Ep 182 – Patterns of Eliza R. Snow
On this episode, we spend a bit of time familiarizing ourselves with one of the most powerful people in Mormon history. Few people left behind so much material to work with as Eliza R. Snow and her poems, written throughout her life, reveal a level of character development seldom seen through any other set of documents. We get a sense for her perspectives on religion, social issues, polygamy, the plight of the Native American, and Christian Zionism. When taken as a whole, Eliza’s lexicon charts the progression of humanity through Mormon history better than nearly any other source.
Eliza R. Snow’s Poetic Lexicon
Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s newest book A House Full of Females
Music by Jason Comeau http://aloststateofmind.com/
Show Artwork http://weirdmormonshit.com/
Legal Counsel http://patorrez.com/
We’ve spent the last few weeks discussing a lot of seemingly disconnected aspects of Nauvoo Mormonism. We hit on criminality and how it was enforced or covered up, discussed the rising tensions between Carthage and Nauvoo, touched on the overwhelming financial trouble plaguing the empire, introduced Jo’s military aspirations in hoping to align his Nauvoo Legion with other independent militias, parsed the confusion rising from competitors for religious succession rights, met two of the largest enemies of the holy king, a Brutus and Judas in inner circles, and stood dumbstruck by the chaos caused by polygamy and the tension of keeping it under wraps while still practicing it among initiates.
While each of these topics has been separated topically throughout our chronology, what I’m getting at is this was a very chaotic time in Mormon history. There’s this common misconception that all these pressures and factors built up for 14 years under Joseph Smith’s leadership and when he died somehow it all ended, but that isn’t the case. Jo’s death this upcoming June of 1844 wasn’t a crescendo, it was a vantage point from which to view the true insanity of the future of Mormonism in all its forms. Mormonism out from under the leadership of the almighty Jo split, evolved, adapted, mutated, and grew in multiple directions under the leadership of different competing dudes all claiming to be the rightful next guy. The death of Joseph Smith marked the end of one era which gave birth to dozens of eras in the immediate future after his assassination. After his death it was a matter of switching from chaos to pandemonium, if that were somehow possible.
That sense of confusion is hard to communicate, not only to you listeners, but to readers of the original records as historians and yours truly do constantly. How could they? How could people living in 1844 properly tell us just how crazy it was to live at the time of these monumental historical events?
I was struck by something I was reading this week on the Joseph Smith Papers website. I was looking into the various first vision accounts to brush up a bit. I was reading their historical introduction which is featured on most documents hosted. Those historical introductions are useful to a certain extent, but one sentence caused me to have a sense of wonder about what we find in the historical record that really illustrates what I’m digressing about here.
“It is not clear why JS ended his earliest history before completing his stated intentions. Some of his other documentary endeavors, including the journal he began the same year, are similarly incomplete, perhaps indicating that other activities simply took precedence.
People often say the revolution won’t be televised. Maybe they’re right, maybe they’re wrong and it already is… Iran, France, Argentina, Hong Kong, Crimean Peninsula, take your pick, there’s plenty to choose from. That phrase can mean many things but I interpret it to mean that everybody’s going to be too occupied with the revolution to spend any time documenting what’s happening. Maybe that’s true, but with everybody having a camera in their pockets and access to nearly unlimited print in the form of digital paper, it seems highly unlikely. However, the same wasn’t true of the 1840s. When life was too crazy for people to write down what happened, nobody 175 years in the future would ever know that it happened. Historians are confined by historical models that documents can substantiate, but what about that which was never documented to begin with?
We have a lot of documents to work with, but singular documents provide only one small snapshot of a much larger tapestry. Like using a laser pointer for a flashlight, each document in and of itself doesn’t offer much, but when viewed in the greater context of related documents, we begin to construct models from familiar patterns and learn what we can by filling in holes with reasonable speculation.
Patterns. One of the most human traits we have is recognizing patterns, even if they aren’t really there. Patterns help us feel safe because we know what’s next. When something doesn’t fit into a pattern, we have to seek for some way to explain or understand the anomaly and thereby form new models to comprehend new patterns.
What am I on about here? This is may be an unconventional opener to an episode, but I’m kind of meandering around to the point that patterns can fill in blanks and teach us things we otherwise would never be able to understand. Understanding history is a matter of finding patterns and doing our best to make our patterns liquid enough to adapt to new information when its discovered. Every time you think you understand something about history, a new discovery is made and patterns or models have to adapt.
I like how Laurel Thatcher Ulrich approaches history. Her ability to meld material and documentary history stands out as a master class of how to understand history and treat relics of a bygone time.
From the introduction to her newest book, A House Full of Females:
On a winter day in 1857, a fifty-year-old Mormon Apostle named Wilford Woodruff visited the Fourteenth Ward Meeting House in Salt Lake City. In his diary, he noted, “the house was full of females quilting sewing etc.” Wilford had three wives and was about to acquire a fourth; his own house was full of females. But this gathering was different. Sometimes as many as fifty women assembled for meetings of the Ward Relief Society. His first wife, Phebe, was its president. Remarkably, one of the quilts its members were making has recently been found. Completed in the autumn of 1857, it was later sold at a raffle. The man who won it cut it down the middle years later and gave one half to each of his two grown daughters. They and their heirs passed it on, until no one was quite sure where their own piece came from and what had happened to the other. Brought together in 2004, the two halves, only slightly damaged by time, reveal the signatures, in ink and in thread, of the sixty-seven women who made it. Phebe’s autograph appears on one half, her appliqued fruit and flowers on the other.
The sundering and reuniting of the quilt offer a metaphor for the losses and recoveries that characterize women’s history. This book is a kind of quilt, an attempt to find an underlying unity in a collection of fragments.
The book is remarkable and we’re going to be relying on it for much of the future of the podcast. But Ulrich really gets to the heart of my point, albeit her focus is women’s history and few people have done as much to advance Mormon women’s studies than Ulrich and Bushman’s holy order of fellow female historians. An attempt to find an underlying unity in a collection of fragments. We seek patterns by which to understand history.
Eliza R. Snow was a pattern seeker and maker. She understood the patterns by which the world operates and created her own patterns to better understand the patterns of human nature. Snow is an interesting person in many ways. She was the single most powerful woman of Utah Mormonism and arguably the only woman Bloody Brigham Young would ever take advice from. In Nauvoo, however, she was still seeking her place in Mormon leadership under the watchful eye of her friend-turned enemy, Emma. They were close friends, but being sister wives had degraded their friendship. Emma’s opposition to Eliza and Jo’s friendship pushed Emma to the outs while Eliza remained closely knit with her fellow sister wives and the ever-expanding ring of Nauvoo polygamy. Eliza operated on a different level than most. She saw the ugliness of the world as much as the beauty of it. She was also super into exploration of mental creative spaces, possibly aided by some herbalism she’d picked up from her friends and family. Her patterns are quite interesting for what they reveal about her and about the world she saw around her.
One of her earliest patters is titled Mental Gas, which she composed in March of 1826 at the age of 21 literally at the same time Jo was arrested for disturbing the peace and bilking Josiah Stowell out of treasure-digging money.
Charles to his teacher—Sir, you say,
That nature’s law admits decay,
That changes never cease;
And yet you say, no void or space,
’Tis only change of shape or place, 5
No loss and no increase:
That space, or ignorance, Sir, explain—
When solid sense forsakes the brain,
Pray what supplies its place?
Oh! Sir, I think I see it now— 10
When substance fails you will allow,
Air occupies the space.
“Not so, my child—that rule must fail,
For by my philosophic scale,
The substitute for sense— 15
Is not so dense as common air;
Nor by the most consummate care,
The chemic skill can dense.
But when misfortune turns the screw,
’Tis oft compress’d from outward view, 20
By outward force confin’d;
But with expansive pow’r ’twill rise,
Destroy the man—increase the size,
And swell his optic blind.
Of various hues—yet still the same, 25
Tho’ human gas, ’tis chemic name,
Some poets call it pride:
Th’ important aid this gas imparts,
Among the various human arts,
Can never be denied. 30
This gas entire may be obtain’d
From sculls whence sense is mostly drain’d,
Or never had supplies;
But were the noblest heads disclosed,
From acts and motives decompos’d, 35
This human gas would rise.
The parson’s lecture—lawyer’s plea,
Devoted sums to charity,
The sage with book profound;
The muse’s pen—the churchman’s creed, 40
The mill-boy on his pacing steed,
Are more or less compound.
But he who struts, in fiction’s dress,
And boasts his ill deserv’d success,
In wooing some fair lass— 45
Who uses this perfidious art,
To gain an unsuspecting heart,
Is late discovered gas.”
Eliza could see the strings that tug and pull at reality. Her next poems offer a bit of political commentary on John Adams and Thomas Jefferson in the wake of their nationally-felt deaths. She was a patriot through and through, but also decried the atrocities America was committing against the indigenous people.
17 The Red Man of the West
The Great Spirit, ’tis said, to our forefathers gave
All the lands ’twixt the eastern and western big wave,
And the Indian was happy, he’d nothing to fear,
As he rang’d o’er the mountains in chase of the deer:
And he felt like a prince as he steer’d the canoe, 5
Or explor’d the lone wild, with his hatchet and bow,
Quench’d his thirst at the streamlet, or simply he fed,
The heav’ns were his curtains, the hillock his bed.
Say then was he homeless? No, no his heart beat
For the dear ones he lov’d in the wigwam retreat. 10
But a wreck of the white man came over the wave,
In the chains of the tyrant he’d learn’d to enslave:
Emerging from bondage, and pale with distress,
He fled from oppression, he came to oppress!
Yes, such was the white man, invested with power, 15
When almost devour’d he’d turn and devour;
He seiz’d our possessions, and fat’ning with pride,
He thirsted for glory, but freedom he cried.
Our fathers were brave, they contended awhile,
Then left the invader the coveted soil; 20
The spoiler pursu’d them, our fathers went on,
And their children are now at the low setting sun;
The white man, yet prouder, would grasp all the shore,
He smuggled, and purchas’d, and coveted more.
The pamper’d blue eagle is stretching its crest 25
Beside the great waters that circle the west;
Behind the west wood, where the Indian retires,
The white man is building his opposite fires,
To fell the last forest, and burn up the wild
Which nature design’d for her wandering child! 30
Chas’d into environs, and no where to fly,
Too weak to contend, and unwilling to die,
Oh where will a place for the Indian be found?
Shall he take to the skies? or retreat under ground?
published in Ohio Star, 31 March 1830
Another pattern Eliza devised around this same time is titled The Preacher’s Exploit wherein she talks about an ambitious young preacher riding his mule through a mire, unable to unbind himself from the mule and wishing he’d remained sleeping under pluto’s shade.
But short his triumph, for, amaz’d he found
His mule was sinking deep in miry ground:
Beneath their weight, the humid earth gives way— 15
Around their heads, the wat’ry reptiles play:
The sluggish mule begins a brutish moan,
His noise commingles with the Preacher’s groan,
Who, wearied with his subterranean ride,
Would gladly walk, but ah! his feet are tied! 20
All o’er distain’d, he gasps for ev’ry breath,
And seem’d expiring in the jaws of death,
Luckily for this exploitative preacher, an angel touched him, removing the clay from his eyes, and untied his feet from the mule.
Obsequious Saturn heard the plaintive cry— 35
Roll’d on his wheel and crush’d the tedious tie.
Freed from the mule, here may his suff’rings end—
May prudence guide him—liberty attend.
Freed from the weight of his mule, the preacher can now continue his walk unfettered and exploit the next mule as he pleases. This pattern seems almost prophetic in that Eliza would meet just such a preacher and become one of his mules in a mere 5 years’ time from this pattern being conceived.
Eliza often marked the passage of time by writing a pattern recalling the events of the previous year. 1830 was an ugly year in American history when considering how settlers had treated Native Americans. Eliza was on the side of those lives destroyed by atrocities. She wasn’t the only progressive alive at the time, but she did join in the progressive humanist voices which benefitted from, but lamented the passage of, killing thousands for the purpose of European colonialism.
26 The Year Gone By
In spite of all the watchfulness
Of interested multitudes—
In spite of all the pictured bliss
Which fancy’s liberal hand intrudes—
Advancing onward day by day, 5
As light aerial coursers fly,
The hasty year has roll’d away
With hurried motion: Why?
It hurried on, to hide its guilty head,
By mingling with the blood-stained years that lie 10
In huddled heaps beyond the flood: it fled,
Afraid to wait the test of scrutiny.
What was its crime? Its reckless hand was raised
To tear from Freedom’s wreath the holiest gem;
It aimed to have humanity displaced, 15
And bind oppression on her diadem!
The year is gone: But hark! a sound
Is heard along the southern sky;
An evil spirit lurks around—
Ghost of the year gone by! 20
Beware, foul shade! a time will come,
When all the dead must reappear;
Then Justice will award the doom
Of each departed year!
published in Ohio Star, 24 March 1831
185 years later and we’re still waiting for the dead to reappear and award doom with justice for what was done. Where Eliza really shined was in her ability to give voice to those with none. Many of her patterns gave words to emotions when often words simply didn’t apply. The first of these was titled “The Widowed Mother” which is exactly what the title describes.
27 The Widowed Mother
Inscribed to Miss __________
Her bosom heaved a deeper sigh—
Her bitter tears in torrents fell—
Her babe was sleeping on her arms,
Nor felt, nor feared, but all was well.
The secret bitterness she felt, 5
Whene’er her sorrows grew so wild,
None knew, save He to whom she knelt
To ask protection for her child.
“I’ve known,” she said, “a mother’s joy,
I’ve felt a mother’s tenderness; 10
Mine is a widowed mother’s grief—
My little babe is fatherless!
The looks of this cold-hearted world,
I have not courage to endure!
But O! it rends my bleeding heart, 15
To think my babe is insecure.
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Weak as defenceless woman is,
I never felt unsafe before!
Who will protect thy innocence?
My babe, thy father is no more! 20
But there is One with piteous ear,
Who feeds the ravens when they cry;
He’ll succor thee: O, never fear;
Thou hast a friend that will not die.
Then suffer not thy mother’s grief 25
To interrupt thy sweet repose:
To Him, whose eye commands relief,
I should surrender all my woes.”
Then, with an aspect which expressed
A troubled heart half reconciled, 30
She clasped her infant to her breast,
And said, “My Father! bless my child.”
published in Ohio Star, 31 March 1831
This was the first of many patterns Eliza Snow wrote to give voice to the voiceless. Women’s voices simply didn’t carry the social weight and value that men’s did. We’ve come a long way but it’s important to recognize where we’ve been. I’ll allow Laurel Ulrich to illustrate my point better than I can.
One scholar has estimated that, in Mormon archives, men’s diaries and memoirs outnumber those of women by ten to one. That may actually underestimate the problem. Although limited education may have contributed to the scarcity of women’s writing, a more important factor was the cultural assumption that their words—like their duties—were essentially private and therefore beyond the reach of history. Men, not women, routinely served missions, and diary keeping was a missionary duty. Missionaries commonly wrote in bound journals. In contrast, female diarists often used the blank pages of other people’s diaries, homemade packets stitched together from folded paper, children’s schoolbooks, and in one case the back of old maps. IN archives, their words often fade into the page as though they had been exposed to rain, sun, and sleet, if not a laundry tub. Some pages are overlaid with the scribblings of children.
Eliza R. Snow., Zina D.H. Young, and Bathsheba Smith were prominent leaders in nineteenth-century Utah, yet their personal journals, like the Fourteenth Ward quilt, almost disappeared.
It’s not just that women often had less access to education to learn how to read and write, but they rarely had the materials needed to capture their voice, instead relying on random scraps of paper they could piece together from other sources. If they did have access to expensive paper to keep a journal, it was counter to societal norms for them to keep it because journal keeping was more often a man’s task. If they did overcome these societal norms, rarely were there journals ever preserved as well as men’s because their voices, as Ulrich articulates so perfectly, were a private matter. If they weren’t a private matter, women didn’t have a say in what happened in society, so what could their journals possibly hold that was of any consequence? So, when I say Eliza Snow’s patterns gave voice to the voiceless, it’s because her poems offer a brief contemporary snapshot written from a woman’s perspective, often concerning the plight of women’s life at the time. Often, these contemporary poems convey a sense of day-to-day life better than any late reminiscence, memoir, or biographical sketch.
Eliza’s commentary on politics and world events is quite remarkable as well. Women’s voices were not only ignored, but actively suppressed when it came to political or national affairs. Men ran politics and therefore only men’s voices counted when it came to social commentary. However, a poet like Eliza could carefully craft her words and people would buy the Ohio Star or whatever paper to learn her political commentary. I’d be willing to bet the majority of Eliza’s faithful audience were women interested in her astute take on society. As evidence of this, many of her poems are written to women with titles like To Miss ____ or Forget Me Not [My Epitaph] to A---. She wrote her patterns for all to read, using inspiration from her friends and likely conversations she had with them concerning what was going on in the world around them.
Sometimes, Eliza became emboldened in her columns as more people bought the paper just for her poetry. Her razor-sharp commentary would from time to time make a precision strike at a man in high-society when he was deaf to his own political suicide and she relished the future when he was dead.
34 To a Politician
Pray (when thou pray’st,) that fame will spread
A bright Parnassian wreath for thee:
How well it twines around thy head,
All, but thyself, may see.
Crave what thou wilt: but surely crave 5
A name, nor think the purchase dear:
If sweetly sounded o’er thy grave
All, but thyself, can hear.
O! scruple not, yourself to sell,
For what a generous world will give, 10
Yes, let a grateful public tell
When, such an one, did live.
published in Ohio Star, 17 November 1831
Eliza published many poems about her own personal God. This personal God was the Christian God, but of course she lamented how much this God had been coopted and corrupted by priests seeking personal wealth and gain. Her own God was benevolent and egalitarian. What I find interesting is not just her social commentary and giving voice to the voiceless, as these were the outward expressions of her patterns, but the more internal nature her poetry reveals. While most Mormon women from which we do have some small number of writings are dynamic and fascinating characters to learn about and learn from, few of them have a character development the way Eliza’s poems illustrate. Eliza is so dynamic when we read her first poems from the late 1820s and compare them with her timeline joining Kirtland Mormonism, to finally reading her Nauvoo poems in conjunction with her sparsely-kept Nauvoo journal. Few women develop so much is such tangible ways to students of Mormon history. Then, of course, Utah Eliza is a completely different person in many ways. Kirtland and Nauvoo Eliza seems as if she was trying to find or establish her place in Mormon society in the shadow of her sister-wife Emma. Utah Eliza found that place and made it her own and she became the most powerful women in Utah history even to this day.
One of Eliza’s longest patters was composed in October of 1838 titled “The Gathering of the Saints and the Commencement of the City of Adam-ondi-Ahman”. Her poems throughout her time joining the church make a shift to more religion and belief in the God of the old and new testaments, and from 1838 on they tend to focus more heavily on construction of a literal Zion, a Mormon theocracy. She would become paramount in establishing the Utah Mormon theocracy and her poems throughout 1837-44 reveal she was the right person for the job with the right theocratic mentality.
The God who talk’d with Adam face to face
Is speaking now, in these the latter-days,
And all the righteous men that ever stood
Upon the earth, before and since the flood, 20
Unite their faith to roll the kingdom forth,
Until the “Little Stone” shall fill the earth.
Joseph’s and Judah’s records join’d in one,
A powerful instrument have now become
To gather up the Saints, a noble band 25
That will possess the consecrated land.
From northern, eastern, and from southern climes
The “Camp of God” comes up from time to time.
Though diff’rent customs have their manners form’d,
Though various feelings have their bosoms warm’d, 30
With one accord they hear the joyful sound,
And to Messiah’s standard gather round;
Through stranger lands they trace a tedious road,
To places chosen for the Saints’ abode;
Beyond the Mississippi’s lucid flow, 35
Where Zion’s towers will yet with splendor glow;
For God has set His hand the second time,
To gather His dispers’d from every clime.
In Jackson County, first they purchas’d land,
Where earth’s Metropolis in time will stand. 40
On that choice soil, obtaining legal right,
Their hearts exulted with intense delight;
But lo! as yet, the Saints could not be blest
With the possession of eternal rest.
And thus from time to time were driven forth
To seek for shelter further to the north, 50
Where they are building cities to the Lord,
That Zion in her strength may be prepar’d,
Ere the destroying angel ushers forth,
And desolation’s besom sweeps the earth—
Ere the broad scourge, by heaven’s inflicting hand, 55
Shall scatter terror through Columbia’s land!
Eliza went from a non-denominational magic-believing Christian to a die-hard Zionist with the full expectation she was a part of the kingdom of God on earth. She went from believing in the Bible to believing the second coming was to happen in her own lifetime. Eliza’s development from Christian to apocalyptic millennialist helping to construct the literal kingdom of God provides a fascinating window into the minds of many Mormon converts of the day. The theology may have been radical and unique, but the idea of America being the promised land which Jesus will return to and reign from upon his second coming was by no means a new idea. Mormonism just happened to be led by a guy who was hell-bent on making it happen.
Eliza’s patterns continue to evolve as she moves to Quincy with the Mormon exodus from Missouri to Illinois. Her next poem was more written to the good citizens of Illinois who’d welcomed the religious refugees with open arms than it was to the Mormons who were moving there. The number of poems she wrote in 1839 outnumbers the number she wrote for the 5 years previous by almost 2-fold. One of these poems is quite interesting as it was a love letter to an unknown person Eliza found attractive by deeming them Narcissus, after the Greek hunter known for his physical attractiveness. Maybe it was Jo, maybe somebody else who’d stolen her heart, we’ll probably never know.
51 Narcissa to Narcissus
Deaf was my ear—my heart was cold,
My feelings could not move,
For all thy vows, so gently told—
Thy sympathies of love.
But when I saw thee wipe the tear 5
From sorrow’s fading eye;
And stoop the friendless heart to cheer;
And still the rising sigh:
And when I saw thee turn away,
From folly’s glitt’ring crown, 10
To deck thee with the pearls that lay
On wisdom’s fallow ground:
And when I saw thy soul refuse
The flatt’ring baits of vice;
And with undaunted courage choose 15
Fair virtue’s golden prize:
And when I saw thy towering soul,
Rise on devotion’s wings;
And saw amid thy pulses roll
A scorn of little things: 20
I lov’d thee then, for virtue’s sake,
And ’twas no crime to part
With all that wealth bestows to make
The purchase of thy heart.
published in Quincy Whig, 24 August 1839
Soon after this, Eliza wrote a pattern to her brother, Lorenzo, who was about to embark on a mission to European countries with the other Apostles.
Like purling streams, the fleety moments roll’d, 5
Or like the music of a dream untold;
Yet deep on mem’ry’s mirror lie imprest
Those blissful seasons, which your presence blest.
When thou shalt move beneath a distant sky,
And length’ning distance shall between us lie, 10
Say, wilt thou? no; thou never can forget,
The time we parted; and the time we met.
Her poems continue to chronicle her life when we read between the lines. At face value, her poems are interesting but not particularly remarkable. However, when we consider what was going on in her life, the population of women to which she gave a voice, and what her future held unbeknownst to her, her poems truly are remarkable.
By 1844, Eliza’s published poems numbered in the hundreds, with hundreds of short stanzas throughout her personal journals and placed delicately in letter correspondences. Many of her published poems in the Times and Seasons were written as voices of warning to her sister wives like this little note to Eliza Partridge, then just 18 years old, an orphan, and confused at the situation in which she found herself with the unconventional agreement among herself, Emma Smith, and the prophet while living in their home.
128 You know, dear Girl that God is just” [Eliza Partridge]
You know, dear Girl, that God is just—
He wields almighty pow’r;
Fear not his faithfulness to trust
In the most trying hour.
Though darkness like the shades of night 5
Should gather round your way;
The Lord our God will give you light
If you his will obey.
In sweet submission humbly wait
And see his purpose crown’d 10
He then will make the crooked straight
And spread salvation round.
Our heav’nly Father knows the best
What way we must be tried:
Stand still and his salvation test— 15
Thou shalt be satisfied.
composed 19 October 1843
Other patterns devised by Eliza Snow were directed to mourning mothers who’d lost their children, or fellow saints mourning other lost loved ones. Yet, all the while, even others spoke to the political aspirations of the Mormon empire. These I find to be rather fascinating because women had no place in politics of the day. Eliza, however, circumvented that prohibition through the surgical knife of her poetry. Once again, her progressive social proclivities reveal themselves in this specific pattern.
141 Riots in Congress
Hush, hush, lest the monarchs of Europe hear
The heart-sick’ning sound that salutes the ear!
For wherefore should haughty tyrants know
That republican dignity’s sinking low?
O where have the noble spirits gone— 5
O where is the glory our fathers won?
And where are the sages that us’d to feel
For the nation’s honor—the nation’s weal?
What! “riots in Congress!” Can it be
In a country renown’d for its liberty, 10
That the highest departments of State are rife
With low-minded jargon and boyish strife?
When the head is sick, the whole heart is faint,
And a spreading disease must produce complaint,
There’s no wonder then at the public tone— 15
The head is disorder’d—the people groan!
Ah! “riots in Congress!” Is it not
On our nation’s escutcheon, a deep, foul blot?
Yes, the standard of Freedom has been disgrac’d
With a stain that can never be eras’d! 20
Is there, who will attend to the people’s cause?
Is there, who will administer rights and laws?
Men are fooling in Congress while freemen roam
In their own native country, thrust from home!
Now, we’ve “riots in Congress”:—not only there, 25
But riots are spreading ev’ry where;
And the Union soon will be made to know
That her sanction of mobbing, has brought her low.
O, where have the shades of our fathers gone?
O, where is the spirit of Washington? 30
Is this the proud climax of Liberty,
And are these the best blessings of being free?
composed 25 May 1844
published in Nauvoo Neighbor, 5 June 1844
And yet, the most remarkable of her poems was addressed to Queen Victoria when Lorenzo Snow met with her and Prince Albert in late 1843 and presented them both with Books of Mormon.
130 Queen Victoria
Of all the monarchs of the earth
That wear the robes of royalty,
She has inherited by birth
The broadest wreath of majesty.
From her wide territorial wing 5
The sun does not withdraw its light,
While earth’s diurnal motions bring
To other nations day and night.
All earthly thrones are tottering things
Where lights and shadows intervene; 10
And regal honor often brings
The scaffold or the guillotine.
But still her sceptre is approv’d—
All nations deck the wreath she wears;
Yet, like the youth whom Jesus lov’d, 15
One thing is lacking, even there.
But lo! a prize possessing more
Of worth, than gems with honor rife—
A herald of salvation bore
To her, the words of endless life. 20
That GIFT, however fools deride,
Is worthy of her royal care;
She’d better lay her crown aside
Than spurn the light reflected there.
O would she now her influence bend— 25
The influence of royalty,
Messiah’s kingdom to extend,
And Zion’s “nursing mother” be;
Thus with the glory of her name
Inscrib’d on Zion’s lofty spire, 30
She’d win a wreath of endless fame,
To last when other wreaths expire.
Though over millions call’d to reign—
Herself a powerful nation’s boast;
’Twould be her everlasting gain 35
To serve the king, the Lord of Hosts.
For there are crowns and thrones on high,
And kingdoms there, to be confer’d—
There honors wait that never die;
There fame’s immortal trump is heard. 40
Truth echoes—’tis Jehovah’s word;
Let kings and queens and princes hear.
In distant isles the sound is heard—
Ye heav’ns rejoice! O earth, give ear!
The time, the time is now at hand 45
To give a glorious period birth;
The Son of God, will take command
And rule the nations of the earth.
composed 19 October 1843
published in Times and Seasons, 1 January 1844
Conquering the world and building a Mormon empire wasn’t some secret aspiration of Joseph Smith he only told to people behind closed doors, it was the dream of every faithful Mormon living under his tyrannical reign. Granted, Eliza Snow was privy to all sorts of conversations with her husband we’ll never know and no document ever contained, but the sentiments he communicated to her personally and proclaimed to the Mormon community publicly soon became the sentiments and aspirations of every Mormon in the world. They wanted to do whatever necessary to build the kingdom of god on earth, even if that meant forming an alliance with the greatest political enemy of the early republic to establish Mormonism as the state church of the United Kingdom by converting his and her highness to the truth contained in the Book of Mormon. This would be like Sheri Dew meeting with President Xi Jinping with the hopes he declares Mormonism as the national religion of China, or like the church building a temple in Moscow hoping to convert Russians and take in millions in tithing from oligarchs. In and of itself, the motivation which led to Books of Mormon being given to the most powerful people in the world in 1843 was downright treasonous.
But, because this is politics masquerading as religion, it goes completely unnoticed and nobody pays attention. Patterns of early Mormonism certainly make their way into headlines today, but I digress.
One final word from Eliza R. Snow’s lexicon to round out our show today. I know this hasn’t really been a conventional show so I appreciate you sticking around through it.
134 The Past Year
A year—what is a year? ’Tis but a link
In the grand chain of time extending from
The earth’s formation, to the period when
An angel standing in the sun shall swear
‘The chain is finished—time shall be no more.’ 5
Then, by the pow’r of faith, that pow’r by which
The great Jehovah spake and it was done,
And nature mov’d subservient to his will;
Earth leaves the orbit where her days and nights
And years and ages have been measur’d long, 10
By revolution’s fix’d unchanging laws;
And upward journeys to her native home.
Where is the Year? Envelop’d in the past,
With all its scenes and all its sceneries
Upon its bosom laid. The year has gone 15
To join in fellowship with all the years
Before and since the flood; leaving behind
A train of consequences—those effects
Which, like a fond paternal legacy
That firmly binds with int’rest, kin to kin; 20
Unite the future, present and the past.
The Year is gone! None but Omnipotence
Can weigh it in the balance and define
The good and evil mingled in its form.
None but an Omnipresent eye can view 25
The fountains and the springs of joy and grief,
Of pain and pleasure, which within its course
It open’d and has caus’d to flow thro’ out
The broad variety of human life.
None else is able to explore the length 30
And breadth—to fathom the abysses and
To pry into the cloister’d avenues
Of this life’s sceneries, and testify,
Or count the seeds of bitterness which yield
Pois’nous effluvia, proving, when infus’d 35
Into society, its deadliest curse;
Or number the bright rays of happiness,
Whether in sunbeams written, or defin’d
By those soft pencilings of light,
Whose want of dazzling brilliancy, is more 40
Than compensated by their constancy
In every day attendance,—little joys,
Which shed a soothing infl’ence on the heart,
Yet imperceptibly—by habit made to seem
More like appendages than gifts bestow’d. 45
But who, with common sense and eye unclos’d—
With sensibility enough to keep
The heart alive—with warmth enough to give
An elasticity to half its strings;
But finds inscrib’d upon the tablet of 50
The memory, a reminiscence of
The year departed, deeply written there
In characters that stand in bold relief;
And more especially in these last days
When nature, seeming conscious that her time 55
Of dissolution is approaching; hastes
With all the rude impetuosity
Of the tumult’ous hurricane; to close
Her labors. Ev’ry spirit is arous’d
Both good and bad, each to its handy work, 60
Diffusing in the walks of social life
Their honey and their gall: each heart imbibes
That, which is most congenial to its own
Inherent qualities of character;
Of which a full development is wrought 65
By the effective hand of circumstance.
A few more years of hurried scenery
Will tell the tale—the present drama close—
Decide the destiny of multitudes
And bring this generation to the point 70
Where time extending to its utmost bound,
Will tread the threshold of eternity.
composed ca. 1 January 1844
published in Deseret News, 28 December 1850
Indeed, it had been quite a year. I read a lot of Eliza’s poems while writing this script and today was just a small sampling of hundreds within her published lexicon. You’ll, of course, find a link to it in the show notes if you want to read for yourself because there really are some gems in there I didn’t include today. But truly the most remarkable thing about Eliza’s poems is the evolution of her character and personality as she got older, wiser, and more powerful in the church. If you read her earliest poems next to some of her later Utah-era poems, she’s a completely different person. Few individuals we study in Mormon history can we see such character development over a long period of time. Few individuals were so integral to the evolution of the religion throughout so many different eras. Eliza joined the church when it was a campy kind of hippy cult in Kirtland. She witnessed the evolution of the church into a land and bank speculation endeavor, a military command, and finally to a criminal empire with its own set of laws on the Mississippi. From that time forward she saw the hardships of the overland trail migration and kept her own trail journal. She saw the trials and tribulations of the Mormons settling in a hostile and alien desert to truly build a theocracy. She read newspaper reports on the civil war, defended polygamy, founded the Utah Relief Society as she was the most powerful woman Bloody Brigham could trust to carry out his designs. Eliza R. Snow’s life chronicled is one of the most incredible stories in Mormon history and she’s one of the only women in Mormon history to have an entire biography dedicated to just her written by Maureen Ursenbach Beecher who also published Eliza’s journals that survived.
Such a dynamic figure of history. I thought, what better way to get to know her than by consuming her own artistic expression which tapped deep into the foundations of who she was as a person. There is a tradeoff though, which makes her story and the surviving documentation from her even more remarkable. Each and every person in Mormon history is just as unique and dynamic as Eliza was in real life. But, because so few of them made the contributions to the cause that Eliza did, their writings and personal achievements have faded away with the passage of time and they’re all but forgotten. We’re lucky when it comes to Eliza R. Snow and everything she left behind. But more importantly, her voice was valued in the early Mormon communities and therefore her work and personal writings were preserved for later generations. What we can learn from her, the patterns she teaches us about people, cause us to reflect on the people who experienced early Mormonism as more than just names and dates. They were real people with real struggles, real pains, real joys, real hardships, real accomplishments. They were just as real as you and me. Mormon history is the history of a people, not just a religion. With that, we’ll let Eliza take us out from one of her later poems written in Utah just a few years before she essentially retired and took on emeritus status as president of the Utah Relief Society.
454 “Our former, loved associates”
Our former, loved associates,
Have mostly passed away;
While those we knew as children
Are crowned with locks of gray.
We saw Time’s varied traces, 5
Were deep on every hand—
Indeed, upon the people,
More mark’d, than on the land.
The hands that once, with firmness,
Could grasp the ax and blade, 10
Now move with trembling motion,
By strength of nerve decay’d.
The change in form and feature,
And furrows on the cheek;
Of time’s increasing volume, 15
In plain, round numbers speak,
And thus, as in a mirror’s
Reflection, we were told,
With stereotyp’d impressions,
The fact of growing old.
composed 20 June 1873
published in Woman’s Exponent, 1 August 1873
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