William J. Rolfe
William J. Rolfe (1827 - 1910)
from the frontespiece of
Shakespeariana, October 1889
Rolfe's name is a tower of strength in Shakespearian
scholarship. Shakespearians everywhere have a final
confidence in his approval, and are satisfied that
what passes with him, may pass with them." --Shakespeariana,
Rolfe was a highly
respected educator and influential editor of Shakespeare
and other English literary classics in the latter half
of the nineteenth century and early twentieth century.
His "Friendly Shakespeare" enjoyed wide sales and
distribution. A biographical outline is provided
Rolfe from the October 1889 edition of Shakespeariana, "Shakespeare's
American Editors - III, William J. Rolfe."
JAMES ROLFE, whose portrait forms our frontispiece
this month, was born in Newburyport, Mass., Dec.
10,1827. His boyhood was mainly passed in Lowell,
Mass., where he was fitted for college in the public
high school. He entered Amherst College in 1845, but
after remaining there some three years, in the
course of which he wasvthe " chum " of J. H. Seelye,
now President of the college, and W. G. Hammond, now
at the head of the Law School in Iowa State
University, he gave up his studies in order to
become a teacher. After doing some work in Kirkwood
Academy, in Maryland, he became Principal of Day's
Academy, Wrentham, Mass., where he remained until
December, 1852. He then took the mastership of the
high school just established in Dorchester, Mass.,
and remained there until the summer of 1857, when he
was invited to Lawrence, Mass., to take charge of
the high school there. After four years spent in
Lawrence, he removed to Salem, Mass., but after
being there a year he was offered the mastership of
the high at Cambridge, Mass., where he has continued
to reside, though he resigned his position in the
school in the summer of 1868. Since that time he has
devoted himself to editorial and literary work.
1869 he has been one of the editors of the Popular
Science News (formerly the Boston Journal of
Chemistry), and for several years past he has had
charge of the department of "Shakespeariana" in the
Literary World, besides contributing1 at intervals
to other literary and scientific periodicals.
Mr. Rolfe published a Handbook of Latin Poetry (made
up of selections from Ovid, Virgil, and Horace), in
conjunction with J. H. Hanson, A.M., of Waterville,
Me. The Ovid and Virgil were issued as a separate
volume in the following year. In 1867 he published
an edition of Craik's English of Shakespeare, which
has run through many editions. Between 1867 and
1869, in connection with Mr. J. A. Gillet, Teacher
of Physics in the Cambridge High School (now
professor in the Normal College, New York City), he
brought out the Cambridge Course of Physics in six
volumes, comprising an elementary and a more
advanced text-book in Natural Philosophy, in
Chemistry, and in Astronomy. This series has since
been completely rewritten by the authors.
In 1870 Mr.
Rolfe prepared a school edition of Shakespeare's
Merchant of Venice, which was received with so much
favor that he followed it up with editions of the
Tempest, Julius Caesar, and Henry VIII. At the time
he had no idea of editing more than half a dozen of
the plays generally read in schools; but others were
called for, and soon it became evident that a
complete edition of Shakespeare's works, prepared on
the same plan, would find a ready market. This "
Friendly Edition " of the great dramatist, as Mary
Cowclen Clarke proposed that it be called, was
completed after the lapse of thirteen years. And it
rapidly became popular and has an extremely large
has published a volume of selections from Gray's
poems, and another from Goldsmith's, in style
similar to that of the Shakespeares : and
beautifully illustrated school editions of Scott's
Lady of the Lake, Marmion, and Lay
of the Last Minstrel; also a complete edition of
Scott's Poems, and of Tennyson's Princess, Enoch
Arden, and other selections (four volumes in all),
Byron's Childe Harold, two volumes of
selections from Browning, the Minor Poems of Milton,
and Macaulay's Lays of
Ancient Rome—this last in connection with his son,
John C. Rolfe, Ph.D. He has published also three
volumes of a series of " English Classics " intended
for younger students than those for whom the
above-mentioned books were prepared.
received the honorary degree of A.M., at Harvard, in
1859, and the same degree was subsequently given him
at Amherst, where he was also enrolled as a regular
graduate of the class of 1849 at the suggestion of
President Seelye, his old friend and classmate. In
1886 he joined the New York Shakespeare Society,
then completing its first year, and in 1887 received
the degree of Doctor of Letters from Amherst
College. From 1882 to 1887 Dr. Rolfe was President
of the Martha's Vineyard Summer Institute, at
Cottage City, Mass. Dr. Rolfe's name is a tower of
strength in Shakespearian scholarship.
Shakespearians everywhere have a final confidence in
his approval, and are satisfied that what passes
with him, may pass with them. He has a keen eye for
error, and such a delightful way of calling one's
attention to it, that his fellow-students almost
relish a lapse for the pleasure of being corrected
by him. All of which means that he is a profound
scholar, a warm friend, and a courteous gentleman.
James Rolfe, Litt.D. (1827 - 1910) was an
Shakespearean scholar and educator, born in
He graduated from
1849, and between
1868 was head master of high schools at
Early in his career, he edited selections from
Virgil and (in collaboration) the Cambridge
Course of Physics (six volumes, 1867-68).
His Shakespearean work began with an edition of
George Lillie Craik's English of Shakespeare
(1867). This led to the preparation of a complete
edition - the Friendly Edition - of Shakespeare
(forty volumes, 1870-83; new edition, 1903-07).
He also edited a complete edition of
Tennyson (twelve volumes, 1898) and verse by
many of the other great English poets. He wrote a
very useful Satchel Guide to Europe, revised
annually for 35 years...He was the father of
John Carew Rolfe.
Editions of Shakespeare
I have located a
full set of William J. Rolfe's 40-volume Shakespeare
editions through Google Book Search. Some, but not a
complete set, exist also at the Internet Archive.
Links to titles below, therefore, are to the GB scanned,
facsimile editions. Where IA editions exist, they
are linked in square brackets afterwards, labeled "IA,"
with their own date of publication if it differs.
I have made the main link to the Google Book Search
second series editions (published originally from
1903-1907) except in cases where I could not find a
second series scan. In those cases I made it to
the first series edition (published originally between
1870-1883, but reprinted many times). I have
followed the default second series link with a link to
first series editions where I could find them.
Internet Archive links in square brackets follow Google
Book links. The dates given after the first series
links are to the actual publication date on the volume,
which in many cases is a reprint date. Copyright
renewals after 1910 belong to John C. Rolfe, son of the
All's Well That Ends Well (1905) [GB,
As You Like It (1905) [GB,
The Comedy of Errors (1905) [GB,
Love's Labour's Lost (1905) [GB,
A Midsummer Night's Dream (1903) [GB]
Measure for Measure (1905) [GB,
The Merchant of Venice (1903) [GB,
GB, 1898] [IA,
The Merry Wives of Windsor (1905) [GB,
Much Ado About Nothing (1905) [GB,
The Taming of the Shrew (1904) [GB,
Troilus and Cressida (1905) [GB,
Twelfth Night, or What You Will (1907) [IA,
The Two Gentlemen of Verona (1895)
Antony and Cleopatra (1909) [GB,
Coriolanus (1909) [GB,
Hamlet (1906) [GB,
Julius Caesar (1903) [GB,
King Lear (1908) [GB,
Macbeth (1918) [IA,
Othello (1898) [GB,
Romeo and Juliet (1907) [GB,
Timon of Athens (1906) [GB,
Titus Andronicus (1906) [GB,
Shakespeare and related topics authored by Rolfe
Book Search] [Internet
Archive] - only full view items are linked
- Shakespeare the boy : with sketches of the
home and school life, the games and sports, the
manners, customs and folk-lore of the time
- The Elementary Study of English: Hints to
Teachers (1896) [GB]
- Life of Shakespeare (1901)
- A Life of William Shakespeare (1904) [IA]
- Shakespeare proverbs; or, The wise saws of
our wisest poet, collected into a modern instance.
Edited with introd. and notes by William J. Rolfe
Shakespeare edited by Rolfe
George L. "The English of Shakespeare:
Illustrated in a Philological Commentary on His
Julius Caesar." [GB]
Non-Shakespearean Literary Editions by Rolfe
Rolfe's obituary from the New York Times (NY
Times archive articles are now freely available
(free account registration required) and contain
links to the complete, scanned image artilce in PDF
format); July 8, 1910.
W. J. ROLFE, AUTHOR, IS DEAD," NY Times
Archives with link to PDF; July 8, 1910.
Tribute to the Late Dr. Rolfe," by Samuel
Tannenbaum, from the NY Times Archives with link to
PDF; July 23 1910.
AND ROLFE; Two Distinguished Scholars, Octogenarians
Both, Who Died Early in the Present Month. EDITORS
OF SHAKESPEARE," from NY Times Archives with
link to PDF; July 16, 1910.
Works Annotated," New York Times Archive,
with link to PDF, in which Rolfe denies the
association of his name with a common joke about
annotated editions, April 23, 1910.
Rolfe Replies to an Oklahoma Reader," NY
Times Archive with link to PDF, in which Rolfe
responds to a question about painted statuary; July
Dr. Rolfe's New "Life" Compared with Some of the
Others," NY Times Archives with link to PDF;
December 3, 1904.
Rolfe's Shakespeare," NY Times Archive with
link to PDF; May 6, 1905.
Mastery of Rhyme" in The Boston Browning
Society Papers, 1886-1897.
Public Library" in The Cambridge of 1869.