bright yellow pages, covered with nervous delicate chirography, — no matter how brief or long the letters might be.
When, shortly after his death, a biography was planned, the usual search was made for such of his letters as might have survived the chances and changes of time. Such a wealth of material rewarded this quest, so great in bulk, so illuminative in quality, that it compelled a complete change of the plan of his biographer. He had told the story of his life, his work, his character, and of his mind, so fully and brilliantly in his correspondence that the work of a memorialist was reduced to little more than arranging and explaining the rich material ready to hand.
The reception of this self-told memoir by the public set him at once in the foremost rank among the great letter-writers. Since its appearance new stores of his correspondence have come to light, sufficient material for a third volume.
So unflagging was Hearn’s zest, so instinctively did he turn to each of his friends a different phase of his mind, that these new letters have none of the quality of those “ sweepings ” so often put forth to dim a writer’s fame after his best has been garnered.
The following extracts have been chosen only from his correspondence with Professor Basil Hall Chamberlain, to whom, more than to any, he gave of his richest. And in them is shown, perhaps better than anywhere else, the wide scope of his mental excursions, the dignity and beauty of his character, and how inexhaustible to this “ literary monk ” was the delight and inspiration of intimate communion, of intellectual fellowship.
Professor Chamberlain, his favorite correspondent, had been one of his first and most helpful friends in Japan. Famous himself for his many works upon that country, — grammars of the language, compilations of colloquialisms, guide-books, studies of the Shinto and Buddhist religion, — and deeply interested in its folk-lore, superstitions, all Japan’s traditionary records, — to him Hearn could write with full assurance of comprehension and sympathy. The following letters were sent in most part from Kumamoto, where Hearn was teaching in the Government schools, and was becoming acquainted — much to his own disgust — with the newer, occidentalized Japan. He was revising those first delighted impressions received in the oldworld Izumo, where the feudal life of the pre-Meiji period still lingered, with its honorable simplicities and sweetnesses. He was meeting again the hardnesses of modern competitive life, from which he had awhile escaped in Izumo: an all too brief faery episode, in which he for once had found himself at home and at peace.
KUMAMOTO, January 17, 1893.
I ’m writing just because I feel lonesome; is n’t that selfish ? However if I can amuse you at all, you will forgive me. You have been away a whole year, — so perhaps you would like to hear some impressions of mine during that time. Here goes.
The illusions are forever over; but the memory of many pleasant things remains. I know much more about the Japanese than I did a year ago; and still I am far from understanding them well. Even my own little wife is somewhat mysterious still to me, though always in a loveable way. Of course a man and woman know each other’s hearts; but outside of personal knowledge, there are race-tendencies difficult to understand. Let me tell one. In Oki we fell in love with a little Samurai boy, who was having a hard time of it, and we took him with us. He is now like an adopted son, — goes to school and all that. Well, I wished at first to pet him a little, but I found that was not in accordance with custom, and that even the boy did not understand it. At home, I therefore scarcely spoke to him at all; he remained under the control of the women of the house. They treated him kindly, — though I thought coldly. The relationship I could not quite understand. He was never praised, and rarely scolded. A perfect code of etiquette was established between him and all the other persons in the house, according to degree and rank. He seemed extremely coldmannered, and perhaps not even grateful, — that was, so far as I could see. Nothing seemed to move his young placidity, whether happy or unhappy his mien was exactly that of a stone Jizo. One day he let fall a little cup and broke it. According to custom, no one noticed the mistake, for fear of giving him pain. Suddenly I saw tears streaming down his face. The muscles of the face remained quite smilingly placid as usual, but even the will could not control tears. They came freely. Then everybody laughed, and said kind things to him, till he began to laugh too. Yet that delicate sensitiveness no one like me could have guessed the existence of.
But what followed surprised me more. As I said, he had been (in my idea) distantly treated. One day he did not return from school for three hours after the usual time. Then to my great surprise the women began to cry, — to cry passionately. I had never been able to imagine alarm for the boy could have affected them so. And the servants ran over town in real, not pretended, anxiety to find him. He had been taken to a teacher’s house for something relating to school matters. As soon as his voice was heard at the door, everything was quiet, cold, and amiably polite again. And I marvelled exceedingly.
Sensitiveness exists in the Japanese to an extent never supposed by the foreigners who treat them harshly at the open ports. In Izumo I knew a case of a maid servant who received a slight rebuke with a smile, and then quietly went out and hung herself. I have notes of many curious suicides of a similar sort. And yet the Japanese master is never brutal or cruel. How Japanese can serve a certain class of foreigners at all, I can’t understand. Possibly they do not think of them (the foreigners) as being exactly human beings, — but rather Oni, or at best Tengu.
Well, here is another thing. My cook wears a smiling, healthy, rather pleasing face. He is a good-looking young man. Whenever I used to think of him I thought of the smile, I saw a mask before me merry as one of those little masks of Ohokumi-nushi-no-kami they sell at Mionoseki. One day I looked through a little hole in the shoji, and saw him alone. The face was not the same face. It was thin and drawn, and showed queer lines worn by old hardship. I thought “ he will look just like that when he is dead.” I went in, and the man was all changed, — young and happy again, — nor have I ever seen that look of trouble in his face since. But I know when he is alone he wears it. He never shows his real face to me; he wears the mask of happiness as an etiquette.
Do you remember that awful Parisian statue, a statue of which I forget the name, though the name might be, Society. A beautiful white woman bends smiling above you in stone. A witchery is that smile of hers. After admiring her awhile face to face, you turn about her, to see more of the artist’s work. And then, lo and behold! the face you looked upon turns out not to be a face at all; it was a Masque; you now see the real head thrown back, in a distortion of unutterable pain. I think such an Oriental statue might also be made. This Orient knows not our deeper pains, nor can it ever rise to our larger joys; but it has its pains. Its life is not so sunny as might be fancied from its happy aspect. Under the smile of its toiling millions there is suffering bravely bidden and unselfishly borne; and a lower intellectual range is counterbalanced by a childish sensitiveness, to make the suffering balance evenly in the eternal order of things.
Therefore I love the people very much, more and more the more I know them. Conversely, I detest with unspeakable detestation the frank selfishness, the apathetic vanity, the shallow vulgar scepticism of the New Japan, the New Japan that prates its contempt about Tempo times, and ridicules the dear old men of the pre-Meiji era, and that never smiles, having a heart as hollow and bitter as a dried lemon.
And with this, I say good-night.
Ever most truly,
KUMAMOTO, January 26, 1893.
English self-suppression is certainly a marvellous quality. Yet it is something so different from this Eastern self-control. Its pent-up vital force moreover finds vent in many ways unknown to the Orient, and foreign to its character. And lastly, is it not considerably one-sided ? Is it not confined to the outer repression of everything suggesting weakness or affection, — not to the masking of other feelings? Think of Heine’s Englishman, with a black halo of spleen cutting against the sunny Italian sky! But, jest aside, see the faces of London (I remember them still), or the faces of any English crowd. There is such pain and passion there. Again, the extraordinary mobility and development of the facial muscles shows something totally different to the Buddhist Jizo-calm of these Japanese masks. If we could draw a line at all I would say it lies here: we suppress the amiable facial expression, and expose the aggressive and the sorrowful and the painful feelings, while the Japanese cultivate the former, even as a mask, and suppress, in physiognomical play, everything representing the latter. Of course the peculiar nakedness of the American face greatly exaggerates the harder side of physiognomy, as we know it in Europe. America is the country of terrible faces; Fourier ought to have lived in it before writing his chapter on the physiognomy of the civilisés. One other thing in the way of opposites, I think, is that we suppress certain forms of action more than their expression by physiognomy; while the Japanese repress the facial exhibition more than the action which would be the ultimate possible result of the feeling in question. A Western man would (unless belonging to a very artificial class of society) be apt to look serious before killing himself. But even the average Japanese would smile more pleasantly, and act more kindly than usual, just before cutting his throat or lying down in front of a railway train. Hard and fast lines, however, are difficult to draw. Nothing is so hazardous as to attempt to make any general statement, — and yet no temptation is stronger.
Ever with best wishes,
KUMAMOTO (no date).
Here I may say something Bourget has defined in my head, — I doubt the spirituality of the Latin races. They seem to me essentially materialistic. The emotional life of them seems to be in the nerves, even their most exquisite sensations. Taine has well shown how debauchery and vice are contrary to the Northern nature in a sort, — how the English instinctively recognize they can’t be immoral without becoming brutal. On the other hand, the French seem unable to become philosophical without becoming grossly materialistic. They talk forever of “ abimes ; ” yet which of them dive to the profundities or soar to the heights reached by the Genius of the North? Imagine a French Goethe! Or a Spanish Richter! Or an Italian Emerson or Carlyle! Compare even their realism with Northern realism, — say Kipling with Maupassant. Find anything resembling what Clifford calls a “ cosmic emotion ” in their positivism. Even Renan is a Breton, — not a Latin. Fancy a Frenchman writing anything with a sustained ghostly charm of intellect in it like The Soul of the Far East.1 The nearest approach to soul in French books is an extreme sensual refinement, — a vibrant sense of nature in relation to the body; and this quality (easily mistaken for something higher) vanishes with youth, and the dulling of the nerves, — and there remains the ashes of the commonplace.
Then what force in a Scandinavian or Russian novel, compared with a Latin one! For morbid pathology, Bourget is a child to Dostoievsky; — for another sort of story, compare Tolstoi’s Cossacks with the best work of Merimée,—say Carmen or Colombo. I rather think it desirable that Europe should “ become Cossack.” We are growing too nervous and tired and enervated in the West, — a general infusion of barbarian blood would greatly assist, and improve literature. Our morbid Englishman is Mullock. I read and detest him; his work is symptomatic. If you have no liking for him, give the book to some friend who may. By the way, do you know SascherMasoch ? I have sent for his novels. If you have not read La Mère de Dieu, you will have a treat. I think he is a Jew; and I am very fond of the Jewish novelists. The best are Slavs, — or at least from the Slavic side of Austria.
I am charmed by your delightful suggestion of faith in future possibilities beyond scientific recognition, — though too much of a Spencer-lover to think of Spencer as dogmatic. We know that memory is inherited, — only in the process of transmission it now becomes transmitted into instinct and impulse, — into vague unaccountable shrinkings and aspirations, loves and fears. But why should we hold it must always be so. As the spectroscope reveals the existence of color-scales invisible to our imperfect vision, there may well be psychic facts undreamed of yet awaiting discovery. The time may come when the fable of the Bodhisatta’s memory will prove a common truth, — when with each advance in development there will lighten up recollections of past existence, and one can say, ” What a fool I was to do that thing five thousand years ago.” Remembrance of all the past in all its details might be horribly unpleasant, but also incalculably useful. And I can imagine (illegitimately, perhaps, but still imagine) a condition of developmental activity in which time and space would have no relative existence, — and a thousand years be as a day. There is one grim fact about our new philosophy. We know that we are approaching slowly a degree of equilibration which means happiness; but we also know that, the dissolution of a solar system is as certain as its integration. Everything evolves only to dissolve, — so far as known facts teach us. After all, we have reached no further than the unscientific but strangely inspired thinkers of India, with their ancient theory of cycles. Buddhism and Spencer, before the Ultimate, stand upon the same ground. And I think of your wise saying about taking one’s faith ready made. Assuredly it seems the most rational, and beyond doubt it is the prudent, course for those who can devote their minds to more momentous and useful things. Then I would say: For me, Buddhism.
Mason said a delightful thing in his last letter to me, about the effect of Japanese art in teaching him to see and feel the beauty of snow. I have had the same experience. European art does not seem to me to have ever caught the Soul of Snow as the Japanese art has, — with its fantasticalities, its wizardisms. And the Japanese fancy has its “ Snow-women" too, — its white spectres and goblins, which do no harm and say nothing, only frighten and make one feel cold. I can see the beauty of snow now, but still it makes me shiver. I think the Yukiouna, sometimes when I am asleep, passes her white arm through a crack of the amado into my sleeping room, and in spite of the fire, touches my heart and laughs. Then I wake up, and pull the futons closer, and think of palm trees, and parrots, and mangoes, and the blue of the tropical water. What a delight it would be to follow the birds south every autumn. — But I forgot, you dislike heat, and blazing sun, and perspiration.
Ever most truly,
P. S. What you said about railroads and Christ is admirable. I am beginning to doubt very strongly the ultimate value of our boasted material progress, — to doubt “ civilization ” as a human benefit.
KUMAMOTO. February 6, 1893.
Your letter about the method of composition has come, — far more lucid than my rather vague epistle on the same subject, which I now find requires some further explanation. Of course I did not mean printed pages, — only MS. pp. like this. I could not make 150 good printed 12mo pages in less than four months, under very favorable circumstances and with the hardest work. Besides, I was speaking of forced composition. Inspirational work, emotional work, is just twenty times harder, if it can be measured at all. Too much importance cannot be attached to the value of an emotion, — the “ kernel,” as you so aptly term it. But this comes only as a feeling. To perfectly disengage it (le dégager), develop it, discover its whole meaning, focus it, is killing work. There is delight in looking at the result; but that is obtained only by actually giving one’s blood for it. I am talking now, perhaps, as if I were a big instead of a very small writer; but the truth is that the cost is greater in proportion to the smallness of original power. I have had to rewrite pages fifty times. It is like a groping for something you know is inside the stuff, but the exact shape of which you don’t know. That is, I think, also the explanation of the sculptor’s saying that the figure was already in the marble; the art was only to “ disengage it.”
Didactic work is one of the hardest, of course. Nothing is harder to write than a primer. Simplicity combined with force is required; and that combination requires immense power. (There I reverence Huxley, for example.) And as you excellently observe, the effect of the work is in direct ratio to the pains taken to produce it by a master hand. This takes no small time to learn. What apparent ease in writing really means, I regret to say that I only learned a few years ago; if I had learned sooner, it would have done me much good.
Otherwise your method is in all points like mine. I have to do much excision of “ verys,” “ thats ” and “ whiches,” — to murder adjectives and adverbs, — to modify verbs. Every important word seems to me to have three qualities: form, sound, and color. After the first and last have been considered, follows the question of the rhythm of the sentence. This I think may approach blank verse, at the termination of paragraphs, if a strong emotion be expressed. It may be smooth as oil if the effect to be produced is smooth, — or rough, — or violent as may be. But all this is never done by rule, — only by instinctive feeling, half unconsciously. In the body of a paragraph too much flow and rhythm seems to hurt the effect. Full force is best reserved for the casting-throw of the whole thought or emotion. I should like now to go through many paragraphs written years ago, and sober them down.
Print, of course, is the great test. Color only comes out in proof, — never in MS. I can’t get anything perfect in MS. A friend is invaluable. You are very lucky to have Mason. I have nobody in Japan to read to, or to ask advice of; and I feel the void very much. Why a man of such delicate taste as Mason does not himself write charming books, I don’t know. Perhaps you could make him try. Then I keep note-books. I have no memory to speak of, since my experiences with tropical fevers and other sickness. I note down every sensation or idea, as you say au vol. And I have classified note-books, — with indexes; must show you some one of these days.
Now I am just going to “lie fallow” for six months. Indeed I can do nothing else; for there is nothing to see, hear, or feel in Kyushu, I think. And I want to learn something thoroughly, so as to try to write stories or sketches of a better sort. I want sensations too. But out of Japanese life I fear no strong sensation will ever again come to me. I feel fizzed out. “ Mon âme a perdu ses ailes .”
Many thanks for your kindness in writing to Batchelor. My friend is really worth the trouble. I would like you to know him. If you ever visit Matsue, you will like him.
KUMAMOTO (no date).
DEAR CHAMBERLAIN :-
To return to older topics, an idea is growing upon me about the utility of superstition as compared with the utility of religion. Indeed the latter is but an elaboration of the former, and both have truth at the bottom of them. Superstition in Japan has a sort of shorthand value in explaining eternal and valuable things. To preach to people (who know nothing) about sociological morality, — or the relation of cleanliness to health, — or other things of that kind, — would certainly be waste of breath. A superstition serves the purpose infinitely better. But I think the superstition is in many cases developed after the practice begins. Some practices must have originated simply in the will of political or religious rulers. After the force of their command had spent itself, it was continued and revived by new beliefs. The beliefs that to drop nail-parings in a hibachi will cause madness; that not to shave the hair and eyebrows of Samurai children will cause them to have misfortune in war; that to lay the futon unevenly will cause a quarrel between husband and wife; that to make the shoji of a room overlap to the left instead of to the right is to invite misfortune ; that to leave a room unswept is an invitation to Bimbogami; that to touch a pillow with the foot is displeasing to the gods; that to tread upon or crumple either written or printed paper, or writing of any kind, is wickedness, — all these and a hundred others are so closely related to practical truths of a much larger character than themselves, that one feels a new respect for superstition in analyzing them. Is n’t it the same with much of our Western religion? Why, it was only the other day that the proposition for the teaching of sociological morality was made for the first time in America; in other words, it is only at the present day that we are able, in our very highest educational institutions, to rationalize morals and scientifically illustrate the relation of actions to consequences. Hell and damnation, angels and devils and myths, have certainly had incomparable value as shorthand religious moral teachings. Fancy trying to get into a peasant’s head the whole reason why adultery, incest, or murder are punished as crimes.
KUMAMOTO, April 13, 1893.
DEAR CHAMBERLAIN :-
We were talking about education the other day. I have been thinking that the deficiencies of educational systems will have in the future to be met by means which it is now impossible even to imagine. Perhaps one would be the abolition of schools, — as too mechanical and wasteful of time. (Herbert Spencer, I believe, never went to school at all.) But here is the difficulty, — always growing, — which the future must face. According to the present system, one-fourth of life at least must be devoted simply to preparation. Another fourth must be given to the struggle to live and maintain a family. At least half of life must go to the mere effort of preparing for life. This, I know, is commonplace. But all the sciences, enormously expanding and subdividing into branches, are outgrowing the institutions established to teach them, and must continue to outgrow them with ever increasing rapidity. (Who for example, can now pretend to be a good general physician? one must take a branch, and make it a life study.) The enforcement of specialization into even rudimentary educational systems could only meet the difficulty for a certain time, — it is one that never can be buried. And already the result of much high education is only a smattering of much with a knowledge of nothing, — for the average student. Our brains eat up our lives and the life of the world, — and yet are starved or fed with ornamental bric-abrac. Progress is leading us to a future in which it will require half a century to merely prepare a brain for work; and unless the Elixir of Life be discovered, what is the use? Inkyo would scarcely be possible in the West. The parents (except among the really wealthy) die long before their children are able to do anything. I can’t escape the conviction that an enormous part of what we now imagine to be education must be pitched overboard to lighten the ship. And we shall never, never have any more time to enjoy the world.
P. S. “Ah!”
(1) Statistically, it has been admirably shown that education does not decrease criminality. The superstition of the West has been that the lower classes should be educated to keep them from being dangerous. But education has made them much more dangerous than they ever were before.
(2) Buckle pointed out years ago that, on the other hand, the extremely high culture of a superior class, so far from enabling it to elevate the class beneath it, actually exiles it from all other classes, — as in Germany, where even the language of the scientific classes had become totally unintelligible to all others. Since Buckle’s time, the same might be said of the highly cultivated classes of other countries, — their thoughts, their words, their books, are hieroglyphics to the multitude.
(3) A world of extraordinary possible results can be imagined from the future aggravation of both states of things.
(4) The government of the Ancient Orient, “ founded upon benevolence,” resolved the difficulty unconsciously in a much better way. The education of the people shall be moral only, — shall be the teaching of eternal truths, — the relations of the family, the duties of children and subjects. And he who says anything new shall he put to death. Also he who invents inventions shall be killed. Both laws I find in the sacred books of China. They are good laws, from one point of view. And, after all, the matter is brought back to a celebrated maxim of Spencer’s, —
That the object of all education should be simply to make good fathers and mothers.
Here the ancient Orient agrees with Mr. Herbert Spencer.
But how can people be educated to become good fathers and mothers, if the largest part of life must be devoted merely to learning that which is of no practical use, — and if, for the really learned, marriage becomes more difficult with every generation ?
The imposition of Chinese laws upon the West for a time might not be so very bad.
“ Let him who says anything new, or him who shall invent anything new, be put to death.”
I send a couple of Masoch’s volumes of stories for you and Mason to while away dull moments with. KUMAMOTO, April 28, 1893.
Your criticism on my letter is penetrating. But in the interval an audacious idea has been taking visible shape in my mind, — definitely, strongly, — upsetting all my other ideas about the future of West and East. Perhaps I may venture to bring it out some day. But it will be a hard piece of work, — as I must give scientific records for every point taken. It is this: — That the larger brained and nervously more complex races of the West must give way at last to the races of the East, — and that Buddhism in some form will exist after Christianity and Christian civilizations have vanished.
The argument must be based, first of all, upon the enormous cost of individuation to the West, compared with the future cost of equally efficient (for sociological purposes) individuation to — say the Chinese. Vast races of highly complex creatures have already disappeared from the world simply because of the enormous costliness of their structures. The evolution of machinery furnished certain parallels for study in the question of economy of force and economy of expenditure. Then there will be artificial conditions to consider, as set in antagonism to purely natural, but equally efficient conditions. Of course the question of the survival of races is that of the survival of the fittest. But are we, as you suggest askingly, are we the fittest ? The fittest life is that capable of meeting all exterior influences inimical to it by interior adjustments of its own powers. Are we most able to do that ? I think we are now, — but only because we avail ourselves of artificial means to oppose to natural forces. We do this by intellectual cunning. But that intellectual power is obtained by us only at so vast a cost, that it can only belong to a very few. Given the same powers to the select of a race to whom the cost of being and thinking has been made by nature and habit infinitely less, — and what will we be in the competition ? Less than nothing. The forces of national expansion are aggressive forces and very costly ones. But they do not represent the highest of our powers. The highest of our powers are of no use or meaning in self-preservation and racecontest. And the aggressive powers in our races are the most easily imitated and acquired by those nations we call inferior and barbarous. But that’s enough to bore you with. I only suggest an outline of what I mean. In that case Japan ought to tie her future to China, when circumstances render that possible. Buddha will be safe anyhow.
Goodbye, with sincerest wishes that you take the best possible care of yourself for awhile,
KUMAMOTO, May 12, 1893.
In the dead vast and middle of last night there came a telegram from Lowell, saying that he had sent a letter sixteen days ago, and to enquire therefor. I enquired as soon as possible, sending my little boy to the P. O. When he had delivered his message, instead of replying, the P. O. asked: —
“ What is your name ? ”
“ Kumagae Masayoshi.”
“ Naruhodo! And you are in the house of the Sensei ? ”
“ Naruhodo! And of course you speak much English ? ”
“ Naruhodo! But you are not of Kumamoto ? ”
“ Naruhodo! You are from the West ?
“ Ya! The people of Shimane are curious people. There is one in our P. Q.; you know him.”
“ No, I do not.”
“ Naruhodo! The people of Shimane say, ‘ fubachi, futatsu, fugashi; ' they say, ‘ jiji; ji-roku;’—they say ‘sanji’ for ' sanjui.’ Ah, yes! ”
“ But the letter ? ”
“ The Sensei received a telegram.”
“ The letter was sent — when ? ”
“ Sixteen days ago,”
“ Naruhodo! Then it could not possibly have come to Kumamoto. To come to Kumamoto and not be quickly delivered is, for a letter, exceedingly difficult. We know all about the letters of the Sensei; we count them. Exceedingly very many there are. He gets letters daily. To-day, as know, he got one ? ”
“ Then the reason of the not seeing of the letter the Sensei desires is not difficult to understand.” “ It is difficult.”
“ Oh, not. It is not difficult. The reason is simply that the letter never came to Kumamoto.”
“ Ah! ”
“ For having once come to Kumamoto it should have immediately been delivered.”
“ Ah! ”
“ But since it did not come, it could not have been delivered.”
“ And therefore, not having been delivered, the Sensei did not receive it.”
“ What have I done, etc.”
To dispute the premises would have been quite useless, — so accepting the conclusion I prepared an elaborate telegram. The address upon Mr. Lowell’s telegram was simply “ Kokumeikwan.” Masa trotted off again to the heart of the town. The telegram man disputed the address. Such an address would not suffice, — would give at the other end of the line enormous tribulation. For to send a telegraph to Kokumeikwan was like unto sending a telegram to Tokyo, — to Japan, — to the whole Orient, — to the whole of this vale of tears. And I suppose it best to address you on the subject as you have an address of a sharply defined character. I think you told me that Lowell, like many another literary man, dislikes writing letters. I am especially sorry therefore for the mystery of the letter in question; it is discouraging and demoralizing, and would justify him in swearing by the eight hundred myriads of the Gods never to write another letter again for the rest of his life.
I have your kind letter about “ Chita,” etc. That you could read the book at all, is some encouragement, — that is, persuades me that at some far-distant time, by toning down the thing, some of it might be preserved in a new edition. But I feel it is terribly overdone. You are right, too, about Miss Bacon’s severe and rather dry style. It has power, and it never tires, if the subject be of interest. A poetical style is only justifiable in the treatment of rare, exotic subjects. Those are the subjects I most love, however; how I envy my cousins in India, who will never write a line in their lives. I would give ten years of life for one year in India; — I can’t ever hope to get it. But a host of small relations, to whom it is a mere source of living, can not only get any number of years in India, but can blaspheme the Gods at being obliged to live in such a blasted country.
What an education the Orient is! How it opens a man’s eyes and mind about his own country, about conventionalisms of a hundred sorts, — about false ideals and idealisms, — about ethical questions. But it is a bitter life. I am ashamed to say, I feel worn out. Ancestral habit and impulse are too strong in me. I never understood how profoundly a man can be isolated even in the midst of an amiable population. I get letters from relations in England that make my soul turn, not skyblue, but indigo. I must be able to travel again some day, to alternate Oriental life with sometlnng else. And I am not without hope that will prove some day possible.
I wonder if I am right in thinking the Tempo men larger brained than the present University men. Somehow or other, the most highly educated Japanese strike me as pitiably small when it comes to thinking about any subject whatever: — they talk like boys of fourteen or fifteen years of age. They have no grasp of questions, — no conception of relations. It is impossible to talk with them at all. Now the old men whom I have met were of a larger breed. They thought in a narrow circle, but fully, and originally, and well, so far as I could divine from interpretation. They gave me ideas. The class I am now in contact with have no ideas. Under such studies as they have made, their brains seem to have shrivelled up like kernels in roasted nuts. When they try to talk there is only a dry rattle. Perpetual questions about things that a new-born babe ought to know; and withal a conceit as high as the moon: — an ineradicable belief that they have mastered all the knowledge of the nineteenth century, — and that a foreigner is a sort of stupid servant to be used, but never to be treated as a real human being.
The other day I wrote a long article about Japanese students, intending to send it to the Mail, a plea for them; but reading it over I came to the conclusion I did not know enough about the subject of educational organization. Everything is kept concealed as much as possible from a foreign teacher. Some day when I get more information, I may try to develop the theme in another way. I think the present system is dead wrong; — I think so by its results. The boys are overworked. The standard is low; the years are wasted. But who would thank me for proving it?
We had a curious contradiction in official theories the other day. One minister tells the Governors if there be trouble in their provinces they are responsible. The other minister tells students if they are dissatisfied the fault is their own. That the perpetual change of governors and teachers and directors — the general flux of national disintegration — must lead to large troubles, never seems to occur to these great statesmen. They are pitiably small, to judge by their idea of applying law to results instead of remedies to deeply seated and ever increasing causes. For the first time I feel like saying, “ D―n Japan! " After all, the loss of her nationality might not be the worst fate for her. What a blue letter. I am ashamed.
LAFCADIO HEARN. “ He became grieving and very confusing for weakness of the old.
“ Whenever he saw down from the seat of the sky a burial in mankind, he desire to die.
“ He became old till only the bones and skins have remained — like a wet paper was put over the wood.
“ Aurora asked to Zeus to give her husband only one escapement of his torment by to die, — but in vain.
“ Now Tithonus begged to the God to make him enable to die; but he was repulsed, — on that the God could not ever change his words.
“ To the last desire he begged the God to make him a glasshopper and to hop on the ground.
“ So for pity the God changed him into a glasshopper, which could hop about our world.
“ And he is hop about the ground even now, and bears the dry looking.
“ So from a man becomed the husband of the Goddess, and then to be changed into a vile worm!
“ This should teach us well to ask never the inconsistent things.”
KUMAMOTO (no date).
DEAR CHAMBERLAIN: -
You have heard of Composite Photographs, and know their value. Here is a composite composition, — the closing examination theme. I have made no changes, — only taken sentences from various compositions.
The Story of Tithonus.
“ Tithonus was a youth very handsome and polite.
“ Aurora was the rosy-fingered Goddess of the Dawn, — a very fine young lady with rosy fingers.
“ She was used to get up in the earlier morning every day, and she was very studious.
“ She follen in love to Tithonus, and by her chariot taked him up to the sky.
“One day she ask to him that,—‘ Sir, I can give you all thing you want.’ Then he ask to her that, — ‘ Please give me the eternal life.’
“ Hoping to enjoy the eternal life of her husband, Aurora ask to Zeus, Father of all the Gods;
“ And soon the eternal life was bestow on Tithonus.
“ But Aurora forget to request for the eternal youth; therefore Tithonus have the only eternal life.
“ Gods have the eternality of youth as well as life.
“ Tithonus came to become thirty or fourty years of age.
“ He became every day more old.
“ He become TOTALLY old.
“ And felt the miseration of this life.
KUMAMOTO, June 19, 1893.
A funny story for you. At Kumamoto, they are vulgar folk — all the women play the samisen. Instead of calling in geisha, the poorer folk make their own music. Near us a family yesterday proceeded, after necessary delays, to celebrate the birth of a child. The wife played the samisen, the mother-in-law the drum, and the father danced to please the guests.
As all this was quite extraordinary to Izumo people, my folks went to look at it. It was night, and the gates were closed. A new servant alone was left to guard the front part of the house, while I guarded the rear. But the man thought he might also go to see just for a moment. He went to what he believed to be the gate of the street, opened it, and found himself in absolute darkness. There was neither moon nor stars. He returned, said a prayer to the Gods, and tried the gate again. Black as a coal! Then he came back and waited.
When the family returned he naïvely asked, “ Was there any light in the street when you went? ” “ Plenty of light! ” all said, “ lamps and a big moon.” “ So! ” exclaimed the servant triumphantly, “I knew it was a fox ! ”
Now the truth of the matter was that he had opened the gate of the wood-house, mistaking it for the smaller street gate, which it very much resembles, — and finding himself in the dark he was convinced that, a fox was trying to deceive him. We all laughed; but he said, “ It would not have been the first time that a fox put his hand before my eyes.”
My old Kurumaya has fox stories enough, but none of his own experience. He brought to the house, however, a young Kurumaya who told us that one evening a military officer engaged him to take him to a house near the Hanaokayama. He took him there. The officer went into the house, — a superb residence, — bidding him wait. He waited until 3 A. M. Then he suddenly saw there was no house, and that his Kuruma was gone. He got no money, and only found his Kuruma two days later, — in a gorge.
KUMAMOTO, June 27, 1893.
I read part of your last letter with remorse. I am now all at one with you on the subject of Buddhism; and my first enthusiasm for Shinto, I fear, was wrong. I thought I saw in Shinto the soul of Japanese Loyalty, — self-sacrifice, etc. I wrote enthusiastically about it; — I fear you will justly condemn my views. Perhaps I shall be able to modify some of them in proof. Yes, Buddhism makes an appeal to the human heart, and Shinto only to tradition and race feeling.
There is, however, a power, — a mighty power, in that, too. I can’t remember now where I read a wonderful story about a Polish brigade under fire during the Franco-Prussian War. The French batteries are directed upon it; the fire of the mitrailleuses is atrocious. The Polish brigade stands still under the infernal hail, cursed by its German officers for the least murmur, — “Silence! you Polish hogs!” — while the ground is being strewn with blood and brains and entrails. Hundreds fall; thousands! and the order is always, “ Close up, you Polish hogs! ” Just one instant with the bayonet, — one chance to retaliate, to die like men! But the iron order is to wait. Men sob with rage. “ Silence, you Polish beasts!” And then, at last, old Steinmetz, smoking his pipe in the carnage, gives a signal, — the signal. The bugles ring out with the force of Roland’s last blast at Roncesvalles, the air forbidden ever to be sung or heard at other times, — the national air — (you know it) — “ No! Poland is not dead! ” And with that crash of brass all that lives of the brigade is hurled at the French batteries. Mechanical power, if absolutely irresistible, might fling back such a charge, but no human power. For old Steinmetz, smoking his pipe, had made, Schopenhaueresquely, the mightiest appeal to those “ Polish brutes ” that man, God or devil could make, — the appeal to the ghost of the Race. The dead heard it; and they came back that day, — the dead of a thousand years.
And then you know the tremendous story of the Cuirassiers at Reichshoffen, dying to a man to cover the retreat; each regiment charging in turn over the torn bodies of those who had formed the first regiment. That was a grand failure and a grand sacrifice. But what is not a failure is the annual ceremony, when, in the great camp, the roll-call of the dead is called, and every buried Cuirassier answers “ Present! ” — through the mouth of the living, because the grand dead never die.
Now, old Steinmetz smoking his pipe, waiting for the right moment; the French people, keeping alive the memory of the heroism of Reichshoffen, — both have the same thought, — the thought that moved Carlyle to say that not pleasure and happiness, but pain and misery and death, are the greatest attractions to men’s souls, — that which they seek in preference to all else. (Carlyle puts it crookedly; but there is a thought there.) The race feeling is the most powerful of all impulses; stir it deeply, — and to the living the value of life and fame and love and all else disappear like smoke; and the dead become the masters; and the living only the instruments. Now, do you not think something of the magic by which that feeling can be stirred, is possessed by Shinto ? If it is, then Shinto is mighty. If not, then Shinto is like a sacred awabi-shell, empty and full of holes.
But my letter is too long. Tomorrow I will write you about the o-fuda book, and other things.
- The Soul of the Far Fast. By PERCIVAL LOWELL.↩