"If music be the food of love, play on". So wrote Shakespeare as the opening line of "Twelfth Night". On this St. George's Day, the day on which Shakespeare is said to have been both born (450 years ago today) and to have died, I bring you this story of how the music of Shakespeare brought two women together in love.
Helen Archibald Clarke was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1860. She came from a musical family. He father Hugh became a professor of music at the University of Pennsylvania in 1875 and was an organist, composer and conductor. His father, a Scot who emigrated to Canada, studied at Edinburgh University and became a Doctor of Music.
Before the University of Pennsylvania admitted female students officially Helen enrolled as a special student, and two years later in 1883 earned a certificate in proficiency in music. Helen's other great passion was Shakespeare, and she began to research his plays and study how he used music in his writing.
Meanwhile, also in Philadelphia, another young woman had just taken up the reigns as editor of a new periodical produced by the Shakespeare Society of New York called "Shakespeariana", That woman was called Charlotte Endymion Porter. Nearly 4 years older than Helen Clarke, Charlotte graduated from Wells College, New York, and studied Shakespeare and French drama at the Sorbonne.
Charlotte was only 26 when she became editor of "Shakespeariana". One of the first articles she chose for publication was one by the 23-year-old Helen Clarke. It was her finished article on music in Shakespeare, and it brought the two women together for the first time. They were to spend over forty years together.
Charlotte resigned from her editorial post in 1887 and two years later she and Helen founded a new periodical called "Poet Lore". This was devoted to the study of Shakespeare and another writer in which the two women had a keen interest, Robert Browning. Between them Charlotte and Helen wrote the majority of articles and commentaries for their new publication, either by themselves or in collaboration. American poetical and literary societies took to "Poet Lore" in a big way and it became a huge success. In fact, it was so successful that it is still published to this day.
Included in "Poet Lore" were works and studies of other, mainly non-American, poets and writers who were often first introduced to the general American public through its pages. These included Ibsen, and such lgbt Nobel laureates as Selma Lagerlof and Bjornstjerne Bjornson. Helen and Charlotte moved production of "Poet Lore" from Philadelphia to Boston, Massachusetts, in 1891 after they were offered free office space in return for advertising in their periodical.
The couple lived in Massachusetts for the rest of their lives. They also bought a summer house in Penobscot Bay in Maine. Over the next 27 years the couple continued to edit "Poet Lore", although having sold the periodical in 1903 they were also free to work on other joint and separate projects. They wrote books on Shakespeare and Browning, and Helen also excercised her musical talents by writing cantatas and operettas for children and producing a book of songs.
Helen and Charlotte exchanged rings in a commitment ceremony in Boston, and it was at their Boston home that Helen died in 1926 at the age of 65. Charlotte lived on for a further 16 years, spending most of her time at their summer house in Maine, and she died at the age of 85 in 1942.
They left behind a legacy which stretches into our own time. They were founders of the American Music Society, and their "Poet Lore" is the longest-running poetry periodical in the USA. This was only possible because of their shared love of Shakespeare and an article on music.