Lafcadio Hearn is one of the more intriguing travel writers I’ve read. He ended up as a revered professor of literature in Japan. During the 1870s – 1880s, he roamed the U.S. and Caribbean for many years and worked as a journalist in New Orleans and Cincinnati. He was born Patrick Lafcadio Tessima Carlos Hearn on the Ionian Island known as Lefkas or Santa Maura, to a Greek mother and an Irish father, June 27, 1850. I was born 99 years later, to the day.
Hearn’s biography is too rich and convoluted to explore in a blog post. He experienced a varied, full life, including passages of intense poverty and hardship. His professional activities spanned literature, translation, journalism and teaching in several countries. Hearn ultimate settled in Japan, arriving in Yokohama in 1890. By 1896 he was a Japanese citizen with a Japanese wife and a post at Tokyo Imperial University teaching English literature. He died in Tokyo, September 26, 1904 at age 54 of heart failure and was buried in Zoshigaya Public Cemetery, Tokyo.
Lafcadio Hearn. American Writings — Some Chinese Ghosts, Chita, Two Years in the French West Indies, Youma, Selected Journalism and Letters. New York: The Library of America, 2009. Illustrated.
Goodman, Henry (ed.) The Selected Writings of Lafcadio Hearn. Introduction by Malcolm Cowley. New York: Citadel Press. 1949.
Excerpt from: Two Years in the French West Indies. Lafcadio Hearn. Harper & Bros. Publishers, New York and London, 1923. Photos by Arthur W. Rushmore, Drawings by Marie Royle.
“Rebuilt in wood after the almost total destruction by an earthquake of its once picturesque streets of stone, Fort-de-France (formerly Fort-Royal) has little of outward interest by comparison with St. Pierre. It lies in a low, moist plain, and has few remarkable buildings: you can walk all over the little town in about half an hour. But the Savane, — the great green public square, with its tamarinds and sabliers, — would be worth the visit alone, even were it not made romantic by the marble memory of Josephine.
I went to look at the white dream of her there, a creation of master-sculptors … It seemed to me absolutely lovely. Sea winds have bitten it; tropical rains have streaked it: some microscopic growth has darkened the exquisite hollow of the throat. And yet such is the human charm of the figure that you almost fancy you are gazing at a living presence. … Perhaps the profile is less artistically real, — statuesque to the point of betraying the chisel; but when you look straight up into the sweet creole face, you can believe she lives: all the wonderful West Indian charm of the woman is there.
She is standing just in the center of the Savane, robed in the fashion of the First Empire, with gracious arms and shoulders bare: one hand leans upon a medallion bearing the eagle profile of Napoleon. … Seven tall palms stand in a circle around her, lifting their comely heads into the blue glory of the tropic day. Within their enchanted circle you feel that you tread holy ground, — the sacred soil of artist and poet; — here the recollections of memoir-writers vanish away; the gossip of history is hushed for you; you no longer care to know how rumor has it that she spoke or smiled or wept: only the bewitchment of her lives under the thin, soft, swaying shadows of those feminine palms. … Over violet space of summer sea, through the vast splendor of azure light, she is looking back to the place of her birth, back to beautiful drowsy Trois-Islets, — and always with the same half-dreaming, half-plaintive smile, — utterly touching.” (p. 58-590
The Trois-Islets, where Josephine was born, are across the bay from Fort-de-France, Martinique.
The statue has been disfigured — beheaded — since Lafcadio Hearn’s admiring visit. Read about the cultural connotations in this University of Michigan report.