Little Magazines and Small Presses

views updated


Little magazines and small presses developed simultaneously in the late nineteenth century as a reaction to large magazines and major publishers. Many short-lived little magazines—the term refers to both the physical size of these magazines and the extent of their circulation—were started by young writers unable to find outlets for their own writings. Within the covers of these little magazines their editors could publish their own work as well as the writings of their friends and, in addition, have a platform from which they could decry the literary establishment that so unfairly and ungraciously ignored them. The most memorable little magazines of the late nineteenth century, however, were those started by the day's most memorable small publishers. The founders and editors of these little magazines made creative use of graphic design, incorporating unusual typefaces and innovative illustrations. With the turn of the century, it became increasingly difficult for small publishers to compete in the marketplace let alone to devote their time to editing and publishing a magazine, too. The best little magazines of the early twentieth century, therefore, were not created by small publishers but by independent litterateurs seeking a voice the big commercial magazines ignored.


Herbert Stuart Stone and Hannibal Ingalls Kimball met when both were undergraduates at Harvard College, class of 1894. As sophomores, they decided to found a publishing house, and during their junior year, the firm of Stone & Kimball issued its first titles. The college experiences of the two men helped them in this venture. Stone had worked as an editor for the Harvard Crimson, and Kimball had served as its business manager. With their new venture, they continued these roles, Stone serving as editor and Kimball in charge of the finances. They first issued The Terra Cotta Guide (1893), a timely guidebook to Chicago and the World's Fair held that year. They followed this publication with Stone's bibliographic compilation, First Editions of American Authors: A Manual for Book-Lovers (1893), a testament to his own love of books. Their handsome, well-made publications attracted some of the most notable authors of the day. Also in 1893 Stone & Kimball published four other titles: Main-Travelled Roads and Prairie Songs, both by Hamlin Garland; Low Tide on Grand Pré, a collection of lyric verse by Bliss Carman; and The Building of the City Beautiful, by Joaquin Miller. The following year they published an authoritative ten-volume edition of the works of Edgar Allan Poe, the fullest edition of Poe's writings to appear up to that time.

In May 1894 Stone & Kimball published the first issue of the Chap-Book. Primarily intended as a promotional vehicle to advertise the company's imprints, the Chap-Book quickly became an important publication in its own right. With its attractive design and lively contents, the Chap-Book appealed to men and women with fine literary tastes and aesthetic sensibilities. Upon graduating from Harvard a few months after the first issue of the Chap-Book appeared, Stone and Kimball shifted operations to Chicago. Throughout the magazine's existence, the quality of its contents remained high. In 1897 the Chap-Book published what may be its most important publication, the serialization of Henry James's What Maisie Knew. Stephen Crane was another of its contributors. His poem "In the Night" appeared in 1896, and his appreciation of Harold Frederic appeared two years later. Other contributors to the Chap-Book include Thomas Bailey Aldrich, Ellen Glasgow, Lincoln Steffens, Paul Verlaine, and H. G. Wells. Stone & Kimball also managed to solicit the work of many of the day's finest graphic artists to illustrate the text of the Chap-Book and to design its decorative covers. Artists who contributed to the magazine include Aubrey Beardsley, Max Beerbohm, Will Bradley, Lucien Pissarro, John Sloan, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. The Chap-Book is often credited with inspiring the numerous little magazines that subsequently appeared that decade.

Stone & Kimball continued the Chap-Book and issued numerous titles under their imprint through 1895. The titles they issued that year form an appealing mix of English literary classics, such as Izaak Walton's Lives and William Congreve's Comedies; translations of modern European authors, including Maurice Maeterlinck and Henrik Ibsen; and several young American and British authors. Partway through 1896, Stone and Kimball dissolved their partnership. Kimball borrowed heavily and bought out Stone's share in the business but was unable to sustain the Stone & Kimball imprint much longer. Stone was more successful on his own. He held onto the Chap-Book and continued it under his new imprint, Herbert S. Stone & Company. Circulation of the Chap-Book reached 14,500 by the time it was merged into The Dial in 1898. Both Stone and Kimball continued to work in publishing until their deaths in 1915. Coincidentally, the two men happened to be returning home from Europe aboard the Lusitania when it was sunk by a torpedo from a German submarine.


The education of Thomas Bird Mosher differed significantly from that of Herbert Stone and Ingalls Kimball. He did not attend college and never graduated from high school, but his upbringing did help him develop a love of books and literature. He was born in Biddeford, Maine, the son of a sea captain who took him to sea when he was fourteen. Stopping off in Europe, Mosher visited a secondhand shop in Hamburg, where he purchased several volumes of the pocket edition of Bell's British Theatre (1792). Recalling how this collection of classic English drama inspired his lifelong love of literature, Mosher wrote, "I shall never again read books as I once read them in my early seafaring when all the world was young, when the days were of tropic splendour, and the long evenings were passed with my books in a lonely cabin dimly lighted by a primitive oil lamp, while the ship was ploughing through the boundless ocean on its weary course around Cape Horn" (quoted in Blumenthal, p. 41).

Home from the sea, Mosher settled in Portland, Maine, where he obtained a position in a law stationer's office and later became a junior partner in a law book publishing firm, McClellan, Mosher and Company. Though the reports of cases and volumes of civil procedure the firm published did not suit Mosher's tastes, the experience did give him sufficient knowledge of book design and production to enable him to establish an independent press under his own imprint, Thomas B. Mosher. The first book he issued appeared in 1891; it was a reprint of George Meredith's Modern Love, which had originally been published in 1862. Mosher published many different volumes of verse in the early 1890s, including new editions of the wildly popular Rubāiyát of Omar Khayyám and collections of contemplative verse by many neglected poets. Mosher's imprints were products of fine bookmanship. Well-designed and beautifully printed, the issues of Mosher's press appealed to discerning bibliophiles and continue to appeal to collectors.

Mosher saw his little magazine, the Bibelot, as an extension of his book publishing activities. Its subtitle offers a good indication of its contents: A Reprint of Poetry and Prose of Book Lovers, Chosen in Part from Scarce Editions and Sources Not Generally Known. Editing the Bibelot, Mosher saw his task as a process of selecting from previously published work that best suited his tastes. The first number, issued in January 1895, contained lyrics by William Blake. Published in small format and elegantly printed, the Bibelot somewhat resembled the Chap-Book and may in part have been inspired by it.

Subsequent numbers of the Bibelot reveal Mosher's exquisite, if idiosyncratic, tastes. He published recent material by William Butler Yeats and John Millington Synge and older material by Sir Philip Sidney and Marcus Aurelius. With recent material, Mosher sometimes got himself into trouble because he was not always careful about clearing permissions before going to press. But his fine sensibilities mitigated his tendency toward literary piracy. Richard Le Gallienne, in an appreciation of Mosher titled "In Praise of a Literary Pirate," called the Bibelot "the most fascinating miscellany of lovely thought and expression ever compiled" (p. 778).


Elbert Hubbard, who was born and raised in Bloomington, Illinois, did not discover the world of letters until fairly late in life. He left school at sixteen to begin selling soap door-to-door for his cousin Justus Weller, who operated a soap business with his partner, John Larkin. Hubbard proved to be an excellent salesman, a skill he would use to his advantage once he began editing and publishing his own magazine. When the Weller-Larkin partnership broke up, Hubbard became a junior partner in the Larkin Company, which was headquartered in Buffalo, New York. Hubbard settled in East Aurora, a suburb of Buffalo known for its horse raising, a particular interest of his.

Here Hubbard became obsessed with literature, largely through the Chautauqua movement in westernNew York. He became so inspired that he wrote a novel, The Man: A Story of To-Day (1891). His enormous success in the soap business allowed him to indulge his literary interests to their full extent. He sold his share in the soap business for $65,000 and moved to the Boston area, where he obtained conditional admission to Harvard College. However, he disliked the regimen and rigor college required, did poorly in his classes, and was denied formal admission to the college. Harvard would become an object of Hubbard's derision in the pages of his little magazine.

Despite his failure in college, Hubbard's time in Boston did prove to be a formative one. Seeking a publisher for a second novel, One Day: A Tale of the Prairies (1893), Hubbard came in contact with the editor and publisher Benjamin Orange Flower. Hubbard began contributing articles to Flower's magazine, the Arena. Much to Flower's delight, Hubbard applied his sales experience and helped add another five thousand names to the list of Arena subscribers. Although Hubbard's experience with the Arena gave him important knowledge, William Morris's Kelmscott Press provided the primary inspiration for him to become a publisher and editor. A trip to England brought Hubbard to William Morris's Kelmscott Press. Although his contact with Morris was not as great as Hubbard claimed, seeing how and why the Kelmscott Press operated inspired Hubbard to found a press and an arts-and-crafts workshop in the United States by applying Morris's ideas.

In 1895 Hubbard returned to East Aurora, where he established the Roycroft complex, which, he announced, would be dedicated to printing fine books, making handcrafted furniture, and producing copper-ware. It was not long before Hubbard's entrepreneurial instincts enabled Roycroft to expand operations to include workshops for cabinetmaking, leatherworking, stained glass production, and weaving. Hubbard also put up a hotel on the premises, which became a mecca for artists and craftspersons and their admirers.

Despite the influence of the Kelmscott Press, the books Hubbard issued from the Roycroft Press did not match the standards established by Morris. Neither were they as nice as the books Mosher and other small presses issued. Hubbard initially intended to produce handmade books, and his early imprints were done on a traditional handpress. Before long, however, Hubbard installed multiple steam-powered rotary presses and churned out books as fast as his mechanical presses could turn. Their limp chamois-leather bindings, more than their printing, gave the Roycroft imprints their distinct quality. As Dard Hunter, who visited the Roycroft complex as a young man, later recalled: "Just as Hubbard had once inundated the country with soap premiums, so he now undertook to place limp-leather bindings on the golden oak tables of every sitting room in America. Books in their window-cleaner covers were turned out in mass production; the dozen or more Roycroft presses were kept humming night and day; hand-made paper was imported by thousands of reams; red and black ink was purchased by the barrel, and every goat in the world was a potential limp binding" (quoted in Blumenthal, p. 51).

The inception of Hubbard's little magazine, the Philistine, has been attributed to a number of his associates. Henry Parson Taber was listed as its editor for much of the magazine's first year, but Hubbard was the driving force behind the magazine from the time of its first issue in June 1895 until his death in 1915. Others may have helped him at the start, but after a few issues he took it over completely in terms of both financing and editorial decision-making. The Philistine became a platform for Hubbard, from which he launched tirades against the establishment. He lambasted such influential literary figures as Mark Twain and William Dean Howells or, as Hubbard called him, W. Dean Howl. He critiqued the popular magazines of the day, and he excoriated Harvard College every chance he could.

Not all contemporary authors were objects of Hubbard's scorn. The support he gave Stephen Crane may be Hubbard's greatest contribution to American literature, though not all of his comments were positive. The Philistine appeared shortly after Crane published his first volume of verse. In his first issue, Hubbard reprinted "I Saw a Man Pursuing the Horizon" and included a sardonic comment regarding the book's title, The Black Riders: "The riders might have as easily been green or yellow or baby-blue for all the book tells about them, and I think the title 'The Pink Roosters' would have been better" (quoted in Wertheim and Sorrentino, p. 135). Hubbard parodied Crane in the second issue of the Philistine as he included a poem beginning with the line: "I saw a man making a fool of himself." Still, Hubbard asked Crane to contribute to the Philistine, and Crane subsequently sent him a few poems. The publication of The Red Badge of Courage later that year completely won over Hubbard, who arranged a dinner in Crane's honor and published a pamphlet including some of Crane's verse and several appreciations of Crane by others.

Hubbard applied his salesmanship to his endeavors as a magazine publisher and managed to develop quite a sizable readership. By the second decade of the twentieth century, annual subscription figures for the Philistine went into six digits. In short, the Philistinewas the most successful little magazine of its day. With Hubbard's death—he too was aboard the Lusitania in 1915—came the end of the Philistine.


Born in Boston, Massachusetts, and raised in Ishpeming, Michigan, Will H. Bradley worked in his early teens as a printer's devil for the Iron Agitator, the daily newspaper in Ishpeming. In his late teens, he left Michigan for Chicago, where he found work in the printing plant of Rand, McNally & Company. In 1887 he left Rand, McNally to become a typesetter at Knight & Leonard. Here, he went from setting type to designing page layout, an endeavor that ideally suited his artistic inclinations. By twenty-one he had established himself as an independent designer and began designing covers for Harper's Bazar, Harper's Weekly, and other popular magazines. He also developed a reputation for his poster designs.

In 1895 Bradley established the Wayside Press in Springfield, Massachusetts. He had become intrigued with the handmade elegance of many colonial New England imprints he had examined at the Boston Public Library. These early American books, he wrote, avoided "beauty-destroying mechanical precision." Overall, Bradley found these early imprints "the most direct, honest, vigorous and imaginative America has ever known—a sane and inspiring model that was to me a liberal education" (quoted in Blumenthal, p. 81). The issues of the Wayside Press clearly show their influence. They have an elegant simplicity that belie the extraordinary care that went into their design and production.

The primary reason Bradley established the Wayside Press was to publish a magazine, Bradley, His Book, which he edited and designed himself. Characterizing it on the masthead as "A Magazine of Interesting Reading Interspersed with various Bits of Art," Bradley was modest, for every issue was a model of exquisite literary tastes and fine aesthetic sensibilities. The project was far too ambitious an undertaking for any man, even one as creative and hardworking as Bradley. The magazine that bears his name folded after seven issues, and he sold the Wayside Press before the decade's end.

During the first decade of the twentieth century, Bradley established a studio in New York City and developed a reputation as one of the finest art editors in the nation. He served as art editor for many major commercial magazines, among them Collier's, Good Housekeeping, and Metropolitan. He eventually served as typographic and art supervisor for William Randolph Hearst's chain of newspapers, magazines, and motion pictures. Bradley's successful career illustrates the general fate of the small publisher and the little magazine as the nineteenth century gave way to the twentieth. The business had become so complex that it had reached a point where running a press and editing a magazine had become practically impossible. The only way Bradley could pursue his career in magazines was to enter the employ of the moneymen in the publishing world, including the biggest of them all, William Randolph Hearst.


Harriet Monroe entered Chicago's literary scene as a freelance journalist, writing reviews of art, music, and drama for the local papers. She became acquainted with many prominent Chicago authors. Frequent trips to New York expanded her circle of literary acquaintances. She wanted most to be a poet. Because she had experienced only modest success having her poetry published, she decided to found a magazine devoted exclusively to poetry, partly as a vehicle for her own work. Her society connections in Chicago helped her elicit enough financial support to make the magazine viable. Once she secured financial backing for its first five years, she was ready to launch her magazine.

The first issue of Poetry: A Magazine of Verse appeared in October 1912. Introducing it, Monroe wrote: "The present venture is a modest effort to give to poetry her own place, her own voice. The popular magazines can afford but scant courtesy—a Cinderella corner in the ashes—because they seek a large public which is not hers." Giving poetry its place: Monroe accomplished this task brilliantly. The poets represented in the first issue included Ezra Pound, who became the magazine's foreign correspondent. The first issue established the pattern for subsequent issues: in addition to poetry, the magazine also included book reviews, criticism, editorials, and poetry news.

Monroe may have initially conceived Poetry as a vehicle for her own verse, but it became a vehicle for the verse of many of the most memorable poets in modern American literature. H.D. (Hilda Doolittle), T. S. Eliot, Robert Frost, Vachel Lindsay, Amy Lowell, Edgar Lee Masters, Edwin Arlington Robinson, Carl Sandburg, Wallace Stevens, and William Carlos Williams—all contributed to Poetry in its early years. William Butler Yeats, too, contributed to the magazine and became one of its most enthusiastic supporters.

Monroe devoted the remainder of her life—the next twenty-four years—to ensuring the survival and success of Poetry. The magazine earned a reputation as a guiding force in the poetry renaissance of the early twentieth century and helped some of the foremost modern American poets find an audience they might not otherwise have had. Monroe's own verse may be forgettable, but her role as a facilitator and publicist for the poetry of others is unsurpassed. The magazine continues in the early twenty-first century.


Though a generation younger than Harriet Monroe, Margaret C. Anderson also found herself in Chicago around the start of the second decade of the twentieth century, that is, at the time of Chicago's great artistic renaissance. Born and raised in Indiana, Anderson had come to Chicago with a profound desire to befriend the city's brightest and most creative. She had an incessant desire for literary conversation and continually sought ways to gratify this urge. Initially, she obtained a position with the Continent, a religious weekly, where she reviewed scores of books. She also wrote reviews for the Chicago Evening Post and eventually obtained a position with The Dial. There she came to learn how a magazine worked from the inside, valuable knowledge that would soon help her in the most important venture of her life.

Anderson ultimately decided that the best way to gratify her need for literary conversation would be to start a magazine featuring the best contemporary authors and artists. She started her magazine on much less secure footing than had Monroe. Whereas Monroe lined up financial backing for the first five years of Poetry before launching her first issue, Anderson was more rash. She started the Little Review with barely more than a handful of promises for financial support. She trusted in her immense personal charm to get the magazine through lean times.

Anderson's personal tastes, like those of Thomas Bird Mosher before her, helped make the magazine a critical success. Whereas Mosher carefully selected works of the past, Anderson had the taste and intuition that made it possible for her to recognize and appreciate the most challenging, forward-looking works of the present, works that would shape the literature of the future. In her first issue, she identified the Little Review as "a magazine of the arts, making no compromise with the public taste." Disregarding public opinion, Anderson relied solely on her own critical judgment to shape the contents of the Little Review.

The first number of the magazine appeared in March 1914. It contained articles and reviews written by Anderson, including one titled "Paderewski and the New Gods," which celebrates her love of the piano and passion for music. The first issue also included verse by Vachel Lindsay and an article by Sherwood Anderson, who published some of his Winesburg sketches in later issues of the Little Review.

In the third issue, Anderson championed anarchism, a viewpoint that lost her the surest financial backer she had and threatened the Little Review with extinction. It would not be the last time. Throughout its twelve-year history, the magazine would often be in dire financial straits. But its overall high quality attracted a core readership, and Anderson's personal charm allowed her to conjure up financial support at crucial moments. Her blatant disregard of prevailing moral standards when it came to making editorial decisions sometimes got her in trouble. For the October 1917 issue of the Little Review, she published a Wyndham Lewis short story depicting a girl's brutal seduction. The issue was promptly confiscated by the authorities.

What is undoubtedly the most distinguished writing to be published in Anderson's magazine met a similar fate. James Joyce agreed to serialize Ulysses in the Little Review. Ezra Pound, Anderson's foreign editor, as he had been Margaret Anderson's foreign correspondent, was responsible for the coup. Although he was sometimes difficult, Pound had successfully sought contributions from many of the finest British and European authors of the time. Ulysses began appearing in the magazine at the start of 1918. After four issues, however, officials of the U.S. Post Office confiscated and burned all the copies of those four issues they could locate. Anderson and her companion and coeditor, Jane Heap, were convicted on obscenity charges and were fined.

Anderson's fortitude in withstanding critics and prosecutors alike paid off not in monetary terms but in terms of lasting literary value. The Little Review, in retrospect, was one of the most important literary journals of the twentieth century. Over its history, the magazine published works by some of the foremost writers of its day: Hart Crane, T. S. Eliot, Ernest Hemingway, Marianne Moore, Dorothy Richardson, Gertrude Stein, Wallace Stevens, and William Butler Yeats.

Whereas the most notable little magazines of the late nineteenth century were outgrowths of the small presses and the best new little magazines of the early twentieth century were independent editorial ventures, there is one key similarity between them. All these little magazines were the products of strong personalities, men and women who made their magazines reflect their profound love of literature and their most heartfelt beliefs. With each, a vigorous person with a greater-than-average combination of taste and tenacity provided the guiding force to make the magazine a reality.

See alsoBook Publishing; Periodicals; Poetry:A Magazine of Verse


Primary Works

Anderson Margaret C. My Thirty Years' War. New York: Covici, Friede, 1930.

Monroe, Harriet. A Poet's Life: Seventy Years in a ChangingWorld. New York: Macmillan, 1938.

Pound, Ezra. Pound / The "Little Review": The Letters ofEzra Pound to Margaret Anderson; The "Little Review" Correspondence. Edited by Thomas L. Scott, Melvin J. Friedman, and Jackson R. Bryer. New York: New Directions, 1988.

Secondary Works

Bambace, Anthony. Will H. Bradley: His Work; ABibliographical Guide. New Castle, Del.: Oak Knoll Press, 1995.

Bishop, Philip R. Thomas Bird Mosher: Pirate Prince ofPublishers. A Comprehensive Bibliography and Source Guide to the Mosher Books, Reflecting England's National Literature and Design. New Castle, Del.: Oak Knoll Press, 1998.

Blumenthal, Joseph. The Printed Book in America. Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1977.

Champney, Freeman. Art and Glory: The Story of ElbertHubbard. New York: Crown, 1968.

Kramer, Sidney. A History of Stone & Kimball and Herbert S.Stone & Co., 1893–1905. Chicago: Norman W. Forgue, 1940.

Le Gallienne, Richard. "In Praise of a Literary Pirate." Literary Digest International Book Review 2 (October 1924): 778.

Lehmann-Haupt, Hellmut, Rollo G. Silver, and Lawrence C. Wroth. The Book in America: A History of the Making and Selling of Books in the United States. 2nd ed. New York: Bowker, 1951.

Marek, Jayne E. Women Editing Modernism: "Little"Magazines and Literary History. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1995.

Mott, Frank Luther. A History of American Magazines. 5 vols. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1935–1968.

Vilain, Jean-François, and Philip R. Bishop. Thomas BirdMosher and the Art of the Book. Philadelphia: F. A. Davis, 1992.

Wertheim, Stanley, and Paul Sorrentino. The Crane Log: ADocumentary Life of Stephen Crane, 1871–1900. New York: G. K. Hall, 1994.

Williams, Ellen. Harriet Monroe and the Poetry Renaissance:The First Ten Years of Poetry, 1912–22. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1977.

Kevin J. Hayes