Dale Morgan on Early Mormonism
John Phillip Walker, editor
40. To Stanley Ivins
5 January 1951
After waiting long enough to avoid the appearance of unseemly haste in the matter, I have just written to Yale. For your information as a party of the second part, I enclose a copy of the letter. We will see if this siphon can be made to work!
I was much entertained by your account of your talk with [LDS Church Historian's Office employee A. William] Lund. Naturally he associates that pamphlet [Very Important to the Money Diggers!, by James C. Brewster] with me because nobody ever took the slightest interest in it before I examined it long enough for a bibliographical description of it in the spring of 1948, and of course I later tried to interest [Francis W.] Kirkham in it. You did very well in talking to Lund, making the right admissions and opening up some possibilities. Maybe he is just playing us for suckers, to see if we can swing Yale at will, but I hope not. Of course, their being willing to have Yale ask doesn’t mean they have to say yes.
Especially amusing were Lund’s remarks to you about me. What he was talking about, I suppose, is the Strangite bibliography. Last May I sent him a copy of the checklist on that, asking that he indicate which edition the church had of a couple of reprints, and also asking for the dimensions of a pamphlet of 1881. He never replied to that, and from the way he talked to you about “relenting,” it is evident this just didn’t so happen. Along toward fall as the bibliography was nearing completion, in a letter to Bill Mulder1 of the [Western] Humanities Review I discussed the future study of the Hedrickites, and mentioned one difficulty that confronted me, the necessity of a page-by-page scanning of a couple of fairly early Hedrickite periodicals, and said if he knew anyone willing to take on so irksome a job for me, I would be very grateful. Mulder mentioned this to Albert Zobel who was interested enough to do it and sent his findings to Mulder, who relayed them to me. I wrote him my thanks and mentioned the three items in the Church holdings on which my Strangite bibliography was deficient, and said if he was ever in the library and wanted to look at the bound volume of Strangite [p.183] pamphlets, I would be glad to have that information. I never had a reply to this letter, and your letter is the first even oblique information I have had that Zobel made any attempt to do anything about it. So I had to laugh at Lund’s account of the incident. Actually, it makes no damned difference to me or the bibliography itself whether it is published with this information; the only real advantage it is to anybody is to the Church Library, to have their holdings fully reported. When I sent the Strangite bibliography in finally to Mulder in November, I told him that if he was in good odor at the Church Library and wanted to ask Lurid for the information, he was welcome to do so, but as they had ignored my original letter, I didn’t intend to press them further myself. So this was the background to your portentous interview with him! His remark about the Amelia Palace goes back to that Salt Lake City essay of mine. At the time it was published, he took exception to some things in that, and I discussed them casually with him, including the Journals of Discourses at the Salt Lake Library and the Amelia Palace. About this latter, I said that whether or not it had been built for Amelia, it was so called in casual conversation in Salt Lake City and later, hence my reference to it by that name was entirely proper. Apparently he is still rankled by the point!
A week before Christmas I was amazed to have call upon me one morning, even before breakfast, not only Francis W. Kirkham but [RLDS church president] Israel Smith himself. Both, of course, were interested in my history. I told them again what I have often said before, that before publication both Israel and [LDS church president] George Albert Smith will be given the opportunity to express to me their objection to any facts or conclusions the book may contain, although the book is of course mine and in the final analysis must express my point of view on their history, not theirs. Israel Smith thought this “fair enough,” while Kirkham seemed positively amazed and wrote it all down as though he were going to tell George Albert this news personally. I added to Kirkham that I was extending this courtesy to the Utah church, not because I owed them anything, for they had not cooperated with me in any way as far as the history was concerned, but because I owed it to myself. It was on the whole a pleasant, even cordial session all round. Of course, it may be otherwise another time, when it is no longer possible to influence the shape my book will take. In talking with Smith, I told him why I had not pressed him further for photostats of specimen pages of the Book of Mormon manuscript, which was because that I had definitely concluded it was the secondary copy, which made it of little interest and no importance in whose handwriting it was written. I also discussed conclusions I had reached on the basis of certain of Joseph’s revelations, which made it apparent that the earliest part of the Book of Mormon text as it now exists are the opening pages of [the Book of] Mosiah, and that the first quarter of the Book of Mormon as printed probably had not been written until most of the rest of the book had been written, certainly not before May, 1829. This [p.184] made it unimportant whether or not the fragment in the possession of the Utah Church was in [Oliver] Cowdery’s handwriting. All this apparently was news to Smith. He asked me to write him a letter setting forth what I had told him verbally, and quoting from the same revelations I had read from. I promised to do so. But as I would like a little information from him, I am now waiting on his initiative, so that I will have the advantage of this subtlety in our dealings. I showed him the photostat of the John Whitmer license, which was the earliest example of Joseph’s handwriting I had seen. He then mentioned the Bible bought by Joseph and Oliver at E. B. Grandin’s bookstore in 1828, I think he said October 4. Of course he must have meant 1829. He volunteered to send me a photostat of this inscription, and I said I should be glad to have it. So there we stand up to the present moment. How he and Kirkham happened to show up here together I didn’t inquire and they didn’t say. If he sends along the photostat and requests the documentation on the B[ook] of M[ormon], I will send him that, and at the same time ask him about the Missouri official documents.
I will send you my photostat of the Joseph Smith letter soon (it’s his own handwriting), and also what I have of the Liberty Jail epistle. I find that the photostat of that [which] the Eberstadts sent me is not the whole, just some specimen pages of it. I learn from Eberstadt that not long since he made the Church Library a present of photostats of the [Albert P.] Rockwood material and some other miscellanea, by way of inducing them to give him a photostat of the last leaf of Reuben Miller’s anti-Strang pamphlet of 1846, so the restrictions I laid upon you with regard to the Rockwood material no longer hold, although I haven’t yet heard definitely that this has passed into the Coe collection. Incidently, did you see the rather amazing coincidence that the Rockwood narrative is mentioned in the F[ranklin]. D. Richards letter Eberstadt sent me just before Christmas?
Juanita [Brooks] writes me that she hears by the underground that by official policy the Church will ignore her book in all its publications, which doubtless will extend to the [Salt Lake] Tribune also. From her point of view this is at least better than a scathing public outburst against her. As far as reviewing her book is concerned, you need have no hesitancy on Juanita’s behalf. She has a remarkably objective attitude and will receive anything you might say about the book in the spirit in which it is said. Whether you will want to review it in the [Western] Humanities Review of course is another matter. But if you do review it, pull no punches as far as Juanita is concerned; let her have the bad with the good.
At the last moment I held your Journals of Discourses here to take a few more notes, and this then got hung up because I have been involved in the damnedest chore I ever thought to tackle, translating from the original German the journal of a Swiss migrant of 1846 who was a week ahead of the Donner party. This is to appear early this year in the U[tah]. H[istorical]. Quarterly as part of a memorial volume for my friend, the late J. Roderic Korns. I didn’t know 20 [p.185] words of German when I began, but my education has necessarily progressed by leaps and bounds since. But at the cost of an enormous expenditure of time, and under great pressure, for a deadline looms ominously over me. Your books will go off soon.
The Brimhall narrative Juanita mentions is one I myself gave her; I copied Fawn’s copy back about 1944, and the 73 single spaced typewritten pages describes only the transcription I myself made; Fawn’s was doublespaced and ran to more pages. Only 4 copies of the published book are known, as it is said for some reason to have been suppressed. There are two copyright deposit copies at the Library of Congress, one in the Church Library, and Dean Brimhall owns one. Auerback was reported to have one, but if so it didn’t turn up in the auction. Last summer Dean Brimhall had 100 copies of the book reproduced by photolithographic process, and generously gave me one. He has disposed of them at $5 a copy. If you want one, write him here at 2000 F Street; perhaps he still has some. I recommended last summer to the Historical Society that they buy one; if they did, perhaps you can see it up at the Capitol. The relationship of the diary to all this I don’t know, for Fawn hadn’t seen the diary itself up to the time she left Washington in 1945; what she copied was the original manuscript of the book itself. Is this all clear?
I have just learned to my surprise that William Smith got out a paper at Palestine, Ill., in 1848, called Zion’s Standard. I don’t know how many copies were published or when it began or ended; I can’t locate any copies at all. But it must have been extinct by early 1849 when [Isaac] Sheen’s paper at Covington became William’s organ.
By the way, Israel Smith told me that S. A. Burgess died in November of a heart ailment. This is sad news, for I rather liked the old fellow, who exhibited many courtesies to me over a number of years, and particularly while I was in Independence [Missouri] in January and February, 1948.
I’ve been sitting here at [the] L[ibrary of]. C[ongress]. writing on this for the past hour, and now I’d better get to work. A little belatedly, a happy new year to you.
41. To Fawn Brodie
25 April 1951
Like you, I have been enthralled by the fine comedy in progress out in Utah. Since the [Washington] Post did not know the inwardness of the story, it did not even publish the basic facts bearing upon it, and I had to wait impatiently till the Utah papers turned up at [the] L[ibrary of]. C[ongress]. to find out just what David O. [McKay] did about J. Reuben [Clark,1 reassigning him second counselor in the First Presidency instead of first counselor]. Then I laughed indeed. It set me to wondering how it would have been received if David O. had decided to give the church the straight goods, and instead of the doubletalk you send me had said, “Brothers and Sisters, I know that I ought to love J. Reuben like a brother. But I ask you, how could anybody love him? I would prefer to throw him overboard entirely. But that wouldn’t be the politic thing to do, and I am not prepared to face the consequences, so what I am doing instead is to kick him down to Second Counselor. Brothers and Sisters, this is the Spirit of the Lord speaking, and the spirit says that if J. Reuben doesn’t take this well, the spirit of apostasy is in him and I warn you all to beware of him. Amen.”
Of course I am completely unmoved, in the right way that is, by his accession to the presidency; my most positive feeling is that it could have been Joseph Fielding Smith, after all. I regret the death of George Albert Smith in itself, both because I think he was more of a true Christian gentleman than is common to the high places of the Church in these latter years, and because of the two men next in line in the succession. I think people respected without much liking Heber J. Grant; I think people liked and in a sense respected, though he was not a very forceful person, George Albert Smith. But how they feel generally about David O., I confess I do not know.
It occurs to me, by the way, that you should not delay longer in getting out the new edition of your book. By way of urging you on, I have written out a new title-page for you which you will find enclosed [see below], and I will leave the rest to you.
[p.187] L’Affaire McKay is not the only funny business in Utah lately, though. I had a note from Stan Ivins yesterday with a beautiful tale. You may have heard that Samuel W. Taylor, who had that memorable piece in Holiday Magazine a couple of years back, has expanded it into a book, Family Kingdom. (I have a copy here from the S[aturday] R[eview of] L[iterature]; you can see it if you want.) This deals with his father, John W., one of the intransigent apostles who went right on practicing polygamy after the Church faced the other way, and by and large is a pretty good job, although it fights shy of digging very far into the inner developments in [LDS apostle] John W.’s estrangement and final excommunication back in 1906. Anyway, Stan writes: “Sam Taylor is in town publicising his new book. He thought he had cleared [it] with the Church, but, after it was printed, someone objected to his story of John W. Taylor’s Conference reference to the reported unchastity of Tabernacle Choir members. So the Deseret Book will not display it and Auerbach’s cancelled their 400 copy order and their autograph party. Sam is rather indignant about it all.” Serves the guy right. Anybody who sets out to please the Church is going to find himself in these straits sooner or later. Better take what pleasure you can from fulfilling your sense of your own integrity as a writer.
Stan, by the way, was moving into a slightly larger place; his new address is 56 South Third East, Apt. 107.
Returning to David O., I have been wondering if you and I couldn’t manage to bring about a re-merger of the Utah and Reorganized Churches. The method that occurred to me was for us to inviegle David O. and [RLDS president] Israel [Smith] into the same room, lock them up in it together, and neither let them out nor feed them anything but bread and water until one of them has had a revelation from God certified by the other as the real thing. If you want to undertake to deliver David O., I will see what can be done about producing Israel.
Knows My History
The Life of JOSEPH SMITH
THE MORMON PROPHET
the niece of
DAVID O. MCKAY
PRESIDENT OF THE MORMON CHURCH
New York Alfred A. Knopf
1. J. Reuben Clark was named counselor in the First Presidency of the LDS church in 1933 and an apostle the following year. He served as first counselor to LDS presidents Heber J. Grant and George Albert Smith from 1934 to 1951. Following David O. McKay’s succession as church president in 1951, however, he was named second counselor, a change many viewed as a demotion.”
42. To Madeline McQuown
10 June 1951
It is a Sunday all gray and green; it has been raining most of the day and now darkness is coming on. I’ve been alternately working at cleaning up the house, at writing, and a large miscellany of tasks. Just at this moment I am rattling around in the enormous emptiness of this apartment, for if anything is calculated to make a place emptier than the smell of biscuits in the oven, coffee ready to wash them down, and no one with me to dispose of them, I would like to know what it is. I don’t like Sundays much, anyway, not right now. The improvement of my fortunes necessarily waits upon the functioning of the wheels of government, and they don’t function at all on Sunday, not even to the extent of a mail delivery. I hope Sunday will come to have a different character before very much longer; you can be sure it is going to have such a character the minute I have the means. With warmth to be had in the world, I am going to have it.
But meanwhile it is a Sunday of large vacancy, and no way to get the devils out of me…. Last night I read a pocket version of another of [F. Scott] Fitzgerald’s novels, this time The Beautiful and the Damned. I have read his novels in the reverse order they were written, so it probably is to his credit that I say each strikes me as worse than the last, with This Side of Paradise yet to come. The first half of The B & D struck me as a horrible performance, the kind of thing that wouldn’t be published except as coming from a “successful” author. The last half was better, but the whole thing set me to wondering why Fitzgerald thought it worth writing. I should think its principal meaning and value to him was that it served him as a catharsis of all kinds of dislike and resentments attending the kind of life he was living then. Nobody and nothing is very appealing in the novel, yet the book is not informed by a very deep anger, either. Altogether, quite a curious book.
[p.189] My neighbors are in action at sundry of the windows across the way. I have curiosities about a number of them, for I don’t become casually acquainted as most people do, and thus am left to my own fantasies to explain things people customarily pick up by a kind of social osmosis. The apartment immediately across from this one is occupied by one or two fellows, I’m not quite sure which, who evidently are in the Navy, and one of these guys is a tooter of horns. The exact variety I don’t know, perhaps a French horn, but every now and then I see him at his tooting, with his back to the window, sometimes with a couple of other tooters on hand too. What with my typewriter, the people in these buildings must have undergone quite a conditioning.
On the same floor as the above, front end of the building, is a gray haired woman I suppose to be in her forties, neither particularly attractive nor particularly unattractive. I’ve met her a couple of times on the walk and we have a nodding acquaintance, but I don’t know who she is or what she does.
On the first floor of the building opposite is a young couple with a very small baby; they moved in just recently and I haven’t seen much of them. At the moment another couple seems to be visiting them. On the same floor with them lives another young couple who also have moved in quite lately, and I couldn’t describe them either except that the wife has reddish hair and carries herself rather slackly, a loose way of holding her shoulders and a rather sidling gait. In the basement apartment opposite a couple of working girls live and also apparently a man, but although they’ve been living there since early September, I’m damned if I can figure the menage out, whether the fellow is the husband of one of them, the brother, or what have you, as they seem to come and go more with each other than with him.
In this building, on my floor, live a rather odd couple. Originally I supposed they were mother and son, but it has become quite evident that they are man and wife. I don’t know whether she is younger than she looks, he older than he looks, or both of them precisely as old as they look and the marriage consequently one of a not uncommon type. Both of them work. They have the only television set in the building, and their apartment is thus a mecca on weekends for the small fry who live in this building.
In the apartment under me live an air force sergeant, his wife, and their two small kids. I have seen him only infrequently of late and duty may have taken him off far enough to make it difficult to get home, or maybe he is on duty at ungodly hours of the day and night. When I talked to him last, some weeks ago, he had been busy hunting for a house. I had the impression when we all first moved in that his wife was pregnant, but if so she must have lost the child, for she is slimmer now with no baby in evidence.
On the same floor with them are some new arrivals I haven’t yet sorted out, an older woman, a younger, and a small girl; it may be that the apartment belongs to the one in the middle, for I have the [p.190] impression she is married and the others living with her. In the basement apartment is a young woman who has been here from the beginning. She has two quite small and attractive children, but whether she is divorced, widowed, or otherwise separated from her husband, I don’t know. She works daytimes, and the children seem to be cared for by an older woman in the neighborhood who brings the kids back around 6 on weekdays. Of my neighbors who live in the other half of this building, 422 Condon, I know practically nothing, as they have their own entrance on the other side of the building and I never really cross paths with them.
Thus you see I know so little about all these people, merely what one picks up from casual visual observation, that I could almost write a novel about them, letting my fancy work upon them to explain who and what and why they are.
The biscuits and the coffee being ready, nothing better occurs to me than to eat them, though I am not especially hungry. I have had a certain amount of fever and a headache so that I find it difficult today to write to very good effect on my book.
* * * * * * * * * * *
All this was written yesterday, such as it is. Today I have two letters from you, and I am glad to have them. A little sorrowful, too, for how nice it would be to have letters from you written in this spirit without feeling that I have to twist your arm, figuratively, to induce you to write them. We all have our needs in this world, and one great need of mine is that people should feel something about me and have the urge to express this to me from no more complicated motive than the idea that it might help to make me happy. Sometimes wistfully, sometimes more urgently, this is something I have wanted for quite a long while now, and it lies back of much of the restlessness that periodically rides me.
I am very sorry for your mother as well as for you in the situation that presently exists. It is in many ways comparable with the situation that my grandmother has had to cope with since my grandfather’s death, though she does have a degree of financial independence, the result of selling her home. You pay a price for everything in this world, and she had to pay a price for that: the place was too big for her alone, so that she could not take care of it at her age, and she is now as she has always been a fiercely independent person, so that her financial dependence upon her sons, from month to month, was extremely hard for her. By selling her home she got a certain amount of money of her own, but at the cost of a tearing up by the roots. She found it impossible to live with any happiness in California despite the presence of her sons there, and has been happiest, I think, since returning to Utah. She lives mostly with my mother, for it is quiet there and she also enjoys watching television (some months ago, last fall, Helen and Mother bought a radio-phonograph combination, and while they were at it they got a television [p.191] combination too). Now and then she goes up to stay with her daughter for a few days or weeks, which gives her some change and also the sense of being able to relieve my mother, I suppose. On the whole, this is a more fortunate arrangement than anything that is immediately in sight for your own mother, and I shall certainly hope with all my heart that she can attain or be helped soon to a certain degree of security and ease of mind.
Your own letter makes better sense in what it has to say about your personal independence than the occasional disjointed things you have to say to me on this subject. Actually I believe you think and feel on two different levels, conscious and unconscious, about this, and they aren’t always part and parcel of each other. You are yourself torn by these divergent stresses, and I am made to feel the effects of them too.
In other respects, though, your letters do not make sense, this talk about a job. You are not going to find a way out of your difficulties by putting yourself in a hospital at $21 a day, Madeline, and you should know this by now even in your moods of desperation. You had better be content to work at your book, for good and ill, for you can pace yourself with it as you cannot with a job. If you have a hundred dollar balance in the bank, you have to be realistic enough to refrain from writing $2,500 checks on that account, attractive as the idea of having $2,500 in currency may seem to you.
I will be glad to help you on your book [a biography of LDS church president Brigham Young] if you are as you say in a mood to be helped. Send along your manuscript or any part of it, and let me see what I can do, on any realistic terms, to help you move it along. You have resented my telling you so, but I have felt that you were utterly irrational in how you were trying to write it; it is as though someone who wanted to get to Salt Lake City from Ogden were to swim across the Great Salt Lake, walk on across the Salt Desert to Wendover [Nevada], and then ride the rails or hitch a ride in to Salt Lake City. It can be done that way if you are sufficiently determined to show someone that you can do it. But why must it be done that way? How about the possibilities of US 89 and US 91? You have wanted every kind of help from me so long as it did not require you to admit to yourself that I might contribute something to your book—as I did to Fawn’s book, for example, or Nels Anderson’s, or Juanita Brooks’s, or any of half a dozen others. Better that I should send you whole files of documents for you to find yourself one note that you could use than that you should lay it on the line and show me what your problem was, your deficiencies in information, or what have you, and let me help you or not, as I might be able. As though an electronics manufacturer should be in need of certain critical components and forthwith order a carload of iron ore, lime, coking coal, and whatnot with the idea of producing what he wanted for himself without having to invoke the aid of intermediate industrial operations or specialized engineering services. And all this mainly to vindicate yourself before me. To show me that you can do [p.192] it. Sure you can do it; I have been willing to grant you that from the beginning. But why isn’t it possible to think a little in terms of we, without this rigid, controlling differentiation of thine and mine?
I’ll refrain from writing about some other things in this letter, in view of the probability of which you inform me, your being in Salt Lake City, or Ogden, rather, by the time this gets out to California. Speaking of research and the Deseret News, were you aware that the Bancroft Library has a file of the News from 1865 to 1879, the last 12 years of Brigham’s life, that is? For those years at least you need not travel all the way to Salt Lake City. When I was at Berkeley I talked with the Bancroft librarian, Helen Harding (now Mrs. Bretnor), who was very kind to me, having your case specifically in mind. There is a small elevator not normally open to use for the public which she said you could arrange to use, which would spare you climbing all those flights of stairs. Go talk with the Director, Dr. Hammond, or Mrs. Bretnor, mentioning me if you like, and I am sure you will be gratified by the results. Not that the Bancroft Library is exactly next door for you or anything. But it is a hell of a lot closer and more convenient than the Salt Lake Public Library just now.
I believe copies of Rod Korns’ book will become available around the end of this month. You are to be sent one by Mrs. Korns or the [Utah] Historical Society, one or the other, so please let me know if and when one arrives. [A. Russell] Mortensen wrote me on the 1st that indexing was in progress, so by now I should think the printing itself has been done and the first work on the binding commenced. When this book is published, the first time you take a train east of Evanston [Wyoming] by daylight you will find that you have a new and engrossing interest in the terrain over the first 20 miles or so. This goes for me, too. I’ve only been through there once by train, and after dark at that.
Well, maybe for a change a few breaks will come our way. They don’t roll the wrong way in perpetuity, and the law of averages is about due to catch up with us. Write and let me know what you will be doing the next couple of weeks, and where.
43. To Madeline McQuown
18 January 1952
This has certainly been a week to remember—but one to remember mostly for the wrong reasons. I’ll make a beginning on a letter tonight, and perhaps mail it tomorrow if some of the dust has settled by then.
To begin with, on Wednesday morning I got a letter from Stanley Rinehart so nasty in its tone that I bridled all over. I had intended to send it on for you to read, but for reasons that will appear later, I had better hold to the original of it for the present. But this is what he had to say, except that I am running all his paragraphs together into one: “I have reviewed with considerable concern and disappointment the record on THE MORMONS. You have had this under way since January of 1945, and the contract was drawn in 1948. When you first asked us to help you get a Guggenheim Fellowship, you said that you had already been working on it for ten years, so that makes seventeen years in all. We have now received three chapters, so preliminary in nature that they give no indication of the projected book, and the volume of correspondence far outweighs this amount of manuscript. It seems to us grossly unfair for you to draw an advance and agree to a production schedule which called for the first volume two and a half years ago, and then make so little apparent effort to fulfill your commitment. I do think you should either complete the book or abandon it and return the advance. For the record, we are no longer committed to publication, but we would like either to read the manuscript or to have our money back.”
Now, if Rinehart had written me gently that as I was having such great difficulty in meeting the commitment I had made, it would probably be better on both sides to drop the matter, and that they would like me to return the advance, I should have taken no offense whatever, embarrassing and difficult as this would have made things for me. But neither for $750 or any other sum do I give any man the right to insult or condescend to me. I received this in the morning, and not to be hasty about it, went on to [the] L[ibrary of]. C[ongress]. as usual, and thought it over all through the day.
[p.194] What I finally decided to do was if humanly possible to free myself from all obligation to Rinehart and regain my freedom of action generally on this book. So that night I wrote to D. L. Chambers, the president of Bobbs-Merrill who has been extraordinarily kind and courteous through all our relations, and never ceased wishing that my Mormon book was on his list, proposing that we draw up a contract for the Jedediah Smith biography, to be delivered January 1 of next year. I conditioned this upon Bobbs-Merrill’s making an immediate advance of $750 on that book, and frankly told him what I wanted it for, to regain my liberty with respect to the Mormon book; I also told him I would give him an option upon that book, or if he like, sign a contract with him for it, with the understanding that it would be delivered after the Smith biography. I asked him to give me a reply, if possible, by this coming Monday, and you have no idea how much I hope the check will be forthcoming so that I can write Rinehart at once to tell him that I am returning his money and relieving him of all anxiety about it. This is the reason for holding his letter here; his concluding remark is my legal release from any obligation to Rinehart provided he gets his money back.
I have many times regretted that I committed myself on this book when as it proved the circumstances of my life were such that I was not able to make good on the commitment; and as I have not been willing to throw a text together to satisfy a merely legal obligation, I have been in a creel situation. If this works out as I hope it will, it will all be for the best, for the Smith biography can be written realistically within a time limit, and the Mormon book need go to the printer only when I am satisfied with it finally.
I told Chambers that I would hope to have a rough draft of the book by summer, that I would hope to get over some of the Smith trails in the West in July, get down into Mexico for a foray into the Mexican archives by autumn, and polish the book for delivery by the end of the year.
But now there are wider and wider ripples flowing out from my numerous predicaments, and for this we have to go back again.
Thursday morning I went in to the Episcopal hospital for a second and far more thorough examination of my eyes as they were tested for refraction. The doctor told me that mine were the type of eyes that were prone to retinal detachment, and if I should ever have any of the symptoms, flashes of light, or the sense of a veil before the eyes, I should have an oculist look at them immediately. He tested both eyes at great length, and finally told me it was impossible to bring my eyes into perfect balance, but that he could sharpen the vision of the left eye more satisfactorily. He didn’t have much to say about my right eye, and I am not sure that he fully grasped or observed from testing the peculiarity I stumbled upon Monday, that this eye has much better long vision, but much worse close vision. Anyway, I told him that I felt there had been considerable improvement in the condition of my eyes in the last week, and certainly a vast improvement over the state they were in through December. He [p.195] thought it would be best to go on with my present glasses for a while, to see if the improvement continues; so barring something unexpected, I shall sit tight on the matter of new glasses for the next month.
This gave me something to think about, too, as you can well imagine. I may go to the end of my days without ever experiencing a first class crisis in my eyesight; but also I have now been placed upon warning that something could happen to one or another of my eyes at any time. If that actually should happen, it would probably bring an effective end to me as a writer of history, and I would have to branch out into another sphere of writing which did not so largely depend upon the intake of facts. The only intake I have is my eyes; I couldn’t get by as [Francis] Parkman did. But since this danger does exist, I would very much like to get this [Jedediah] Smith biography and the three Mormon books down in type, and the sooner the better, so that all that I have put into them for so long will not be in danger of waste and loss.
Under these circumstances, I have just about determined (if the Smithsonian thing should fall through within the next couple of weeks, as I gloomily am prepared to anticipate) to write to [A. Russell] Mortensen to see if we can somehow come to terms for a half-time job which would pay my bills and give me some freedom for my own writing through the rest of this year. He might be able to find the funds for such a job where he could not for a full-time job. Also, he might not; and I haven’t yet had word from him whether or not he has been able to swing that supplementary check he hoped he could put through after the first of the year.
Of course, if the Smithsonian thing should come through, I will grab it, and hang on if I can at least for a year or two, for it would give me money, sick leave if necessary, the means of taking out health insurance, and such other things as I must try to bear in mind now.
If, if, if. You see how many ifs there are floating around in the air this Friday night in January. By God, I sure could use a Saturday mail box full of good breaks for a change, a check from Mortensen, an affirmative answer from Chambers, a job offer from Smithsonian. I would settle for the first two of these, or, for that matter, the second alone.
This letter so far is mainly a catalog of disaster, but I have something rather nice to tell you also—nice, that is, for its bearing upon the kind of people persons can be. When Bob and Jean Curtis were out here last week, Jean noticed in my bookcase the lipreading text, and brought up the subject of the problems it entailed for me, and the kind of help I had to have. One day this week Bob asked me if I wouldn’t bring the book into [the] L[ibrary of]. C[ongress]. and let him work with me on it an hour or so a day. No, this was the last part of last week. I put him off, telling him he didn’t know what he was getting himself into, and that someone who was working on a Ph.D. thesis couldn’t afford to be so prodigal of his time; also that it would be exceptionally trying for both of us right now because of [p.196] [the] blurring trouble I have been having with my eyes. I had supposed this ended the matter, but he was persistent and came back to the subject Thursday morning after I reached L.C. from the hospital. If I wanted, he said, I could repay him with a portrait of his wife. I was genuinely touched, for both ways that was a very nice compliment. So I agreed, and we made a beginning with a half hour’s work this afternoon in a study room at L.C. It did not go too well, for besides being long out of practice on close application of that kind, the slight degree of blurring, a little like looking in a wavy mirror, made it the more difficult to concentrate upon his lips. But we will hope that there is some improvement all round. He took the lipreading text home tonight to read all the preliminary matter the teacher is supposed to know, and next week I will supplement with mirror work this active drill with him.
The coffee hour: Saturday morning.
This letter thus far has been about my own concerns. I have not exhausted the topic by any means, and will come back to it in due course, but I want to give some space now to you and your more personal concerns.
The last week or more certainly must have been hard on you, with the storms cutting you off from any normal contact with Utah, and your mother’s situation so much a source of worry to you. Surprisingly your airmail letters have come through pretty fast; be glad that you aren’t an airmail pilot this month.
It surprises you that your mother, “in spite of everything,” should turn to you in her present distress. But insofar as I know her three children, it does not surprise me. The very qualities of independence and self-sufficiency in you which in times past may have made relations with your mother more difficult are the qualities she is bound to turn to in her present situation. So also the sense of responsibility you have, to yourself and the people who make up your world. In the easy times such people may be a frequent annoyance in being so little amenable to one’s will. But come the hard times and the end of something solid to hold to, the values shift a good deal and are seen in quite different perspective.
I will wait anxiously for further word about her physical condition, what will be possible for her and thus for you. If it should be practicable for her to move down to the coast for a few months, and not practicable for you to stay in Ogden very long, would it be feasible for her to rent the house in Ogden? That would give her some income to enable her to feel that she was paying her own way—something that can mean a good deal in this tough world we live in. But you will have to cope with this situation as its imperatives unfold.
What you say about the recent shift in some of your attitudes, and your emergence from the kind of despondency which gripped you through much of last year, is of course very interesting to me, [p.197] but no surprise. I have really discussed these questions frontally with you only once, before the fire one winter day at the place on 10th East Street. I told you then of my belief in the incredible resilience and toughness of life, and pointed out the application in your own life. Literarily, you can within the space of a single paragraph reduce all civilization to smoking ruins and wipe out all life. But just consider, I said, what you yourself had lived through, all the difficulties you had surmounted, the handicaps you had overcome. On a strictly logical basis, some medical man might have written you off long ago. But you have a tremendous will to exist, a tenacious hold upon life, a knowledge of your limitations, and what you can do within those limitations, an acquired skill in pacing yourself. You have come triumphantly through all these trials, and people doctors would have given a life expectancy of another half century or so have been dying every day, as witness the obituary columns in any morning’s newspaper. In short, you were yourself the best possible answer to this kind of morbidity, a living example of the resistance of life to its extinguishment. This discussion rather fully expressed my point of view on the matter, and otherwise I have been content to remark from time to time that it is just the time one happens to live in that seems most unendurable. There have been some very bad things abroad in the world; there are plenty abroad at this very moment. But also prophets of doom have been speaking their piece from the beginning of recorded history; and on the plane of day-to-day life, one only has to work with the materials of Mormon history as you and I have done to see that the abrasions of daily life have been much worse in times past than they are for you and me today. We don’t have to be satisfied with our lot in life, but it helps, as you observe to me, to retain a certain perspective about it.
Now let me go on to various questions you have put [to] me lately. First, about the [John D.] Lee journals. You are certainly not to suppose that Juanita [Brooks] has sent me the highlights of these journals. She sent me a couple of extracts that interested her, and which I passed on to you, relative to Lee and Young and the M[ountain] M[eadows] M[assacre]. She also sent me some extracts from 1848-49 bearing on the beginning of the State of Deseret. For the rest, I know no more about the contents of the journals than you. But the extracts she sent me from 1848-49 show that the diary for this period is comparable in importance with the 1846-47 diary [Charles] Kelly printed [in 1938], which means of course that it is in a class by itself. But nothing can be done about this except as it can be done through Huntington. I had occasion to write them about something earlier in the week, and I took advantage of the opportunity to inquire impersonally about the status of the Lee journals. Depending upon what they answer, you may be able to follow up, but we will reserve discussion of that until we see what the situation is.
Since I recently threw a long accumulation of papers together in a large box, I cannot without long searching repeat the description of [p.198] the Lee journals I sent you before. But as I recall, they consist first of a diary with some gaps kept from mid-1848 to mid-1849, a diary from December, 1857 to June or July, 1861 (with a gap in it largely filled by the fragmentary diary of 1859 Kelly printed). Then three diaries which I believe cover the entire period from 1866 to 1875 or 1876. Huntington also has Rachel Lee’s diary for the period 1856-1860.
The diaries in the [Church] Historian’s Office were not micro-filmed, but were transcribed by hand, by descendants of Lee. This diary Juanita describes as follows in the bibliography to her book: “On the flyleaf of this is written, ‘John D. Lee’s Journal bought in St. Louis, May 29, 1844. No. 4.’ The first entry is dated May 28, and it gives an account of Lee’s boarding the ship on the Mississippi to go on a mission…. It is written in a small, fine hand, and is decorated in places with geometric drawings and embellished acrostics. The daily entries tell his experiences as a missionary, his return to Nauvoo upon hearing of the death of Joseph Smith, and his subsequent activities. The last section of the little volume is a day-by-day account of his mission with Howard Egan for the battalion money. The last date in this book is November 18, 1846.” In other words, the last part of this diary directly precedes the diary Kelly printed.
The other diary at the H[istorian's]. O[ffice]., according to Juanita’s description, is inscribed, “‘John D. Lee Record. A book Containing an Inventory of all the Camps of the Saints! Also the circumstances connected with the Exodus from Nauvoo, The City of Joseph, West through the Wilderness in search of Home and Place of rest by John D. Lee Young. 1846.’ This record gives details of the preparations for the exodus of the Mormons, the organization of companies, the purchase of supplies, and the securing of wagons and equipment.” Juanita later sent me a fuller account of this diary which I passed on to you; I think she said it consists of a summary narrative of the events of late 1844 and early 1845, and I believe diary entries for a part of 1846.
A third diary at the H.O. is the “Journal of the Iron Mission, 1850-52.” This too was copied by the Lee family, and it is the one [A. Russell] Mortensen recently obtained permission to print in the [Utah Historical] Quarterly.
Besides all these, there are two diaries describing Lee’s missionary activities in Tennessee between January, 1841, and January, 1842. Juanita dug these up in her collecting program. She obtained merely a typewritten copy of the first of these, of which she gave me the copy you saw while I was living on 10th East, and managed to photostat the second one. This latter photostat is at… [The remainder of this letter is missing.]
44. To Stanley Ivins
Salt Lake City, Utah
9 June 1953
I just this moment got a note from Fawn [Brodie] enclosing one from a fellow named Edward Bowditch from the Harvard Club in N.Y. He has been reading her book [No Man Knows My History] and says, “On pp. 170-174 you speak of the four egyptian mummies bought by the church and the papyri [once in the possession of Joseph Smith] which have been destroyed. Did you ever see the evidence in the files of the curator of Egyptology of the Museum of Fine Arts in N.Y. which might prove that all of the papyri were not destroyed in the Chicago fire? I think they would be of interest to you.”
If you have the time, and if this reaches you in time, maybe it would be worthwhile to pay them a visit and find out what this is all about.1