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.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Mormon Book Bits #33: Bruce R. McConkie, Sound Doctrine, Doctrines of Salvation (3 vols), Mormon Doctrine, and A New Witness for the Articles of Faith

Editor's note: This is # 33 in a series of posts by Dennis Horne about collectible books. The introduction is here.

            [I should note that the below accounts are cobbled together from several sources and therefore may read a little uneven and slightly repetitive; however, I think the material represents a fine review of what is known of Mormon Doctrine and others of Elder McConkie’s fine doctrinal works.]

At the commencement of his service as a new member of the First Council of the Seventy in 1946, Bruce McConkie visited with President J. Reuben Clark, a Counselor in the First Presidency—a conversation meant to orient and prepare the new General Authority for what lay ahead of him. Bruce recorded: “Pres. Clark called me in for an informal talk.  He . . . said he wanted to counsel me, in the language of Dr. James E. Talmage, against the ‘witchery of words.’  He also said that he knew I was a student of the gospel but wanted to tell me that there were two viewpoints on many points of doctrine which were held by good Latter-day Saints, and said not to try to force my views on anyone for that would only lead to hurt feelings and ill will. . . .  Pres. Clark also said that I would get sat on, but to take it in good stead, and wherein I was wrong to correct the errors, but that wherein I was right, not to worry about the rebuffs.” Not long after this interesting interview, Elder McConkie recorded further counsel given him and other General Authorities by the prophet: “[In a Council meeting of the First Presidency and the Twelve Apostles] Pres. [George Albert] Smith spoke for about 20 minutes on various subjects…. He said that when any man present wrote anything as doctrine that great care should be taken to be sure it was correct, and that if there was any doubt, it should be left unwritten.  People would think it was the voice of the Church when those present wrote, he said.” These settings of inspired counsel set the stage for the literary developments spread throughout Elder McConkie’s life; some that went well, some not as well.

Sound Doctrine

            The compilation of Doctrines of Salvation, and the encyclopedic Mormon Doctrine, were not really Bruce R. McConkie’s first literary efforts. He was actually involved with editing and abridging the Journal of Discourses into what was proposed to be a multi-volume set (probably 10). In asking one of Bruce’s brothers about whatever happened to this project, he said something to the effect that President J. Reuben Clark had halted it, with the idea being that they weren’t going to have a Seventy correcting the sermons of apostles and prophets. I don’t know how accurate that statement was by the time it got to me; people tend to summarize and reword when telling old stories.

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]

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Mormon Book Bits #31: Orson F. Whitney, Elias: An Epic of the Ages

Editor's note: This is # 31 in a series of posts by Dennis Horne about collectible books. The introduction is here.

The below information about this now largely forgotten book of “epic” and doctrinal poetry is taken from a chapter of my biography, Life of Orson F. Whitney: Bishop, Poet, Apostle:
            The death of his Zina, with its accompanying intense grief and heartache, and the foiled attempt to obtain a plural wife, sent Orson into deep depression, serious enough for him to wish he were dead. He explained:

            This poem [Elias] was begun in the spring of 1900, not long after the death of my wife Zina, and while I was prostrate upon a bed of pain [grief]. The inspiration was timely. I needed something of the kind to occupy my thoughts and dispel my gloomy feelings. While pondering upon the situation, and wondering whether my life’s work was drawing to a close, I heard or seemed to hear a Voice—inaudible to the outward ear, yet plain to the inward understanding—the same Voice that had spoken to me on former occasions in hours of distress or deep anxiety. It now said:

            “Do you really wish to go?”

            “No,” I replied; “I must not go until I have finished my work.”

Monday, September 12, 2016

Mormon Book Bits #30: B. H. Roberts, Succession in the Presidency

Editor's note: This is # 30 in a series of posts by Dennis Horne about collectible books. The introduction is here.

“On his manuscript Priesthood and the Right of Succession, which was later published as Succession in the Presidency, Roberts closely collaborated with President Wilford Woodruff. … When the parliament and its accompanying pressures ended, Roberts resumed his heavy writing schedule. The volume Succession in the Presidency was published. John M. Whitaker had taken Roberts's dictation on this and other projects in the early part of 1892. He comments: ‘He [Roberts] is making plans for another great historical effort that will be of intense interest to the coming generation. He is a great, painstaking, student and one of the most accurate I have met with in all my days.’

“President Woodruff gave Roberts's book on priesthood succession an open endorsement when, after a public lecture in which the book was summarized, he arose and said: ‘He [Roberts] has given us an excellent discourse, and has told us the truth….’” (Truman G. Madsen, Defender of the Faith, 205-06)

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Mormon Book Bits #29: John Taylor, Mediation and Atonement

Editor's note: This is # 29 in a series of posts by Dennis Horne about collectible books. The introduction is here.

            “President Taylor and his literary-minded secretary [George Reynolds] launched into a related but more ambitious project, that of tracking the scriptural passages on the atonement of Jesus Christ and the law of sacrifice in the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. Most of the resulting book Mediation and Atonement, which saw many reprintings, is a compilation of scriptural passages, although there is important commentary as well. This was the first attempt by a Church president to write a theological treatise of any length or depth. Significantly, President Taylor and George Reynolds drew on the ‘Inspired Translation’ of the Bible, a product of Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon. This work, although Joseph Smith had intended to publish it, was not in print until 1867, when it was published by Joseph Smith III and the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Brigham Young had not trusted this publication and refused to countenance anyone’s using it. But John Taylor was of a different mind and cited it frequently in his new book. Some of the commentary in Mediation and Atonement also bears the marks of George Reynolds’s unique literary style, thus suggesting an actual coauthorship or a ghost writing.”  As to how the actual writing President Taylor did with George Reynolds took place, “President Taylor dictated and George Reynolds drafted the copy” (Van Orden, Prisoner for Conscience Sake: The Life of George Reynolds, 120-21).

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Mormon Book Bits #28: James E. Talmage, The House of the Lord

Editor's note: This is # 28 in a series of posts by Dennis Horne about collectible books. The introduction is here.

            The first edition of The House of the Lord is considered a very collectible book for several reasons. It falls under the subject of temple literature, a perennially popular category. Secondly, there is a fascinating story behind the reason for its existence. Furthermore, the first edition contained a photograph, accompanied by an explanation of its use, of the most sacred room in the temple, the Holy of Holies. This photograph appeared in the 1912 first edition, but was omitted from later printings. This fact has made the first edition especially appealing to collectors. The later paperback editions have little monetary value and are easily obtained.

The Holy of Holies room photograph, as well as a close-up of the stained-glass depiction of the first vision found in the room, has since appeared in other works such as The Salt Lake Temple: A Monument to a People, which used the original glass plates of the photographs taken by Ralph Savage to reproduce large, sharp, black & white pictures of the temple, some of which were not included in The House of the Lord. Just a few years ago, the First Presidency gave church employees a leather-bound edition of The House of the Lord as a Christmas present (a different title is given every year as something of a bonus); the beautiful new edition contained the rare picture.

            The book was written as a means of diffusing a blackmail plot against the Church. Since the story of the scheme is recounted in great detail elsewhere, it is only briefly reviewed here. It involved unscrupulous people gaining entrance to the Salt Lake Temple to obtain pictures of its interior. Then an agent was used to try to blackmail the Church by threatening to sell the photographs to movie houses and publishers.

President Anthon H. Lund of the First Presidency wrote particulars in his journal that convey the perspective of Church leadership: “We have discovered a plot to have someone go inside the Temple and photograph its rooms to be used in moving pictures. (August 8, 1911)

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Mormon Book Bits #27: B. H. Roberts, New Witnesses for God

Editor's note: This is # 27 in a series of posts by Dennis Horne about collectible books. The introduction is here.

“From his days in the mission office in Liverpool, Roberts had the idea of writing a three-volume series on Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon, treating them separately yet inseparable as witnesses for God. Now he began systematic organization of the material. His aide and assistant was once again John Whitaker:

‘During this time he often digresses and discusses many important doctrinal matters of great interest, and many secrets of his busy life. And it is interesting and inspiring to see his determination to leave a witness of the truth in so many ways. He told me of his trials and how hard it is sometimes to make adjustments. But he is leaving a witness in his carefully documented historical writings and on doctrines that will keep his name fresh in the minds of Latter-day Saints for generations to come. He is very painstaking, exact and accurate and states facts as they are, without coloring or favoring this or that point. He says history must be accurate or it is of little value.’

“In July 1894, Whitaker recorded further work on the New Witness series and added, ‘He is doing wonderful work in writing on Church history and many other subjects, and he keeps busy all the time in the work of the Seventy.’