Today, in celebration of Lafcadio Hearn’s birthday on June 27th, we are highlighting pages 5-7 of Letter 24 from our Lafcadio Hearn Correspondence collection. This collection primarily consists of letters written between the years 1840-1896 from Hearn to Page Mercer Baker, a New Orleans newspaper founder, reporter, and editor.
The Lafcadio Hearn was a reporter, writer, wanderer, and world traveler. Born in Greece, he spent a difficult childhood in Dublin Ireland, and England. Hearn then emigrated to the United States, living in Cincinnati, New York, and New Orleans, to eventually be laid to rest in Japan. He is a truly fascinating literary figure known not only for his writing about the underbelly of life, African American culture, Japanese ghost stories, and the macabre but also for his life spent as an outsider and traveler.
The letter was written in the month of June in 1887 days before he traveled from New York City to Trinidad aboard the Barracouta on an assignment for Harper’s Magazine. The resulting article “Midsummer Trip to The West Indies” appeared in the July 1888 issue of the magazine.
Hearn’s excitement for traveling south towards the climate of New Orleans is obvious as found in the prose of his letter:
“I think I will feel when the steamer cuts the line of parallel with N. O.”
As the letter progresses, Hearn continues writing Baker, conjuring lands beyond his beloved city New Orleans and towards a new landscape that he will encounter as he travels further and closer to the lungs of the world:
“I will see New Orleans colors for awhile: – then stranger and weirder colors, and new sky, – unknown lights of another world. And it will be very hot, – as if one were getting closer to the breath of the world….”
(Lafcadio Hearn Correspondence Collection, Letter 24, pages 5-7)
Below you will find a full transcription of these last 3 pages of the letter wherein Hearn writes to Baker of life and the transcendent qualities of light:
I am writing as usual in a hurry. One day more, Then South. I will pass you by again, and not see you, – but I think I will feel when the steamer cuts the line of parallel with N. O. Then, a few days more and I shall be more than a thousand miles south of you. All the way the sky will deepen it’s blue. – I will see New Orleans colors for awhile: – then stranger and weirder colors, and new sky, – unknown lights of another world. And it will be very hot, – as if one were getting closer to the breath of the world…. After all, I cannot say I feel glad at going. The sensation of belonging to nowhere, – of instability; – nothing solid or certain in life or work or effort, – always comes on one prior to seeking a strange latitude. You understand, as by some sudden revelation, what a monstrous whirl of dust and light all life is, and that you are but one atom of the eddy, – may be laid here, there, anywhere, – to rest a little, to struggle a little, or to shine a moment in the light; but sooner or later all the motes float into the darkness and the silence forever. Before, it will be some consolation to have seen what makes life and thought, – Light, in the most splendid aspect it can offer to human eyes.
Please don’t show my letter to anyone, outside Toledano and Prytania corner, – so that I can write to you just as I want
Always with love to you,
You can find this letter in its entirety along with others in our Digital Library or come and view the complete Lafcadio Hearn Correspondence collection in person Monday through Friday 9:00 – 4:30 in the Special Collections & Archives located on the 3rd floor of Monroe Library.
Bonus Info: Follow these links to enjoy a fascinating 2-part radio documentary produced by RTE Lyric FM in Dublin, Ireland and learn more about Hearn’s life and work.