Thursday, October 20, 2016

Mormon Book Bits #40: Bryant S. Hinckley, Daniel Hammer Wells and Events of His Time

Editor's note: This is # 40 in a series of posts by Dennis Horne about collectible books. The introduction is here.

            In his autobiography, the main author wrote:

“At that period [1939-42] I did considerable correspondence for the President [Heber J. Grant], and wrote a small book for the Beneficial Life Insurance Company, the title of which was, “Heber J. Grant, a Businessman.”

            “Then he had me write the life of Daniel Hammer Wells, explaining that Annie Cannon Wells, an experienced writer and author, would assist me. His brother-in-law, Genton Wells, had worked for a year in the Library gathering information for that book. All of this was turned over to me, and it took me about a year to write the book, working at it whenever time permitted. Mrs. Cannon died before doing much on it.

            “President Grant paid me $100.00 per month additional while working on it. My wife, May, was a great help in putting it together. She worked very hard at it. That first book was a big job. There was an edition of 3,000 copies which cost the President about $3,000.00. He died soon after it came off the press or he would have gotten all his money back and then some.” (Bryant S. Hinckley, The Autobiography of Bryant S. Hinckley, [unpublished], 44.)

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Mormon Book Bits #39: George Q. Cannon, The Life of Joseph Smith the Prophet

Editor's note: This is # 39 in a series of posts by Dennis Horne about collectible books. The introduction is here.

The authorship of The Life of Joseph Smith the Prophet has been the object of some debate. While the book bears only the name of George Q. Cannon, historical sources inform us that it was actually a collaborative effort within the Cannon family. The reason for dispute is that some historians have named Frank J. Cannon, a son of President Cannon, as the principal or “real” author. This is provocative because silvery tongued Frank Cannon often did not live the standards of the Church, bringing public shame to his highly prominent father, and after his (George’s) death, became a bitterly apostate anti-Mormon who travelled the United States giving lectures seeking to harm the Church as much as possible.

The journals of Cannon family members reveal that Frank wrote a rough first draft, but that it was extensively added to and revised by President Cannon and his sons Abraham H. and John Q. For example, one entry from President Cannon’s journal reads; “Friday, September 1, 1888. I worked very hard at the message of my ‘Life of Joseph.’” Other journal entries from President Cannon speak of his work on various chapters. A journal entry from Abraham Cannon reads: “I got his [G. Q. Cannon’s] consent to get John Q. to revise the ms. of ‘Joseph the Prophet’ which Frank prepared, after which Father and Joseph F. Smith will review it and we can then print the same.” President George Q. Cannon had final approval of the finished product. Each of these Cannon family members were literary men, often earning their living as editors and publishers of newspapers and books. A parallel might be drawn with today’s college professor, who produces a book with his own name as sole author, when in reality one or more assistants have substantially contributed to the research and writing. Obviously, as a practical matter, President Cannon’s name would help the book sell better than his less prominent children. President Cannon’s biographer, Davis Bitton, wrote, “Of course George Q. Cannon had the final right of approval and was responsible for the final product” (Davis Bitton, George Q. Cannon: A Biography, 296 and 511 n.140.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Mormon Book Bits #38: John A. Widtsoe

Editor's note: This is # 38 in a series of posts by Dennis Horne about collectible books. The introduction is here.

John A. & Leah D. Widtsoe, The Word of Wisdom:

            From Elder Widtsoe’s autobiography:

While on my long European mission assignment in 1927-33 it became very evident that there was too much illness among the people and that poor nutritional practice was partly responsible for much of it. …

            As the years increased we tried to find some competent and willing person to show how the general principles of the Word of Wisdom corresponded with those of the modern experimentally established science of nutrition. Several doctors (M.D.) desired to help, but found no time. Finally, an assignment to do some work at the University of Southern California gave me the opportunity. My wife joined in. I took the negative teachings of the Word of Wisdom, she took the positive aspects. The book was written as our crowded lives permitted. Then, unknown to us, before publication, the manuscript was recommended, after presentation to the First Presidency, (Heber J. Grant, President) and accepted by the Presidency and Twelve, as a year’s text for study by the priesthood quorums of the Church in 1939. This gave wide publicity to the cause of the word of Wisdom and gave its modern interpretation acceptance by the Authorities of the Church. This not only helped to establish the positive parts of the Word of Wisdom in the minds of people, but also furnished a guide in answer to the many food cults unsupported by scientific evidence. It is just as important to understand and practice the truths taught in the positive as well as the negative aspects of this law.

            When the book was being used in the priesthood quorums, an elderly man, a stalwart in the Church, a high priest, stopped me on the street to announce that woman’s work was not fit for priesthood study. After he was exhausted, I asked if he had read the revelation on the Word of Wisdom recently. ‘O, yes.’ Had he noticed that it was first given ‘to a council of high priests’? The conversation ended abruptly.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Mormon Book Bits #37: Hugh W. Nibley, The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri, an Egyptian Endowment & One Eternal Round

Editor's note: This is # 37 in a series of posts by Dennis Horne about collectible books. The introduction is here.

This seems to be an ideal opportunity to mention a recently published correction to a quotation from Hugh Nibley found in his intellectually staggering work, The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri, an Egyptian Endowment, first edition. The Prophet Joseph Smith is here (incorrectly) credited with “furnish[ing] a clear and specific description.… ‘The record of Abraham and Joseph, found with the mummies, is (1) beautifully written on papyrus, with black, and (2) a small part red, ink or paint, (3) in perfect preservation.’” It has since been found that Oliver Cowdery provided that description, not Joseph Smith. For a discussion of this correction, see Hugh Nibley, The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri, an Egyptian Endowment, second edition, edited by John Gee and Michael D. Rhodes (Salt Lake City & Provo, Utah: Deseret Book & FARMS, 2005), xxi-xxii, 2n.5.
Furthermore, of great importance is this statement: according to the editors of the second edition, “There is no reason to assume that the papyrus Joseph Smith I + X is the source of the Book of Abraham.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has had no official position on the issue, and most members do not believe that it is. The Egyptologists are adamant that it is not, and so everyone seems to be in agreement on that issue.” I mention this because I have noticed some anti-Mormons ignorantly stating otherwise—even publishing translations of the papyri that do still exist—all in an effort to discredit Joseph Smith. The Church today simply does not possess the original papyri text of the Book of Abraham that Joseph Smith used to make his translation now found in the Pearl of Great Price. Those papyri went up in ashes in the great Chicago fire and no amount of clamor and false charges by enemies of the Church can change that fact.

Hugh Nibley:

Monday, October 3, 2016

Mormon Book Bits #36: Merlo J. Pusey, Builders of the Kingdom: George A. Smith, John Henry Smith, George Albert Smith

Editor's note: This is # 36 in a series of posts by Dennis Horne about collectible books. The introduction is here.

            “In 1958 Mr. Pusey was considering requests that he write the biographies of several distinguished jurists when the children of George Albert Smith asked him to write this story. He responded to the request because he had warm memories of George Albert Smith from his days as a Deseret News reporter when he covered the LDS Church Office Building in the early 1920s. He found the journals of George Albert Smith and those of his father and grandfather to be both informative and delightful—full of trials and difficulties as well as joys and triumphs.” (Foreword, Leonard Arrington)

            “I began working on the story in the late 1950s at the request of George Albert Smith’s two daughters, Emily Smith Stewart and Edith Smith Elliott, and his only son, George Albert Smith, Jr., then a professor at the Harvard University School of Business Administration. They made available to me the journals of all three of their distinguished progenitors and a vast array of letters, memoranda, and other data in George Albert’s personal papers. To supplement this information, I read widely in church history and interviewed an enormous number of church and civic leaders, friends of the family, and others who had had an impact on George Albert’s career. By this means I was able to obtain extensive information in the early 1960s that would not be available today [ca.1980]. Most of the original manuscript was written in those years, but publication was delayed in deference to objections from one member of the family to my treatment of some episodes with what I deemed to be proper objectivity. I have tried to tell the story as I found it, with lights and shadows, problems as well as achievements, and with candid reporting of controversy where it has existed. Recently the manuscript has been extensively revised in the light of historical research that was not available in the early sixties.” (Preface, Merlo J. Pusey)

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Mormon Book Bits #35: Dennis B. Horne, Bruce R. McConkie: Highlights from His Life and Teachings, 1st and 2nd enlarged edition (2000 and 2010)

Editor's note: This is # 35 in a series of posts by Dennis Horne about collectible books. The introduction is here.

            I have never shared this experience in anywhere near this detail in public before. I have little doubt some unscrupulous parties could twist and distort what I write into something other than what occurred; I hope such does not happen. Some names have been withheld or a title/position used instead for obvious reasons. No offense is meant and no ill will is held toward anyone involved. In fact, pretty much everyone involved were/are very fine people and valiant disciples of Christ, each in his/her own way trying to deal with a complex situation. Enough time has passed and enough of the principal participants have passed away that I have decided to share this information with interested lovers of Mormon books/biographies. I can only tell my side of the story; I am sure if certain other parties were to tell what they observed or thought, a different perspective would emerge. I have withheld some few details that I felt still too sensitive. Some of the below is from an outline I wrote years ago, some is from documentation I preserved, and some is from memory. I apologize for any inaccuracies.

Sometime around 1990, give or take, I was in company with Brit McConkie, one of Elder McConkie’s brothers, and took the opportunity to ask him if a biography would ever be written about his apostle brother by a McConkie family member. His answer was “probably not.” This was disappointing because I had become enthralled by Bruce’s doctrinal teachings while on my mission and even more so in the years following. I felt a deep affinity for his writings and teachings and received joy and edification studying his works and listening to his talks. I had also developed a love for Mormon biography, especially that of prophets and apostles. (For me, the greatest episodes in all Mormon history are when men and women commune with Heaven, and many such instances are spread throughout good Mormon biography.)

            As time passed I realized that I enjoyed not only reading works of doctrine and history, but also researching, collecting materials and books, and even writing. Eventually the idea came that I might venture to write something myself. In discussing the notion with others more experienced, I learned how hard it was to break into legitimate (non-self-publishing) print. (Self-publishing is far more common and acceptable today than it was twenty-five years ago.) That led to some strategizing and then the realization that I needed what I termed to be an “angle”—meaning a solid subject a publisher would find irresistible and that would virtually compel them to accept the manuscript. (Publishers are money-making businesses that view manuscripts like bankers do loans—will it make them a profit or not?; most won’t and are therefore rejected.)

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Mormon Book Bits #34: Joseph Fielding McConkie, The Bruce R. McConkie Story: Reflections of a Son (2003)

Editor's note: This is # 34 in a series of posts by Dennis Horne about collectible books. The introduction is here.

This book was the second biography of Elder McConkie to be released within a three year period after nothing for fifteen years. I am told that Elder McConkie had asked his family not to write one; he felt the message of supreme importance, not the messenger. However, as time would tell, this desire proved unrealistic. The life of the messenger, or Witness, was simply too compelling.

Elder McConkie’s story begged to be told, with the first major attempt being my Bruce R. McConkie: Highlights from His Life & Teachings which appeared in 2000 and again in 2010. This work concentrated more on the public ministry and contributions of that great apostle, while Joseph’s aimed more at telling the family perspective, usually phrasing Elder McConkie’s deeds or teachings in a manner to draw a lesson—sort of a teaching biography (Elder Boyd K. Packer’s biography used a similar formula). Joseph stated his reasoning thusly: “This volume finds justification in the thought that to know something about the life of an Enoch, an Elijah, or one of their modern-day counterparts might be of help to some in obtaining the faith common to such great witnesses of Christ. A life well lived is a story worth telling.”

Joseph’s book had the advantage of drawing on family records and other materials that were not made available to me—thereby providing a fuller portrait. For whatever reason, Joseph’s book did not acknowledge the existence of my earlier work. And perhaps its greatest weakness is that the author imposed so much of his own personality and feelings upon the narrative that sometimes it becomes difficult to tell which thoughts and conclusions are the subject’s and which are the author’s. (Boyd Peterson’s biography of Hugh Nibley had the same weakness, the son-in-law occasionally imposing his own thoughts and beliefs into the text as he wrote, thereby causing readers to mistake them as the subject’s.) Nevertheless, The Bruce R. McConkie Story is a very fine, highly-commendable production that I for one appreciated and was pleased to read more than once.