Josiah Quincy
"Joseph Smith at Nauvoo"
Figures of the Past...
(Boston, Roberts Bros., 1883)

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  • Joseph Smith at Nauvoo
  • Transcriber's Comments



    From the Leaves of Old Journals.




    B O S T O N:
    R O B E R T S   B R O T H E R S.






    IT is by no means improbable that some future text-book, for the use of generations yet unborn, will contain a question something like this: What historical American of the nineteenth century has exerted the most powerful influence upon the destinies of his countrymen? And it is by no means impossible that the answer to that interrogatory may be thus written: Joseph Smith, the Mormon prophet. And the reply, absurd as it doubtless seems to most men now living, may be an obvious commonplace to their descendants. History deals in surprises and paradoxes quite as startling as this. The man who established a religion in this age of free debate, who was and is today accepted by hundreds of thousands as a direct emissary from the Most High, -- such a rare human being is not to be disposed of by pelting his memory with unsavory epithets. Fanatic, imposter, charlatan, he may have been; but these hard names furnish no solution to the problem he presents to us. Fanatics and impostors are living and dying every day, and their memory is buried

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    with them; but the wonderful influence which this founder of a religion exerted and still exerts throws him into relief before us, not as a rogue to be criminated, but as a phenomenon to be explained. The most vital questions Americans are asking each other today have to do with this man and what he has left us. Is there any remedy heroic enough to meet the case, yet in accordance with our national doctrines of liberty and toleration, which can be applied to the demoralizing doctrines now advanced by the sect which he created? The possibilities of the Mormon system are unfathomable. Polygamy may be followed by still darker "revelations." Here is a society resting upon foundations which may at any moment be made subversive of every duty which we claim from the citizen. Must it be reached by that last argument which quenched the evil fanaticisms of Mulhausen and Munster? A generation other than mine must deal with these questions. Burning questions they are, which must give a prominent place in the history of the country to that sturdy self-asserter whom I visited at Nauvoo. Joseph Smith, claiming to be an inspired teacher, faced adversity such as few men have been called to meet, enjoyed a brief season of prosperity such as few men have ever attained, and, finally, forty-three days after I saw him, went cheerfully to a martyr's death. When he surrendered his person to Governor Ford, in order to prevent the shedding of blood, the prophet had a presentiment of what was before him. "I am going like a lamb to the slaughter," he is reported to have

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    said; "but I am calm as a summer's morning. I have a conscience void of offense and shall die innocent." I have no theory to advance respecting this extraordinary man. I shall simply give the facts of my intercourse with him. At some future time they may be found to have some bearing upon the theories of others who are more competent to make them. Ten closely written pages of my journal describe my impressions of Nauvoo, and of its prophet, mayor, general, and judge; but details, necessarily omitted in the diary, went into letters addressed to friends at home, and I shall use both these sources to make my narrative as complete as possible. I happened to visit Joseph Smith in company with a distinguished gentleman, who, if rumor may be trusted, has been as conscientious a journal-writer as was his father. It is not impossible that my record may one day be supplemented by that of my fellow-traveller, the Hon. Charles Francis Adams.

    It was on the 25th of April, 1844, that Mr. Adams and myself left Boston for the journey to the West which we had had for some time in contemplation. I omit all account of our adventures -- and a very full account of them is before me -- until the 14th of May, when we are ascending the clear, sparkling waters of the Upper Mississippi in the little steamboat "Amaranth." With one exception we find our fellow-passengers uninteresting. The exception is Dr. Goforth. A chivalric, yet simple personage is this same doctor, who has served under General Jackson at the battle of New Orleans and is now

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    going to Nauvoo, to promote the election of the just nominated Henry Clay. It is to this gentleman we owe our sight of the city of the Saints, which, strangely enough, we had not intended to visit. Though far from being a Mormon himself, Dr. Goforth told us much that was good and interesting about this strange people. He urged us to see for ourselves the result of the singular political system which had been fastened upon Christianity, and to make the acquaintance of his friend, General Smith, the religious and civil autocrat of the community. "We agreed to stop at Nauvoo," says my journal, "provided some conveyance should be found at the landing which would take us up to General Smith's tavern, and prepared our baggage for this contingency. Owing to various delays, we did not reach the landing till nearly midnight, when our friend, who had jumped on shore the moment the boat stopped, returned with the intelligence that no carriage was to be had, and so we bade him adieu, to go on our way. But, as we still lingered upon the hurricane deck, he shouted that there was a house on the landing, where we could get a good bed. This changed our destiny, and just at the last moment we hurried on shore. Here we found that the 'good bed' our friend had promised us was in an old mill, which had been converted into an Irish shanty. However, we made the best of it, and, having dispossessed a cat and a small army of cockroaches of their quarters on the coverlet, we lay down in our dressing-gowns and were soon asleep."

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    We left our lowly bed in the gray light of the morning, to find the rain descending in torrents and the roads knee-deep in mud. Intelligence of our arrival had in some mysterious manner reached General Smith, and the prophet's own chariot, a comfortable carryall, drawn by two horses, soon made its appearance. It is probable that we owed the alacrity with which we were served to an odd blunder which had combined our names and personalities and set forth that no less a man than ex-President John Quincy Adams had arrived to visit Mr. Joseph Smith. Happily, however, Dr. Goforth, who had got upon the road before us, divided our persons and reduced them to their proper proportions, so that no trace of disappointment was visible in the group of rough-looking Mormons who awaited our descent at the door of the tavern. It was a three-story frame house, set back from the street and surrounded by a white fence, that we had reached after about two miles of the muddiest driving. Pre-eminent among the stragglers by the door stood a man of commanding appearance, clad in the costume of a journeyman carpenter when about his work. He was a hearty, athletic fellow, with blue eyes standing prominently out upon his light complexion, a long nose, and a retreating forehead. He wore striped pantaloons, a linen jacket, which had not lately seen the washtub, and a beard of some three days' growth. This was the founder of the religion which had been preached in every quarter of the earth. As Dr. Goforth introduced us to the prophet, he mentioned the parentage of my companion.

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    "God bless you, to begin with!" said Joseph Smith, raising his hands in the air and letting them descend upon the shoulders of Mr. Adams. The benediction, though evidently sincere, had an odd savor of what may be called official familiarity, such as a crowned head might adopt on receiving the heir presumptive of a friendly court. The greeting to me was cordial -- with that sort of cordiality with which the president of a college might welcome a deserving janitor -- and a blessing formed no part of it. "And now come, both of you, into the house!" said our host, as, suiting the action to the word, he ushered us across the threshold of his tavern.

    A fine-looking man is what the passer-by would instinctively have murmured upon meeting the remarkable individual who had fashioned the mould which was to shape the feelings of so many thousands of his fellow-mortals. But Smith was more than this, and one could not resist the impression that capacity and resource were natural to his stalwart person. I have already mentioned the resemblance he bore to Elisha R. Potter, of Rhode Island, whom I met in Washington in 1826. The likeness was not such as would be recognized in a picture, but rather one that would be felt in a grave emergency. Of all men I have met, these two seemed best endowed with that kingly faculty which directs, as by intrinsic right, the feeble or confused souls who are looking for guidance. This it is just to say with emphasis; for the reader will find so much that is puerile and even shocking in my report of the

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    prophet's conversation that he might never suspect the impression of rugged power that was given by the man.

    On the right hand, as we entered the house, was a small and very comfortless-looking bar-room; all the more comfortless, perchance, from its being a dry bar-room, as no spirituous liquors were permitted at Nauvoo. In apparent search for more private quarters, the prophet opened the door of a room on the left. He instantly shut it again, but not before I perceived that the obstacle to our entrance was its prior occupancy by a woman, in bed. He then ran up-stairs, calling upon us to follow him, and, throwing open a door in the second story, disclosed three Mormons in three beds. This was not satisfactory; neither was the next chamber, which was found, on inspection, to contain two sleeping disciples. The third attempt was somewhat more fortunate, for we had found a room which held but a single bed and a single sleeper. Into this apartment we were invited to enter. Our host immediately proceeded to the bed, and drew the clothes well over the head of its occupant. He then called a man to make a fire, and begged us to sit down. Smith then began to talk about himself and his people, as, of course, we encouraged him to do. He addressed his words to Mr. Adams oftener than to me, evidently thinking that this gentleman had or was likely to have political influence, which it was desirable to conciliate. Whether by subtle tact or happy accident, he introduced us to Mormonism as a secular institution

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    before stating its monstrous claims as a religious system. Polygamy, it must be remembered, formed no part of the alleged revelations upon which the social life at Nauvoo was based; indeed, the recorded precepts of its prophet were utterly opposed to such a practice, and it is, at least, doubtful whether this barbarism was in any was sanctioned by Smith. Let a man who has so much to answer for be allowed the full benefit of the doubt; and Mormonism, minus the spiritual wife system, had, as it has today, much that was interesting in its secular aspects. Its founder told us what he had accomplished and the terrible persecutions through which he had brought his people. He spoke with bitterness of outrages to which they had been subjected in Missouri, and implied that the wanton barbarities of his lawless enemies must one day be atoned for. He spoke of the industrial results of his autocracy in the holy city we were visiting, and of the extraordinary powers of its charter, obtained through his friend, Governor Ford. The past had shown him that a military organization was necessary. He was now at the head of three thousand men, equipped by the State of Illinois and belonging to its militia, and the Saints were prepared to fight as well as to work. "I decided," said Smith, "that the commander of my troops ought to be a lieutenant-general, and I was, of course, chosen to that position. I sent my certificate of election to Governor Ford, and received in return a commission of lieutenant-general of the Nauvoo Legion and of the militia of the state of Illinois. Now, on examining

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    the Constitution of the United States, I find that an officer must be tried by a court-martial composed of his equals in rank; and as I am the only lieutenant-general in the country, I think they will find it pretty hard to try me."

    At this point breakfast was announced, and a substantial meal was served in a long back kitchen. We sat down with about thirty persons, some of them being in their shirt-sleeves, as if just come from work. There was no going out, as the rain still fell in torrents; and so, when we had finished breakfast, the prophet (who had exchanged his working dress for a broadcloth suit while we lingered at the table) proposed to return to the chamber we had quitted, where he would give us his views of theology. The bed had been made during our absence and the fire plentifully replenished. Our party was now increased by the presence of the patriarch, Hiram Smith; Dr. Richards, of Philadelphia, who seemed to be a very modest and respectable Mormon; Dr. Goforth; and a Methodist minister, whose name I have not preserved. No sooner were we seated than there entered some half-dozen leaders of the sect, among whom, I think, were Rigdon and Young; but of their presence I cannot be positive. These men constituted a sort of silent chorus during the expositions of their chief. They fixed a searching, yet furtive gaze upon Mr. Adams and myself, as if eager to discover how we were impressed by what we heard. Of the wild talk that we listened to I have preserved but a few fragments. Smith was

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    well versed in the letter of the scriptures, though he had little comprehension of their spirit. He began by denying the doctrine of the Trinity, and supported his views by the glib recitation of a number of texts. From this he passed to his own claims to special inspiration, quoting with great emphasis the eleventh and twelfth verses of the fourth chapter of Ephesians, which, in his eyes, adumbrated the whole Mormon hierarchy. The degrees and orders of ecclesiastical dignitaries he set forth with great precision, being careful to mention the interesting revelation which placed Joseph Smith supreme above them all. This information was plentifully besprinkled with cant phrases or homely proverbs. "There, I have proved that point as straight as a loon's leg." "The curses of my enemies run off from me like water from a duck's back." Such are the specimens which my journal happens to preserve, but the exposition was constantly garnished with forcible vulgarisms of a similar sort. The prophet referred to his miraculous gift of understanding all languages, and took down a Bible in various tongues, for the purpose of exhibiting his accomplishments in this particular. Our position as guests prevented our testing his powers by a rigid examination, and the rendering of a few familiar texts seemed to be accepted by his followers as a triumphant demonstration of his abilities. It may have been an accident, but I observed that the bulk of his translations were from the Hebrew, which, presumably, his visitors did not understand, rather

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    than from the classical languages, in which they might more easily have caught him tripping.

    "And now come with me," said the prophet, "and I will show you the curiosities." So saying, he led the way to a lower room, where sat a venerable and respectable-looking lady. "This is my mother, gentlemen. The curiosities we shall see belong to her. They were purchased with her own money, at a cost of six thousand dollars;" and then, with deep feeling, were added the words, "And that woman was turned out upon the prairie in the dead of night by a mob." There were some pine presses fixed against the wall of the room. These receptacles Smith opened, and disclosed four human bodies, shrunken and black with age. "These are mummies," said the exhibitor. "I want you to look at that little runt of a fellow over there. He was a great man in his day. Why, that was Pharaoh Necho, King of Egypt!" Some parchments inscribed with hieroglyphics were then offered us. They were preserved under glass and handled with great respect. "That is the handwriting of Abraham, the Father of the Faithful," said the prophet. "This is the autograph of Moses, and these lines were written by his brother Aaron. Here we have the earliest account of the creation, from which Moses composed the first book of Genesis." The parchment last referred to showed a rude drawing of a man and woman, and a serpent walking upon a pair of legs. I ventured to doubt the propriety of providing the reptile in question with this unusual means of locomotion.

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    "Why, that's as plain as a pikestaff," was the rejoinder. "Before the Fall snakes always went about on legs, just like chickens. They were deprived of them, in punishment for their agency in the ruin of man." We were further assured that the prophet was the only mortal who could translate these mysterious writings, and that his power was given by direct inspiration.

    It is well known that Joseph Smith was accustomed to make his revelations point to those sturdy business habits which lead to prosperity in this present life. He had little enough of that unmixed spiritual power which flashed out from the spare, neurasthenic body of Andrew Jackson. The prophet's hold upon you seemed to come from the balance and harmony of temperament which reposes upon a large physical basis. No association with the sacred phrases of scripture could keep the inspirations of this man from getting down upon the hard pan of practical affairs. "Verily I say unto you, let my servant, Sidney Gilbert, plant himself in this place and establish a store." So had run one of his revelations, in which no holier spirit than that of commerce is discernible. The exhibition of these August relics concluded with a similar descent into the hard modern world of fact. Monarchs, patriarchs, and parchments were very well in their way; but this was clearly the nineteenth century, when prophets must get a living and provide for their relations. "Gentlemen," said this bourgeois Mohammed, as he closed the cabinets, "those who see these curiosities generally pay my mother a quarter of a dollar."

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    The clouds had parted when we emerged from the chamber of curiosities, and there was time to see the temple before dinner. General Smith ordered a capacious carriage, and we drove to that beautiful eminence, bounded on three sides by the Mississippi, which was covered by the holy city of Nauvoo. The curve in the river enclosed a position lovely enough to furnish a site for the Utopian communities of Plato or Sir Thomas More; and here was an orderly city, magnificently laid out, and teeming with activity and enterprise. And all the diligent workers, who had reared these handsome stores and comfortable dwellings, bowed in subjection to the man to whose unexampled absurdities we had listened that morning. Not quite unexampled either. For many years I held a trusteeship which required me to be a frequent visitor at the McLean Asylum for the Insane. I had talked with some of its unhappy inmates, victims of the sad but not uncommon delusion that each had received the appointment of vicegerent of the Deity upon earth. It is well known that such unfortunates, if asked to explain their confinement, have a ready reply: "I am sane. The rest of the world is mad, and the majority is against me." It was like a dream to find one's self moving through a prosperous community, where the repulsive claim of one of these pretenders was respectfully acknowledged. It was said that Prince Hamlet had no need to recover his wits

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    when he was despatched to England, for the demented denizens of that island would never detect his infirmity. If the blasphemous assumptions of Smith seemed like the ravings of a lunatic, he had, at least brought them to a market where "all the people were as mad as he." Near the entrance to the Temple we passed a workman who was laboring upon a huge sun, which he had chiselled from the solid rock. The countenance was of the negro type, and it was surrounded by the conventional rays.

    "General Smith," said the man, looking up from his task, "is this like the face you saw in vision?"

    "Very near it," answered the prophet, "except" (this was added with an air of careful connoisseurship that was quite overpowering) -- "except that the nose is just a thought too broad."

    The Mormon Temple was not fully completed. It was a wonderful structure, altogether indescribable by me. Being, presumably, like something Smith had seen in a vision, it certainly cannot be compared to any ecclesiastical building which may be discerned by the natural eyesight. It was built of limestone, and was partially supported by huge monolithic pillars, each costing, said the prophet, three thousand dollars. Then in the basement was the baptistery, which centered in a mighty tank, surrounded by twelve wooden oxen of colossal size. These animals, we were assured, were temporary. They were to be replaced by stone oxen as fast as they could be made. The Temple, odd and striking as it was, produced no effect that was commensurate with its cost. Perhaps it would

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    have required a genius to have designed anything worthy of that noble site. The city of Nauvoo, with its wide streets sloping gracefully to the farms enclosed on the prairie, seemed to be a better temple to Him who prospers the work of industrious hands than the grotesque structure on the hill, with all its queer carvings of moons and suns. This, however, was by no means the opinion of the man whose fiat had reared the building. In a tone half-way between jest and earnest, and which might have been taken for either at the option of the hearer, the prophet put this inquiry: "Is not here one greater than Solomon, who built a Temple with the treasures of his father David and with the assistance of Huram, King of Tyre? Joseph Smith has built his Temple with no one to aid him in the work."

    On returning to the tavern, dinner was served in the kitchen where we had breakfasted. The prophet carved at one end of the board, while some twenty persons, Mormons or travellers (the former mostly coatless), were scattered along its sides. At the close of a substantial meal a message was brought to the effect that the United States marshal had arrived and wished to speak to Mr. Adams. This officer, as it turned out, wanted my companion's advice about the capture of some criminal, for whom he had a warrant. The matter was one of some difficulty, for, the prophet being absolute in Nauvoo, no man could be arrested or held without his permission. I do not remember what was the outcome of this interview, which was so protracted that it caused Mr.

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    Adams to miss one of the most notable exhibitions of the day.

    "General Smith," said Dr. Goforth, when we had adjourned to the green in front of the tavern, "I think Mr. Quincy would like to hear you preach." "Then I shall be happy to do so," was the obliging reply; and, mounting the broad step which led from the house, the prophet promptly addressed a sermon to the little group about him. Our numbers were constantly increased from the passers in the street, and a most attentive audience of more than a hundred persons soon hung upon every word of the speaker. The text was Mark xvi. 15, and the comments, though rambling and disconnected, were delivered with the fluency and fervor of a camp-meeting orator. The discourse was interrupted several times by the Methodist minister before referred to, who thought it incumbent upon him to question the soundness of certain theological positions maintained by the speaker. One specimen of the sparring which ensued I thought worth setting down. The prophet is asserting that baptism for the remission of sins is essential for salvation. Minister. Stop! What do you say to the case of the penitent thief? Prophet. What do you mean by that? Minister. You know our Savior said to the thief, "This day shalt thou be with me in Paradise," which shows he could not have been baptized before his admission. Prophet. How do you know he wasn't baptized before he became a thief? At this retort the sort of laugh that is provoked by an unexpected hit ran through the audience;

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    but this demonstration of sympathy was rebuked by a severe look from Smith, who went on to say: "But that is not the true answer. In the original Greek, as this gentleman (turning to me) will inform you, the word that has been translated paradise means simply a place of departed spirits. To that place the penitent thief was conveyed, and there, doubtless, he received the baptism necessary for his admission to the heavenly kingdom. " The other objections of his antagonist were parried with a similar adroitness, and in about fifteen minutes the prophet concluded a sermon which it was evident that his disciples had heard with the heartiest satisfaction.

    In the afternoon we drove to visit the farms upon the prairie which this enterprising people had enclosed and were cultivating with every appearance of success. On returning, we stopped in a beautiful grove, where there were seats and a platform for speaking. "When the weather permits," said Smith, "we hold our services in this place; but shall cease to do so when the temple is finished." "I suppose none but Mormon preachers are allowed in Nauvoo," said the Methodist minister, who had accompanied our expedition. "On the contrary," replied the prophet, "I shall be very happy to have you address my people next Sunday, and I will insure you a most attentive congregation." "What! do you mean that I may say anything I please and that you will make no reply?" "You may certainly say anything you please; but I must reserve the right of adding a word or two, if I judge best. I promise to speak of you in

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    the most respectful manner." As we rode back, there was more dispute between the minister and Smith. "Come," said the latter, suddenly slapping his antagonist on the knee, to emphasize the production of a triumphant text, "if you can't argue better than that, you shall say all you want to say to my people, and I will promise to hold my tongue, for there's not a Mormon among them who would need my assistance to answer you." Some back-thrust was evidently required to pay for this; and the minister, soon after, having occasion to allude to some erroneous doctrine which I forget, suddenly exclaimed, "Why, I told my congregation the other Sunday that they might as well believe Joe Smith as such theology as that." "Did you say Joe Smith in a sermon?" inquired the person to whom the title had been applied. "Of course I did. Why not?" The prophet's reply was given with a quiet superiority that was overwhelming: "Considering only the day and the place, it would have been more respectful to have said Lieutenant-General Joseph Smith." Clearly, the worthy minister was no match for the head of the Mormon Church.

    I have before me some relics of my visit to Nauvoo. Here is the Book of Mormon, bearing the autograph which its alleged discoverer and translator wrote, at my request; and here are some letters addressed to the same personage, which I came by strangely enough. I took them from a public basket of wastepaper, which was placed for the service of the inmates of the tavern. Three of these abandoned epistles I asked leave to keep as memorials of my

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    visit, and no objection was made to my doing so. The most interesting of these letters is dated "Manchester, August 29, 1842," and comes from an English convert to Mormonism. The man writes four pages of gilt-edged paper to his "beloved brother in the Lord," and sends him by the favor of Elder Snider the following presents: "A hat, a black satin stock with front, and a brooch." He would fain join the prophet in Nauvoo; but the way in blocked by that not-unheard-of obstacle, a mother-in-law, and until this excellent lady "falls asleep" the disciple must deny his eyes the sight of the master's face. The account of himself given by this correspondent shows with what pathetic sincerity the divine commission of Smith was accepted by a class of men which would seem to be intellectually superior to so miserable a delusion. Suppressing the name of the writer, I shall give a portion of this letter, as it furnishes food for reflection, and shows that the secret of the Mormon prophet is not to be fathomed at a glance: --

    "I take the liberty of writing a few lines, being assured that you are a man of God and a prophet of the Most High, not only from testimony given by the brethren, but the Spirit itself beareth witness. It is true that mine eyes have not seen and mine ears heard you; but the testimony I have received shows plainly that God does reveal by his Spirit things that the natural man has not seen by his natural eyes. You may perhaps wonder who the individual is that has written this letter. I will tell you, in a few words: My father died about twenty-four years since,

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    leaving my mother a widow with seven children... I remember her teachings well, which were these: Fear God, be strictly honest, and speak the truth. I remember, when about three or four years old, being with her in a shop. I saw a pin on the floor. I picked it up and gave it to her. She told me to give it to the shopman, with a sharp reprimand, showing me that it was a sin to take even a pin. The remembrance of this slight circumstance has followed me from that time to the present. (An account of the writer's conversion to Mormonism follows, after which he goes on thus.) Previously to joining this Church, I was a singer in the Church of England, had eight pounds a year, and a good situation in the week-time at a retail hat shop. My wife's brother told me I was robbing my children of their bread in giving up the eight pounds. I told him I was not dependent on that for bread, and said unto him the Lord could make up the difference. He laughed at me; but, beloved brother, in about one month from the time I left the Church of England my master raised my wages four shillings a week (which was about one shilling per week more than that just sacrificed), and this has continued on ever since, which is now two years this month, for which I thank the Lord, together with many other mercies."

    I have quoted enough to show what really good material Smith managed to draw into his net. Were such fish to be caught with Spaulding's tedious romance and a puerile fable of undecipherable gold plates and gigantic spectacles? Not these cheap and

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    wretched properties, but some mastering force of the man who handled them, inspired the devoted missionaries who worked such wonders. The remaining letters, both written a year previous to my visit, came from a certain Chicago attorney, who seems to have been the personal friend as well as the legal adviser of the prophet. With the legal advice come warnings of plots which enemies are preparing, and of the probability that a seizure of his person by secret ambush in contemplated. "They hate you," writes this friendly lawyer, "because they have done evil unto you... My advice to you is not to sleep in your own house, but to have some place to sleep strongly guarded by your own friends, so that you can resist any sudden attempt that might be made to kidnap you in the night. When the Missourians come on this side and burn houses, depend upon it they will not hesitate to make the attempt to carry you away by force. Let me again caution you to be every moment upon your guard." The man to whom this letter was addressed had long been familiar with perils. For fourteen years he was surrounded by vindictive enemies, who lost no opportunity to harass him. He was in danger even when we saw him at the summit of his prosperity, and he was soon to seal his testimony -- or, if you will, to expiate his imposture -- by death at the hands of dastardly assassins. If these letters go little way toward interpreting the man, they suggest that any hasty interpretation of him is inadequate.

    I should not say quite all that struck me about

                            JOSEPH  SMITH  AT  NAUVOO.                         397

    Smith if I did not mention that he seemed to have a keen sense of the humorous aspects of his position. "It seems to me, General," I said, as he was driving us to the river, about sunset, "that you have too much power to be safely trusted to one man." "In your hands or that of any other person," was the reply, "so much power would, no doubt, be dangerous. I am the only man in the world whom it would be safe to trust with it. Remember, I am a prophet!" The last five words were spoken in a rich, comical aside, as if in hearty recognition of the ridiculous sound they might have in the ears of a Gentile. I asked him to test his powers by naming the successful candidate in the approaching presidential election. "Well, I will prophesy that John Tyler will not be the next president, for some things are possible and some things are probable; but Tyler's election is neither the one nor the other." We then went on to talk of politics. Smith recognized the curse and iniquity of slavery, though he opposed the methods of the Abolitionists. His plan was for the nation to pay for the slaves from the sale of the public lands. "Congress," he said, "should be compelled to take this course, by petitions from all parts of the country; but the petitioners must disclaim all alliance with those who would disturb the rights of property recognized by the Constitution and foment insurrection." It may be worthwhile to remark that Smith's plan was publicly advocated, eleven years later, by one who has mixed so much practical shrewdness with his lofty philosophy. In

    398                             FIGURES  OF  THE  PAST.                            

    1855, when men's minds had been moved to their depths on the question of slavery, Mr. Ralph Waldo Emerson declared that it should be met in accordance "with the interest of the South and with the settled conscience of the North. It is not really a great task, a great fight for this country to accomplish, to buy that property of the planter, as the British nation bought the West Indian slaves." He further says that the "United States will be brought to give every inch of their public lands for a purpose like this." We, who can look back upon the terrible cost of the fratricidal war which put an end to slavery, now say that such a solution of the difficulty would have been worthy a Christian statesman. But if the retired scholar was in advance of his time when he advocated this disposition of the public property in 1855, what shall I say of the political and religious leader who had committed himself, in print, as well as in conversation, to the same course in 1844? If the atmosphere of men's opinions was stirred by such a proposition when war-clouds were discernible in the sky, was it not a statesmanlike word eleven years earlier, when the heavens looked tranquil and beneficent?

    General Smith proceeded to unfold still further his views upon politics. He denounced the Missouri Compromise as an unjustifiable concession for the benefit of slavery. It was Henry Clay's bid for the presidency. Dr. Goforth might have spared himself the trouble of coming to Nauvoo to electioneer for a duelist who would fire at John Randolph, but was

                            JOSEPH  SMITH  AT  NAUVOO.                         399

    not brave enough to protect the Saints in their rights as American citizens. Clay had told his people to go to the wilds of Oregon and set up a government of their own. Oh yes, the Saints might go into the wilderness and obtain justice of the Indians, which imbecile, time-serving politicians would not give them in the land of freedom and equality. The prophet then talked of the details of government. He thought that the number of members admitted to the Lower House of the National Legislature should be reduced. A crowd only darkened counsel and impeded business. A member to every half million of population would be ample. The powers of the President should be increased. He should have authority to put down rebellion in a state, without waiting for the request of any governor; for it might happen that the governor himself would be the leader of the rebels. It is needless to remark how later events showed the executive weakness that Smith pointed out, -- a weakness which cost thousands of valuable lives and millions of treasure; but the man mingled Utopian fallacies with his shrewd suggestions. He talked as from a strong mind utterly unenlightened by the teachings of history. Finally, he told us what he would do, were he President of the United States, and went on to mention that he might one day so hold the balance between parties as to render his election to that office by no means unlikely.

    Who can wonder that the chair of the National Executive had its place among the visions of this

    400                             FIGURES  OF  THE  PAST.                            

    self-reliant man? He had already traversed the roughest part of the way to that coveted position. Born in the lowest ranks of poverty, without book-learning and with the homeliest of all human names, he had made himself at the age of thirty-nine a power upon earth. Of the multitudinous family of Smith, from Adam down (Adam of the "Wealth of Nations," I mean), none had so won human hearts and shaped human lives as this Joseph. His influence, whether for good or for evil, is potent today, and the end is not yet.

    I have endeavored to give the details of my visit to the Mormon prophet with absolute accuracy. If the reader does not know just what to make of Joseph Smith, I cannot help him out of the difficulty. I myself stand helpless before the puzzle.


    Transcriber's Comments

    Josiah Quincy's Recollections:

    (under construction)

    QUINCY, Josiah, lawyer, born in Lenox, Massachusetts, 7 March, 1793; died in Rumney, New Hampshire, 19 January, 1875 Although prepared, he was unable to take a collegiate course, and, on finishing his studies at the Lenox academy, he began at once the study of law in Stockbridge. Shortly after his admission to the bar he removed to Rumney, New Hampshire, where he spent the remainder of his life. In a few years he became one of the most successful lawyers in the state. He was frequently elected to the legislature, and for one year was president of the state senate. He was a man of great public spirit, and devoted much time to the promotion of the railway and educational interests of New Hampshire. Mr. Quincy was an active friend of the various enterprises of the Baptist denomination, with which he was identified, serving for years as a trustee of Newton theological seminary.

    The Atlantic Monthly
    Volume 51, Issue 307
    May 1883

    pp. 692-97


    Figures of the Past, from the Leaves of Old Journals. By Josiah Quincy. Boston: Roberts Brothers. 1883.

    IT is not without a sense of its privileges that The Atlantic Monthly is housed in a mansion famous for the men and women who have lived in it, or been entertained at its hospitable board; thus it is with a slight sense of returning courtesies that it welcomes a book which brings back so many figures once familiar in the Quincy mansion in Park Street, Boston, and not the least among them that of the cheerful narrator of old scenes. For although Mr. Quincy writes mainly of other and often more famous men than himself, the glimpses which he gives of his own personality are delightful. He is an old man, telling mainly of scenes through which he passed in his youth; and he looks back upon the young man who figured as the annalist in his diary with a whimsical alienation, as upon a prankish colt, who amuses him greatly now. There are intimations, now and then, in his book, that the records have been obliged to pass the scrutiny of some vigilant literary censor; and Mr. Quincy even protests, with the air of an uncle who is under some tyrannical surveillance, that he is not allowed to tell some excellent stories which he had set down. We have no doubt of it. We are sure that he might shock us, and give us a guilty sense of enjoyment, and perhaps his censor was right; but after all, we are most pleased that the garrulousness of a sunny age has not been entirely checked, for the stream of reminiscences is one which flows on with a careless ease, very delightful to the reader.

    Mr. Quincy gave a happy title to his volume, for it is eminently a book which calls up the figures of the past. The writer himself was not only brought into familiar relations with notable persons, when he was a young man, but it is plain that his interest in persons has always been lively, and the frank catholicity of his temper and belief made him quick to recognize the virtue which resides in character aside from circumstance. He is a democratic gentleman, who has all the fine instincts which enable him to penetrate mere class or arbitrary distinctions. A singular illustration of this is in the admirable portrait which he has drawn of Andrew Jackson. He has not himself called our attention to his own good breeding, but the reader will scarcely fail to observe in the Governor's young aid, who did escort duty to the President when he made his tour in Massachusetts, a genuine courtesy, which was no sham official politeness. Mr. Quincy recalls with candor the prejudice which he felt toward Jackson, and gracefully acknowledges his own unconditional surrender. In doing so, he not only gives us a clear and honorable sketch of the President, but he unwittingly writes down his own generous and chivalrous nature.

    "I was fairly startled," he writes, "a few days ago, at the remark of a young friend [[In our unworthy jealousy of Mr. Quincy's literary adviser, we have decided to consider him and the young friend named above as identical]] who is something of a student of American history. 'Of course,' said he, 'General Jackson was not what you would call a gentleman!' Now, although I had only a holiday acquaintance with the general, and although a man certainly puts on his best manners when undergoing a public reception, the fact was borne in upon me that the seventh President was, in essence, a knightly personage, -- prejudiced, narrow, mistaken upon many points, it might be, but vigorously a gentleman in his high sense of honor, and in the natural, straightforward courtesies which are easily to be distinguished from the veneer of policy; and I was not prepared to be favorably impressed with a man who was simply intolerable to the Brahmin caste of my native State. Had not the Jackson organs teemed with abuse of my venerated friend, John Adams? Had not the legislature of New Hampshire actually changed the name of a town from Adams to Jackson; thereby performing a contemptible act of flattery, which, to the excited imaginations of the period, seemed sufficient to discredit republican government forever after? Had not this man driven from their places the most faithful officers of government, to satisfy a spirit of persecution relentless and bitter beyond precedent?

    "I did not forget these things when I received Governor Lincoln's order to act as special aide-de-camp to the President, during his visit to Massachusetts; and I felt somewhat out of Place when I found myself advancing from one side of Pawtucket Bridge (on the morning of June 20, 1833) to meet a slender, military-looking person, who had just left the Rhode Island side of that structure. Lawyers are credited with the capacity of being equally fluent upon all sides of a question; and if I had suddenly received orders to express to General Jackson my detestation of his presidential policy, I think I should have been equal to the occasion. My business, however, was to deliver an address of welcome; and here was Jackson himself, advancing in solitary state to hear it. Well in the rear of the chief walked the Vice-President and heir-apparent, Martin Van Buren; and slowly following came the Secretaries of War and the Navy, Cass and Woodbury. It is awkward to make a formal speech to one man, and I missed the crowd, which the military, upon both sides of the bridge, were keeping upon terra firma. I seemed to be the mouth-piece of nobody but myself. The address, somehow, got delivered, the distinguished guest made his suitable reply, and then we walked together to the fine barouche-and-four, which was to take us through the State. The President and Vice-President were waved to the back of the carriage; Colonel Washburn and myself occupied the front seat; the Cabinet were accommodated with chariots, somewhat less triumphal, behind us; the artillery fired (breaking many windows in Pawtucket, for which the State paid a goodly bill), and we were off."

    This was the beginning of an intercourse which has supplied Mr. Quincy with reminiscences occupying a score of pages; he has consulted his diaries and his memory, and has drawn thence a number of fresh and natural impressions regarding the President. "His conversation," he says, "was interesting, from its sincerity, decision, and point. It was easy to see that he was not a man to accept a difference of opinion with equanimity; but that was clearly because, he being honest and earnest, Heaven would not suffer his opinions to be other than right. Mr. Van Buren, on the other hand, might have posed for a statue of Diplomacy. He had the softest way of uttering his cautious observations, and evidently considered the impression every word would make."

    Mr. Quincy gives an amusing incident which occurred during a review of the Boston Brigade, and takes the opportunity, with a somewhat mock gravity, of exonerating himself from an imputation under which he has rested for fifty years. Mr. Van Buren and the members of the Cabinet had declined to take part in the review, but suddenly reconsidered their decision, when all the suitable horses had been otherwise engaged. "I frankly told him," says Mr. Quincy, "that I had given up the animals that had been engaged, and that the party must now take such leavings as might be had. Remembering that from a militia stand-point the trappings are about seven eighths of the horse, I at once ordered the finest military saddles, with the best quadrupeds under them that were procurable. They appeared in due time, and we mounted and proceeded to the field in good order; but the moment we reached the Common, the tremendous discharge of artillery which saluted the President scattered the Cabinet in all directions. Van Buren was a good horseman, and kept his seat, but, having neither whip nor spur, found himself completely in the power of his terrified animal, who, commencing a series of retrograde movements of a most unmilitary character, finally brought up with his tail against the fence which then separated the mall from the Common, and refused to budge another inch. In the mean time the President and his staff had galloped cheerfully round the troops, and taken up their position on the rising ground, near the foot of Joy Street, to receive the marching salute. 'Why, where's the Vice-President?' suddenly exclaimed the President, turning to me for an explanation. 'About as near on the fence as a gentleman of his positive political convictions is likely to get,' said I, pointing him out. I felt well enough acquainted with Jackson, by this time, to venture upon a little pleasantry. 'That 's very true,' said the old soldier, laughing heartily; 'and you 'ye matched him with a horse who is even more noncommittal than his rider.' Now the democrats were very sensitive about Mr. Van Buren, and among them started a report that I had provided their prince imperial with this preposterous horse, in order to put him in a ridiculous position. I was much annoyed by this story, and although it may be thought a little late to give it a formal contradiction through the press, I feel constrained to do so. It was the Vice-President's own fault, and no neglect on the part of the managing aide-de-camp, that placed him in a position to which his party so reasonably objected."

    The President certainly made a convert of the young officer who was so near to him in those days, ____ a convert, not to his political doctrines, but to a belief in the chief's integrity and true nobility. Mr. Quincy bears testimony to the indomitable will by which Jackson triumphed over the frailties of his physical nature: "An immaterial something flashed through his eye, as he greeted us in the breakfast room, and it was evident that the faltering body was again held in subjection." He relates how the general was compelled, at a public reception in Cambridge, to abandon hand-shaking, but that he made an exception in favor of two pretty children. " He took the hands of these little maidens, and then lifted them up and kissed them. It was a pleasant sight, one not to be omitted when the events of the day were put upon paper. This rough soldier, exposed all his life to those temptations which have conquered public men whom we still call good, could kiss little children with lips as pure as their own." There is a delightful air of gallantry about these reminiscences. To the young Mr. Quincy, jotting down his day's experience in his diary, the maidens with whom he danced and rode were wonderfully lovely and witty; to the old Mr. Quincy, turning over the leaves of his diary, and piecing out the records with his memory, the loveliness and wit are just as real and lasting. A sigh escapes him, now and then, over the lost fragrance of the bouquet, and the feminine figures of the past move across the stage in the somewhat attenuated form of Miss A. and Miss B.; but we are spared those hypocritical ejaculations of the vanity of life, which blooming youth sometimes brings to the lips of trembling age. On the contrary, there is a heartiness of enjoyment in the recollection of mirth, which gives one a sense of the generous nature of the fine old gentleman who reviews his past. Sometimes, indeed, ho tells frankly whom he admired, and we cannot do better than reproduce a couple of pages of his book, which have the vigor of honest admiration, and conclude with a redoubtable caution: "Wednesday, March 8 [1826], spent the evening at Mrs. Bozeley's ball [in Baltimore], where I was greatly struck by the beauty of the ladies. The principal belles were Miss Clapham, Miss Gallatin, and Miss Johnson. This last lady has one of the most striking faces I ever saw. It is perfectly Grecian. And this, added to her fine figure and graceful movement, presented a tout ensemble from which I could not keep my eyes. I was introduced to her, and found her manners as bewitching as her person. She was all life and spirit. After finishing the first dance, I discovered a corner, where we sat for nearly an hour, keeping up an easy, laughing sort of conversation. This would have occasioned observation elsewhere; but here no one seemed to notice it, except the gentleman who wished to dance with her, so I had a very comfortable time. When we were obliged to separate, I tried to dance with Miss Clapham, but found she was engaged. I could only represent to her partner that I should never have another opportunity of dancing with this lady, whereas he would have many others; hut he was inexorable, and refused to give her up; so I did the next best thing in standing by her and talking to her during all the intervals of the dance. After it was over, I retired, well satisfied that the reputation of Baltimore for the gayety and beauty of its ladies was fully deserved.

    "There is no use in multiplying extracts like this," continues Mr. Quincy, philosophically. "It is the old, old story of maidenly fascinations upon a young man. Let me hope that the intuitive sympathy of a few youthful readers will give piquancy to the foolish words which chronicle experiences once so vivid. At yet another ball, my journal tells how I was introduced to Miss ____, 'the great belle of the city,' and testifies that I found her 'pretty, agreeable, and sensible.' And then there is written some idle gossip of the young fellows of Baltimore about this fair lady. The question with them was, Why did not Miss ____ marry? She was nearly as old as the century, and had had annual crops of eligible offers, from her youth up. There must be some explanation; and then excellent and apparently conclusive reasons why the lady had not married, and never would marry, were alleged, and these were duly confided to the guardianship of my journal. It is apropos to this lady that I shall be generous enough to relate a subsequent awkwardness of my own; for it enforces what may he called a social moral, which it is useful to remember. A few years after this (that is, they seemed very few years to me), a gentleman from Baltimore was dining at my house. During one of the pauses of conversation, it occurred to me to inquire after the former belle of his city, about whom I had heard so much speculation. Expecting an immediate acquiescence in the negative, I carelessly threw out the remark, 'Miss ____' of Baltimore, I believe, was never married.' No sooner were the words uttered than I saw that something was wrong. My guest changed color, and was silent for some moments. At length came the overwhelming reply: 'Sir, I hope she was married. She is my mother.' And so the moral is that we cannot be too cautious in our inquiries concerning the life, health, or circumstances of any mortal known in other years, and bounded by another horizon."

    Mr. Quincy's reminiscences are made to revolve around certain important centres. lie gives a few chapters to student life at Harvard sixty years ago, and calls up with mingled respect and entertainment the figure of Professor Popkin, whose name raises expectations which will not be disappointed. John Adams makes another centre, and so does Daniel Webster and Lafayette. It seems impossible for the old to communicate to the young the enthusiasm which Lafayette inspired when he returned to this country. They look back upon the days of that great triumphal reception with a half-puzzled air, and try in vain to record the immense excitement which pervaded the thinly settled country. "To me," says Mr. Quincy, "his last words were, 'Remember, we must meet again in France!' and so saying, be kissed me upon both cheeks. 'If Lafayette had kissed me,' said an enthusiastic lady of my acquaintance, 'depend upon it, I would never have washed my face as long as I lived!' The remark may be taken as fairly marking the point which the flood-tide of affectionate admiration reached in those days."

    Of all the figures in the book, however, Joseph Smith, the Mormon, comes forward with perhaps the most distinctness and freshness. It is worth while to get the impressions of such a man upon the mind of so honest a gentleman and good observer as Mr. Quincy; and we value the impressions the more that Mr. Quincy makes so little attempt to construct a theory about the prophet. He does better than that: he gives us a series of instantaneous photographs. In fine, the whole volume is a most agreeable addition to the scanty memoirs of our social life in the early part of the century; and since we have not reached the somewhat scornful height of Mr. Wendell Phillips's depreciation of diaries, we are well content to applaud Mr. Quincy's half-serious, half-whimsical defense of himself for these trifles: "Ah, Mr. Phillips, let us not altogether despise the poor fribbles who keep journals. They do manage to keep a few myths out of history, after all. . . . 'You can count on the fingers of your two hands all the robust minds that have kept journals,' says my eminent friend. Well, perhaps you can; hut I think it might require all the hands of Briareus to number the robust minds that have lamented that they took no written note of the scenes and persons among which they passed. Most pathetic in its regret was the language I have heard from Judge Story, and other first-class men, respecting this omission. It has rung in my ears when, tired and full of business, I was disposed to shirk the task. So let us possess our souls in patience, even if our 'sixpenny neighbor' is keeping a journal. . . . It is Arthur Helps who says that poor 'sixpenny Pepys has given us 'the truest book that ever was written;' no slight praise this, as it seems to me. But let not the reader fear that any chronicles of mine shall be catalogued among the diaries and journals from which Mr. Phillips would deliver us. I have taken stringent measures to secure him and his posterity from so great a calamity."

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