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.

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