New Release: History of the Church, vol. 1

Our multi-format free e-book of History of the Church, vol. 1 by Joseph Smith (ed. B. H. Roberts) is now available on Project Gutenberg thanks to the work of intern Jared Ure and research assistant Mariah Averett. It takes the history of the Church up to 1834 and includes the original 1902 edition page numbers, footnotes, and index.

A discussion of why we’re producing the History of the Church may be in order. The entire History of the Church is available as a paid Kindle e-book or for free as a webpage or .pdf, and the Joseph Smith Papers are reproducing much of the same material. The Joseph Smith Papers are available for free online (in a format that I find isn’t friendly to through-reading, but is fine for looking up one-off documents) and are superior as a scholarly source, but for whatever reason their e-books are absurdly expensive on Kindle (up to $40/volume, last I checked) and many volumes don’t appear to be available in e-book formats.

So why invest a substantial amount of time in producing our own version? Because best I can tell, this is the first time this material has ever been released for free in Kindle and epub formats. I think there are plenty of readers in the Church who would like to give the History of the Church a try, but don’t want to have to sit at a computer or pay to do so. Now they can.

This fits with our broader philosophy: we want to make it as easy as possible to read Church literature and thus increase the total amount of Church lit that actually gets read. Taking obscure works from unavailable (e.g. hard copies exist in one archive) to free improves availability. Taking well-known books from free+inconvenient (e.g. pdf scans) and/or cheap+convenient (e.g. dubious-quality $0.99 Amazon editions) to free+convenient also improves availability. The obscure work wins “most improved” and goes from having one reader/year to five readers/year. The well-known book goes from having 100 readers/year who are willing to deal with the .pdf or risk their dollar on an e-book to 500 readers/year who are willing to download our free e-book. Both projects are good, and we do work on some more obscure books. However, given our goal to increase the total amount of Church lit reading that goes on in the world, we’ll typically work on better-known books, hence the History of the Church. Anyways, look out for volume 2 in the next month or so.

Largest release ever: five new e-books

It was a productive summer, and my pace of writing official release posts for books has fallen behind volunteers’ pace of production. To catch up in one fell swoop, the following are now available on Project Gutenberg:

Rays of Living Light by Elder Charles W. Penrose is a collection of twelve pamphlets on basic doctrines of the gospel.

The Strength of the “Mormon” Position by Elder Orson F. Whitney is a 48-page pamphlet published by the missions of the Church in 1917.

Lydia Knight’s History by Susa Young Gates has a pretty self-explanatory title.

Gems for the Young Folksthe fourth book of the Faith-Promoting Series, is an anthology of missionary anecdotes and similar material.

Early Scenes in Church History, the eighth book of the Faith-Promoting Series, is a similar anthology.

I’d give more detail, but frankly I haven’t been able to read any of these yet. (Hazards of the pace we hit this summer.) Maybe in the future. Anyways, happy reading!

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New Release: “Gospel Philosophy,” on science vs. the gospel in 1884

“Gospel Philosphy, Showing the Absurdities of Infidelity, and the Harmony of the Gospel with Science and History” by J. H. Ward is now available on Project Gutenberg, including its original illustrations, thanks to the work of Samuel Shreeve, our Utah State University summer intern.  It’s a fascinating treatment of the conflict (or lack thereof) between science and religion, treating both the history of said conflict and its current state as of 1884. (Samuel is a physicist and I’m a mechanical engineer, so we both have some natural interest in this.)

The history is enlightening, the 19th century science is amusing, and the book as a whole shows the need for scientific humility and the ineffectiveness of contrasting science and religion. Ward teaches the need to recognize the uncertainties of science (which have changed surprisingly little):

It is worthy of notice that the uncertainties of science increase just in proportion to our interest in it. About what does not concern us, it is very positive; but very uncertain about our dearest interests. The astronomer may calculate with considerable certainty the movements of distant planets with which we have no intercourse; but he cannot predict the heat or cold, clouds or sunshine, and other phenomena continually occurring on our earth. The forces of heat may be measured, to some extent, but what physician can measure the strength of the malignant fever that is destroying the life of his patient. The chemist can thoroughly analyze any foreign substance, but the disease of his own body, which is bringing him to the grave, he can neither weigh, measure nor remove. Science is very positive about distant stars and remote ages, but stammers and hesitates about the very lives of its professors.

 

He also (partly by accident) shows the danger of taking scientific claims too seriously, regardless of their avowed certainty or supposed applicability to religion. In this, the book may be more illustrative now than when it was written. Now, we view the 19th century as scientifically backward; at the time (not unlike at present) everyone was quite impressed with the recent progress of science. For example, science had achieved a new understanding of the sun:

The latest discoveries in science tend rather to demonstrate that the sun’s light is but very faintly visible on his globe; and that there is no such thing as solar heat. What is popularly called so is only the heat caused by the friction of the waves of light passing through the atmosphere, or striking against the earth. “We approach the question of the sun’s inhabitability,” says Sir David Brewster, “with the certain knowledge that the sun is not a red hot globe, but that its nucleus is a solid, opaque mass, receiving very little light from its luminous atmosphere.”

Does this support the Bible or not? Either way, for all its avowed certainty, it’s since been proven horribly wrong. Will today’s science look any better in another 130 years? We’ve certainly learned a lot, but we’re still struggling with basic questions about the Creation–for example, it was discovered only in 1998 that the expansion of the universe is accelerating, and we don’t understand why. Science is useful, valuable, enlightening, and entertaining, but regardless of which side you think you’re on, it isn’t a good sparring partner for religion–now, both sides of the 1884 debates too often look ridiculous.

This book’s value as an old perspective on a big contemporary issue is the main reason I read and would recommend it, but as a bonus, it also touches on dinosaurs (complete with engravings!), evolution, the age of the earth, prophecy, and more. At least flip through the online HTML version just for the engravings’ sake.

Extract: Wintering on the Plains after the Handcart Company Rescues

Many have heard of the rescue of the Willie and Martin companies; few have heard the story of the rescuers who stayed behind on the plains all winter as guards and ended up (acquitted) in a Church trial for their actions. The following is an extract from Forty Years Among the Indians by Daniel W. Jones (recently released as a free e-book on Project Gutenberg), which tells the story in full. Jones heard and answered Brigham Young’s call to rescue the companies stranded on the plains, which included both handcarts and wagons carrying a substantial volume of valuable goods. After meeting the companies the following took place.

Steve Taylor, Al. Huntington and I were together when the question, “Why doesn’t Captain Grant leave all the goods here with some one to watch them, and move on?” was asked. We agreed to make this proposal to him. It was near the time appointed for the meeting. As soon as we were together, Capt. Grant asked if anyone had thought of a plan. We presented ours. Capt. Grant replied, “I have thought of this, but there are no provisions to leave and it would be asking too much of anyone to stay here and starve for the sake of these goods; besides, where is there a man who would stay if called upon.” I answered, “Any of us would.” I had no idea I would be selected, as it was acknowledged I was the best cook in camp and Capt. Grant had often spoken as though he could not spare me.

That a proper understanding may be had, I will say that these goods were the luggage of a season’s emigration that these two wagon trains had contracted to freight, and it was being taken through as well as the luggage of the people present. Leading these goods meant to abandon all that many poor families had upon earth. So it was different from common merchandise.

There was a move made at once to adopt this suggestion. Accordingly, next morning store rooms in the fort were cleared and some two hundred wagons run in and unloaded. No one was allowed to keep out anything but a change of clothing, some bedding and light cooking utensils. Hauling provisions was not a weighty question.

This unloading occupied three days. The handcart people were notified to abandon most of their carts. Teams were hitched up and the sick and feeble loaded in with such light weight as was allowed. All became common property.

When everything was ready Brother Burton said to me, “Now Brother Jones we want you to pick two men from the valley to stay with you. We have notified Captains Hunt and Horgett to detail seventeen men from their companies to stay with you. We will move on in the morning. Get your company together and such provisions as you can find in the hands of those who may have anything to spare. You know ours is about out. Will you do it?” I said, “Yes.” “Well take your choice from our company. You are acquainted with the boys and whoever you want will stay.” I had a great mind to tell him I wanted Captains Grant and Burton.

[Several chapters discuss the long, hard winter spent guarding the goods. After returning to Utah with the goods, Jones was accused of having stolen a portion of them. Brigham Young called a Church trial to settle the matter.]

 

On arriving at President Young’s office August 25th, 1857, I found quite a number present. I was asked if I was ready for the hearing. I replied that I did not see my witnesses. President Young answered: “When we need them we will send for them.” I was then called upon to give my report and show how we had lived, what the cost of living was, etc. I had an account of all our expenditures, which amounted to about 75 cts. a week for each man. Some one remarked that we could not live so cheaply. Then began quite a discussion over our cheap living. Some were inclined to question my statement. Brother Young said to me, “Brother Jones, get up and tell the brethren just how you lived, and explain to them why your accounts only amount to 75 cts. a week.”

I then made the statement that we had killed and eaten forty head of cattle that were so poor they were dying; we had lived on the meat and hides some two months; that we had not credited the owners anything for them, as we thought it was worth the cattle to eat them. That we had killed some game at various times. That was ours, no credit allowed; had lived two weeks on thistles dug from the frozen ground, no credit; one week on native garlic; three days on minnows caught with a dip-net, fish too small to clean, rather bitter in taste, no credit; several meals on prickly pear leaves roasted, no credit; several days without anything much but water to drink, no credit; some five months mostly on short rations without bread or salt. These were about all the reasons for the price being so low. The seventy-five cents per week covered all the meats bought of Indians or anyone else. All groceries, soap, candles, in fact everything used belonging to the companies, including some leather owned by F. D. Richards, who remarked to me that he was glad it was there for us to use. Brothers Jas. Ferguson and W. C. Dunbar also made the same remark about some groceries used of theirs. Not so with some others. They grieved very much over what stuff had been used of theirs.

After I got through making my statements. Brother Young asked each of my accusers what they had to say. No one answered. Then he spoke each man’s name, asking them one at a time if they believed what I had said. All replied in the affirmative. He asked each one if they believed I had been honest, and taken good care of their goods. All answered “Yes.”

Brother Young then stood up and said to the brethren, “You have accused Bro. Jones of stealing from you and others whom you represent, some five thousand dollars worth of goods. These accusations commenced in the winter when Brother Jones and companions were eating raw hide and poor meat, suffering every privation possible to take care of your stuff. How such stories started when there was no communication can only be accounted for by the known power of Satan to deceive and lie. These accusations continued until I, hearing of them, wrote a letter to the Bishops and Presidents, expressing my confidence in Brother Jones’ labors; knowing at that time, as well as I do now, that he was innocent. I knew what Brother Jones’ feelings were the other day when I notified him of this trial.” Turning to me he said, “You wanted to ask me if I thought you guilty, but I gave you no chance to ask the question. I wanted you to learn that when I decide anything, as I had in your case, I do not change my mind. You were not brought here for trial for being guilty, but to give you a chance to stop these accusations.” Then turning to my accusers again, “How does this look? After charging Brother Jones as you have, he makes a simple statement, affirming nothing, neither witnessing anything, and each of you say you believe he has told the truth. You have nothing to answer save that he is an honest man. Well, now, what have you brought him here for?”

One of the complainers then asked if some of the company with me might not have stolen the goods. I answered “No; I am here to answer for all. Besides it would have been almost impossible for anyone besides myself to have taken anything unbeknown to others.”

Bro. —— asked, “If neither Bro. Jones nor the brethren with him have taken anything, how is it that I have lost so much?”

Brother Brigham replied, “It is because you lie. You have not lost as you say you have.” This I knew to be correct as before stated, I had this brother’s keys and knew that nothing had been taken.

Brother Brigham continued talking, chastising some of the Elders present for their ingratitude. Brother Kimball also felt indignant toward them. Finally Brother Brigham commenced to pronounce a curse upon those who had spoken falsely about me. I asked him to stop before he had finished the words, and told him I could bear their accusations better than they could bear his curse. He then blessed me, saying they would be cursed if they did not cease their talk; saying that we had seen the hardest time that any Elders ever had. While the “Mormon” Battalion suffered, they were free to travel looking forward with hope to something better; but that we were much longer under suffering conditions, as we were tied up and had no hope only to stay and take our chances.

Brother Brigham said if we had set fire to the whole outfit and run off by the light of it he would never have found fault. So the trial ended and I went home feeling pretty well.

 

 

New Release: “Scraps of Biography”, Faith-Promoting Series Book #10

Scraps of Biography is an anthology containing autobiographies of Daniel Tyler and Newel Knight and a biography of John Tanner, and it’s a fascinating little window into the early Church.

John Tanner is famous for following a prompting to Kirtland and arriving just in time to redeem the mortgage on the Temple plot. That story is recounted here, along with some other interesting tidbits–for example, the account notes that “He aided very materially in the building of the Nauvoo Temple, from the commencement until its completion; and after it was dedicated he received therein his endowments, sealings and second anointing.”

Tyler, born in 1816 and baptized 1833, recounts his conversion, experiences in the Kirtland Temple, and missions, including his involvement in the conversion of Karl G. Maeser (of BYU fame) during his mission to Switzerland.

Newel Knight is a better-known figure, born in 1800 and baptized immediately after the organization of the Church in 1830. The highlights of his account include his eyewitness account of a couple of trials and acquittals of Joseph Smith and his discussion of his experiences with the Colesville branch in Missouri and elsewhere.

Like most of the other books in the Faith-Promoting Series, this ran to about 100 pages and is an easy Sunday afternoon read. Have a look.

 

New Release: “A String of Pearls”, Faith-Promoting Series Book #2

This, the second book of George Q. Cannon’s “Faith-Promoting Series” targeted at the youth of the Church, is a collection of pioneer and missionary anecdotes originally published in 1880. The “Faith-Promoting Series” ran to seventeen books and was in print until at least the 1920s; we’ve already released some books from it (see Available Texts) and will be officially releasing a few more in the next few weeks. The book’s own preface introduces it well:

The first book of this, the “FAITH-PROMOTING SERIES”—My First Mission—which was published some months since, has been so well received by the public that we are encouraged to continue the publication of works of a similar character.

We herewith give “A STRING OF PEARLS” to our readers, feeling assured that they will find the contents of this little work of inestimable value.

Probably no people in the world possess so rich and varied an experience as do the Latter-day Saints, and especially the Elders who have labored in the ministry in various lands. Contributions from them, giving a relation of their personal experience, are most profitable to young people to peruse.

The present age is one of doubt and unbelief. Faith in God, in His willingness to hear and answer prayer, and in the gifts of the gospel, has almost vanished from the earth. As a people we have this to contend with. Our children, not having had experience themselves, have to be carefully watched, lest they, too, should partake of the leaven of unbelief. We feel that it is a duty that we owe to them to place within their reach the evidences that their fathers and their mothers have received of the existence of God, of His willingness to hear and answer prayer, and to bestow His gifts upon those who seek for them in the right way.

God has wrought as marvelously in behalf of the Latter-day Saints as He did in former days in behalf of His people.

We hope that this little volume will prove of great value to those who read it, by inspiring them with faith, and furnishing them a foundation upon which to build and obtain knowledge from the Lord.

We also indulge in the hope that its publication may stir up others—of whom there are so many hundreds, and perhaps thousands, in our Church who have had valuable experience—to take the time and trouble necessary to commit incidents of this character to paper, that they may not die with themselves, but that they may live to speak hope and consolation unto, and to inspire confidence in, those who shall come after them.

With an earnest hope, therefore, that the contents of this little volume may prove a help to those who may read it, by inspiring them with faith in the Almighty and His promises, we modestly publish it, and give it the expressive title which it bears. G. Q. C. [George Q. Cannon]

So there you have it. Enjoy, and look out for more in the coming weeks.

This book was proofread by Max Cook, one of our summer interns.

 

New Release: “The Plan of Salvation” by John Morgan

This enormously influential missionary tract was written by John Morgan, onetime President of the Southern States Mission, General Authority, and Union Army soldier. We produced it largely because the knowledgeable folks over at Keepapitchinin are interested in it (see comments on this article). Apparently millions of copies were printed over the course of more than a century after the pamphlet was first introduced in the Southern States Mission in the early 1880s.

I think it offers an interesting comparison with the current pamphlet on the plan of salvation, and both are reasonably short. Have a read.

Thanks to Villate Brown McKitrick and Jared Ure, one of our summer interns, for producing this book.