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George Sylvester Viereck papers

 Collection
Call Number: MS 661

Scope and Contents

The Viereck Papers are divided into five series, as follows: I. General Correspondence (1 box) [arranged alphabetically by correspondent]; II. "The Strangest Friendship in History" (1 box) [preliminary draft and notes]; III. "The Memoirs of Colonel House" (1 box) [preliminary draft and notes]; IV. Conversations with Colonel House [1929-1931] (1 box); V. Miscellaneous Papers (1 box).
The correspondence is mainly the product of Viereck's inquiries to members of the Wilson administration in 1931 about the last eighteen months of Wilson's second term. Several times he put his questions in this form:
  1. Did President Wilson preside over any meeting of his Cabinet after his breakdown?
  2. Did he communicate with the Cabinet through Mrs. Wilson, and if not, through whom?
  3. Was the question of Vice-President Marshall's assumption of the duties of the Presidency considered by the Cabinet, and if not, why not?
but on other occasions he expressed them more generally. He received informative replies from Newton D. Baker, Bainbridge Colby, Thomas Watt Gregory, David F. Houston, Sidney Mezes, and Frank L. Polk. There are also unsolicited responses to his articles from C. C. Dill, Constantine Dumba, and George W. Watt among others. The only correspondence related to Viereck's political activities in the 1930s and 1940s is an exchange of letters with George W. Watt in 1953 describing Viereck's break with Fulton Oursler, editor of Liberty, and his subsequent conviction under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

Dates

  • 1924-1938

Creator

Language

English

Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright status for collection materials is unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Purchased in 1947 from George S. Viereck.

Arrangement

The papers are arranged in five series: I. General Correspondence. II. "The Strangest Friendship in History". III. "The Memoirs of Colonel House". IV. Conversations with Colonel House. V. Miscellaneous Papers.

Extent

1 Linear Feet (5 boxes)

Catalog Record

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

Overview

Correspondence and manuscripts dealing chiefly with Viereck's book about Colonel E. M. House and President Wilson, The Strangest Friendship in History. Also included are notes and manuscripts concerning "The Memoirs of Colonel House," and miscellaneous other papers.

Biographical / Historical

George Sylvester Viereck - poet, novelist, journalist, biographer, and pro-German publicist - was born in Munich in 1884. Today, Viereck is remembered chiefly as one of the most prolific and articulate advocates of Deutschtum in America during the first half of the 20th century. Viereck's pro-German writings and activities during World War I led to his verse being dropped from many anthologies and his name being dropped from Who's Who. But by the late 'twenties his work (particularly his political essays and 'psychobiographical' studies) was back in fashion, and he became a regular contributor to many nationally circulated magazines. A man of mercurial temperament, unbounded vanity and energy, Viereck loved to consort with celebrities of all kinds on both sides of the Atlantic. He conducted numerous interviews with the great and near-great which were first published as articles and then collected in book form.

In 1929 Viereck wrote a series of articles for the Saturday Evening Post based on his personal experiences during World War I, which Harold Laswell later described as "one of the truly basic contributions to the study of propaganda." It was, indeed a surprisingly fair and balanced account, later reprinted as a book under the title Spreading Germs of Hate; and - to quote at some length from the pertinent sections of the recent biography by Niel M. Johnson (George Sylvester Viereck, University of Illinois Press, 1972, pp. 153-163) - one of

those deeply impressed by Viereck's articles on propaganda was Colonel House. After reading them in the Saturday Evening Post,...House wrote Viereck at once (August 18, 1929), thanking him for the pleasure this story had given him. He explained further, "I seldom read articles or books relating to the war, for I got a full measure of that greatest of human tragedies while it was in progress, but I am glad my attention was called to your brilliant, informing and valuable contribution to one of its most sinister features." He commented, too, on the quality of fairness toward both sides, and expressed his hope that they would be published in book form. This letter marked the begining of a fruitful friendship. However, House's immediate fondness for Viereck is somewhat surprising in view of the fact that three years earlier Viereck had portrayed him as a bungler and hypocrite for his role in World War I.

...The two newfound friends first met on October 14, 1929, in New York. According to Viereck, Colonel House told him that he was the "last person in the world" whom he would have suspected of being the author of these articles. He was astonished that anyone so closely connected with the war could be so impartial.… With House's encouragement, Viereck proceeded to draft into book form his series of articles, and Horace Liveright agreed to publish it. Colonel House contributed a preface to the book, in which he complimented the author for his calm and fair treatment of the subject while at the same time refusing his concurrence in all of the author's opinions and conclusions.

While the foregoing project was underway, Viereck began to work with Colonel House on other plans. In January, 1930, he obtained House's consent to take part in a dialogue on freedom of the seas to be recorded by Fox-Hearst Movietone Corporation…Later that month, Viereck asked the Colonel for a letter of recommendation in preparation for a possible speaking tour of the country as proposed by the manager of a New York lecture bureau. House obliged with a statement that Viereck's "knowledge of public men and events throughout the world will give what you say the stamp of authority, and will enlighten our people." He pointed further to Viereck's unique range of contacts with notable leaders and with the events of World War I and its aftermath...In February he proposed to House, who was planning a trip to Europe, that if he met Paderewski perhaps he would suggest to the Polish leader the possibility of Viereck collaborating with him on an autobiography, as had been done with Empress Hermine and as he proposed to do with House, "if you are willing."

Viereck's suggestion that he collaborate with House in writing the latter's memoirs remained dormant for several months. Finally, in October, 1930, House proposed that Viereck write an account of his association and friendship with Woodrow Wilson. Viereck readily agreed and asked House for access to unpublished information. He also told his subject that the project could occupy only part of his time, since he had "to keep the wolf from the door, which in the present state of business and the stock market, is no easy task."

...It must have occurred to him that his work on House's memoirs need not be a financial sacrifice, but might be a source of gain. More than that, as he confided th House in mid-October, 1930, "there is a certain poetic justice in this, that I, who had been one of the most bitter enemies of Woodrow Wilson, should be selected by you and by fate to tell the true story resting in the lines and between the lines of your correspondence."

Viereck designed a thorough plan of research for the first authorized account of House's relationship with President Wilson. Most important, of course, was his ready access to House and his ideas and materials which he hoped would shed a new and clearer light upon a most crucial period in American history. In the course of his research on this project he also consulted with former Central Power ambassadors, Dumba and Bernstorff, various members of Wilson's cabinet, Wilson's secretary Joseph Tumulty, Sydney E. Mezes (chief of the Inquiry, the body established by the President to prepare data and advice for the peace conference), Justice Charles Evans Hughes, Washington correspondent Louis Seibold, Professor Charles Seymour, and Frances Denton, the Colonel's secretary. Shaemas O'Sheel served as a research assistant. It is notable that Viereck did not obtain impressions from British or French political and diplomatic personnel - indicating his pro-German orientation, presumably.

In spite of his known inclinations, Viereck's account was not as biased as one might have expected. The restraining hand of Colonel House undoubtedly helped moderate his predispositions, but Viereck himself appeared to have become broader and more rational in his outlook. Working diligently on the manuscript in 1931, Viereck finished it in 1932. In that year it was published by Horace Liveright, titled The Strangest Friendship in History: Woodrow Wilson and Colonel House.

...In 1931 Viereck found a journalistic market for his House-Wilson account. Editor (Charles) Fulton Oursler, his friend of several years, agreed to serialize this work in abbreviated form in Liberty magazine. Accordingly, it was published in ten installments from February through April, 1932. Up to that time Viereck had authored less than a dozen articles in this magazine, but within the next six years he contributed more than fifty articles for this journal, which had a total circulation of more than 2,000,000 copies each week. It became his chief source of income, netting him $8,000-10,000 per year.

With Viereck's encouragement and assistance, Colonel House also composed several articles on contemporary issues that were published in the magazine between 1933 and 1935. Liberty paid Colonel House $500 for each article and in addition remunerated Viereck with about one-third of that amount.

... Liberty magazine agreed, apparently in 1934, to a similar financial arrangement for the projected publication of Houses's memoirs. Viereck had persuaded House to begin the autobiography, with his assistance. The first two installments of the draft were completed in 1934. It appears that in the first phases of the project Viereck suggested how the material should be arranged and then edited and revised the drafts prepared by House... Some of the subsequent installments, however, were prepared by Viereck and reviewed and, where necessary, reworked by Colonel House. For reasons not discernible in their correspondence, in 1935 House appeared to lose interest in the project. In July Viereck complained to him that he still had not seen his diary, and he regretted that House had elected not to amplify or revise the thirteenth installment which Viereck had based entirely upon Seymour's Intimate Papers. He still lacked information, too, on House's career since the war. Meanwhile, he confided to Frances Denton that Farrar and Rinehart were no longer interested in publishing the book; he attributed this in part to the Colonel's keeping himself too anonymous and being too reticent. Under Viereck's prodding, House cooperated in the preparation of the final installments, but the manuscript was not completed until early 1936.

In the meantime, Liberty magazine postponed indefinitely its plans to publish the memoirs, although it had paid advances to both of them.

...Finally, in early 1937 Colonel House decided to repurchase publication rights from Liberty for his memoirs, for which he paid the journal $10,000 - presumably the amount that had originally been paid him. Viereck, in turn, decided to reimburse the magazine for the "larger part" of what it had paid him on the projected series. At the same time he told House that he was under the impression that the North American Newspaper Alliance would be permitted to publish them, but nothing came of it. Viereck expressed his disappointment, but he said he would rather forfeit his monetary interest in the memoirs than lose "one particle" of House's friendship. The memoirs remained unpublished and were subsequently donated to Yale University. Charles Seymour later reviewed them and stated that they were based almost exclusively on The Intimate Papers of Colonel House, which he had prepared in the 1920's. He concluded that they did not add objective evidence, but reflected Colonel House's feelings after his memory had been refreshed, and that they also showed Viereck's influence as the ghost-writer. [Note by Charles Seymour, November 12, 1954, attached to MS of Memoirs of E. M. House MSS.]

The lack of publishers' interest in the memoirs and House's decision to repurchase his literary rights chilled their friendship, but in July, 1937, House responded willingly to Viereck's initiative in renewing their old amity. Viereck told House that he still looked upon him as "more or less a Father Confessor." At the former's request, House reviewed and praised the final manuscript of Viereck's book, The Kaiser on Trial. On October 5, the two met for the first time in a long while; it also turned out to be their last meeting. The next day Viereck wrote Colonel House that he was "deeply touched" by the latter's tribute to his book. Soon thereafter House's health began deteriorating; after a final attack of pleurisy he passed away in March, 1938.

The House-Viereck "connection" explains, in fact, the existence of this small collection of Viereck Papers in the Yale University Library, where until recently if formed part of the larger "House Collection" brought together by the late Charles Seymour. The bulk of Viereck's papers are to be found at the Special Collections Department of the University of Iowa Library and at the Manuscripts Division of the Library of Congress [Gertz MSS.]

In the late 'thirties Viereck once more emerged as a spokesman for the German (in this instance, Hitlerite) "cause" in America and fought vigorously on the side of the isolationist, anglophobe, and Nazi pressure groups in this country. This time his uncritical devotion to the Fatherland cost him dearly, and he emerged with his professional reputation totally ruined and his private and family life in tatters. In March 1942, Viereck was convicted of violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act; and despite a couple of mistrials and numerous appeals he was fined, sentenced to prison, and received a parole only in 1947. He died at Holyoke, Massachusetts in March 1962.
Title
Guide to the George Sylvester Viereck Papers
Author
compiled by N. X. Rizopoulos
Date
August 1973
Language of description
Finding aid written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

Contact:
Yale University Library
P.O. Box 208240
New Haven CT 06520-8240 US
(203) 432-1735
(203) 432-7441 (Fax)