The Hudson Review’s Early Years: An Interview with Frederick Morgan
MP: You entered Princeton in the fall of 1939 and almost immediately began studying with Allen Tate in the Creative Writing Program. This was coincidentally the first year of the Princeton program, which was itself one of the first creative writing programs anywhere in the country. (And think of how many there are now!) Did Tate encourage you and Joseph Bennett, a fellow freshman whom you met in the program at the same time, to start The Hudson Review?
FM: The key experience for Bennett and me at Princeton was that of editing the Nassau Literary Magazine. We had both been involved with literary publications even earlier at our respective preparatory schools. When we arrived at Princeton, we applied for work at the Nassau Lit, as it was called (this was the under graduate literary magazine), were accepted by the outgoing Editors, became members of the Editorial Board ourselves, and by 1942 found ourselves running the show. By coincidence 1942 was the Lit’s Centennial year; so we brought out a special large issue and had a lot of fun promoting it and rounding up subscriptions. We were interested in everything to do with putting out a literary magazine. Even had Allen Tate not been there at Princeton, Bennett and I would still have tried out for the Lit and had fun running it.
But Tate did from the start encourage us both to pursue literary careers, and eventually suggested that we start a magazine of our own after the War. This idea was already in our heads, but of course World War II was an ever-present, ever-threatening fact when Joe and I were undergraduates, and neither of us felt confident of surviving it.
MP: Did you begin your affiliation with the Nassau Lit in your freshman year?
MP: And then you became Editor, Co-editor actually?
FM: In my junior year, 1941-42. The tradition was that juniors took these prominent roles in extracurricular activities because seniors were supposed to be writing their senior theses.
MP: Was Bennett the other Co-editor?
FM: He was Managing Editor, but I worked more with him than with the other Co-editor, who was primarily interested in political and social matters rather than literary ones.
MP: When you became Co-editor, what were your plans for the Nassau Lit? Did you plan anything to mark the Centennial year?
FM: After I became Co-editor, I had the idea of trying to increase the circulation of the Lit by getting contributions from distinguished writers, and I accordingly wrote to a number of them. Some of them sent us things and some of them didn’t. The ones who did included Thomas Mann and John Dos Passos. The ones who didn’t included Ernest Hemingway who, however, wrote me a very gracious, cheerful note from Cuba. I can’t recall whether we wrote to Faulkner or not. If so, we didn’t get him.
MP: But you concentrated on fiction at the expense of poetry and criticism?
FM: We wanted writers whose names would be widely recognized by undergraduates, alumni, and members of the Princeton community. We were after subscriptions. The names of poets and critics would not have been as well known.
MP: Did your experience with the Lit confirm your feelings about editing a magazine in the future? For example, that this would be work you would enjoy?
FM: Yes. I enjoyed all the aspects. I even enjoyed hustling for subscriptions. At one point, I had the idea of inviting some of the dancers down from Roseland, the big Broadway dance hall, to cruise the campus with us and buttonhole guys and talk them into subscribing. These young women carried out the project with enthusiasm. They were very persuasive, and we sold a lot of subscriptions that way until one of the deans caught on and told us to desist. Outside people were not supposed to solicit on campus.
MP: Were you and Bennett in the “accelerated” program—the one developed to enable undergraduates to finish and get their degrees before being called into the Armed Services?
FM: Yes. That didn’t take hold, of course, until after Pearl Harbor.
MP: What happened after you and Bennett were graduated from Princeton?
FM: I had enlisted in the Army and was called to active duty in January 1943, almost immediately after my early graduation. Bennett was summoned into the Navy a little later. We didn’t see each other again until the spring of 1946, after the War was over and Joe had moved permanently from Pittsburgh to New York City.
MP: While you were serving during the War, did you stay in touch with Tate? Did he continue to encourage you?
FM: I exchanged occasional letters with him. I was stationed at Camp Hood, Texas, now Fort Hood. I had what turned out to be a more or less permanent address although I never knew it was going to be so. I kept expecting to be shipped out. Bennett, on the other hand, was traveling around the Pacific on a destroyer. Tate had become Editor of The Sewanee Review and I did indeed correspond a bit with him, and he was always friendly and encouraging. But I can’t say that during the War I felt any increased momentum towards starting a magazine. Army conditions were such that one was living day to day.
MP: You were discharged in November of 1945?
MP: Bennett was discharged some four or five months later?
MP: What was the crystallizing event that caused the two of you to decide, at that point, to start The Hudson Review? It was something you had discussed as undergraduates, of course.
FM: We had both kept the idea alive in our minds through the War, and once we had been discharged from military service and gone through the inevitable postwar readjustments, the idea surfaced again and we were able to go ahead and bring it into reality. The determining event was Bennett’s move from Pitts burgh to New York in 1946. This made it possible for the two of us to discuss all the implications and to work together very closely in making our plans.
MP: What were your goals, your expectations for the magazine?
FM: We wanted to publish work by well-known writers whom we admired, whose works we had read with pleasure and enthusiasm, and who were not, many of them, well recognized by the commercial publishing establishment. We also wanted to publish new work by new writers, because we felt that it would be exciting in itself, and also a real service. This is just as much our goal today as it was fifty years ago.
MP: What helped you define these two goals, in terms of starting a new magazine?
FM: What would the alternative have been, assuming we were seriously interested in advancing the cause of good writing? I guess it would have been to try to get jobs with one of the large-circulation magazines or major publishing houses, and then work from within the establishment. But that option didn’t appeal to us.
MP: That leads directly into my next question. Did you have a clear vision of The Hudson Review as something different from commercial publishing?
FM: Definitely! In those days there was quite obviously a real division between the commercial side of publishing and its literary or aesthetic side. (That division of course still exists.) A few very talented or lucky writers were able to straddle the gap. A handful of excellent writers were also very good sellers—for example, Thomas Mann, Faulkner, Hemingway, Frost. But there were many other highly accomplished writers who had not received due recognition.
MP: From the beginning, did you plan to give equal representation to fiction, poetry and criticism, or did you favor one of the three?
FM: Right from the start we saw the magazine not only as being dedicated to discovering new writing, but also to serving as a full-scale literary review. This second ambition involved giving our readers a view of what was going on in the literary world and to some extent in the other arts as well. So we wanted from the very beginning to have a strong critical component, in the sense that we’d be reviewing important new books and covering developments not only in literature, but in music, theatre, dance and the visual arts. We had a double mission. We have never seen ourselves as a magazine that contents itself with publishing its favorite poetry and/or fiction without making any effort to take account of what is going on in the rest of the literary world.
MP: Following up on that, were there other literary magazines that helped shape the format of The Hudson Review? Were there influences, in other words?
FM: We were certainly influenced to some degree by the better literary magazines then in existence. We wanted, for one thing, to be at least as good as they were. At the time we began publishing the three top literary magazines were The Sewanee Review, The Kenyon Review and Partisan Review. We read them, and were very much aware of what they were doing.
MP: Why did you call the magazine The Hudson Review?
FM: We had an attorney, obtained through a friend, who was working for us without compensation. He explained that he would do what was necessary to get us started, but that he didn’t want to be put to any extra trouble. One day he telephoned and said that he had to go down to Washington the following week. While he was there, he would stop in at the Patent Office and register the name of the magazine. He asked us to give him a list of possible names and said he would bypass any that might be contestable and use the first one which he knew was free and clear. This turned out to be The Hudson Review. Bennett and I had gotten together to work up the list. We were over on the West Side, and I looked out the window and thought of the Hudson River down there at the end of the street. What about The Hudson Review, I thought. I suggested it, Joe approved it, and we put it down on the list. It was our second or third choice, as I recall. And it has worn very well as a title—better than I might have expected.
MP: In what sense?
FM: It didn’t build up too many preconceptions, and was noncommittal as to what the thrust of the magazine would be. This made it easier for the magazine to define itself gradually in terms of its own performance. The name suited the whole tendency of the magazine which has been over the years definitely pragmatic and non-ideological. I have never been an ideological person and never wanted the magazine to be ideological.
MP: How about the third founding editor, William Arrowsmith, who was Class of 1945 at Princeton—two classes behind you and Bennett? How and when did he become involved with The Hudson Review?
FM: After the War, while we were in the process of organizing the magazine, Bennett suggested we ask him to come in with us. I thought it was a good suggestion. I knew that Arrowsmith was smart, and that he had a lot of energy and good ideas. And he indeed made a valuable contribution to the magazine in its earliest years. But during the 1950s his interest and participation rapidly faded, and by 1956 or so he had pretty much dropped out of the picture, though we kept him on the masthead a while longer as a courtesy. Part of his problem was that he traveled a great deal and never lived in New York; he was always on the fringes, away from the action.
MP: Was Arrowsmith’s contribution to The Hudson Review comparable to the one made by Bennett?
FM: No. Without Bennett I would never have started The Hudson Review, and there would have been no Hudson Review. Whereas if Arrowsmith had decided against joining us, Bennett and I would have gone right ahead with our plans for starting up the magazine. We were all set to do so.
MP: What was each person’s editorial responsibility in those days—yours, Bennett’s, and Arrowsmith’s?
FM: From almost the very beginning The Hudson Review has had its own office here in Manhattan. I went to that office every working day. We also had an office staff. In the early years this consisted, with rare exceptions, of a single person, invariably a woman. We didn’t interview our first male job applicant until the 1970s. She and I would take care of the day’s business together. This included everything: correspondence with authors, business correspondence, the various stages of work with our printer, and so on.
Bennett had another full-time job and never came to The Hudson Review office. But he and I lived within a block of one another, and it was very easy for us to meet in the evenings or on weekends, and to. deliver messages and manuscripts back and forth. It was during these meetings that we discussed manuscripts and reached editorial and business decisions. Joe held up his end of things not only by reading quantities of manuscripts, but by taking on almost all the magazine’s accounting and financial work. He was treasurer of The Hudson Review for a good many years.
Arrowsmith, as I have already noted, was only an occasional visitor to New York and not deeply involved. We sent him manuscripts from time to time and his comments were often very perceptive and helpful. His position, in fact, was rather that of an “advisory” than a full working editor.
MP: In the early issues of The Hudson Review, you published work by very well-known modernist writers. How did you get work from people like Wallace Stevens, Thomas Mann, T.S. Eliot, Dylan Thomas?
FM: In various ways. Bennett and I had met Stevens while we were undergraduates, when he had come to Princeton at Tate’s invitation to give a reading to members of the Creative Writing department. Then after the War, when we were getting The Hudson Review started, he was one of a small number of writers whom Bennett and I particularly wanted to publish and to whom we sent letters. I don’t recall whether it was Joe or I who wrote to Stevens first: we took turns corresponding with him. In addition, I met him several times in the late forties and early fifties at parties given in New York by Henry and Barbara Church. Church, as you know, was a close friend of Stevens.
Eliot was also on our “preferred” list. Bennett and I both wrote to him, and I eventually met him in ’48 or ’49 when he gave a reading here in New York. The meeting with Dylan Thomas came about a little later thanks to Bennett’s friend Oscar Williams, the anthologist, who was very close to Thomas.
The Thomas Mann connection goes back to Princeton. I had asked him for something for the Nassau Lit, and he had sent us a little piece. I think he had a soft spot for Princeton, because he lived there briefly when he first came to this country. When I got back in touch with him five years later and asked him for something for The Hudson Review, he came through in a big way by letting me take any chapter I wanted from his novel, Dr. Faustus, before its publication in English. My special relationship with Mann continued, incidentally: we later published a section of his Felix Krull.
MP: Do you recall the other writers on that preferred list?
FM: Besides Eliot and Stevens, there were John Crowe Ransom, e. e. cummings, Theodore Roethke, Hemingway, Faulkner, Katherine Anne Porter, Eudora Welty, Saul Bellow, Kenneth Burke, Yvor Winters, I.A. Richards, William Empson—and doubtless others whose names I don’t at the moment remember.
MP: A pretty impressive list. Did Allen Tate, in those early years, help you secure some of these writers? You mentioned that he had originally made it possible for you to meet Stevens.
FM: Tate was certainly helpful in allowing us to use his name in some of the letters we first sent out, and I’m sure he said a friendly word here and there.
MP: Did he influence your thinking in terms of identifying these writers?
FM: Yes, in many cases, because he was the person who had steered us into modernist writing in the first place. It was thanks to him that we had first read Eliot, Stevens, the New Critics, and others. On the other hand, I had read Thomas Mann on my own. Tate had nothing to do with my getting in touch with him.
MP: This leads into my next question, which is: many of the essays published in the early years of the magazine were written by New Critics like Richards, Winters, Mark Scharer and R.P. Blackmur. Did The Hudson Review in those first years, 1948 to 1952 or ’53, take a conscious “New Critical” stance? Were you particularly attracted to the New Criticism?
FM: We have always been mistrustful of taking critical stances. We have published what we have liked, without feeling that we have to explain our choices in terms of some particular program or platform. If a piece of critical writing strikes us as saying something new and intelligent, and if it’s clearly and forcefully expressed, we’ll accept it without worrying about whether or not it conforms to this or that critical doctrine. It’s undoubtedly true that in the early years of the magazine, Bennett and I were highly receptive to the New Criticism. It was the critical method which we had been taught and with which we were familiar. But we weren’t consciously trying to promote it. And we were open to other kinds of writing as well, and became more open to them as time went on.
MP: As we have noted, Allen Tate encouraged the magazine in its earliest days and exercised a certain amount of influence. Now, in the early fifties you began publishing Ezra Pound, who is famous for having encouraged many small publishers during the first half of the century. How did you meet Pound? And did he have an influence on the editorial direction of The Hudson Review?
FM: I met Pound by going down to Saint Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, where he was confined in a ward for the criminally insane, and calling on him—having first obtained perm1ss1on from him and from Dr. Winfred Overholser, the Superintendent. I had heard through the literary grapevine that this was the procedure. If you wanted to pay Pound a visit, you wrote both to him and to Dr. Overholser, and if Pound wanted to see you he would tell the doctor, and the doctor would give you permission. Pound’s Pisan Cantos had been published in 1949 and awarded the Bollingen Prize, and this event had created a storm of controversy. I became extremely interested and began to read, or reread, everything by Pound I could get my hands on. This came to include all the poetry and almost all the literary criticism, but not a great deal of the less available (at that time) political and economic writing—much of which is harebrained and some of which, as I discovered later, is distinctly unpleasant. In any case, I got my appointment, went down to Washington in January 1950, and met Pound at the hospital. At that first meeting he presented me with the complete manuscript of his translation of the Confucian Analects, and also with the very disorderly manuscript of a memoir entitled Indians in Overalls by his pen pal, the anthropologist Jaime De Angulo. We published both the Analects and Indians in Overalls within the year. I worked for hours over Indians in Overalls, as the manuscript was chaotic and heavy editing was required, but the results made the effort well worth while. These two pieces, both of which attracted lots of attention, were certainly not “New Criticism” nor anything that the New Critics would have been directly concerned with, and this indicates that as early as in our third year of publication we were already branching away from New Critical preoccupations.
Did Pound influence our editorial direction? It’s fair to say that he opened my eyes to additional possibilities. For example, to the possibilities of publishing translations from foreign literatures. Pound, as everyone knows, was very strongly focused on the Mediterranean tradition. And despite his ignorance of, and lack of appreciation for, other traditions, that particular strength of his happened to mean a lot to me at that moment. On the other hand, I disregarded almost all the specific advice he favored me with over the next several years. Unlike Allen Tate, Ezra Pound was a hectoring kind of would-be mentor. He wanted to tell me exactly what to do issue by issue. For quite a while after that first meeting he wrote me two or three letters a week, giving me instructions: do this, don’t do that. Some writers whom we thought were important, he didn’t like at all—Thomas Mann, for example. At the same time he’d be promoting some crackpot monetary theorist. Frankly, I let it all go in one ear and out the other, and kept on doing what I wanted. Pound’s letters ultimately became a bore, but I enjoyed my visits to Saint Elizabeth’s—that is, at first—because I liked the man personally and found him fascinating. I also liked Mrs. Pound, who was almost always present, and found the whole experience unusual and rather fun.
MP: Did you visit him often?
FM: As I recall, I visited him five or six times over the following six or seven years. The final visit was unpleasant. He had with him, for the first time in my presence, a small group of little-known, sleazy, fascist-minded admirers—including a man named John Casper, who was later arrested and imprisoned for anti-black rabble rousing. These people were serving up various anti-Semitic and anti-black innuendoes and Pound was snapping at the bait. I was disgusted and paid no further visits. In fact, I only saw Pound once again, years later, when he was a free man once more, but much older, and greatly humbled and chastened.
MP: But would you still allow that he had helped you expand your horizons?
FM: Certainly. Over the years a good many men and women have helped The Hudson Review expand its horizons. Ezra Pound must be considered prominent among them.
MP: By 1960 Arrowsmith was no longer with the magazine, and then Bennett retired in 1966. You had been working right along in New York with, for the most part, a single assistant, the Managing Editor. How did the departures of Bennett and Arrowsmith affect the magazine?
FM: Arrowsmith’s departure affected the magazine minimally because he had not been an active force since the early fifties. Bennett’s departure, however, even though he gave me ample notice, created a crisis for me. We were both in our mid-forties; his plan, which he carried through, was to leave the country and spend the rest of his life abroad, writing and traveling. I told him I would keep him on the masthead indefinitely, but at the same time began wondering whether I myself really wanted to go on with the magazine—whether this might not be a good time to put an end to The Hudson Review, so as to be able to spend the rest of my life doing other things. The question wasn’t whether I’d be able to carry on without Bennett: valuable though he was to The Hudson Review, I knew I could do that. It was rather whether I wanted to.
I discussed the problem with a few writers whom I knew, and with friends: they all said, “You’ve got to go on.” They certainly influenced me. But I think that even without their advice, I would in the end have decided to continue. I enjoyed the work—and having by that time edited the magazine for close to twenty years, was already deeply committed. The Hudson Review was a going concern, and I began to realize that it was still in mid-progress and had more distance to travel.
I liked the work. I had the writers. I had the organization, the connections. Furthermore, the magazine was at last beginning to establish itself in the general consciousness as an independent literary review, rather than as just another journal of the New Criticism. That misconception was widespread for over a decade. Ignorant critics and journalists writing for mass market publications—the kind who don’t bother to read for themselves but are content to parrot out the clichés they pick up from one another kept on referring to The Hudson Review as a mouthpiece of the New Criticism for years after it had ceased being anything that could remotely justify such a label. Now at last it was beginning to be recognized as a strong and independent force. In the end, then, after weighing all the considerations very carefully, I decided that The Hudson Review should continue.
MP: At that point, did you make any changes in the organization of the magazine?
FM: Yes. To help fill the gap created by Bennett’s departure, I invited three writers whose work I admired and had published, and whom I liked personally, to join the magazine. They were Robert Martin Adams, Marius Bewley and Anthony Hecht. Their names first appeared on the masthead of our Spring 1966 issue. They were the first in that distinguished series of Advisory Editors who have been so extremely helpful to us over the past thirty years.
The second step, which proved to be even more important, was the hiring of Paula Deitz as Associate Editor in the autumn of 1967. Her name first appeared on our Winter 1967-68 masthead, and she has been with the magazine ever since. The Hudson Review’s business operations were expanding somewhat at that time, and I became aware, too, of an increase in promotional opportunities. It seemed a good time to take on an extra person—all the more so in view of Bennett’s departure. At first Paula Deitz was mostly occupied with business matters: financial work of which Bennett had formerly been in charge, promotion, publicity, permissions. But she very soon demonstrated that she had an extraordinary gift for coming up with good ideas—ideas that were at once practical, exciting, and potentially very fruitful. For example, it was she who made the point early on that the magazine should take note of its Twentieth Anniversary year (1968), by bringing out a special issue, throwing a big party, etc. (Because I had lacked sufficient office staff I had let the Tenth go by unnoticed.) We went ahead with that Twentieth Anniversary Issue, and Paula herself made virtually all the arrangements for the special events—a very large job, with a highly successful outcome. Since then, we have published anniversary issues every five years, and have been regularly involved in sponsoring panel discussions, readings and similar events.
After three or four years of concentration on the business side of The Hudson Review, Paula Deitz began to help with the editing as well. Her opinions on manuscripts submitted to us were right on target, and in cases where they had to be cut and reshaped, she proved herself to be a very patient and capable working editor. She became Co-editor effective with our Summer 1975 issue, by which time she and I were teaming up together in shaping each issue as it came out, and in planning the ones to come. Her contribution to the magazine has been enormous: within three or four years of her first joining us it had exceeded Arrowsmith’s, and by now it has substantially exceeded Bennett’s as well.
MP: Do you think it appropriate that we mention the fact of your marriage to Paula Deitz?
FM: Only to the extent that it may indicate how closely we have been able to work together on the magazine. We were married in November 1969.
MP: These changes you made upon Bennett’s retirement, how did they affect the magazine?
FM: Very favorably, in several ways. Thanks to Paula Deitz we were able to get a better grip on our business and promotional operations. We mounted advertising campaigns and subscription drives, and were able to take greater advantage of the opportunities that sometimes arose for obtaining special publicity. Then, too, permissions were becoming a major factor. As The Hudson Review became better known, we were getting more and more reprint requests. Paula took care of all this, and set up a procedure which we still use.
In addition, the increased influx of manuscripts had become a problem even before Bennett’s retirement: we were by now receiving a great many more, week by week, than during the early years. Here again Paula Deitz was a big help to us, and so were the Advisory Editors. They were of great practical assistance—but more than that, by contributing to the magazine, each in his or her own measure, their experience, their expertise, their individual points of view, they enriched The Hudson Review and helped it broaden its outlook. I am extremely grateful to the ten Advisory Editors whose names are now listed on our masthead, some of whom have been with us for many years, and to all their predecessors—with special mention of the two good friends who died “in office”: Marius Bewley and Sonya Rudikoff.
To sum up—I believe that the changes which I initiated in 1966 and ’67 resulted in a more efficient and effective magazine, with broader horizons and greater visibility. And it consequently became more widely known and appreciated. The way things have turned out, I’m very glad I didn’t terminate The Hudson Review thirty years ago.
The preceding interview took place on August 8, 1997 at Frederick Morgan’s Upper East Side apartment in New York City. I am grateful to Mr. Morgan for his candor and willingness to help preserve the history of his life’s work. This interview will be continued in a future issue. M.P.