WHO WAS HEARN’S FAVORITE AUTHOR
Who was Lafcadio Hearn’s favorite author? It’s rather hard to say really. Certainly he was a fan of the French romantic and decadent writers such as Théophile Gautier[i] and Pierre Loti[ii] but he was an avid reader of many genres and authors. I can tell you that he was very fond indeed of Rudyard Kipling as evidenced in this letter to Basil Hall Chamberlain, dated February 12, 1892:
I have never read Valera — indeed, until you wrote about him, I had imagined the name to be a French pseudonym for one who wanted to call attention to his stories of Spanish life. (You know he is much read in the French version — at least I often saw notices of his books in French papers; but I thought they were books by a Frenchman.) But, speaking of books, if you have not read Rudyard Kipling at his best, I think you will have a treat in Life’s Handicap, especially. There is a prodigious compressed force in the man’s style that reminds me at times of the style of the Norse writers like Björnson. A great test of a book is, can you read it twice — perhaps not even Maupassant, though so wondrous a story-teller is Maupassant. But you can read the short stories of Life’s Handicap[iii] several times over, always with the same charm. I can also recommend Wee Willie Winkie, The Gatsbys, Soldiers Three, Under the Deodars, Plain Tales from the Hills, The Light that Failed. The Macmillan editions are much fuller and finer than the Indian prints.
As well as in this letter from Kumamoto to Chamberlain on December 12, 1892:
I hope Mason [a friend of Hearn’s who owned the Grand Hotel inYokohama] has preserved for you the pretty lines of Rudyard Kipling about the Daibutsu at Kamakura. I enjoy him — not the poetry of the effort but the prose of it. It is delicious. Alas! I had written my complacent stuff about the Daibutsu long ago — long before. Would that I could atone for it now! But then Kipling is a giant in all things compared to me. Read the Queen’s words on pp 250-1-2 of the “Naulahka.”[iv] I think they will bring tears. Immense force without the least appearance of an attempt or wish to effect. I despair when I read that man’s work.
“Calm as a deep still water,” says an ancient sutra of the Teacher. And there at Kamakura he is even so — deep, still, and luminous as the ether…To lie about the beautiful is to lie about the Infinite Goodness and the heart of life — and there is forgiveness never for this sin.
But I won’t tire you any more now.
Ever must truly,
[i] Pierre Jules Théophile Gautier (August 30, 1811 – October 23, 1872) was a French dramatist, journalist, literary critic, novelist, and poet. He was a passionate defender of Romanticism; however, his own work, although difficult to classify, was frequently referenced by such other literary traditions as Symbolism, Decadence, and Modernism. Such writers as Balzac, Baudelaire, Flaubert, Proust, and Oscar Wilde held him in high esteem.
[ii] Pierre Loti was a pseudonym of Julien Viauld (January 24, 1850 – June 10, 1923), a French naval officer and novelist. In 1885, while serving in Southeast Asia, he visited Japan and subsequently wrote a novel on Japanese manners, Madame Chrysanthéme, which was a fore- runner of Madame Butterfly and Miss Saigon. He was regarded as one of the finest descriptive writers of his day.
[iii] Life's Handicap, Being Stories of Mine Own People was published in 1891. Most of the stories had previously appeared in periodicals.
[iv] [The] Naulakha is the title of a book book Kipling wrote with Wolcott Balestier, his good friend and Mrs. Kipling’s brother, about a precious Indian jewel. Naulakha is also a historic Shingle Style house on Kipling Road in Dummerston, Vermont, a few miles outside Brattleboro. The house was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1993 for its association with the author Rudyard Kipling (1865–1936), who had it built in 1893 and made it his home until 1896. It is in this house that Kipling wrote Captains Courageous, The Jungle Book, The Day's Work, and The Seven Seas, and did work on Kim and The Just So Stories. Kipling named the house after the Naulakha Pavilion, situated inside Lahore Fort in Pakistan.