The Dial Magazine:
A Brief History
Having begun in 1840 as a transcendentalist magazine edited first by Margaret Fuller and later by Emerson, the Dial was re-established in 1880 as a "socially humanitarian" fortnightly composed of letters, ideology, and propaganda much in the vein of the later Partisan Review (Moore, 363, n. 1).
From 1916 on, a new editor, Martyn Johnston, set the magazine on a more, "liberal even increasingly radical course" until the editorial board was almost torn apart in 1918 by the vehement disagreement between Randolphe Bourne's absolute, principled pacifism and the pragmatism of John Dewey (Joost, Thayer 2-12).
It was at this juncture, when the magazine was floundering both ideologically and financially, that Scofield Thayer entered negotiations to buy it. Two years later he had transformed it into a journal of art and culture; the liberal political agenda had become implicit and diffuse, absorbed into a radical and clearly focused aesthetic agenda.
Scofield Thayer was a wealthy graduate of Harvard who had attended Magdalen College in Oxford. One writer described him as "too wealthy to have to work for a living and too interested in the arts to want to increase his inheritance by engaging in business" (Joost, Thayer 6).
A friend of T.S. Eliot's, he had strong connections with leading artistic circles in both America and Europe. Under his editorship, The Dial was filled with illustrations of many new works of art -- many of them bought for The Dial Collection by Thayer -- as well as the best in poetry, prose, and drama.
The list of artists published and discussed in The Dial is astonishing. The first year alone saw the appearance of Sherwood Anderson, Djuna Barnes, Randolphe Bourne, Kenneth Burke, Hart Crane, E. E. Cummings, Charles Demuth, Kahlil Gibran, Gaston Lachaise, Amy Lowell, Marianne Moore, Ezra Pound, Odilon Redon, Betrand Russell, Carl Sandburg,, Van Wyck Brooks, W. B. Yeats. (The Table of Contents lists notable contributors for each issue of The Dial).
In addition, Thayer solicited a series of letters reporting on the cultural life of Continental capitals: first T. Eliot and then Raymond Mortimer contributed The London Letter"; John Eglinton posted the "Dublin Letter"; Ezra Pound and then Paul Morand wrote from Paris; Thomas Mann reported on German trends, while Edward Moore sent news from Prague and Hugo von Hoffmannsthal from Vienna.
Thayer was sole editor of the magazine from 1920 until 1926. Gilbert Seldes was managing editor at first, assuming an increasingly important role when Thayer was in Europe 1922-23. When Seldes himself left for Europe, in 1923, Kenneth Burke took over for a while (Joost, Thayer 74-6).
In 1923 Alyse Gregory assumed editorical duties, Burke now acting as her assistant. In 1924, when Gregory and her husband, Llewelyn Powys, had to move to the country for his health, Marianne Moore began to assume a gradually increasing share of editorial responsibilities.
Moore took over Gregory's position as managing editor in March of 1925, and when Thayer left permanently for Europe that year, she assumed full duties as acting editor, although Thayer's letter of resignation was not printed until June 1926.
Thayer fell ill in 1927, and although Marianne Moore kept The Dial going for two years, by 1929 the magazine was unable to continue without his financial support. The Dial ceased publication in July of 1929.
In June1921, Thayer announced the creation of the Dial Award, $2000 to be presented to one of its contributors, acknowledging their "service to letters" in hopes of providing the artist with "leisure through which at least one artist may serve God (or go to the Devil) according to his own lights. Eight awards were granted. "
- 1921 -- Sherwood Anderson
- 1922 -- T.S. Eliot
- 1923 -- Van Wyck Brooks
- 1924 -- Marianne Moore
- 1925 -- E. E. Cummings
- 1926 -- William Carlos Williams
- 1927 -- Ezra Pound
- 1928 -- Kenneth Burke
Hoffman, Frederick J., Charles Allen, and Carolyn F. Urlich. The Little Magazine: A History and Bibliography. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1947.
Joost, Nicholas. Scofield Thayer and The Dial: An Illustrated History. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1964.
Joost, Nicholas and Alvin Sullivan. D.H. Lawrence and "The Dial". Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1970.
Moore, Marianne. "The Dial: A Retrospect." The Complete Prose of Marianne Moore, ed. Patricia C. Willis. 1986; Penguin Books, 1987, pp. 357-64.
Sutton, Walter, ed. Pound, Thayer, Watson, and The Dial: A Story in Letters. Gainsville: UP of Florida, 1994.
Wasserstrom, William. A Dial Miscellany. Syracuse UP, 1963.
Wasserstrom, William. The Time of "The Dial". Syracuse UP, 1963.
Wasserstrom, William. "T.S. Eliot and The Dial." Sewanne Review 70(1962): 81-92.
Zingman, Barbara. The Dial: An Author Index. Troy, NY: The Whitston Publishing Company, 1975.
The background for this page is derived from a sketch of Scofield Thayer
by E.E. Cummings, published on the title page of Nicholas Joost.
Scofield Thayer and The Dial: An Illustrated History.
Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1964.
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Dr. Elisa Kay Sparks
Last update: 9/7/98