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.

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