LAFCADIO HEARN IN HIS LECTURE ROOM
"WE did not know then," Mr. Katsumi Kuroita, one of Hearn’s students of his Kumamoto period, writes, "that he was a writer already known in America; in truth, we were thinking at first that he was a common foreign teacher of English like any other. But it did not take long to find out that he was different to a great degree from the others in his lectures and method of putting questions for us; and we soon began to know his no small fame as a writer, which incited our delightful curiosity and strange respect. We looked upon him as one with special distinction. He impressed us from the very first with his peculiarity of seeming wrapped in silence, and yet he was not lacking in tender kindness, We were most pleased with him. There was one reason among others to be delighted with him, which was that he lectured in clear and simple language that even our minds found it easy to grasp. Hitherto, we [126>] had been meeting with foreign teachers who awed us, and whom we had to respect from a distance. This new teacher pleased us mightily. I confess that our study in those days was not highly advanced in literature; but his lectures on rhetoric and his method of ‘conversation’ soon worked a magic. When we reached the highest class, be gave us Latin lessons and lectures on English literature, in which he introduced us to Shakespeare with whom, though we had heard of him of course, we had no proper acquaintance whatever. It was the last day of the second term when he finished his Shakespeare lectures, and as I remember even now, his last words were: ‘So, now, my lecture on Shakespeare is done, and the last bell of the second term has rung.’ His lectures on English literature filled two hours a week; he began with Chaucer, and finished with George Eliott whom he admired tremendously. And I remember that he talked of Tennyson before George Eliott. He used to write down the outline of his day’s lecture on the blackboard; and his language was simple and clear as I said before. We had no difficulty to understand him. The subject for composition was rather free; he simply told us to write about what we saw or [127>] experienced. He often asked us to write a Japanese folk-story. And to each composition he gave the greatest attention, as he wrote his own criticism beside the corrections of grammatical errors and changes of words. Although I cannot admit that he was a happy man in those days, it was certain that he did not show any feeling of hatred toward people. We did not hear any story of his misunderstanding with the fellow-teachers; and as I remember, Mr. Akizuki, the old Chinese scholar, was looked upon by him with special reverence; of him Mr. Hearn wrote somewhere in his ‘Out of the East.’ I am sure that he was successful as a teacher in his own quiet and serious sort of way."
And if you want to known his merit as a teacher, and sympathy with the boys at the Matsue school, you have to read the two chapters of "Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan:" "From the Diary of an English Teacher," and "Sayonara.["]
It seems to me that there was some misunderstanding, on Hearn’s part, about his resignation from the Imperial University, or his dismissal, as he wrote to his friends; and, although I do not believe altogether in the intrigue of the other [128>] professors of which he spoke in his letters, I am sure that some of them were not sympathetic. However, his hold on the students’ minds was wonderful; soon after his death, the Teikoku Bungaku, the literary magazine of the University, issued the "Lafcadio Hearn Memorial Number," the articles being written by his former students; I say that such a demonstration of their lamentation as well as appreciation was unusual in our history of literature. And when his resignation from the University was known, with what sympathy and honesty those students protested against the attitude of the University; how they tried to keep him with them. Their hearts were wounded terribly to think that even the biggest school of Japan could not afford to keep one Hearn. (Indeed, I dare say that most government schools of Japan are shabbily narrow-minded; their formalism is perfectly appalling.) They thought at once that there was no greater teacher of literature than Hearn in Japan.
And I must tell you that he used to give the students fifty yen for the best graduation essay, and thirty yen for the second best, as a prize for encouragement’s sake, from his own private pocket. Such a thing proves his great interest in [129>] his students; it is the very first such thing known in Japanese school history. I am told by Mrs. Hearn that he used to read over the students’ essays three or four times, and even cry over the best work which held his admiration.
"I realized my deficiencies," ‘Hearn wrote to Ellwood Hendrick, "but I soon felt where I might become strong, and I taught literature as the expression of emotion and sentiment,—as the representation of life. In considering a poet I tried to explain the quality and power of the emotion that he produced. In short, I based my teaching altogether upon appeals to the imagination and the emotions of my pupils,—and they have been satisfied (though the fact may signify little, because their imagination is so unlike our own)." Such is his own appraisal of his work in the class-room; under that shade, his merit as a lecturer on English literature should be judged.
Here before me are many notebooks of Mr. Uchigasaki of Waseda University, which were taken down by him in longhand on the spot of Hearn’s delivery. The subjects embrace, beside the general history of English literature, "D G. Rossetti and Christina Rossetti," "Charles Kingsley as Poet," "Metaphysical Poetry of George Meredith," [139>] "Carlyle, Ruskin, De Quincey and Froude," "Note on Mrs. Browning," "Poe’s Verse," "Note on Cowper," "William Morris," "The Resurrection," "Toistoi’s Theory of Art" and many others. And what interests me more than others are his lectures which help us to understand his personality and convictions, lectures like "Literary Genius,2’ "Literary Societies," " The Question of the Highest Art," " Insuperable Difficulty," "Literary Economics" and others.
"In literature," he remarks in ‘Literary Genius,’ "the object is beauty: the emotional nature only can develop literary genius. This genius does not mean exceptional power to see or to think, but exceptional power to feel. Mathematical genius thinks and sees; literary genius feels and divines. In the physical system of such a genius, the nervous system has been developed to an extent which an ordinary man is not even capable of understanding. Nothing can be more foolish than to suppose that all men feel pleasure and pain in exactly the same way. As to physical pain, superficial, you must have observed that some persons are able to bear it much better than others. But it would be quite wrong to suppose that is only because one man has a stronger will [131>] and greater patience than other man. That may have something to do with certain cases; but that is not contradicting the general fact that the sensibility to pain depends upon the general condition of the nervous system. And the same thing is true of moral pain, which is really physical pain also, in a nervous sense, though not in a superficial sense. The misfortune that one man laughs at may result in making a much superior man insane. Probably there are no two persons in the whole world who feel the same pleasure or the same pain in exactly the same way.
"Now take the type of the man of genius in whom brain has been developed at the cost of body—in whom the nervous system has a delicacy and a sensitiveness far beyond the average person,—and imagine the result to him of the struggle for existence. He is, as I have already said, a kind of monster, a beautiful monster indeed, but nevertheless a monster. it is much more difficult for him to control his feelings than it is for the average man, because his feelings are much stronger, and because the controlling machinery of will is much less developed in him than it is in other men. There was no room for it. He finds it much more difficult than others to resist [132>] temptations to pleasure, because he is more sensitive to pleasure, and for the same reason he finds it very much harder to bear pain. His pain is greater than that of the ordinary man. It is not a wonder at all that so many men of genius should have been morally weak;—it would be a very great wonder if they were not. What has been called their degeneration is really not degeneration so much as a non-development in one direction combined with excessive development in another."
And further he remarks:
"The great genius, in spite of his faults, is always the great teacher. Superior to all other men in one particular direction, he helps by his work to develop the minds of after-generations in the very same direction. And he generally does this at a very great cost of personal suffering. Perhaps the time will come when men of literary genius will be quite equal to other men in moral ways; but I must say that from the standpoint of the evolutionist, this can scarcely be hoped for. It will cost even more in the future than in the past, to make a literary genius; and if he has to struggle hard in order to make a living, the future genius will not be likely to follow a life of duty [133>] quite as strictly as other men. His strength will be always in one direction."
Is not such language his word of conviction which is, at the same time, a vindication of himself?
"Co-operation is valuable," he remarks upon the use and the abuse of ‘Literary Societies,’ "only when it can accomplish what is beyond the power of the individual. When it cannot accomplish this it is more likely to make mischief or to act as a check than to do any good. And one reason for this is very simple:—co-operation is unfavorable to personal freedom of thought or action. If you work with a crowd, you must try to obey the opinion of the majority; you must act in harmony with those about. How very unfavorable to literary originality such a condition would prove, we shall presently have reason to see." And he says: "Now, to sum up, I will say that literary societies of a serious character such as those formed in universities, and sometimes outside of them, have this value: they will help men to rise up to the general level. Now ‘the general level’ means mediocrity; it cannot mean anything else. But young students of either sex, or young persons of sentiment, must begin by rising to [134>] mediocrity,—they must grow. Therefore I say that such societies give valuable encouragement to young people. But though the societies help you to rise to the general level, they will never help you to rise above it. And therefore I think that man who has reached his full intellectual strength can derive no strength from them. Literature, in the true sense, is not what remains at the general level; it is the exception, the extraordinary, the powerful, the unexpected, that soars far above the general level. And therefore I think that a university graduate, intending to make literature his profession, should no more hamper himself by belonging to literary societies, than a man intending to climb a mountain should begin by tying a very large stone to the ankle of each foot." Nothing is more true, especially in Japan at present, than such a warning.
And he tries to explain the Western thought toward woman in his "Insuperable Difficulty," without which thought no Japanese would find it easy to grasp the Western literature. "The man," he remarks, "who assists a woman in danger is not supposed to have any claim upon her for that reason. He has done his duty only— not for her, the individual, but for womankind at [135>] large. So that we arrive at this general fact, that the first place in all things, except rule, is given to woman in Western countries, and that it is almost religiously given. Is woman a religion? Well, perhaps you will have the chance of judging for yourselves if you go to America." And he proceeds: "Are women individually considered as gods? Well, that depends how we define the word god. The following definition would cover the ground, I think: ‘Gods are beings superior to man, capable of assisting or injuring him, and to be placated by sacrifice or prayer.’ Now according to the definition, I think that the attitude of man toward woman in Western countries might be very well characterized as a sort of worship. In the upper classes of society, and in the middle classes also, great reverence toward woman is exacted. Men bow down before them, make all kinds of sacrifices to please them, beg for their good will and their assistance. It does not matter that this sacrifice is not in the shape of incense-burning or of temple-offering; nor does it matter that the prayers are different from those pronounced in churches. And no saying is more common, no truth better known,—than that the man who hopes to succeed in life must be able to please the [136>] woman." And he finishes up his remarks: "But it is absolutely necessary that you should understand its (sentiment of woman-worship) relation to language and literature. Therefore I have to tell you that you should try to think of it as a kind of religion—a secular, social, artistic religion—not to be confounded with any national religion. It is a kind of race feeling, or race creed. It has not originated in any sensuous idea, but in some very ancient superstitious idea. Nearly all forms of the highest sentiment and the highest faith and the highest art have had their beginning in equally humble soil."
And he tells in "The Question of the Highest Art" that one’s sacrifice for woman is the very point of the highest art; in part he remarks:
"I should say that the highest form of art must necessarily be such art as produces upon the beholder the same moral effect that the possession of love produces in a generous lover. Such art should be a revelation of moral beauty for which it were worth while to sacrifice self—the moral ideas for which it were beautiful to die. Such an art ought to fill men even with a passionate desire to give up life, pleasure, everything for the sake of some grand and noble purpose. Just as [137>] unselfishness is the real test of strong affection, so unselfishness ought to be the real test of the very highest kind of art. Does this art make you feel generous, make you willing to sacrifice yourself, make you eager to attempt some noble undertaking? If it does, then it belongs to the higher class of art,—if not to the very highest. But if a work of art,—whether sculpture or painting or poem or drama—does not make us feel more kindly, more generous, morally better than we were before seeing it,—then I should say that, no matter how clever, it does not belong to the highest forms of art.’
* * *
Let me copy out some portion of the school diary of my friend, Mr. Kaworu Osanai, to show the general agitation of the university students at the time of Hearn’s dismissal:
March 2nd Meiji 37—To-day as yesterday we have bad weather.
I went to school in the afternoon; and found many students talking in agitated tones in the corridor, and I soon came to the knowledge that Mr. Hearn was going to be dismissed from the school. However, some one denied it saying that [138>] his term of engagement was over, and he was going to resign of his own accord, and he said that he was going to America with his eldest boy. My heart stirred.
I sat by the window of the class-room, and looked out when the rattling sound of a jinrikisha was heard, in which I saw a little man somewhat stooped, wearing a hat which you might see in one of the pictures of the age of Cromwell,—that high hat with a large brim,, such as a Korean might wear. There he was—Mr. Hearn.
To-day’s lecture was on Rossetti. And he paraphrased "The Woodspurge," and the last part was as follows:
"In a time of intense grief, it may happen that one learns nothing, and remembers nothing. Such is often the case. But if, at such a time, one does happen to observe anything, it never can be forgotten. And one thing which I, that day, learned, I never can forget. I still remember that the flower of the woodspurge is like three little cups, one inside of another."
Then he told us one of his boyhood experiences: it was that he appeared in his school, when there was something sad in his family; but he could not keep his mind on his lesson at all. He gazed [139>] upon the ceiling of the room, one part of which was broken. "Even to this day, I cannot forget that ceiling with a big hole," he said. We have many professors here, but not one who interests us as Mr. Hearn.
He walked round the garden pond as usual after one hour’s lecture; and I saw him sitting on a rock by the water, and he began to smoke. He loved solitude; I wished I could approach him, but I looked upon him with the utmost patience from a distance.
The second hour’s lecture was again Rossetti’s Staff and Scrip. He was always kind, and interesting, and as usual, be smiled sadly.
March 5th—We are saying that we must not give up Mr. Hearn; we should hold him with our school under any circumstances.
This afternoon’s lecture was on the birds in the English poems; and he paraphrased Meredith’s Skylark so beautifully as is only possible to him.
He has so many friends in the world. He might say: "What, then?" (Supposing he were dismissed from the school.) I will not feel happy, I am sure, to appear after he leaves. [140>]
March 10th—To-day Mr. Hearn’s lecture was on Shakespeare; and he began thus:
"Without any long preparation, sudden, unexpected, the enormous figure of Shakespeare suddenly appears in literature at the beginning of the 17th century. Nothing before him intellectually approached his work. . . .
The voice of the old professor with one eye, and white hair, was lovely as his words.
The evening of a "little spring" day was seen in the western sky; the bell rang, and Mr. Hearn returned home.
The students of the third-year class wished us to stay as they had something to discuss. (By the way, I was in the first-year class only.)
It was that they told us of Mr. Hearn’s resignation, or more likely, dismissal, from the school as it had become already public. And they said that they were dissatisfied with the action of the university, and we should meet together to discuss that important question at a certain hall at Dai Machi to-night.
I went to the hall with beating heart. Every chair of the hail was already occupied by the students of the literature department, when I [141>] entered. The speaker took his chair with a little cough, and called Mr. Kimura, who wished to speak first.
"There is a girl who has been kept closely in her family, and when she is once brought out, she will go straight to pick one lover from among the thousand people; and so it is with the students who enter a new school, We will choose one beloved teacher from the hundred others. . . "
". . . It was always so. There was a lady teacher at my grammar school. . . ."
" Cut, it, cut it!"
The speaker spoke out:
"Mr. Kimura, you are understood; you mean Mr. Hearn in your university."
"Yes, Oh, yes!"
"Next? Mr. Tasawa."
"The existence of the Imperial University of Tokyo is only known to foreign countries on account of Lafcadio Hearn, the writer. What has the university to be proud of, if he goes? The university is nothing; I am a lover of the school; I think we must let him stay with our school."
"Yes, yes, we must have even the [142>] determination of those forty-seven Ronin," many students exclaimed.
"I . . " somebody cried in a strange voice.
"Next, Mr. Mizuno," the speaker pointed.
"There is one Japanese popular song: ‘We don’t mind even carrying a pot for love’s sake.’ I will do anything for Mr. Hearn. . . ."
"You don’t mind about your own life?" many students exclaimed loudly.
"Well, gentlemen!" there was a solemn voice.
"Now, Mr. Shibata," the speaker said.
"It seems to me that you are all driven by your young men’s passion. Nay, compose yourself ! You say ‘It is for love’s sake,’ and ‘You don’t mind about your own life’; indeed, such language sounds quite romantic. Mr. Hearn is one of the best teachers, not to speak of him as a writer. But it would seem far from necessary that we sacrifice our future by attempting to keep him with us."
"Oh, you traitor! Stop!"
"Get out of here, and join the socialists !" We all exclaimed.
"You are too young, you are fired [143>] unnecessarily with passion and spirit," Mizuno began to speak again.
" Why, we did not know you were married," some one tried to sneer at him.
"Keep quiet, gentlemen ! We are discussing a most serious matter," the speaker said.
"It would be better that we should appear before the director of the department first, and if we cannot help it, we will welcome a new teacher, whoever he may be," Mizuno said.
"Who in Japan is able to teach literature as Mr. Hearn, I should like to know," someone spoke aloud.
"How do you know there is not ?" "Do you know any ?" the same voice spoke.
"Keep quiet ! Speak, Mr. Yasunaka!" the speaker said.
"I think that a fellow like Mr. Mizuno has no right to take the chair of this meeting. We came here with the determination that we would do anything to keep Mr. Hearn with us."
"What should you do if you were dismissed from the school?" again Mizuno spoke.
"I don’t care. . .
The speaker closed the discussion; he wished [144>] them to raise the hands for nay, and he counted only one,—two,—three,—four.
"Banzai!" all the students shouted.
"Gentlemen, be seated; we have a more important thing to discuss; that is to say, what method we must take."
After all, it was decided that we should send a representative to call on the director and also one to Mr. Hearn, and at first put the matter gently. And then, we should have another meeting if necessary.
March 15th—I am told that the director was moved by our enthusiasm.
March 16th—Again, I am told that Mr. Hearn said, when the representative saw him, that he would never forget our sympathy; and it is said he even cried.
March 17th—There was some talk that the director and Mr. Hearn met together and talked.
April 10th—The spring vacation is over. I appeared in the school expecting to see Mr. Hearn on the platform again. [145>]
Alas ! Mr. . . . was newly appointed to be a lecturer on English literature.
What became of the meeting of the director and Mr. Hearn? Is it the only thing that our demonstration brought?
April 20th—I did not feel like appearing in school to-day; I was reading Turgeneff; he wrote:
"Two—three—years passed—-six years—Life has been passing, ebbing away . . . while I merely watched how it was ebbing. As in childhood, on some river s edge one makes a little pond and dams it up, and tries in all sorts of ways to keep the water from soaking through from breaking in. But at last the water breaks in, and then you abandon all your vain efforts, and you are glad instead to watch all that you had guarded ebbing away to the last drop . . And I thought about Mr. Hearn.