Thayer, Scofield, 1889-1982

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Scofield Thayer (1889-1982) graduated from Harvard in 1913 and attended Magdalen College, Oxford. With J. Sibley Watson, he purchased Dial Magazine in 1919, and served as its editor until 1925, publishing works by many leading Modernists. During this time, Thayer also built his collection of modern art and oversaw the publication of the portfolio Living Art. He suffered a severe breakdown in 1925, from which he never recovered, and died in May 1982. He married Elaine Orr in 1916; they divorced in 1921.

From the description of Dial/Scofield Thayer papers : addition, 1885-1928. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 79602263

From the description of Dial/Scofield Thayer papers, 1879-1982 (bulk 1920-1925). (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 702132890

From the description of Dial/Scofield Thayer papers : addition, 1885-1928. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 702148517

Scofield Thayer was born on December 12, 1889 in Worcester, Massachusetts, the only child of Edward D. Thayer and Florence Scofield Thayer. Edward Thayer was the owner of several Massachusetts woolen mills, a founding investor in the Crompton and Thayer Loom Co. and a director of the Worcester Trust Company. The Thayers were a locally prominent family; Florence S. Thayer was known in the Worcester area as a hostess, while Edward's brother Ernest Thayer was the author of the well-known poem "Casey at the Bat." The family maintained houses in Worcester, Newton Centre, and Edgartown.

Scofield attended the Bancroft School in Worcester and entered Milton Academy in 1905, where one of his schoolmates was T. S. Eliot. In his last term there he was editor of the Milton Orange and Blue, and took prizes for his Latin translations and cross-country running.

The Thayers had intended to travel in Europe in the summer of 1907, a plan that was abandoned when Edward D. Thayer died following an appendectomy. The following summer Scofield departed for Europe. Accompanied by his tutor, he traveled extensively in France, Germany, Switzerland, and Italy.

He returned to Edgartown in the summer of 1909 and entered Harvard College as a member of the class of 1913. While at Harvard, he made the acquaintance of the poet Alan Seeger, whose posthumous works he would see into publication in 1916, as well as future Dial associates Edward Estlin Cummings, Lincoln MacVeagh, and Gilbert Seldes. His teachers included George Santayana and the poet Hermann Hagedorn, who was Thayer's English Composition tutor. Thayer contributed poems to the Harvard Monthly and became its secretary in 1913. He oversaw the special edition on Santayana's Winds of Doctrine, which included essays by Seldes, MacVeagh, and Cuthbert Wright. His essay "Marlowe's Dr. Faustus " received the 1913 Susan Anthony Potter Prize in Comparative Literature.

Thayer had continued to spend his summers in Germany and Italy, and in the autumn of 1913 he entered Magdalen College, Oxford. Although he disliked the tutorial system and was uncertain about which--if any--degree he should pursue, during his two years there he read extensively, began a collection of drawings and prints, beagled, and read a paper to the Heretics. He also made several new friends, including Ezra Pound, Bertrand Russell, and Raymond Mortimer. He renewed his acquaintance with T. S. Eliot, whom he introduced to Vivien Heigh-Wood early in 1915.

By that date, Thayer had decided to write a thesis in Aesthetics for Sidney Webb on "the conflicting theories of beauty held in the Ancient and in the modern worlds," and including commentary on the work of Santayana and Benedetto Croce. He was afraid that the United States would enter the war, however, and this, coupled with his lack of interest in the B.Sc, led him to return to Edgartown that summer without having taken his degree.

In December he leased a spacious apartment in the Benedick, a bachelors-only luxury building at 80 Washington Square East in New York City. He remodeled and furnished it, filling his drawing room with red lacquer furniture, antique Chinese rugs, and his collection of Aubrey Beardsley drawings, which he hung on the gold-papered walls. During this period he became engaged to Elaine Eliot Orr, a nineteen-year-old who attended Miss Bennett's School.

In the spring of 1916, Thayer suddenly moved to Chicago, where he rented a room at the YMCA under the name "Samuel Taylor" and found a job selling Automobile Blue Books door to door. This seems to have been the result of a bet that he would be unable to support himself, and Thayer was proud of his success as a salesman. The new career was short, however, and Thayer married Elaine Eliot Orr in Troy, New York on June 21, 1916. He had commissioned E. E. Cummings's "Epithalamion" as a wedding present. Thayer and his bride spent the following year honeymooning in Santa Barbara.

The Thayers returned to New York in October 1917. Scofield kept his apartment at the Benedick, while his wife moved into an apartment around the corner at 3 Washington Square North. Elaine became hostess to many of her husband's literary friends, particularly E. E. Cummings, with whom she soon began a more intimate relationship, apparently with Thayer's knowledge and support.

Thayer was also acquiring new friends. Among the most important were James Sibley Watson, Jr., the young millionaire who had married Thayer's friend Hildegarde Lasell; Alyse Gregory; and Gregory's friend Randolph Bourne, whose "genius and character" Thayer admired. Bourne was writing for Martyn Johnson's The Dial, a liberal fortnightly which needed financial backing. Thayer was interested by Bourne's ideas for the magazine, and he was also looking for employment to reduce his chances of being drafted. On June 15th he became a director and vice-president of the new New York Dial Corporation, as well as an associate editor. He disliked what he considered the heavy-handed political propaganda favored by Johnson and John Dewey, however, and early in December he resigned in protest when a pro-Bolshevik manifesto was published over his objections.

Although Thayer scrupulously kept his financial commitment to Johnson, the magazine was bankrupt by the end of 1919. Thayer bought it in partnership with James Sibley Watson, Jr.; the new editors' ambition was to "follow their own tastes." Throughout 1920 Thayer worked unceasingly to find new contributors and organize the magazine.

His personal life, however, was less satisfactory. He had several minor illnesses and in 1919 began analysis with Dr. L. Pierce Clark. On December 20, 1919, Elaine Orr Thayer gave birth to Nancy Thayer, whom all parties believed to be the daughter of E. E. Cummings. By the end of 1920 the Thayers had decided to get a French divorce. In July 1921 he sailed for Europe, where he would remain for over two years.

Thayer established himself in Vienna and began analysis with Sigmund Freud in December 1921. The two years that followed were perhaps the most productive of his life. Although he was in Europe, he continued to direct the Dial, soliciting contributions from German, Austrian, and Italian artists and sending minutely detailed instructions to the office concerning the content and layout of every issue. Thayer was an active participant in the cultural life of post-war Vienna, attending the theater and opera frequently, and meeting Thomas Mann, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Arthur Schnitzler, and other notable figures.

In addition, Thayer was building his collection of modern art, purchasing works by Picasso, Matisse, Chagall, Schiele, Munch, Derain, Demuth, and Klimt, some of which appeared as illustrations in his magazine. Thayer had long been interested in spreading appreciation of modern art as well as literature, and while in Vienna he planned and oversaw the publication of Living Art, a portfolio of reproductions of works in his collection.

Thayer returned to New York in October 1923. Perhaps in an effort to provide himself with the type of social life to which he had grown accustomed in Vienna, he instituted the "Dial dinners," weekly events at which he would entertain staff, contributors, and other guests. Many people were profoundly impressed by their host, and have left detailed descriptions of his "magnetic looks and personality," and the "frightening intensity" of his conversation. Alyse Gregory noted that he "was ice on the surface and boiling lava underneath," and reported Freud's comment that "he had a most gentle heart."

1924 was a year of increasing difficulties for Thayer. He was treated in several sanatoria for colitis, dizziness and minor infections, and a trip to Bermuda early in the year only increased his agitation and sleeplessness. Living Art had appeared and received largely favorable reviews, but sales of the $60.00 portfolio were poor. Only three galleries and museums accepted Thayer's offer to loan them the Dial Collection, a source of considerable disappointment. Always suspicious of the motives of others, Thayer began to be convinced that some members of the Dial staff were plotting to insult him and to undermine the magazine. He was also depressed by Alyse Gregory's resignation as managing editor in April 1925, although he admired her replacement, Marianne Moore, greatly.

He returned to Bermuda in the spring of 1925, and then to Edgartown, but he had become convinced that his "enemies," particularly Dr. Albert C. Barnes, (who had written him threatening letters), were surrounding him and he feared for his life. Moreover, the Benedick had been sold to New York University, and there were plans to tear it down. In July of that year he decided to go abroad quite abruptly, hoping to be accepted once again as a patient of Freud.

In February 1926 he seems to have suffered a severe breakdown, sending agitated telegrams to friends and relatives and pleading with Alyse Gregory to come to him in Prerow, which she did. He returned to America with his mother in the spring and was hospitalized in MacLean Hospital for several months. In June 1926 The Dial printed the announcement of his resignation as Editor. Friends who saw him in the fall of that year reported that he was his "old self," but early in 1927 he was re-hospitalized. During the mid-20s he continued to take some interest in the magazine, which published several of his poems.

The rest of Thayer's long life was spent with caretakers and guardians in homes in Edgartown, Worcester, and Florida, and punctuated by stays in sanatoria. He never answered, so far as is known, any of his friends' letters after February 1926. The Dial Collection remained on deposit at the Worcester Art Museum, and after his mother's death in 1938, his papers were housed at the Worcester Storage Company. Thayer died in May 1982 at the age of 93. His last valid will left his art collection to the Metropolitan Museum of Art; all other heirs named in the document had predeceased him.

1916 August. Chicago Dial bought by Martyn Johnson. Editorial staff includes Randolph Bourne, John Dewey, Harold Stearn, and Thorstein Veblen.

1918 April. Scofield Thayer purchases $ 600.00 worth of stock in Dial .

1918 July. Dial moves to New York offices.

1918 October. Scofield Thayer becomes Associate Editor and Secretary-Treasurer of the magazine.

1918 December 11. Thayer, angered by Johnson's editorial policy, resigns from all his offices with the magazine, although he keeps his financial agreement with Johnson.

1919 autumn. Johnson unable to meet notes for $10,000 worth of paper stock.

1919 November. Dial purchased by James Sibley Watson, Jr. and Scofield Thayer.

1920 January. first issue of Thayer/Watson Dial . James Sibley Watson, Jr. listed as President; Thayer as Editor; Stewart Mitchell as Managing Editor; W. B. Marsh as Secretary-Treasurer.

1920 February. Gilbert Seldes becomes Associate Editor.

1920 autumn. Samuel W. Craig named Business Manager (Secretary-Treasurer).

1920 December. Stewart Mitchell resigns as Managing Editor.

1921 April. Gilbert Seldes becomes Managing Editor.

1921 June. Scofield Thayer leaves New York for Vienna.

1921 Dial Award to Sherwood Anderson.

1922 Dial Award to T. S. Eliot.

1923 January. Gilbert Seldes takes extended trip; Kenneth Burke assumes many of his editorial duties.

1923 (November?). Lincoln MacVeagh replaces Craig as business manager of Dial Publishing Company (Secretary-Treasurer).

1923 December. Living Art published.

1923 Dial Award to Van Wyck Brooks.

1924 January. Dial Collection exhibition opens at the Montross Gallery, New York City.

1924 February. Alyse Gregory named Managing Editor.

1924 Dial Award to Marianne Moore.

1925 April. Alyse Gregory announces her intentions of resigning; Marianne Moore begins work at the Dial office.

1925 June. Scofield Thayer resigns as Editor; Alyse Gregory resigns as Managing Editor. Marianne Moore named Acting Editor.

1925 autumn. Ellen Thayer replaces Sophia Wittenberg as Assistant Editor.

1925 Dial Award to E. E. Cummings.

1926 June. Dial prints announcement of Thayer's resignation and Marianne Moore's appointment as Editor.

1926 Dial Award to William Carlos Williams.

1927 January. Marianne Moore appears on the masthead as Editor; Scofield Thayer listed as Advisor.

1927 Dial Award to Ezra Pound.

1928 Dial Award to Kenneth Burke.

1929 July. final issue of the Dial .

From the guide to the Dial/Scofield Thayer papers, 1879-1982, 1920-1925, (Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library)

Scofield Thayer was born in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1889 and educated at Milton Academy, Harvard College, and Oxford University. In 1919 Thayer and J. Sibley Watson purchased Dial magazine, which under their direction became perhaps the most important "little magazine" in the United States in the 1920s. Thayer withdrew from active participation in The Dial after a severe breakdown in 1926. He died in 1982.

For a fuller biography of Scofield Thayer, and a chronology for The Dial, see the register for YCAL MSS 34, Dial/Scofield Thayer Papers.

From the guide to the Dial/Scofield Thayer papers : addition, 1885-1928, (Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Chapman, John Jay, 1862-1933. Additional papers, 1841-1940 Houghton Library
referencedIn Cummings, E. E. (Edward Estlin), 1894-1962. Additional papers, 1870-1969. Houghton Library
creatorOf Moore, Marianne, 1887-1972. General correspondence, 1901-1972. Rosenbach Museum & Library
referencedIn Dial Press records, 1924-1983 Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
referencedIn Dial Press. Dial Press records, 1924-1983. Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
referencedIn Alyse Gregory papers, 1888-1982, 1939-1967 Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
creatorOf Birnbaum, Martin, 1878-1970. Martin Birnbaum papers, 1862-1970. Archives of American Art
referencedIn Richard Beer-Hofmann correspondence, 1882-1967. Houghton Library
referencedIn Gregory, Alyse, 1884-1967. Alyse Gregory papers, 1888-1982 (bulk 1939-1967). Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
creatorOf Thayer, Scofield, b. 1889. Dial/Scofield Thayer papers : addition, 1885-1928. Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
creatorOf Cummings, E. E. (Edward Estlin), 1894-1962. E.E. Cummings additional papers, 1870-1969. Houghton Library
referencedIn Gregory, Alyse, 1884-1967. Alyse Gregory papers, 1888-1982 (bulk 1939-1967). Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
referencedIn Adolf Dehn papers, 1912-1987 Archives of American Art
creatorOf Dial/Scofield Thayer papers : addition, 1885-1928 Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
referencedIn Additional papers, 1922-1955 and undated. Houghton Library
creatorOf Thayer, Scofield, 1889-. Letters, 1923, to Lewis Mumford. University of Pennsylvania Libraries, Van Pelt Library
creatorOf Thayer, Scofield, b. 1889. Dial/Scofield Thayer papers, 1879-1982 (bulk 1920-1925). Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
creatorOf Dial/Scofield Thayer papers, 1879-1982, 1920-1925 Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
referencedIn Amy Lowell correspondence, 1883-1927 (inclusive), 1910-1925 (bulk). Houghton Library
creatorOf Thayer, Scofield, b. 1889. Dial/Scofield Thayer papers : addition, 1885-1928. Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
creatorOf Wheelwright, John, 1897-1940. Papers, 1920-1940, Part III (Lowell-Z). Brown University Archives, John Hay Library
referencedIn New Directions Publishing Corp. records, 1932-2005 Houghton Library
referencedIn Braithwaite, William Stanley, 1878-1962. Papers, 1897-1930 Houghton Library
referencedIn Sachs, Paul J. (Paul Joseph), 1878-1965. Papers, 1903-2005 Harvard Art Museums. Archives
creatorOf Mitchell, Stewart, 1892-1957. Papers, 1839-1957. Boston Athenaeum
creatorOf Dehn, Adolf, 1895-1968. Adolf Dehn papers, 1912-1987. Archives of American Art
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Bancroft School. corporateBody
associatedWith Bancroft School. corporateBody
associatedWith Barnes, Albert C(Albert Coombs), 1872-1951. person
correspondedWith Beer-Hofmann, Richard, 1866-1945 person
associatedWith Birnbaum, Martin, 1878-1970. person
associatedWith Bodenheim, Maxwell, 1893-1954. person
associatedWith Bourne, Randolph Silliman, 1886-1918. person
correspondedWith Braithwaite, William Stanley, 1878-1962 person
associatedWith Bryant, Louise, 1885-1936. person
associatedWith Burke, Kenneth, 1897-1993. person
correspondedWith Chapman, John Jay, 1862-1933 person
associatedWith Craig, Samuel W. person
associatedWith Craig, Samuel W. person
associatedWith Crane, Hart, 1899-1932. person
associatedWith Cummings, E. E(Edward Estlin), 1894-1962. person
associatedWith Dehn, Adolf, 1895-1968. person
associatedWith Demuth, Charles, 1893-1935. person
associatedWith Dial Magazine. corporateBody
associatedWith Dial Magazine. corporateBody
associatedWith Dial Magazine. corporateBody
associatedWith Dial Magazine. corporateBody
associatedWith Dial Magazine. corporateBody
associatedWith Dial Press. corporateBody
associatedWith Eliot, T. S(Thomas Stearns), 1888-1965. person
associatedWith Eliot, Vivienne, 1888-1947. person
associatedWith Erdberg, Robert von. person
associatedWith Freud, Sigmund, 1856-1939. person
associatedWith Gregory, Alyse, 1884-1967. person
associatedWith Harvard University corporateBody
associatedWith Johnson, Martyn. person
associatedWith Joyce, James, 1882-1941. person
associatedWith Jurié, Erik von. person
associatedWith Jurié, Erik von. person
associatedWith Lawrence, D. H(David Herbert), 1885-1930. person
correspondedWith Lowell, Amy, 1874-1925 person
associatedWith Mann, Thomas, 1875-1955. person
associatedWith McBride, Henry, 1867-1962. person
associatedWith Mitchell, Stewart, 1892-1957. person
associatedWith Moore, Marianne, 1887-1972. person
associatedWith Mortimer, Raymond, 1895-1980. person
correspondedWith New Directions Publishing Corp. corporateBody
associatedWith Nichol, R. T. person
associatedWith Nichols, Robert Malise Bowyer, 1893-1944. person
associatedWith Pound, Ezra, 1885-1972. person
associatedWith Powys, John Cowper, 1872-1963. person
associatedWith Powys, Llewelyn, 1884-1939. person
associatedWith Sachs, Paul J., 1878-1965 person
associatedWith Saintsbury, George, 1845-1933. person
associatedWith Santayana, George, 1863-1952. person
associatedWith Seldes, Gilbert Vivian, 1893- person
associatedWith Seldes, Gilbert Vivian, 1893- person
associatedWith Stevens, Wallace, 1879-1955. person
associatedWith Watson, James Sibley, Jr. person
associatedWith Watson, James Sibley, Jr. person
associatedWith Wescott, Glenway, 1901-1987. person
associatedWith Wheelwright, John, 1897-1940. person
associatedWith Williams, William Carlos, 1883-1963. person
associatedWith Wright, Cuthbert. person
associatedWith Yeats, W. B(William Butler), 1865-1939. person
Place Name Admin Code Country
United States
United States
Free love
American literature--20th century
American periodicals
European literature--20th century
Publishers and Publishing
World War, 1914-1918
Art, Modern--20th century
Mothers and sons
Modernism (Art)
Modernism (Literature)
Aesthetics, Modern--20th century
Art--Private collections
Authors and patrons
Little magazines
Free love--United States
Art--Collectors and collecting
Authors and publishers


Birth 1889-12-12

Death 1982



Ark ID: w6vt1zrp

SNAC ID: 69107554