The education of Mr. Justice Jackson–and Kopf’s one question

Mr. Justice Jackson went to the Albany Law School, but became a lawyer only after “reading” the law. “A ‘county-seat lawyer’, he remains the last Supreme Court justice appointed who did not graduate from any law school . . . , although he did attend Albany Law School in Albany, New York for one year.” Robert H. JacksonWikipedia (last accessed August 2, 2014).

Scott Greenfield has an interesting discussion about whether in this modern day one ought to be able to “read law” rather than attend law school as a condition of bar passage. See Scott H. Greenfield, Lawyers Without Law School, Simple Justice (August 1, 2014). But, that’s a topic for another day.

Today, I want to highlight Jackson’s remarkable “reading list” that a high school English teacher gave him, and which played an integral part in this great man’s eduction. At the end, I will have a question for you!

We learn the following from Professor John Q. Barrett’s wonderful Jackson List about “Miss Willard’s English Reading List (1910)” and how that molded one of the Supreme Court’s best writers:

In 1909, Robert H. Jackson, age 17, graduated from the high school in his boyhood hometown, Frewsburg, New York. That Fall, he began to commute northward by trolley each day—about six miles—to Jamestown, New York. He attended Jamestown High School as a senior, taking subjects that had not been offered in Frewsburg.

At Jamestown High School, Robert Jackson came to be influenced, deeply, by an English teacher, Miss Mary Willard. He took her courses in English and English History. He also studied with her outside of class. In 1910, she gave him a carbon copy of a typed, four-page list of recommended readings—it became, as he wrote on it, “Property of Robt. H. Jackson.” Soon thereafter, Miss Willard gave him a mimeographed copy of a retyped, slightly longer version of the list—an expanded edition, it seems.

Jackson kept both documents for the rest of his life. The five-page version:

READING COURSE IN ENGLISH LITERATURE.
RECOMMENDED BY MARY R. WILLARD 1910

JOSEPH ADDISON:
Sir Roger de Coverly Papers.

MATTHEW ARNOLD:
Schraband Rustum.
Sonnet on Shakespeare.

THOS. B. ALDRICH:
Marjorie Daw.
The Story of a Bad Boy.
The Queen of Sheba.
Poems.

BIBLE Book of:
Genesis- Exodus-Ruth.
1 & 2 Samuel- 1 &2 Kings.
Esther, Daniel, The New Testament.

BROWNING, ROBERT:
Saul (?)
Prospice.
A Death in the Desert.
Pippa Passes.
A Blot in the Scutchon.
Pheidippides.
The Pied Piper of Hamlin.
Epistle of Karshish.

JOHN BURROUGHS:
Wake Robin.
Sharp Eyes.
Essay on Walt Whitman.

MRS. ELIZABETH BROWNING:
The Cry of the Children
Mother and Poet.
Sonnets from the Portuguese.

DR. JOHN BROWN:
Rab and His Friends.
Marjorie Fleming.

BUNYAN:
Pilgrim’s Progress.

BURNS:
Cotter’s Saturday Night.
To a Field Mouse.
To a Mountain Daisy.
On Seeing a Louse on a Ladies Bonnet.
To Mary in Heaven.
Songs.

CARLYLE:
Sarter Resartus.
Essays on Burns.
Heroes and Hero Worship.

JAMES FREEMAN CLARK:
Self-Culture.

GEORGE WILLIAM CURTIS:
Prue and I.

CERVANTES:
Don Quixote.

CHAUCER:
Prologue to the Canterbury Tales.
Patient Griselda.
Palemon & Aicite (?)

COLERIDGE:
Ancient Mariner.
Christabel.
Kubla Khan.

DE QUINCEY:
Essay on Joan of Arc.
Essay on Burns.
Confessions of an Opium Eater.
Flight of a Tartar Tribe.

DICKENS:
Our Mutual Friend.
Bleak House.
Tale of Two Cities.
Christmas Carol.
Martin Chuzzlewit.
David Copperfield.

ALEXANDER DUMAS:
Count of Monte Christo.
The Three Musketeers.

DRYDEN:
Ode on St. Cecilie’s Day.
Palemon & Ascite (?)

EMERSON:
Essay on American Scholar.
”””””””””Compensation.
”””””””””Friendship.
”””””””””Gifts.
”””””””””Self-Reliance.
Concord Hymn.

GEORGE ELIOT:
Silas Marner.
Romola.
Adam Bede.

GOLDSMITH:
The Deserted Village.
She Stoops to Conquer.

GRAY:
Elegy in a Country Churchyard.

MRS. GASKELL:
Cranford.

EDWARD EVERET HALE:
A Man Without a Country.

OLIVER WENDEL HOLMES:
The Chambered Nautilus.
Old Ironsides.

LEIGH HUNT:
Abou Ben Adhem.

JAMES HOGG:
Poems.

VICTOR HUGO:
Les Miserables.

IBSEN:
Pere Gynt.
Dolls House.
Ghosts.
Master Builder.

WASHINGTON IRVING:
Sketch Book.
Knickerbocker’s History of New York.

KEATS:
Ode to a Nightingale.
Ode to Autumn.
Ode to a Grecian Urn.
The Eve of St. Agnes.

THOMAS a’ KEMPIS:
The Imitation of Christ.

KIPLING:
Mine Own People.
Plain Tales from the Hills.
Soldiers Three.
Recessional.

KINGSLEY:
Water Babies.

LANIER: The Symphony.
Corn.
Sunrise.

LONGFELLOW:
Tales of a Wayside Inn.
Building of the Ship.
The Arsenal at Springfield.

LOWELL:
Commemoration Ode.
Vision of Sir Lannfal.
Table for Critics.
Prayer of Agassiz.

MACAULAY:
Essay on Milton.
”””””””””Addison.
”””””””””Sam’l Johnson.
”””””””””Earl of Chatham.
Lays of Ancient Rome.

MILTON: Lycidas.
L’Allegro.
Il’ Penseroso.
Comus.
Sonnet on His Blindness.
Samson Agonistes.

DONALD G. MITCHEL:
Reveries of a Bachelor.
Dream Life.

MERY N. MITFORD:
Our Village.

PRESCOTT:
Conquest of Peru.

STEPHEN PHILLIPS:
Paolo & Francesca.
Herod.
The Sin of David.

RUSKIN:
Sesame & Lilies.

SCOTT:
Ivanhoe.
Kenilworth.
Marmion.
Lay of the Last Minstrel.

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE:

Comedy:
Tempest.
Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Winter’s Tale.
Tragedy:
Hamlet.
King Lear.
Othello.
History:
Henry IV (I&II)
Henry V
Richard III
Songs and Sonnets.

SHELLEY:
The Cloud.
Ode to a Skylark.

HERBERT SPENCER:
The Philosophy of Style.

STEVENSON:
Verginibus Puerisque.

STERNE:
A Sentimental Journey.

EDMUND SPENSER:
Faerie Queen B’ks 1 & 2.
Prothalamion.
Epithalamion.

JEREMY TAYLOR:
Holy Living.

TENNYSON:
Idyls of the King.
The Princess.
Enoch Arden.
Songs.

THACKERAY:
Pendemis.
The Newcomes.
Vanity Fair.

THOREAU:
Cape Cod Walden.

CHAS B.WARNER:
Black Log Studies.
The People for whom Shakespeare Wrote.
In the Wilderness.

WHITTIER:
Tent on the Beach.
Snow Bound.
Proem.

WORDSWORTH:
Ode to Duty.
Laodamea.
Rye Re-visited.

* * *

People ask how Robert H. Jackson, from humble origins and lacking higher education, became one of the finest writers in American public life, U.S. Supreme Court history, international relations and maybe generally. My answers are that he had natural talents, sufficient resources, a love of learning, special teachers, and drive. And that he read—thanks to Mary Willard and others, he read, savored, recited, memorized and thus, in his speaking and writing, consciously and unconsciously, emulated great works.

John Q. Barrett, Jackson List, (July 31, 2014).

I have one question. How many of these classics have you read?

RGK

27 responses

  1. It’s an interesting list, though dated in many ways.

    There’s the chronological stopping point, of course, but any such list will have a cut-off date of when it was compiled.

    Then there’s the geographical/cultural limitation. It’s nearly all British or American literature. There is much of value from the rest of the world, though that wasn’t much recognized in English or American circles in those days. Yet even then it was understood that Homer and Virgil and Dante were masters worthy of significant attention – albeit in translation. (Oddly, Cervantes, Ibsen, Victor Hugo, and Dumas make the list.)

    At a quick glance I didn’t notice any women other than George Eliot and Elizabeth Gaskell. Perhaps not so surprising given the era, but even then there were some recognized works of great importance by women. I’m saddened to see Silas Marner but no Middlemarch or Mill on the Floss, but then the traditional American high school curriculum, at least through my time, used to focus very heavily on the most uplifting (albeit worst) books by major writers. (Really, how many of us got our first taste of Thomas Hardy through The Return of the Native rather than, say, Tess or Jude the Obscure? It’s a miracle that anyone read books after high school.)

    But what’s most striking is the stuff on the list that virtually nobody reads any more and the absence of what people do. There are the “classics” that have not just been dropped from the canon but from the awareness of all but specialists in their era. I suppose that Sartor Resartus is still read in some graduate course somewhere, but I wonder if there are even 25 people in this country under the age of fifty who’ve even heard of Charles Warner or Dr. John Brown or Stephen Phillips (of whom I’d never heard, or at least never had his name register). But for all of them, there’s no John Donne or Ben Jonson, no Dr. Johnson (though Macaulay’s essay on him), and certainly no Boswell. And While I think Comus fascinating in a weird sort of way, the total absence of Paradise Lost is at least curious. (I suspect the reason may have been discomfort with Milton’s theology, but that’s just a guess.)

    In answer to your question, I’ve probably read somewhere between a third and half the list. But then I went to graduate school in English.

  2. Jeff,

    No fair! You are literate. Most of the rest of us, truly, are savages.

    Seriously, what I liked about the list, notwithstanding your tour de force, is that it would certainly have been challenging to a 17 year old kid of Jackson’s raw background. That he took the list, used it, and kept it for the rest of his life, while becoming what he became, struck a chord with me about self-reliance and hard work.

    Thanks for writing. I so enjoy hearing from you, and reading what you write.

    All the best.

    RGK

    PS. I love Thomas Hardy.

  3. I have not read nearly enough of the list. Fortunately, as all are public domain, I will be correcting that at no cost over the course of time. Per Francis Sullivan’s suggestion, I am downloading Bleak House as an audiobook to start on my extended drive tomorrow from Toronto to the NYC area.

  4. My parents had the Harvard Classics and I recall reading most of them. There is a fair amount of overlap between the Willard list and the Harvard Classics list. I also read some of the Willard list in English Lit. classes. That was all more than 50 years ago so I can’t come up with an exact number but probably more than half.

  5. Self-reliance and hard work – and that Jackson’s intellect was also quite extraordinary. Miss Willard clearly saw something special in the young man.

    At the same time, it says something about what was expected of an educated man (or woman, by the way) in an era when a liberal arts education was routinely viewed as a worthy educational goal in itself.

    My father was a lawyer (for most of his career a court administrator). One of his regrets is that he didn’t finish college and didn’t have that background.

  6. Judge:
    Despite being an English major, I can lay claim to having read about five percent of the books on this list. That leads me to two reactions. First, for obvious reason, I feel very humbled. Second, this list shows that Mr. Justice Jackson was nearly the exact opposite of many people today: in our present-day “credential” society, people have scholastic degrees but are not truly educated. The Justice, bereft of degrees, was instead almost entirely self-taught and, as a result, “educated” in the fullest sense of the word. BTW, if you REALLY want to be humbled by a list such as this, take a look at this letter by President Theodore Roosevelt: http://www.theodore-roosevelt.com/images/research/booksTRreads.pdf.
    Robert

  7. That’s an impressive list, but I see some large gaps—at least from my perspective. Still, there are lists, and there are lists.

    She seems to have missed the Arthurian legends, and there’s almost nothing from the Enlightenment. And too little from our own history. Nothing from political philosophy, nothing from economic philosophy.

    Some other readings that might be included in another list, in no particular order, as found in my library (courtesy of the influence of my mother, another high school English teacher); one post-dates WIllard’s era:

    Edmund Burke
    Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents
    Reflections on the Revolution in France (to which Thomas Paine had an…enthusiastic…answer)

    David Hume’s Treatise of Human Nature

    Thomas Hobbes
    A Short Tract on First Principles
    Leviathan
    The Elements of Law, Natural and Politic

    Locke’s two Treatises on Government (although his first has value only as a curiosity; it’s primarily a diatribe against Robert Filmer)

    Rousseau’s Of the Social Contract, Or Principles of Political Right (often misinterpreted as an early paean to corporatist fascism)

    Marx’ Communist Manifesto

    The Federalist Papers

    The Anti-Federalist Papers

    Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations

    Thomas Paine
    An American Crisis (all of them)
    Common Sense
    Rights of Man (his answer to Burke)

    Some Greeks
    Xenophon
    Aristotle
    Plato
    Socrates
    Homer (to Mr Gamso’s point, I read, in college, the Iliad in the original Attic Greek. It’s amazing how musical it is when it’s chanted properly. And the rhythms are as much a mnemonic as are the repeated stock phrases)

    St Augustine’s City of God

    Some Romans:
    Ovid
    Cicero
    Caesar

    de Vattel

    Some Chinese
    Sun-Tse
    Confucius
    Mao Tse-tung’s Little Red Book

    My list is woefully incomplete, too; of course no one can read everything. As to Willard’s list, I’ve read most of Shakespeare (courtesy of a college girlfriend, who got me the complete works), some of her listed Longfellow, the Ibsen. And that’s about it.

    I’m as self-taught as Justice Jackson, but I’m not as smart.

    Eric Hines

  8. I’ve read only 20 of this list, and 12 from Mr. Hines list. Others that I have read that I think should be on anyone’s list include:

    Carl Von Clauswitz
    On War

    George Orwell
    1984

    Harper Lee
    To Kill A Mockingbird

    John Keegan
    The Face of Battle

    John Steinbeck
    The Grapes of Wrath

    Niccolo Machiavelli
    The Prince

    Plato
    The Republic

    Plutarch
    Lives

    Thomas Paine
    The Age of Reason

    Walter EchoHawk
    The Courts of the Conqueror

  9. ExCop-Law Student,

    Ecclectic and wonderful list. I like the modern references (like Steinbeck) coupled with Plato’s Republic. By the way, and as you might imagine, federal judges like me just love the Republic!

    All the best.

    RGK

  10. Jonathan,

    You are kind not to notice that I have not said how many I have read–and I am not going to do so. All the best.

    RGK

  11. John,

    Inherited, but treasured, I have a collection of writings from Homer to Freud in 54 volumes, spanning about 41/2 linear feet. It is sorta the “Reader’s Digest” version of classics for people like my late father in-law, a surgeon, who was the first to attend high school in his German immigrant family of farmers way out in Franklin, Nebraska.

    Published by the Encycolpaedia Britannica (with real leather bindings) in the early 1950s, the collection sits a foot and half from where I am typing this comment. I consult the series more than you might imagine, most recently reading a bit from Plato’s Republic.

    How much of the entire set have I read? Not nearly enough. But, I kid myself into thinking that I have time to consume every word. If wishes were horses!

    All the best.

    RGK

  12. Most of the world’s great literature was written after that list was compiled, and many of the most important works were not books. Lincoln’s speeches, Washington’s farewell address, and many of Jefferson’s letters come to mind. Revolutions are started by pamphlets, not books.

    For sheer literary beauty, Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy is perhaps unmatched. (Don’t even try to digest his Silmarillion.)

    From the Far East, I would add Confucius’ Analects and the Tao Te Ching (which takes about three minutes to read but a lifetime to understand). I don’t think you can understand modern China without them.

    No one mentioned Blackstone, Coke, Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia, or Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws. Cicero was the Jefferson of his day, and both wrote compelling justifications for assassination of judicial tyrants. Don’t get too fond of being a Platonic Guardian, because you have acquired that office illegitimately, and through wrongful usurpation.

    And no Bacon? Remember, your office is jus dicere, not jus dare. Fons turbatus, et vena corrupta, est justus cadens in causa coram adversario. Your learned colleagues “turn judgment into wormwood” on an industrial scale. You don’t just corrupt the stream, but the fountain. [Of Judicature.] We should not tolerate your unabashed lawlessness. Jail for Judges!!!

    To understand the garbage pompous judges spew, Through the Looking-Glass is required reading. Heller’s Catch-22 is the coup de grace.😉

  13. Don’t mean to be anal, but if either Jesus or Socrates wrote anything, it has not survived.

  14. As for the list itself, I wouldn’t put a tithe of them in my list of must-reads, and the ones I would are the ones everyone can agree on. We’ve all slogged through the Odyssey and Beowulf, visited Canterbury, and delivered lines from Shakespeare because we had to, and you can’t understand the West without a working knowledge of the Bible. We’ve all seen Les Mis if we haven’t read it, but Cats was a better play. Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities is a snapshot of modern America, but there’s so much on that list that is pure flotsam. Ten percent at best, but the best ten percent.

  15. I bought the Britannica when my son’s were still in preschool about 1967 and for many years they were the most consulted volumes in the house. Some years later my oldest son was working in a bookstore and one of his coworkers with young children wanted to buy it. I told him it was old but he said “when you start with excellent scholarship, writing and editing you can bring it up to date very quickly”. I thought he could make better use of it than I could so I sold it to him. I was pleased that they had a second life.

  16. I want to make certain my views are not misconstrued. I advocate JAIL for judges who exceed their authority. That many of the Framers might go further (Jefferson famously remarked that the tree of liberty is watered with the blood of patriots and tyrants) is not my concern.

  17. CA Jail for Judges,

    “Don’t even try to digest his Silmarillion.” No truer words were ever spoken.

    All the best.

    RGK

  18. CA,

    Jefferson could write, and he certainly was both a gentleman farmer and scholar, but I would never accept his “justice” as a benchmark. His slaveholding and then the failure to free his slaves upon his death is for me a deep, deep stain.

    All the best.

    RGK

  19. Can’t always agree with everything; but, it’s such a pleasure to read your work. Thanks so much for posting. Your confidence in your writing helps a lot of upcoming professionals in Journalism and law, remain true to themselves despite all of the censorship in our society.

  20. Thank you very much. I agree that confidence is necessary, but I will tell you that no matter what I write I always lack the confidence to believe it is worth reading. That is, I fake it.

    Somone once asked a great writer, certainly not me, why they wrote. The answer was because the writer had no other altnerative. That’s the only confidence that I have.

    All the best.

    RGK

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