Sue Young Histories

Malcolm Cowley 1898 – 1989

March 24, 2009

Malcolm Cowley 1898 – 1989 was an American novelist, poet, literary critic, and journalist.

Malcolm Cowley was the son of homeopath William Cowley, and the grandson of homeopath David H Cowley.

Malcolm Cowley was taught by Amy Lowell, a descendant of James Russell Lowell, and he was a friend of Theodore Dreiser (who wrote about homeopathy), Ernest Hemingway, Upton Sinclair, Gertrude Stein, and Edmund Wilson (whose grandfather was also a homeopath).

Malcolm Cowley, the only child of William Cowley, a homeopathic physician, was born in Belasco, Pennsylvania, on 24th August, 1898. A successful school student, Cowley won a scholarship to Harvard in 1915. While at university Cowley contributed to the Harvard Advocate and attended lectures by Amy Lowell.

In 1917 Cowley left Harvard to drive munitions trucks for the American Field Service in France. While on the Western Front Cowley wrote articles about the First World War for The Pittsburgh Gazette.

Cowley returned to the United States in 1918 and the following year married the artist, Peggy Baird. He continued with his studies and graduated from Harvard in 1920. For the next few years he wrote poetry and book reviews for The Dial and the New York Evening Post.

In 1921 Cowley moved to France and continued his studies at the University of Montpellier. He also found work with avant garde literary magazines such as Broom and Secession. While in France he became friendly with American expatriates such as Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway and Ezra Pound.

Cowley returned to the United States in August 1923 and went to live in Greenwich Village where he became close friends with the poet Hart Crane. As well as writing poetry Cowley found work as an advertising copywriter with Sweet’s Architectural Catalogue. He also translated seven books from French into English.

In 1929 Cowley published Blue Juniata, his first book of poems. Later that year he replaced Edmund Wilson as literary editor of the New Republic.

Cowley’s marriage broke up in 1931 and Peggy Baird went to live with Hart Crane. This ended in tragedy when Hart Crane committed suicide by jumping from the ship Orizaba on 27th April 1932. Two months later Cowley married Muriel Maurer.

Coming under the influence of Theodore Dreiser, Cowley became increasingly involved in radical politics. In 1932 Cowley joined Mary Heaton Vorse, Edmund Wilson and Waldo Frank as union sponsored observers of the miners’ strikes in Kentucky. The men’s lives were threatened by the mine owners and Frank was badly beaten up. The following year Cowley published Exile’s Return in

  1. The book was largely ignored and sold only 800 copies in the first twelve months.

In 1935 Cowley and other left wing writers established the League of American Writers. Other members included Erskine Caldwell, Archibald MacLeish, Upton Sinclair, Clifford Odets, Langston Hughes, Carl Sandburg, Carl Van Doren, David Ogden Stewart, John Dos Passos, Lillian Hellman and Dashiell Hammett.

Cowley was appointed vice president of the League of American Writers and over the next few years Cowley was involved in several campaigns, including attempts to persuade the United States government to support the republicans in the Spanish Civil War. However, he resigned in 1940 because he felt the organization was under the control of the American Communist Party.

In 1941 President Franklin Delano Roosevelt appointed Archibald MacLeish as head of the Office of Facts and Figures. Archibald MacLeish recruited Cowley as his deputy. This decision soon resulted in right wing journalists such as Whittaker Chambers and Westbrook Pegler writing articles pointing out Cowley’s left wing past.

One member of Congress, Martin Dies of Texas, accused Cowley of having connections to 72 communist or communist front organizations.

Archibald MacLeish came under pressure from J Edgar Hoover, head of the FBI, to sack Cowley. In January 1942, Archibald MacLeish replied that the FBI agents needed a course of instruction in history. “Don’t you think it would be a good thing if all investigators could be made to understand that Liberalism is not only not a crime but actually the attitude of the President of the United States and the greater part of his Administration?”

In March 1942 Cowley, vowing never again to write about politics, resigned from the Office of Facts and Figures.

Cowley now became literary adviser to Viking Press. He now began to edit the selected works of important American writers. Viking Portable editions by Cowley included Ernest Hemingway (1944), William Faulkner (1946) and Nathaniel Hawthorne (1948).

In 1949 Cowley returned to the political scene by testifying at the second Alger Hiss trial. His testimony contradicted the main evidence supplied by Whittaker Chambers.

Cowley published a revised edition of Exile’s Return in 1951. This time the book sold much better. He also published The Literary Tradition (1954) and edited a new edition of Leaves of Grass (1959) by Walt Whitman. This was followed by Black Cargoes, A History of the Atlantic Slave Trade (1962), Fitzgerald and the Jazz Age (1966), Think Back on Us (1967), Collected Poems (1968), Lesson of the Masters (1971), A Second Flowering (1973), The Dream of the Golden Mountains (1980).

Malcolm Cowley died on 28th March 1989.

Of interest:

Malcolm Cowley’s grandfather David H Cowley, and his father William Cowley were both homeopaths who practiced in the same Pittsburgh homeopathic practice. William Cowley was also a Swedenborgian (based on the work of Emanuel Swedenborg).

David Cowley Junior was William Cowley’s brother:

David Jr. (then age 22), who was reportedly mortally wounded and deathly ill from his battles in the Spanish American War. Either David Jr. was not as badly wounded as reported, or Dr. Will saved his younger brother from death with homeopathy, brotherly love, and close one on one medical attention.

David H Cowley was an influential homeopath who collected statistics on the treatment of cholera by homeopathy in 1868. David H Cowley was a member and Secretary of his local Alleghany Homeopathic Prover’s Union in 1856. David H Cowley was very active in homeopathic politics, and he was a member of the Alleghany County Homeopathic Medical Society in 1866, and attended homeopathic conventions, and he was submitting cases for discussion to homeopathic journals in 1876, and still actively contributing to his profession in 1898.\**

William Cowley was a very influential homeopath in Pittsburgh in the 1920s, and his cures led to a proliferation of homeopathic education for lay people at this time. William Cowley retired in 1939.