David Park Barnitz

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David Park Barnitz (June 24, 1878 – October 10, 1901) was an American poet, best known for his 1901 volume the Book of Jade, a classic of decadent poetry. In 1901, San Francisco bookseller William Doxey, publisher of the popular humorist Gelett Burgess, as well as many obscure, macabre (and sometimes decadent) authors, came to New York City. Two years before, his publishing enterprise, called "At the Sign of the Lark", had gone bankrupt. By February 1901, Doxey's new venture was bankrupt once again, but not before he had published—at its author's insistence, anonymously—a little-known masterpiece of decadent and nihilistic verse, entitled, simply, The Book of Jade.

Later that autumn, mid-west newspapers were reporting the sudden death of a 23-year-old Harvard graduate and Orientalist scholar, David Park Barnitz (1878–1901), who was, the obituaries said, the anonymous author of "a volume of poems...which was spoken of as of unusual merit." That book was The Book of Jade—one of the poems from The Book of Jade having been published in the Overland Monthly in March, 1901, under a new title, but under Park Barnitz's own name. And while the newspapers were saying that Barnitz had died accidentally, of an "enlarged heart", it was soon being whispered that Barnitz had actually killed himself.

A student of such luminaries as Dr. Carl M. Belser, Prof. Charles Lanman, and Prof. William James—"a student so intense in his application", the Lutheran papers wrote, "that Professor James of Harvard pronounced him brilliant"—Park Barnitz earned his A.M. (the equivalent of a PhD) at the age of twenty-one, at which time Barnitz was also admitted to membership of the American Oriental Society ¾"his name being suggested by Prof. Lanman, and was the youngest person ever admitted." In The Book of Jade, in the poem "Harvard: On His Twenty-First Year", Barnitz caricatured these instructors, writing of how "Professors sit on lofty stools upcurl'd,/Through Yankee noses drooling all day long;/ I find all these things quite ridiculous."

It was in the realm of poetry, though, rather than Asian Studies, where Barnitz truly left his mark—Barnitz adopting the decadent style to create a monument of unrelieved and unrelenting oblivionist verse, fit to take its place alongside the works of such other gothic and macabre anti-luminaries as Thomas Lovell Beddoes, Count Stenbock, James Thomson (B.V.), H. P. Lovecraft, and the German Bonaventura. A classmate of fellow poet Wallace Stevens, Park Barnitz was a visionary who prefigured modernism in his adoption of new paradigms and literary styles as a form of mask. And the mask which Barnitz adopted, that of the decadents, fitted his intellectual cynicism and misanthropy precisely. The decadents, Barnitz wrote, though they "do not lecture at Harvard", "seem to me the most delightful of contemporary French writers." "All these slaves of the opal," Barnitz goes on, "as one of their obscurest members proclaims them, with their one great man (Verlaine) and their hundred pathetic poets, it is surely a fitting thing to admire. "How nice of them,' one feels like saying, 'to be so dear!' They have not produced a new art, but they have amused."

In the Spring of 2015, Hippocampus Press published a new and expanded edition of The Book of Jade (ed. David E. Schultz and Michael J. Abolafia), with previously unpublished and un-reprinted writings by Barnitz.

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