Thursday, July 3, 2008

forced by necessity

Lafcadio Hearn to Ellwood Hendrick

Kobe, Autumn, 1895.

Dear Hendrick, . . . It has often occurred to me to ask whether you think other men feel as I do about some things--you yourself, for example. Work with me is a pain--no pleasure till it is done. It is not voluntary; it is not agreeable. It is forced by necessity. The necessity is a curious one. The mind, in my case, eats itself when unemployed. Reading, you might suggest, would employ it. No: my thoughts wander, and the gnawing goes on just the same. What kind of gnawing? Vexation and anger and imaginings and recollections of unpleasant things said or done. Unless somebody does or says something horribly mean to me, I can't do certain kinds of work,--the tiresome kinds, that compel a great deal of thinking. The exact force of a hurt I can measure at the time of receiving it: "This will be over in six months;' 'This I shall have to fight for two years;' "This will be remembered longer." When I begin to think about the matter afterwards, then I rush to work. I write page after page of vagaries, metaphysical, emotional, romantic,--throw them aside. Then next day, I go to work rewriting them. I rewrite and rewrite them till they begin to define and arrange themselves into a whole,--and the result is an essay; and the editor of the Atlantic writes, "It is a veritable illumination," and no mortal man knows why, or how it was written,--not even I myself,--or what it cost to write it. Pain is therefore to me of exceeding value betimes; and everybody who does me a wrong indirectly does me a right. I wonder if anybody else works on this plan. The benefit of it is that a habit is forming,--a habit of studying and thinking in a way I should otherwise have been too lazy-minded to do. But whenever I begin to forget one burn, new caustic from some unexpected quarter is poured into my brain: then the new pain forces other work. It strikes me as being possibly a peculiar morbid condition. If it is, I trust that some day the power will come to do something really extraordinary--I mean very unique. What is the good of having a morbid sensitive spot, if it cannot be utilized to some purpose worth achieving? . . .

Ever affectionately,
Lafcadio Hearn

-from The Life and Letters of Lafcadio Hearn by Elizabeth Bisland in 2 volumes (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1906) volume 2, p. 271-73.

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