Carl Sadakichi Hartmann, born on November 8, 1867 on Dejima Island in Nagasaki, Japan, was a poet, fiction writer, playwright, art critic, and art historian. Hartmann was born to a Prussian merchant father and a Japanese mother who died a few months after he was born. Shortly after his mother’s death, Hartmann was sent to Hamburg, Germany to live with a wealthy uncle. He left the German Imperial Naval Academy, which he had been forced to attend, and moved to Paris. Hartmann’s father next sent him to Philadelphia in 1882. Two years later, Hartmann visited Walt Whitman at the latter’s home in Camden, New Jersey. Their ensuing friendship was chronicled in Conversations with Walt Whitman (E.P. Coby & Co., 1895). In 1887, Hartmann founded a Whitman Society in Boston. Hartmann became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1894. There is a possibility that he bypassed naturalization laws by passing as white (he is listed as “white” on his 1891 marriage certificate to his first wife, Elizabeth Blanche Walsh).
Hartmann was the author of four collections of poetry: Naked Ghosts: Four Poems (Fantasia, 1925); Tanka and Haikai: 14 Japanese Rhythms (Author’s Edition, 1916); My Rubaiyat (Mangan, 1913); and Drifting Flowers of the Sea and Other Poems (1904), which was released only as a limited-copy manuscript. His other works include the two-volume A History of American Art (L.C. Page, 1901; revised ed., 1932), a precursor to the discipline of the historiography of American art, despite Hartmann’s relative obscurity as a scholar within the field; The Whistler Book (L.C. Page, 1910); Landscape and Figure Composition (Baker and Taylor, Co., 1910; reissued in 1973) and Composition in Portraiture (E.L. Wilson, 1909; reissued in 1973), both published under the pseudonym Sidney Allan; Japanese Art (L.C. Page, 1903); and Shakespeare in Art (L.C. Page, 1901; reissued in 1973). He also wrote a nearly three-hundred page autobiography that was never published. In 2017, scholar Floyd Cheung released Sadakichi Hartmann: Collected Poems, 1886–1944 (Little Island Press, 2017), which, for the first time, collects all of Hartmann’s poetry.
Hartmann was among the first to introduce Western readers and fellow poets to Japanese forms, such as the haiku and tanka. He both influenced and befriended the French Symbolists, including Stéphane Mallarmé, as well as the Modernists, particularly Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound, who expressed their admiration for Hartmann’s work.
Before becoming a published poet and art critic, Hartmann wrote for various newspapers in Boston and New York in the 1880s and 1890s. During the Second World War, Hartmann and his family were harassed by both the FBI and the Riverside, California county sheriff’s department. Neighbors in the Hartmann family’s town of Beaumont, California stigmatized the family and circulated rumors that Hartmann was a spy.
Hartmann died in St. Petersburg, Florida on November 22, 1944.