This week: Marshall’s times, grammar crimes & more.
Without Precedent: Chief Justice John Marshall and His Times, by Joel Richard Paul (Riverhead Books): John Marshall’s death at the age of seventy-nine on July 6, 1835 marked the end of a thirty-four-year tenure as Chief Justice of the United States, which remains the longest such tenure in U.S. history. Marshall’s indelible legacy, which shaped the direction of our fledgling nation and which is still felt in its government today, undoubtedly rests on the numerous landmark decisions he handed down as the highest-ranking judicial officer of the land. Students of American history and law alike still read Marshall’s precedent-setting rulings, among them Marbury v. Madison, Fletcher v. Peck, Dartmouth College v. Woodward, and others. Less is widely known, however, about the man himself. Born in a log cabin in rural Virginia and raised as a rugged frontiersman with little formal education, Marshall nevertheless led an impressive life that put him at the center of the Revolutionary movement and into contact with some of the most important Founding Fathers. In his new biography, Joel Richard Paul, a professor of constitutional law at the University of California Hastings Law School in San Francisco, has chosen to focus on Marshall’s life as a politician, soldier, statesmen, and jurist—a departure from the many existing biographies that focus almost exclusively on his Supreme Court opinions. —AS
“Ten Americans: After Paul Klee” at the Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. (through May 6): With his unparalleled eye for modern art, Duncan Phillips was among the first American collectors to focus on the work of Paul Klee (1879–1940). “Klee builds himself a little house of art,” Phillips said in 1938, “in a realm somewhere between childhood’s innocence and everyman’s prospect of infinity.” Phillips acquired his first Klee in 1939, and his Collection off Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C. soon boasted a “Klee room.” So although Klee himself never traveled to America—driven from the Bauhaus, he died in his native Switzerland—his work deeply influenced postwar American art. “Ten Americans: After Paul Klee,” now at the Phillips Collection, traces this influence through William Baziotes, Gene Davis, Adolph Gottlieb, Norman Lewis, Robert Motherwell, Kenneth Noland, Jackson Pollock, Theodoros Stamos, Mark Tobey, and Bradley Walker Tomlin. Although these artists developed in different directions, the exhibition makes the compelling case that they were all formed from the same Klee. —JP
The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra at Carnegie Hall (February 23): The residency of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra is like an annual holiday at Carnegie Hall. A visit from one of the world’s greatest orchestras ought to be recorded on every cultured New Yorker’s calendar. This year, the Vienna Phil. appears with guest conductor Gustavo Dudamel for a series of concerts beginning Friday night. All three programs are worth hearing, but the one that particularly catches my eye is the first: a lovely all-Brahms lineup featuring the Academic Festival Overture, the “St. Anthony” Variations, and Symphony No. 1. —ECS
“Mary Norris: Confessions of a Comma Queen” at the 92nd Street Y (February 22): The Chicago Manual of Style, our Book of Books, our vade mecum of grammar and style, seemed to have betrayed us, some of its most loyal disciples, when it announced in the latest edition that the use of a singular “they” and “their” is acceptable in certain situations. It is still not clear what type of linguistic meiosis is at work here to generate many from one, but it is clear that, without the support of an authority like the CMOS, the brave guardians of language who are opposed to such illogical changes in style—those cruelly derided as the “Grammar Police”—will have an even tougher battle to fight. Mary Norris, a copy editor at The New Yorker for thirty-five years and the author of Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen, understands that the role of grammar (and editors) is simply to help a writer to say exactly what he means. And clarity in prose is essential to this endeavor. She will be at the 92nd Street Y to discuss the latest trends in English. —RH
From the archive:“Renzo Piano & the Morgan Library” by Michael J. Lewis (June 2006). On a splendid building marred by a less-than-splendid addition.
From the current issue: “Dick Allen, 1939–2017” by David Yezzi. Remembering the life and works of the poet Dick Allen.