Henry Folger’s British-Born Vicar, S. Parkes Cadman

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Reverend Dr. S. Parkes Cadman on the occasion of his 60th birthday testimonial dinner, 1924

Rev. Dr. S. Parkes Cadman is high on the list of notables born in the town of Wellington, Shropshire in the West Midlands. After having worked ten years as a coal miner and become a Methodist minister, he immigrated to the United States in 1890 at the age of 26. A clergyman with great oratorical skills, Cadman became an early radio preacher of God’s Word, using the National Broadcasting Company to reach 30 million listeners. He wrote a daily newspaper column for the New York Herald Tribune. Syracuse University made Cadman a doctor of Laws; Yale, a doctor of Divinity. He published ten books on aspects of Christian life. An opponent of anti-Semitism, Cadman promoted tolerance and ecumenism. He was elected president of the Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America. Although a Methodist, he was elected minister of the Central Congregational Church in Brooklyn (he referred to it simply as “Central”), New York, a post he held for 35 years. Among his 3,000 parishioners was Henry Clay Folger, the Standard Oil Company senior executive and Shakespeare collector.

Common values and interests brought Cadman and Folger into a close bond. Both came from modest backgrounds and were brought up in a strong Christian tradition. They were skilled orators. Each manifested deep literary, musical, and cultural affinities. At Amherst College, Henry Folger had attended church every Sunday, noting the name of each preacher and the subject of each sermon. Cadman represented for Folger the epitome of the articulate, enlightened, and productive minister. Folger wrote, “Dear Dr. Cadman, Your book is a monument to your prodigious industry, and cannot but add to your great reputation. In reading it I am impressed with the strength and dignity of your style, and its remarkable lucidity.” Cadman wrote, “My dear Henry, I hope you know, but perhaps your incurable modesty forbids it what a glorious help you have been to me all these years.” Only once did Folger disappoint Cadman. “I am sorry to be unable to join your Radio Committee. My Shakespeare enterprise seems to absorb all my time, means and strength. If I am to make it a success it will only be by concentrating completely upon it.”

Autographed portrait Henry Clay Folger sent to a college fraternity brother

 A trustee of Central, Folger constantly showered gifts on his favorite pastor: choice editions of Shakespeare, tickets to performance of the Bard’s plays, old Bibles, a 1616 book used by Luther to vindicate his attitude toward reform, box seats for eight at concerts in the Apollo Club of Brooklyn, assistance in acquiring shares of Standard Oil stock. Folger took the initiative to hire a court reporter, Howard J. Kelley, to put in shorthand Cadman’s sermons. Then he had them bound and donated to Central. Kelley charged $12 for a sermon, $5 for a children’s sermon, and $3.90 for a prayer, with the bill going to the generous parishioner. Folger bought a dozen of each of Cadman’s publications, and sent them to close friends and colleagues, including Folger’s boss, John D. Rockefeller Sr.

When the time came, Cadman was there to eulogize Henry Folger in a prayer meeting at Central on June 13, 1930, saying, “We pray, O God, for all interests associated with the great literary world to which he gave new distinction and meaning, for his offerings in behalf of the anointed king of letters in English-speaking lands. Let all the good that Shakespeare wished for the righteous man rest upon him, and upon his loved ones here.” Cadman pronounced the invocation and benediction at the dedication of the Folger Shakespeare Library on Shakespeare’s birthday, April 23, 1932, in Washington, DC. After Emily Folger died on February 21, 1936, Cadman conducted the services at the Folger residence in Glen Cove, Long Island. Less than six months later, S. Parkes Cadman died in Plattsburgh, New York. His widow would come across this letter he had sent Folger in 1928: “I note from the Herald Tribune that you have resigned your position as chairman of the Board of Directors of the Standard Oil Company of New York. May I say that this great position, preceded as it was by others almost as important has been of unspeakable benefit to me and mine in manifest ways and I am still holding on to all the stocks I have and depend on them for my period of retirement and the protection of my family after I am gone.”

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Author:Stephen Grant

Independent scholar Stephen H. Grant is the author of the first biography of Henry and Emily Folger, COLLECTING SHAKESPEARE (Johns Hopkins, 2014), which describes how the Brooklyn couple founded and endowed the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC in 1932.

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