Date of Publication:
July 1920 (1:1) – July 1929 (86:7)
May 1880 – Nov. 1919
Jan. 1860 – Dec. 1860
July 1840 – April 1844
Place(s) of Publication:
New York, NY (1918 -1929)
Frequency of Publication:
Monthly (1920 – 1929)
The Dial Publishing Company, NY. Owned by Thayer and Watson.
6 3/8″ x 10″ sized paper stock. Color varied from dusty rose to light tan. This format was the same as the original run of The Dial, 1840-44. Published short fiction, verse, and reviews of literature with occasional art reproductions and reviews of theater, music, and modern art.
Scofield Thayer (1920-25)
Dr. James Sibley Watson, Jr. (1920-29)
Marianne Moore (1925-1929)
Libraries with Complete Original Issues:
Davidson College (bound)
Ann Arbor, Michigan: UMI, 1973. (American periodical series: 1850 – 1900) [microfilm]
Searchable table of contents, 1880 – 1929, available from Periodicals Index Online.
PDFs available at Archive.org
When they acquired The Dial in 1920, Scofield Thayer and James Watson recognized the magazine’s moniker had a rich history, beginning with the transcendentalist Dial edited by Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Margaret Fuller (1840-44). After a 16-year lapse, Moncure Conway resuscitated The Dial for a year in 1860. In May 1880 Francis Fisher Browne restarted the magazine for a run that lasted until 1920, when Thayer transformed The Dial into a journal of avant-garde arts and letters.
The transformation was made without fanfare. Buried in the November 29, 1919 issue’s weekly “Casual Comment” was a brief announcement of “the resignation of Martyn Johnson” and his entire editorial staff. In the box that traditionally housed the editors’ names, only one name was found: Scofield Thayer. The wealthy Harvard graduate, having purchased a majority shareholding in The Dial, asked his college acquaintance Dr. James Sibley Watson and poet Marianne Moore to join him as editors.
With the substantial funding that Watson and Thayer brought to the magazine, they were able to make it into a preeminent publisher of modernist writers and artists. The Dial was able to purchase (or lure with prize money) contributions from Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, E. E. Cummings, Marianne Moore, and T. S. Eliot. It published one of modernism’s most famous poems, Eliot’s “The Waste Land,” in 1922.
Under Thayer’s editorship, The Dial published experimental art by artists such as Pablo Picasso, Constantin Brancusi, and Walker Grant (Sparks). It also devoted more space to new fiction. The American little magazine acquired a reputation as a cosmopolitan source on international modernism, with contributors Pound, Eliot, and John Eglinton reporting on the European scene from Paris, London, and Dublin, respectively.
Thayer and Watson’s notorious dynasty as the The Dial‘s ‘revolutionary’ modernist catalysts began quietly. Within the same ‘Casual Comment’ that dismissed the editorial staff of the magazine, Thayer posted a small note to subscribers:
“By the merging of the two fortnightly numbers for December into a single issue, the Dial will become a monthly. It will also diverge in more important aspect from the Dial of the last year and a half, particularly in its greater emphasis on art and literature. Or more precisely, in addition to essays we expect to publish some fiction and drawings. We can assure all concerned that our choice of material will be independent of the conventional considerations, independent, that is, ‘jusques au feu exclusive.’ But for fear that this become the occasion of a manifesto, we leave our readers to form their own opinion of us from what we shall do rather than from what we say at present.”
“Casual Comment.” 67:804 (Nov. 1919): 486.
Scofield Thayer (Dec. 12, 1889 – May 1982)
Co-Editor: July 1920 – July 1929
Scofield Thayer was the son of a wealthy mill owner in Worchester, Massachusetts who is best remembered for his editorial contributions to The Dial. While an undergraduate at Harvard College (1913-1917), Thayer served on the staff of the Harvard Monthly, where he met many other young poets and writers, including E. E. Cummings, Alan Seeger, Lincoln MacVeagh, and Gilbert Seldes. After graduation Harvard with honors, Thayer did graduate work at Magdalen College, Oxford, where he met T. S. Eliot. Thayer bought control of The Dial from Martyn Johnson in 1919 and used his family’s wealth to give the magazine a budget uncommon to little magazines. He acted as editor from 1920 until a series of mental breakdowns ended his career late in 1925.
Dr. James Sibley Watson (Aug. 10, 1894 – Mar. 31, 1982)
Co-Editor: July 1920 – July 1929
Dr. James Sibley Watson was a philanthropist, publisher, and an early experimenter in motion pictures. Born in Rochester, NY, he was one of the heirs to the Western Union telegraph. He became friends with E. E. Cumming while attending Harvard College, and later earned a largely unused M.D. In 1919 Watson was persuaded by Thayer to jointly purchase The Dial from Martyn Johnson, and he served the president of The Dial Press throughout the 1920s. In the magazine’s later years, he began pursuing a career in film, and he directed and served as cinematographer to the avant-garde films The Fall of the House of Usher (1928) and Lot in Sodom (1933).
Marianne Moore (Nov. 15, 1887 – Feb. 15, 1972)
Co-Editor: 1925 – July 1929
Growing up, Marianne Moore lived with her grandfather, a Presbyterian pastor, until she attended Bryn Mawr College, where she was a mediocre student but a frequent contributor to the school’s literary magazine. In college she mainly wrote prose, but after graduating Moore switched to poetry. Looking to nature for her poetic inspiration, Moore began writing Imagist poems. Through her work for the New York Public Library, Moore met writers like William Carlos Williams and Wallace Stevens, who urged her to publish her poetry; she refused, and perhaps would have remained unknown had H. D. and Robert McAlmon not published a collection of her poems, unbeknownst to Moore. The enthusiastic response to her poetry prompted her to contribute to little magazines like Glebe, The Egoist, and Others, and she received The Dial Award in 1924. The following year, she took over as the magazine’s editor until it ceased publication in 1929.
“My Grandmother’s Love Letters”
e. e. cummings
T. S. Eliot
“The Waste Land”
“Brancusi’s Golden Bird”
Selections from Cantos
“Composition as Explanation”
William Carlos Williams
W. B. Yeats
“The Player Queen”
Cooke, George Willis. An Historical and Biographical Introduction to Accompany The Dial. Vol. 2. New York: Russell and Russell, Inc., 1961.
The Dial. New York: The Dial Publishing Co., 1918 – 1929.
Joost, Nicholas. Scofield Thayer and The Dial. Carbondale: Southern Illinois
—. Years of Transition: The Dial, 1912-1920. Barre, MA.: Barre Publishers,
Kingham, Victoria. “The Dial: July – December 1922.” Modernist Scrapbook. Feb. 2003. Birkbeck College, University of London. 20 Oct. 2004.
Liukkonen, Petri. “Marianne Moore: 1887 – 1972.” Poetry Connection. 19 Oct. 2004.
Myerson, Joel. The New England Transcendentalists and The Dial. Cranbury, NJ: Associated U. Presses, Inc., 1980.
Scott, Thomas L. Ed. Ezra Pound. The Little Review: The Letters of Ezra Pound to
Margaret Anderson. New York: New Directions Publ. Co., 1988.
Sparks, Elisa Kay. The Dial: A Brief History. 11 June 1998. 18 Oct. 2004.
Wasserstrom, William. The Time of The Dial. Syracuse: Syracuse U. Press., 1963.
Compiled by Catherine Walker (Class of ’06, Davidson College) and James Butler (Class of ’07, Davidson College)