Friday, September 16, 2016

Mormon Book Bits #32: Orson F. Whitney, The Life of Heber C. Kimball

Editor's note: This is # 32 in a series of posts by Dennis Horne about collectible books. The introduction is here.

          The below are entries in Orson F. Whitney’s diary related to his work on this seminal volume of Mormon biography, mentions from his mother Helen Mar Kimball Whitney’s diary, or mentions of information from those diaries by me. They are mostly self-explanatory but have a little commentary also; they are taken from my Life of Orson F. Whitney: Bishop, Poet, Apostle, published in 2014 by Cedar Fort Inc., and dates are in the notes:

“Last month . . . commenced ‘Life of Heber C. Kimball’ for which I am to get $1000 from the Kimball boys [children of Heber].”[1] Shortly thereafter, he “Received of Sol. F. Kimball $250, first payment on Life of H. C. Kimball.”[2] In a letter to President Joseph F. Smith he wrote: “I am now writing the Life of Heber C. Kimball. The family hold a reunion on his 86th anniversary June 14—at Fullers Hill. . . . I will write a sketch for the reunion, simply, and finish the history afterwards.”[3] To do the work, he borrowed some items from his mother, Heber’s daughter: “Orson called at evening to get some of the items from my writings in the [Women’s] Exponent; took home one book and some of father’s small journals.”[4]

By June Orson had prepared his sketch far enough on the life of Heber C. Kimball to read an outline of it at the Kimball family reunion.[5]

Ort also received another payment for his work writing the biography of Heber C. Kimball for the Kimball family.[6]

Regarding her death, he wrote: “Aunt Eliza R. Snow Smith died at 5 minutes past 1 am in the Lion House, this City. I was in to see her a few days ago and blessed her at her request, and the power of the Spirit was upon me. . . . Sister Eliza was a great and noble spirit, a poet and a prophetess. She predicted to me several months ago that my History of H. C. Kimball would be a standard work of the Church, and a blessing to the Saints and his posterity” (OFWJ, December 5, 1887; see also December 7, 1887). Whitney’s biography of Heber would indeed become a standard work of the Church for some years, until around 1900 when the term “standard works” was redefined to refer only to the Mormon cannon of scripture.

During spare moments, Orson was able to continue working on Heber C. Kimball’s life story: “Orson had father’s history uppermost in his mind,” Helen Mar wrote, “and searched through some of the bound [Woman’s] Exponent’s for my historical sketches, taken from my father’s journal.”[7] The work was progressing well.[8]

That same day, Orson wrote of finishing his first lengthy historical project: “I also celebrate today the completion of my book—Life of Heber C. Kimball—my first literary work issued in book form, upon which I have been engaged for about one year. I have received for it $1000 from the Kimball family. This has been no adequate payment, but I agreed to do it for that and have kept my word. It has been a labor of love, not of money, and I dedicate it to His memory of my noble grand-father and the great Cause of Truth for which he lived and died.”[9] The book became a classic, then and today. Ort felt pride in its reception, and noted special compliments: “My uncle, Solomon F. Kimball, tells me that Pres. Joseph F. Smith told his brother Andrew Kimball, that whenever he had the ‘blues’ or felt dejected, he picked up the Life of Heber C. Kimball and read in it; he said it always gave him a good spirit. This is one of the highest compliments my book has had.”[10] Also, “My friend George C. Parkinson from Franklin, Idaho, is in town. He told me that during a recent visit to his stake of Apostles John H[enry]. Smith and H[eber]. J. Grant; these brethren, speaking of the respective merits of the Life of Joseph the Prophet and Life of Heber C. Kimball, said they would lay down the former (George Q.’s book) any time, to take up the other. [Text removed] told George C. [text removed] been brought into prominence, not particularly on his merits, that Ort Whitney had got there on his own merits. I thought this was very generous of Bro. Grant.”[11]

Some fifty-five years later, when Andrew Kimball’s son, Spencer W. Kimball, became a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, he was also elected president of the Kimball family organization. As part of that responsibility, Elder Kimball’s biographers stated: “he set about reissuing the long out-of-print Life of Heber C. Kimball, which had been out of print for some years, hoping with this book ‘to bring the immense Kimball family together . . . that they will lean to the Lord and his work as they follow grandfather.’ Although the many miracles, prophecies, and visions in the Life were thought by some to be too loosely documented and by others too sacred for general publication, Spencer decided that, except for a handful of changes, it was ‘wise to leave the new [edition of the] book in the masterful form given it’ by his cousin Orson F. Whitney in 1888.”[12]

On November 10, Orson Whitney was proud to see the first copies of his book Life of Heber C. Kimball come from the bindery.[13]

[1] OFWJ, April 6, 1887.
[2] OFWJ, April 20, 1887.
[3] Correspondence, Orson F. Whitney to Joseph F. Smith, May 18, 1887. Church History Library.
[4] HMWJ, March 24, 1887. Helen’s diary also indicates that the Kimball family sold part of a graveyard they owned in order to help pay for Orson’s work writing Life of Heber C. Kimball (see HMWJ, April 9, 1887).
[5] See OFWJ, June 14, 1887.
[6] “Received from S. F. Kimball $50 on acct History H. C. K. making $300 in all, so far paid to me. Receipted for $300 to S. F. K. as agent of Kimball family, and he to return my receipt for $250 issued to him as a private individual” (August 6, 1887). Later in September Ort wrote: “I have received in all from the Kimball family Committee for writing the history of H. C. K. $950. They still owe me $50” (OFWJ, September 27, 1887).
[7] HMWJ, April 18, 1888.
[8] Helen Mar also wrote of the history: “My Father died 20 years ago tomorrow. His history, which Orson is writing, will be finished in a few days” (HMWJ, June 21, 1888).
[9] OFWJ, July 1, 1888.
[10] OFWJ, May 22, 1889.
[11] OFWJ, June 3, 1889.
[12] As quoted in Spencer W. Kimball, 223. Eighty years later, a great-great-grandson of Heber’s, Stanley B. Kimball, wrote the biography Heber C. Kimball: Mormon Patriarch and Pioneer (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1981). More academically oriented and wary of the spiritual, one wonders what Ort would have thought of it.
[13] See OFWJ, November 10, 1888.

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