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Seward Collins papers

Call Number: YCAL MSS 12

Scope and Contents

The Seward Collins Papers contain correspondence, subject files, business papers, and other papers documenting aspects of the life and career of Seward Collins, editor and publisher of The Bookman and its successor, The American Review. The material spans the years 1918 to 1952, with the bulk falling between 1927 and 1937.

The papers are housed in twenty-one boxes and are divided into four series. The greater part of the collection consists of correspondence. The second largest part is made up of subject files containing articles, short stories, and poems submitted for publication, as well as biographical material, newspaper clippings, notes, and the like. There is also a small selection of business papers and a miscellaneous section of other papers. Oversize material is placed at the end of the collection.

Series I, Correspondence , which comprises over half the collection, covers the period 1927-37 and is composed primarily of the professional correspondence of Marvin McCord Lowes, managing editor, Dorothea Brande, associate editor, and Seward Collins with writers, poets, reviewers, critics, and publishing houses, concerning literary matters. The collection also includes correspondence from the early 1920s, when John Farrar was editor of the The Bookman, then owned by the George H. Doran Company, as well as some from the years immediately following suspension of The American Review. In addition, personal correspondence to and from Seward Collins is interspersed throughout the collection. These letters date from Collins's college days at Princeton in the 1920s up until a few months before his death in 1952.

Much of the correspondence in the collection is routine in nature, such as returned subscription renewal notices marked "discontinue"; however, other parts of the correspondence give insight into several aspects of the American literary world of the 1920s and '30s and also provides specific information on the intellectual and political development of Seward Collins. The eminent British psychoanalyst and writer, Havelock Ellis, had considerable influence upon Collins during the liberal period of his early life. Collins repeatedly asked to write the authorized Ellis biography. Around this same time, he briefly undertook premedical studies with the intention of becoming a practicing psychoanalyst.

Collins was not without influential friends in the literary world when he purchased The Bookman, as the files of Robert Benchley, Frank Crowninshield, and Dorothy Parker attest. Parker published numerous poems in The Bookman. Collins knew and corresponded with many of the nation's leading literary figures who held leftist and, in some cases, radical political views. Edmund Wilson was an old Princeton friend. Collins met Margaret Sanger while he was contemplating psychoanalytic studies. Upton Sinclair, whom he had met in a sanatarium in California, published his novel Boston, based on the Sacco and Vanzetti trial, in installments in The Bookman during the first year of Collins's ownership.

After purchasing The Bookman, Collins appointed the well-known reporter and literary critic Burton Rascoe as editor and cast himself publisher. The arrangement did not last because Collins soon wanted a greater hand in the editorial direction of the journal. Rascoe resented this interference and the two quarreled over editorial policies. After only eight months, Rascoe was fired and Collins assumed the position of editor.

The true strength of the collection lies in correspondence with adherents of various politically conservative literary movements, namely the Humanists, Distributists, Monarchists, and Agrarians.

Collins promoted the works of the Humanists Irving Babbitt and Paul Elmer More so strongly after his transformation in 1928 that The Bookman received numerous complaints that it was becoming almost exclusively an organ of Humanism. The files on Babbitt and More exemplify Collins's dedication to cause.

The Distributists, most of whom were British, advocated the dismantling of the capitalist-industrial state, the redistribution of property, the re-establishment of the craft and guild system, and a strong monarchy, aristocracy, and church--in effect, the creation of a modern-day medieval world order. Representative Distributists found in the collection are G. K. Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, and A. J. Penty.

A small group of Monarchists, most of whom were staunch Catholics and Anglo-Catholics, looked longingly into the past. Well-known Monarchists found in the collection are Hoffman Nickerson and Ralph Adams Cram, renowned architect and designer of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City.

The Agrarian movement is the most thoroughly represented of all literary movements associated with The Bookman and The American Review. There are considerable amounts of correspondence from ten of the major figures affiliated with The Southern Review, The Sewanee Review, and the English Department at Vanderbilt University. These correspondents are Herbert Agar, Cleanth Brooks, Donald Davidson, William Knickerbocker, Andrew Lytle, Frank Owsley, John Crowe Ransom, Robert Shafer, Allen Tate, and Robert Penn Warren. For several years Collins and the Agrarians were in close sympathy with one another. Allen Tate, for example, was virtually a contributing editor on The American Review. There was even a serious proposal presented by Herbert Agar to make The American Review the official voice of the Agrarian movement and to move it from New York City to the Upper South or the Midwest. In the mid-1930s, however, basic differences between Collins and the Agrarians began to surface. Increasingly Collins advocated a pro-fascist, strongly centralized government, whereas the Agrarians adhered to a Jeffersonian notion of keeping government small and decentralized. In 1936 the Agrarians and Collins went their separate ways following the aftermath of Grace Lumpkin's interview with Collins, which appeared in the February 1936 issue of FIGHT, a pro-communist magazine.

There is also correspondence to and from major American critics and arbiters of literary taste scattered throughout the series, such as G. R. Elliott, John Gould Fletcher, Norman Foerster, and Gorham Munson. The Theodore Besterman, W. H. Salter, and Mrs. [Henry] Sidgwick correspondence reveals the involvement of Collins and his wife in psychic phenomena. These individuals were affiliated with the Society for Psychical Research in London during the 1930s, a time when Dorothea Brande was testing her powers as a medium. Collins was also an ardent book collector who amassed a large private library, and the correspondence documents his collecting activities. Will Durant asked Collins at one point if he could borrow several hard-to-locate classical volumes, while preparing the second volume of The Story of Civilization.

Series II, Subject Files , is composed of material related to both individuals and general topics. Individual subject files make up roughly ninty percent of the series. Correspondence in the form of cover letters for articles, short stories, and poems submitted for publication is occasionally found in these files. These files also served to store facts on writers and their work. Frequently they contain short biographies clipped from printed sources or written out in longhand by one of the editors, usually Collins. Individual subject files often contain newspaper clippings of book reviews, speeches, public appearances, or some other form of publicity about a writer.

Subject files on Agrarianism, Fascism, Humanism, etc. constitute a small part of Series II. These files are usually made up of newspaper clippings or magazine articles. The files on The Bookman, The American Review, and The Bookman succeeded by The American Review provide insight into how the journals were perceived by the press. The Spain folders contain information on Collins's work with American News in 1918-19 as well as his interest in and support for the fascist cause during the Spanish Civil War.

Series III, Business Papers , contains incomplete business records of The Bookman and The American Review. The series includes bills and receipts, inventories of file drawer contents, circulation and subscription statistics, lists of articles published about authors, plus legal papers, policy statements, histories of both journals, publicity, graphics, and advertising.

Series IV, Other Papers , is divided into three sections, namely Writings, Personal Papers, and Printed Works. Writings consists of two papers presented in journalism class and poems written by Seward Collins while at Princeton, as well as some copies of his editorial "The Eagle Eye" from The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. Personal Papers consists of biographical information and miscellaneous notes and papers relating to Seward Collins. Printed Works contains issues of magazines to which Collins subscribed.

Oversize contains material from Series II, III, and IV. There are files on Spain and Burton Rascoe, financial records, galley proofs, advertisements, and several oversize single magazine issues.


  • 1918 - 1952
  • Majority of material found within 1927 - 1937


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

The Seward Collins Papers are the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Seward Collins Papers were acquired by the Yale Collection of American Literature in the summer of 1953.


9.5 Linear Feet (21 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The Seward Collins Papers contain correspondence, subject files, business papers, and other papers documenting Collins's editorship of The Bookman and The American Review.

SEWARD COLLINS (1899-1952)

Seward Bishop Collins was born in Syracuse, New York, on April 22, 1899, the heir to a national chain of tobacco shops. In 1901 his family moved to New York City. He attended Hill School in Pottstown, Pennsylvania and Princeton University. In 1918 he served on the staff of the Committee on Public Information, Madrid Office. A few years later, he held editorial positions with The Brooklyn Daily Eagle and Vanity Fair.

At Princeton Collins developed a strong interest in H. L. Mencken, Havelock Ellis, and Bertrand Russell. The works of these and several modernist writers contributed significantly to the formation of Collins's liberal philosophical and political views at the time. Collins contracted tuberculosis in 1922 and spent the next three years convalescing in Colorado and California.

In 1926 Collins moved back to New York City, where he began having an affair with Dorothy Parker. They spent the spring of that year traveling in France and Spain, visiting the Murphys, the Stewarts, the MacLeishes, the Seldeses, and the Fitzgeralds. By 1927 the affair, which had had its ups and downs, was over; however, the two of them settled into a nonsexual friendship. In that same year Collins bought The Bookman, a respected, high-caliber monthly journal founded in 1895, devoted mainly to books and literary matters. The following summer he underwent a philosophical conversion after reading the works of the humanist writer, Irving Babbitt. Collins quickly came under the influence of Babbitt and the other leading humanist author of the day, Paul Elmer More. Soon he renounced the tenants of modernism and proclaimed himself a humanist. Around the same time, Collins's politics changed from leftist to ultra-conservative and, in certain aspects, pro-fascist, and his new philosophical and political views became more and more evident in the pages of The Bookman.

In April 1933 The Bookman was succeeded by The American Review. This new monthly became a vehicle to publish the views of the revolutionary or conservative right, as Collins sought to present an Americanized version of fascism as a solution to the politically troubled 1930s. The journal was devoted to contemporary American economics, politics, philosophy, and literature, and for a little over four years served as a major forum for several "conservative-traditionalist" movements, notably the Humanists, the Neo-Scholastics, the Distributists, and the Agrarians. Relations were particularly close with the Agrarians. The American Review ceased publication after the October 1937 issue.

In October 1936, Collins married his long-time associate editor, Dorothea Thompson Brande, a respected writer and critic. They moved to a farm near Wonalancet, New Hampshire, in 1941. Dorothea Brande died in December 1948. Seward Collins died in Laconia, New Hampshire, on December 8, 1952.

Guide to the Seward Collins Papers
Under Revision
by T. Michael Womack
July 1987
Description rules
Beinecke Manuscript Unit Archival Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library Repository

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