by John Esten Cooke
From the 1901 edition of the The New McGuffey Fifth Reader
Among the great men of Virginia, John Marshall will always be remembered with honor and esteem. He was the son of a poor man, and his early life was spent in poverty; but he was not afraid of labor, and everybody saw that he was a person of more than common ability. Little by little he rose to distinction, and there was scarcely any public office in the gift of the people that he might not have had for the asking. He served in the legislature of Virginia; he was sent as envoy to France; he was made Secretary of State; and finally he became Chief Justice of the United States. The greatest judges looked up to him and listened to what he said, as if that decided everything. When he died at the age of eighty, he was one of the greatest and most famous men in America.
My father knew him well and loved him, and told me many things about him. He was very tall and thin, and dressed very plainly. He wore a suit of plain black cloth and common yarn stocking, which fitted tightly to his legs and showed how thin they were. He was a very great walker, and would often walk out to his farm which was several miles from Richmond. But sometimes he went on horseback, and once he was met riding out with a bag of clover seed on the saddle before him.
His manners were plain and simple, and he liked to talk about everyday matters with plain country people, and laugh and jest with them. He never seemed to remember that he was a great man at all, and he often played quoits and other games with his coat off, as full of fun as a boy, and ready to laugh with everybody. In a word, he was so great a man that he never thought of appearing greater than other people, but was always the same unpretending John Marshall.
It was a fashion amoung the gentlemen of Richmond to walk to market early in the morning and buy fresh meats and vegetables for their family dinners. This was a good old fashion, and some famous gentlemen continued to do so to the end of their lives. It was the habit of Judge Marshal, and very often he took no servant with him. He would buy what he wanted and return home, carrying his purchases on his arm; and on one of these occasions a little incident occurred which is well worth telling and remembering.
Judge Marshall had made his purchases at the market and was just starting for home when he heard some one using very rough and unbecoming language. He turned round and saw what was the cause of the hubbub. A finely dressed you man, who seemed to be a stranger, had just bought a turkey in the market, and finding that it would not be carried home for him beccame very angry.
Judge Marshall listened a moment to his ungentlemanly talk and then stepping up to him asked, very kindly, “Where do you live, sir?”
The young man looked at the plainly dressed old countryman, as he supposed him to be, cand then named the street and number where he lived.
“I happen to be going that way,” said Judge Marshall, with a smile, “and I will take it for you.”
The young man handed him the turkey and left the market, followed by Judge Marshall. When they reached the young man’s home, Marshall politely handed him the turkey and turned to go.
“What shall I pay you?” asked the young man.
“Oh, nothing,” answered Marshall; “you are welcome. It was on my way, and no trouble at all.” He bowed and walked away, while the young man looked after him, beginning now to see that he had made a mistake.
“Who is that polite old gentleman who carried my turkey for me?” he asked of a friend who was passing.
“That is John Marshall, Chief Justice of the United States,” was the answer.
The young man was astounded and ashamed. “But why did he offer to carry my turkey?” he exclaimed.
“To give you a reprimand and teach you to attend to your own business and behave like a gentleman.”
This little anecdote will show you the character of John Marshall; and I cannot believe that it was his wish merely to reprimand the foolish young man. He was too sweet-tempered and kind to take pleasure in reprimanding any one; and I have no doubt that he carried the turkey simply from the wish to be obliging.
I enjoyed this little story on its own terms, but it is also begging to be deconstructed along several different axes. This story is long out of print and its author long turned to dust. Almost all of the orignal owners of the book this story appeared in are dead. A google search for the title only returns a single match.
I saved this story and of course Project Gutenberg has rescued over 17,000 books from the trash heap of history. But…
This is where I ran out of steam so here are some alternate endings for this blog entry. Feel free to choose one of these or make up your own:
- <slather> “I flip a coin.”
- <Xach> “and that’s why the tables have to be structured in a rails-friendly way”
- <chime> “And that’s how I spent my summer vacation. The End.”
- <dbday> “And that’s the story of how you were born!”