Saturday, 6 June 2015

Matthew White Jr. - Author, Editor of the Argosy magazine

A profile of the editor of Argosy magazine from 1886-1928

Matthew White Jr., Editor of the Argosy magazine
Matthew White Jr., Editor of the Argosy magazine

Matthew White Jr. was born on September 21, 1857 in Greenwich village, the son of Matthew and Sybilla McMinn White. He studied for two years in France and Germany and then began his career as an author and drama critic before becoming an editor. He was a drama critic initially and joined Munsey’s Magazine as a dramatic editor. In 1885, he established a publication for boys called Boy’s World. He became the editor of Argosy in 1886. He presided over the transformation of the magazine.

1886 - 1888
1888 – 1891
1891 - 1894
1894 - 1896
1896 - 1943
8-16 pages
16 pages
16 pages
96-128 pages
144-192 pages
11 x 17 in (Tabloid)
7.5 x 9.75 in
9.75 x 12.5 in
6.5 x 9.75 in
8.5 x 11 in (Pulp)

In 1896, Argosy became an all fiction magazine . As editor for the Argosy in its early years, Matthew White set the editorial direction and ensured that the magazine had a diverse mix of genres covering adventure, westerns, mystery, humor and science fiction while sticking to the Munsey formula of serials as a driver of repeat purchases. The typical issue of Argosy had a serial ending in it, another starting in it and a couple of episodes of an ongoing serial. This was in addition to the short stories that were about half the content.

 “We'll let you into a little secret," says Mr. Matthew White, Jr., editor of The Argosy, ' 'of how our stories all manage so cleverly to grip the reader's interest at the outset and hold it to the finish. And we can best do this by quoting from a letter sent to one of the New York daily papers a year or two ago by a man who had evidently never been fortunate enough to come across a copy of The Argosy; for the sort of thing he sighs for in stories is the very thing The Argosy supplies. To quote: 'Editors and publishers say of stories: "Give us plot and climax," while we, the people, protest against the machine-made stuff of that class.' Well, The Argosy never has a story written backwards—that is to say, the editor never hits on some frenzied position for the hero and calls on an author to write a story around it. That would be machine-made stuff.' Stories for The Argosy are chosen on an entirely different plan. What phase of life is likely to be most interesting to the big majority of readers? This being settled upon, the author is told to carry his hero along in a series of experiences that would be liable to happen to any one under such conditions. You all know if Sam Chase, from next door, dashes into your house and tells you that your neighbor on the other side, Robert Waite, has received a letter announcing that he has inherited a million from a man he has met but once, you are eager to have Sam tell you the whys and wherefores.

Pique the reader's curiosity and then gratify it. This is the secret of The Argosy's success. This, and the human touch in all its stories, even in those with the fantastic tinge. But to quote again from the kicking correspondent of the New York newspaper: People complain of the long-drawn-out stories of the magazines, with their wordiness that means nothing and that comes to no end, but breaks off anywhere in the middle, as if ideas or ink, or both, had given out, and we are angry to think we have wasted time in reading such stuff. There is not one person in a thousand who wants to use his own brain to finish unfinished stories, when the writers have been paid for doing it. Such stories are like a half- finished meal when one is hungry.' This is another thing The Argosy does not do—print stories which wander off at the end into hazy nothingness that some writers are pleased to call 'artistic finish,' but which, as a matter of hard, cold fact, is neither finish nor art.

In its short stories, The Argosy will continue to head the procession, as it does in its long fiction. Contributors complain that it is very difficult to write The Argosy kind of story; nevertheless the editor goes on demanding the goods—the brand experience has proven to him the big mass of readers want, for with The Argosy they waste no time in wading through a tame introduction to get at the kernel of the narrative. Stories must capture interest at the outset. Authors, keep this motto before you, if you want to break into The Argosy.'

He took a break from editing the magazine in 1913, when he moved to London as literary representative of the Munsey group. He was looking for suitable British authors and stories to reprint in the Munsey magazines, but that doesn’t seem to have worked out.

“The most striking difference is the element of surprise. the average novel or story published here convinces me that the English public wants to know most at the outset how the story will end. In America that would bc quite fatal. We do not want to know how it will 'come out' until it has 'come out.' The greater the surprise and the more novel the 'twist,' the greater chance the story has of being a great American success. Next I should place the English writer's attitude towards women. We place women on a pedestal. This characteristic finds its way into everything we do, and this is especially true of our literature. It is not for me to say what the attitude towards women should be. I can only say what it is in America and what it appears to me to be here. And here it seems to me that the women invariably get the worst of it. Price Collier says, 'England is a man's country.' The reflection of this in manuscripts is a barrier to their use in America, because many of our readers are women, and because the American man's instinct is to suffer, if by his suffering he can make woman the gainer."

I don’t know how long he was away, and who the editor of Argosy was during this time. Perhaps someone with access to the issues of Argosy published at that time can look at the table of contents pages and tell us. But he did return to America and resumed his position as editor of the Argosy.

Frank Munsey died in 1925, and the ownership of Argosy, along with the other Munsey magazines,  passed on to William DeWart, the company general manager. White must have thought that at 70 years he was done with magazine editing, and in 1928 he retired from his position as the editor. After him, there was a steady procession of seven editors till September 1943, when Argosy stopped being a pulp magazine.  These successors also stuck to the formula established by White, however, the amount of science fiction in the magazine dropped considerably.

Matthew White Jr. died on 17 September, 1940 at the age of 82. He doesn’t seem to have married and was survived by his sister, Sybella White Tithington.


  1. Thanks for this interesting article. Many years ago I collected the early ARGOSY issues and had extensive runs of the tabloid issues in the 1880's and 1890's but they were for the most part, unreadable. Sort of like dime novel plots, etc. Even the early 1900's were of little interest to me and I ended up getting rid of them. I lost money on the transactions but my attitude now is that I have to be able to read and enjoy the magazine, otherwise why bother collecting them. My present collection now starts around 1910 and runs to the end in 1943 when it became a quality men's magazine.

    1. My collection of Argosy is much more modest. I had decided not to get any issues because of all the serials and my inability to find a long run. Recently though, I was fortunate enough to acquire a long run of almost 370 issues from 1931 to 1939, not in the greatest condition, but good reading copies. I was thankful for that because it made them more affordable. Now I'm hooked on this title too, though I only plan to go back as far as 1920.

      Luckily for me, many issues from 1920 till 1922 have been scanned by Google. At least I can read those when I want to. I'd like to have more issues from the 1920s, but I'll have to be patient.

      How did you put together your collection?

    2. Walker, since you have issues from the 1910s, could you take a look at late 1913 to early 1914 issues and see who was the editor listed in the magazine? The FictionMags index doesn't list editors, unfortunately.

    3. I put together my set of ARGOSY in the 1970's when I bought an entire decade of the 1920's from another collector, followed a couple years later by the over 500 issues of the 1930's, so I didn't put the collection together issue by issue. Back in the 1970's and even the 1980's it was still possible to find extensive runs. Your 370 issues that you recently found is quite a find in today's pulp market.

      I checked a few issues in early 1914 but the contents page does not list the editor. I also checked the reader's department hoping that some readers might address the editor by name but no help there at all. I did notice in Jan and Feb 1914 letters from H.P. Lovecraft who was a regular reader of ARGOSY and ALL STORY. Skimming through Moskowitz's UNDER THE MOONS OF MARS didn't help either. He mentions White being the editor until 1928 but nothing about the break in 1913-1914. He does say that Robert Simpson selected manuscripts during 1917-1920. White was probably the over all editor but may have had help from other sub-editors.

    4. Apparently, the set I got had been acquired by the current owner over 25 years ago. He'd kept them in storage and taken them out of storage only when he sold them.

      Some magazines are bent or warped a little, but the paper is not faded or brittle even at the edges, at least in the issues I've opened and read so far. Great reading copies, and that's what I want out of them. The lack of exposure to sunlight or dust seems to have protected them.

      Some lessons for us there, I suppose, but who wants to keep their pulps packed away for 25 years just to sell them. Not me, that's who.

      It's interesting that the contents pages don't mention the editor's name. Adventure used to, but the earliest issue I have is from 1915. Like you say he probably had help.