Story Leaves Out Austen

In a sense, Virginia-born John Marshall (1755-1835) is perhaps the last of the “founders” of the U.S. He is best known as the fourth Supreme Court Chief Justice (1801-1835). In that role he started to make the Supreme Court the major force in American life it is now – an equal “third” branch of the federal government alongside the Congress and the Presidency. (Appointed chief justice by outgoing President John Adams early in 1801, Marshall and Thomas Jefferson, who succeeded Adams as president in 1801, were distant relatives. They had often opposing political views as well, and their personal relationship was also cool.)

In 1826, Marshall wrote to fellow Supreme Court justice (and his friend, the much younger) Joseph Story – the youngest person still to have been nominated to the court; he was only age 32 when he was in 1811 – of Massachusetts about a new literary great he had read

[From John Marshall, Writings. Library Of America. Underlining and photo by me, 2021.]

…and the letter continues and concludes here…

[From John Marshall, Writings. Library Of America. 2021.]

I found Marshall’s “Austen letter” some years ago and never forgot it.

After Story had shared his list of his favorite women authors, Marshall writes that he is surprised Story has not included “Miss Austen.”

Marshall really liked Jane Austen’s books, and lightheartedly there scolds Story for omitting her from his list.

[John Marshall, Writings. Library Of America. Photo by me, 2021.]

That letter was written by Marshall only about 9 years after Austen’s 1817 death.

By then, in 1826, as we see, Austen’s books were already starting to spread out from England.

[A 1797 excerpt from Tomorrow The Grace, Kindle version. Photo by me, 2021.]

Some thirty years before, Marshall had represented the U.S. in negotiations in Paris with revolutionary France. In those younger years, he had a reputation as well of being something of a romantic and rather, uh, “dashing” – if that is the right word – which was certainly a word with which “Miss Austen” would have been familiar. He having discovered Austen’s books (in 1811 Sense and Sensibility was the first one published) in the 1820s and enjoying them so much would seem in keeping with what we know about his personality.

That is the sort of historical stuff I find fun… and possibly great “fictional” subject matter.

Have a good weekend, wherever you are. 🙂