Patrick Hearn: 7 Cities That Fuelled a Prolific Writing Career

Truth is more interesting than fiction in the life of Patrick Lefcadio Hearn. Patrick, who would later be known as Yakumo Koizumi, used his thirst for knowledge and cultural experience to build a successful writing career still recognized today. was born on the Greek Island of Lefkada in 1850. His father, a British Army medical officer of Anglo-Irish descent, was stationed on Lefkada which, at that time, was a member of the United States of Ionian Islands, a British protectorate in the mid-19th century. There he met and married a Greek woman, Rosa Cassimati, who gave birth to two sons, one of whom was Patrick, who was baptized in the Greek Orthodox Church.

Early Abandonment

Following a promotion, Patrick’s father was relocated to the British West Indies. Fearing his inter-faith marriage to a Greek woman would harm his writing career prospects, he left his family behind, arranging for them to live in Dublin with his mother. Their reception was cold and after some time, Rosa became homesick and distant. After her husband’s deployment to the Crimean Peninsula in 1853, Rosa left for Greece, leaving Patrick behind. Their marriage was annulled, and Patrick never saw his mother again.

But this wasn’t the end of abandonment for Patrick, whose father left him in the permanent care of his great aunt in 1857; an event that would form young Patrick’s interest in myths and legends and cement his later career as a writer.

Patrick’s Irish Resilience & Emigration

Often with artistic and literary savants, it is trauma and hardship that come to shape their work. While it is true that Lefcadio Hearn was abandoned by his parents, it was arguably his upbringing by his great aunt that would clarify his passion for writing.

As a young boy, Patrick was exposed to traditional Irish myths and legends through his nurse and caretaker, Catherine “Kate” Ronane. Between the family estate in Tramore, Co Waterford, and his bedroom on Upper Leeson Street, Dublin, Patrick heard lullabies, ghost stories, and tall tales aplenty, whetting his penchant for storytelling. A thirteen years old, he was sent to study at a Catholic church school in Yvetot, France, where he became fluent in French. Three years later, he attended University of Durham where, despite an eye injury that left him partially blind, Patrick continued his rapacious accumulation of knowledge.

By 1869, Patrick’s great aunt and carer had lost much of her wealth and was infirm. Her financial manager, wanting to rid himself of burden, sent Patrick, now 19 years old, on a steamboat to New York and instructed to find his way to Cincinnati, where there would allegedly be a job waiting for him. Upon his arrival, there was no such job, and instead Lefcadio Hearn was left to make his way, alone and in a foreign place.

He stayed in stables and storerooms, working menial jobs until a fateful friendship with English printer Henry Watkin exposed his talent for writing and landed him a job at the Cincinatti Daily Enquirer, where he worked for three years. He made a life for himself there, becoming known as Cincinatti’s “most audacious journalist.”

At 23 years old, he married Alethea Foley, a formerly enslaved African American woman, in violation of Ohio law at the time. This and his “anti-religious” sentiment spurred the ire of his employer, who fired him shortly after.

Patrick’s International Writing Career

In 1877, recently divorced and disenchanted with Cincinatti, Lefcadio Hearn set out for New Orleans where he would spend the next decade of his life writing for various newspapers and magazines. His grasp of French made him an asset for Francophone communities, like those in Louisiana, and it gained the attention of Harper’s Weekly Magazine which employed Patrick as a reporter first in New Orleans, and then in Martinique, where he wrote two books. 

However, it was in 1890, as a newspaper correspondent in Japan, when Patrick would find his home. Serendipitously offered a position teaching at a Common Middle School in Matsue, Japan, Patrick Lefcadio Hearn spent 15 months living and working in the area, learning Japanese, and slowly integrating until he met and married Koizumi Setsuko, the daughter of a local samurai family. The pair had four children. Hearn became a Japanese citizen and in 1896, changed his name to Koizumi Yakumo and began teaching English Literature at Tokyo Imperial University. 

It was during this period in Japan until his death in 1904 Koizumi Setsuko wrote and published at least 15 anthologies, books, articles, and collections of Japanese myths, legends, histories, and cultural observations. Harkening back to his early days listening to Irish folklore bedtime stories, Koizumi had come full circle to his roots in the most unexpected place through a most unexpected journey. Europe, already engulfed by fascinated exotification of the East, received his publications well. Despite clear exoticizing of Japanese culture, Patrick Yakumo Lefcadio Hearn Koizumi remains one of the primary contemporary Western perspectives of Meiji Japan. 

brown and red book cover

Today, Lefcadio Hearn is still Japan’s “best-known Irishman”, honoured in Matsue’s Lefcadio Hearn Memorial Museum and his former residence; both tourist attractions. He is also remembered in Lefkada’s Hearn Historical Centre and in Tramore, Co Waterford’s Lefcadio Hearn Japanese Gardens.