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Hartmann’s Whitman: Remembrances from the King of the Bohemians

When I read the book, the biography famous,
And is this then (said I) what the author calls a man’s life?
And so will some one when I am dead and gone write my life?
(As if any man really knew aught of my life,
Why even I myself I often think know little or nothing of my real life,
Only a few hints, a few diffused faint clews and indirections
I seek for my own use to trace out here.)
 
– Walt Whitman, “When I Read the Book” (From Leaves of Grass)

 

The best pieces of provenance evidence — the most interesting inscriptions, marginalia, and annotations — tell us not only about the volume in our hands (where it has been, who owned it, and so on), they reveal something about the world beyond the book.  Handwritten indexes, nota benes, and underlining can clue us into what a particular reader took away from a given work.  Marginal glosses and textual commentary can reveal much about the history of scholarship and reading.  And occasionally, personal notes unrelated to the content of a book can give us great insight into the life and times of the book’s owner(s) and those they knew.

When the book owner in question is a particularly noteworthy historical figure, these personal inscriptions and annotations can be of special interest to the historian. One book that I like to trot out now and again as an example of this is our first edition copy of The Great Gatsby, inscribed by F. Scott Fitzgerald. The author’s note in that book reveals something about his creative process, and gives us insight into the character of Jay Gatsby. This example is limited, however, because the note is terse, related wholly to the book at hand.

Provenance Project volunteer Meg Hughey recently discovered another book in our collections that illustrates this point even better: A copy of Walt Whitman’s 1871 poem After All, Not to Create Only owned by Whitman’s friend Sadakichi Hartmann.

Hartmann's bookplate, designed by "LB" -- his wife, Lillian Bonham Hartmann.

(Carl) Sadakichi Hartmann was a man with an eclectic background. Born in Japan in 1867 to a German merchant father and a Japanese mother, Hartmann was schooled in Germany before being disowned by his father at the age of 14 and sent to live in the United States. While making his way in the States as a young man, Hartmann taught himself to appreciate art and poetry, and before too long had become acquaintances with a number of notable contemporary authors and artists, including Walt Whitman (already near the end of his life when the young Hartmann came to know him).

By the early twentieth century, Hartmann was living in Greenwich Village in Manhattan, and had become quite a well-known figure in the Bohemian community there. Hartmann fit right in among the unconventional, unattached artistic vagabonds of New York.  Guido Bruno, an eccentric Bohemian editor who published a number of poems, essays, and other musings by Greenwich Village regulars, even crowned Hartmann “King of the Bohemians.”

HartmannInscription

Hartmann’s copy of Whitman’s poem After All, Not to Create Only bears some evidence of his time in Greenwich Village. Pasted in the front is a programme, printed by Guido Bruno, announcing a poetry reading by Hartmann on October 25, 1915.

HartmannProgramme1

The illustration on the first page (by Hartmann’s common-law wife, Lillian Bonham) shows Hartmann frying eggs with a seated Walt Whitman.

Sadakichi,
trying hard to be
a great man, went
frying eggs with the great Whitman

The free event took place at Bruno’s Garret on Washington Square, and featured Hartmann reading some of his favorite poetry (“providing Sadakichi doesn’t change his mind”).

Sadakichi Hartmann, author of
“Christ,” “Buddha,” and “The
Whistler Book” will read, after an
introductory talk, selections from his
favorite author, Edgar Allen Poe and
from his fellow-journeyman for years,
Walt Whitman.

HartmannProgramme2

Most interesting, however, and unique to the copy in MSU Special Collections, is a series of notes penciled in the last few pages of the thin book. Hartmann appears to have used his copy of Whitman to record anecdotes from his personal life, including several stories of his interactions with Whitman himself. These short episodes reveal much about both poets, and their relationship.

In one note, Hartman recalls asking Whitman about his opinion of German authors Henrik Ibsen and Friedrich Nietzsche. According to Hartmann, Whitman claimed to have read neither of them. Hartmann goes so far as to claim that “Like most American authors, [Whitman] was extremely ignorant about contemporary foreign literature.”

IbsenNietzsche

Another note critical of the poet recounts Hartmann’s chance meeting with Whitman’s housekeeper in Philadelphia. When asked if Whitman had left the woman anything upon his death, she is said to have replied “Nothing to speak of… I thought he would do more.” Hartmann agrees, although he does note that Whitman left his housekeeper $200, at least (not a small sum of money in 1892).

Housekeeper

Not all of the notes about Whitman are critical, however. Hartmann was clearly fond of Whitman, and he mentions readings he did of the elder poet’s work, positive conversations about Whitman with others, and one occasion where he came to Whitman’s defense against a doctor’s charges of insanity.

Insanity

“Dr. Nordan asserted that Whitman showed traits of insanity,” Hartmann recalls. “I protested most vehemently to such a statement.” When the doctor asks if Whitman was absesnt-minded, Hartmann replies “Yes, but he was always a good listener.” The doctor (“the fanatic,” in Hartmann’s words) shoots back: “What of that? What on earth would prevent a mad man from being a good listener?” Hartmann remains silent on this point.

The anecdotes, however, aren’t all about Whitman.  Hartmann, as a regular in the Greenwich Village Bohemian scene and as an established author in his own right, was connected to a number of other noteworthy individuals.  He drops several names in his notes — in one he recounts drinking a bottle of champagne with “old Pfaff,” the proprietor of a popular Manhattan beer cellar, the two reminiscing about Whitman.

Pfaff

In another note Hartmann records that he sent six copies of an unnamed Whitman text to various literary critics, including Georg Brandes, author Paul Heyse, “some Russian critic,” and an individual noted only as “Sanagui.”

Critics

One of Hartmann’s longest notes tells of an early 1890s visit to the home of W.D. Howells, a well known author, editor, and critic of the time.  Hartmann, who didn’t really come into his own as a writer until later that decade, was apparently hard up for money at the time of his visit.  He showed up at Howells’ in the morning begging for five dollars, which the old man grudgingly handed over.  Hartmann promised to repay the loan the next time he came, cynically noting that “at that time I still believed in the possibility of such things,” but never visited Howells at his home again.

Howells2

Another anecdote reinforces the idea that Hartmann was struggling financially for much of his early life.  “Publisher McKay was with a shotgun after me,” Hartmann notes.  “He wanted his $12 back.  But he did not succeed.”

Shotgun

In true Bohemian fashion, Sadakichi Hartmann never quite got out of his dire financial straits, despite his later success as a poet and literary critic.  He eventually moved to California, living and working in Hollywood (and even making a cameo on Douglas Fairbanks’ 1924 film The Thief of Bagdad).  In his later years, out of work and in deteriorating health, he moved in with one of his daughters in the California desert.  Hartmann eventually died in 1944, at the age of 77.

The Special Collections & Archives department of the University of California, Riverside holds a substantial collection of Hartmann’s papers.  It is rare to find his papers and remnants of his personal library “in the wild,” so to speak, and MSU is lucky to have his annotated copy of this Whitman poem.  The handwritten remembrances and anecdotes in the back typify the personal connection that many individuals have with their books, but Hartmann’s notes are peculiarly exceptional due to their uniqueness and association value.

Scans of all of the notes are below, with transcriptions.  I have cleaned up Hartmann’s punctuation slightly for readability, and included [in brackets] my assumptions about missing words affecting the meaning of certain sentences.  As with anything, though, some passages are up for interpretation.  Click on the images for full-sized versions.

afterallnottocreateonly5_png

I spoke about European
expositions. W. said “Oy!”
I said they seem to manage
them more artistically, perhaps
only in detail.
W. said “Show different things,
perhaps, but it amounts to the
same thing.”

One day I asked Whitman
about his opinion of Ibsen [and]
Niet[z]sche. He had read
neither of them. Like most
American authors he was
extremely ignorant about contemporary
foreign literature.

afterallnottocreateonly1_png

Mrs. Davis was a bad cook.
Sloppy, old New Jersey style.
Couldn’t fry meat, only
make gravy. Not even a
good baker. – Pam Walt!

Met Whitman’s housekeeper
after his death in Philadelphia.
I asked “Did he leave you
nothing?” She answered “Nothing
to speak of (Whitman left her
[$]200). I thought he would do
more.” And I believe he
should have.

Saw Donaldson repeatedly.
He lived in a simple red
brick house. He explained,
“I live in a house with such
a simple exterior, because
some day the Revolution
will come. People do not
know what is inside.”
D – fool!

afterallnottocreateonly2_png

Whitman did not like my
remark that some day he
would be put on the
back shelves, like all
of us suppose, [when?] we are no
longer a vital force, only
indirectly so as all good
literature. Kennedy told
me that I had no right
to say such things to the
old man.

Sent copies of Whitman at
my own expense to:
          Georg Brandes,
          Paul Heyse,
          Sanagui [?],
     some Russian critic,
and two other critics,
I have forgotten to whom.
          6 copies in all.

My article on Whitman in the
Münchener Neueste Nachrichten
was my first literary effort
that was printed (1885).

afterallnottocreateonly3_png

At my first Whitman reading
(1896 at Katherine Stagg’s house,
N.Y.), Stedman sent his secretary
as a representative. She
was silly enough to interrupt
me. “Please, tell me what
is all this about? Will
it go on forever?”
          “Until it is finished,” I
replied.

Drank a bottle of champagne
with old Pfaff. Had a place
somewhere near Madison Sq.
Did not get anything out
of him except that
“Whitman was a fine chap.”

Dr. Nordan asserted that Whitman
showed traits of insanity.
I protested most vehemently
to such a statement.
“Was he not absent minded?”
the doctor querried.
“Yes,” I replied, “but he was
always a good listener.”
“What of that?” the fanatic replied.
“What on earth would prevent
a mad man from being a
good listener?”

afterallnottocreateonly4_png

Lawyer Sewill of Camden,
one of Whitman’s admirers,
said to me
“One does not write about such
things. You know, one doesn’t.
One can not talk publicly
about the sex relations with
one’s wife.”
“But he did,” I insisted,
“and he thinks he was right.
Is not one man’s opinion as
good as another?”

Publisher McKay was with a
shotgun after me. He wanted
his $12 back. But he did not
succeed. The following witticism
          occured:
     “I want the twelve dollars back.”
     “That is your business.”
     “I know it is. But when[…]
     how – from you – when will
     you ever have it to give it back?”
     “That’s my business.”

Called about 11 a.m. in the early [18]90[s] at W.D. Howells.
He came from his study,
the parlor, and said rather brusquely
          “I told you not to come in
the morning. I do not like to be
disturbed at this hour of the day.”
          “Excuse me—” I stammered.
“You came to talk to me about
Whitman? Well, you must come
again.”
“No, I came to ask you for five
dollars. I really need it very
badly.”
Howells grumbled to himself, then
produced a five dollar note.
          “I [will] return it next time I come,” I
ventured to say. At that time I
still believed in the possibility of
such things.
          “Very well,” said Howells, “but
don’t come in the morning. Any
other time. Will be glad to
see you.”
          But somehow I never came
again, neither in the morning
nor any other time of the day.

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Found in the Vault: An Inscription From F. Scott Fitzgerald

As promised last time, this week I’m highlighting a particularly interesting and timely find in the Special Collections vault:  A personalized presentation inscription from F. Scott Fitzgerald, found inside a first edition copy of his book The Great Gatsby.  

With the release of Baz Luhrmann’s film version of the novel earlier this year, it’s safe to say that The Great Gatsby has been in the public consciousness quite a bit lately, whatever anyone’s particular opinion of the movie may have been.

Author's presentation inscription.  Front free endpaper, The Great Gatsby (XX PS3511.I9 G7 1925 c.2)

Author’s presentation inscription. Found on the front free endpaper of MSU’s first edition copy of The Great Gatsby (XX PS3511.I9 G7 1925 c.2)

The inscription, made out to Charles T. Scott, provides some interesting insight into the character of Jay Gatsby, and gives us a glimpse at Fitzgerald’s creative process in writing the novel:

 Gatsby was never quite real to me.  His original served for a good enough exterior until about the middle of the book he grew thin and I began to fill him with my own emotional life.  So he’s synthetic – and that’s one of the flaws in this book.  F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ellerslie, Edgemoor, Delaware, 1927

Aside from its potential literary importance, this inscription is also an especially valuable piece of provenance evidence.

The start point and the end point for the book’s chain of custody are obvious, of course – the book was published in 1925 and belongs to MSU Special Collections now.  The presentation inscription is dated 1927, which means that the author likely had the book in his possession prior to that date, at which point it changed hands to Charles T. Scott, the recipient named in the inscription.  But what about the ownership history of the volume in the intervening years?

It’s easy to see that this inscription could be very interesting from a literary or scholarly perspective.  More than merely an author’s autograph or a personalized dedication (e.g., “To my good friend Charles – enjoy!”), this note gives us new information about the author’s own perspective of a central character in The Great Gatsby  a work still widely read and studied, considered to be one of the great American novels of the 20th century.

Such an inscription would surely be of interest to scholars of literature or Fitzgerald bibliographers, then — and indeed we find it quoted in a few different sources.  A reference to this inscription turns up in a short essay by James E. Miller, Jr., in a Bloom’s Guides edition of The Great Gatsby.  The inscription is also quoted in a biography of Fitzgerald by Scott Donaldson entitled Fool for Love: F. Scott Fitzgerald.  Donaldson writes:

While Daisy was obviously modeled on Ginevra King, Fitzgerald originally based the figure of Gatsby on a stock manipulator he’d encountered in Great Neck and then let the character gradually change into himself. “Gatsby was never quite real to me,” he admitted. “His original served for a good enough exterior until about the middle of the book he grew thin and I began to fill him with my emotional life.”

But how did these authors cite the text of this inscription, an inscription unique to the copy in MSU Special Collections?  Might they have viewed the book at MSU, or was the inscription noted in another source, predating the university’s acquistion of the volume?

Donaldson fortunately cites a source for his quotation:  F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Descriptive Bibliography, by the late Fitzgerald scholar Matthew Joseph Bruccoli.  In that work, Bruccoli indicates that an old bookseller catalog was his source for the transcribed inscription.  Some additional research returns another, more recent work edited by Bruccoli:  F. Scott Fitzgerald in the Marketplace: The Auction and Dealer Catalogues, 1935-2006.   This work provides the bookseller’s description of this particular copy, from Goodspeed’s Catalogue #303 in 1938, which lists the book for sale — and for $4.50 no less.  First edition dust jackets tell us that The Great Gatsby was originally sold in 1925 for $2.00!

Entry in Goodspeed's Catalogue, from F. Scott Fitzgerald in the Marketplace: The Auction and Dealer Catalogues, 1935-2006, edited by Matthew Joseph Bruccoli.

Entry in Goodspeed’s Catalogue, from F. Scott Fitzgerald in the Marketplace: The Auction and Dealer Catalogues, 1935-2006, edited by Matthew Joseph Bruccoli.  Image from Google Books.

This catalog entry gives us another link in the chain:  at some point in the 11 years since the book was gifted to Charles Scott it ended up at Goodspeed’s Book Shop in Boston.

A second entry in F. Scott Fitzgerald in the Marketplace gives another bookseller’s description of the item – appearing in a 1941 sale of the collection of H. Bertram Smith, at the Parke-Bernet auction house in New York (Sale Number 325, 10-11 December).  This tells us that at some point in the three years between its listing in Goodspeed’s Catalogue and its listing in the Parke-Bernet sale, the book came into the possession of Mr. Smith, whoever he might have been (note that the price of the book has gone up again).

Entry in a sale catalog of the collection of H. Bertram Smith, Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York, 1941.  Also found in F. Scott Fitzgerald in the Marketplace.

Entry in an auction catalog for the collection of H. Bertram Smith, Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York, 1941. Also found in F. Scott Fitzgerald in the Marketplace.  Image from Google Books.

But we may be able to fill in more of the links in this volume’s chain of custody.  Looking at MSU’s acquisition record for this particular item, we find that the book was donated to MSU Special Collections in 1998 — on May 28th, to be precise.  The acquisition record provides us with the previous owner.  We’re currently in the process of reconnecting with that donor, and part of that process is to inquire about his (or his family’s) acquisition of the book.  I had wanted to hold off on this post until that information had been collected, but I’ll hopefully have an update for you in the coming weeks that fills in more of this book’s ownership history — and the chances are good that with a little more digging we’ll have a complete picture of this volume’s provenance.

While it is uncommon to be able to recreate a book’s complete ownership history through a single piece of provenance evidence, in the case of this particular copy of The Great Gatsby, we may very well be able to do just that.  Cases like this one show just how crucial and potentially rewarding studying provenance can be.

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