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.

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