The Home of American Intellectual Conservatism — First Principles

December 17, 2017

Collins, Seward
Mark C. Henrie - 07/12/12
Lifespan: (1899–1952)

Seward Bishop Collins, publisher and editor of the Bookman (1927–33) and the American Review (1933–37), was raised in New York as the heir to a national chain of tobacco shops. He attended Princeton University, where his literary and theoretical interests were piqued by the works of H. L. Mencken, Bertrand Russell, and Havelock Ellis. He professed liberal views and held editorial positions with the Brooklyn Daily Eagle and Vanity Fair. In 1927, Collins bought the Bookman, a respected highbrow monthly journal devoted to books and literary matters. Initially the publisher only, Collins later assumed editorial responsibility as well.

It was in the summer of 1928 that Collins experienced a philosophical conversion. After reading the works of the humanist writers Irving Babbitt and Paul Elmer More, he renounced the tenets of modernism and proclaimed himself a humanist. Collins’s politics naturally became conservative, eventually even pro-fascist, and his new philosophical and political views began to become evident in the pages of the Bookman.

The Bookman was succeeded by the American Review in April 1933. This new monthly was destined to become a vehicle by which Collins sought to publish an Americanized version of fascism as a solution to the politically troubled 1930s. Not that all its articles were pro-fascist; far from it. The journal was devoted to contemporary American economics, politics, philosophy, and literature, and for a little over four years it served as a major forum for several conservative and traditionalist movements, notably the New Humanists, the Neoscholastics, the Distributists (including G. K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc), and the Southern Agrarians (Herbert Agar, Cleanth Brooks, Donald Davidson, Andrew Lytle, Frank Owsley, John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, and Robert Penn Warren). Relations with the Agrarians were especially close until Collins began more explicitly to advocate a pro-fascist, strongly centralized government.

The year 1936 was marked both by the divorce of Collins from the Agrarians and the marriage of Collins to his longtime associate editor, Dorothea Thompson Brand. The American Review ceased publication a year later. In 1941, Collins and his wife retired to a farm in New Hampshire, where they lived the rest of their lives.

Further Reading
  • Hoeveler, J. David, Jr. “The American Review.” In The Conservative Press in Twentieth-Century America, edited by Ronald Lora and William Longton. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1999.
  • Hoeveler, J. David, Jr. “The Bookman.” In The Conservative Press in Twentieth-Century America, edited by Ronald Lora and William Longton. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1999.
  • Schneider, Gregory L. Conservatism in America since 1930. New York: New York University Press, 2003.
  • Stone, Albert E., Jr. “Seward Collins and the American Review: Experiment in Pro-Fascism, 1933–1937.” American Quarterly 12 (1960): 3–19.
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