Monday, June 30, 2008

out of the east

Lafcadio Hearn to Basil Hall Chamberlain

Kobe, March, 1895.

Dear Chamberlain, --It was very comforting to get a letter from you; for I wanted an impulse to write. I have been blue--by reason partly of the weather; and partly because of those reactions which follow all accomplished work in some men's cases. Everything done then seems like an Elle-woman,--a mere delusive shell; and one marvels why anybody should have been charmed.

Of course I did not ask point-blank for criticisms, because you told me long ago, "Every man should make his own book,"--and, although it is the literary custom in America to consult friends, I could see justice in the suggestion. The title "Out of the East" was selected from a number. It was suggested only by the motto of the Oriental Society, "Ex Oriente lux." The "Far East" has been so monopolized by others that I did not like to use the phrase. "Out of the Uttermost East" would sound cacophonously,--besides suggesting a straining for effect. I thought of Tennyson's "most eastern east," but the publishers didn't approve it. The simpler the title, and the vaguer--in my case--the better: the vagueness touches curiosity. Besides, the book is a vague thing. Sound has much to do with the value of a title. If it hadn't, you would have written "Japanese Things" instead of "Things Japanese"--which is entirely different, and so pretty that your admirers and imitators snapped it up at once. So we have "Things Chinese" by an imitator, and "Things Japanese" is a phrase which has found its recognized place in the vocabulary of critics of both worlds. Your criticism on "Out of the East," though, would have strongly influenced me, if you had sent it early enough. I noticed the very same suggestion in the Athenaeum regarding the use of the word "Orient" and the phrase "Far East" by Americans. For our "Orient" is, as you say, still the Orient of Kinglake, of De Nerval, etc. But why should it be ? To Milton it was the Indian East with kings barbaric sitting under a rain of pearls and gold.

Manila was long my dream. But, although my capacity for sympathy with the beliefs of Catholic peasantry anywhere is very large,--the ugly possibility exists that the Inquisition survives in Manila, and I have had the ill-fortune to make the Jesuits pay some attention to me. You know about the young Spaniard who had his property confiscated, and who disappeared some years ago,--and was restored to liberty only after heaven and earth had been moved by his friends in Spain. I don't know that I should disappear; but I should certainly have obstacles thrown in my way. Mexico would be a safer country for the same class of studies,--Ceram ought to be interesting: in Wallace's time the cost of life per individual was only about 8s. 6d. a year! A moist, hot tropical climate I like best. The heat is weakening, I know, but that moisture means the verdure that is a delight to the eyes, and palms, and parrots, and butterflies of enormous size;--and no possibility of establishing Western conditions of life. I should like very much to see the book you kindly offered to lend me. It might create new aspirations: I am always at night dreaming of islands in undiscovered seas, where all the people are gods and fairies.

Of course I cannot know much about it now, but I am almost sure of having been in Malta as a child. At a later time my father, who was long there, told me queer things about the old palaces of the knights, and a story about a monk who, on the coming of the French, had the presence of mind to paint the gold chancel-railng with green paint. Southern Italy and the Mediterranean islands are especially fitted for classical scholars, like Symonds; but what a world of folk-lore also is there still ungathered! I should think that, next to Venice, Malta must be the most romantic spot in Europe. . . .
Ever faithfully,
Lafcadio Hearn.

-from The Life and Letters of Lafcadio Hearn by Elizabeth Bisland in 2 volumes (London: Archibald Constable & Co., 1906) Volume II, p. 211-214.

Friday, June 27, 2008

twilight time

Lafcadio Hearn to Basil Hall Chamberlain

July 24, 1894.

Dear Chamberlain,
Mason is gone,--leaving a great void in my psychical atmosphere. I linger awhile, hoping to-day or to-morrow at latest to have the Atlantic for you, and to arrange a little matter in connexion with the Boston firm.

I never had the experience before of coolly taking possession of a friend's house during his absence,--and feel a slight remorse of conscience which I can't get over, no matter how many kind things you may say. If I did not hope to be able to give you some day an almost equal amount of pleasure, I should really feel very bad--and there is no use reasoning about the thing at all, because feeling is quite independent of reasoning. Indeed reason is the most tricky and treacherous thing in the world; and the Shinto formula, "obey your own heart" is much more satisfactory.--There are several pleasures in having been here which I did not speak about yet. First it is nice to know a friend's home--in which something of him always lives wherever he be;--to comprehend his pleasures and habits through the kindness of servitors who try to make the guest as happy as their own master (placing the lounge for him where the breeze blows, and all these little attentions);--to get an idea of the geography of his intellectual world, and glimpses of the favourite literary paths;--to notice and sympathize with his comments on margins;--to be instructed by the mere names of the volumes he has collected in all places;--to understand something of his tastes, and so to take pleasure in all his happiness;--in short, to have the definite sensation of what we might call "The Soul of the House." For every dwelling in which a thinker lives certainly acquires a sort of soul--there are Lares and Penates more subtle than those of the antique world;--these make the peace and rest of a home. And besides, there are memories of England which bring back visions of my boyhood--suggestions no American home furnishes. The English crest on silver plate,--the delicious little castors, the "homey" arrangement of articles which represent the experience of generations in search of good solid comfort, all created for me a sort of revival of old, old, and very intimate impressions. Therefore, I suppose, some ghosts of very long ago came soundlessly about me once or twice in twilight time,--and portraits of another era, forgotten for thirty-five years, faintly shaped themselves for me in the dusk before the lighting of the lamp. In thought I sat again upon the floor of a house which no longer exists, and shot at armies of tin soldiers with cannon charged with dried peas. For, just as the faintest odour of fresh tar recalls visions of unnumbered days of travel,--decks and faces and ports and horizons of which the names have faded out altogether,--so it requires only a very little suggestion of England to resurrect home-days.

I have almost stopped mining in sheer despair. It would take me ten years to work through all these veins--I mean the veins I could work a little; for one large section would ever remain for me incomprehensible as a grimoire.--I never saw the work of Captain Basil Hall before,--though his name, attached to translations of his books, has been long familiar to me in French catalogues. Looking over the beautiful little volumes in calf, I could not help thinking that our English prints of to-day are, on the whole, quite inferior to the choice texts of that time--when type, paper, and binding possessed a durable solidity and beauty that latter-day competition is destroying. To-day, our best English prints seem like imitations of French work.

Since you thought enough of the Creole Grammar* to bind it, I must send you a couple of Creole prints I have at home. Should I ever be able to recover my library, I could give you an almost complete set of works relating to all the French-Creole dialects. What I regretted was my inability to procure the Catechism of Goux (Pere). I had it in my hands, but could not persuade the owner to part with it, I think my next letter will be from Yokohama.
Ever faithfully,

*Gombo Zhèbes, A Little Dictionary of Creole Proverbs in Six Dialects (New York: Coleman, 1885) by Lafcadio Hearn.

-from The Japanese Letters of Lafcadio Hearn edited with an introduction by Elizabeth Bisland (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1910) p. 359-62.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

mining in your library

Lafcadio Hearn to Basil Hall Chamberlain

July 22,1894.
Dear Chamberlain,
Yesterday at Otsu with Mason,--but would rather far have passed the day in his house. Still we had a glorious swim, and the sight of a fishing-net pulled in,--what splashing and spraying of prismatic colours! Otsu is not Japanese, however,--except the background of sky and mountain and sea. It has been spoiled--become a mere trap for foreign flies--saucy girls--rough proprietor--huge straggling spaces of "ramshackle" rooms--as one of the guests called them. There is, however, a glorious beach, and a great warm wind like a trade-wind.

After all, I am not going to Nagano!--After glancing over my passport, Mason came to the conclusion that we could be only one day together; and as the anticipated pleasure depended largely upon his company, I gave up the notion. I am getting ready to say good-bye to Tokyo, and shall disappear as soon as he flits. I shall go to Yokohama, however, and pass there a few days, feeling pulses--as I want to provide if possible against being compelled to leave Japan. What may happen next March none of us can guess. One sure thing is that if the Department conclude to do without us for a spell, we shall never be taken back again upon the same terms. This uncertainty (which Mason well calls the sword of Damocles) poisons every pleasure, and paralyzes every undertaking.

Still mining in your library. I envy you the glorious sets of Transactions, of the various Asiatic Societies; and the "Lettres Edifiantes" have finally got hold of me. I took the liberty, also, to cut with the horse-hoofed paper-cutter the pages of a book you had not read--the bard of the Deinbovitzu. I found queer inexpressible beauties and originalities in them--a sort of savage tenderness and fierce grief such as reminded me of the Servian poetry. The Servian poetry seemed to me, however, far more interesting, and, with all its strange ferocities, more perfectly natural. A half-suspicion clings to this collection: its tone seems due to individual taste in setting, pruning, and decorating. What a curious half-Eastern world is this world of Eastern Europe! I suppose you have read the Unwritten literature of the Caucasus:--the same indescribable mingling of bloody ferocity with tenderness and lamentation.

I have not yet found among your books the pretty translations of Japanese moral tales made by Turretini (I think) which I used to possess (Romaji text and French version), and some of the charming prints of the Musee Guimet. Perhaps you have them stowed away. If you have not, I think you might like to add them to this glorious collection. My library of ancient days was chiefly folk-lore. I had the Arabic poets in many editions, the whole Bibliotheque Orientale Elzevirienne (Leroux) up to date,--the larger Bibliotheque Orientale, containing Burnouf's great essay, etc., etc.,--"Les Litteratures Populaires" (Maisonneuve), and hosts of such things. Except that their perusal enriches fancy, and gives glimpses of other race-souls, however, they are of small use to men not serious scholars or finished poets. To you I fancy some of these French series would be highly valuable. The genius of the race shows itself even in the serious work of their philologists: they select, curiously enough, just those subjects which English translators rarely touch. It seems to me that the really human side of Oriental literature in the Transactions of your own Asiatic Society has been appreciated only by Aston, Satow, and yourself. Such papers as "Mistress An's Tale," and "A Literary Lady of Old Japan" and three or four others, form so striking a contrast to the work usually done by the mass of the contributors. This literary sense strikes me as being shown in a more general way by the French Orientalists,-- however defective their work may be in other respects. Comparing, for example, Lenormant and Maspero in Assyrian and Egyptian studies with English studies in the same line,--how much greater is the charm of the former for one able to understand the literary side only. . . .

-from The Japanese Letters of Lafcadio Hearn edited with an introduction by Elizabeth Bisland (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1910) p. 356-59.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

son of the wish

Lafcadio Hearn to Basil Hall Chamberlain

Dear Chamberlain,
What do you think about the idea of getting up a new "Japanese Fairy Tale Series"? I have quite a number of tales splendidly adapted to weird illustrations. Is there money in such a thing? Do you know this poem?

I am the mote in the sunbeam; and I am
the burning sun: "Rest here," I whisper the atom;
I say to the orb, "Roll on!"

I am the blush of the morning, and I am
the evening breeze: I am the leaf's low murmur,
the swell of the terrible seas.

I am the vine and the vineyard,--grapes,
winepress, and must, and wine,
The guest, the host, the traveller,--the goblet
of crystal fine;--

I am the net, the fowler, the bird and its
frightened cry;--
The mirror, the form reflected, the sound
and its echo, I;--

I am the breath of the flute;--I am
the mind of man,--
Gold's glitter, the light of sunrise,--and the
sea-pearl's lustre wan,--

The Rose, her poet-nightingale,--the songs
from his throat that rise,
The flint, the spark, the taper,--the moth
that about it flies;--

The lover's passionate pleading,--the maiden's
whispered fear,--
The warrior, the blade that smites him,--his
mother's heart-wrung tear;

I am both Good and Evil,--the deed, and
the deed's intent,--
Temptation, victim, sinner, crime, pardon
and punishment;--

I am what was, is, will be,--creation's
ascent and fall,--
The link, the chain of existence,--beginning
and end of all!

-(Ritter, from Djellalleddin Rumi.)

I have studied this poem for years, and every time I read it,--the grander it seems. To-day I found the old copy I made of it in 1879 among some loose papers.

There isn't anything new to tell you that you could care about.
Lafcadio Hearn.
25th May, 1894.

I wish it were 1994,--don't you? (OVER) I forgot to tell you:--

To-day I spent an hour in reading over part of the notes taken on my first arrival, and during the first six months of 1890. Result, I asked myself: "How came you to go mad?--absolutely mad?" It was the same kind of madness as the first love of a boy.

I find I described horrible places as gardens of paradise, and horrid people as angels and divinities. How happy I must have been without knowing it! There are all my illusions facing me,--on faded yellow paper. I feel my face tingle as I study some of them. Happily I had the judgment not to print many lines from them.

But--I ask myself--am I the only fool in the world? Or was I a fool at all? Or is everybody, however wise, at first deluded more or less by unfamiliar conditions when these are agreeable, the idea always being the son of the wish?

Perhaps I was right in one way. For that moment Japan was really for me what I thought it. To the child the world is blue and green; to the old man grey--both are right.

So with all things. Relations alone exist. The writer's danger is that of describing his own, as if they were common or permanent. Perhaps the man who comes to Japan full of hate for all things Oriental may get nearer to truth at once--though, of course, he will also make a kindred mistake.
Lafcadio Hearn

-from The Japanese Letters of Lafcadio Hearn edited with an introduction by Elizabeth Bisland (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1910) p. 311-13.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

an adopted son

Lafcadio Hearn to Basil Hall Chamberlain

January 27, 1894.

Dear Chamberlain,
Your letter was a great pleasure to me for more reasons than one, especially, however, because giving what a man is always most hungry for in this world (unless he is a Diogenes)--sympathy. First, about the registration question:--Perhaps your idea of my destiny is prophetical, and I may again be a traveller. I think I ought to travel a little for literary material. But I cannot imagine any circumstance, except banishment by the Tenshi-sama, that should prevent me from making my home in Japan. Indeed, I never thought about such a possibility. The only grim outlook is death,--because I am much older than I like to be; in that case English citizenship would be of no use to my folk. As for my wife, she is only a simple sweet-hearted country-girl; she would never feel at home in the life of the open ports, or be able to mingle at ease in the Europeanized circles of their Japanese society. Again, none of my folks know anything about business;--they would be easily deprived of anything. I could leave them in any of the settlements; but as for myself, I can't imagine anything which could separate us indefinitely in life. Leaving the moral question aside altogether--though it is a stronger one than any--there comes the consideration of the facts, thus: The Japanese are still the best people in the world to live among;--therefore why wish ever to live elsewhere? No one will ever, or could ever, love me any more than those about me now love me;--and that is the most precious consideration in life aside from the mere capacity to live. The ugly questions are death and lack of employment. The latter is quite possible. The former is important. In either event, It were better that mother and son were able to live in the interior, and own their own homestead, and have a little revenue, and take care of each other until better times. There's the odds. Yes, as you say, it is a hard nut to crack; but I fancy the safe side is that suggested by the family instinct--they have all decided not to risk loss of citizenship. The patriarch, of course, considers me only an adopted son; and thinks that Izumo should always be the family home.

What you say of Japanese costume as a protection by mimicry is glorious. I should like to meet the Japanese who had shrewdness enough to say so delicious a thing! The fact struck me a good while ago (and I embodied it in my article on "Jiujutsu")* that the Japanese have never really adopted European costume at all. It is worn only outside the house; the reifuku as a business uniform, the yofuku as a military uniform. Even the officers of the garrison resume at home the kimono, obi, haori, and tabi. The Kencho officials, the judges, the Governors of provinces, the teachers, are, at home, each and all, just as much Japanese as they were a thousand years ago. The students even hate the uniforms and confess its value only as a military garb. . . .

I suppose you can scarcely have failed to observe the extraordinary benevolence exercised toward students throughout the country. Every official and every teacher--or nearly every--has a number of shosei in his house. Nominally they should support themselves, but I fancy they are in all cases largely aided, even as to food. What you may not have noticed, perhaps, is that in modern Japanese houses of a fair class--such as my own--special architectural provision is made for shosei. There are two or more small walled-off rooms (solid kabe-work) contrived about the entrance which are called "student-rooms." The soshi-business in Tokyo represents only the perversion of this benevolent custom to political ends. I myself intend, if things turn out pretty well, to take an Izumo student or two later on, and help as far as can reasonably be expected. I am often asked by local students, but as often refuse; for others have prior claims, and, besides, my present house is too small.

The native benevolence does not draw the line at shosei. I know a number of cases of hard-worked teachers contributing regularly every month to the university expenses of boys whom they have taught. I asked, "Are they really grateful?" of a very cynical professor. He said, "Yes, I believe they are;--they are grateful to their Japanese teachers for personal favours." I said, "But they are not grateful to foreign teachers?"He answered,--"Well, no: that is quite a different matter." Then I wondered whether this is not just because we foreign teachers are really so much more selfish towards them--for reasons we cannot help, of course.

Lastly: The benevolence of the teachers does not stop there. Special teachers devote their whole spare time to unpaid, gratuitous teaching,--in many instances. Take jiujutsu! Our present teacher, a disciple of Kano's, builds here at his own expense, in his own residence grounds, a jiujutsu hall, and teaches all his spare time without a cent of remuneration. Take natural history! The least sympathetic of all the teachers gives his whole leisure to extra labour in this direction. Perhaps it is the very excess of such kindness on the part of the native teachers which creates the feeling of "offness" between the foreign teacher and the students. His greatest kindness suffers terribly by comparison.

Again the foreign teacher is trusted only as an intellectual machine. His moral notions, his sympathies,, his intuitions, his educational ideas are not trusted at all; a Japanese teacher is always consulted by preference. There seems to be the set conviction in every official mind that a foreigner cannot understand Japanese students. Indeed I suspect that those among us who sympathize with them, and wish to know them, may really understand them much better than they can understand us, which is saying a good deal, just because of this solid conviction about our mental incapacity. . . .
Ever most truly,
Lafcadio Hearn.

*Published in his book, Out of the East (Houghton, Mifflin, 1895).

-from The Japanese Letters of Lafcadio Hearn edited with an introduction by Elizabeth Bisland (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1910) p. 232-36.

Monday, June 23, 2008

things Japanese

Lafcadio Hearn to Basil Hall Chamberlain

[August 1893]

Dear Chamberlain,
I have just got your letter, and a copy of the Advertiser which makes me glad that I changed the sentence about the sailors in proofs. I have a great mind to subscribe for the Advertiser, and stop reading the Mail;--I am so sick of all the stuff about missionaries and Christianity. Why can't a newspaper have mercy on people who don't care to have religious stuff forever thrust under their noses? I see the missionaries are still telling the people they are savages, and idolaters, etc., and have been making a row at Bakkan, among other places There's no truth ever told about these matters; what the missionaries really do is never published.

I wonder if the Archduke's Indian servant is a Sikh. Travellers write that the Sikh policemen and troopers look like demigods or kings; and some illustrations in the London News gave me the same notion.

It rejoiced me to hear of your living in the Japanese wing, and in yukata. I am sure it is the very best thing you could do for health in this hot season. Foreign dress soaks through almost immediately, and then becomes a wet wrap which, breathed on by a cold wind, chills the lungs at once. I have been wearing considerably less than a yukata lately during the hottest part of the day; but when I go out in a white suit I wonder how any Japanese can don yofuku in July and August. No matter how thin, a tight-fitting dress is a torture in this heat to anybody accustomed to the kimono.

I had a long letter from the editor of the Atlantic. He wants sketches of real Japanese life (sketches showing emotional character): doesn't care for religious or philosophical sketches. He wants, in short, exactly what I want, but what is very difficult to find. The fixed policy in Kumamoto has been to conceal everything from me, and although there is an approach to kindness in other directions, this policy is not likely to change much. I must devise some means of defeating it.

Reading over some part of "Things Japanese"* the other day, it occurred to me that I might be able to speak of something not known to you about the household bath. Of course it is only a suggestion. It is true, as you say, that all the members of a household, in hierarchical order, use the same water. But the simple statement of this fact might create a wrong idea in European minds. The rule in such cases is worth recording. It is that each person washes outside the bath, and thoroughly rinses the whole body outside the bath, with hot water from a kanadari or other vessel, before entering into the tub proper. Consequently, in a household where this rule is observed, the servant girl who bathes last, will find the water nearly as clear as the Inkyo who bathes first. All the real washing is not done in the bath at all. And in some bathing-places, I have seen this rule strictly observed by hundreds of people,--as at Kitzuki. Of course among the poorer classes there is less nicety. . . .

*Things Japanese (1890) by Basil Hall Chamberlain.

-from The Japanese Letters of Lafcadio Hearn edited with an introduction by Elizabeth Bisland (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1910) p. 147-48.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

perfume of syllables in blossom

Lafcadio Hearn to Basil Hall Chamberlain

June 5, 1893.

Dear Chamberlain,
Thanks for strictures and suggestions. I changed the text as you desired, except in the case of the word Kurunia. That has been fully explained in preceding articles. (By the way, I never heard a Japanese use the word jin- rikisha.) My observations about the sailors were based upon police reports in the Japan Mail. I killed the word gwaikokujin; as you said, it is an ugly word. I revised, indeed, the whole paper.

Recognizing the ugliness of words, however, you must also recognize their physiognomical beauty. I see you and the Editor of the Atlantic are at one, however, in condemning my use of Japanese words. Now, I can't entirely agree with either of you. As to the practical side of the question, I do. But as to the artistic, the romantic side, I don't. For me words have colour, form, character; they have faces, ports, manners, gesticulations; they have moods, humours, eccentricities;--they have tints, tones, personalities. That they are unintelligible makes no difference at all. Whether you are able to speak to a stranger or not, you can't help being impressed by his appearance sometimes,--by his dress,--by his air,--by his exotic look. He is also unintelligible, but not a whit less interesting. Nay! he is interesting BECAUSE he is unintelligible. I won't cite other writers who have felt the same way about African, Chinese, Arabian, Hebrew, Tartar, Indian, and Basque words,--I mean novelists and sketch writers.

To such it has been justly observed : "The readers do not feel as you do about words. They can't be supposed to know that you think the letter A is blush-crimson, and the letter E pale sky-blue. They can't be supposed to know that you think EH wears a beard and a turban; that initial X is a mature Greek with wrinkles;--or that--no--has an innocent, lovable, and childlike aspect." All this is true from, the critic's standpoint.

But from ours, the standpoint of
The dreamer of dreams
To whom what is and what seems
Is often one and the same,--

To us the idea is thus:--
"Because people cannot see the colour of words, the tints of words, the secret ghostly motions of words:--

"Because they cannot hear the whispering of words, the rustling of the procession of letters, the dream-flutes and dream-drums which are thinly and weirdly played by words:--

"Because they cannot perceive the pouting of words, the frowning and fuming of words, the weeping, the raging and racketing and rioting of words:--

"Because they are insensible to the phosphorescing of words, the fragrance of words, the noisomeness of words, the tenderness or hardness, the dryness or juiciness of words, the interchange of values in the gold, the silver, the brass and the copper of words:--

"Is that any reason why we should not try to make them hear, to make them see, to make them feel? Surely one who has never heard Wagner, cannot appreciate Wagner without study! Why should the people not be forcibly introduced to foreign words, as they were introduced to tea and coffee and tobacco?" Unto which, the friendly reply is, "Because they won't buy your book, and you won't make any money." And I say: "Surely I have never yet made, and never expect to make any money. Neither do I expect to write ever for the multitude. I write for beloved friends who can see colour in words, can smell the perfume of syllables in blossom, can be shocked with the fine elfish electricity of words. And in the eternal order of things, words will eventually have their rights recognized by the people."

All this is heresy. But a bad reason, you will grant, is better than etc.
Lafcadio Hearn

[The Atlantic Monthly, July 1892, In a Japanese Garden by Lafcadio Hearn.]

-from The Japanese Letters of Lafcadio Hearn edited with an introduction by Elizabeth Bisland (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1910) p. 105-07.

Friday, June 20, 2008

shadow and sun

Lafcadio Hearn to Basil Hall Chamberlain

May 30, 1893.

Dear Chamberlain,
Your criticism about my idea of a volume of stories delights me.

But I am not insensible to the comic side. I want the best of anything I can get in that direction. I want it, however, under reservations.

In the "Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan"* I think you will find something more than pathos. I think you may have found something more than the minor key even in the West Indian Sketches. But--besides the fact that I know the narrow limitations of my own power, I have an artistic theory about comedy.

For sincere work I think comedy should always be very close to tears,--as it is in real life. Shadow and sun make the picture. The strongest possible pathos is created by the use of comedy in the proper time and place.

But it is very hard to do this. Those who have been able to do it well are the giants. Take Heine's work; what is the nervous power of it; surely, aside from mere verbal art and fancy, it is in this very thing. He amuses, caresses, brings tears; then with a lightning flash of sarcasm lie illuminates the bitter gulfs. Or the mockery first, and then the pathos. I don't think the Elizabethan writers knew this art; they had to introduce fools and mad people to off-set tragedy. It seems to me an art yet undeveloped. Most men can work safely only in one direction,--having but one faculty powerfully developed. Heine had two;--but he was only half alive in his best years. I think myself a book all in one key is weak. I should like to venture at work in two. But I am small. I am groping and don't know. All I can say is,--Any and every suggestion I can get during the next two years will be gold and diamonds.

The little follies, the childish errors, the blunders and mistakes of life, do not however make me laugh. I cannot laugh at the real,--unless it's offensive. Rather all these things seem to me infinitely pathetic; the comedy of them is the tragedy played by human children before the Unknown. In an artistic sketch, I think the comedy ought not to provoke more than a smile. But hard and fast rules are out of the question. And what would the Japanese say? They don't understand. I once ventured a jest in Izumo about the ancient Gods,--in the presence of one who did not believe. It was an innocent jest, too,--not derogatory to the Gods. But,--well, I never tried it again; not even when I heard much racier jests made by the same person.

I am not good, I fear, like you. I do not always give gentle answers, which is a sign of strength, but nasty ones, which is a sign of weakness. However, I have lately effected a compromise with myself. I think this way:--"Assuredly, the people who ask you so impertinently to do things for money, conceive that money is an all-fired great consideration with you,--because it is with them. To undeceive them would injure their feelings,--stab them in the only place where they have any feelings. Wherefore it were more Christian to answer them according to their kind. An answer of this sort cannot satisfy them altogether, but it will teach them respect for you."

Therefore when I am asked, for example, to write letters for a particular sort of patronizing newspaper, "I am very grateful, dear Sir, for your kindly appreciation of my work, and for your courteous offer. In answer to your question about terms, I may say, that, although now unusually occupied, I hope to find time to write you a few letters on the following conditions: One thousand dollars in gold per letter,--to be paid in each case in advance,--by draft on London,--and copyright of letters to be secured in the name of my publishers, at your expense,--which, of course, will be trifling. Trusting, my dear sir, etc."

Now, if they really agree to the terms, they would be worth the while. If they don't, it is all the same,--except that they will see even an author loves money, and esteems himself at the right value. Of course, that is only me. You ought to charge enormous rates, and you might get them. Some years ago in New York, when there was no Russian Secretary, a Russian document had to be translated in a hurry. There was only one man in New York then who could do the work, and the man knew it. The legend is that he charged $10,000 and got it. If you write a perfumery ad. in Chinese for those people you ought to charge enough to elevate the price of the perfume bottles 150 p. c. ? ? ? The fun of all this is that I, who write it, can't get any big prices for anything yet. By dint of pretended scorn, perhaps some day I shall get a gold mine all to myself.
Best wishes ever and thanks,

Lafcadio Hearn

*Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan (1894 Houghton Mifflin) - 2 vols. 1000 sets in green; (1894 Osgood McIlvaine) - 2 vols

-from The Japanese Letters of Lafcadio Hearn edited with an introduction by Elizabeth Bisland (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1910) p. 99-102.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


Lafcadio Hearn to Basil Hall Chamberlain

September 4, 1891.

Dear Professor Chamberlain, ... I think I wrote you before that the fox superstition in lzumo has special peculiarities, and is strong enough to affect the price of real estate to a very large amount. You know the translation by James of the "Discourse upon Infinite Vision." Now the most telling point of the whole thing to me was the priest's appeal to his hearers' superstition about the fox to prove his metaphysical argument, and the immediate success of that appeal. Even among the modernly educated here, the belief in the three kinds of foxes prevails to a large extent. Just as a student once wrote for me in an English comparison: "It is hard to say if these stories of foxes are true. But it is hard to say that they are not true."

What you say about Mr. Lowell's being probably less intimate with the common people than I now am, is, I think, true. Certainly so large a personality as his would find it extremely difficult--probably painful--to adopt Japanese life without reserves, its costumes, its diet, its life upon the floor, its interminable small etiquette, its everlasting round of interviews with people who have nothing to say but a few happy words, its Matsuri customs and household formalities. He has what the French would call une envergure trop vaste pour ca; and for so penetrating and finely trained an intellect, the necessary sacrifice of one's original self would be mere waste. Still, I think it is only by this way, in the course of years, that I can get at the Kokoro* of the common people,--which is my whole aim,--the religious and emotional home life. What I have seen of the educated modernized Japanese does not strike me as worth studying for literary purposes. They seem to me like a soft reflection of Latin types, without the Latin force and brilliancy and passion--somewhat as in dreams the memory of people we have known become smilingly aerial and imponderable.

Your illustration about homeopathy is superb, a little severe, but I think it is impossible to state the whole weak side of anything without some forcible severity. But the ultimate tendency would thus be toward a second Ryubu-Shinto,--would it not? I must confess I would sacrifice much, if I had anything worth sacrificing, to see a pure strong revival of Buddhism. But the Buddhists seem to have no great men now, no forces:--no possibility of another Nichiren, is there? I fear it cannot come: this hoped-for revival, through native sources alone; the Buddhist scholars are lukewarm souls--mere bookworms. But it might come through the influence of the Western higher philosophy, indirectly. To make the Japanese people simply irreligious, would destroy everything beautiful in their life, and nothing seems to me so admirably suited to that gentle life as the faith of Buddhism. The sight of a superb Japanese iron-clad at Mionoseki the other day, filled me with regret. That splendid monster appeared as an omen of some future so much more dismal and artificial than the present. . . .

*["the heart of things, feelings."]

-from The Japanese Letters of Lafcadio Hearn edited with an introduction by Elizabeth Bisland (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1910) pp. 16-18.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

four candles

Joseph Conrad to John Galsworthy

Pent Farm
1st Sept. 1904.

Dearest Jack!
Finished!* finished! on the 30th in Hope's house in Stanford in Essex, where I had to take off my brain that seemed to turn to water.

For a solid fortnight, I've been sitting up. And all the time horrible toothache. On the 27th had to wire for dentist (couldn't leave the work) who came at 2 and dragged at the infernal thing which seemed rooted in my very soul. The horror came away at last, leaving however one root in the gum. Then he grubbed for that till I leapt out of the chair. Thereupon old Walton said: "I don't think your nerves will stand any more of this."

I went back to my MS at six p.m. At 11:30 something happened--what it is, I don't know. I was writing, and raised my eyes to look at the clock. The next thing I know I was sitting (not lying) on the concrete outside the door. When I crawled in I found it was nearly one. I managed to get upstairs and said to Jessie: "We must be off to-morrow." I took 30 drops of chlorodyne,--and slept till 7. Sydney went off on his bike to Ashford at 8:30, and at 10 the motor car was in the yard: a 12 h.p. Darracq. I sat by the man's side like a corpse. Between Canterbury and Faversham he said to me, "You look ill, sir, shall I stop?" Sittingbourne I remember as a brandy and soda. Good road. Steady 24 miles an hour. In Chatham, street crowded, packed. Going dead slow knocked down a man,--old chap, apparently a bricklayer. Crowd around cursing and howling. Helped him to my front seat and I standing on step got him to the hospital in 10 minutes. No harm. Only shaken. Saw him all comfy in bed for the rest of the day.

In Rochester, Hope waiting for us. Had something to eat,--and tasted it too, for the first time in 10 days. On crossing the river, began to revive on the ferry. Jessie very good and Borys quite a man watching over Mama's "poor leg" and warning off porters with luggage. At five, in sight of Stanford-le-Hope Railway station, petrol gave out. Man ran on and ran back with two gallon tin.

That night I slept. Worked all day. In the evening dear Mrs. Hope (who is not used to that sort of thing) gave me four candles and I went on. I finished at 3. Took me another half-hour to check the numbering of the pages, write a letter to P. and so on.

I had not the heart to write to you that same night nor yet the next day. Wasn't sure I would survive. But I have survived extremely well. I feel no elation. The strain has been too great for that. But I am quite recovered and ready for work again. There can be no stoppage till end of November when the Sketches'll be finished.** And then, I fancy, something will have to be done to get away.

I was with Pinker yesterday talking matters over. If I had known your Hampstead address I would have wired you. There is wanting to the finish of this undertaking the sanction of your presence and voice.

Drop me a line. Come down if you can! But I hardly dare to suggest that.
I don't know how you are, how everybody is.
I'll write to you soon. Love from all.

** The Sea Sketches: viz: The Mirror of the Sea.
-from Joseph Conrad: Life and Letters edited by G. Jean-Aubry (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, Page, 1927) p. 333-35.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

nervous force

Joseph Conrad to H. G. Wells

Pent Farm
30 Nov. '03.

My Dear H. G.,
Indeed I did not expect you in this awful weather, especially as Jessie reported you with a cold.

I was laid by the knee (this time) the day after we travelled up together. I did not feel particularly bright even then, or else I would have succumbed to your blandishments and stayed for a dinner and a chat in town.

Things are bad with me--there's no disguising the fact. Not only is the scribbling awfully in arrears but there's no "spring" in me to grapple with it effectually. Formerly in my sea life, a difficulty nerved me to the effort; now I perceive it is not so. However, don't imagine I've given up, but there is an uncomfortable sense of losing my footing in deep waters.

Romance's gone into 2nd ed: I hear. That, no doubt, does not mean much, but still it is better than any of my other books did do. Is Men in the Moon doing well for you--I mean really well? After all, my dear boy, for all our faith in our good intentions and even in our achievements, a paper success (as I call it) is not a strong enough tonic. I say so because for me, writing--the only possible writing--is just simply the conversion of nervous force into phrases. With you too, I am sure, tho' in your case it is the disciplined intelligence which gives the signal--the impulse. For me it is a matter of chance, stupid chance. But the fact remains that when the nervous force is exhausted the phrases don't come--and no tension of will can help.

Don't imagine I am grumbling. I had ten times the luck I deserved. All this talk is very stupid but it comforts me to worry you a little.

Our love to all your house. I am touched by Archer's Repentance (Would do as title for short story). It strikes me, my dear Wells, that, in your quiet, almost stealthy way, you are doing a lot for me; if it were not for you a lot of people would not know of my existence, anything palpable, and still less of my involved form of narrative. I will be delighted to meet Prof. York Powell. Don't forget to send to me Metchnikov's book. I am really curious to see that.

-from Joseph Conrad: Life and Letters edited by G. Jean-Aubry (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, Page, 1927) p. 321.

Monday, June 16, 2008

the revealing life

Joseph Conrad to Edward Garnett

Pent Farm,
Stanford, Near Hythe,

12. Nov. 1900.

Dearest E.
You are great and good.
Yes! you've put your finger on the plague spot. The division of the book* into two parts which is the basis of your criticism demonstrates to me once more your amazing insight; and your analysis of the effect of the book puts into words precisely and suggestively the dumb thoughts of every reader--and my own.

Such is indeed the effect of the book; the effect which you can name and others can only feel. I admit I stood for a great triumph and I have only succeeded in giving myself utterly away. Nobody'll see it, but you have detected me falling back into my lump of clay I had been lugging up from the bottom of the pit, with the idea of breathing big life into it. And all I have done was to let it fall with a silly crash.

For what is fundamentally wrong with the book--the cause and the effect--is want of power. I do not mean the 'power' of reviewers' jargon. I mean the want of illuminating imagination. I wanted to obtain a sort of lurid light out (of) the very events. You know what I have done--alas! I haven't been strong enough to breathe the right sort of life into my clay--the revealing life.

I've been satanically ambitious, but there's nothing of a devil in me, worse luck. The Outcast is a heap of sand, the Nigger a splash of water, Jim a lump of clay. A stone, I suppose will be my next gift to the impatient mankind--before I get drowned in mud to which even my supreme struggles won't give a simulacrum of life. Poor mankind! Drop a tear for it--but look how infinitely more pathetic I am! This pathos is a kind of triumph no criticism can touch. Like the philosopher who crowed at the Universe I shall know when I am utterly squashed. This time I am only very bruised, very sore, very humiliated.

This is the effect of the book upon me; the intimate and personal effect. Humiliation. Not extinction. Not yet. All of you stand by me so nobly that I must still exist. There is You, always, and never dismayed I had an amazing note from Lucas. Amazing! This morning a letter came from Henry James. Ah! You rub in the balm till every sore smarts--therefore I exist. The time will come when you shall get tired of tending true and most well-intentioned sham--and then the end'll come too.

But keep up! keep up! Let me exhort you earnestly to keep up! as long as you can.

I send you the H J. letter. A draught from the Fountain of Eternal Youth. Wouldn't you think a boy had written it? Such enthusiasm! Wonderful old man, with his record of wonderful work! It is, I believe, seriously intended (the latter) as confidential. And to you alone I show it--keep his secret for us both. No more now. I've read Petersburg tales** Phew! That is something! That is many things and the only thing it is written! It is. That work is genuine, undeniable, constructed and inhabited. It hath foundation and life. I hope the writer will deign to recognize my most fraternal welcome!
Yours ever
J. C.

PS Pray send the James autograph back--registered. Our great love to you three. We must meet soon.

*Lord Jim
**Petersburg Tales, by Olive Garnett (Heinemann, 1900.)
-from Letters from Joseph Conrad 1895-1924 edited with introduction and notes by Edward Garnett (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill) p.171-73.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

a cairn over a dead hero

Joseph Conrad to John Galsworthy

Pent Farm
Friday [ab. 20th July 1900]

Dearest Jack,
We are off in an hour--at last, and shall be back on the 16 or 17 Aug. to give their holidays to various children.

I've written to Blackwood mainly for the purpose of insinuating amongst other matters that a quick decision as to your story would be welcome. He has your address, but hurry of any sort is not in the tradition of the "House."

Meldrum professes great admiration for the M. of D.* It is evident to me he has been struck plumb-centre, and I am glad to find him discriminative. This does not settle the question of publication, but his opinion has a certain weight with Mr. B'wood.

The end of L. J.** has been pulled off with a steady drag of 21 hours. I sent my wife and child out of the house (to London) and sat down at 9 a. m. with a desperate resolve to be done with it. Now and then I took a walk round the house, out at one door in at the other. Ten-minute meals. A great hush. Cigarette ends growing into a mound similar to a cairn over a dead hero. Moon rose over the barn, looked in at the window and climbed out of sight. Dawn broke, brightened. I put the lamp out and went on, with the morning breeze blowing the sheets of MS. all over the room. Sun rose. I wrote the last word and went into the dining-room. Six o'clock I shared a piece of cold chicken with Escamillo*** (who was very miserable and in want of sympathy, having missed the child dreadfully all day). Felt very well, only sleepy: had a bath at seven and at 1:30 was on my way to London.

Same day we journeyed to Slough and saw the children. They are improved, very much liked, very happy. That's a success. From there we rushed straight on to the poor Hopes, where we slept two nights. Yesterday morning check from B'wood arrived and to-day we are off to join the disconsolate and much enduring Hueffer. Address: 4 rue Anglaise, Bruges.

I am still well. Jessie too. Notwithstanding the heat. Borys in great form but exceedingly naughty except when actually travelling, when he is simply angelic.

That is all that will go on this piece of paper.
Our love.

*John Galsworthy's A Man of Devon. [Published by Blackwood in 1901 using Galsworthy's pseudonym John Sinjohn]
**Lord Jim. The writing of the novel had been finished on the 16th.
***His dog.

-from Joseph Conrad: Life and Letters edited by G. Jean-Aubry (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, Page, 1927) p. 295-96.

Friday, June 13, 2008

let this be written

Joseph Conrad to Edward Garnett

Good Friday in sorrow and tribulation

Dearest Garnett,

hat do you think of me? Think I love you though I am a dumb dog or no better than a whining dog. There's not a spark left in me. I am overwhelmed and utterly flattened. Hueffers are gone-- yesterday. So is McClure who came for the night. A decent little chap I say if I got to die for it!

Is trying to ram the Rescue into the Atlantic Monthly but the R is not finished yet--not yet--not yet.

"I'll be your banner" says little McClure--this is better than a kick on the shin bone I guess; but the spirit suffers.

Give our love to your restored household. Restored to you--I mean. H. said you reproached him for his fleeting sojourn here. It is not conclusive evidence but if so learn that our friends cannot save us from the effects of our own folly.

Are you angry with me?

If so learn that I am so hardened by adversity that your anger glides off me as a dart glances off a turtle's back, and I still continue to radiate affection on you--my affection which is not so offensive as Wells' Martian's Heat-ray--but nearly as warm.

It won't set the Thames on fire tho'. Nothing of mine will. I think of you with gentle melancholy as of one who has put his money on the wrong horse. I am literally lame. Gout. Brought on by--by--by agitation, exasperation, botheration you know; those things you laugh at and bite your thumbs at--O' Lord! And I write! I write! I write! Certainly. Write quick. Not quick enough to make up for the frightful leeway. But I write.

And a propos of writing. Have you seen pt. III of H of D?* My dear fellow I daren't send you my MS. I feel it would worry you. I feel my existence alone worries you enough. This is not conceit; quite the contrary.

But drop me word of pt. III. Fact is I am not worthy to take up your thought. The more I write the less substance do I see in my work. The scales are falling off my eyes. It is tolerably awful. And I face it, I face it but the fright is growing on me. My fortitude is shaken by the view of the monster. It does not move; its eyes are baleful; it is as still as death itself--and it will devour me. Its stare has eaten into my soul already deep, deep. I am alone with it in a chasm with perpendicular sides of black basalt. Never were sides so perpendicular and smooth, and high. Above, your anxious head against a bit of sky peers down--in vain--in vain. There's no rope long enough for that rescue.

Why didn't you come? I expected you and fate has sent Hueffer. Let this be written on my tombstone.
Ever yours

*Heart of Darkness, Black wood's Magazine, February, March and April, 1899.

-from Letters from Joseph Conrad 1895-1924 edited with introduction and notes by Edward Garnett (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill) p.152-54.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

homme du monde

Joseph Conrad to John Galsworthy

Pent Farm
Sunday evening [Feb. 11, 1899].

Dearest Jack,
Yes, it is good criticism. Only I think that to say Henry James does not write from the heart is maybe hasty. He is cosmopolitan, civilized, very much homme du monde and the acquired (educated if you like) side of his temperament,--that is,--restraints, the instinctive, the nurtured, fostered, cherished side is always presented to the reader first. To me even the R. T.* seems to flow from the heart because and only because the work, approaching so near perfection, yet does not strike cold. Technical perfection, unless there is some real glow to illumine and warm it from within, must necessarily be cold. I argue that in H. J. there is such a glow and not a dim one either, but to us used, absolutely accustomed, to unartistic expression of fine, headlong, honest (or dishonest) sentiments the art of H. J. does appear heartless. The outlines are so clear, the figures so finished, chiselled, carved and brought out that we exclaim,--we, used to the shades of the contemporary fiction, to the more or less malformed shades,--we exclaim,--stone! Not at all. I say flesh and blood,--very perfectly presented,--perhaps with too much perfection of method.

The volume of short stories entitled, I think, The Lesson of the Master contains a tale called "The Pupil," if I remember rightly, where the underlying feeling of the man,--his really wide sympathy,--is seen nearer the surface. Of course he does not deal in primitive emotions. I maintain he is the most civilized of modern writers. He is also an idealizer. His heart shows itself in the delicacy of his handling. Things like "The Middle Years" and "The Altar of the Dead" in the vol. entitled Terminations would illustrated my meaning. Moreover, your cousin admits the element of pathos. Mere technique won't give the elements of pathos. I admit he is not forcible,--or let us say, the only forcible thing in his work is his technique. Now a literary intelligence would be naturally struck by the wonderful technique, and that is so wonderful in its way that it dominates the bare expression. The more so that the expression is only of delicate shades. He is never in deep gloom or in violent sunshine. But he feels deeply and vividly every delicate shade. We cannot ask for more. Not everyone is a Turgeniev. Moreover Turgeniev is not civilized. (therein much of his charm for us) in the sense H. J. is civilized. Satis. Please convey my defence of the Master with my compliments. My kindest and grateful regards to Mrs Sauter and love to the boy. The finishing of "H. of D"** took a lot out of me. I haven't been able to do much since.

**The Heart of Darkness had just been completed.

-from Joseph Conrad: Life and Letters edited by G. Jean-Aubry (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, Page, 1927) p. 270-71.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

confined in books

Joseph Conrad to H. G. Wells

Pent Farm
23rd Dec. 1898.

My Dear Wells,
We called yesterday by an act of inspiration, so to speak, and with the neglect of common civilities did so at 2:45 p.m., for which we were very properly punished by not finding you at home. We would have waited but we'd left the baby in the gutter (there was a fly under him tho') and the days are too short to allow of camping in a friend's drawing room. So we went despondently. And by the by, there was an Invisible Man (apparently of a jocose disposition) on your doorstep, because when I rang (modestly), an invisible finger kept the button down (or in, rather) and the bell jingling continuously to my extreme confusion (and the evident surprise of your girl). I wish you would keep your creations in some kind of order, confined in books or locked up in the cells of your brain, to be let out at stated times (frequently, frequently of course!) instead of letting them wander about the premises, startling visitors who mean you no harm--anyhow my nerves can't stand that kind of thing--and now I shan't come near you till next year. There!

Coming back we found your card. We haven't cards. We ain't civilized enough--not yet. But the wishes for the health, happiness and peace of you both I am writing down here in mine and my wife's name are formulated with primitive sincerity, and the only conventional thing about them is the time of their voicing prescribed by the superstitions of men. Thus are we the slaves of a gang of fools unable to read your work aright and unwilling to buy a single entire edition of any of mine. Verily they deserve to have the Heat-Ray turned upon them*--but I suppose it would be unseasonable just now. Conventions stand in the way of most meritorious undertakings.

Has Henley come down here after all? When you favour me with a missive let me know how he is, if you know.

*Allusion to The War of the Worlds.

-from Joseph Conrad: Life and Letters edited by G. Jean-Aubry (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, Page, 1927) p. 263.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

swear words issue

Joseph Conrad to H. G. Wells

Friday [end of Nov.] '98.
Pent Farm

My Dear Wells,
I did not nourish robust hopes of seeing you on Sat., the weather was infamous. I have been laid up also, with a kind of gout entertainment which lasted 3 days and of course I can only hobble now it is over. As to struggling over darkling hills, I thought I made it plain enough there are wheels--not of chance,* but of certitude. Of course our carcasses, for the sake of their inhabitants, require careful handling, but at all events I am telling you that I shall be (on wheels) at Sandling Junction on Sat. at 12:30 to remove Pugh.** Thereafter same wheels could take you back at five or six. Bringing P. to lunch is another matter. As I tell you, one of my propellers is damaged and done up in flannel--an obscene sight--not to speak of the pain and impiety, for swear words issue from my lips at every step I take. I don't think I really could undertake a journey to Sandgate either to-morrow or on Sunday. I go to the station because P. is a stranger and may starve or otherwise perish in the fields like any other beast unless he is taken care of. But I shall not leave the fly, and I intend to hoot like a sick Martian outside the station.*** He is sure to be interested by such a remarkable noise and thus he shall find me.

Re Henley. There is a furnished house in Hythe standing isolated at the Sandgate end of Hythe High Street. A red brick thing, rather large. It would do at a pinch--perhaps.

If you have a copy of the Invisible Man send to me. I lent mine to a god-fearing person who stole it. Thus wags the world. I ain't cadging for a gift--it's a loan I want and I will try my best not to steal.

Really, why shouldn't you both come? I take all the transport arrangements upon myself on this end. They won't fail. At your end you have omnibuses, if you are not too high-toned to use them. And you may be home at six--and that is virtuous enough. Well, well, I don't want to be a nuisance, I throw out a suggestion like the angler his hook--the rest is with fate--and the gullibility of the fish. Let me also mention that with Mrs. Wells to take care of you you can't come to any harm. On the other hand, Mrs. Wells with your support can affront for a few hours our shabby, wretched, rural bohemianism with a fair chance of surviving the adventure. And we will leave it at that.

*Allusion to H. G. Wells's Wheels of Chance.
**Edwin Pugh, author of Tony Drum-a Cockney Boy (Heinemann, 1898).
***Allusion to H. G. Wells's The War of the Worlds, which had just been published in book form.

-from Joseph Conrad: Life and Letters edited by G. Jean-Aubry (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, Page, 1927) p. 256-57.

Monday, June 9, 2008

a deficiency of courage

Joseph Conrad to H. G. Wells

6th Sept. 1898.
The Cearne.*

My Dear Sir,
I am profoundly touched by your letter--and [E. V.] Lucas whom I expect to see this evening shall have my warmest thanks for his share in procuring me this unexpected piece of real good fortune.

A few days ago I heard with great concern the news of your illness. It saddened me the more because for the last two years (since your review of the Outcast in Saturday Review compelled me to think seriously of many things till then unseen) I have lived on terms of close intimacy with you, referring to you many a page of my work, scrutinizing many sentences by the light of your criticism. Your are responsible for many sheets torn up and also for those that remained untorn and presently meeting your eye have given me the reward of your generous appreciation.

It has been treasured, and if two letters I wrote to you in that time were never sent it is only a further proof of our intimacy. I had obtained so much from you that it was unnecessary to presume further. And, indeed, there was perhaps a deficiency of courage. I am no more valorous than the rest of us. We all like in our audacities to feel something solid at our backs. Such a feeling is unknown to me. This confession is induced by honesty, which you will take for what it is worth. To be dishonest is a dangerous luxury for most of us, I fancy, and I am sure it is so for me.

As to the flaws of "Youth"** their existence is indisputable. I felt what you say myself--in a way. The feeling however which induced me to write that story was genuine (for once) and so strong that it poked its way through the narrative (which it certainly defaces) in a good many places. I tell you this in the way of explanation simply. Otherwise the thing is unjustifiable.

Looking at your letter, so dim in the sunlight, I cannot help thinking what a lucky day it was for me when in 1880 I shipped in the Palestine. And it was a gloomy, rainy day too. Well. Peace to its ashes. Only four years ago poor old Beard*** ran after me outside the South West India Dock gates. He was a little greyer, a little more twisted and gnarled. He was very grimy and had a chocolate coloured muffler round his throat. He told me he had piloted a foreigner down the North Sea. His eyes were perfectly angelic. This is not a sentimental exaggeration but an honest attempt to convey the effect. He was so bent that he was always looking upwards, so to speak. In the poky bar of a little pub he told me "Since my wife died I can't rest." He had not been able to snatch her in his arms that time. He said he was glad I "got on" and did not allude to our voyage towards Bangkok. I should think he can rest where he is now.

Yes. The story should have been ended where you say or perhaps at the next paragraph describing the men sleeping in the boats. I am afraid I am wearying you not a little, but it has been such a pleasure to talk to you a bit that I gave rein to my ferocious selfishness for once. I would like to hear how your recovery progresses and when you are going back to work. May it be soon! I--for one--cannot have enough of your work. You have done me good. You have been doing me good every day for many months past. Some day you will perhaps deny me--cast me out--but it will be too late. I shall be always yours.

*Joseph Conrad was then at Edward Garnett's.
**"Youth" had just been published in Blackwood's Magazine.
***The Late captain of the Palestine.
-from Joseph Conrad: Life and Letters edited by G. Jean-Aubry (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, Page, 1927) p. 248-49.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

inconceivable tenuity

Joseph Conrad to Edward Garnett

29th Sept 1898

I got back today. Nothing decisive happened in Glasgow, my impression however is that a command will come out of it sooner or later--most likely later, when the pressing need is past and I had found my way on shore. I do not regret having gone. Mclntyre is a scientific swell who talks art, knows artists of all kinds--looks after their throats, you know. He has given himself a lot of trouble in my interest and means to hammer away at it till I do get something.

All day with the ship-owners and in the evening dinner, phonograph, X rays, talk about the secret of the Universe and the nonexistence of, so called, matter. The secret of the universe is in the existence of horizontal waves whose varied vibrations are at the bottom of all states of consciousness. If the waves were vertical the universe would be different. This is a truism. But, don't you see, there is nothing in the world to prevent the simultaneous existence of vertical waves, of waves at any angles; in fact there are mathematical reasons for believing that such waves do exist. Therefore it follows that two universes may exist in the same place and in the same time--and not only two universes but an infinity of different universes--if by universe we mean a set of states of consciousness. And, note, all (the universes) composed of the same matter, matter, all matter being only that thing of inconceivable tenuity through which the various vibrations of waves (electricity, heat, sound, light etc.) are propagated, thus giving birth to our sensations--then emotions--then thought. Is that so?

These things I said to the Dr while Neil Munro stood in front of a Rontgen machine and on the screen behind we contemplated his backbone and his ribs. The rest of that promising youth was too diaphanous to be visible. It was so--said the Doctor--and there is no space, time, matter, mind as vulgarly understood, there is only the eternal something that waves and an eternal force that causes the waves--it's not much--and by the virtue of these two eternities exists that Corot and that Whistler in the dining room upstairs (we were in a kind of cellar) and Munro's here writings and your Nigger* and Graham's politics and Paderewski's playing (in the phonograph) and what more do you want?

What we wanted (apparently) was more whisky. We got it. Mrs Mclntyre went to bed. At one o'clock Munro and I went out into the street. We talked. I had read up the Lost Pibroch** which I do think wonderful in a way We foregathered very much indeed and I believe Munro didn't get home till five in the morning. He turned up next day and burned incense before me, and saw me into the train after a dinner at the Art Club (not to speak of the whisky).

This is the true and faithful report of our gestes in Glesga. I returned to the bosom of my family at 1 pm today and wrote to Hueffer at once to clinch the matter (there's no matter) of Pent Farm (which is only a vain and delusive appearance). I hope I may get it. If I don't I shall vanish into space (there's no space) and the vibrations that make up me, shall go to the making of some other fool.

I feel less hopeless about things and particularly about the damned thing called the Rescue. Tomorrow I write but this evening I feel nervy. When I feel sure of Pent Farm I shall be comparatively happy.

If we get fixed there you must come and stay with us a good long time when your wife is in France. This is what I am looking forward to now. Look ever forward, ever forward. What a sell! For me to look forward is folly--but then it's good. Don't you throw cold water on my vision. There's no reason why you should. We shall work. By heavens and earth we shall work!

We three send our love to you three.
Ever yours
Joseph Conrad

*He refers to his own book The Nigger of the Narcissus .
**The Lost Pibroch and other Sheiling Stories by Neil Munro ( 1896), this author's first collection.
-from Letters from Joseph Conrad 1895-1924 edited with introduction and notes by Edward Garnett (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill) p.142-44.

Friday, June 6, 2008

vibrant de ligne

Joseph Conrad to R. B. Cunninghame Graham

Saturday 30th July, '98.

This morning I had the Aurora* from Smithers, No. 2 of the 500 copies.

C'est tout simplement, magnifique, yet I do not exactly perceive what on earth they have been making a fuss about.

I am afraid Henley is a horrible bourgeois. Who drew the frontispiece? I can't imagine anybody whose name I know. Is it an English drawing? It does not look like it. I notice variations in the text as I've read it in the typewritten copy. This seems the most finished piece of work you've ever done. Il y a une note, une resonnance la-dedans, vibrant de ligne en ligne. C'est tres fort. No one will see it.

I've read the little book three times, this morning,--and behold! I am disgusted with what I write. No matter.

Blackwood's Magazine for this month has an appreciation of F. M. Kelly's edition of Don Quixote. Very fair. Nothing striking, but distinct recognition.

I do like the attitude of the Maga [Blackwood's Magazine] on the Spanish business.

Viva l'Espana! Anyhow.

Do you believe in a speedy peace? Write me all you know, I would like to see the thing over and done with, though, mind, I think that Spain is perfectly invulnerable now and may keep the Yanks capering around for an indefinite time.

When do you start for Morocco?

I've been seedy,--in my head,--in my idiotic cabeza. I feel lazy (always did) and sleepy. When I've written a page, I feel it ought to be sold to the ten-cent paper man in New York. This is all it's good for.

C'est Zolaesque ce que je viens d'ecrire, hein? But look at the circumlocution. If you want to know how I exactly feel towards my work put the above into plain Zola language and it will give you a faint idea then.

Assez. Toujours le votre.
Mes devoirs a Madame votre femme.

*Aurora la Cujini, a Realistic Sketch in Seville by R. B. Cunninghame Graham (London: Leonard Smithers, 1898).

-from Joseph Conrad: Life and Letters edited by G. Jean-Aubry (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, Page, 1927) p. 241-42.