Since reading Added Upon and writing about it in my dissertation, Iâ€™ve wanted to compile a list of works of nineteenth-century Mormon utopian literature, or works that describe or yearn for an ideal society or which advocate for action that would lead to such. I realize, though, that compiling such a list is almost a foolâ€™s errand since so much of early Mormon literatureâ€”and I consider hymns literatureâ€”has to do with building Zion and the Millennium, the ultimate utopian dreams.
Even so, a few months ago, I spent an afternoon and came up with this list. It is incomplete, of course, and will likely remain so until I get serious about it. What Iâ€™d like to do in the meantime, though, is open it up to you who know nineteenth-century Mormon literature better than I do (my interest in it is about two years old) and ask if Iâ€™m missing anything crucial. Specifically, Iâ€™m looking for works of fiction or â€œproto-fictionâ€ (allegories, fables, parables, etc.) that could be reasonably labeled â€œutopianâ€ or even â€œmillennialist.â€ Iâ€™m interested in poetry too if its utopian expression is out of the ordinary.
My thought, however, is that what I have below is fairly representative of whatâ€™s out there. Am I right?
Anderson, Nephi. Added Upon
Lyon, John. Harp of Zion: A Collection of Poems, &c. (Possibly the most utopian of early Mormon literary projects as it was published for the benefit of the Perpetual Emigration Fund, a cooperative effort to gather Saints to Zion.)
Specific Poems in the Collection (In alphabetical order):
â€œThe Apostate: A Fragmentâ€
â€œPilgrim Saintâ€™s Songâ€
â€œThe Ruined Cityâ€
Phelps, William W. â€œCome to Meâ€
—. â€œVade Mecumâ€
Pratt, Parley P. The Angel of the Prairies; A Dream of the Future
—. The Millennium and Other Poems (Essentially every poem in this collection qualifies)
Smith, Emma, Ed. A Collection of Sacred Hymns, for the Church of the Latter Day Saints (LDS hymn books, of course, are a storehouse of utopian expression–not all of which is Mormon. Iâ€™ve only looked through the original LDS hymnbook, so my list is obviously lacking later hymns that idealized Utah as Zion.)
Specific Hymns in the Collection (including hymn numbers):
â€œGlorious things of thee are spokenâ€ (4)
â€œThe time is nigh that happy timeâ€ (5)
â€œGuide us, O thou great Jehovahâ€ (13)
â€œWeâ€™re not ashamed to own our Lordâ€ (14)
â€œNow let us rejoice in the day of salvationâ€ (18)
â€œEre long the vail will rend in twainâ€ (19)
â€œThis earth was once a garden placeâ€ (23)
â€œThe towers of Zion soon shall riseâ€ (29)
â€œThere is a land the Lord will blessâ€ (34)
â€œThe glorious day is rolling onâ€”â€ (71)
Like I said, this is a work in progressâ€”and really only the work of one afternoon. Sometime this week I plan to skim Orson F. Whitneyâ€™s for traces of utopian thinking. Iâ€™m also hoping to follow any new trail that comes out of this postâ€”especially if it has to do with fiction.
Conspicuously absent from this list, by the way, are the poems of Eliza R. Snow. Iâ€™ve got a copy of Derr and Davidsonâ€™s Eliza R. Snow: The Complete Poetry handy, but its more than 1000 pages of poetry seem very intimidating at this stage in my list making. Both â€œMillennialismâ€ and â€œZionâ€ have good-sized listings in the index, however, and Iâ€™m sure Sister Snow is not lacking in utopian expression.
Also absent are poems from Cracroft and Lambertâ€™s A Believing People, which is the only anthology of Mormon literature on my bookshelf that seems to contain anything from the nineteenth century. Many of these poems qualify, but I have left them off because so many of them are in the hymnbook and familiar to us already.
However, in their introduction, Cracroft and Lambert do make this observation about Mormon literature, which I think is not unrelated to a discussion about Mormon utopian literature:
[…] Mormon writing is outside the mainstream of modern literary fashion. The result of the Latter-day Saint world view is a literature strikingly at odds with the humanistic existentialism of modern literary fashion. Mormons characteristically continue to see the world through a paradisiacal glass, brightly. At its worst the literature springing from such a view may convey merely a Panglossian simplemindedness that tosses all problems and human difficulties into a catchall called the millennium or that leaves the solution of human difficulties to a fatalistic shrug of the shoulders and to God. But more and more this God-centered world view is seen as the source of great human responsibility, dignity, and opportunity, a desirable kind of world view that seems to be finding more and more adherents in a world fraught with a debilitating purposelessness. (5)
I think I agree with most of what they’re saying here, but I don’t care for the way they seem to suggest that early Mormon literature conveys a “Panglossian simplemindedness” that we are “more and more” moving away from as we rework the way we apply our God-centered world view in literature. Also, I dislikeÂ their dismissal of “a catchall called the millennium,” which bothers me mainly because I think the idea of the Millennium, like the idea of Utopia itself, is extremely powerful–and subversive–in its rejection of oppression and evil. Granted, Cracroft and Lambert are probably referring to opiate works that lull readers into a passive contentedness with “all problems and human difficulties.” But do Mormons–even the Mormon doggerelians–produce much of that kind of literary drug? In Mormonism, waiting for Zion and building Zion are bothÂ active interrelated endeavors, right? Both actively seek to change the world. So, I want to ask: Is “Panglossian simplemindedness” even an issue? Can a work be “Panglossian” and still be Mormon?
(Also, we should be careful not to conflate a clumsy aesthetic and with “panglossian simplemindedness.” You can have both in a poem, but one does not necessarily make the other.)
One interesting find, which Iâ€™ve not included on the list, is Ina Coolbrithâ€™s â€œMillennium,â€ which Cracroft and Lambert included in A Believing People. Iâ€™m hesitant to add it because Coolbrith, despite being the niece of Joseph Smith, was not a practicing Mormon during her life and I find it unlikely that her description of the Millennium in her poem stems from her experience with Mormonism. Cracroft and Lambert donâ€™t give it a date, but the anthology The Literature of California (U of California P, 2000) dates it around 1880, which puts her somewhat safely out of reach of her Mormon roots. Â That said, the poem itself strikes a few of the same notes her uncles Valentineâ€™s Day revelation on war struck in 1832. Soâ€¦maybe Iâ€™m a bit premature in writing off Coolbrith and her poem.