Was literature an afterthought for early Mormons? Looking at the first few years of Mormonism, I get the idea that for most church members it was. For the first few years poetry was the only literary work published (except for scripture and perhaps some sermons, although I don’t want to include these as literary for this analysis) and poetry was initially intended for the hymnal. When the first LDS hymnal was published in 1835, that emphasis waned, and even the LDS periodicals published fewer poems. After the initial burst of activity, 1836, 1837 and 1838 weren’t very fertile years for Mormon literature.
I don’t mean to suggest that no one was writing. But we don’t have published evidence of that writing. A case in point is Eliza R. Snow. If she was writing during these years, we no longer have what she wrote — no works by Snow have made it to archives and nothing appears in publications.
Parley P. Pratt’s record also doesn’t show much new during these years. While he produced what is perhaps his most enduring work, A Voice of Warning, in 1837, it was a missionary tract which contained just one new poem along with five extracts from his ambitious 1835 volume of poetry, The Millennium.
The transitions in Mormon periodicals didn’t really help either. In 1837 the Messenger and Advocate was succeeded by the Elder’s Journal, but the new publication managed just four issues, two in Kirtland in late 1837 and two more in the summer of 1838 in Missouri. It really wasn’t until the Times and Seasons began in late 1839 that Mormonism had a steady venue for literature.
Overall, I count just four new Mormon poems published in 1837; two by Pratt, one by Orson Hyde and one by Thomas B. Marsh.
But, it may say something that the vanguard of the beginning of Mormon Pamphleteering in the late 1830s, Pratt and Hyde, both included their poetry in their first pamphlets, Hyde in his 1836 A Prophetic Warning and Pratt in A Voice of Warning.
- Pratt, Parley P. (Five extracts from The Millennium) in A Voice of Warning…. New York, New York: W. Sandford, 1837. Previously published in The Millennium, 1835.
- Pratt, Parley P. “O glorious day! O blessed hope!” in A Voice of Warning…. New York, New York: W. Sandford, 1837. Previously published in The Millennium, 1835.
- Hyde, Orson. “Shall I behold the nations doomed” in A Timely Warning…. Preston, England, 1837. p. 5. Previously published in “A Prophetic Warning”, in the Messenger and Advocate, July 1836 and as a separate pamphlet.
- Hyde, Orson. “Lo! he comes with truth and vengeance” in A Timely Warning…. Preston, England, 1837. p. 7. Previously published in “A Prophetic Warning”, in the Messenger and Advocate, July 1836 and as a separate pamphlet.
- Hyde, Orson. “The Lord hath brought again Zion” in A Timely Warning…. Preston, England, 1837. p. 7. Previously published in “A Prophetic Warning”, in the Messenger and Advocate, July 1836 and as a separate pamphlet.
- Pratt, Parley P. “A New Years’ Song.” Messenger and Advocate, v3 n4 January 1837, p. 448.
- Wilson, John (non-Mormon). “The Evening Cloud.” Messenger and Advocate, v3 n6 March 1837, p. 479.
- Derzhavin (non-Mormon). “God.” Messenger and Advocate, v3 n9 June 1837, p. 528.
- Hyde, Orson. “Now Farewell for a Little Season.” Elder’s Journal, v1 n2 November 1837, pp. 21-22.
- Marsh, Thomas B. “A Paraphrase.” Elder’s Journal, v1 n2 November 1837, pp. 31-32.
The literary output from 1837 isn’t without its value. Most of the poetry does serve an evangelical purpose, but I think Hyde’s “Now Farewell for a Little Season,” a short poem to his wife that was included in a letter home published in the Elder’s Journal, to be quite charming. And Marsh’s “A Paraphrase,” which I included in my poetry for gospel doctrine lessons series on T&S, is fascinating and somewhat unusual — I can only think of one other early poem that is a paraphrase of scripture.
[I'm thinking of doing more of these overviews/bibliographies of past years in Mormon literary history. Do these reviews seem valuable or interesting?]