Monthly Archives: March 2014

New PG Release: “Essentials in Church History” by Joseph Fielding Smith

Now available for the first time on Project GutenbergEssentials in Church History was described as follows in the 1922 Deseret Book catalog:

Essentials in Church History
Of the Council of the Twelve and Church Historian

A History of the Church from the birth of the Prophet to the present time, in ONE LARGE VOLUME of 700 pages, suitably illustrated with portraits of the leaders, early scenes and documents of historical value, and original maps, showing the travels of the Church from its organization to its establishment in the mountains; also the route of the famous Mormon Battalion to the Pacific Coast.

In addition to the material rise and progress of the Church, this interesting work treats upon essentials in doctrine, Priesthood, Authority; the development of the leading teachings in this dispensation, temple work, etc.

This book is adopted as a text for the study of the Melchizedek Priesthood and for the Priests in the Aaronic Priesthood.

Containing, as it does, so much of interest and value in one volume, it should be found in every home of the Latter-day Saints, and in every Church and Public Library.

It is well printed and handsomely bound in cloth at $1.50

Thanks to Keepapitchinin for making said catalog available–since it’s from 1922, everything in it is in the public domain, and I expect to mine it for stuff to work on. (If anything in it strikes you as interesting, comment and let us know.)

For anyone who’s keeping score, Essentials was previously released on the old MTP site but only recently on Project Gutenberg. Expect B. H. Roberts’ The Life of John Taylor, an all-new release, to come out in about a week.

“The Mormon Battalion: Its History and Achievements” by B. H. Roberts

This nice Sunday afternoon read (just 96 pages in the original), available on Project Gutenberg, offers a straightforward history of the Battalion.

It’s especially interesting in that it gives good background of how and why the Battalion came to be formed – turns out the Church actually asked the government for a way to serve in the West (originally expecting to build forts or supply posts, etc.). At around that time, the Mexican-American war happened, and the Church’s agent in D. C. agreed to the idea of the Battalion. After getting government permission to be on Indian land (more or less in exchange for the Battalion) Brigham Young supported the whole thing. I once had an impression that levying the Battalion was something of an oppressive act by the government; though it was a sacrifice, the real history’s more nuanced, and it was a mutually beneficial arrangement. 

It then traces the route and history of the Battalion and discusses its significance, including the Battalion’s road-making, its members’ roles in starting the California gold rush, the record-making length of its journey, etc. Roberts also says:

Commenting on the Battalion’s march and the map he made of it, Colonel Cooke says: “A new administration, (this was the Pierce administration, 1853-1857) in which southern interests prevailed, with the great problem of the practicability and best location of a Pacific railroad under investigation, had the map of this wagon route before them with its continuance to the west, and perceived that it gave exactly the solution of its unknown element, that a southern route would avoid both the Rocky Mountains and Sierra Nevadas, with their snows, and would meet no obstacle in this great interval. The new ‘Gadsden Treaty’ was the result: it was signed December 30, 1853.” This purchase added to the territory of the United States forty-five thousand five hundred and thirty-five square miles; for which was paid $10,000,000. The purchase was made by James Gadsden of South Carolina, minister to Mexico, hence the name Gadsden Purchase.

So, arguably Tucson (inside the Gadsden Purchase area, along with much of southern Arizona and New Mexico) is part of the United States because of the march of the Mormon Battalion. Anyways, it’s a quick read that will cement the history of the Battalion in your mind and has a number of fun tidbits; I recommend it.

“Corianton: A Nephite Story” by B. H. Roberts

This is the only Book of Mormon speculative fiction written by a sitting general authority that I know of. Originally published in serialized form, it was later issued as a 111-page book; it’s easily readable in a couple of hours. Get it on PG.

It tells the story of Corianton (obviously), Korihor, Isabel, Alma, etc. and provides an interesting vision of what the details of their stories. I personally don’t spend enough time really imagining stories from The Book of Mormon (if my mental vision of the story of The Book of Mormon had the same production values as my mental vision of Narnia or Middle Earth, I’d have something), so it’s fun to get inside Roberts’ imagination. Corianton is presented as a sympathizer of Korihor, and the portrayal of Korihor’s debate with Alma is a high point of the book. Roberts manages to expand on the original narrative and make it feel realistic without inventing much.

Ardis Parshall wrote a fascinating paper for the Mormon History Association about the history of Corianton (available here on her blog Keepapitchinin). I recommend it for anyone interested in more detail about the plot, virtues, and failings of the book. She notes that it was later developed into a play, a short-lived Broadway show, and a 1931 movie, “Corianton: A Story of Unholy Love.” (In case there was any doubt, the absolutely hilarious Deseret News review of the movie places it somewhere in the vicinity of “so bad it’s good.”)

B. H. Roberts reviews John Taylor’s “The Government of God”

B. H. Roberts’ The Life of John Taylor discusses Taylor’s “masterpiece” The Government of God (available on PG). The rest of this post consists of an extract from Chapter 26 of the former.

It was while he [Taylor] was on this French and German mission, too, that he wrote his admirable work “The Government of God,” a book of some two hundred pages. The author defines the kingdom of God to be the government of God, on the earth, or in the heavens; and then in his first two chapters proceeds to place the magnificence, harmony, beauty and strength of the government of God, as seen throughout the universe, in contrast with the meanness, confusion and weakness of the government of men.

It is a bold picture he draws in each case; one displaying the intelligence, the light, the glory, the beneficence and power of God; the other the ignorance, the folly, the littleness and imbecility of man. The great evils, both national and individual which He depicts with such vividness, the author maintains are beyond the power of human agency to correct. “They are diseases,” he remarks, “that have been generating for centuries; that have entered into the vitals of all institutions, religious and political, that have prostrated the powers and energies of all bodies politic, and left the world to groan under them, for they are evils that exist in church and state, at home and abroad; among Jew and Gentile, Christian, Pagan and Mahometan; king, prince, courtier and peasant; like the deadly simoon, they have paralyzed the energies, broken the spirits, damped the enterprise, corrupted the morals and crushed the hopes of the world. * * * No power on this side of heaven can correct this evil. It is a world that is degenerated, and it requires a God to put it right.”

The author then rather hurriedly reviews the incompetency of the means made use of by man to regenerate the world; showing that neither the Roman Catholic nor Greek churches, though having full sway in some countries, and backed by national and even international power, have been able to make happy, prosperous, unselfish and righteous those countries whose destinies they have directed; and being unable to accomplish these desirable objects in the nations where their power has been supreme, the author argues that they would be unsuccessful in regenerating the world should their dominion be universal.

Nor is our author more hopeful that the reformed churches, the Protestants, would be any more successful than the Greek and Roman churches have been. So far Protestantism has but increased division, and multiplied strife without changing materially the moral and spiritual condition of the world.

Turning from those who would regenerate the world through the medium of Christianity–a false, a corrupted Christianity, for such is the so-called Christian religion of the churches above mentioned–turning from these to those who would take their destiny into their own hands, and who, either denying the existence of God or ignoring His right to direct in the affairs of men, seek by their own wisdom to establish institutions for the amelioration of mankind, our author remarks:

“If skepticism is to be the basis of the happiness of man, we shall be in a poor situation to improve the world. It is practical infidelity that has placed the world in its present condition; how far the unblushing profession of it will lead to restoration and happiness, I must leave my readers to judge. It is our departure from God that has brought upon us all our misery. It is not a very reasonable way to alleviate it by confirming mankind is skepticism.”

Neither has man been able to devise any form of government that is a panacea for the numerous ills with which the world is cursed. Poverty, iniquity, crime, injustice, greed, pride, lust, oppression, exist in republics as well as in kingdoms or empires; in limited monarchies as well as in those that are absolute. Our author maintains that neither religion nor philosophy, the church nor the state, nor education nor all of these combined, as they exist among men, are sufficient to regenerate the world; “our past failures,” he writes, “make it evident that any future effort, with the same means, would be useless.”

The author then proceeds to discuss the questions–What is man? What his destiny and relationship to God? The object of his existence on the earth, his relationship thereto; and his accountability to God. To say that Elder Taylor treats these grave questions with marked ability is unnecessary.

He then deals with God’s course in the moral government of the world; and then of the question–“Whose right is it to govern the world?” He clearly proves that it is God’s right, basing that right on the fact that God created it–that it is His; and He, and they to whom He delegates His power are the only ones who have legitimate authority to govern it. But men have usurped authority; they have taken the management of affairs, so far as they have the power into their own hands; they have rejected God and his counsels; and, as a consequence, the evils and corruptions of which all nations and peoples are sick follow.

This leads him to the question: Will man always be permitted to usurp authority over his fellow-men, and over the works of God? He answers in the negative. It would be unreasonable, unjust, unscriptural–contrary to the promises of God–and would frustrate His designs in the creation of the world. No, the time must come when the moral world, like the physical universe, shall be under the direction of the Almighty, and God’s will be done on earth as it is done in heaven. The manner in which this is to be brought about, the peace, prosperity, happiness and general blessedness which are to follow the establishment of the government of God on earth, are the subjects of his concluding chapters.

Such, in brief, is an outline of this fine work–Elder Taylor’s masterpiece! A work which is sufficient at once to establish both his literary ability and his power as a moral philosopher. One can only regret that in the later years of his life he did not find time to enlarge it. The flight is splendid, but one wishes he had remained longer on the wing. He wrote this work, as he tells us in his foot-note on the first page, to believers in the Bible. I regret that he did not so add to it that its sublime truths would appeal with equal force to those who reject the Jewish Scriptures. No writer in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has yet, in any manner worth mentioning, undertaken to establish the divinity of the Jewish Scriptures, or made answer to the indictments brought against the Bible by infidels; but no one can read the “Government of God” without being convinced that its author was pre-eminently qualified for such an undertaking.

New release: “The House of the Lord” by Talmage

The House of the Lord is the definitive work on temples; our ebook is based on the first edition (1912) and includes the original images of the interior of the Salt Lake Temple. Turns out it was written in response to an attempt to blackmail the Church; I’ll talk a bit about that and about its contents.

According to a helpful article from the Maxwell Institute, the Salt Lake Temple underwent renovations in 1911, and during that time photographs were secretly taken of the interior. The individuals responsible attempted to blackmail the Church, requiring $100,000 to not publicize the photos. When word of this got out, Talmage (then acting president of the University of Utah, but not yet an apostle) wrote to the First Presidency and proposed that they should pre-empt the blackmail attempt by releasing a book containing high-quality photos as well as a discussion of what goes on inside the Temple. Talmage was ordained an Apostle while he was writing the book, and the title page says it was “Published by the Church,” making it pretty authoritative.

Skipping to the end first, the appendix of pictures is probably the coolest part of the book; it includes pictures of the Celestial Room, which apparently used to have rocking chairs; the Holy of Holies, which to my knowledge has never been pictured before or since; the various council rooms on the third floor; the lecture halls; etc. Anyone who has been to the Salt Lake Temple in the last few decades will note that a handful of things have been re-arranged, but much has also stayed the same. It’s worth checking out the list of plates (link to that point in the online html version of the ebook) and scrolling through them.

The eleven chapters discuss the history of temples, their modern necessity, temple ordinances, the Salt Lake Temple (including chapters on its history, interior, and exterior), and the other pre-1912 modern temples. To this day, quotes from Talmage’s text are widely used in other Church temple literature; he essentially provided what is still the canonical method and framework for non-temple discussion of temples.

Some works that MTP has done are basically just fun stuff for Church history buffs or faith-promoting material for those who’ve already read widely. The House of the Lord is not one of those works; it’s an enduring, foundational classic. If you haven’t read it, you should. Now it’s free, so no excuses.

Project Gutenberg Release: George Q. Cannon’s “My First Mission”

George Q. Cannon’s My First Mission recounts his mission to Hawaii. Think “The Other SIde of Heaven” meets the 1850s, back when Hawaii was often known as the Sandwich Islands. It was intended to be a faith-promoting work targeted at future missionaries, and could be used for the same purpose today. It’s short (easily readable in a Sunday afternoon), the style is relatively light, and it’s quirky and fun. It was digitized by MTP a while back, and we recently (finally) got it posted on Project Gutenberg.

Cannon, born in 1827, was a nephew of John Taylor who lived with him as a teenager and helped publish the “Times and Seasons.” He left on his four-year Hawaiian mission in 1849, was involved in hundreds of baptisms, and translated the Book of Mormon in to Hawaiian. After returning home, he became an apostle at age 33 and eventually served in four First Presidencies. (Wikipedia has a good article on him here.)

The book talks about his whole mission experience, from food and culture to miracles to issues regarding Church and mission organization.  George Q.’s decision to learn the language and work among the Hawaiian natives rather than the less-receptive white population is a major theme. He was working in places where no missionary had previously gone and doing so all but independently , especially after his Mission President decided to leave for the South Pacific; seeing how he operated cut off from higher authority is rather interesting.

Possibly my personal favorite excerpt from the book illustrates Cannon’s general style of writing and its faith-promoting quirkiness:

News: new interns, guest post on By Common Consent

First off, if anyone hasn’t seen it, By Common Consent very kindly ran a guest post I wrote the other day. If I may say so, I quite liked the post – it talks about the vision behind MTP in more detail than I have anywhere else. The attention was very helpful; in addition to a nice spike in traffic here, a number of BCC readers have volunteered to help out with proofing–we’re excited to have them. My thanks to BCC.

At this point we have five interns signed up for this summer: Mariah Averett, Max Cook, Jared Ure, Katie Duckworth, and Heidi Billy. Jared is already getting a head start on working on History of the Church, vol. 1, and everyone else will start at the end of April. We’re excited for all the progress they’re going to help us make – they’re going to do an average of something like 100 hours of work each, which with luck ought to mean a couple of books each. Check out their bios in our people section. We’re also still recruiting.

Not much else to report. Expect a release this Saturday!

New release: “General Smith’s Views” on government

This brief (8 page) political pamphlet (on PG here) presents Joseph Smith’s platform for his presidential campaign. Joseph Smith (General of the Nauvoo Legion) ran for President of the United States in 1844 mostly because none of the other candidates were willing to support the Church against mob violence. (The Ensign ran a good story about the campaign a few years ago.)

So, what does it say? Much of the pamphlet is framed by a discussion, that tends to be neglected, of the patriotic history of the United States. It quotes addresses of many previous presidents and speaks highly of their policies, although he’s not enthusiastic about how the “blooming republic began to decline under the withering touch of Martin Van Buren.” This discussion, on the whole, demonstrates a remarkable patriotism by Joseph Smith, especially considering the legal treatment he was repeatedly subjected to.

Platform-wise, it proposes abolishing slavery by using federal revenue to compensate slaveowners for their resulting losses. (If only.) On economics, he expresses support for a “judicious tariff” and a system of national and state banks. He’s in favor of a hands-off foreign policy but supports the expansion of the United States in all directions, saying:

As to the contiguous territories to the United States, wisdom would
direct no tangling alliance: Oregon belongs to this government
honorably, and when we have the red man’s consent, let the union
spread from the east to the west sea; and if Texas petitions Congress
to be adopted among the sons of liberty, give her the right hand of
fellowship; and refuse not the same friendly grip to Canada and Mexico;

He also advocated radical prison reform:

Petition your state legislatures to pardon every convict in their
several penitentiaries, blessing them as they go, and saying to them,
in the name of the Lord, go thy way and sin no more. Advise your
legislators when they make laws for larceny, burglary or any felony, to
make the penalty applicable to work upon roads, public works, or any
place where the culprit can be taught more wisdom and more virtue; and
become more enlightened. Rigor and seclusion will never do as much to
reform the propensities of man, as reason and friendship. Murder only
can claim confinement or death.

Anyways, it’s a fun little document, and gives you some idea of how a prophet might govern.

News: .zip of all ebooks, internships, new Supervising Editor, etc.

So, it’s been an eventful week or two for MTP. We’ve welcomed Nichole Eck aboard as Supervising Editor. Her bio:

Nichole Eck, Supervising Editor of the MTP, graduated with degrees in English and Linguistics and a minor in Editing from Brigham Young University. She has worked as a grammar and writing tutor at BYU, a proofreader on the 2013 edition of the LDS scriptures, and a writer and editor for the New Era and Liahona magazines. She writes speculative short fiction and occasionally blogs when not hanging out at home with her husband and 3-month-old daughter.

She brings a skill set and perspective that will be very helpful to the BYU editing interns we’re recruiting for this next summer. In related news, the BYU Editing Minor has officially approved our internship for class credit, and we’re advertising it at the BYU Publisher’s Fair in the Wilkinson Center today (Wednesday). We’re getting some interest in the history internship as well and have recruited our first intern, Mariah Averett.

We now have .zip files in the Available Texts section that contain all of the books in said section. This should make it a bit easier to get the whole collection without PG worrying about whether or not you’re a robot for how much you’re downloading.

In other news, we’re adopting a posting schedule. Release announcements will be posted on weekends. (There will not be a new release every weekend in the long run, but for a month or so here it may be close.) On weekends without new releases, we’ll typically post some commentary, quotes, etc. from a prior release. There should pretty reliably be weekend posts.

It’s not currently the weekend, which brings us to the other half of the posting schedule — when I have updates about the state of the MTP, announcements, or other meta-level material, I’ll typically post it on Wednesdays. There will only be Wednesday posts when I feel like there’s something worth posting about. On a related note, there are now blog categories for Project updates (typically Wednesday stuff), Book Commentary (typically weekend stuff), and Release Announcements (typically weekend stuff).

Good news: first-round proofing of History of the Prophet Joseph by His Mother is now complete. Second-round won’t happen until Mormon Doctrine of Deity is done, so it might be a while yet, but progress is occurring.

Also, if you’ve read this far, I have a confession. Project Gutenberg posted “General Smith’s Views on the Powers and Policy of the Government of the United States,” a new work we’ve done, a while ago. They’ve also just posted William Clayton’s JournalMy First Mission by George Q. Cannon, and Essentials in Church History by Joseph Fielding Smith, which were previously available on the old MTP site but never got posted to PG before. All of these are now linked in the Available Texts section, and each will get its own full release announcement-style post on a coming Saturday, in an effort to spread the publicity out a bit. Going forward, I expect to continue this pattern; I will only formally announce multiple releases per week if we’re many weeks ahead, but I will try to keep Available Texts up-to-date even if the announcements are dragging a bit.

New Release: “Absurdities of Immaterialism” by Orson Pratt

In this pamphlet (available at PG here), Orson Pratt claims to be more scientific, more philosophical, and more religious than the “atheistical idolators” who worship an “immaterial god” or “deified Nothing,” i. e., basically every non-Mormon Christian.

With that introductory sentence, perhaps now is a good time for a disclaimer–Orson Pratt was a brilliant intellectual, but also a doctrinal loose cannon. Brigham Young officially condemned some of his doctrine, including much of what he proposes in this pamphlet. So, this should all be taken with a hefty grain of salt.

This pamphlet was a refutation of “The Materialism of the Mormons or Latter-Day Saints, Examined and Exposed,” which condemned the Church for its materialist belief. The relevant doctrine is stated in Doctrine and Covenants Section 131:7-8:

There is no such thing as immaterial matter. All spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes; We cannot see it; but when our bodies are purified we shall see that it is all matter.

This is obviously conflicts with the typical view that God is a completely immaterial spiritual being without body, parts, or passions. It also seems to have some philosophical significance regarding the nature of reality. Spirits, since they are “material,” seem to be more similar to material human beings (bound by laws, composed of a more or less fixed set of components, characterized by layers of complexity) than to, say, platonic forms (ineffable, ideal philosophical concepts). This doctrine also seems to be relatively compatible with a worldview based in the scientific method and incompatible with a worldview based in Plato, the Nicene Creed, etc.

Orson Pratt is fun because he is completely unafraid of all this. He’s enthusiastic about how compatible his beliefs are with the science of his day and the best related philosophy, and he’s prepared to grapple with what it all means. For example, he considers what “no immaterial matter” means for the Holy Spirit:

All the innumerable phenomena of universal nature are produced in their origin by the actual presence of this intelligent all-wise and all-powerful material substance called the Holy Spirit. It is the most active matter in the universe, producing all its operations according to fixed and definite laws enacted by itself, in conjunction with the Father and the Son. What are called the laws of nature are nothing more nor less than the fixed method by which this spiritual matter operates. Each atom of the Holy Spirit is intelligent, and like other matter has solidity, form, and size, and occupies space. Two atoms of this spirit cannot occupy the same space at the same time. In all these respects it does not differ in the least from all other matter. Its distinguishing characteristics from other matter are its almighty powers and infinite wisdom, and many other glorious attributes which other materials do not possess.

Is this true? Who knows. Is it established doctrine? Obviously not. Should anyone ever publish anything remotely like this in a public or missionary setting? No. But it’s refreshing to see how Orson Pratt was unafraid to take the best science and philosophy of his day and let it strengthen and work with his faith. He was intellectually humble enough to accept knowledge from all quarters and curious enough to poke at the boundaries, and arguably began a tradition of scientific faith later continued by Talmage, Widtsoe, Henry Eyring, and others to the present day.

So, in summary, “Absurdities of Immaterialism” is significant because it’s part of the great tradition of reconciling Mormonism with science and philosophy, and it’s worth reading not so much to see what Orson Pratt thought as to see how he thought.