Carl Sadakichi Hartmann (1867-1944)

Sadakichi Hartmann, photographed by William M. Vander Weyde

Sadakichi Hartmann
Photographed by William M. Vander Weyde, 191?

One of the strangest and most original men of letters of the day — in the United States at all events — is Sadakichi Hartmann, the poet, art critic, and lecturer. He was born in the land of wistarias and chrysanthemums, and he sees life with that Japanese anarchy of perspective.

Vance Thompson, Paris Herald, September, 1906

Sadakichi Hartmann fried eggs with Walt Whitman, discussed poetry with Stephane Mallarme, and drank with John Barrymore, who described him as “a living freak… sired by Mephistopheles out of Madame Butterfly.” W.C. Fields said the critic was “a no-good bum.” But though Hartmann might lift your watch (he was an accomplished pickpocket), his opinion was not for sale.

Born in Japan to a German merchant and his Japanese wife in 1867, he was disowned at 14 and shipped to a Philadelphia great-uncle, an incident that, as Hartmann said, was “…not apt to foster filial piety.” Largely self-educated, he published his first newspaper articles as an adolescent. After meeting Whitman, he wrote an article for the New York Herald quoting the poet’s opinions of other writers. Whitman denounced him for misquotation; Hartmann responded by expanding the article to a pamphlet. At 23, he wrote his first play, “Christ,” which was banned in Boston and publicly burned after Hartmann’s arrest for obscenity. A critic from the original New York Sun, James Gibbons Huneker, called “Christ” “the most daring of all decadent productions.”

King of the Bohemians, Past & Present, By William Bryk, The New York Sun, January 26, 2005

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