“Character of John Marshall” (William Wirt, The Letters of the British Spy)

William Wirt, in The Letters of the British Spy (1803), provided the American public with one of the earliest and most widespread character sketches of John Marshall. Wirt’s book went through several editions, and his sketch of Marshall was also picked up by commonplace books, such as Dickinson’s Columbian Reader (1815) and Cheever’s American Common-Place Book of Prose (1839).

Here’s the excerpt from The Columbian Reader:

The Chief Justice of the United States, is in his person, tall, meagre, emaciated; his muscles relaxed, and his joints so loosely connected, as not only to disqualify him, apparently, for any vigorous exertion of body, but to destroy every thing like elegance and harmony in his air and movement. Indeed in his whole appearance, and demeanor; dress, attitude, gesture; sitting, standing, or walking; he is as far removed from the idolized graces of Lord Chesterfield, as any other gentleman on earth. To continue the portrait–his head and face are small in proportion to his height; his complexion swarthy; the muscles of his face, being relaxed, give him the appearance of a man of fifty years of age, nor can he be much younger; his countenance has a faithful expression of great good humor and hilarity; while his black eyes, that unerring index, possess an irradiating spirit, which proclaims the imperial powers of the mind that sits enthroned within.

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