“In the mood of Plato’s distich it bids farewell to a land whose long familiar contours have ceased to stir creative thought: it bids farewell—and sounds the hunting horn.” - Varian M. Fry, 1927
So went the opening lines of the first issue of Harvard’s newest addition to the literary scene, The Hound & Horn: A Harvard Miscellany. Lincoln E. Kirstein ’29, who would go on to found the School of American Ballet and the New York City Ballet, had joined forces with Varian M. Fry ’31 to create an alternative to existing options on campus. While the magazine was short-lived, lasting only until 1934, it would be one of the first to open literary dialogue on campus to the avant-garde, ensuring that its resonance would be felt beyond the 1930s.
THE HOUND AND HORN
Kirstein teamed up with Fry, who would later become known for his efforts to help French intellectuals escape Vichy France, to combat what they saw as a lackluster literary scene embodied mainly by The Harvard Advocate. As Fry explained in a 1934 article published in the Advocate, they understood the organization to be more of a club than a literary publication. They had embarked on this process with the goal of creating another Criterion, the quarterly literary magazine founded by T.S. Eliot that first published “The Waste Land.”
In its first issue, The Hound & Horn promised “spontaneous and sincere coöperation of all,” assuring that it would “announce no ‘boards’ and will conduct no ‘competitions.’” Such an egalitarian sentiment was meant to forge an intellectual community and capture the interest of the university at large. The editors promised that the magazine would constitute a “fresh medium for creative expression to all members of the University who desire it.” For the seven short years of its existence, the magazine would publish a variety of works, including poetry, fiction, book reviews, art and photography, and critical essays.
The first issue opened with an obscure citation of Plato in Greek, the quotation to which Fry refers above. In his book, “The Hound & Horn: The History of A Literary Quarterly,” Leonard Greenbaum sheds light on the quotation’s provenance, providing a translation by J. W. Mackail: “Farewell ever beautiful fatherland, Eretria, Farewell Athens, Neighbors of Euboea, Farewell, friendly sea.” Fry explained his esoteric choice by claiming that he and Kirstein sought to free themselves from 19th-century influences, and from what they saw as the Advocate’s staid conservatism. They sought instead to embrace the new modernist world of Picasso, Stravinsky, Joyce, Stein, Eliot, and their contemporaries.
Directly below Plato, Fry placed the first five bars of Brahms’ Horn Trio, proclaiming a new age of literary publication at Harvard.
THE SECOND MOVEMENT
The first issues featured commentaries on Harvard news, including a piece on a new policy about reading period, which had been lengthened to two to three weeks for the completion of final assignments. The editors were skeptical: They denounced specific research topics as limiting and detrimental to intellectual freedom, the ideal Harvard man’s education.
During the first two years of the quarterly the discourse within its pages gradually began to shift to a broader range of discussion. Kirstein’s vision for the magazine encompassed the literary world in general. Thanks to his family contacts, the magazine was already being distributed at six stores in Cambridge, along with locations in New York, Princeton, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and London. Kirstein wanted to strike “A Harvard Miscellany” from The Hound & Horn’s title in order to reach out to non-Harvard writers and broaden their scope. Fry, meanwhile, preferred to cleave more closely to University-based topics, but Kirstein had the capital to back his vision in ways Fry could not. Fry parted ways with the magazine in 1929, just two years after the founding.
In many ways, Kirstein’s ambitions seemed to bear fruit. T. S. Eliot was the first major name to appear in The Hound & Horn, contributing an essay to the magazine in 1929 entitled “Second Thoughts about Humanism.” The list of later contributors seems to be lifted straight from the modernist canon: Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, William Carlos Williams, and Wallace Stevens all appeared in the magazine’s pages. Stevens’ poem “Autumn Refrain” was published side by side with an essay on his poetry by Richard Palmer Blackmur, a regular contributor from the quarterly’s conception to its demise who would later become a well-known critic and poet.
SILENCE OF THE HORN
During the few years that it was active, the magazine refrained from aligning itself with any particular literary or political movement. While Kirstein did lean left, the magazine once attacked The New Republic with a parody, fabricating a quote from The New Republic’s then-treasurer, Robert Hallowell: “We don’t need an Ivy Lee to sell Communism to America: We need a New Republic to sell America to America.”
In any case, the actual size of The Hound & Horn’s audience was at best uncertain. Kirstein had long struggled to recruit commercial sponsors, and the rumors of the magazine’s demise were already in circulation when the editors announced the discontinuation of The Horn & Hound in its summer 1934 issue.
The story of The Hound & Horn, begun when two underclassmen broke off from the ruthless social and literary hierarchy of Harvard undergraduate publications and pursued their own course, ultimately faded away into the history of the many short-lived literary publications then flourishing throughout the country (Greenbaum counts over fifty in his analyis). The Advocate itself was perhaps inspired by the new gap in the avant-garde, publishing a controversially racy story by Henry Miller in 1935. And the early relationship between Fry and Kirstein would not entirely end so soon. Fry would end up marrying Kirstein’s sister Eileen, keeping the spirit of the time alive even after the horn ceased its call.