I was intrigued to find, in my searches of old periodicals this past week, a notice of a Mormon periodical I’d never heard of. And, even more surprising, this periodical was a literary periodical. Yes, in 1839!!
In the February 1839 issue of the Western Messenger, I found the following description of The Mormon Reporter and Iowa Literary Telegraph:
The Mormon Reporter and Iowa Literary Telegraph.
This admirable and truly original Periodical continues to sustain its high rank in the literary firmament. Spicy and entertaining, profound and scientific, just and wise, imaginative and poetical, its columns teem with interest and novelty. Its Editor wields the pen of an Armand Carrel, and may be ranked among the most influential guides of public opinion in this century. Not to know it argues a man unknown, not to take it proves him a Goth, not to read it a Barbarian. Published weekly, at $2.00.
If this sounds overblown, that isn’t surprising, given the custom of periodicals at the time. Notices of one periodical frequently appeared in another, unrelated periodical, and usually with some kind of praise, deserved or not.
This notice is, in fact, preceded by another, #3 in this issue of the Western Messenger, for the Louisville Literary News-letter, edited by Edmund Flagg. But the Western Messenger, instead of giving Flagg’s publication the customary praise, wrote the following:
We are not much given to puffing the literary periodicals of the day. It is not because we want good nature, but we are troubled with a criticising conscience which represses many a good natured word which we should be glad to utter. How can we praise to the skies, and recommend strenuously to the whole human race, a newspaper or magazine which we find so trivial and empty that we never read ten lines in it ourselves, and which seems to come to us just twice as often as it ought to. There are some weekly periodicals, (weakly in more senses than one,) which appear really to arrive in every mail. And because the Editors may be capital fellows, or poor men with families to support, or our own kinsfolk, or advocate our views in religion, shall we set it down in black and white that they are the ablest Editors under the sun? Because they are our cousins perhaps, shall we cozen the public with such a paragraph as this:
You may have guessed that the paragraph which followed was, in fact, the notice above for the Mormon Reporter and Iowa Literary Telegraph — an invention of the editor of the Western Messenger. He continues:
These are the sort of paragraphs which we sometimes read -with astonishment, knowing that of which they speak. We have even seen the Western Messenger extolled in similar phrase, by some of our good friends in Editorial chairs. We thank them for their kindness, and are ready gratefully to receive all the praise they can conscientiously give, but cannot promise to return it in kind. We shall praise the work we like, not that which likes us. This battledoor and shuttlecock game of puffsâ€”the “Mormon Reporter” puffing the “Black Hawk Champion” and the “Black Hawk Champion” sending it back again by the return of mailâ€”this is what we never learned to play.
We hope therefore, it will not be thought that it is because the “News Letter” says a kind word of us from time to time, that we are about to speak kindly of that. Noâ€” but because, having diligently read the five or six numbers now published, we see cause to like the talents and diligence of the Editor. We shall not say that Jeffrey and Lockhart are fools to himâ€” but we may safely declare that he is a pains-taking and wellread young man, of apparently enlarged and tasteful mind, fond of his work, with high and honorable views of it, and assisted by able writers. It gives us pleasure to be able sincerely to say that it will be a credit to our city if it sustains such a paperâ€”a disgrace to it, if it falls. We wish it prosperity, and to its Editor as much of the pleasure, and as little of the vexation of an Editorial Career, as is possible. And that, at least, is no extravagant wish.
So, unfortunately, there is no Mormon Reporter to be found and no unknown trove of Mormon literary accomplishment to be mined. But there is now a name, one with a history that extends back to 1839, that might serve the basis for some new publication.