The Atlantic Monthly, 1857-1909: Yankee Humanism at High Tide and Ebb

By Ellery Sedgwick | Go to book overview

8
Bliss Perry (1899-1909) Liberal Humanist in the Progressive Era

In the wake of Page's sudden resignation to take dominion over a kingdom or two for McClure, Mifflin called on the faithful Scudder, still the firm's chief literary adviser, to find a successor. Though only one previous editor had been a Harvard graduate, one of Scudder's first impulses was to cull a list from the Harvard College alumni directory, including the names of A. Lawrence Lowell and the novelist Arthur S. Hardy. Mifflin was delighted with the prospect of another Lowell in the succession, but this one declined, as did Hardy. Scudder next shuttled to New York to interview Henry Dwight Sedgwick, gentleman lawyer and conservative defender of gentry culture, Houghton Mifflin author, and older brother of later editor Ellery Sedgwick. Scudder knew and liked the elder Sedgwick's commitment to literary high culture but admitted doubts about "his competence as a man of the day" -- doubts that quickly proved well founded. Sedgwick worried that his mother-inlaw would object to his moving to Boston, that every respectable family needed a lawyer to manage its affairs, and that "he loved books but after all he was not very fond of work and really he should not know how to take hold" ( Scudder diary, 14 July 1899).

Having narrowly escaped Sedgwick, Scudder was running low on ideas when MacGregor Jenkins, the Atlantic's young business manager, recommended a fellow Williams graduate, Bliss Perry, a thirty-nine-year-old professor of English and American literature at Princeton. Perry was the son of Williams professor of economics Arthur Latham Perry, whom Scudder, as a trustee of Williams, had only a month before voted to dismiss for writing an "insolent," divisive book about the college, but this did not prejudice Scudder. The younger Perry, as was his summer custom, had disappeared into the woods of northern Vermont on a

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