Stephen H. Grant (Author)
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Ten Cameos from the Folgers' World

1. Mary Augusta Jordan, Emily Jordan's sister

Emily Jordan Folger's oldest sister, Mary Augusta Jordan, was an eccentric, beloved, and feared figure in the Smith College English department from 1884 to 1921. Students were infatuated with “Jordie", who appeared for her Rhetoric and Old English class in a dark tailored suit, a silk braid finishing her pompadour, and a small ivory skull dangling from a gold pin above her watch pocket. She created an effect not only with style, but an intimidating gaze from owlish black eyes, and withering conversation.
Mary Jordan held her classes spellbound. She started by giving a running commentary on current events, turning deftly to raise provocative considerations on human nature, and then, perhaps, addressed the subject of the course. “What are your thoughts”? she queried. She cared genuinely about her students' well-being and intellectual integrity, and she knew how to avoid injuring their self-confidence. Students were invited to use her rich personal library in Hatfield House when the college library was closed. She agreed to accompany students on field trips.

Miss Jordan (L) chaperoning members of the Smith class of 1890 on a week's hike in the White Mountains.

In summer, Mary Augusta joined her parents and siblings in the Catskills, where she would pace the veranda, hands clasped behind her back, reciting verses in Sanskrit. “How could you ever have learned that language”? someone asked. “Why, while waiting for the Hatfield House girls to come down for breakfast,” she snapped.
Smith College's first three presidents called on Miss Jordan for advice, and received it in quantity and candor. Jordan House at Smith is named after her. She funded the first research fellowship at the Folger Shakespeare Library.

Mary Augusta Jordan link

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Professor Maria Mitchell

2. Maria Mitchell, noted astronomer

The first professor whom beer-brewer Matthew Vassar picked to open his women's college in Poughkeepsie, New York, in 1861 was Maria Mitchell. The Quaker lady from Nantucket––where she was distantly related to the Folgers–– became the most popular Vassar faculty member. She was the Astronomy department and served as director of the campus Observatory, boasting the third most powerful telescope in America.
Miss Mitchell won over her students through inspired “dome-parties” every June. An entry in Emily Jordan's scrapbook rhapsodizes: “at each plate is a rosebud, a name card, and a tiny photo of the observatory. Chicken croquettes and strawberries, dome-breakfast. A large basket is passed from which each draws a poem addressed to someone in the company. These are read aloud, much to the merriment of the party, for each contains a highly relished personal bit, some small classroom event, some pet taste or distaste is the butt of the poet. These verses are [mostly] written by Prof Mitchell herself, who has an easy-rhyming pen. Many are mathematic and astronomical allusions. For once, poetry and science. . . joined hands. Some of the best jingles are set to familiar tunes and sung by an impromptu choir perched on the movable observatory stairs.”
When Professor Mitchell died, Emily took charge of ensuring part of the astronomer's legacy. Mitchell's ambition had been to render her department independent and self-supporting. Emily assumed the chair of the Maria Mitchell Endowment Fund. She proudly announced to subscribers that the money invested was earning eight percent interest.

Maria Mitchell link

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3. Ellen Terry, stage star

Henry and Emily Folger worked as a close team in their collecting. Yet each also pursued individual interests. Emily was intrigued by what had inspired the great actresses of the day to interpret the Bard's heroines and what Shakespearean studies, if any, they had pursued during their training. The replies Emily kept in a special box. Henry was always hunting up letters, autographs, photos, drawings, phonograph recordings, sculptures, costumes, prompt-books, and actors' manuscripts for their collection.
Success was never guaranteed. Emily received this polite refusal from Terry's secretary: “Miss Terry thanks you for your kind letter and regrets that her many engagements will not permit her to write you as you wish. Miss Terry feels that if she were to just snatch a minute to write you, she would not be able to express herself as she would wish on what is really so long a subject.” Henry pled with Miss Terry: “I am very desirous of adding one of the manuscripts from which you have been reading on your American tour, and if I might choose, I would ask for . . . "Shakespeare Triumphant." Is there any hope that I could persuade you to let me have it? I would of course expect to pay for it.”
The Folgers went to see Ellen Terry read from Shakespeare in the Music Hall at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. After she acted the church scene between Benedict and Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing. Miss Terry called it “the finest love scene in literature.” The Folgers agreed.

Ellen Terry link

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Ellen Terry as Portia reading from The Merchant of Venice

Brenda Putnam

4. Brenda Putnam, sculptor

Henry Folger sent his architect a stream of detailed library design suggestions: “I was glad the other day to have you speak encouragingly of arranging the fountain planned for the West approach to the Shakespeare Library to be Shakespearean in character. The more I think of this the more I am in favor of it. As the figure for the fountain will be, to a greater or less extent, embowered in shrubbery, the most fitting figure for the purpose would be that of Puck. You will find the Puck as one of the characters in "Midsummer Night's Dream." I enclose a quotation from the play, which may help you and the artist to work out a proper design. ‟Lord, what fooles these mortals be.‟
The sculptor, Brenda Putnam, was the daughter of Librarian of Congress Herbert Putnam. Miss Putnam chose Alabama rather than Georgia marble, which she found streaky and brittle. The youngish Puck, five-foot-nine, is loosely draped, with raised outstretched hands. Many people wrongly believe his body language is directed to Congress, one block away. Puck's right hand proved tempting to neighborhood scamps, though; repeatedly, guards would find a thumb broken off. For years, they'd dip into a drawer of spare marble thumbs for replacements. Finally the original statue was moved inside, and an aluminum-cast model replaced it.
One day, a visitor timidly introduced himself to a Library guard. It was the man who had modeled for Brenda Putnam decades earlier, come to see how he'd turned out.

Brenda Putnam link

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5. Paul Philippe Cret, architect

In the 1930s, Paul Philippe Cret was the most influential teacher of architecture in the United States. He is the only architect to have designed three major buildings on or near the Washington Mall: the Pan American Union, the Federal Reserve, and the Folger Shakespeare Library. He designed the latter with a modern classical style on the outside and a Renaissance style on the inside.
Born in Lyons, France, Cret was a product of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. He emigrated to the U.S., hired by the University of Pennsylvania to teach design. During World War I he was mobilized by the French Army as officer interpreter attached to the American Army's 1st Division. Cret received the Croix de Guerre and Légion d'Honneur, and later became an American citizen.
Henry Folger was his ideal client. Cret wrote that his patron “was able to grasp the architect's purposes, and ready to allow them to be developed under the unity of direction which is essential to the production of any artistic work worthwhile. The most vivid impression that I keep of him, is that of his deep enthusiasm for beauty, of his earnestness in striving to attain it, and of his realization of its importance in every undertaking that is to fulfill a vital purpose. It was his love for the noble beauty of Shakespeare's poetry and his eagerness to inspire that love in others that guided the whole development of his plan for the Shakespeare Library.”

Paul Phillipe Cret link

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Paul Philippe Cret

A. S. W. Rosenbach

6. A. S. W. Rosenbach, rare book dealer

Dr. Abraham Rosenbach was a book dealer who became a close friend of the Folgers. Rare among booksellers, he earned a PhD in English. He could hold his own with academics as well as bibliophiles. Folger welcomed his visits, and often stopped by the Rosenbach Bookshop in New York City. On one occasion, Rosenbach even boldly interrupted a Standard Oil executive committee meeting to deliver hot book news to Folger.
Rosenbach influenced the Folgers about the contents and purpose of their library. Dr. R ––“Rosy,” as close friends called him––was commission agent for the Folgers at London and New York auctions. He was their chief purveyor of Shakespeare gems, a role he also played for Henry Huntington who, with deeper pockets, was building a library and museum in California. He often played one collector against the other, in a choreography that saw him woo them both and manage to maintain their confidence.
When Rosenbach spoke at the Folger Theatre, he shared a story: “Mr. Folger was very fond of the number thirteen. He was on the thirteenth floor of the Standard Oil Building, 26 Broadway or twice thirteen. He often liked to buy books where the price was thirteen. I recall one time that I spoke to him about this and I told him that sometime when the price was $14,000 I liked to make it thirteen to please him. He looked puzzled and said to me, “I imagine you do that occasionally but I suppose when the price is twelve you often make it thirteen.”

A.S.W. Rosenbach link

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7. Charles Pratt, oil refiner, educator, and philanthropist

More than any other friend, Charles Pratt––the successful oil refiner who founded Pratt Institute––was responsible for supporting and mentoring young Henry Folger. In Brooklyn's P.S. 15, Pratt awarded Henry a prize for academic achievement. Henry and Charles Pratt Jr. were Amherst classmates, fraternity brothers, and best buddies.
When Henry‟s father suffered business reverses in the boy's 3rd year at Amherst, the Pratt family loaned him funds to complete college. One week after graduation, the two young men joined Charles Pratt's oil company in New York, recently bought by John D. Rockefeller for the Standard Oil group. Rockefeller found Charles Pratt to be too cautious, and the two did not see eye- to-eye on many business ventures.
Henry paid off his debt to the Pratts, but for many years thereafter borrowed more Pratt money in order to buy Shakespeariana. Helped by Charles Pratt at Standard Oil, Henry rose through the ranks, topping his career as CEO of Standard Oil Company of New York, later to become Mobil. It was in Charles Pratt's Brooklyn home on Clinton Avenue that Henry met his future wife, Emily Jordan, friends with a Pratt daughter at Vassar.
Pratt died in his office in 1891, felled by a heart attack while writing a $5,000 check to a charity. Folger spoke at a memorial service: “In business Charles Pratt was the soul of honor; shrewd, sagacious, far-sighted, but the trait which helped him most was trustfulness.” Folger followed in Pratt's footsteps--an early petroleum industry grandee who turned his wealth toward philanthropy.

Charles Pratt link

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Charles Pratt

Horace Howard Furness shows his grandson
how his ear trumpet works

8. Horace Howard Furness, Shakespeare scholar

Horace Howard Furness Sr. (pronounced “furnace”) was a Harvard-trained Philadelphia lawyer, Shakespeare scholar, and close friend of the Folgers. He shepherded Emily to her master's degree at Vassar in Shakespeare Studies, when she was one of only 250 American women who attained that degree in 1896.
Furness was a member of the Shakespeare Society of Philadelphia, the earliest formally established organization in the U.S. devoted to the study of Shakespeare's plays. He helped form Shakespeare scholarship as a profession, and produced several volumes compiling criticism on individual Shakespeare plays. Every year the Folgers took the train from New York to Philadelphia for a visit of “bookish gossip.” Their discussions centered on textual analysis of the Bard's writing as well as on its appreciation. Furness looked forward to these sessions, always uncasing his trumpet to announce the Folgers' arrival as soon as he spotted them walking up the drive. He wrote that “the sight of husband and wife, both eager in the same pursuit, always touches me deeply.” He wrote the Folgers many letters, closing the envelope with a distinctive black wax seal.
The year before he died, Furness planted a seed: in 1911 he suggested that the Folgers build a library for their Shakespeare books instead of warehousing them. The University of Pennsylvania built a library addition and named it the Horace Howard Furness Memorial, dedicated the same day as the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington––April 23, 1932.

Horace Howard Furness link

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9. Captain John Robinson, mariner

Eleven times the Folgers took a slow cattle steamer across the North Atlantic on pilgrimages to Stratford-upon-Avon. They made these voyages with John Robinson, venerable white-bearded, Shakespeare-spouting captain of the S.S. Minnehaha, operated by the Atlantic Transport Company. Not private-yacht types, the Folgers preferred to travel aboard this freighter with their friend at the helm. The 250 first-class passengers were kept far from their bovine traveling companions. (Other cargo included automobiles and grand pianos.) The Folgers looked forward to Sunday services with a choir made up of stewards. Wrapped in a heavy trench coat, reclining in a deck chair, Henry Folger read his favorite play for ocean voyages, “The Tempest”: “It is fragrant with salt spray picked up from wave crests by driving winds. The enchanted isle of Prospero seems to have risen out of the surf.”
Robinson surprised the Folgers one Christmas by sending them his painting of Anne Hathaway's cottage. Folger hung it in their home over Hayman's portraitof Quinn as Falstaff and at right angles to Sir Joshua Reynolds's portrait of the actor, David Garrick. Whenever the Folgers went to Stratford, they invited Captain Robinson and his daughter to accompany them to the theatre, and gave the captain several Shakespeare volumes published by Horace Howard Furness for his collection. Robinson was convinced that by his astute reference to the sea, Shakespeare must have been an “admirable and experienced sailor.”
Henry Folger helped Captain Robinson's son to get a job with the Standard Oil Company.

Captain John Robinson link

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Capt. John Robinson surveys passengers from the deck

Justice Stone portrait inscribed to Amherst College students

10. Harlan Fiske Stone, Supreme Court justice

According to Henry Folger's will, the Shakespeare Library in Washington was to be administered as a private research institution by Amherst College in western Massachusetts. After Calvin Coolidge stepped down, Stone became the second chairman of the Trustee Committee on the Folger Library, a position he held for 15 years.
Son of a Massachusetts farmer and horse-trader, Amherst alum Stone used his bargaining skills to help the Library develop its collection. Stone was instrumental in the legal and financial arrangements allowing the Folger to obtain 11,000 titles from the library of Sir Leicester Harmsworth in 1938. These books printed in England between 1475 and 1640 transformed the Folger from a Shakespeare library to one with depth in all areas of English civilization.
The day after the 1941 Pearl Harbor attacks, Amherst and Folger administrators feared for the safety of the Library's irreplaceable collection. Stone approved the secret packing and transfer of 30,000 rare volumes to wait out the war in the basement of the Amherst College library. A Railway Express train with armed guards transported the treasures, but suffered a crisis when the guards left their posts to grab a cup of coffee and the car went on without them. After nearly three years, the priceless antiquarian books were whisked back to the Folger in the dead of night.
Stone loved to bound the few steps across East Capitol Street from the Supreme Court to visit the Folger Library. Similarly, law clerks became used to seeing the Folger director come to visit Stone's chambers.

Harlan Fiske Stone link

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©2008 Stephen H. Grant.
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