From the In Memoriam column in the April 2000 Perspectives
Richard Curry Marius (1933-99)
Milton M. Klein, April 2000
Richard C. Marius, who taught history at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville from 1964 to 1978 and then served as director of the Expository Writing Program at Harvard University from 1978 to 1994, died of cancer at his home in Belmont, Massachusetts, on November 5, 1999. He was 66 years old. Marius was born on July 29, 1933, on a small farm near Lenoir City in East Tennessee. He graduated from the University of Tennessee in 1954 with a degree in journalism and also secured a Bachelor of Divinity degree from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1958. When he went to Yale for his graduate work, he turned to Reformation history as the focus of his research. He received an MA in history there in 1959 and a PhD in 1962. His dissertation "Thomas More and the Heretics," was supervised by Roland Bainton and Richard Sylvester.
After two years on the faculty at Gettysburg College, Marius returned to the University of Tennessee where he taught until his move to Harvard. At Tennessee, he acquired a reputation as a brilliant teacher, receiving an Alumni Outstanding Teaching Award in 1969, and earning the respect and admiration of a host of undergraduate and graduate students. He was one of those rare teachers whose 8 a.m. classes in Western Civilization were filled to capacity and whose lectures were so interesting that unregistered students sought to sneak in to hear them. His popularity was not diminished by his avoidance of short answer tests and his insistence that each student write a short essay every two weeks.
Marius was an active opponent of the Vietnam War and spoke out against it in a region where such a view was extremely unpopular. He also protested the university's policy of barring student-invited speakers to campus without administrative approval and helped to win court approval of an "open campus." He also succeeded in ending the policy of sectarian religious convocations at the university. He was active in the American Association of University Professors and served as president of the local chapter and of the Tennessee Conference, which he helped to revive in 1975.
Marius wrote a short biography of Luther (1974), a full biography of Thomas More (1984), and an enlarged biography of Luther titled Martin Luther: The Christian between God and Death (1999). The More volume was nominated for a National Book Award and both the More and Luther biographies were History Book Club selections.
Marius also wrote historical novels set in an imaginary "Bourbon County" (which closely resembled the Loudoun County where Marius was born). The first novel, The Coming of Rain (1969), was set in post–Civil War east Tennessee and was a Book of the Month Club alternate selection. The second, Bound for the Promised Land (1976), dealt with a family's move to California in the 1850s. Marius's research for this book included traveling the trail himself with his children. His third novel, After the War (1992), which drew upon the First World War experiences of his father, was named one of the best novels of 1992 both by Publishers Weekly and the New York Times. Marius completed a fourth novel during his illness, and it will be published by Knopf.
Marius's prolific writings included his editing or co-editing six volumes of the Yale edition of The Complete Works of Sir Thomas More; co-editing with Harvey Wiener the McGraw-Hill College Handbook (1985), which has gone through four editions; editing an anthology for Columbia University Press, The Columbia Book of Civil War Poetry (1994), and producing two widely used handbooks, A Writer's Companion (1985), which has gone through four editions and has been used in more than 400 colleges and universities, and A Short Guide to Writing about History (1987), which has gone through three editions.
For a number of years, Marius conducted a successful summer program, the Governor's Academy for Teachers of Writing, on the Knoxville campus. In 1999, the University of Tennessee College of Communications gave him its Distinguished Alumnus Award; in 1990, he received the Levenson Award from the Harvard Undergraduate Council for outstanding teaching by a senior faculty member.
Marius was one of those rare figures who, like some of his 19th-century predecessors, wrote history as literature and literature as history. He once said that "I am going to die, and I don't want to perish completely from this earth." His writings have insured his imperishability as long as history and literature are read.
Marius is survived by his wife, Lanier Smythe, who teaches art history at Suffolk University in Boston, three sons, and two grandchildren.
—Milton M. Klein
University of Tennessee at Knoxville