Patrick Lafcadio Hearn (June 27, 1850 - September 26, 1904), also known as 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 moved to Dublin, Ireland, at the age of two. Artistic and rather bohemian tastes were in his 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 due to his lack of energy. 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.
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 developed a reputation as the paper's premier sensational journalist, as well as the author of sensitive, dark, and fascinating accounts of Cincinnati's disadvantaged. 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.
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.
Hearn's writings for the New Orleans newspapers included impressionistic sketches of New Orleans 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 Hearn 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. Dozens of Hearn's New Orleans writings are collected in Inventing New Orleans: Writings of Lafcadio Hearn, a book edited by S. Fredrick Starr and published in 2001 by the University Press of Mississippi. (Professor Starr's scholarly introduction to Inventing New Orleans notes than many Japanese scholars of Hearn's life and work are now studying his decade in New Orleans.)
Harper's sent Hearn to the West Indies as a correspondent in 1889. He spent two years in the islands and produced Two Years in the French West Indies and Youma, The Story of a West-Indian Slave (both 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 (小泉八雲記念館) and Lafcadio Hearn's Old Residence (小泉八雲旧居) are still two of Matsue's most popular tourist attractions. During his 15-month stay in Matsue, Hearn married Setsu Koizumi, 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. With the introduction of Japanese aesthetics, however, particularly at the Paris World's Fair in 1900, the West had an insatiable appetite for exotic Japan, and 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.
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.
Yone Noguchi is quoted as saying about Hearn, "His Greek temperament and French culture became frost-bitten as a flower in the North."
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.
In Ian Fleming's 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."