Published online by Cambridge University Press: 28 March 2007
Between the years of 1903 and 1913 two remarkable women, Charlotte Endymion Porter and Helen Armstrong Clarke, published three editions of the complete works of William Shakespeare. Before that they had already edited the complete works of both Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning and founded a literary journal still in existence called Poet-Lore. Throughout their careers they were extraordinarily productive. The Library of Congress catalogue lists sixty-nine titles for Porter and sixty-seven for Clarke.
The publishing careers of these two amazing women began in Philadelphia. In 1875 Charlotte Porter had been one of the graduates of Wells College in Aurora, New York (illustration 4) where she had created scale models of Shakespeare’s stage (illustration 5) and planned to write a series of essays on ‘Staging Shakespeare’s Wit’. She had studied briefly at the Sorbonne and then settled in Philadelphia. There, in 1883, with the encouragement of Horace Howard Furness, she became editor of a new periodical called Shakespeariana (begun by the Shakespeare Society of New York). Among the articles she published in the journal was one on Shakespeare’s music by Helen A. Clarke, a young scholar with a certificate in music from the still all-male University of Pennsylvania. Porter and Clarke formed a life-long friendship.
The two women lived unconventional lives. The best source of information about them is a long account of their friendship written by Porter and published in their journal Poet-Lore after Clarke’s death. The Wells College archive contains not only the early photographs, but also some letters and poems; and the Folger copy of the women’s First Folio Shakespeare has, pasted into A Midsummer Night’s Dream (vol. 8), three fascinating photographs of the two women (illustration 6). One shows them in a study with a reproduction of Shakespeare’s epitaph among the pictures on the wall.