Ruggles, Henry Joseph 1813-1906

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RUGGLES, Henry Joseph 1813-1906

PERSONAL: Born August 16, 1813, in Milford, CT; died March 6, 1906; son of Philo (a lawyer) and Ellen (Bulkley) Ruggles; Education: Columbia College, A.B., 1832.

CAREER: Lawyer and author. Practiced law in New York, NY, 1832-66. Instrumental in civic affairs of New York.


The Method of Shakespeare as an Artist, Deduced from an Analysis of His Leading Tragedies and Comedies, Hurd & Houghton (New York, NY), 1870.

The Plays of Shakespeare Founded on Literary Forms, Houghton, Mifflin (Boston, MA, and New York, NY), 1895.

SIDELIGHTS: Henry Joseph Ruggles, a nineteenth-century lawyer from a distinguished New York family, gave up his law practice to pursue his interest in studying William Shakespeare's plays. Ruggles' career paralleled those of other amateur American literary critics in the Victorian era who were known as gentleman-scholars, according to Monica Maria Grecu in Dictionary of Literary Biography.

The Ruggles family was active in New York's civic arena, helping secure Union Square for the city, founding the Gramercy Park neighborhood, and laying out and naming Lexington Avenue. Upon graduating from Columbia College in 1832, Ruggles worked in the New York law firm run by brother Samuel Ruggles, who was also instrumental in the building of the Erie Canal and the Erie Railroad in New York state.

Grecu cites Ruggles' "tendency to push a thesis beyond its legitimate suitability, an earnest, almost driving need to be innovative and arresting, and a limited productivity in which depth is substituted for breadth." Ruggles' two book-length works of Shakespearean criticism anticipate the twentieth century's emphasis on Shakespeare's language as pivotal to appreciating his artistry. Though Ruggles has been overlooked, his literary criticism reflects an early attempt to transform how literary works were absorbed.

In his first book, The Method of Shakespeare as an Artist, Deduced from an Analysis of His Leading Tragedies and Comedies, Ruggles concentrates on the plays Twelfth Night, Hamlet, and Macbeth. Typically, Ruggles turns what Grecu called a lawyerly attention to Shakespeare's use of language to convey themes beyond the basic plot. Ruggles' methods, however, mostly confused his contemporaries. "There is a strong feel in the few reviews of minds being wrenched out of their familiar paths to confront a book both queer and inimical to them," Grecu wrote.

The critical response to The Plays of Shakespeare Founded on Literary Forms, published twenty-five years later, was similar. In this work, Ruggles' over-arching theme as he examines twelve Shakespeare plays is the similarities between the playwright's ideas and the philosophy of Sir Francis Bacon. He concentrated on nine comedies and tragicomedies, such as The Merchant of Venice and Much Ado about Nothing, and three tragedies: Romeo and Juliet, Othello, and King Lear. Long digressions on the key points of Baconian philosophy interrupt the book, while on the other hand, its literary analyses are too confined. "What saves his book," said Grecu, is Ruggles's method of reading Shakespeare: "Rather than follow the nineteenth-century habit of viewing the characters as separate from the plays, Ruggles explored incidents and situations first and then sought to show how characters' responses diminished, intensified, qualified, or transformed them as human beings." This tendency sets him apart as a nineteenth-century literary scholar.



Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 64: American Literary Critics and Scholars, 1850-1880, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1988, pp. 207-210.*