Wednesday, January 2, 2008

literary success

[Lafcadio Hearn to Mitchell McDonald]

Tokyo, January, 1898.

Dear McDonald,

It would do me a great deal of harm if I could believe your appreciations and predictions; but I am quite sure you are mistaken about both. As to success, I think my good fortune would consist in being able occasionally to travel for about six months,--just to pick up strange or beautiful literary material. If I can ever manage that much--or even if I can manage to get so far independent that I can escape from officialdom--I shall be very fortunate indeed. Want to get to Europe for a time, in any case, to put my boy there. But all this is dream and shadow, perhaps.

Literary success of any enduring kind is made only by refusing to do what publishers want, by refusing to write what the public want, by refusing to accept any popular standard, by refusing to write anything to order. I grant it is not the way to make money quickly; but it is the way--and the only way--to win what sincerity in literary effort ought to obtain. My publishers have frankly gone over to the Philistines. I could not write for them further even if they paid me $100 per line.

What a selfish letter I am writing! You are making me talk too much about my own affairs, and you would really spoil me, if you could. Talking to me of fame and hundreds of thousands of dollars! Of course I should like to have hundreds of thousands, and to hold them at your disposal; but I should also like to live in the realization of the life of the Arabian Nights. About the truth of life seems to be this: You can get what you wish for only when you have stopped wishing for it, and do not care about keeping it.

I see your name in the papers often now, and in connections that fill me with gladness. You are a power again in the land--wish you could be here for longer than you are going to stay. But, after all, that would not be best for you--would it?

Affectionately ever,

-from Lafcadio Hearn: Letters from Tokyo translated and edited by M. Otani (Tokyo: Hokuseido, 1920) p. 90-92.

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