The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVI. Early National Literature, Part II; Later National Literature, Part I.

XX. Magazines, Annuals, and Gift-books, 1783–1850

§ 10. The Dial

The most picturesque of the Boston periodicals of the time was The Dial, published quarterly by a group of New England Transcendentalists from 1840 to 1844. Such an organ of the new thought had long been talked of, and as early as 1835 Emerson had proposed to Carlyle that the latter come to America and act as editor. It was not until July, 1840, however, that the first number of The Dial appeared, with Margaret Fuller as editor, and Emerson, Alcott, and Thoreau among the contributors. The magazine was never financially successful, the smallness of its subscription list being indicated by the rarity of complete sets today. Margaret Fuller, after serving gratuitously for two years, reluctantly resigned the editorship, and Emerson as reluctantly took it up, noting in his diary: “I wish it to live, but I do not wish to be its life. Neither do I like to put it into the hands of the Humanity and Reform Men, because they trample on letters and poetry; nor in the hands of the scholars, for they are dead and dry.” After spending much time and some money Emerson too felt forced to abandon the undertaking, and The Dial came to an end with the close of the fourth volume. Among contributors other than those already noted were C. P. Cranch, George Ripley, William H. Channing, William Ellery Channing, Theodore Parker, James Freeman Clarke, James Russell Lowell, Charles A. Dana, and Jones Very. In its own day The Dial was regarded reverently by a few, but by the great mass of readers it was ignored or taken as a joke. A later generation still finds many things in its pages amusing but has come to recognize it as the best single exponent of New England Transcendentalism, and of the peculiar aspects of culture that accompanied that movement.

Although The Dial was unique, several earlier and later Boston magazines appealed to much the same constituency. In 1838 the Reverend Orestes A. Brownson began to issue The Boston Quarterly Review, and the next year he urged the Transcendentalists to contribute to his journal rather than to found The Dial. After five years The Boston Quarterly Review was merged with The Democratic Review of New York. A more important periodical was Brownson’s Quarterly Review, founded in 1844 after the editor had been converted to the Roman Catholic faith. An immediate successor of The Dial was The Harbinger, established in 1845 by the members of the Brook Farm community as an organ of Fourierism. From 1847 to 1850 the Reverend Theodore Parker, one of the most virile of the Transcendental group, conducted The Massachusetts Quarterly Review, which he humorously characterized as “The Dial with a beard.”