Dale Morgan on Early Mormonism
John Phillip Walker, editor
13. To Juanita Brooks
[p.74]The new year could not begin right if I didn’t take a few minutes off this evening to write you a little note. I have wanted to write it for five or six days now, but believe me, I have really been busy, at home and at the office. I was run ragged at the office today, and will be tomorrow, and probably the following day too—and into next week, for that matter.
However, we can find more interesting topics than that. For instance, the Christmas present you sent me. Juanita, you are an incredible woman! You not only send me a present as valued as any I have received in my life, but practically apologize because it has no dust jacket! I assure you, Juanita, my dear, that I would have considered it one of the finest presents of the year merely to be informed where I could obtain these volumes of the Journal of Discourses. Since Friday night I have poked my nose into them at virtually every free moment. These volumes will be immensely valuable to me for a long time to come, and I hardly know how to express fully my indebtedness to you and my appreciation. Perhaps one of these days I can send you something you will value similarly. In fact, I’ve been looking for something specific for some time now, and think there are prospects of laying my hands on it. When I do and when it comes along, you will understand that I hoped to please you to somewhat the degree you have delighted my own heart.
On top of all this, your collective Dixie salad came too! The apples and pomegranates did not do so well on the long trip, about half of each going the way of all flesh, but I have been on a constant Dixie diet ever since, just the same! I’ve lacked whipping cream, but I am not a person to let that raze me; I have thinned out some mayonnaise with milk, and that makes an entirely satisfactory salad dressing. The Dixie salad is one of my favorites already, I assure you; it is a wonderful addition to the American cuisine, and the originator deserves well of the republic. Who originated that salad in the first place, by the way? And when? It might date back to early days, but if so, I suspect it was not called a “salad.” That is a word of fairly recent popularity in the American food vocabulary.
[p.75] Do you remember once when I sent you some excerpts from Beattie’s Heritage of the Valley, relating to the break-up of the San Bernardino colony after the M[ountain] M[eadows] M[assacre]? I now fortunately have a copy of that book. I’ve wanted a copy ever since I first saw it, since it is a definitive study of its kind—and there are precious few of those in Mormon history. Beattie was given access at the [LDS] Church Historian’s office to the official mission journals kept by Richard Hopkins, and also the journals of [Amasa] Lyman and [Charles] Rich, hence the 13 chapters he devotes to the Mormons are authoritative. Months ago I asked the Denver bookseller, Fred Rosenstock, to try to find me a copy, and he finally tracked the author down and got one from him. The author is now 84 years old; he was therefore 78 when the book was published. Here is a case where age has served to ripen a man as a historian. Anyway, I mention to you that I own this book now, just in case you ever have need to refer to it.
We had an icing storm here last Wednesday, and it has been cold and dangerous out, until today, when a thaw with a dripping rain set in. The rain got rid of the ice and then let up, and it was fairly temperate, though gray and gloomy, when I came home tonight. But the weather forecast is for some cold and clear weather for a spell. It has been colder the last couple of weeks than since the notably cold first Janauary I was here—two years ago. But is has been still colder in the plains states, if that’s ever any comfort to anyone. In Dixie, let us hope, things are ordered better.
A happy new year, Juanita, to you and yours, in St. George and all over this great world.
14. To Juanita Brooks
30 May 1945
On this holiday-that’s-not-a-holiday I’ll make a beginning on a letter now, before lunch, and finish it later in the evening. Just by way of showing how things run, ever since I got back to D.C. I’ve been looking for a note from you, and have also [been] trying to get in touch with Darel [McConkey] so I could take him to a delayed birthday lunch (his birthday was May 10). Then all of a sudden your letter and MS came last night, while half an hour ago Darel suddenly [p.76] phoned to say he could lunch with me today. So friendship is getting back on a functional basis again!
Your MS looks very good on a preliminary glance-over. I’ll read it with care, put it aside for a week or 10 days to get perspective, then ship it back to you. And I want to commend you all over again for your contribution to the [Utah Historical] Quarterly. It is one of the most admirable pieces that has been published in the Quarterly; it presents a balanced over-all background picture, it minutely examines a particular area (both in subject and in geography) of Indian relations, and it draws upon a great amount of source material not hitherto published. Combined with a generally good writing job, that is a fine performance by any criteria.
Naturally I have devoted a good deal of thought to your situation since [LDS church president Heber J.] Grant’s death. If I were to give you some advice, it would be to wait about six weeks or two months until George Albert Smith1 has had a chance to get settled in his new job, and then go see him, the President of the Church direct, about your M[ountain] M[eadows] M[assacre] project. I believe he has possibly a more realistic view of Mormon history than most of the General Authorities, and the fact that he is at the very top would make his help count for something. Argue to him along the lines I earlier discussed in connection with [David O.] McKay. Moreover, I urge you to go about this as soon as Smith has had a chance to take hold and get out from under the first press of business. I don’t know whether you have noticed the current apostolic seniority list, but after [George F.] Richards[,] Joseph Fielding Smith and David O. McKay stand in line, and if something should happen in succession to George Albert Smith and Richards, you would be confronted with about as reactionary a pair of historical minds as you could find in a month’s search in the Church. So if you are going to try to write your MMM study within the bounds of Church sanction, you had better make the most of the situation now prevailing. You may not get anywhere with Smith, but at least he will receive you kindly, I think, especially if you point out all the angles involved. You should of course come armed with your letters of accreditation from Huntington, your letters from any local authorities, your letters from the Morris family, etc., etc. And while you are at it, you might boldly ask Smith’s help in getting the notes Andrew Jenson took on the MMM as related in his Autobiography.
As I remarked to you, I am still in good standing around the Historian’s Office. [A. William] Lund even said he liked my book on the Humboldt, which faintly surprised me. My time was too limited to do a great deal, but I did root around the H.O. a little. And for one thing, the Journal of the Southern Indian Mission is right there with all the other mission journals, on the other side of the shelf where the Journal Histories are. It was a little out of alphabetical order and was easily to be overlooked unless you looked carefully, but it was there, all right. If you ever get in there, just look for it for yourself, and you will find it without any difficulty.
[p.77] Most of the time I spent in the H.O. was occupied in making extensive notes from the Nauvoo Wasp, of which the Church has the only complete file. I waded through 42 numbers, but didn’t have time to go through the last 10, unfortunately. I hope I can finish that job some day, at which time I would also like to see 70 specific issues of the Neighbor between 1843 and 1845. The Chicago Historical Society and N.Y. Public Library have extensive files of the [Nauvoo] Neighbor, but there are 70 numbers known to exist only at the H.O.
My search for Millennial Stars was unluckily unavailing (I had particularly hoped to get the volume, 1863 or 1864, which contains the first half of the History of Brigham Young, but dammit, no luck!), but I did pick up a few other useful items. One was the Memoirs of John R. Young. I don’t know whether you have looked into this; but it has a number of references to Hamblin over a period of years. I had meant to check up on Mrs. Shepard, to see if by any chance she had a copy of the Lee journals, but got tied up the last day and couldn’t manage it. If you are in Salt Lake again, you might check on this yourself. If she does have a copy, it might be a good idea to buy one as an opening gambit for the subject of the Ginn narrative!
The blank space above indicates a not-so-blank interval spent with Darel [McConkey] at the Smorgasbord restaurant on K street. Even though we took a “bureaucratic luncheon,” if you can figure out that cryptic term, the time went all too fast. He inquired after you very particularly and was delighted to know we had had a session in Salt Lake City. He has been burning the midnight oil on rash jobs for the past three weeks, and has another on his hands now, but next week is taking a vacation of sorts for the purpose of moving, at last, into the house in Alexandria he bought in December.
I’m looking for Maurice Howe to turn up in town next week, or at latest the week following, for the annual Social Security conferences. I hope you got a chance to see him at the U[niversity] of U[tah] before he left town.
Adverting again to Grant’s death, I’ve been thinking about him since the news came along, and especially since reading the S[alt]. L[ake]. newspapers which my mother sent me. I’d like to have you tell me what the generality of the Church have thought about Grant, as you have heard them casually speak of him from time to time, both before and after his death. It seems to me that all the talk about his being “beloved” in the Church publications in recent years and in the obituaries is untrue in some degree. It strikes me that he has always been more respected than loved in the true sense of that word, that few people have ever felt particularly close to him or been warmed by his personality, and that few if any felt at his death the sense of personal loss that nearly everyone felt on the occasion of President Roosevelt’s death. I’d like to have you check my viewpoint against that of the membership generally.
Did you succeed in getting the Maguire diaries? And if so, how do they strike you? Did you get to talk to Poulson at B. Y. U.? Your [p.78] elliptical letter leaves me guessing at any number of interesting topics! I spent one evening with Fawn, the Monday night after I saw you, and she told me of talking briefly with him in Provo. She thought he had an amazing library. On V-E afternoon my mother and I drove down to Orem to visit my sister-in-law and nieces, and I tried to see Poulson then, but he has moved to a new home and had no phone, so I couldn’t reach him by phone. I located his new home, but he was not there so I missed out on talking with him. Fawn has been in San Francisco and should be back this way soon. I understand her husband has been successful in getting a release from the Navy as soon as the S.F. conference is over, so they will be moving to New Haven almost at once after their return East. Another good neighbor blown away on the winds!
Tell me all about your plans for tackling the MMM theme, and what you have found out about the grant-in-aid. It has long struck me that there is nothing more true than that “he who has gits,” and whereas you have tended to interpret my sundry “successes” in terms of my having the stuff, I have taken the more practical point of view that each thing I have embarked upon has very largely contributed to my getting the next thing I went after. We are having a demonstration of that in your life now. Your earlier jobs led to the Huntington work, that has led to the grant-in-aid, and other consequences yet to shape up will emerge in turn out of that. A lot hinges in this world on the simple matter of getting started. After that, you just have to keep your wits normally about you, and you are surprised with what results.
Have you heard from your boy in Germany since the big European bust-up came? I hope you will be seeing him soon.
15. To Fawn Brodie
28 October 1945
Up to the time the mailman arrived yesterday, I was on my way to getting a vigorous day’s work done. But from 11 a.m. to midnight I accomplished absolutely nothing except a visit to the grocery store. I think that is a sufficient summation of your book [No Man Knows My History], that on the third reading in three years, and after all that has gone into it, I can be spellbound by it still, and read in it with absolute fascination. I am glad the book is in print at last, and congratulate you on the final fruition of all your work. It is a distinguished book in every way, in the research and the writing, and in its physical format. I am proud to have the book for my Mormon shelf, and I am warmed by your inscription.
I had anticipated that your book would be dedicated to Bernard [her husband]. I had thought that fewer dedications could be more completely appropriate, for he is the cause as well as the symbol of your personal liberation from the oppressions of Mormon orthodoxy. And yet to me as to a few other persons, the actual dedication is even more beautifully fitting. Your book is an act of freedom, of liberation, and the dedication to McKeen [Eccles Brimhall] is your obeisance, your act of devotion and consecration, to something much larger than yourself—to the human spirit itself, to the things men live for and die for. There were doubtless other and more personal things you meant to express by this dedication, but this is the significance it has for me. You could not well express all this or even any part of it in words, but that is how I feel about it, and I am sure how Darel [McConkey] and Dean [Brimhall] and Bernard will feel.
In browsing through the book as I did all day yesterday and for several hours this morning, I have been especially impressed by its literary quality. The prose is distinguished, Fawn, full of light and meaning, and heightening one’s sense of the richness of language. Your patient work with the prose, improving it through each draft I have seen, has been richly rewarded. One has the constant sense of an experience of your mind as well as an experience of Joseph, and it is a rich and satisfying experience.
[p.80] In another month, the letters will start coming in on this book—as for that matter they have already, evidenced by Israel Smith’s. I think you will find this correspondence an invigorating experience, and you may find also that it will bring to light lost and unknown facts of the greatest interest. It is amazing what follows upon the publication of a book, or even a magazine article, at times. Charles Kelly, for instance, first got wind of the John D. Lee journals when a Lee descendant, passing his printing company, saw in the window some of his books, including Holy Murder, and came in to tell of the 1859 journal she had. Another woman who read his Post article on the Colorado River sent him the original journals of Clement Powell, Major Powell’s nephew on the exploration of 1871. And in my own case there was the woman in Ogden who learned from my book that she owned the Bible C. T. Stanton of the Donner Party carried with him when he died in the snow in 1846. You will probably get your full share of scurrilous letters, but I think you have a sufficiently balanced point of view not to get upset by any such.
It strikes me as not altogether coincidental that the Reorganized Church has learned of the book prior to publication. I suspect Knopf’s publicity department knows something about that. There is nothing like a good, rousing controversy to sell a few books, and a lawsuit is manna from heaven. Reminds me of when the Historical Records Survey published its history of Ogden, back in 1940. The Brown family got exceedingly exercised over some remarks on Captain James Brown, and there were mutterings about a libel suit. Some of the people in W[orks] P[rogress] A[dministration] were a little upset by the idea, but the state administrator, Greenwell, took a very philosophic view of the matter; a suit, he said, might sell 40,000 copies or so. Incidently, I think I will send in a subscription to the [RLDS] Saints’ Herald. I have been going to do so for some time, to get the contemporary feel of that church, and it would seem that now is a very appropriate time to begin a subscription! I am making a copy of Israel’s letter, and will let you know how it works out in the Herald.
A couple of minor things occurred to me in browsing through your book. Your preface leaves me with a feeling of incompletion, as though the concluding paragraph had been lopped off. After thinking it over, it occurs to me that you might have done well to invert or transpose your last two sentences. In other words, to make it read: “He was a mythmaker of prodigious talents. The moving power of Mormonism was a fable—one that few converts stopped to question, for its meaning seemed profound and its inspiration was contagious. And after a hundred years the myths he created are still an energizing force in the lives of a million followers.” Put that way, it seems to me, there is a great finality about your statement, though of course finality is the very thing you might have wanted to avoid!
Other matters that strike my eye are mostly typographical errors or inadvertances. On p. 172 you speak of the geography Joseph had read “as a boy,” and then give as a reference a work published in [p.81] 1824, when Joseph would be 18 or 19. You do not say explicitly, of course, that this was the book he had read in “as a boy,” but I think there is a certain looseness of statement here, by and large. On p. 307 and in your bibliography, the [John C.] Bennett affidavits should more properly be called a Broadside than a Pamphlet, as I realize since seeing the original. This would apply again on p. 318. On p. 330 you are actually right but literally or technically incorrect in giving Charles Kelly as sole author of Holy Murder. Hoffman Birney is coauthor, though I believe he contributed little more to it than the sales value of his name. On p. 365, although I haven’t looked it up, I seem to recall that it was John Bennett, not Joseph [Smith], who carried on the correspondence with C. V. Dyer. On p. 437, in the sentence about George Harris, the double dash seems an impropriety in connection with the use of “either.” On p. 440, Hall was a Mormon till 1847, but not “a Mormon in Nauvoo” during that time, since he accompanied the Camp of Israel across Iowa, and this is important in some of the things he has to say. For instance, as I recall, he says that while the Camp was going across Iowa Brigham formally notified [Henry] Jacobs that Zina could no longer be his wife—something to that effect. This becomes of interest in the light of your statement on p. 443 that Jacobs stood as witness to Zina’s marriage to Brigham in January, 1846, before the evacuation from Nauvoo. On p. 458, Woodworth’s name has inadvertently been spelled “Lucien.”
In reflecting upon the Bibliography, with the text itself at head, I am not entirely satisfied with its completeness. Even on the grounds of delimitation you specify, there are works in your texts that should clearly be in your bibliography. For instance, “A Girl’s Letters from Nauvoo,” cited from the Overland Monthly. It seems to me also that the bibliography itself, as well as the introduction thereto, should include the Cowdery letters.
Finally, let me say that I like the index very much. You can find things with it, which is a virtue not shared by very many indices.
Of late I have been looking into Strangite sources, a compartment of Mormon history I have hitherto not stirred up very much. I wrote [Milo M.] Quaife about the Strang MSS. He is willing to let me see them, but doesn’t want their texts published in any degree. I imagine he wants to keep up their monetary value for the benefit of his estate; their sales value would be higher unpublished than published, of course. Incidently, he tells me that Chicago U recently asked him to read a new book about Strang they were contemplating publishing, but he declined doing so for lack of time. The author seems to be from Wisconsin, so apparently this is not Poulson who is being heard from. I wanted to get a photostatic copy of the original letters Strang produced as from Joseph Smith. My idea was that if Joseph didn’t write it, and I simply can’t see Joseph writing anybody such a letter, then Strang must have done so, because he would hardly admit another person into a conspiracy so important to his pretensions. The investigations of the past have simply hinged [p.82] about whether the signature was Joseph’s or was forged, but it occurred to me it might be possible to prove by a handwriting expert that Strang had written the body of the letter, in the assumed hand of a clerk. Quaife was willing to have the letter photostated, he said, providing I would not publish it in facsimile. But yesterday he wrote me that he had looked at the document for the first time in years and noted what he had forgotten, that the body of it was not in script. It was hand printed, he said, hence would be of no service to me and he would spare me the expense of having it photostated. Well this is too bad, but I for one would say that Strang proved himself no fool in printing the letter!
I took Juanita to task about the [Eliza] Partridge diary, and she replied, “The Eliza Marie Partridge Smith Lyman book gave a few pages of summary, and began with daily entries on the trip across the plains. According to a grandson, she kept a daily record during her time as wife of Joseph, but there were things in it which she did not wish her family to see, so she burned it and made this abbreviated copy…I had little time there to sit down with it. The lady who had it was very reluctant to let it go; I had to telephone long distance to Mayfield to get consent of a brother before she would let me take it at all. Once that was secured, I got it off before she should change her mind. In fact, she wanted to see it wrapped and registered, lest I might appropriate it unto myself. It is now at the [B]Y[U] also, being copied, and will be returned to her from there.”
A later letter, this last week, tells of her late visit to S.L. to see President [George Albert] Smith about prying the M[ountain] M[eadows] M[assacre] affidavits out of David O. [McKay]. She was a little early for her appointment, she said, “but he called me in immediately. I was struck with the change of the whole atmosphere of the office. When I went some time ago to talk to David O. McKay the attitude of the girl [secretary] was one of suspicion and her business seemed to be to keep people out. Now when the girl answered the telephone, she always said, ‘The President is busy right now, but I am sure that he will be glad to see you,’ or ‘The President is a little behind in his appointments, but I am sure that it can be arranged.’ A little lady from Idaho who looked funnier even than I did was greeted cordially and assured that the President would be glad to talk to her; a bright young soldier from England, a deacon, he told one of the men, a new convert just before he entered the service and for three years a prisoner in Japan, was treated so well that it warmed my heart. At least the new president is a warm-hearted, Christian human being, and maybe that is worth as much as just being the Mouthpiece of God. And it makes up for the fact that he is neither handsome nor eloquent.
“He was kind to me. He would prefer not to have the MMM stirred up, naturally, but he listened to my reasons for feeling that it would be good to do it. He knew nothing of the affidavits I wanted, but told me to talk to Brother McKay, and shook hands with me [p.83] twice saying ‘I hope that whatever you do in this matter, you will be happy about it, permanently happy.’
“Well, Brother McKay wasn’t in, but I had a long talk with the secretary who accepted the papers, Joseph Anderson. He was nice to me, but of course could do nothing. He advised me to wait over until Friday morning if I could to see Bro. McKay. I did, and waited an hour and a half. Bro. Anderson seemed to feel that I would get my chance, but finally came and told that he had given my message and explained what I wanted, and Bro. McKay referred me to Joseph Fielding. I said no, that Joseph Fielding did not know of the papers and I preferred to wait until I could talk to David O. So that’s how it stands. I’ll have to go back again.”
Altogether, an interesting letter!
Last Monday the Saturday Review sent me Maurine Whipple’s book, which is to be published November 8 (apparently Knopf transposed the dates of yours and hers), and I sent them my review Friday. I don’t know whether Maurine will be pleased or infuriated with my review, which should indicate the kind of job it is.
Speaking of plans for books, have you ever looked into the possibilities of a biography of Horace Greeley? I don’t know whether anybody has done an adequate job on him; if not, he would certainly merit investigation. His life was not melodramatic as Joseph’s was, but he was an important figure in memorable times, and there is a certain pathos about how quickly the life went out of him after his bid for the Presidency failed, as though it had crushed his ego and all desire to live. I have run into Greeley at various times in my researches in Western and Mormon history, so if he should interest you, let me know.
I can think of two other men who ought to be written up, for the first time, but they may not appeal to you in sweep if not for stature. One is Major J. W. Powell, who revolutionized large areas of our social thinking with his work instituting the Geological Survey and the Bureau of American Ethnology, apart from his adventurous early years. The other is Philip St. George Cooke, whom you probably know principally as commander of the Mormon Battalion, but who led an extraordinarily varied career on the frontier and in the army. Still a fourth possible subject, here mentioned because your own point of view on her and her movement would be damned interesting, I think, is Susan B. Anthony of the women’s suffrage movement. We have enough perspective on that movement to be able to evaluate it now. However, I am not certain someone hasn’t written her up.
I have to go around to the Library of Congress to type copies of some items about Gunnison from the Milwaukee papers of 1853, so this must suffice us for this time. I’m always happy to hear from you, so spread youself in a letter whenever you feel expansive.
P.S. I’ve been pondering that court record [against Joseph Smith for “glass looking” in 1826] in your Appendix A. I certainly would like either to see that court record or a contemporary newspaper mention of that case. Has it occurred to you that if by some chance, somewhere along the line, a single word had inadvertantly been omitted, it would have altered a great many things? In other words, a “not” before “guilty” would make quite a difference, and Cowdery’s statement would become good, honest fact. “Guilty” is the logical verdict on the basis of the evidence, but the question must be raised whether the evidence had any relevance in law. He may have done all these things as testified, but did they come within the purview of the law? I think probably the truth was as you have it, but as I say, I wish we had confirmatory evidence of some kind.
16. To Juanita Brooks
15 December 1945
I received last night your extremely interesting letter of the 9th outlining your reaction to Fawn [Brodie]’s book [No Man Knows My History]. As I am pressed for time this weekend, I should have waited for a few days to comment, but it is necessary that I write you about another matter, so I will tackle both birds with one stone.
This other matter is that I received in today’s mail a dishonest squawk from Maurine [Whipple]1 about my review of her book. I say dishonest not so much from some of the misstatements in her letter as from her obvious motives in writing it. She didn’t mail the protest to me direct, but instead sent it in care of [Alfred] Knopf for him to send on to me, and I suppose it was intended as much for its effect on him as on me. Well, my naturally sweet disposition has soured with advancing age, so I sat down this afternoon and wrote a four-page documentation of what I merely said in general terms in the S[aturday] R[eview of] L[iterature]—and I am shipping off a carbon copy of the letter to Knopf at the same time I send the ribbon copy to her. I don’t know what Knopf thought about her letter; he seems to have done nothing but to put Maurine’s unsealed envelope and letter into one of his own envelopes and shipped the thing off to me.
[p.85] Maurine began with some acid thanks for a “selling” review, selling because it would cause the book to be talked about and thus “all-important” as a consideration, then saying she was sorry I think she would have stooped to plagiarism, that she didn’t include a bibliography because there simply wasn’t room for the two-hundred-odd books and pamphlets she consulted, that the Utah Guide was credited four or five times (sic!) and was only one of many sources, and that she did not use Desert Saints “except to read it some years ago.” She now raised the entirely irrelevant point about her use of pictures from the Utah Guide, etc., to which I did not refer in any way in my review, and saying that if I have any further quarrel, she would suggest I contact “Governor Herbert B. Maw, the Utah State Publicity Committee, and Mr. Randall Jones.” She wound up by asking that I point out the paragraphs or sentences in her book which I thought needed quotation marks.
Well, I said frankly that I regarded her letter as disingenuous in some part and irrelevant in large degree, and then put on my demonstration of varying kinds of borrowing from the Utah Guide. I doubt that she will show you the letter, so just for your own information in case you want to hunt them up, you can find sundry correspondences on the following pages (the first number being from the Guide, the second from Maurine’s book) 227 and 28; 226 and 7-8; 68 and 54; 70 and 54; 76 and 56; 7 and 63; 239 and 63; 8, 9 and 83; 457 to 463 and 88, 89; 473 and 89 (this is amazing; she quotes from the Cedar Breaks essay for her own remarks on Bryce!); 9 and 90; 455 and 91; 9 and 91; 3 and 137; 65 and 138; 66, 83 and 139; 5 and 140, 141; 9 and 142; 439 and 181.2 Most flagrant among these are 455 and 91 and 439 and 181. Since I had to spend several of my good hours this afternoon writing this damned letter, I wasn’t disposed to fool around with Nels’ book, so I contented myself with an illustrative example, the passage on pp. 86-7 which she appropriated for p. 53 of her book. I wound up the letter feeling out of temper with her so I read her a lecture, saying she could write, with passion, brains, and skill, and there was no reason why she shouldn’t do so independently, “without living on the fat of other people’s minds.”
The reason I have gone into all this is that at one point in the letter I incidently commented that I was amused to hear “that the phrase ‘bucking like a wild steer’ which I quoted in the review as being presumably a phrase of your own, was originally the conception (as applied to a country) of a writer in Arizona Highways.” Since you made that remark to me, I want to give you this forewarning in case Maurine comes around to knock suspiciously on your door.
I can’t say that this business gives me any particular pleasure. But there is no doubt that Maurine has been overdue for a spanking, and I like to think that she and the people in her life may alike benefit from having one administered to her.
Let’s get on to Fawn’s book. Juanita, if every member of the church united your feeling for the Mormon way of life with your [p.86] intellectual objectivity and reasonableness, no religion on earth would rival Mormonism, and the Kingdom of God would have a fair chance of early realization. I can count on the fingers of both hands if not on those of one the members of the church who could sit down and read a book like Fawn’s and then discuss it without rancor, appreciating its merits without accepting its arguments. I have told you before that you are a rare and wonderful person, but for the record let me say so all over again right now.
In many things you say I am inclined to concur—and if you were to discuss them with Fawn, so would she, in the main. The point you make, for example, about the indifference with which the Mormon laiety will regard the book. I think Fawn began her book with the zealot’s gleam in her eye, to present “the truth” and overwhelm any unhappy Mormon who might chance to read her disquisition. But acquired maturer ideas as she went along, and probably a year or more before the book was finished, she could see it in proper perspective. In these matters, Juanita, it all boils down finally to that old philosophical conundrum, “What is Truth?” There is no absolute or final definition of truth. It has emotional values for some people, intellectual values for others. Our confusions are consequent in some degree upon the fact that people try to square their emotional truths with the intellect, while their intellectual truths they try to invest with emotional meanings.
Let’s discuss some concrete cases. You may hear someone—a returned missionary in the pulpit, say—pronounce a judgment like this: “I know that God lives. I know that Joseph was a prophet of God. I know that the gospel is true, and will be the salvation of mankind.” You cannot challenge that knowledge; you can’t bring any logic to bear against it. He knows what he knows, and there is nothing more that can be said. Except that his ideas may change if he is left to himself. When I was eight or ten or so and a regular Sunday-school goer, in our ward I saw a rather handsome boy four or five years older than I named Edwin Wells. He was then a deacon, I think. He looked to me somehow sanctified and set apart, beautiful and holy. Well, Juanita, as I contemplated him, revelation came upon me, and I knew, I knew that I was seeing there before me in the flesh a future President of the Church. It was a knowledge superior to reason; in short, it was of the very stuff of our returned missionary’s knowledge above. Except that for some fifteen years or so I have felt a certain skepticism about the validity of that revelation.
Essentially this was an emotional experience, with its intellectual consequents merely trailing along behind. It is at the other extreme from my present predominantly intellectual point of view upon religious topics.
Consider again how our individual points of view upon Mormonism and all religion are rooted in our fundamental viewpoint on God. It is in part a consequence of your experience of life, your upbringing and certain things that have befallen you, that you have an unshakable conviction of the reality of God. That is basic in your [p.87] whole attitude toward Mormonism. It gives an emotional color that subtly shapes all your thinking on every subject, and all your reactions to what we call the objective facts of your life. The result is that when you contemplate Mormon history, there is a vast area of the probable and the possible that you accept without much question.
At the other extreme we have my attitude (which I believe is substantially Fawn’s). I feel absolutely no necessity to postulate the existence of God as explanation of anything whatever. To me God exists only as a force in human conduct consequent upon the hypothecation of such a being by man. I find infinitely more interesting than abstract philosophical ideas of deity the quirk in men’s minds by which they have found it necessary to originate the concept of God. Essentially my views are atheist, but I call myself an agnostic because I regard professing atheists as being as much deluded as professing theists. The one says, “I know there isn’t a God”; the other, “I know that there is.” And I find the proof lacking in either case. Thus when I formulate my views, I say that I have no personal belief in God and see no necessity for the existence of such a being; I say further that I think this is the only life we’ll ever have, and that we’d better make the most of it. But I feel no compulsion to enforce these views upon anyone who chooses to think otherwise and do not respond to the missionary endeavors of either theist or atheist. Nor do I find my life and my conception of life rendered in any way less beautiful or satisfying by my view that death is a final end to it; indeed, I rather pity those who must have an after life to recompense them for the spiritual poverty of this one.
I have been at pains to define my attitude because it is important in the matter of our approach to the problems of Mormon history. Mine becomes an essentially inductive method. I put together the facts that I can find, after assessing them according to what I think their worth may be, and thus slowly and painfully I build toward central conceptions. I do not think it misrepresents your own point of view too much to say that you start with central conceptions and (all the while testing your facts by those conceptions) work toward a factual structure that will articulate those conceptions and give them life and meaning according to our everyday standards of objective reality—”historical facts,” in other words. I believe I have about as great a reasonableness of spirit as anyone who has made inquiries in Mormon history. But I am aware also of a fatal defect in my objectivity. It is an objectivity on one side only of a philosophical Great Divide. With my point of view on God, I am incapable of accepting the claims of Joseph Smith and the Mormons, be they however so convincing. If God does not exist, how can Joseph Smith’s story have any possible validity? I will look everywhere for explanations except to the ONE explanation that is the position of the church. You in your turn will always be on the other side of that Great Divide. You may believe or disbelieve in the truth of Mormonism itself, but your acceptance or rejection of [p.88] Mormonism does not in any way affect your final religious conviction, your acceptance of God. Indeed, you might remain a good church member when fundamentally you were in a state of apostasy, in the sense that you might conceive that Mormonism, perhaps “false” in detail or doctrine, was nevertheless “true” as an instrumentality of God, a way of life shot through with perverse and even absurd error, but good and satisfying because conducive to what we call a “Christian” manner of life. You understand, I am not trying to define your ideas for you; I do not for a moment maintain that these are necessarily your ideas. But I am explaining the different ways different minds may grapple with the concept of God and the influence of this concept on formal religion. It may serve to illustrate that whereas I am supremely uninterested as far as the question of the nature and actuality of God is concerned, I am supremely interested in what men’s minds do with the concept of God, and how their behavior may be dictated by the prevalence of such concepts.
Well, then, in the light of all that I have been saying, let me take up your letter and some of the points you raise for discussion. I do not disagree particularly with your point of view on Joseph’s boyhood as Fawn pictures it. I do not think, indeed, that Fawn regarded Joseph’s boyhood as anything but normal in most ways. What came of the boyhood interests and activities may be regarded as important, however. I am reminded, incidently, of Priddy Meeks’ journal. You may recall Priddy’s bafflement and awe at the boy he took into his family who had such a great way with peepstones and second sight. I always felt that Tom Sawyer would have understood William Titt very well, far better than Priddy was ever capable of understanding him. Because Priddy was blinded with his own religious conceptions and his own superstitions, for one thing; and also Tom Sawyer had a genius entirely comparable with William’s. So also both Tom Sawyer and William Titt might have felt well at home with Joseph Smith as a boy. I do not recall having read any writer who intimated that Joseph displayed homo-sexual proclivities as a boy, and think you may have in mind Vardis Fisher’s conception of auto-erotic (masturbatory) practices of which Joseph may have been guilty. I do not think Fisher’s conception is in the least far-fetched; anyone who has ever read Havelock Ellis’s great work could not regard a certain amount of this as other than normal. But I agree with you that Joseph’s talk about youthful indiscretions hardly had reference to such ideas which may have persisted in Joseph’s mind. It is inconsistent with his character as we know it that he should have exhibited a type of self-revelation of this kind. The idea may shock Victorian religious minds, that a future prophet should, even as a possibility, have been addicted at any time to auto-erotism. But no one who approaches Joseph as a human being can be in any way shocked or even surprised by such a postulate. “Why not?”
We come to an interesting point of departure, however, when we arrive at the question whether Joseph was indeed a conscious fraud and impostor. Fawn has clarified my thinking in this connection. [p.89] She and I approached Mormonism from two different angles. I began with the Utah era and worked backwards, while she began with the Book of Mormon and worked forward. I was half disposed to accept a median point of view where Mormon and non-Mormon may almost meet. The Mormon may consent to the idea that the plates were only apparently real, that Joseph gained access to them through a series of visions, as a concession from the original Mormon contention that the plates could be felt and hefted. And the non-Mormon may conceive of Joseph as a victim of delusions, a dreamy mystic, so to speak. But when you get at the hard core of the situation, the Book of Mormon as an objective fact, there isn’t any middle ground; it becomes as simple a matter as the Mormon and anti-Mormons originally said it was. Either Joseph was all he claimed to be, or during the period at least of the writing of the Book of Mormon he was a “conscious fraud and impostor.” I think what is called the “Isaiah problem” of the Book of Mormon admirably illustrates the issues. Either, as the Mormons claim, the Isaiah text is integral to the Book of Mormon as well as to the Bible, or one must conceive that Joseph had an open Bible before him while he was dictating the Book of Mormon behind his curtain. It is hard to conceive that he had memorized the thousands of words of [the] Isaiah text so that in his “delusions” he could have dictated this text automatically.
I have yet to make my own independent examination of the question of the origin of the Book of Mormon; that is a job I will do independently, and any verdict I offer meantime is only provisional. But for the present I find Fawn’s theory the one most reasonable in the light of the available facts, and her theory is the more important in that for the first time the official church theory is challenged as to its historicity. The Mormon laiety won’t know or care what Fawn has written, but the scholars of the church cannot ignore what she says. Hence in my point of view, hers is a constructive contribution to the question. If the Mormons can bring up new evidence to support their thesis, Fawn’s book has imposed that responsibility upon them; it will serve to ventilate an important question. If they cannot, there may be good reason to think that Fawn has actually hit upon the “truth” of the matter. In either event, the legacy of her book is an aroused historical curiosity which can only be regarded as socially fruitful.
It seems to me that your idea is not well taken, that Joseph could not have been a conscious fraud and impostor because he inspired loyalties too deep in too many. This over-simplifies Fawn’s idea; as I understand her, she does not maintain that he was forever a conscious fraud and impostor—he acquired, indeed, a compensating psychology; he made a psychological adjustment which had the practical effect of amounting to sincere conviction. Fundamentally it was Joseph’s personal magnetism that bound people to him originally; and then after the church began to grow, it acquired an almost independent existence. It acquired a dignity from the lives of its converts; it became a social force energizing the lives of [p.90] innumerable people swept up in its course. Mormonism is by no means the only illustration of this social phenomenon. It is exemplified in Ann Lee and the Shakers, in William Miller and the Seventh-day Adventists. It has been exemplified in politics time and again. And lately in Europe we have seen the spectacle of a gangster regime and a gangster mentality invested with social sanctity, and for which men were willing to die—or to conduct murder like an organized science. I do not mean to discount your point of view, but I am not willing that we should be limited by it in our appraisal of Joseph.
Your slant on polygamy is interesting but a little confusing, for you would seem to argue against what in logic the church should be glad to see, Fawn’s fresh point of view on the question whether Joseph had children by plural wives. The church has always been hard put to explain why there were no children by those wives; except for the embarrassments involved, one could conceive that it might welcome Fawn’s hypotheses. I do not agree with you that wives who had borne him children would necessarily have testified to it. For if Fawn’s facts be accepted, the women could not have proved anything; the Reorganized Church was in a position to ask how they could show Joseph as the father of their children instead of their legal husbands. Their own position would have been equivocal without any commensurate gain resulting. Altogether, a singular situation! And it seems obvious to me that the Church will not care for the thesis that plural marriage was originally (for Joseph, that is) something other than what it became. I am satisfied that Fawn is entirely correct in her conception that Joseph married a considerable number of other men’s wives. The thesis makes sense out of a lot of isolated facts I have, apart from those she cites. As for instance, some remarks by Brigham Young before the Twelve [Apostles] in 1849, to the effect that “the Lord allowed Joseph privileges that are denied to us because He knew that Joseph’s time on earth was short.” (This was imbedded in the middle of a discourse on plural marriage and how the men should conduct themselves in their relations with their wives.)
Getting back to where my remarks started, I am reminded of something in a letter Fawn sent me this week. Some anonymous soul in Utah, she says, sent her a report of [LDS apostle] J. Reuben Clark’s speech installing a new president [Howard S. McDonald] at BYU, with the following heavily underscored: “He wounds, maims and cripples a soul who raises doubts about or destroys faith in the ultimate truths. God will hold such a one strictly accountable, and who can measure the depths to which one shall fall who wilfully shatters in another the opportunity for celestial glory. These ultimate truths are royal truths to which all human wisdom and knowledge are subjects. These truths point the way to celestial glory.”
So we may inquire again, what is truth? In this instance, Truth obviously is what J. Reuben Clark happens to believe.3 He knows what “ultimate truths” are, even; he knows all about God and God’s intentions. Or can it be that he merely has the social power to make [p.91] people listen to his idea of Truth? If we were to pursue this matter far enough, I think we would find that Truth, in the end, is what makes J. Reuben Clark feel good, whether it is his conception of religion, politics, or economics. The only trouble is, we need a more generally applicable definition of truth. Too many different things make too many different people feel good in ways that are too contradictory for ready definition.
And consider, as a final illustration, what one of Fawn’s pious uncles lately wrote her: “You will be required, sooner or later, to admit and correct EVERY ONE OF YOUR ERRORS. This is much easier accomplished while your soul and body are together. When you leave your earthly house, you have no place to hide your errors. They are apparent both to yourself and to those with whom you come in contact. Your shame will be so mortifying that it will place you in an environment of darkness where you will see no one else and ‘think’ no one else sees you. There you will wander until you become so tired with your condition and so weakened and exhausted that a feeling of repentence will begin to manifest itself. At that moment relief will come to you and some repentant soul a little farther along than yourself will help you. But it is a very slow process and entails much suffering. All this can be avoided by taking advantage of repentance in this life…”
He also, you see, knows the Truth. He has, indeed, an astonishing fund of information about it. One would do him an injustice to say that he has evolved a punishment for people who don’t adopt his conception of the Truth, because plainly he knows about these unpleasant arrangements he describes. And thus he is my brother, for as brought out earlier in this letter, I too have had my experience of knowing with a transcendent knowledge beyond analysis or explanation.
If I don’t watch out, I am likely to get sidetracked from the more or less high plane of seriousness on which this letter has been written; and since it is almost midnight anyhow, I will break off and get some sleep. But don’t think I don’t respect your point of view very highly, Juanita. I am, in fact, going to send your letter to Fawn so that she also may read it. Certainly it will interest her and it will serve, as with any serious point of view urbanely put, to broaden her viewpoint and mine, I am confident.
3. J. Reuben Clark (1871-1961), a forceful ranking LDS church leader whose views continue to influence Mormon policy, was openly suspicious of intellectualism and secular approaches to religious studies. See also Letter Number 41.”
17. To Bernard DeVoto
20 December 1945
I read with great interest your review of Fawn Brodie’s book [No Man Knows My History] in Sunday’s Herald-Tribune. You had some excellent things to say, expressed with your customary precision and felicity of phrase. I think on the whole Fawn will be more than gratified by your critical appraisal.
But also—and this is the occasion of my letter—I am rather astonished at some things in your review. It isn’t often that one can feel you have misrepresented a book in some important particular, or that you have failed to read it with attention, but that is the impression with which I am left by your review. I must conjecture that your preconceptions about Joseph Smith in this instance intervened upon your judgment, or at any rate upon your statement of the facts.
I refer, of course, to your paranoid theory. Four years or more ago I told you that in due course I would challenge some of your views about Joseph. I had in mind then doing essentially the job Fawn has done now; I had become convinced that he could be more completely interpreted as a product and exemplar of his times than through any other avenue of approach; and although I am not in complete agreement with Fawn’s organization and interpretation of the facts of Joseph’s life, her book as it stands sufficiently represents my views on Joseph’s character and personality to serve us as the basis of a discussion.
You maintain that Fawn “pretty consistently avoids the crucial issue,” which you explain to mean that she does not adequately deal with his “basic drive,” but which I would take to mean more exactly that nowhere in her book does she make an effort to grapple directly with the paranoid thesis, an idea you have wrestled with so determinedly that any interpretation of Joseph which does not argue the merits of this thesis directly you must necessarily feel incomplete. Yet Fawn’s entire book is essentially a refutation of the paranoid thesis, and it is at least arguable whether, in the light of her organization of the facts, it was required of her that she face what you call “the crucial issue.”
[p.93] I mean to discuss this at length, but first let me dispose of some lesser matters which exemplify the misrepresentation I speak of above. I do not think you can justify from her book your statements, “She endows it (the Book of Mormon) with an integrated, carefully wrought structure and subtle, eloquent and moving English style….Actually, the gold Bible has neither form nor structure of any kind, its imagination is worse than commonplace, it is squalid, and the prose is lethal. The book Smith wrote is not a novel to any literary critic.”
Really, this is a pronouncement of a curse upon the Book of Mormon, not a measured critical appraisal of it. I believe you are inclined to caricature Joseph and his literary production, perhaps in part out of unconscious defense of your matured theory about his personality, and in part as a vindication of the characterization of the Book of Mormon which had appeared in the original version of “The Centennial of Mormonism” [in American Mercury, January 1930], but which had been deleted from the definitive version, as I supposed, as the result of sober second thought. At all events, I do not see how you can justify your summation of Fawn’s position and your verdict upon the Book of Mormon in the light of her passages on pp. 62-3, and 68-73.
Granted that the book is not a novel in the sense that Anna Karenina or The Red Badge of Courage or Huckleberry Finn is a novel. But the author’s intention, equipment, and background must be taken into account. If the Book of Mormon is at all to be interpreted as a kind of frontier fiction, it must be regarded as a primitive, and interpreted in the light in which all primitives are interpreted. And this particular primitive was written by a young man with little schooling, with no depths of experience to draw upon, of no introspective bent, and with a literary background inevitably theological in coloration, thanks to the Bible and contemporary religious excitement. You may hold the end product in no great respect, but the history of the book is itself a denial that it altogether lacked in some kind of form and structure. One may say, indeed, that the historical importance of the Book of Mormon is that it supplied an intellectual content for religious emotions, giving them a justification and a rationalization, something the mind could chew upon and return to as a fixed point of reference. Observe that John A. Clark, who was not favorably impressed either by the Mormons or the book of Mormon, wrote in his Gleanings by the Way (1842), that there were “certainly striking marks of genius and literary skill displayed in the management of the main stow.” From the naturalistic point of view that is mine and Fawn’s and yours it is not to be expected that the Book of Mormon should be regarded as the product of a matured intelligence with something to say (vide your remarks about young writers in our own time, in Minority Report). Nobody would contend that Joseph was an artist in the sense that Thoreau, say, was an artist. But neither can the Book of Mormon be cavalierly dismissed as a mere excrescence upon literature. And of course if you say that [p.94] Fawn endows the book with a “subtle, eloquent and moving English style,” you are merely demolishing a straw man you have yourself set up. If this is not an absolute misstatement of Fawn’s position, it is certainly a misstatement in the sense that it connotes for the reader what our more sophisticated vocabulary expresses in this terminology—a connotation quite foreign to the times and the content of the Book of Mormon. It also ignores what she has to say about the dullness of the book’s style, a matter on which she expressed herself with such vigor that the devout are certainly going to feel affronted and abused.
Before getting back to the main concern of this letter, I should like to advert to a couple of misunderstandings embodied in your review. The first of these is entirely justifiable since you had only the evidence of the book to go upon. But Fawn is well aware that some part of the Book of Mormon was pirated in the local newspaper before publication. Indeed, this knowledge has been public property ever since Francis W. Kirkham published his book on source material relating to the Book of Mormon in 1937, reprinted and revised in 1942 as A New Witness for Christ in America. If I recall correctly, Hamlin Cannon stumbled over the same information and published it in the Mississippi Valley Historical Review a year or so ago without knowing it had already been published. The second point is that I believe you are mistaken in feeling that Brigham Young has been impossibly cut down from life size in the biography; at any rate, you are mistaken about any bias on Fawn’s part. I say this out of a two-and-a-half year acquaintance with her and much discussion of her book with her. I am in agreement with you that the biography gives inadequate attention to those who ultimately held the church together, but Brigham cannot be separated out from the other apostles in this respect. Brigham Young was so long underestimated in his greatness that in reaction there is now a tendency to overestimate him, and particularly is this the case for the period before 1844. I expect to demonstrate all this in detail if I keep my health and strength, but the parallel is not dissimilar to that between Roosevelt and Truman. Truman has turned out to be much more of a man than anybody expected, though his greatness, if any, is not yet established. The point is, Roosevelt’s death gave him the opportunity to grow. So also with Joseph and Brigham. The point cannot be pushed too far, because there is every difference in running a nation and running (or even holding together) a church. But the parallel exists nevertheless. This is my point of view on Joseph and Brigham, not Fawn’s. But her treatment of Brigham, based on the facts as they presented themselves to her, is not individually, only collectively, out of proportion.
But let’s get at the central subject-matter of my letter. It seems to me that in reviewing the book you evade or ignore a contribution it makes that is of cardinal significance. No theory about Joseph can have the least validity about him except insofar as it may be measured against the facts of his life. One may start with a theory and [p.95] marshal facts to support it, but as you are well aware, the only historically valid method is to marshal the facts and see what they add up to. Only then is a theory, and particularly a theory dealing in the intangibles of psychology and psychiatric investigation, in the least apposite. The great importance of Fawn’s book is the immensely competent and painstaking job of fact-finding she has done. Although something more can be done in this direction, she has performed a pioneer work of the highest significance. This has to be the point of departure for our thinking about Joseph, the facts of his life as she has assessed and organized them.
The initial weakness of the paranoid theory of his personality is that it has been postulated on insufficient evidence. Maybe there will always be insufficient evidence to permit a final pronouncement upon him, as indeed you say in your review, but your theory, however brilliantly conceived and argued, must be reconsidered from the ground up in the light of Fawn’s fact-finding job.
The springboard for the whole paranoid theory has been that Joseph had visions or hallucinations. You expressed the opinion that there was no reason to doubt Joseph’s own account of his visions—in part perhaps because of the solid social insistence upon the vision by the Mormons through a century…and in part perhaps because you wanted to make use of the fact for your own purposes. I regard it as a contribution by this biography that is of the highest importance that the authenticity of the First Vision (of the Father and the Son) has been called in question, that Mormon history has been challenged on one of its most fundamental assumptions. According to Fawn’s exploration of the facts, it is possible that this conception was not evolved until 1838; in all the literature available to us, there is only one indicated possibility that anything had been said of the First Vision as early as 1835, even. If the First Vision is thrown overboard on grounds of insufficient proof—and on Fawn’s showing this is what objective historians are likely to do unless and until the Mormons can document their history on this point—a keystone in the structure of the paranoid theory has been destroyed.
There remains, of course, the matter of the visions involving the Angel Moroni, and the actual coming-forth of the Book of Mormon. Yet this vision is infinitely less ambitious than the so-called First Vision, and of far less value or significance for psychological theory. The idea of Joseph as moody, tranced, or dedicated, in any religious sense, emerges as nothing but an idea without foundation in fact. There was no necessary motivation in the First Vision (always taking the point of view of our naturalism rather than that of Mormon faith). But there was abundant motivation in the vision involving the Angel Moroni. You find Fawn’s account of Joseph’s Palmyra years “superb,” hence I take it that you find her account of Joseph’s formative years entirely plausible. You have not committed yourself as to her theory and her fact-finding as to the motivation and immediate events leading to the writing of the Book of Mormon, but it would be interesting to know, for our present purposes, if you [p.96] reject her ideas at any point. The visions of the Angel Moroni, by this interpretation, are not at all established. All that is established is that Joseph told people he had visions—and made them believe it.
Of course, this raises the question of the extent to which Joseph was a conscious fraud and impostor. But this question must be raised anyhow. No visions or hallucinations in themselves can explain the physical text of the Book of Mormon. I was at one time half inclined to the belief that Joseph’s might have been a borderline personality, subject indeed to hallucinations, and that he may as he supposed have seen the Golden Plates with the eye of faith (call it delusion), dictating the book from something like a trance state. This idea has the advantage of leaving Joseph’s sincerity unimpaired, and makes less troublesome the analysis of his subsequent career. But as I face the actual fact of the Book of Mormon and contemplate some of its physical characteristics—in other words, as I get out of the realm of beautiful thinking and wrestle with obstinate facts which have to be set one in front of another in some kind of order—I find this conception untenable. One hard fact alone seems to me to require us to come to grips with a decision that Joseph either was all he said he was, a prophet of the living God translating from plates of gold, or a conscious fraud and impostor. This is the matter contained in the Book of Mormon and constituting what is called the Isaiah problem. I cannot find it logical that Joseph committed these thousands of words from Isaiah to memory. I find it a good deal more reasonable to conjecture that he had an opened Bible with him on the other side of his curtain. And that idea seems to me to enforce a conception that conscious deception entered into the writing of the Book of Mormon, though I do not mean to say he did not make a psychological adjustment later; on the contrary, I believe that he did, and I believe a better job of demonstrating the mechanism of the adjustment can be done than Fawn has done, though her own demonstration is not to be undervalued.
So far we are not necessarily is disagreement, since you have yourself announced your conviction that Joseph was the author of the Book of Mormon. But suppose we go on from this point. Your review is not altogether consistent in some respects, in its viewpoint on the Book of Mormon and what it may tend to demonstrate about Joseph as a person, so we can more profitably go on to Forays and Rebuttals [DeVoto’s 1936 compilation of essays].
In this book, p. 96, you make a generalized statement about what I might call the context, or perhaps the content, of Joseph’s personality. In this summation there is a dangerous potential of fallacy because it telescopes a man’s life without due regard for the time factor or for social consecutiveness. I should imagine that one could make a similar demonstration about many lives that we accept as normal. There is something of the incredible about every man’s life, if you stop to add it up, if you pile the details, out of context, atop each other; and particularly is this the case with what I might call energized or energizing personalities. Not that Joseph’s [p.97] was in any sense an ordinary personality. But before I regarded it as too significant that a man told me he had “seen and conversed with God the Father, Jesus, various personages of the Old and New Testaments and various angels and archangels,” I should want to know something about his social background. I might find all this, if not less strange, at least more explainable, if I were informed that itinerant preachers were wandering about the neighborhood announcing that the Millennium had alrady arrived and the Resurrection had taken place; if preachers were announcing themselves as a reincarnation or embodiment of God; if his neighbors were seeing celestial steamboats chugging across the sky, complete with crew and passengers. And, an if of hardly less importance, he was ignorant of the psychiatric investigation of dreams and invested them with super-normal significances. (I have myself had dreams which persisted as waking memories and then faded into a generalized memory in which, after a lapse of time, for all my critical apparatus and detachment, I have found it almost impossible to distinguish details actually remembered and dream details inextricably intermingled. I find this experience a useful one for probing a personality to whom dream images might come even more readily and more persuasively.) I might conclude that all this was symptomatic of a lunatic world. Or I might find in these facts something indicative of prevailing social excitations, social thought-patterns, and intercommunicable emotions. Set against such a background, a fellow who on the record is the possessor of a vivid and unorthodox imagination—such a fellow who claims to have conversed with God the Father and His Son—may be simply a fellow with a hunger to be noticed, an over-developed capacity for fantasy working on the social stuff of his life. You may simplify all this and say that the fellow is suffering from delusions. But for that matter, where is the man who doesn’t suffer from delusions about himself—in his relations with women, for instance, or his professional life: anything involving his ego.
Much of what you say in the key paragraph I have cited is in some part untrue because it ignores the factor of immediate causation, the context of event. You may say that the heavens were always opening to give Joseph guidance, and let inferences be drawn from that. But also you may picture a man driven by circumstances to find an unassailable answer to some question of policy or action—and a man with the most unbounded confidence in himself, assertive and autocratic. You do not need the factor of delusion to explain him. Joseph may have used the apparatus of revelation in clear charlatanry. Or he may have adapted that apparatus (evolved originally to extricate himself from grave difficulties in connection with the Book of Mormon) to the formulation of ideas sincerely believed to have been “revealed” to him, but which was akin to that process which in our workaday world we call “getting an inspiration.” Let me draw another illustration out of personal experience. When I was seven or eight years old, I was much struck with the appearance and air of an older boy I saw only on Sundays, a boy then a deacon in [p.98] Wells Ward in Salt Lake City. He looked to me somehow sanctified and set apart, beautiful and holy. Looking at him, I knew, I knew, that I was looking upon a future President of the Church. It was a knowledge I could not have argued, but it was Ultimate Truth, beyond reason or argument. It was, in fact, something like a consciously developed revelation. Well, maybe it was, though I have my doubts about it now and do not look for his early accession to the Presidency of the Church. But remembering that experience, and remembering further what it is like to get struck with a Big Idea, I can conceive that Joseph’s revelations were honestly arrived at (some of them, at any rate), if not precisely after the fashion his followers may have believed. With no opening of the heavens in any way involved.
I think, at this point, we had better establish some working definitions as to what constitutes the paranoid personality. If the “paranoid reaction type” you describe on p. 97 of your book [Forays and Rebuttals] be given a sufficiently wide application, it will encompass almost anybody who ever had an “original” idea, who exhibited energy in pursuit of a purpose or an idea, or was concerned to accomplish things. On such a finding Joseph was a paranoid, you another, I also, and Babe Ruth, Gypsy Rose Lee, General Eisenhower, and Franklin D. Roosevelt. for good measure. But we both have in mind something more clearly aberrant. You endeavor to get at this by matching some assumed correspondences against Henderson and Gillespie’s text.
I will grant you persecution as a constant theme in Mormon history, and some of it is real. But of that which is not real, how much stems from abnormal psychology and how much of it was purposive propaganda? Joseph in his history has much to say about persecution while he was translating the Book of Mormon. The record will not bear him out on this. But did Joseph feel himself actually persecuted? This is certainly doubtful. A lot of Joseph’s history is retrospective; it is an instrument in the furtherance of specifically evolved purposes. When he came to dictate his history, the kind of history he needed to have was the history of a prophet of the living God. It was a characteristic of biblical prophets that they had been persecuted; that was almost the hallmark of their prophetic authenticity. And, moreover, by 1838 Joseph had got into various and sundry scrapes with people and the law. It was easier to discount all these as “persecution” than to face the facts, particularly for a personality not given to introspective analysis. Persecution was, moreover, not only a name for his troubles but a name of force to his followers. Before we begin making something of Joseph’s talk of persecution, I think we had better inquire pretty closely into how much of this was merely verbal and how much of it was integral in Joseph’s view of himself and the world.
Henderson and Gillespie’s next point, about the auditory and visual hallucinations, have already had sufficient comment in my appraisal of the implications of Fawn’s fact-finding job. And in this [p.99] respect it may be important that “hallucinations,” if granted an initial existence or validity, have to be borne with to the end. It is not enough to say Joseph had hallucinations up to 1830, say, or to 1835. What of his mental state after that time? So far from being able to trace the stages of psychic disintegration, one finds something approaching more nearly to psychic integration. Joseph had less and less need of the apparatus of revelation as he grew in personal status and in power. His word sufficed where once he had had to invoke the Word of God. Revelation practically ceased in the last five years of his life. And among the exceptions we find such concessions to necessity as the revelation on plural marriage.
Let us turn to Webster for a moment. Hallucination is defined as “perception of objects with no reality, or experience of sensations with no external cause, usually arising from disorder of the nervous system.” It should be borne in mind that practically all the evidence brought to bear to support the theory of hallucinations is adduced from the early years, when the volume of information about Joseph is least satisfactory, and when his own version of his career is least susceptible to being checked against observation and the facts of history. One should imagine that the operation of paranoia should exhibit wilder and wilder hallucinations. The exact contrary is the case. Joseph’s life and his exegesis of doctrine for his church both illustrate the evolution of a career and a metaphysics in no way abnormal. As for the former, consider the profound influence of the Jacksonian epoch, with its insistence upon the unlimited capacities of the common man; and reflect, further, upon some of the political and social developments of the Thirties and Forties. I was struck five years ago with the extraordinary degree to which Joseph reflected the temper of his times. One can find his enlarging ambitions outre only if one completely ignores his background. And as for his doctrines, the spelling out of his metaphysics, in what way does he differ from any thinker, or any writer, who occupies himself with certain ideas? Our book review columns are full of summations of writers discussing books as capstones to their careers, fruitions of their philosophical systems, and so on.
It is a further difficulty about the paranoid thesis that Joseph cannot be shown to be shifting from one preoccupation to another; there is absolutely nothing that can be adduced to show the progression of paranoia or psychic disintegration. There are his social and political ambitions, his grandiose metaphysics, his sexual adventures. Yes, but the first of these is the reflection of mere being, the commonest exemplification of the American success story. If men didn’t enlarge their ambitions as accomplishment and opportunity permitted, we would all still be living in trees. His metaphysics I have discussed, after a fashion. His sexuality is found to be simultaneous with all the other facets of his character and with his interests and ambitions. It was not a development of the Forties; it dates well back into the Thirties. And if we were privileged to catechize the girls of Palmyra and vicinity, if we knew all that went on in the barns [p.100] and the bushes between 1815 and 1825, we might not be hasty in our conclusions as to when Joseph began to exhibit a vigorous sexuality. There is no way to check this against experience, against history, that is to say. But we have to apply to Joseph what common sense tells us about the generality of boys, youths, and young men, and always allow for possibility. The difference between Joseph and the average country boy sexually interested in girls might be that life took Joseph up and set him down in an environment not favorable to whore houses and casual mistresses, and an environment, moreover, profoundly colored by power on the one hand and theological rationalization on the other. And all these things we see going on at the same time—his hunger for power, his use of and sustenance of a church, his sexuality. You can find here no progression of paranoia, nothing more concrete than the evolution of a man’s interests and activities.
All this discussion has been essentially negative, in that it contends against your own integrated theory and does not attempt to tie Joseph up in a neat little package which may be set against your own. Indeed, perhaps Joseph cannot be tied up in any such package, perhaps in no lesser package than a comprehensive account of his life such as Fawn has attempted. It must be remarked that nothing I say here is particularly inharmonious with her large-scale account of Joseph; and most of what I say is said against the background of factfinding represented in her book. I think that Joseph’s personality can be explained more perfectly than Fawn has explained it, and that some enigmas that are left by her treatment can be cleared up by a thoughtful operation of the facts. But I think also that she has done the large pioneer work, that with some exceptions within the boundaries she has set up the truth about Joseph’s character can be worked out—insofar as any man can ever finally be known through the elliptical medium of a book.
Dale L. Morgan
P.S. Let me add one comment I neglected to make at the proper point above. I am inclined to agree that Joseph’s church would have exploded from internal strains had he lived much longer; too many forces too violent for adjustment in American mores were operating in it. The dynamism in Mormonism, at least, would have exploded out of it, and if Joseph had survived, it would have been as prophet to the wholly innocuous and wholly dedicated—if he were capable of accepting such a diminishment of prestige and function. But the internal strains were social in character. The Mormon church had grown too greatly in numbers and power for the pieces to be put back together again as they had been in Ohio and Missouri. There comes a time for any organism when it must survive as such or tear itself apart. Mormonism was approaching that stage in June, 1844. But [p.101] Joseph’s state of mind was almost an irrelevance. He was destroyed, finally, by his arrogance, by his handling of the [Nauvoo] Expositor affair. But it was an arrogance inherent in his career, and it cannot be shown to be pathological in terms of modern psychology. I might add that Joseph’s death may have been the salvation of the church in more ways than in settling upon it the seal of martyrdom. When all the angles are considered, the social shock of his death and the effect of this upon the psychological fabric of the church, may alone have made it possible for Brigham to evacuate Illinois on an organized basis. (And it is to be remarked that Brigham required a year to crystallize the possibility of evacuation; it is also to be remarked that it was his psychological astuteness in clinging to Nauvoo during that last year which, more than anything else, enabled Brigham to establish himself against his rivals—he held Nauvoo and Nauvoo was Joseph. Thereafter he could risk emigration out of Illinois, and he did so as rapidly as he could.)
18. To Fawn Brodie
22 December 1945
It would be nice, and I am sure it would prove something or other, if I felt industrious tonight, and like writing on books. But I don’t, and so what? I feel more like loafing, even on a typewriter.
For no particular reason I have been reflecting on a note you wrote me while on vacation some 18 months or more ago. You were discussing some reading you had been doing, [Wallace] Stegner’s Big Rock Candy Mountain, and Lilliam Smith’s Strange Fruit. The latter, you said, for its very spareness made more of an impression on you than the former. I had not read Strange Fruit then, but I did read it last winter. I was not overly impressed with it. It was too crafts-manlike. All the points were too neatly made; it was put together like a woman’s hairdress for some particular occasion, impressive at the moment but not the way people live on a 24-hour basis. I have wondered how the two novels stack up in your mind now. I was interested on a couple of occasions to have you mention Stegner’s novel, yet you have never referred to Strange Fruit since that time, in conversation with me. I have not felt any urge to go back to the latter novel, but Stegner’s book sticks in my mind; it stays with me, [p.102] and I keep thinking about its own peculiar triangle, the relations between father, mother, and son, and the dislocated life the father led and what came of it in the end. I think Stegner said something about human beings, and about their relationships with one another and the world, and about the West. I think his book has about as good a chance of lasting as any novel that has yet come out of the West. And I wonder, too, if Stegner has it in him to write another book compounded from such bitterness and love, because of course this was plainly his own story in its essentials, and a man’s explanation of his own being in the end is the most important story he is ever likely to be able to tell.
Well, the note on which this letter has opened is not particularly relevant to anything. Maybe I should show signs of intelligence and talk about things of more immediate interest.
I am glad that [Bernard] DeVoto wrote so warmly of your book [No Man Knows My History]. Indeed, I rejoice with you and for you for every success your book has. It is pleasant to see good things happen to one’s friends. Not that you need to be told that, of course. I have remembered it as somehow characteristic of you how your eyes lighted and your face filled with pleasure last spring when I finally got around to telling you that the Guggenheim thing had materialized. You didn’t have to say anything, though you did say the words; your expression bespoke your feelings before the words got there.
Anyhow, DeVoto’s review led me to take up a labor I had promised five years or so ago—I think it was in 1941 when he and I were carrying on some correspondence with respect to his Year of Decision, then in preparation. I told him in due course I should challenge his views on a basis of social background. He remarked that he had lately pronounced Joseph [Smith] a paranoid in some lecture of importance in Boston, and that no member of the congregation had even hissed, then went on to insist that a man was an individual before he became a member of society, and argued for psychology on this basis for a paragraph or so. I would not accept the idea, but was not prepared to argue, not at that moment. Well, that was five years ago, and when he reviewed your book Sunday, he stirred me from my lethargy and I tackled the subject. Not, obviously, in a formal essay for publication; just an organization of ideas that occurred to me in the course of writing a letter. You might be interested in my angle of view, so I enclose a carbon of this letter, asking that you return it at your convenience. Some of the points you mention in your note of the 18th, which appropriately enough was written on my birthday, I took up with D-V myself.
It is interesting to reflect upon the three major reviews of the biography, by DeVoto, [Vardis] Fisher, and myself. Each of us started with a theory about Joseph, and our reviews were conditioned by the theory. My theory, as it happens, coincides with yours in large measure, and the majority of my criticisms had already been argued out with you before publication. I think some of DeVoto’s ideas are not [p.103] so much legitimate criticism as a re-formulation of his article on Joseph in the Dict[ionary of]. Am[erican]. Biog[raphy]., plus ideas as expanded in Forays and Rebuttals. Almost all the points he made against you in the review, he had previously made in his own publications, so you had to deal with habit-patterns in his thinking as well as with the operating critic. Nevertheless, he said some extraordinarily fine and deserved things about your book, and you are fully entitled to glow a little inside in contemplating them.
I think the most important specific criticisms I would bring to bear against the biography are criticisms I made earlier. I don’t think the motivations involved in the founding of the church, as a development from the labor with the Book of Mormon, have been adequately explored; nor on the basis of his early life as you picture it is there quite adequate explanation of the religious content of the Book of Mormon, for one thing, and of the religion he founded, for another. On a more general basis, I think the book has a weakness in that it displays a tendency to over-simplification of event along the avenue of individual personality and character. Maybe that is only a criticism of you for writing a biography and not a complete history, but still I think it is legitimate. An especially notable example, to my mind, is the treatment of the final Missouri imbroglio in terms of [Sidney] Rigdon’s disintegrating personality. I felt this all along, as you may recall, and I think these chapters, as much as anything, centered Fisher’s and DeVoto’s criticism on novelizing events, and inadequate handling of Rigdon. I suspect that if you had been writing Rigdon’s biography instead of Joseph’s, you might have come up with a more rounded view of Rigdon. This was what I was getting at in my own review, when I talked about chiaroscuro of character. (For space reasons I had tossed out a brief comment on over-simplification along the lines of my remarks above.)
I am spending Christmas Day with the McConkeys, and I obtained a copy of your book to present to them. When opportunity offers, I shall ask you to sign it for them. I have seen your book around town in the various bookstores, but never in any quantity and never for long until Thursday, when I noticed a stack of no less than 18 copies at Brentano’s. I was in again yesterday, so had another look at the pile, which now consisted of 16. So people obviously are buying the book! It would be wonderful if it really started to sell-not after the fashion of a Forever Amber, but still selling.
Earlier in the week I had a Christmas card from Dick Scowcroft, who was leaving to spend the holidays in Utah. If he doesn’t get shot, maybe you can set foot in the state in the course of time. Watch your daily newspaper. Incidentally, a letter from Juanita which came in the same mail with yours yesterday discusses Scowcroft’s book, which she has just read. She enjoyed it very much and thinks he really can write; she thought Ester and Caroline were marvelously done. She goes on to say, “But somehow I couldn’t make Burton ring true. He should not have been a moron, exactly, I thought, and yet he acted like one from first to last—a spineless [p.104] nit-wit who would lie around three months without doing one earthly thing, nothing but eat his three meals and lie and try vacantly to think or try to decide whether or not he should smoke a cigarette. Perhaps instead of criticizing him, I’d rather just say that I’ve never seen a boy like him. If these are at all typical Mormons, we’re in a pretty low grade, aren’t we—from Albert and the Johnson girl up and down. I know mothers who are just as dramatic on the question of smoking, I know the church under Presidents [Heber J.] Grant and J. Reuben Clark has made the use of tobacco one of the major sins. I hope for a more tolerant regime from here on for a while—except of course, for Joseph Fielding [Smith] and a few of the other good stand-patters.”
Juanita fascinates me, anyhow. She is always half-expecting to get bounced by the church for her unorthodox thinking. Thus she teaches a Sunday school class such heretical doctrines as this: “It is not a matter of being just good, but good for something—negations never lead to positive righteousness. I would rather have a smoker and a drinker who is fundamentally and aggressively Christian than a man who boasts that he has never tasted either liquor or tobacco, and at the same time has never done anything worth while in his life. I get so tired of our ‘Thou Shalt Not’s: I’d like us to put our emphasis on some good, positive ‘Thou Shalt’s.'” She told me once that while she was studying at Columbia she saw a good deal of a girl from her own country who had got an education and become a social worker, and had gone in thoroughly for smoking and drinking. This friend thought Juanita ought to take up both and then go back to Dixie College and be a rebel. That would require and show courage, and might do some good. But Juanita’s philosophy was and still is, “When a cowboy wants to turn a herd of stampeding cattle, he doesn’t run directly counter to them. If he did, he’d be run over. He rides with them, and turns them gradually. So if I don’t like the stand of the church, I can do more about it by staying in.”
One of these days I am going to put Juanita into a book. Maybe even the Great Salt Lake book, though not referred to specifically by name, merely an example of the hard core of integrity and common sense that can be found in the Mormon way of life and the Mormon society if you are willing to look around a little.
In an earlier letter you mentioned Hamlin Cannon. About the first of November I ran into him in Archives one day, and he wanted to know if your book “was worth buying.” It would have done your heart good to see his eyes pop when I told him it was the best job of research ever done in Mormon history. He inquired as to its nature, then wanted to know if you had used his article in Miss[issippi]. Valley Hist[orical]. Rev[iew]. on the Palmyra [New York] newspapers and the Book of Mormon. I told him you had had all that long ago, and expressed my surprise that he hadn’t known that [Francis] Kirkham had already published that information. This was the first he had heard about it! Cannon is a very odd fellow. I half respect him and half dislike him. He is somehow rigid both in mind and [p.105] personality, but he has a consuming interest in history, not too well-balanced yet informed by the scientific spirit. His personality apart, I think he is handicapped chiefly by a lack of a sort of over-all shrewdness. Or maybe you could call it a fundamental lack of imagination.
I hope the [RLDS Saints’] Heralds have arrived by now and that you know all about the “Brodie ‘Atrocity'” This week’s issue leaves you in peace, and it may indeed be some time before Israel [Smith] ventures to overthrow your weak but vicious effort to overthrow the Kingdom. I sent for the two earlier Hearlds containing his first two articles on “The Origin of Mormon Polygamy,” and find that they contain nothing new, simply an exposition of a certain state of mind. He denies the Plural Marriage revelation, among other reasons, because no copy in Joseph’s hand can be adduced, hence it would not be admissible in a court of law! I wonder if he would submit the Doctrine & Covenants generally to that criterion. It is futile to argue with the zealots, of course. Man can find infinite reason for not changing his mind about something he: wants to believe. Double and triple meanings can be read into language, legalistic objections brought to bear—anything and everything so that one does not have to change his opinions about something. It was in the light of this viewpoint that I “reviewed” your book for the [LDS] Improvement Era a year or more ago in one of my notes to you.
It would be nice if Hayes could turn up his diary, but I suspect that what he heard about was your own manuscript. Any written memoir is a “diary” to the uninitiated. However, Hayes is a sufficiently experienced historian to be able to figure that out, too, and if he is going to make a search anyhow, more power to him.
I don’t go in much for Christmas cards any more, but I do try to write to my friends at Christmas and let them know they are remembered. So let me express to you and Bernard and Dickie, who will doubtless be forgetting me with great rapidity, my affection and respect, and my best wishes both for a happy holiday season and for a fruitful new year.