John Maynard Keynes and Mary Paley Marshall with Keynes’s obituary for Alfred Marshall; Charles Henry Marshall and the staircase in the Glengallan homestead.

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11. Alfred’s birthplace◄ ● ► The Wrong Marshall

Alfred’s father, William, was not as successful as his siblings and did not share the adventurous nature of his brothers. He was cantankerous and he clearly frightened and intimidated his children and grandchildren. His wife, Rebecca, also suffered. His behaviour seems to have been that of an intelligent man prevented from achieving his potential because of a lack of education and opportunity. His itinerant and disrupted early life, and the business difficulties of his father would, undoubtedly, have contributed to this. As the eldest, he would have understood these difficulties best and suffered most from their impact and from the early death of his mother on the other side of the world. His experiences appear to have left him a cautious and risk-averse man. Security and stability were important to him. He had high ambitions and expectations for his children, but appears to have been over-zealous in pursuing them, possibly because he did not want his children to suffer the same frustrations as he had.

Skidelsky wrote of Alfred, saying, “Marshall was yet another product of the well-connected clerical families which colonised English Intellectual life” (Skidelsky 1983, 40). Alfred clearly came from a family from the west (Devon) with a long clerical tradition. The family was well connected, and successful at business, from mining to trading, finance and banking, and agriculture, as well as having strong academic, professional, and naval connections. On this, Keynes and Mary Paley Marshall were correct (Keynes 1924, 314). They were not misled or deceived by a conspiratorial family. The family’s social standing did not diminish Alfred’s achievement.

Professor Coase sought to downplay the descriptions of Alfred’s background by these commentators, in an attempt to portray his achievements as being more worthy. To do this, he presented Alfred’s family as being of a lower class than that portrayed by Keynes, due to that “little family eccentricity” of self-aggrandisement and a family-wide conspiracy to conceal what he, Coase, believed to be their real, lower-class status. His emphasis appeared to have been on advocating this position, rather than on a full analysis and assessment of the family history. I feel that the result, ironically, is that he committed the sins of omission and concealment of which he accused Keynes and Mary Paley Marshall. Coase’s words when commenting on Keynes’ memoir come to mind as being applicable to his Essays as well, “As always in the memoir, or nearly always, there is some truth in this” (Coase 1994, 131). Groenewegen’s work, to the extent that it repeats these unsupportable claims of Coase, is likewise unsupportable.

Some of the flaws in Coase’s work are due to circumstances beyond his control, some to the misinterpretation of evidence and a lack of understanding of the Marshall family as a whole; things that outsiders to the family might have difficulty finding or understanding. One of the most important of these is the extent to which the Marshalls and their extended family worked together as a collective for the good of all in that group. An example of this would be the “Adams-Bentall-Marshall interest”, referred to with respect to the Totnes electorate in the 1820s. This “interest” spread through the various families so connected. This was probably seen as nepotism by those excluded from the extended group, but it worked in favour of those who were included. It meant that orphaned children were looked after by the whole group, as in the case of the orphaned Marshall children. It meant that those who were unwell were helped by those better able to do so, as in the case of young Walter Marshall who died of consumption in Grahamstown, South Africa, while in the care of Charlotte Marshall’s stepmother’s sister.

Modern-day access to digitised documents has made my research easier than it would have been for Coase in the 1990s, as I have had access to the Post Office Directories online, as well as online newspapers, genealogies and other sites unavailable at the time when Coase was writing his Essays. In addition, I believe that my closer knowledge and understanding of the Marshall family, as well as my access to family documents not available to outsiders, have allowed me a unique opportunity to re-examine and re-interpret these sources with eyes accustomed to the Marshall story and idiom.

I hope that these Notes will serve to correct the historical record regarding Alfred Marshall’s family. I believe that John Maynard Keynes’s and Mary Paley Marshall’s assessments of Alfred Marshall’s family background need to be re-affirmed as being (mostly) correct. Of all the biographers who have written on Alfred Marshall, they knew and understood him and his family the best.

I also believe that it is time for Charles Henry Marshall, “the man who wasn’t there”, to be returned to Glengallan; and it is time for Francis Marshall, son of Matthew Marshall, the Chief Cashier of the Bank of England, to be recognised as the man who met Nehemiah Bartley on the Turon goldfields in 1851. There was no lying. There was no self-aggrandisement. There was just bad damper, and a young man who died far from home.

Yesterday, upon the stair,
I met a man who wasn’t there
He wasn’t there again today
I wish, I wish he’d go away…
from Antigonish, by Hughes Mearns

11. Alfred’s birthplace◄ ● ► The Wrong Marshall

Megan Stevens


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