Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Lafcadio Hearn Without Books

To Ellwood Hendrick

Tokyo, 1896

Dear Hendrick,----- I am in immediate and awful need of books, and am going to ask you to put me into communication with a general book dealer to whom I can send P. O. orders, and who will mail me books directly on receipt of cash. It is hopeless ordering through local book-dealers,----not simply because of charges and errors, but because of enormous delays. On a separate sheet I enclose some titles of what I badly want for the moment; and I am sending some cash. This said, I promise not to trouble you further except when I can't help it. See what a nuisance I am!

You may well believe me in a hurry when I send a letter with such a beginning. Imagine my position: ---a professor of literature without books, improvising lectures to students without books. I reached Tokyo about seven days ago, and have not yet got a house, --but am living in a hotel. At present I can give you no valid impressions:----everything is a blur. But so far the position does not seem disagreeable---rather the reverse. In fact I am afraid to express my satisfaction,---remembering Polyxenes. The salary is 400 yen,--and in Japan, a yen is a dollar though it is only fifty-odd cents in America. Old pupils of Izumo and elsewhere gather around me, welcoming me, delighted--some needing help and winning it---some needing only sympathy. Professors far off, move in separate and never-colliding orbits. I can teach for years---if I please---without ever seeing any of my colleagues. But Government favour, you know, is uncertain. The chances are that I shall hold on for three years at least.

When I heard last from you I was in Izumo. There I became very strong by constant swimming and starving,---Japanese diet takes all the loose flesh from a man in short order. My lungs got quite sound and my miserable eye nearly well.

I suppose that I partly owe this place to my books and partly to Professor Chamberlain's kind recommendation. The Japanese seldom notice literary work---but they have paid considerable attention to my work, considering that I am a foreigner. My ambition though, is independence in my own home, ---an old fashioned yashiki, full of surprises of colour and beauty and quaintness and peace. . .
Well, here's love to you. (If the book-business does not bother you too much, please tell the book-dealer to mail everything,---not to send by express.)
Ever faithfully,

-from Lafcadio Hearn: Letters from Tokyo translated and edited by M. Otani (Tokyo: Hokuseido, 1920) p. 20-26.

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