New release: 1912 Young Women’s manual on “The Restoration of the Gospel”

As the author Osborne Widtsoe (Elder John A. Widtsoe’s brother) wrote, “The following chapters on the subject of the Restoration are the outcome of an invitation to write, during the winter of 1910-11, a series of lessons for the Young Ladies’ Mutual Improvement Association.” The result, now available as a free e-book on Project Gutenberg, was originally published with a preface by then-Apostle Joseph Fielding Smith, where he stated:

This book, prepared by Elder Osborne J. P. Widtsoe, dealing with the important subject of the restoration of the everlasting Gospel, should be read and its contents carefully considered by those who are seeking after truth. It treats the restoration clearly, and places before the people many things that have not been generally considered heretofore. It will be a means of strengthening the faith of the youth of Israel and will impart information that is invaluable. May the spirit of truth accompany the work and rest upon all those who diligently read it with a desire to learn of and profit by the restoration of the Gospel!

Thanks to Renah Holmes and Andy Hobbs for their work on this one.

New Release: Parley P. Pratt poetry anthology

Full title is “The Millennium, and Other Poems: To Which is Annexed, A Treatise on the Regeneration and Eternal Duration of Matter,” first published 1839 in NYC. It’s now available as a free e-book on Project Gutenberg. Here’s the original preface:

When these Poems were first written, the Author had no intention of compiling them in one volume: they sprang into existence one after another as occasion called them forth, at times and in places, and under circumstances widely varying. Some came forth upon the bank of the far-famed Niagara, and some were the plaintive strains poured from a full heart in the lonely dungeons of Missouri where the Author was confined upwards of eight months during the late persecution; some were poured from the top of the White Mountains of New Hampshire, and others were uttered while wandering over the flowery plains and wide-extended prairies of the west; some were written in crowded halls and thronged cities, and some in the lonely forest; some were the melting strains of joy and admiration in contemplating the approaching dawn of that glorious day which shall crown the earth and its inhabitants with universal peace and rest; and others were produced on the occasion of taking leave of my family, friends, or the great congregation, on a mission to other and distant parts; and some were wrung from a bosom overflowing with grief at the loss of those who were nearest and dearest to my heart, “The Regeneration and Eternal Duration of Matter,” in particular was a production in prison, which was more calculated to comfort and console myself and friends when death stared me in the face, than as an argumentative or philosophical production for the instruction of others. At length, the Author was induced to embody the whole in one volume in the hope that perhaps others might find them a source of instruction, edification, and comfort.

New Release: “Scrap Book of Mormon Literature” vol. 1

Are you pathetically ignorant of early Church pamphlets? Or, getting past pathetic ignorance into more of an ashamed, repentant ignorance, maybe you have thought “Hmmm, based on the importance of pamphlets in early Church history, I wish there was a selection of them that I could read. Ideally it would be chosen by someone early enough in Church history to be close to the pamphlet tradition, but who lived late enough to have a broad selection to choose from. I’d also want the person choosing them to have a boots-on-the-ground perspective on real missionary pamphlet usage and which pamphlets were effective or worth reading. Basically I really wish I could get a mission president in perhaps the early 1900s to select a few dozen pamphlets for me to read, and get them on my Kindle.”

Well, President Ben E. Rich of the Eastern States Mission has got you covered, and the first volume of his Scrap Book of Mormon Literature (first published 1911) is now available on Project Gutenberg. It contains 38 pamphlets by the likes of B. H. Roberts, Orson Pratt, Lorenzo Snow, George Q. Cannon, Orson Hyde, Charles W. Penrose, John Morgan, etc. etc. Volume 2 has been available for a while too (e-book, post on its contents).

Thanks to Renah Holmes for proofreading this one.

New Release: B. H. Roberts’ “Seventy’s Course in Theology” (5 vols.)

Back in the days when there were many more Seventies spread throughout the Church (146 quorums in 1904!), B. H. Roberts of History of the Church fame wrote five years of manuals for quorum meetings, collectively the Seventy’s Course in Theology. First published 1907-1912, they are now available on Project Gutenberg for your reading pleasure.

The manuals are broken out into lessons, most beginning with an outline and references, followed by a series of notes. Many of the notes are quotations from other commentators or Roberts’ other work.

It seems clear that Roberts wanted to radically improve his typical student’s intellectual stature, and that’s inspiring to see in action. In one lesson, he identifies the works of thirteen different philosophers as references, and since those works may “only be available to those within reach of reference libraries,” he also recommends eight “one-volume works that would be of great service in studying this lesson.” In several locations he comments of his lesson notes that “They make difficult reading, but—well, master them.”

Each year has an overarching topic, as follows:

Year 1 – Outline History of the Seventy and a Survey of the Books of Holy Scripture

Year 2 – Outline History of the Dispensations of the Gospel

Year 3 – The Doctrine of Deity

Year 4 – The Atonement

Year 5 – Divine Immanence and the Holy Ghost

I’d suggest starting with the topic that is the most interesting to you rather than reading in sequence, as the different years don’t seem particularly cumulative. Year 3 seems to have some overlap with Mormon Doctrine of Deity.

Thanks to Renah Holmes for proofing two volumes, and BYU Transcribe as coordinated by Rachel Helps for proofing the other three!

New Release: George Q. Cannon’s “The Life of Joseph Smith, the Prophet”

This biography (e-book link), originally published 1888, was written by First Presidency member and publisher George Q. Cannon, who finished it while imprisoned for polygamy. Best I can figure, from a church perspective this would have been the key biography of Joseph Smith for at least a decade after its publication. The competition might include Edward Tullidge’s Life of Joseph the Prophet or the early versions of History of the Prophet Joseph, by His Mother, but of course Tullidge (a member of the Reorganized Church) hardly would have carried the same implicit church endorsement as Cannon, and Brigham Young was not a fan of the History. Cannon knew Joseph Smith in Nauvoo, and as he served in the First Presidency with Brigham Young, John Taylor, etc. he obviously had access to many other contemporaries with firsthand recollections.

Our e-book is based on the 1907 edition, which originally ran to just over 500 pages. Thanks to David Cramer and Katie Liston for the proofreading.

This is my first book release post in a long time, but there should be about a dozen more like it by the end of the year if I can hold to my schedule–I’m working hard to clear my book post-processing backlog and much of it has already turned into a “needs release post” backlog. My personal life is a lot more conducive to progress now that I’m done with my MBA program and so forth.

State of MTP / Towards “Mission Accomplished”? / Feedback Requested

In which: MTP has made a great deal of progress, but we’re starting to run out of obvious out-of-copyright books to work on, and I request opinions on our future plans.

Progress

In the last 4 years (give or take) many volunteers have done a great deal of work, and MTP has put up 94 e-books on Project Gutenberg, ranging from the 1830s to the 1920s, from pamphlets to multi-volume works, from pioneer stories to doctrine to fiction, and so on. In that same time frame, I’ve had two children, started full-time work with various related adventures, bought a house, and completed half of an online MBA program. So it’s been an exciting four years, and both my personal situation and MTP’s situation have developed quite a bit.

In 2014, I thought the list of LDS books on Project Gutenberg was embarrassing. The total volume of LDS literature was small, and many obviously significant out-of-copyright works were missing. At this point, there’s enough LDS lit posted that I am going to need many years to get caught up on reading it, and the holes in the canon are also much smaller. In the last year or so (since my last general update) the in-progress backlog has dropped from ~25 books to 12. We are still working on History of the Church vols. 4-6 (need post-processing), B. H. Roberts’ Seventy’s Course in Theology vols. 1-5 (in various stages of progress), and a few other projects that I think have value. There are also a few important post-1923 works that may not have had their copyrights renewed (e.g. Discourses of Brigham Young ed. Widtsoe), and once the post-processing backlog is done I may tackle the Project Gutenberg copyright research process to prove these are in the public domain.

Running out of books / towards “Mission Accomplished”?

But beyond these items (admittedly a hefty chunk of work) I’m struggling to come up with out-of-copyright books, not already on Project Gutenberg, that pass at least one of the following tests:

  • Can reasonably be claimed as a Mormon “great book” (see that link for examples)
  • Interests or intrigues me such that I’d consider reading it on my Kindle 
  • Is widely read/could imaginably get substantial download counts during the next decade (e.g. written by famous general authority)

There’s always another book or work that fails all of the above tests but could still be deemed to have some “significance.” Think volume 21 of the Journal of Discourses, or George Reynolds’ Complete Concordance to the Book of Mormon: important at the time, possibly of interest to scholars, but not remotely worth the effort to proofread and format as an e-book. Or consider the case of early Mormon fiction: no doubt some of it is “significant,” I wish I really loved reading it, and I wish people downloaded it, but in practice we’ve already made a decent sampling of it available and it seems to be a tough sell. This sort of “significance” is not enough motivation for me to spend the time on a book, recruit volunteers to work on it, etc. I have opportunity costs.

So the tests above are more or less where I draw the line, and MTP is approaching that line: we are unlikely to release another 94 e-books under my management or have further mass proofreading via an internship program. If there’s someone lurking out there who has much bigger dreams for out-of-copyright Mormon lit (will all you Complete Concordance die-hards out there please stand up) and a spare couple hundred hours a year, I would be happy to hand off the reins, so get in touch. Otherwise there will likely be progress on the books I listed above for a few more years, leading eventually to a stopping point.

To emphasize: I think the work we’ve done and are still doing is worthwhile, there’s more to go, and I could still use a couple more volunteers at this point. I am just making the policy statement that I do not expect to personally continue MTP’s work forever on increasingly obscure books. 

In my mind MTP’s other purpose, beyond making free e-books available, is to write about and advertise them: to encourage ordinary mortal members of the Church, who do not have an academic interest, to read awesome old Mormon stuff. The e-book production process has largely crowded this out for the last few years, and it’s likely to be at least another year before that changes, but I can imagine spending more time on it in the long-run. I’m curious to what extent we have influenced people via this side of our mission. So,

Questions for the world:

What out-of-copyright (i.e. pre-1923) LDS “great books,” books that are widely read, books that should intrigue me but may have escaped my notice, etc. are not already on Project Gutenberg?

Has MTP helped you to find and/or influenced you to read books you would not otherwise have read? How? How should we?

Please comment; I’m very interested in responses.

New Release: George Q. Cannon’s Joseph Smith biography “for young people”

The Latter-Day Prophet: History of Joseph Smith Written for Young People is now up as a free e-book on Project Gutenberg. Cannon is of course the famous publisher, member of the First Presidency, author, and missionary (his book on his first mission is also available and it’s awesome). And this work is just what it sounds like, a history of Joseph Smith written with Sunday School children in mind. Have a look.