University of Virginia Library

Search this document 

Just before The Freeman ceased publication on 5 March 1924, the Nation described it as the "best written and most brilliantly edited of the weeklies of protest," "a literary production to compel admiration, whether one agreed with its views or not."[1] The New Republic, believing that The Freeman's "wit and vigor and lucidity . . . ought not to perish in America," said, "It carried on through four perplexing years, satisfying the intellectual needs and clarifying the political views of thousands of readers. . . . On its constant readers — and few periodicals ever had more loyal ones — the Freeman exerted an influence that will not die. This is success. It is through such successes that a nation's cultural wealth is slowly accumulated."[2] The Century felt that The Freeman "commented upon the news of the world with remarkable insight and unflagging wit" and considered it worthy of comparison with the Tatler and Spectator.[3] Enthusiastic comments continued to appear in discussions of the period,[4] and one of its editors, Albert Jay Nock, later declared that it was "quite generally acknowledged to be the best paper published in our language"[5] — a judgment concurred in by Van Wyck


Page 154
Brooks, who called it "a paper that was generally known as the best written in the country."[6]

There is no question that The Freeman, published in New York between 17 March 1920 and 5 March 1924 by that enterprising young publisher B. W. Huebsch,[7] was one of the important and influential journals of this century. Its 4,992 large double-column pages maintain a consistently high standard and must surely constitute one of the most massive monuments of journalistic excellence ever produced in so short a period. The failure to compromise, characteristic of The Freeman, is illustrated by the manner of its demise. After four years (with Helen Swift Neilson as the financial backer), the paper was discontinued both because of the "large annual deficit" and because of the failure to secure a "body of readers sufficiently large to warrant further publication." An editorial announcement explained that "circulation 'experts' who were consulted offered feasible suggestions, but every suggestion was based on a different Freeman than the one the editors were making. If we had adopted them the circulation might have gone up a few tens of thousands, but the Freeman would have lost its soul — and the adherence of those who mourn over it to-day."[8] The twenty-four weekly pages continued in their usual fashion for a month after the first announcement of discontinuance (on 6 February 1924), in order to round out Volume VIII, and then publication ceased, with eight full volumes to look back on and no gradual diminishing of strength at the end.

The list of frequent contributors included Van Wyck Brooks, Charles A. Beard, Constance Rourke, Kenneth Burke, Lewis Mumford, Padraic Colum, Ernest A. Boyd, Llewelyn Powys, and many other well-known names, and it was equally penetrating on literary and political matters (with practically every point of view represented). As the period of the twenties becomes more intensively studied, it is inevitable that The Freeman will receive increasing attention. Although the story of its inception and brief career has been told by one of its editors,


Page 155
Francis Neilson,[9] and by Susan Jane Turner,[10] one difficulty in studying it has been the presence in it of a great amount of both unsigned and initialed material, the authorship of which could not be easily established.

The only clue to the authorship that has been generally available is The Freeman Book (New York: B. W. Huebsch, 1924), an anthology of selections from The Freeman; although it contains samples of all the kinds of articles in the journal and indicates the authors, it is of course in no sense a systematic guide to the authorship of the unsigned pieces since it gives only a small selection from the work of forty writers. However, the authorship of all unsigned work was marked in several copies of each issue, and some of these marked files are available for examination. Mr. B. W. Huebsch has one such set in his possession, and there is a partially marked set in the library of Francis Neilson at Harbor Acres in Port Washington, Long Island. The set which belonged to Helen Swift Neilson, founder of The Freeman, and which was marked by Emilie McMillan, a member of the staff, is now in the Newberry Library, the gift of Mrs. Neilson. Because of the rarity of these marked copies and the importance of the information they contain, it seems highly desirable that a complete description of the special information in them be made readily accessible.[11]

It may be helpful, first of all, to have in mind the format of The Freeman. Each issue consisted of 24 pages and generally followed this pattern: the first three pages were made up of separate unsigned paragraphs or very short articles under the heading "Current Comment"; pages 4 through 8 consisted of the longer unsigned editorials, collectively called "Topics of the Day"; the next six pages (pp. 9-14) usually contained the signed articles; there followed a short section, "Miscellany," made up of paragraphs similar to those in "Current Comment," sometimes by several hands and sometimes by one (signed "Journeyman"); the sixteenth page might carry a review of a current


Page 156
musical or dramatic performance or a literary essay (referred to, along with the other signed pieces, as "Middle Articles" in The Freeman Book); then came two pages of letters to the editors, often from distinguished persons or from other members of the staff writing under pseudonyms; pages 18 to 23, roughly, consistuted the book review section, consisting of a series of individual reviews (many signed with initials) followed by a column of literary comment; and page 24 was an advertisement (for The Freeman itself or for other Huebsch publications).

The lists which follow record the information about authorship that has been written into the Newberry and Huebsch copies. The first indicates, by initials, the authors of all unsigned work; the second identifies these initials and many other initials (and pseudonyms) which actually appeared as signatures in The Freeman. The third is an index to the first two, supplementing the index to the signed material which The Freeman published with each volume.