Lafcadio Hearn

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Patrick Lafcadio Hearn
Koizumi Yakumo (小泉八雲)
Lafcadio Hearn portrait.jpg
Lafcadio Hearn in 1889
Born (1850-06-27)June 27, 1850
Lefkada, United States of the Ionian Islands
Died 26 September 1904(1904-09-26) (aged 54)
Tokyo, Japan
Pen name Koizumi Yakumo
Language English
Nationality Irish, Greek
Alma mater Ushaw College
Spouse(s) Alethea ("Mattie") Foley
Koizumi Setsu

Patrick Lafcadio Hearn (/hɜrn/; 27 June 1850 – 26 September 1904), known also by the Japanese name Koizumi Yakumo (小泉 八雲?), was an international writer, known best for his books about Japan, especially his collections of Japanese legends and ghost stories, such as Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things. In the United States, Hearn is also known for his writings about the city of New Orleans based on his ten-year stay in that city.


Early life[edit]

Hearn was born in and named for the island of Lefkada, one of the Greek Ionian Islands, on June 27, 1850.[1] He was the son of Surgeon-Major Charles Bush Hearn (of County Offaly, Ireland) and Rosa Antoniou Kassimati, a Greek woman of noble Kytheran lineage through her father, Anthony Kassimatis. His father was stationed in Lefkada during the British occupation of the islands, where he was the highest-ranking surgeon in his regiment. Lafcadio was baptized Patricios Lefcadios Hearn (Πατρίκιος Λευκάδιος Χερν) in the Greek Orthodox Church, but he seems to have been called "Patrick Lefcadio Tessima Charles Hearn" in English.[2] Hearn's parents were married in a Greek Orthodox ceremony on November 25, 1849, several months after his mother had given birth to the couple's first child and Hearn’s older brother, George Robert Hearn, on July 24, 1849. George Hearn died on August 17, 1850, two months after Lafcadio's birth.[3]

A complex series of conflicts and events led to Lafcadio Hearn being moved from Greece to Ireland, where he was abandoned first by his mother (leaving him in the care of her husband’s aunt), then his father. In 1850 Hearn’s father was promoted to Staff Surgeon Second Class and was reassigned from Lefcada to the British West Indies. Since his family did not approve of the marriage, and worried that his relationship might harm his career prospects, Charles Hearn did not inform his superiors of his son or pregnant wife and left his family behind. In 1852, Charles Hearn arranged to send his son and wife to live with his family in Dublin, Ireland, where they received a cool reception. Charles Hearn’s mother, Elizabeth Holmes Hearn, had difficulty accepting Rosa Hearn’s Catholicism and lack of education (she was illiterate and spoke no English). Rosa found it difficult to adapt to a foreign culture and the Protestantism of her husband's family, and was eventually taken under the wing of Elizabeth’s sister, Sara Holmes Brenane, a widow who had converted to Catholicism.

Despite Sarah Brenane’s efforts, Rosa suffered from homesickness. When her husband returned to Ireland on medical leave in 1853, it became clear that the couple had become estranged. Charles Hearn was assigned to the Crimean Peninsula, again leaving his pregnant wife and child in Ireland. When he came back in 1856, severely wounded and traumatized, Rosa had returned to her home island of Cerigo in Greece, where she gave birth to their third son, Daniel James Hearn. Lafcadio Hearn had been left in the care of Sarah Brenane. Charles Hearn petitioned to have marriage with Rosa annulled, on the basis of her lack of signature on the marriage contract, which made it invalid under English law. After being informed of the annulment, Rosa almost immediately married Giovanni Cavallini, a Greek citizen of Italian ancestry who was later appointed by the British as governor of Cerigotto. Cavillini required as a condition of the marriage that Rosa give up custody of both Lafcadio and James. As a result, James was sent to his father in Dublin and Lafcadio was left in the care of Sarah Brenane (Brenane had disinherited Charles Hearn because of the annulment), who subsequently moved to Wales.[1]:pp. 8–10 Neither Lafcadio nor James saw their mother again, who had four children with her second husband. Rosa was eventually committed to the National Mental Asylum on Corfu, where she died in 1882.

Charles Hearn married his childhood sweetheart, Alicia Goslin, in July 1857, and left with his new wife for a posting in Secunderabad, India, where they had three daughters prior to Alicia’s death in 1861. Lafcadio never saw his father again: Charles Hearn died of malaria in the Gulf of Suez in 1866.[3]:pp. 13–17

Other members of his family also had artistic interests. His father's brother Richard was at one time a well-known member of the Barbizon set of artists, although he did not become well known as a painter, possibly due to a lack of personal ambition. Young Hearn had a rather casual education, but in 1865 was attending the Roman Catholic Ushaw College, Durham. He was injured in a playground accident during his teens, suffering the loss of vision in his left eye.


The religious faith in which he was educated was soon lost, and at 19 he was sent to live in the United States, where he settled in Cincinnati, Ohio. For a time, he was impoverished.[4] He eventually befriended the English printer and communalist Henry Watkin. With Watkin's help, Hearn did low-grade journalism work.

By the strength of his talent as a writer, Hearn soon obtained a job as a reporter for the Cincinnati Daily Enquirer, working for the newspaper from 1872 to 1875. Writing with creative freedom in one of Cincinnati's largest circulating newspapers, he became known for his lurid accounts of local murders, developing a reputation as the paper's premier sensational journalist, as well as the author of sensitive accounts of some of the disadvantaged people of Cincinnati. The Library of America selected one of these murder accounts, "Gibbeted," for inclusion in its two-century retrospective of American True Crime, published in 2008.

Hearn continued to occupy himself with journalism and with observation and reading, and meanwhile his erratic, romantic, and rather morbid idiosyncrasies developed. While in Cincinnati, he married[citation needed] Alethea ("Mattie") Foley, a black American woman, an illegal act at the time. When the scandal was discovered and publicized, he was dismissed from the Enquirer and went to work for the rival newspaper The Cincinnati Commercial.[citation needed] Hearn divorced in 1877.

In 1874 Hearn and the young Henry Farny, later a renowned painter of the American West, wrote, illustrated, and published a weekly journal of art, literature and satire they titled Ye Giglampz that was published for nine issues. (The Cincinnati Public Library reprinted a facsimile of all nine issues in 1983).

New Orleans[edit]

Portrait of Lafcadio Hearn.jpg

During the autumn of 1877, Hearn left Cincinnati for New Orleans, Louisiana, where he initially wrote dispatches on his discoveries in the "Gateway to the Tropics" for the Cincinnati Commercial.

He lived in New Orleans for nearly a decade, writing first for the newspaper Daily City Item and later for the Times Democrat. The vast number of his writings about New Orleans and its environs, many of which have not been collected, include the city's Creole population and distinctive cuisine, the French Opera, and Louisiana Voodoo. His writings for national publications, such as Harper's Weekly and Scribner's Magazine, helped create the popular reputation of New Orleans as a place with a distinct culture more akin to that of Europe and the Caribbean than to the rest of North America. His best-known Louisiana works are Gumbo Z'herbes: A Dictionary of Creole Proverbs (date unavailable) circa 1885, Little Dictionary of Creole Proverbs in Six Dialects (1885); La Cuisine Créole (1885), a collection of culinary recipes from leading chefs and noted Creole housewives who helped make New Orleans famous for its cuisine; and Chita: A Memory of Last Island, a novella based on the hurricane of 1856 first published in Harper's Monthly in 1888. He also published in Harper's Weekly the first known written article (1883) about Filipinos in the United States, the Manilamen or Tagalags, one of whose villages he had visited at Saint Malo, southeast of Lake Borgne in Saint Bernard Parish, Louisiana.

Hearn's former home on Cleveland Avenue in New Orleans is preserved as a registered historic place.

Hearn was little known then, and even now he is little known for his writing about New Orleans, except by local cultural devotees. However, more books have been written about him than any former resident of New Orleans except Louis Armstrong.[5]

Hearn's writings for the New Orleans newspapers included impressionistic descriptions of places and characters and many stern, vigorous editorials denouncing political corruption, street crime, violence, intolerance, and the failures of public health and hygiene officials. Despite the fact that he is credited with "inventing" New Orleans as an exotic and mysterious place, his obituaries of the vodou leaders Marie Laveau and Doctor John Montenet are matter-of-fact and debunking. A selection of Hearn's writings was collected in S. Fredrick Starr's book Inventing New Orleans: Writings of Lafcadio Hearn, published by the University Press of Mississippi.[6]

Harper's sent Hearn to the West Indies as a correspondent in 1887. He spent two years in Martinique and produced two books: Two Years in the French West Indies and Youma, The Story of a West-Indian Slave, both in 1890.

Later life in Japan[edit]

Lafcadio Hearn, shown with Koizumi Setsu. Note the way he is facing—he always preferred to be photographed this way so that his left eye could not be seen.

In 1890, Hearn went to Japan with a commission as a newspaper correspondent, which was quickly terminated. It was in Japan, however, that he found a home and his greatest inspiration. Through the goodwill of Basil Hall Chamberlain, Hearn gained a teaching position during the summer of 1890 at the Shimane Prefectural Common Middle School and Normal School in Matsue, a town in western Japan on the coast of the Sea of Japan. The Lafcadio Hearn Memorial Museum and his old residence are still two of Matsue's most popular tourist attractions. During his fifteen-month stay in Matsue, Hearn married Koizumi Setsu, the daughter of a local samurai family, with whom he had four children.[7] He became a naturalized Japanese, assuming the name Koizumi Yakumo, in 1896 after accepting a teaching position in Tokyo.

During late 1891, Hearn obtained another teaching position in Kumamoto, Kyūshū, at the Fifth Higher Middle School, where he spent the next three years and completed his book Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan (1894). In October 1894, he secured a journalism job with the English-language newspaper Kobe Chronicle, and in 1896, with some assistance from Chamberlain, he began teaching English literature at Tokyo Imperial University, a job he had until 1903. In 1904, he was a professor at Waseda University. On 26 September 1904, he died of heart failure at the age of 54 years. His grave is at the Zōshigaya Cemetery in Toshima, Tokyo.

In the late 19th century, Japan was still largely unknown and exotic to Westerners. However, with the introduction of Japanese aesthetics, particularly at the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1900, Japanese styles became fashionable in Western countries. Consequently, Hearn became known to the world by his writings concerning Japan. In later years, some critics would accuse Hearn of exoticizing Japan, but because he offered the West some of its first descriptions of pre-industrial and Meiji Era Japan, his work has historical value.[8][9][10]


Lafcadio's grave, in Zōshigaya Cemetery.

Admirers of Hearn's work have included Ben Hecht,[11] John Erskine, and Malcolm Cowley.[12]

The Japanese director Masaki Kobayashi adapted four Hearn tales into his 1965 film, Kwaidan. Some of his stories have been adapted by Ping Chong into his puppet theatre, including the 1999 Kwaidan and the 2002 OBON: Tales of Moonlight and Rain.

Hearn's life and works were celebrated in The Dream of a Summer Day, a play that toured Ireland during April and May 2005, which was staged by the Storytellers Theatre Company and directed by Liam Halligan. It is a detailed dramatization of Hearn's life, with four of his ghost stories included.

Yone Noguchi is quoted as saying about Hearn, "His Greek temperament and French culture became frost-bitten as a flower in the North."[13]

There is also a cultural center named for Hearn at the University of Durham.

Hearn was a major translator of the short stories of Guy de Maupassant.[14]

In Ian Fleming’s 1964 novel You Only Live Twice, James Bond retorts to his nemesis Blofeld's comment of "Have you ever heard the Japanese expression kirisute gomen?" with "Spare me the Lafcadio Hearn, Blofeld."


Books written by Hearn on Japanese subjects

  • (1894). Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan,
  • (1895). Out of the East: Reveries and Studies in New Japan,
  • (1896). Kokoro: Hints and Echoes of Japanese Inner Life,
  • (1897). Gleanings in Buddha-Fields: Studies of Hand and Soul in the Far East,
  • (1897). The Boy who Drew Cats, (Houghton Mifflin, Boston).
  • (1898). Exotics and Retrospectives,
  • (1898). Japanese Fairy Tales, (and sequels).
  • (1899). In Ghostly Japan,
  • (1900). Shadowings,
  • (1900). Japanese Lyrics,
  • (1901). A Japanese Miscellany,
  • (1902). Kottō: Being Japanese Curios, with Sundry Cobwebs,
  • (1903). Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things (Later made into the movie Kwaidan by Masaki Kobayashi)
  • (1904). Japan: An Attempt at Interpretation,
  • (1905). The Romance of the Milky Way and other studies and stories,

Posthumous Anthologies

  • (1918). Karma,
  • (1966). Japan's Religions: Shinto and Buddhism,
  • (1984). Writings from Japan: An anthology, (Penguin Books)
  • (2007). Lafcadio Hearn's Japan: An Anthology of His Writings on the Country and Its People, (Tuttle)


  • (1882). One of Cleopatra's Nights and Other Fantastic Romances (translation of stories by Théophile Gautier), Richard Worthington.
  • (1911). Leaves from the Diary of an Impressionist, Houghton Mifflin Company.
  • (1915). Interpretations of Literature, Dodd, Mead and Company.
  • (1921). On Reading in Relation to Literature, The Atlantic Monthly Press, Inc.
  • (1928). Lectures on Shakespeare, Hokuseido Press.
  • (1968). Books and Habits; from the Lectures of Lafcadio Hearn, Books for Libraries Press.
  • (2002). Lafcadio Hearn's America: Ethnographic Sketches and Editorials, University Press of Kentucky.
  • (2009). American Writings, Library of America.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Bisland, Elizabeth (1906). The life and letters of Lafcadio Hearn 1. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin. p. 3. 
  2. ^ According to one of his biographers, a family Bible records 'Patricio Lafcadio Tessima Carlos Hearn, August 1850.' Kennard, Nina H. (1912). Lafcadio Hearn. New York: D. Appleton and Co. 
  3. ^ a b Cott, Jonathan (1990). Wandering Ghost: The Odyssey of Lafcadio Hearn. New York: Knopf. p. 11. 
  4. ^ Grace, Kevin (Jan 4, 2012). Legendary Locals of Cincinnati. Arcadia Publishing. p. 25. Retrieved 2013-05-07. 
  5. ^ "A chronicle of Creole cuisine", Chronicle (Houston) .
  6. ^ Starr, S. Frederick (2001), Inventing New Orleans: Writings of Lafcadio Hearn, University Press of Mississippi, ISBN 1-57806-353-1
  7. ^ Kazuo, Iwao, Kiyoshi, and Suzuko: Katharine Chubbuck, ‘Hearn, (Patricio) Lafcadio Carlos (1850–1904)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
  8. ^ Komakichi, Nohara, The True Face of Japan, (1936, 1st ed.)
  9. ^ Guo, Nanyang (2000), Interpreting Japan's interpreters: the problem of Lafcadio Hearn, New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies 3 (1), 106-118
  10. ^ Askew, Rie (2009), The Critical Reception of Lafcadio Hearn outside Japan, New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies 11 (2), 44-71
  11. ^ MacAdams, William (1995), Ben Hecht, Barricade, p. 34, ISBN 1-56980-028-6 .
  12. ^ Cowley, Malcolm (1949), "Introduction", in Goodman, Henry, The Selected Writings of Lafcadio Hearn, Citadel .
  13. ^ Noguchi, Yone (1910), Lafcadio Hearn in Japan, New York: Mitchell Kennerley.
  14. ^ "Bibliography", Lafcadio Hearn, Trussel .

Further reading[edit]

  • Amenomori, Nobushige (1905). "Lafcadio Hearn, the Man," The Atlantic Monthly, October 1905.
  • Bisland, Elizabeth (1906). The Life and Letters of Lafcadio Hearn, Vol. II, New York: Houghton, Mifflin & Company.
  • Bronner, Milton, ed. (1907), Letters from the Raven: Being the Correspondence of Lafcadio Hearn with Henry Watkin .
  • Cott, Jonathan (1992), Wandering Ghost: The Odyssey of Lafcadio Hearn, Kodansha International .
  • Dawson, Carl (1992). Lafcadio Hearn and the Vision of Japan, Johns Hopkins University Press.
  • Gould, George M. (1908), Concerning Lafcadio Hearn, George W. Jacobs & Company .
  • Hearn, Lafcadio (2001), Starr, S Frederick, ed., Inventing New Orleans: Writings of Lafcadio Hearn, University Press of Mississippi .
  • ——— (2009), "Some Chinese Ghosts, Chita, Two Years in the French West Indies, Youma and Selected Journalism and Letters", in Benfey, Christopher, American Writings, Library of America .
  • Kennard, Nina H (1912), Lafcadio Hearn, New York: D. Appleton & Co .
  • Kunst, Arthur E. (1969). Lafcadio Hearn, Twayne Publishers.
  • Langton, D. H. (1912). "Lafcadio Hearn: Journalist and Writer on Japan," The Manchester Quarterly, Vol. XXXI.
  • Lurie, David (2005), "Orientomology: The Insect Literature of Lafcadio Hearn (1850–1904)", in Pflugfelder, Gregory M; Walker, Brett L, JAPANimals: History and Culture in Japan's Animal Life, University of Michigan Press .
  • Mais, S. P. B. (1920). "Lafcadio Hearn." In Books and their Writers, Grant Richards, Ltd.
  • McWilliams, Vera (1946). Lafcadio Hearn, Houghton Mifflin Company.
  • Miner, Earl Roy (1958). The Japanese Tradition in British and American Literature, Princeton University Press.
  • Monaham, Michael (1922). "Lafcadio Hearn," An Attic Dreamer, Mitchell Kennerley.
  • More, Paul Elmer (1905). "Lafcadio Hearn." In Shelburne Essays, Second Series, G. P. Putnam's Sons.
  • Narita, Tatsushi (1911), TS Eliot and his Youth as 'A Literary Columbus', Nagoya: Kougaku Shuppan .
  • Noguchi, Yone (1905). "Lafcadio Hearn, A Dreamer," National Magazine, Vol. XXII, No. 1.
  • Noguchi, Yone (1910), Lafcadio Hearn in Japan, New York: Mitchell Kennerley .
  • Pulvers, Roger (January 19, 2000), "Lafcadio Hearn: Interpreter of Ttwo Disparate Worlds", Japan Times (Trussel) .
  • Rexroth, Kenneth (1977), The Buddhist Writings of Lafcadio Hearn .
  • Rothman, Adam (2008), "Lafcadio Hearn in New Orleans and the Caribbean", Atlantic Studies 5 (2) ; republished in New Orleans in the Atlantic World: Between Land and Sea, Routledge, 2013 .
  • Setsu, Koizumi (1918). Reminiscences of Lafcadio Hearn, Houghton Mifflin Company.
  • Starrs, Roy (2006), "Lafcadio Hearn as Japanese Nationalist" (PDF), Nichibunken Japan Review: Journal of the International Research Center for Japanese Studies (essay) (JP: Nichibun) (18): 181–213 .
  • Thomas, Edward (1912). Lafcadio Hearn, Houghton Mifflin Company.

External links[edit]