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J. M. Lalley papers

Identifier: MS-0199

Scope and Contents

This collection consists of the professional papers of of J.M. Lalley the writer and critic. The bulk of the papers are his incoming letters and his writings dating 1895-1981.

The correspondence (outgoing, since few copies of Lalley's out-going letters are included) mirrors Lalley's interests. Especially well-documented is the work of newspaper correspondents in the mid-twentieth century. Many letters from fellow newspape writers describe their work and outlook. Literary theory is also discussed in the letters of contemporary authors and poets, in Lalley's writings, and his interview on the American short story.

The evolution of conservative thought in mid-twentieth century America can be traced through Lalley's writings. He kept a fairly complete record of his writings both drafts and published copies. Through these works can be traced his thought as it evolved. He had wide-ranging interests and wrote on everything from baseball to the Pope. Much of his writing, however, was more theoretical, especially his work on the nature of authority.


  • Creation: 1895-1981


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is housed off-site and requires 48-hours' notice for retrieval. Please contact Special Collections for more information.

Collection is open for use.

Conditions Governing Use

Single copies may be made for research purposes. Researchers are responsible for determining any copyright questions. It is not necessary to seek our permission as the owner of the physical work to publish or otherwise use public domain materials that we have made available for use, unless Johns Hopkins University holds the copyright.

Biographical Note

Joseph Michael Lalley (1896-1980) was a literary critic and conservative author. Throughout his long career Lalley published articles, fiction and prose, editorials, book reviews, edited a book of poetry, and collaborated on a book of U.S. foreign policy.

Much of Lalley's writing appeared in newsprint, and he began his career as a newspaper reporter in his hometown of Philadelphia in 1921. He soon moved to the Baltimore Sun for the period 1923-1924. The Baltimore paper was not congenial to Lalley, and he left for a series of jobs in advertising; first with the Baltimore firms of J.M. Daiger & Company (1925-27) and Green & Van Sant Company (1928). In 1929 Lalley joined the New York commercial advertising firm of Rudolph Guenther - Russell Law, Inc. where he remained until 1931. He returned to Baltimore and the News where he remained until 1937. In that year Lalley began his association with the Washington Post which was to last until his retirement in 196l.

While at the Post, Lalley began his long career of book reviewing and literary criticism which was to be the mainstay of his writing. He edited the book page for the Post until it was discontinued in the 1940s. He also wrote review articles for the New Yorker (1947-48) and edited "Book Events" (1947-50). This was the book section of Human Events, a conservative U.S. foreign policy review edited by Felix Morley, Frank C. Hanighen, and Henry Regnery. In the early 1950s Lalley also contributed to the conservative Freeman and edited reviews for the Pathfinder.

In the 1940s Lalley began writing what he hoped to be a full-scale treatise. In 1946 Human Events published his pamphlet Faith and Force: An Inquiry into the Nature of Authority. This was to be the introduction of his full work The Nature of Authority. Although Lalley returned several times to complete the full study, he never did. This pamphlet, however, brought his work to the attention of other conservative theorists who were beginning to re-define conservative thought in the post-World War II period. His correspondence reflects his interaction with these conservatives.

During the 1950s Lalley remained an editorial writer at the Washington Post retiring in 1961. In 1963 Lalley became an associate editor in charge of book reviews for Modern Age: A Quarterly Review. Modern Age had been founded by Russell Kirk in 1957 as a scholarly forum for conservative thought. Lalley had occasionally contributed in the past, but in 1963 he became involved in each issue until his death in 1980.

Lalley collaborated on or edited several books. The first was "Our Jungle Diplomacy" by William Franklin Sands. It dealt with U.S. policy toward Latin America and was based on Sands's experiences in the diplomatic corps. The book was published by the University of North Carolina Press in l944. It was through this work that Lalley met the press's director William Terry Couch. Couch was impressed with Lalley's work on the Sands book and especially with Lalley's "Faith and Force". He encouraged Lalley to complete the work and when Couch moved to the University of Chicago Press in 1947, Lalley reviewed manuscripts for Couch.

After retiring from the Post, Lalley had more time for editorial work and helped foreign correspondent Constantine Brown with his book "The Coming Whirlwind" (1964) and Federal Trade Commissioner Lowell B. Mason with "The Bull on the Bench" (1967). In l968 Lalley published a selection of poems by the South African poet Roy Campbell.

Lalley married Spalding Parker in 1924, and they had six children Joseph Michael, Jr., John Spalding, Thomas Lea, Stephen Fenwick, Richard Plowden, and Anne Hart Lalley de Alvear.


16.32 Cubic Feet (19 letter size document boxes, 8 legal size document boxes, 5 flat boxes (25 x 21 x 3 inches), 1 flat boxes (21 x 17 x 3 inches), 1 pamphlet box (7.25 x 4 x 10 inches))

Language of Materials



Joseph Michael Lalley (1896-1980) was a literary critic and conservative author.


The papers were donated by J.M. Lalley's widow Spalding Parker Lalley in December 1987.

Processing Information

Finding aid prepared by Cynthia H. Requardt in February 1988.

Liz Beckman revised the Biographical note as well as the collection level and some series-level scope and content notes in this finding aid in January 2024 to bring them into compliance with Johns Hopkins guidelines for inclusive and conscientious description (2023). The previous version of the finding aid is available upon request.


J. M. Lalley papers
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections Repository

The Sheridan Libraries
Special Collections
3400 N Charles St
Baltimore MD 21218 USA