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Matthew Josephson papers

Call Number: YCAL MSS 26

Scope and Contents

The Matthew Josephson Papers document the life and career of Matthew Josephson. The papers span the dates 1917-79, but the bulk of the material covers the years 1922-76.

The papers consist of four series: I. Correspondence (Boxes 1-11), II. Journals (Box 12), III. Subject Files (Boxes 13-14), and IV. Writings (Boxes 15-20), divided into two sections, Books and Articles. The series closely follow the original order of the papers.

The bulk of the Matthew Josephson's correspondence has been placed in Series I, Correspondence , and arranged alphabetically by correspondent. It includes many carbons of letters written by Josephson which are interfiled with the letters to him. The letters Josephson wrote to his wife, however, are filed separately (Box 6, folders 156-59), as are Hannah's letters to her husband (Box 6, folders 153-55).

Josephson's early career as a poet and reporter and as an "expatriate" in Paris is especially well documented in the Kenneth Burke correspondence. Josephson and Burke critique each other's writings, and refer to the struggles of the "little magazines" Broom, Secession, Aesthete, transition, and Little Review. The breadth of the friendship between Josephson and Burke is revealed in their good-natured disagreements and intellectual dialogues spanning both careers. In their correspondence during the 1930's, for example, they discuss the theory of economic determinism. Their correspondence of the later years includes poems to one another.

The correspondence of Malcolm Cowley, much of which consists of photocopies of originals in the Newberry Library, and that of John Brooks Wheelwright has a similar focus. Other letters that concern Josephson's earlier life include some from Amy Lowell, in which she ultimately rejects his poetry, and one to Marianne Moore, where Josephson criticizes her for changing one of Hart Crane's poems in the Dial.

The correspondence series was heavily used by Josephson in writing his memoirs. His notes in the margins of earlier letters and the later letters given over to reminiscences provide evidence for this. In a December 15, 1961 letter to Hamilton Basso, for instance, Josephson asks "Ham" if he saved his letters to him from the 1930's because he is curious to know what kind of thinking he was doing then. Josephson further remarks that "Ham's" letters "reflect the human condition at the time very well."

Josephson's first memoir, Life Among the Surrealists (1962), documents his experiences with the leading French and expatriate art and literary rebels of the day. The letters of Kenneth Burke and Malcolm Cowley, in particular, discuss Dadaism and the work of Tristan Tzara, André Breton, Louis Aragon, Hans Arp, and others in the movement. Infidel in the Temple (1967) documents Josephson's part in the American left-wing literary movement of the 1930's. Lillian Hellman, Josephine Herbst, Corliss Lamont, Albert Maltz, Kenneth Patchen, and Muriel Rukeyser are among the leftist writers who corresponded with Josephson.

Much of the rest of the correspondence is related to the writing of Josephson's other books and articles. The letters to and from his literary agents, Harold Ober Associates, span most of his career. The correspondence of his publishers, especially Doubleday; Duell, Sloane & Pierce; and Harcourt Brace, mention his books. That of such magazines as The Nation, The New Republic, The New Yorker, Saturday Evening Post, The Southern Review, and The Virginia Quarterly refer to his articles. These letters typically discuss topics for publication, the wording of titles, foreign language or second editions, royalties, and advances, but sometimes they were more personal in nature. The exchanges between Josephson and Charles A. Pierce in the Duell, Sloane & Pierce correspondence also discusses Pierce's personal struggles within that company and Harcourt, Brace & Co., which he left for Duell, Sloane, and Pierce. The professional correspondence contains frequent cross references to specific books and articles in the Writings series.

A good deal of overlap exists between professional and personal correspondence. The letters of individuals that Josephson wrote profiles on, such as Leon Fraser, A. P. Giannini, Jean Hélion, Alger Hiss, Arthur Krock, Carey McWilliams, Harvey O'Conner, Evan Shipman, Charles Sheeler, J. B. Matthews, and Robert Young, provide him with research material and reflect the mutual esteem that author and subject had for each other. In a December 23, 1959 letter, for example, Jean Hélion discusses his belief in the "theory and power of Abstract art" versus the "reality" of it. The Carey McWilliams correspondence includes a typescript copy of references to his appearance in the Fourth Report of the California Senate Fact-Finding Committee on Un-American Activities (1948), together with McWilliams' comments. Evan Shipman sent Josephson typed originals of his poetry and copies of letters Shipman wrote to his mother.

Other correspondence indicates that Josephson's friendships were connected to his political beliefs. The Ruth McKenney letters reveal a long friendship interrupted for some years by a disagreement over Josephson's resignation from the American League of Writers. A February 6, 1935 letter from John Dos Passos, about the political effect of writing, foreshadows their break with the Communist Party.

Josephson's personal relationships are also documented in the series. His relationships to his sons, Eric and Carl, and his wife, Hannah, are touched on in the family correspondence. Josephson's relationships with others, are revealed in the letters of Beulah Compton, Christine Weston, and the letters and original poetry of Katherine Anne Porter. Hannah writes to Matthew in an undated letter that he "has a passion to be foot loose and free of responsibility . . . but has permitted . . . sentiment and habit [to] bind him invisibly to his [marriage]" (Box 6, folder 155). Josephson frequently says the same thing about himself in his journals.

Letter general folders contain single letters from Marcel Duchamp, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Langston Hughes, Arthur Miller, Robert Motherwell, Man Ray, Virgil Thompson, James Thurber, Louis Untermeyer, and Edmund Wilson.

Matthew Josephson's journals, in Series II, Journals , are arranged chronologically from 1934-76. Most of the entries are not dated but their original order has been maintained, including loose papers, which are either interfiled between the loose leaf pages or at the end of specific periods. Josephson sporadically wrote in his journals usually when he was between books. There are two distinct kinds of thinking preserved. Many of his thoughts take on a confessional tone and deal with Josephson's private feelings about his marriage and family, his infatuations, and how he feels as a writer. The remaining entries reflect his thinking on the subject matter of future projects. Sometimes these entries take the form of notes from interviews or books and outlines for writing projects.

Most of the journal entries were written in mid-life, from his late thirties to his late fifties, although some were written retrospectively. Josephson's private thoughts are interwoven with his more objective notes on various subjects.

A great deal of overlap exists both in form and content between the Journals in Series II and the Subject Files in Series III.

The alphabetically arranged Series III, Subject Files , contains notes, reminiscences, clippings, pamphlets, and unpublished writings on the full range of subjects that interested Josephson during his career. The writings are generally fragmentary, for example, undated essays resembling studies for his published works but not, like manuscripts, directly related to any of them. Subject titles such as, "Aspects of the Thirties," "Europe Revisited," "Individualism Intensified in Individual Cases," "The Machine Age," and "Technocracy," are, as near as possible, Josephson's own.

Other topics include Josephson's journey to Prague in the "Iron Curtain" file, his "open" letter of September 14, 1939[?] concerning the Russian-German Pact, the "Yaddo Conference" of 1931, and the exhibition and sale of Charles Sheeler's painting Staircase Doylestown, that was a gift of the artist to Josephson.

The folders of Broom material primarily contain photocopies of letters at Princeton from Harold Loeb that Josephson used as evidence in the controversy over who owned Broom when it was reprinted by Kraus Reprint Corporation in 1966. The folder on transition holds Josephson's notes for the "New York Number" and the one for Dadaism contains an issue of Dadaphone dated March 1920.

There are also a few subject files that relate to Hannah's work. Material for her translations of Louis Aragon's novel Les Voyageurs de l'Imperi (1941) is filed with some signed pamphlets of Aragon's writings, such as Le crime contre L'esprit (Box 13, folder 323). The folder on Philippe Soupault includes correspondence related to Hannah's attempt to secure travel funds and an entrance visa for him, as well as her notes on the translation of Soupault's Le Temps des Assassins (1946).

Finally, there is some autobiographical and biographical material (Boxes 13-14, folders 342-45) that includes responses to the "McCarthy Terror." These folders are cross-referenced to the subject file on "Un-American Activities" which contains, among other things, a list of "subversive" activists published by the Committee on Un-American Activities (1949). On a related subject, the file on Harvey O'Conner contains a typescript copy of O'Conner's, "Why I Would Not Cooperate With Joe McCarthy."

Miscellaneous subjects include essay fragments entitled "My Hand and I," "T. S. Eliot, Esthetic Mysticism, Thomism: Authorianism," "Bevan Bevins," and "Modern Novel."

Series IV, Writings , contains writings that Josephson either published or intended to publish. The first section, Books, is arranged alphabetically by title. Material related to each book is arranged in the order it was generated to show the evolution of each work. Although not all of the stages of production are represented for any one work, their order is correspondence, research materials, notes, manuscripts, galley proofs, and papers.

The correspondence typically contains the letters of and about subjects profiled in the books and professional correspondence with publishers. The correspondence for Al Smith, for example, documents the professional relationship the Josephsons had with the heirs of Francis Perkins, upon whose unfinished manuscript the Josephson's book was loosely based. There is considerable overlap between this material and the correspondence in Series I. Cross references are often provided. Research materials include clippings on subjects related to the works and notes which usually take the form of suggestions to himself or others and comments on the material. Few original manuscripts are found in the collection. Only fragments of manuscripts for Edison and Portrait of the Artist as American are in this collection, as are some unidentified chapters on labor and Russia (Box 19, folders 459-62). There are some galley proofs for Al Smith and the The President Makers. Also included are book reviews, book jackets, and promotional material.

Box 19, folders 459-62 contain material on "The Life of Emile Zola," a movie based on Josephson's Zola and His Time. Josephson used movie scripts as evidence in the lawsuit against Warner Brothers for using his book without acknowledging it.

The second section in Series IV, Articles , is also arranged alphabetically by title. It consists of correspondence, notes, and other papers associated with the writing of various profiles that Josephson wrote for magazines. This section is also heavily cross-referenced to the personal and professional correspondence in Series I.


  • 1917-1979 (inclusive)


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Restricted Fragile Papers in box 21 may only be consulted with permission of the appropriate curator. Preservation photocopies for reference use have been substituted in the main files. These materials were damaged in a house fire in 1930.

Conditions Governing Use

The Matthew Josephson 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 papers were donated to the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library by Matthew and Hannah Josephson from 1953-73 and by Eric Josephson in 1980.


8.5 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 papers contain correspondence, journals, subject files, and writings that document Josephson's life and provide information on the subjects of his research.


Matthew Josephson, author of works on nineteenth-century French literature and twentieth-century American economic history, was born on February 15, 1899, in Brooklyn, New York. He graduated from Columbia University and married Hannah Geffen in 1920. Shortly thereafter they left New York for Paris to become part of the group of American "expatriates" there.

Initially Josephson wrote poetry, published in Galimathias (1923), and reported for various "little magazines." He became associate editor of Broom (1922-24) and contributing editor of Transition (1928-29). Josephson was also a regular contributor to the New Republic, The Nation, The New Yorker, and the Saturday Evening Post.

Josephson's first biographies were Zola and His Time (1928) and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1932). Deeply influenced by his neighbor Charles A. Beard, and the Depression, and with only one major exception, Stendhal:or the Pursuit of Happiness (1946), Josephson changed his focus of interest from literature to economic history when he published The Robber Barons in 1934. The Robber Barons was followed by many more full-length works in which Josephson served as a spokesman for many intellectuals of his generation who were dissatisfied with the social and political status quo.

Josephson wrote two memoirs, Life Among the Surrealists (1962) and, Infidel in the Temple (1967).

Hannah Josephson, librarian of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and an author in her own right, worked closely with her husband on various projects throughout their careers. In 1945 she and Malcolm Cowley edited Aragon,Poet of the Resistance. Matthew and Hannah Josephson collaborated on AlSmith: Hero of the Cities in 1969. They had two sons, Eric and Carl. Hannah died in 1976 and Matthew died March 15, 1978.

For additional information see: David E. Shi's biography, Matthew Josephson: Bourgeois Bohemian (1981) and Twentieth Century Authors: A Biographical Dictionary (1942 and 1955).

Guide to the Matthew Josephson Papers
Under Revision
by Ellen Zak Danforth
December 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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