Dr. Louis B. Wright, 84, a wryly witty scholar and prolific author admired for his candid observations on literature and life while serving for 20 years as director of the Folger Shakespeare Library here, died of cardiovascular disease Feb. 26 at his home in Chevy Chase.
As director of the Folger from 1948 until his retirement in 1968, Dr. Wright was credited with invigorating and expanding the activities of the institution, which is regarded as one of the world's principal research centers for the study of 16th and 17th century Western civilization.
In addition to his efforts toward making the Folger, with its prized collection of rare Elizabethan texts, into a lively center for scholarly research, Dr. Wright, a historian, also was known as a vigorous champion and thoughtful interpreter of Shakespeare and his plays.
Shakespeare, Dr. Wright once told an audience of businessmen and civic leaders "wrote for the box office and he kept both eyes on it."
On another occasion, he observed: "People think Shakespeare has survived because of a conspiracy of school teachers. I think it was in spite of school teachers."
As head of the Folger, Dr. Wright proved a constant target and formidable foe to those who sought to prove that someone other than Shakespeare wrote the plays credited to him.
Actually, Dr. Wright said, the identity of the author of the plays was relatively unimportant.
"The important thing to be remembered," he said, "is that truth does matter," and that the integrity of trained scholars would not let them "substitute fanciful theories and hypotheses for documentary evidence which has stood the test of centuries."
In many ways a traditionalist who deplored what he once called a contemporary "zeal for leveling down in education," Dr. Wright was undismayed by Shakespeare's failure to attend college.
"Diplomas don't make geniuses," he said.
As library director, he put out a newsletter that was cherished for its unpretentiousness. "This is merely an ephemeral report," he wrote in one, "...and is not designed to be preserved like Holy Writ. . . . When there is anything worth saying, we shall get out another newsletter."
The son of a schoolmaster in Greenwood County, S.C., Dr. Wright received a bachelor's degree in chemistry at Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C. and after earning a doctorate from the University of North Carolina in 1926 taught English there for a number of years. He came to the Folger, on East Capitol Street, after 17 years as research professor at the Huntington Library in San Marino, Calif.
He served for varying periods as an officer of more than 20 professional and social groups, held more than two dozen honorary degrees and wrote more than 200 books, articles, papers and scholarly studies. He was editor of a complete set of Shakespeare's sonnets and plays, which were printed individually in paperback and sold in the millions.
Survivors include his wife, the former Frances Marion Black, of the home; a son, Louis Christopher, of Washington, and a brother, Thomas F. Jr, and a sister, Margaret Wright, both of Spartanburg, S.C.