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.

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