John Henry Mackay

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John Henry Mackay
John Henry Mackay.gif
Born(1864-02-06)6 February 1864
Greenock, Scotland
Died16 May 1933(1933-05-16) (aged 69)
Stahnsdorf, Germany
Pen nameSagitta
OccupationWriter, philosopher
Nationalitydual British/German
GenreNon-fiction, fiction, poetry
SubjectPolitical philosophy
Literary movementNaturalism
Notable worksDie Anarchisten (The Anarchists)
Der Freiheitsucher (The Freedomseeker)

John Henry Mackay, also known by the pseudonym Sagitta, (6 February 1864 – 16 May 1933) was an egoist anarchist, thinker and writer. Born in Scotland and raised in Germany, Mackay was the author of Die Anarchisten (The Anarchists, 1891) and Der Freiheitsucher (The Searcher for Freedom, 1921).


Mackay was born in Greenock, Scotland, on 6 February 1864. His mother came from a prosperous Hamburg family. His father was a Scottish marine insurance broker who died when Mackay was less than two years old. Mother and son then returned to Germany, where Mackay grew up.[1]

He gained fame as a poet and author of naturalist novels. Some of his earliest poems attracted the attention of censors for their socialist sentiments, so Mackay republished them in Switzerland.[2]

During a one-year stay in London (1887/88), he discovered the works of Max Stirner, whose book Der Einzige und sein Eigenthum (The Ego and its Own) had nearly been forgotten in the second half of the 19th century. Stirner soon became his life's topic. When an English translation of Stirner's work was published in 1907, James Huneker wrote: "To Mackay's labors we owe all we know of a man who was as absolutely swallowed up by the years as if he had never existed."[3]

The publication of the novel Die Anarchisten: Kulturgemälde aus dem Ende des XIX Jahrhunderts in Zurich in 1891 and in an English translation as The Anarchists: A Picture of Civilization at the Close of the Nineteenth Century the same year brought him far wider fame.[1] The novel "tirelessly championed" the ideas of Stirner.[2] He further lifted this 19th century philosopher from obscurity by writing the biography Max Stirner – sein Leben und sein Werk (1898).

His novel Der Schwimmer: Die Geschichte einer Leidenschaft (The Swimmer: The Story of a Passion) (1901), was one of the first sports novels, set in the world of competitive swimming and diving. Mackay described himself as "always a passionate swimmer" thought not a sport for him. He dedicated the book to "my beloved art of swimming".[4] The novel describes "the rise and fall of an individual who prides himself on his individuality, but who finally comes to see that individuality by itself is not enough to sustain him".[5]

Starting soon after that, he embarked on a literary project to argue on behalf on sexual relations between men, particularly between men and boys as young as teenagers. He himself was attracted to boys aged 14 to 17.[6] He planned to publish several volumes under the pseudonym "Sagitta", but government authorities had the early ones banned for indecency in 1909. His publisher never revealed Mackay's identity, though he was subject to fines, which Mackay paid on his behalf. Mackay published these works and additional material as Die Buecher der namelosen Liebe von Sagitta (Sagitta's Books of the Love without a Name). Included was Fenny Skaller, an autobiographical account of his own love interests.[1] The series was conceived in 1905 and completed in 1913. One of his themes was the variability of sexual identity and expression. He attacked the medical establishment's attempt to create categories and lebels: "For physicians, people are only valuable when they are sick."[7]

He published the novel Der Freiheitsucher (The Freedom Seeker), a sequel to Die Anarchisten, in 1920. It failed to achieve the earlier volume's success and Mackay was ruined financially by the inflation of the early Weimar years.

He nevertheless published his seventh Sagitta novel in 1926, Der Puppenjunge (The Hustler).[8][a] Providing a blurb for the 1985 English translation, Christopher Isherwood wrote that the novel "gives a picture of the Berlin sexual underworld early in this century which I know, from my own experience, to be authentic."[9] It depicted the social world of "young men who prostitute themselves in Berlin, without much concern for their own sexual identity or that of their clients".[7] In the course of a year centered on his 16th birthday, Gunther learns to survive in Berlin, selling himself and socializing with his peers, living the narrowest of lives, without plans beyond surviving another day. His counterpart Hermann, six or seven years older, "tedious and ineffectual" in one critic's view,[10] arrives to take a job in a publishing house and is destroyed by his infatuation with Gunther. In the closing pages, a new character argues for the decriminalization of same-sex relations and tells Hermann his love for Gunther was certain to end as Gunther became a man, asserting Mackay's particular sexual interest and undercutting Hermann's sentimental vision.[11][12]

He published his last novel Der Unschuldige: Die Geschichte Einer Wandlung (The Innocent: The Story of a Transformation) in 1931; it was the first work published under his own name to include homosexual characters.[1]

A volume of his selected works was published in a single volume in 1928.[13]

Mackay died in Stahnsdorf, a town not far from Berlin, on 16 May 1933.[14] His will asked for his manuscripts and letters to be destroyed, and for one of his creditors to receive his unsold books.[15] His will specified that any new printings of the Sagitta novels should be published under his own name.[1]

A brief notice of his death in the New York Times noted he became famous in the 1890s for Anarchists and Storm (his poetry collection) and said that in Germany he was called "an anarchistic lyricist".[16]

Mackay lived in Berlin from 1896 onwards and became a friend of Benedict Friedlaender, a scientist and the co-founder of the Gemeinschaft der Eigenen.

Mackay was published in the United States in his friend Benjamin Tucker's magazine, Liberty.


Max Reger set a Mackay poem as "Morgen" (Op. 66 No. 10).[17]

Richard Strauss set two of Mackay's poems to music in his Vier Lieder for high voice and piano (Op. 27), a wedding gift to his wife in 1894, "Morgen!" and "Heimliche Aufforderung". Other settings of Mackay's poems by Strauss include "Verführung" for voice and orchestra in 1896 (Op. 33 No. 1) and "In der Campagna" for voice and piano in 1899 (Op. 41 No. 2).[18]

Arnold Schoenberg set Mackay’s poem "Am Wegrand" to music, his Op. 6 No. 6.[19]

Works (incomplete)[edit]

  • Kinder des Hochlands (1885)
    • Children of the Highlands
  • Anna Hermsdorf (1885)
  • Sturm (1888), poetry collection, the first of several editions with additions
  • Die Anarchisten (1891)
    • The Anarchists
  • Albert Schnells Untergang. Schluß der Geschichte ohne Handlung: Die letzte Pflicht (1895)
    • Albert Schnell's Downfall. End of the Story without Plot: The Last Duty
  • Max Stirner – sein Leben und sein Werk (1898)
    • Max Stirner, his Life and Work
  • Der Schwimmer (1900)
    • The Swimmer
  • Der Sybarit (1903)
    • The Sybarites
  • Hans, mein Freund und Die Wasserratte (1910)
    • Hans, my friend and the water rat
  • Der Freiheitsucher. Psychologie einer Entwicklung (ca. 1920)
    • The Freedom Seeker. psychology of development
  • Der Puppenjunge (1926)
    • The Hustler
  • Die Namenlose Liebe, seven volumes (1906–1926)
    • The Love without a Name
  • Der Unschuldige (1936)
    • The Innocent

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The title was a misspelled form of a contemporary Berlin slang term for "male prostitute". Hubert Kennedy, translator of Der Puppenjunge, notes that Mackay uses the word Pupenjunge–note the spelling–repeatedly in the novel. That was the contemporary slang expression for "hustler", derived from the words pupen, to fart, and Junge, boy. It was too crude a term to use for the title, so the novel's title uses the invented word Puppenjunge, a compound of "doll" and "boy", "so as not to offend the public".[8]


  1. ^ a b c d e Kennedy, Hubert (2002). "Mackay, John Henry (1864–1933)". glbtq: an encyclopedia of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender, & queer culture. Archived from the original on 19 June 2022. Retrieved 25 August 2011.
  2. ^ a b Fahnders, Walter (2016). "Mackay, John Henry (Ps Sagitta)". In Schiller, Dieter; et al. (eds.). Lexikon sozialistischer Literatur: Ihre Geschichte in Deutschland bis 1945 (in German). J.B. Metzler. p. 311. ISBN 9783476035486. Retrieved 19 June 2022.
  3. ^ Huneker, James (20 April 1907). "Ideas of Max Stirner". New York Times. Retrieved 18 June 2022.
  4. ^ John Henry Mackay (2001). John Henry Mackay: Autobiographical Writings. Translated by Hubert Kennedy. Xlibris US. p. 53. ISBN 9781465321480. Retrieved 19 June 2022.
  5. ^ Hubert Kennedy (2001). Preface. The Swimmer. By John Henry Mackay. Xlibris Corporation. ISBN 9781465321473. Retrieved 19 June 2022.
  6. ^ Hubert Kennedy (2001). Introduction. John Henry Mackay: Autobiographical Writings. By John Henry Mackay. Translated by Hubert Kennedy. Xlibris US. p. 53. ISBN 9781465321480. Retrieved 19 June 2022.
  7. ^ a b Tobin, Robert Deam (2014). "Discovering Sexuality: The Status of Literature as Evidence". In Rens Bod; Jaap Maat; Thijs Weststeijn (eds.). The Making of the Humanities. Vol. III: The Modern Humanities. University of Amsterdam Press. pp. 583–596. ISBN 9789089645166. JSTOR j.ctt12877vs.41.
  8. ^ a b John Henry Mackay (1985). The Hustler: The Story of a Nameless Love from Friedrich Street. Translated by Hubert Kennedy. p. 293. ISBN 0932870589.
  9. ^ Salton-Cox, Glyn (2019). "The Queer 1930s". In Smith, James (ed.). The Cambridge Companion to British Literature of the 1930s. Cambridge University Press. p. 181. ISBN 9781108481083. Retrieved 19 June 2022.
  10. ^ Page, Norman (2000). Auden and Isherwood: The Berlin Years. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 83, 91–3. ISBN 9780230598980. Retrieved 30 June 2022.
  11. ^ Wilper, James P. (15 February 2016). Reconsidering the Emergence of the Gay Novel in English and German. pp. 6, 70, et passim. ISBN 9781612494210.
  12. ^ Wolf, Benedikt (2021). "Von heißen Küssen, besudelten Betten und beischlafähnlichen Handlungen". In Michael Navratil; Florian Remele (eds.). Unerlaubte Gleichheit: Homosexualität und mann-männliches Begehren in Kulturgeschichte und Kulturvergleich (in German). transcript Verlag. pp. 278ff. ISBN 9783839453568.
  13. ^ Leo Kasarnowski, ed. (1928). John Henry Mackay's Werke in einem Band [John Henry Mackay's Works in One Volume]. Berlin: Stirner Verlag.
  14. ^ Kühlmann, Wilhelm (29 September 2010). Kräm – Marp. ISBN 9783110220490.
  15. ^ Riley, Thomas A. (1945). "New England Anarchism in Germany". The New England Quarterly. 18 (1): 25–38. doi:10.2307/361389. ISSN 0028-4866. JSTOR 361389.
  16. ^ "John Henry Mackay". New York Times. 23 May 1933. Retrieved 19 June 2022.
  17. ^ Bradley, Carol June (2014). Index to Poetry in Music. Routledge. p. 609. ISBN 9781135381202. Retrieved 27 June 2022.
  18. ^ Schuh, Willi (1982). Richard Strauss: A Chronicle of the Early Years 1864-1898. Cambridge University Press. pp. 258–9. ISBN 9780521241045. Retrieved 18 June 2022.
  19. ^ Frisch, Walter (1997). The Early Works of Arnold Schoenberg, 1893–1908. University of California Press. Retrieved 18 June 2022. The poem, by John Henry Mackay, which communicates alienation and despair ... called forth an equally powerful response from Schoenberg.
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