« ZurückWeiter »
mother, a woman of unusual force of character, and strong religious faith, was marked by a devotion at once chivalrous and considerate. At her knee he learned to repeat the familiar prayer of childhood, and to Judge Story, shortly before his death, he confessed that he had never failed to repeat that prayer each night throughout his long life.
At the age of fourteen he attended school in Westmoreland County for one term, and afterwards continued the study of Latin at home under a private tutor. He began the study of law at the age of 18. It was interrupted however by the war with Great Britain, and he became a lieutenant in a volunteer company raised largely through his own efforts.
His appearance at this period has been handed down to us through the
pen of a kinsman; and I take the privilege of quoting from his description: "He was about six feet high, straight, and rather slender, of dark complexion, showing little if any rosy red, yet good health, the outline of the face nearly a circle, and within that eyes dark to blackness, strong and penetrating, beaming with intelligence and good nature; an upright forehead, rather low, was terminated in a horizontal line by a mass of raven black hair of unusual thickness and strength; the features of the face were in harmony with this outline, and the temples fully developed. The result of this combination was interesting and agreeable. The body and limbs indicated agility rather than strength, in which however he was by no means deficient.” Upon the muster field “he wore a purple or plain blue hunting shirt and trousers of the same material fringed with white; and a round black hat mounted with the buck's tail for a cockade."
While yet a young man his happy temper and genial and magnanimous disposition was particularly remarked. It forms no part of my purpose to follow him through the events of his military career. IIe was brave in the performance of his duty, and, amid many hardships, he was at all times uncomplaining. The cheerfulness of Marshall even under the most untoward conditions is perhaps illustrated better by his conduct during the destitute and memorable winter at Valley Forge than by any other incident of his life. Although during the greater part of that winter he owned but one shirt, and while that was being washed, was obliged to wrap himself up in a blanket, his good nature was at all times uppermost. A witness describing the life at Valley Forge has said that "Marshall was the best tempered man I ever knew. During his sufferings nothing discouraged, nothing disturbed him. If he had only bread to eat it was just as well; if only meat it made no difference. If any of the officers murmured at their deprivations he would shame them by good natured raillery or encourage them by his own exuberance of spirits. He was an excellent companion and idolized by the soldiers and his brother officers, whose gloomy hours were enlivened by his inexhaustible fund of anecdote."
Shortly after the close of the war Marshall met the lady to whom he was subsequently married. An air of romance surrounds the circumstance of that first meeting. Marshall had been invited to attend a ball held in the neighborhood of the residence of Jacquelin Ambler in York, in the winter of 1781-82. He then held the title of captain and his reputation for genius and bravery having preceded his appearance at the ball, the younger ladies, much interested in the fact that he was expected, began, it is related, "sportive projects for captivating him." Mary Willis Ambler, then only fourteen years of age, overhearing the remarks and plans of the others somewhat older than herself, assured them, jokingly, that they were giving themselves useless trouble as she intended to capture the young man and thus eclipse them all. At the first introduction to Miss Mary, Marshall became immediately devoted to her. Her sister subsequently narrating the event states that Mary had “at a glance discerned his character and understood how to appreciate it, while I expecting to see an Adonis lost all desire of becoming agreeable in his eyes when I beheld his awkward figure, unpolished manners, and negligent dress.”
A son of the chief justice having been requested to relate the circumstance of his father's courtship gave the information that it was at first unsuccessful, for the lady being young and diffident had said "no" when she really intended to give an affirmative response to Marshall's proposal for her hand; but the mistake was corrected through the kind offices of a cousin of the young lady. He had surreptitiously cut a lock of her hair which he sent to the disappointed lover, and Marshall supposing that she had sent it renewed his suit, which resulted in their marriage. They lived together forty-eight years.
An interesting story indicating one phase of Marshall's character comes down to us by way of tradition, although it is related as a truthful incident, and its entire accuracy need not be doubted. Near the close of the war he visited his home, bringing with him some of his brother officers. In preparing supper his mother made bread from the last flour she had in the house, the same having been providently saved for some such occasion.
The younger members of the family, much to the discomfiture of the mother, appealed for some of the bread with tears in their eyes. Inquiring into the matter Marshall absolutely refused to partake further of the bread which could not be shared with all the children; and he was greatly distressed to learn the straits to which the fortunes of war had reduced the family, and which the kind and indulgent mother had not intended he should know.
Pending some inaction in military affairs in 1779, he repaired to William and Mary College, where he attended a course of law lectures delivered by Chancellor Wythe; as well as some lectures on natural philosophy. The following year he was admitted to the bar; but did not immediately enter upon the practice of his profession for he again connected himself with the active operations of the army, remaining in the service until late in January, 1781, when he resigned his commission in consequence of a redundancy of officers of the Virginia line.
Marshall loved the law. ile had frequently served as judge advocate during his military career, in such manner as to command the admiration and respect of officers and
He began his practice in Fauquier County, but not long afterwards removed to Richmond. He rose rapidly at the bar, and soon became a leader among the comparatively large number of eminent and successful lawyers then practicing in Virginia.
It is recorded of him that he was not compelled to undergo) the trials of the probationary period usually falling to the lot of the young lawyer. Almost at once he acquired a large and influential clientage. The end of the conflict with Great Britain brought on an immense amount of litigation, partly as a result of the strife and partly because of the delays which that strife had rendered necessary in the adjustment of controversies. But with all the fortunate circumstances, as a lawyer might selfishly view them, which tended to bring practice to the young lawyer of that period, the ability of John Marshall, his logical mind and popular personality was sufficient to place him in the front rank of the profession. In modern times one is apt to wonder at the success of one who had so little education along general lines acquired from schools, as well as to be surprised at the limited time occupied by so great a man as Marshall in the study of law before he became an active practitioner. The period of his legal study is apt to appear to us as quite inadequate to the acquirement of the knowledge now regarded as essential to reasonable success at the bar. We know, however, that notwithstanding his lack of schooling he was in later life distinguished for his vast amount of learning in all branches. In the law the native powers of his mind were such that he had easily grasped the fundamental principles of our jurisprudence and became a truly profound lawyer and successful practitioner without apparently taking time beforehand for thorough preparation. True, this is to be partially explained by the fact that the law was not then so complex as now. But it also illustrates the vigorous faculties of Marshall and his possession of those peculiar attributes of mind which makes a man great in the law. His mastery of a legal principle seemed to be almost intuitive; but his conclusions were ever the result of close analysis and cogent reasoning. In 1808, Judge Story writing of him said: “His genius is, in my opinion, vigorous and powerful, less rapid than discriminating, and less vivid than uniform in its light. He examines the intricacies of a subject with calm and persevering inspection, and unravels the mysteries with irresistible acuteness.”
The oratory of John Marshall was characterized by lucidity of statement, logic and force, rather than by elegance of diction. His language was chaste; but his style was argumentative. He sought not to bring a smile to the lips nor a tear to the eye. He did not speak to the heart or the affections. Neither did he attempt by the mere beauty of expression to captivate the ear, inflame the passions or inspire the imagination. His appeal went exclusively to the judgment. In contrasting Marshall's style of speaking with another orator whose voice was said to have had all the softness and melody of the harp and whose mind was at once an orchard and a flower garden loaded with the best fruits and smiling in all the many colored bloom of spring, a contemporary, who, although differing from Marshall politically, admired greatly his character and abilities, wrote of him in 1806 as follows: "On the other hand, here is John Marshall, whose mind seems to be little else than a mountain of barren and stupendous rocks-an inexhaustible quarry from which he draws his materials and builds his fabrics, rude and Gothic, but of such strength that neither time nor force can beat them down- a fellow who would not turn off a single step from the right line of his argument though a paradise should rise to tempt him; who, it appears to me, were a flower to spring up in his mind, would strike it up with his spade as indignantly as a farmer would a noxious plant from his meadow, yet who, all dry and rigid as he is, has acquired all the wealth, fame and honor that a man need desire."
It must not be supposed that he was, however, an uninteresting speaker. He never failed to attract close and continued attention; and his words fell upon the ears of his audience often with irresistible force. IIe usually began an address with reluctance, some hesitation and vacancy of eye, but as he warmed to his subject he became more bold of manner, the hesitation departed, his utterance grew clear and rapid and his whole countenance glistened with genius and passion; and with great earnestness and enthusiasm he poured forth “The unbroken stream of eloquence in a current, deep, majestic, smooth, and strong."