The Collation

Research and Exploration at the Folger

Ben Greet: “Thank God for Henry Clay Folger”

A guest post by Stephen Grant

First, a most Happy New Year to you all! I’m sure that 2020 is the beginning of a big decade for the Folger!! And I can’t wait until the Folger Centennial in 2032!!!

For the first 2020 post in the series “Postcards in the Folger Archives,” dear Collators, we’ll try something new. We’ll pick a friend of both Henry and Emily Folger and follow a timeline. This mysterious friend was born on a ship moored in the shadow of the Tower of London, was considered by some to be the father of the open-air theatre, played before a million schoolchildren, and spent much of his life promoting the educational value of drama in general, and Shakespeare in particular. Sir Philip “Ben” Greet’s sense of timing was so exquisite that he was born the same year as Henry Folger (1857) and died the same year as Emily Folger (1936).

September 24, 1857
Ben Greet is born in London.

March 1883
Greet makes his London stage debut Caius Lucius in Cymbeline.

1902–1914
Ben Greet and company bring Shakespeare and other plays to theaters, churches, halls, and open-air spaces on both sides of the Atlantic

Ben Greet in As You Like It, circa 1910 (Art File G816.5 no.2 PHOTO)

Here is the handsome program cover for the open-air performance of As You Like It that Henry and Emily attend at Columbia University, New York on Thursday afternoon, May 14, 1903.

Program Cover for As You Like It under stage direction of Ben Greet. (Folger Archives Box 10)

April 5, 1904
The Folgers attend a 15th century morality play, Everyman, performed by Ben Greet and the Elizabethan Stage Society of England in Association Hall, Brooklyn. Costumes are designed from Flemish tapestries of the 15th c., music of the 13th and 14th c.

It will come to no one’s surprise that the Folgers saved what seems like every ticket stub to every play and other important cultural event of their lives. (For example, there is ticket no. 33A that allowed Henry as an Amherst senior (after he paid the admission charge of fifty cents) to hear 76-year-old Ralph Waldo Emerson speak at the college. Enraptured by Emerson’s eloquence, Henry then set about reading all the New England poet had written about Shakespeare. And the rest, as they say, is history…) For Everyman, the Folgers had a good view of the stage from parquet seats E20 and E21 on Tuesday, April 5, 1904.

Folgers’ ticket stubs for Ben Greet performance of Everyman (Folger Archive Box 10)

May 14, 1904
The Folgers attend Twelfth Night by Ben Greet Players, The People’s Institute in Manhattan, seats C5-6 in Orch. (Folger Archives Box 10).

April 1905
Ben Greet and his “Ben Greet Players of London” put on a “Shakespearean Festival”

Art Box S659 no.1 (size XL)

November-December 1905
The envelope below shows the going rate in 1905 for a first-class letter in the U.S., with a red two-cent stamp depicting George Washington.

Ben Greet’s envelope sent to Henry Folger in Brooklyn (Folger Archives Box 26)

Knowing how Henry Folger reaches out to Shakespearean actors and actresses who come to New York, I am not surprised to discover that during the stay of Ben Greet and his players over several weeks in New York (at the City Club of New York at 55–57 West 44th St.) the collector invites the director for a theatrical tête-à-tête.

Ben Greet’s letter to Henry Folger in Brooklyn (Folger Archives Box 26)

Nov. 30 [1905]
Dear Mr. Folger,
Yes: I shall be delighted to dine with you on Monday. I have to leave by the night train for Boston so you will turn me out in good time please. Seven I’d say would suit well. Yours sincerely, Ben Greet.

Let’s just here stop a second, gentle collator. How would you feel to be invited to dine with Henry Folger? What one question would you ask him?

January 1908
When Ben Greet needs to reach Folger urgently, he buys a ten-cent blue “Special Delivery” stamp, added to the regular two-cent letter postage.

Ben Greet’s Special Delivery envelope sent to Henry Folger in Brooklyn (Folger Archives Box 21)

What is on Greet’s mind that requires such urgency?

Ben Greet’s Special Delivery letter to Henry Folger in Brooklyn (Folger Archives Box 21)

502 Fulton St.
Jan. 2 [1908]
Dear Mr. Folger,
Do you think you can stir up a few people to come see us during the rest of the week. It is extraordinary that we should be playing to such bad audiences with such a programme. The Institute people

supported us well in November but the general public don’t seem to come near. The prices are low enough in all conscience. At present I haven’t taken enough to pay the gas bill! I have written to Mr. C. M. [Charles Millard] Pratt and to Mr. H.I. [Harold Irving] Pratt to see if they can do anything. With best wishes for a bright New Year to Mrs. Folger & yourself. Yours sincerely, Ben Greet.

Well! Luckily Ben speaks his mind and makes us aware of the difficulties he’s having in making a commercial go of his theater troupe’s extended American tour. The two Pratt brothers are Folger’s closest friends with resources.

April 1910
And—how exciting—here is another postal card! The penny postal card depicting “framed” McKinley (1843–1901) sent to Mr. H. C. Folger Jr. No need to write out “Broadway,” “B’way” will do. No need to write the city either. Have you ever seen a post(al) card sent from Grand Central Station? Usually they are sent from one government post office to another.

Postal card written to Henry Folger at his work address in Manhattan (Folger Archives Box 11)

Ladies and Gentlemen collators, here is a postal card used for commercial purposes. Greet urges Henry Folger and others to “Please reserve your seats NOW” by calling a four-digit telephone number in Madison Square. A Shakespearean Festival in 1910 would celebrate the 346th Anniversary of Shakespeare’s Birthday. Prices ranged from twenty-five cents to a dollar fifty.

Message and address side of same postcard (Folger Archives Box 11)

March 6, 1914
We have seen before what a business letter looks like from Henry Folger. This March 6, 1914 letter does not include a signature, as it was typed by Alexander Welsh, his personal secretary at Standard Oil Company. The copy I photographed is a carbon copy of the original that would have been signed.

Letter from Henry Folger to Ben Greet (Folger Archives Box 21)

This revealing letter from Folger to Greet makes it clear that the collector has neither time nor means to help at all in the initial stages of an Edwin Booth Memorial Theatre.

1929
King George V knights Ben Greet for four years managing the Old Vic theatre, for his overall devotion to Shakespeare, and for services to “drama and education”.

April 21, 1932
On April 21, 1932, two days before the dedication of the Folger Shakespeare Library, the Ben Greet Players in London wish the Library well and express their gratitude for Mr. Folger’s wonderful gift of the Shakespeare library and theatre to his countrymen.

Western Union cablegram from Sir Ben Greet to Mrs. H. Clay Folger (Folger Archives Box 21)

April 23, 1932           
Sir Philip Ben Greet attends dedication of the Folger Shakespeare Library on Capitol Hill, representing the British stage.

1932-1933
The postcard shows Shakespeare’s Birthplace in Stratford-on-Avon. Notice the magenta printing and part of the circle of a postmark. One does not expect to find a postmark or a stamp on the picture side of a postcard.

Defaced postcard from Sir Ben Greet to Mrs. H. Clay Folger (Folger Archives Box 26)

Before I was a deltiologist (someone who collects and studies postcards), I was a philatelist (postage stamp collector). With collational witnesses, I admit that a few times (not too many) I was guilty of the transgression of making two tears—one vertical and one horizontal—to deface a postcard in order to add the stamp to my collection. I was punished for my offence: when I was a freshman at Amherst College my parents’ house was broken into and all the stamp albums stolen. I never again collected postage stamps—which when I was growing up was touted as the world’s most popular hobby—but in a mid-life crisis I began postcard collecting in 1980. With a postcard you can get four prizes: a stamp, a postmark, a picture, and a message. Whose fingerprints are on this defiled postcard besides mine? Who did the deed? It is true that in the Folger family there was a philatelist. I found out who it was: Judge Edward J. Dimock, Emily’s nephew. There are dozens of envelopes in the Folger correspondence where the stamp has been snitched. The judge is definitely a person of interest.

Message on defaced postcard from Sir Ben Greet to Mrs. H. Clay Folger (Folger Archives Box 26)

Sir Ben Greet writes to Mrs. H. Clay Folger, Glen Cove, Long Island, USA. No street address, no state. But the mail goes through. The “due 2 cents” is a phrase that philatelists are familiar with. When the correspondent puts insufficient postage on an envelope or postcard, postal authorities have the option of sending it back for more postage or sending it on to collect the required additional fare on the receiving end. In this case, Mrs. Folger (or whomever took the mail delivery) may well have had to reach into their purse or pocket and produce the two Lincoln pennies to make the postman’s accounts for the day add up.

After Henry Folger died in June 1932, Emily evidently sent word to Greet, for she received the following letter in reply:

Sir Ben Greet letter to Mrs. Folger July 12, 1932 (Folger Archives Box 26)

My dear Mrs. Folger
It is exceedingly kind of you to send me the lovely letter book and record of Henry Clay Folger. I have never forgotten the kind interest you two took in me and how little I felt I deserved it for I was never able to realise all I had hoped to do for our Shakespeare in America—
I really toiled there for twelve years unaided except such kind encouragement I had from a few good souls such as H. C. Folgers

and after fifteen years absence I returned in October 1929 for twenty weeks again in 1930 and God willing I am going to try a third time. Fortunately an old frien[d] that I came across in the early days is guiding me and I have been able to play to over one million people in every part of the United States—I am to return this October. They do love Shakespeare there the young people do and that is the story. Dr. Parkes Cadman [the Folgers’ British-born Congregational pastor in Brooklyn] was right when he said so beautifully that Shakespeare was there to lead your good man and thank God for Henry Clay Folger.
I am yours sincerely Philip Ben Greet

Indeed.

Here is a remarkably clear photograph of Sir Ben Greet at his desk, where he has written upside down the Shakespearean quote, “I could a tale unfold” (Hamlet 1.5). He is seated in a three-piece suit, writing at his desk.

Picture postcard of Sir Ben Greet writing at his desk (Folger Archives Box 26)

It contains what may be the final correspondence between Greet and Emily Folger:

Message and Address side of same postcard (Folger Archives Box 26)

To Mrs Henry Clay Folger with kindest thoughts—??? the book finished I shall send a copy to the H. C. Folger Library. It might find a corner. Philip Ben Greet, 160 Lambeth Road, London SE 1.

Greet pays no attention to the postal guidance to write the address on the right side of the postcard. I myself often send a postcard with a full message and place it in an envelope. This is what Greet must have done. I did not find the envelope in Folger Archives Box 26, however. Your Honor, fess up. Has your philatelic obsession taken over?

Stephen H. Grant is a retired Foreign Service officer turned writer. He is the author of, among other things, several books about postcards, and Collecting Shakespeare: The Story of Henry and Emily Folger.

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