Patrick Lafcadio Hearn (27 June 1850 – 26 September 1904), also known as Koizumi Yakumo (小泉八雲) after gaining Japanese citizenship, was an author, best known for his books about Japan. He is especially well-known for his collections of Japanese legends and ghost stories, such as Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things.
Hearn was born in Lefkada (the origin of his middle name), one of the Greek Ionian Islands. He was the son of Surgeon-major Charles Bush Hearn (of County Offaly, Ireland) and Rosa Antoniou Kassimati, a Greek woman of noble Cerigote lineage through her father, Anthony Cassimati. His father was stationed in Lefkada during the British occupation of the islands. Lafcadio was initially baptized Patricio Lefcadio Hearn in the Greek Orthodox Church. It is not clear that Hearn's parents were ever legally married, and the Irish Protestant relatives on his father's side considered him to have been born out of wedlock. (This may, however, have been because they did not recognize the legitimacy of the Greek Orthodox Church to conduct a marriage ceremony for a Protestant.)
Hearn moved to Dublin, Ireland, at the age of two, where he was brought up in the suburb of Rathmines. Other members of his family also pursued artistic and bohemian interests. His father's brother Richard was at one time a well-known member of the Barbizon set of artists, though he made no mark as a painter, possibly due to a lack of personal ambition. Young Hearn had a rather casual education, but in 1865 was at Ushaw Roman Catholic College, Durham. He was injured in a playground accident in his teens, causing loss of vision in his left eye.
The religious faith in which he was brought up was, however, soon lost, and at 19 he was sent to live in the United States of America, where he settled in Cincinnati, Ohio. For a time, he lived in utter poverty. He eventually found a friend in the English printer and communalist Henry Watkin. With Watkin's help, Hearn picked up a living in the lower grades of newspaper work.
Through the strength of his talent as a writer, Hearn quickly advanced through the newspaper ranks and became a reporter for the Cincinnati Daily Enquirer, working for the paper from 1872 to 1875. With creative freedom in one of Cincinnati's largest circulating newspapers, he became known for his florid accounts of local murders, developing a reputation as the paper's premier sensational journalist, as well as the author of sensitive, dark, and fascinating accounts of Cincinnati's disadvantaged. 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 out-of-the-way observation and reading, and meanwhile his erratic, romantic, and rather morbid idiosyncrasies developed. While in Cincinnati, he married Alethea ("Mattie") Foley, a black woman, an illegal act at the time. When the scandal was discovered and publicized, he was fired from the Enquirer and went to work for the rival Cincinnati Commercial.
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 ran for nine issues. The Cincinnati Public Library reprinted a facsimile of all nine issues in 1983.
In 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 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 mold the popular image of New Orleans as a colorful place with a distinct culture more akin to Europe and the Caribbean than to the rest of North America. His best-known Louisiana works are Gombo Zhèbes, 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. Little known then, even today he is relatively unknown outside the circle of New Orleans cultural devotees. However, more books have been written about him than any former resident of New Orleans other than Louis Armstrong. His footprint in the history of Creole cooking is visible even today.
Hearn's writings for the New Orleans newspapers included impressionistic sketches 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 on the vodou leaders Marie Laveau and Doctor John Montenet are matter-of-fact and debunking. A selection of Hearn's writings were collected in S. Fredrick Starr's book Inventing New Orleans: Writings of Lafcadio Hearn, published by the University Press of Mississippi.
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.
In 1890, Hearn went to Japan with a commission as a newspaper correspondent, which was quickly broken off. It was in Japan, however, that he found his home and his greatest inspiration. Through the goodwill of Basil Hall Chamberlain, Hearn gained a teaching position in 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. Most Japanese identify Hearn with Matsue, as it was here that his image of Japan was molded. Today, the Lafcadio Hearn Memorial Museum and his old residence are still two of Matsue's most popular tourist attractions. During his 15-month stay in Matsue, Hearn married Koizumi Setsu, the daughter of a local samurai family, and became a naturalized Japanese, taking the name Koizumi Yakumo.
In late 1891, Hearn took another teaching position in Kumamoto, Kyushu, 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 position with the English-language Kobe Chronicle, and in 1896, with some assistance from Chamberlain, he began teaching English literature at Tokyo (Imperial) University, a post he held until 1903. In 1904, he was a professor at Waseda University. On September 26, 1904, he died of heart failure at the age of 54.
In the late 19th century Japan was still largely unknown and exotic to the Western world. However, with the introduction of Japanese aesthetics, particularly at the Paris World's Fair of 1900, the West developed an insatiable appetite for exotic Japan. Consequently, Hearn became known to the world through the depth, originality, sincerity, and charm of his writings. In later years, some critics would accuse Hearn of exoticizing Japan, but as the man who offered the West some of its first glimpses into pre-industrial and Meiji Era Japan, his work still offers valuable insight today.
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 trademark 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 in 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 woven in.
There is also a cultural center named for Hearn at the University of Durham.
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."
Patricio Lafcadio Carlos Hearne (1850-06-27 – 1904-09-26) was a Greek-born journalist, author and academic. He was brought up in Ireland and lived for many years in the United States before moving to Japan, taking Japanese citizenship, and adopting the name Yakumo Koizumi.
Quotations are cited from John Erskine (ed.) Books and Habits: From the Lectures of Lafcadio Hearn (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1921).
LAFCADIO HEARN (1850-1904), author of books about Japan, was born on the 27th of June 1850 in Leucadia (pronounced Lefcadia, whence his name, which was one adopted by himself), one of the Greek Ionian Islands. He was the son of Surgeon-major Charles Hearn, of King's County, Ireland, who, during the English occupation of the Ionian Islands, was stationed there, and who married a Greek wife. Artistic and rather bohemian tastes were in Lafcadio Hearn's blood. His father's brother Richard was at one time a well-known member of the Barbizon set of artists, though he made no mark as a painter through his lack of energy. Young Hearn had rather a casual education, but was for a time (1865) at Ushaw Roman Catholic College, Durham. The religious faith in which he was brought up was, however, soon lost; and at nineteen, being thrown on his own resources, he went to America and at first picked up a living in the lower grades of newspaper work. The details are obscure, but he continued to occupy himself with journalism and with out-of-the-way observation and reading, and meanwhile his erratic, romantic and rather morbid idiosyncrasies developed. He was for some time in New Orleans, writing for the Times Democrat, and was sent by that paper for two years as correspondent to the West Indies. He married an American wife, who afterwards got a divorce from him. At last, in 1891, he went to Japan with a commission as a newspaper correspondent, which was quickly broken off. But here he found his true sphere. The list of his books on Japanese subjects tells its own tale: Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan (1894); Out of the East (1895); Kokoro (1896); Gleanings in Buddha Fields (1897); Exotics and Retrospections (1898); In Ghostly Japan (1899); Shadowings (1900); A Japanese Miscellany (1901); Kotto (1902); Japanese Fairy Tales and Kwaidan (1903), and (published just after his death) Japan, an Attempt at Interpretation (1904), a study full of knowledge and insight. He became a teacher of English at the University of Tokyo, and soon fell completely under the spell of Japanese ideas. He married a Japanese wife, became a naturalized Japanese under the name of Yakumo Koizumi, and adopted the Buddhist religion. For the last two years of his life (he died on the 26th of September 1904) his health was failing, and he was deprived of his lecturership at the University. But he had gradually become known to the world at large by the originality, power and literary charm of his writings. This wayward bohemian genius, who had seen life in so many climes, and turned from Roman Catholic to atheist and then to Buddhist, was curiously qualified, among all those who were "interpreting" the new and the old Japan to the Western world, to see it with unfettered understanding, and to express its life and thought with most intimate and most artistic sincerity. Lafcadio Hearn's books were indeed unique for their day in the literature about Japan, in their combination of real knowledge with a literary art which is often exquisite.
See Elizabeth Bisland, The Life and Letters of Lafcadio Hearn (2 vols., 1906); G. M. Gould, Concerning Lafcadio Hearn (1908).