“Heavenly Monsters”: Horace Howard Furness, William Shak(e)spe(a)re, and the Furness Libraries

Horace Howard Furness and his grandson, Wirt L. Thompson (from the Furness Theatrical Image Collections)

“You could not believe that he was true. He was as a picture, or as a character of imagination.” When author John Jay Chapman first met famous Shakespeare scholar Horace Howard Furness, he could hardly contain his astonishment. Claustrophobically surrounded by the books and Shakespeariana of his study in rural Wallingford, Pennsylvania, Furness appeared to Chapman as “the most picturesque old gentleman I have ever known.” His grey eyes, “large head,” “short and stout” figure, his “wonderful neatness and trimness… as if his clothes were made of bronze,” and above all his ear-trumpet – “more like… the ornament of a fairy king or goblin herald than a necessary instrument,” as Chapman saw it – made Furness nothing short of a “heavenly monster of picturesque bonhomie” in the eyes of his visitor.

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