1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Hearn, Lafcadio

HEARN, LAFCADIO (1850–1904), author of books about Japan, was born on the 27th of June 1850 in Leucadia (pronounced Lefcadia, whence his name, which was one adopted by himself), one of the Greek Ionian Islands. He was the son of Surgeon-major Charles Hearn, of King’s County, Ireland, who, during the English occupation of the Ionian Islands, was stationed there, and who married a Greek wife. Artistic and rather bohemian tastes were in Lafcadio Hearn’s blood. His father’s brother Richard was at one time a well-known member of the Barbizon set of artists, though he made no mark as a painter through his lack of energy. Young Hearn had rather a casual education, but was for a time (1865) at Ushaw Roman Catholic College, Durham. The religious faith in which he was brought up was, however, soon lost; and at nineteen, being thrown on his own resources, he went to America and at first picked up a living in the lower grades of newspaper work. The details are obscure, but he continued to occupy himself with journalism and with out-of-the-way observation and reading, and meanwhile his erratic, romantic and rather morbid idiosyncrasies developed. He was for some time in New Orleans, writing for the Times Democrat, and was sent by that paper for two years as correspondent to the West Indies, where he gathered material for his Two Years in the French West Indies (1890). At last, in 1891, he went to Japan with a commission as a newspaper correspondent, which was quickly broken off. But here he found his true sphere. The list of his books on Japanese subjects tells its own tale: Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan (1894); Out of the East (1895); Kokoro (1896); Gleanings in Buddha Fields (1897); Exotics and Retrospections (1898); In Ghostly Japan (1899); Shadowings (1900); A Japanese Miscellany (1901); Kotto (1902); Japanese Fairy Tales and Kwaidan (1903), and (published just after his death) Japan, an Attempt at Interpretation (1904), a study full of knowledge and insight. He became a teacher of English at the University of Tokyo, and soon fell completely under the spell of Japanese ideas. He married a Japanese wife, became a naturalized Japanese under the name of Yakumo Koizumi, and adopted the Buddhist religion. For the last two years of his life (he died on the 26th of September 1904) his health was failing, and he was deprived of his lecturersbip at the University. But he had gradually become known to the world at large by the originality, power and literary charm of his writings. This wayward bohemian genius, who had seen life in so many climes, and turned from Roman Catholic to atheist and then to Buddhist, was curiously qualified, among all those who were “interpreting” the new and the old Japan to the Western world, to see it with unfettered understanding, and to express its life and thought with most intimate and most artistic sincerity. Lafcadio Hearn’s books were indeed unique for their day in the literature about Japan, in their combination of real knowledge with a literary art which is often exquisite.

See Elizabeth Bisland, The Life and Letters of Lafcadio Hearn (2 vols., 1906); G. M. Gould, Concerning Lafcadio Hearn (1908).