Sadakichi Hartmann Essay - Critical Essays

Hartmann, Sadakichi


Sadakichi Hartmann 1867-1944

(Full name Carl Sadakichi Hartmann) American poet, playwright, essayist, short story writer, novelist, and lecturer.

An American man of letters, Hartmann's work spans a complex field of subjects. He was a poet associated both with Walt Whitman and the French Symbolists, a leading critic of the nascent art of photography, a prominent member of the bohemian society of Greenwich Village at the turn of the century, and later a somewhat more peripheral figure in Hollywood society. A world traveler and lecturer, he launched innovative productions of his own plays and more classic material on stages across the United States, appeared in the film The Thief of Baghdad with Lionel Barrymore, and generated many volumes of art criticism.

Biographical Information

According to Hartmann, he was born on November 8, 1867, on the isle of Desima in Nagasaki Harbor, Japan. His mother, who was Japanese, either died in childbirth or shortly thereafter. Carl Herman Oskar Hartmann, his German father, sent Sadakichi, which means "fortunate if constant," and his older brother Taru to stay with their wealthy uncle in Hamburg, where they were educated. Some time later, the elder Carl Hartmann returned to Germany and married a widow with two daughters from a previous marriage, at which time Sadakichi was sent to the Naval Academy at Kiel. He ran away almost immediately to Paris and was disinherited by his family. Having no other resources, and being only fifteen years old, Hartmann made his way to America, to search out his other, less socially prominent uncle in Philadelphia. While working odd jobs of all sorts, Hartmann pursued an education in art as best he could, studying briefly at the Spring Garden Institute and the Mercantile Library. When he discovered that Walt Whitman was living in nearby Camden, he made his way there and introduced himself sometime around his seventeenth birthday. Whitman and Hartmann became friends, seeing each other often over the following eight years, up until a year before Whitman's death in 1892. Hartmann published Conversations with Walt Whitman three years later, and his poetry of this period strongly shows Whitman's influence. After Whitman, the next great influence on Hartmann's art was French Symbolism. Hartmann visited Europe on no less than five occasions between 1885 and 1892, primarily to train as an actor, and it was during this time that he was first galvanized by innovations in French poetry, particularly in the work of Arthur Rimbaud and Stéphane Mallarmé. Returning to the United States, he championed Symbolism to his friends among the New York literati. At the same time, Hartmann pursued his desire to act and to write for the stage. He traveled to Boston from his home in New York to involve himself with the thriving theatre scene there—it was in Boston that his controversial play Christ was first performed. In 1891 Hartmann married Elizabeth Blanche Walsh, with whom he had five children. During their marriage he also pursued a romantic affair with Anne Throop, a New England poet, with whom he had a son, and, in 1911, he took a young artist named Lillian Bonham as his common-law wife. They lived together at Elbert Hubbard's artist colony in Roycroft, New York, until 1916, producing seven more children. By this time, Hartmann's artistic energies were flagging. After 1916, he took up residence in San Francisco and attached himself to the theater community there. He returned to New York in 1919. Then, in 1923, he relocated again, this time to Los Angeles, where he met John Barrymore and appeared, through Barrymore's influence, as a magician in the classic fantasy film The Thief of Baghdad with Douglas Fairbanks. In 1924, Hartmann moved to Beaumont, California, hoping that the desert air would alleviate the symptoms of his asthma. This would be the pattern of Hartmann's later life: moving back and forth across the United States, seeking out friends, and writing less and less. He finally set up house in a one-room shack he built himself at the edge of the Morongo Indian Reservation in Banning, California. The FBI occasionally looked in on him during the war to make sure he was not spying for either of his parents' native lands. Finally, shortly before the atom bomb fell on his place of birth, Sadakichi paid a visit to one of his daughters in St. Petersburg, Florida, and died there on the November 21, 1944.

Major Works

While it was his involvement with Whitman that initially drew Hartmann into poetry, he found his particular voice in Symbolism. He wrote a great deal of critical material promoting Symbolism in the United States in his capacity as art critic for the Daily Tatler in 1896, in articles for the National Review, and in his own paper the Art Critic, among others. He also wrote the introduction to Whisperings of a Wind Harp, a collection of Symbolist poems by Anne Throop. Hartmann was also writing Symbolist poetry of his own, including his ambitious Naked Ghosts, dedicated to Mallarmé. His break with Whitman is clearest in Drifting Flowers of the Sea, and Other Poems, in which there are also a number of poems in the traditional Japanese tanka style, which was to be Hartmann's next aesthetic focus. He released, through Guido Bruno, publisher of Greenwich Village magazine, a chapbook entitled Tanka, Haiku, Fourteen Japanese Rhythms in 1915; this would be re-released in revised additions as Japanese Rhythms. His most socially conscious poem, My Rubaiyat, originally published in St. Louis in 1913, would be reissued by Bruno in 1916. Hartmann's poetry is characterized by a Poesque sense of inevitable decay, and an oppressive sense of the hopelessly unaesthetic dreariness of everyday city life, but, at least in My Rubaiyat, he also bemoans the inequality with which women were treated, the strong contrast between rich and poor in the United States, and the increasing militarism that would bring the America into the First World War. Hartmann also wrote plays, including a cycle of Symbolist dramas about major figures in history: Christ, Mohammed, Confucius, Buddha, and Moses. He also wrote a surrealist play entitled Baker Eddy. Hartmann produced a collection of short stories in 1899 entitled Schopenhauer in the Air, and a second collection entitled simply Seven Short Stories in 1930. He also wrote a novel, The Last Thirty Days of Christ (1920), which dealt with Jesus and Judas in particular. Hartmann was a critic of distinction. In addition to his three brief journalistic ventures, Art Critic (1893-1894), Art News (1896-1897), and Stylus (1910), he published scholarly books on Shakespeare, James McNeill Whistler, Japanese art, and contemporary American sculpture. Of all his critical work, however, his most important contributions were the many essays on photography that he submitted to journals under a variety of names, and which are collected in The Valiant Knights of Daguerre (1978). These essays and lectures were among the first fundamental critical works on photography in the world, the fruit of his longtime association with photographer Alfred Stieglitz.

Critical Reception

Whitman was the first to notice Hartmann's talent, giving him much personal encouragement and sending him into the literary world with his endorsement. But, overall, Hartmann enjoyed the recognition of his peers without being widely popular or well-known. Christ, his first Symbolist drama, drew praise from Mallarmé and condemnation from nearly everyone else, mostly owing to its scandalous nude scene. His Last Thirty Days of Christ was praised by Ezra Pound, who went on to mention Hartmann in The Pisan Cantos and in his Guide to Kulchur. Nevertheless, it was in his critical work and journalism that Hartmann made his mark most publicly, and, as self-appointed ambassador of Symbolism to the United States, he was briefly embraced as a prominent member of the American art scene. Hartmann had a propensity to gather groups of artists around himself, such as the Margery Winter circle in Los Angeles, which included Ben Berlin, Raymond Brossard, Ronald Paintin, and Einar Hansen. For the most part, his influence emerged indirectly, in the work of those who knew him personally.

Principal Works

Christ: A Dramatic Poem in Three Acts (drama) 1893

Conversations with Walt Whitman (memoir) 1895

A Tragedy in a New York Flat: A Dramatic Episode in Two Scenes (drama) 1896

Buddha: A Drama in Twelve Scenes (drama) 1897

Schoepenhauer in the Air: Seven Stories (short stories) 1899; enlarged as Schoepenhauer in the Air: Twelve Stories, 1908

Shakespeare in Art (criticism) 1902

Japanese Art (criticism) 1904; also published as The Illustrated Guidebook of Japanese Painting, 1978

Drifting Flowers of the Sea and Other Poems to Elizabeth Blanche Walsh (poetry) 1904

Compositions in Portraiture [as Sidney Allan] (criticism) 1909

Landscape and Figure Composition (criticism) 1910

The Whistler Book (criticism) 1910

My Rubaiyat (poetry) 1913

Tanka and Haiku, Japanese Rhythms (poetry) 1916; revised as Japanese Rhythms, 1926

The Last Thirty Days of Christ (novel) 1920

Confucius: A Drama in Two Acts (drama) 1923

Passport to Immortality (criticism) 1927

Seven Short Stories (short stories) 1930

My Crucifixion: Asthma for 40 Years (memoir) 1931

Moses: A Drama in Six Episodes (drama) 1934

Strands and Rave lings of the Art Fabric (criticism) 1940

White Chrysanthemums: Literary Fragments and Pronouncements (nonfiction) 1971

The Whitman-Hartmann Controversy, Including "Conversations with Walt Whitman" and Other Essays (essays) 1976

The Valiant Knights of Daguerre (essays and lectures) 1978


Current Opinion (essay date 1916)

SOURCE: "The Most 'Mysterious' Personality in American Letters," in Current Opinion, Vol. LXI, No. 2, August, 1916, pp. 124-25.

[In the following essay, the writer examines the public image Hartmann's life and personality fostered.]

The recent suggestion of Miss Amy Lowell, that no poet or writer ought to be paid for his or her literary work, but should earn a living in other kinds of work, would, if acted upon, deprive our poets especially of a picturesque and legendary quality that has added an undoubted glamor to much of their work. The modern young poet seems deficient in the power to create a legend about himself or is indifferent to its value. If he is going to...

(The entire section is 2013 words.)

Benjamin de Casseres (essay date 1926)

SOURCE: "Sadakichi Hartmann," in American Mercury, Vol. 9, No. 36, December, 1926, pp. 397-98.

[In the following essay, de Casseres provides a short sketch of Hartmann's exploits.]

A grotesque etched in flesh by the drunken Goya of Heaven. A grinning, obscene gargoyle on the Temple of American Letters. Superman-bum. Half God, half Hooligan; all artist. Anarch, sadist, satyr. A fusion of Jap and German, the ghastly experiment of an Occidental on the person of an Oriental. Sublime, ridiculous, impossible. A genius of the ateliers, picture studios, ginmills and East Side lobscouse restaurants. A dancing dervish, with graceful, Gargantuan feet and a mouth like the Cloaca...

(The entire section is 591 words.)

Kenneth Rexroth (essay date 1971)

SOURCE: A foreword to White Chrysanthemums: Literary Fragments and Pronouncements, by Sadakichi Hartmann, edited by George Knox and Harry Lawton, Herder and Herder, 1971, pp. vii-xi.

[In the following essay, Rexroth discusses Hartmann's stature among American intellectuals.]

Hardly a man is left alive who remembers those famous days and years when New York too had a belle époque, the years from the turn of the century to the United States' entry into the First War—Who remembers the magazine Mlle. New York, the Armory Show, parties at Bob Chanler's studio, or at Willy Pogany's, where the rich bloods went to meet artists' models and where Stanford White...

(The entire section is 1589 words.)

Harry Lawton and George Knox (essay date 1971)

SOURCE: An introduction to White Chrysanthemums: Literary Fragments and Pronouncements, by Sadakichi Hartmann, edited by George Knox and Harry Lawton, Herder and Herder, 1971, pp. xii-xxv.

[In the following essay, Lawton and Knox discuss Hartmann 's last years of alcoholism and destitution, as well as his overall importance as a writer, critic, and cultural personality.]

A grotesque etched in flesh by the drunken Goya of Heaven. A grinning, obscene gargoyle on the Temple of American letters. Superman-bum. Half God, half Hooligan, all artist. Anarch, sadist, satyr. A fusion of Jap and German, the ghastly experiment of an Occidental on the person of an...

(The entire section is 4596 words.)

Richard Tuerk (essay date 1973)

SOURCE: "Sadakichi Hartmann's 'How Poe Wrote the Raven': A Biochemical Explanation," in The Markham Review, Vol. 3, No. 5, February, 1973, pp. 81-85.

[In the following essay, Tuerk examines Hartmann's fascination with Poe's "The Raven" and reprints Hartmann's essay "How Poe Wrote The Raven."]

Since the publication of "The Philosophy of Composition" in Graham's Magazine (April 1846), in which Poe "explains" how he wrote "The Raven" (first published in 1845), critics have speculated about the genesis of what is probably his most famous poem. Poe's own explanation describes its composition as having followed a mathematical-like formula, running from "effect" to...

(The entire section is 2807 words.)

Harry W. Lawton and George Knox (essay date 1978)

SOURCE: An introduction to The Valiant Knights of Daguerre: Selected Critical Essays on Photography and Profiles of Photographic Pioneers, by Sadakichi Hartmann, edited by Harry W. Lawton and George Knox with Wistaria Hartmann Linton, University of California Press, 1978, pp. 1-34.

[In the following essay, Lawton and Knox provide an extensive survey of Hartmann's life, works, and enduring influence.]

He was admired; he was feared; he was detested. Among the pioneers of photographic criticism in America none exerted such direct personal influence on so many photographers as did Sadakichi Hartmann (1867-1944), the Japanese-German writer and critic. He began his career as...

(The entire section is 11252 words.)

Jane Calhoun Weaver (essay date 1991)

SOURCE: An introduction to Sadakichi Hartmann: Critical Modernist, edited by Jane Calhoun Weaver, University of California Press, 1991, pp. 1-44.

[In the following essay, Weaver discusses Hartmann's works on art, contending that he was one of the most important critics of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries.]

Few writers were as important to the art of the United States at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century as Sadakichi Hartmann (1867-1944). Although primarily remembered today for his contribution to the history of photography, Hartmann was above all a knowledgeable, perceptive critic of painting and sculpture whose brilliant...

(The entire section is 15848 words.)

Further Reading


Haslam, Gerald W. "Three Exotics: Yone Noguchi, Shiesei Tsuneishi, and Sadakichi Hartmann." CIA Journal XIX, No. 3 (March 1976): 362-73.

Brief biography including details of Hartmann's friendship with Walt Whitman, critical appraisal of his poetry, and statements about Hartmann from his contemporaries.

Knox, George. Introduction to The Whitman-Hartmann Controversy by Sadakichi Hartmann, pp. 5-59. Frankfurt; Herbert Lang Bern, 1976.

Biographical essay focusing on Hartmann's relationship with Walt Whitman.

Plagens, Peter. "The Critics: Hartmann, Huneker, De Casseres." Art in America 61, No. 4...

(The entire section is 164 words.)