Sunday Lit Crit Sermon: J. H. Paul on status of Mormon Arts, 1931

9.9.12 | | 3 comments

Joshua_H_PaulThe defense of Utah and Mormon artists and educators offered by J. H. Paul in 1931 may have seemed slightly overblown when he talked of poetry (see last week’s post), but as he explores other fields of art and education in the excerpt below, he seems all the more desperate and less informed about the arts in all these fields. He seems to know something of Utah artists and educators, but little of those in the rest of the world, while claiming that the Utah natives are on par with them.

It may be simple to dismiss Paul’s text as an unwise and uninformed attempt to refute the statements of H. L. Mencken and Bernard DeVoto, but I think there is still something to be gained from it, for Paul’s knowledge of Utah artists and educators does include names and mention works that aren’t familiar today, ones that may be worthy of a look today. In the excerpt below, I’ve italicized the titles of works and put the names of artists in bold type, completing their names in brackets when possible.

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Has the Desert Failed to Blossom?

Does Utah Lack Writers, Artists, Musicians, Thinkers?

By J. H. Paul, University of Utah

Dramatic Art

THE stage is not specifically named in the indictment against Utah. Nevertheless it cannot well be excluded and should therefore be included. Strange that our critics never heard of Maude Adams, Hazel Dawn (Hazel Tout), Margie Dwyer, [Channing?] Pollock the play writer, [Edwin Milton] Royle, author of The Squaw Man.

It is of record that great plays were produced in Utah from the earliest times. Actors of world-wide fame tell of the regard they have for Utah because of the cordial welcome and discriminating appreciation accorded them here. The actor’s best asset is his audience; and if the people of Utah had been deficient in the ability to recognize good acting when they saw it, these personages of world fame could not have remembered them with the genuine pleasure to which so many of them bear witness. The writer is informed that Utah is well represented in the actor population of Hollywood.

It has not fallen to the writer to deal much with works of fiction put forth by Utah people. Among those that have come to his notice and that he regards as notable, are: The Comstock Lode, by C. C. Goodwin; John Stevens’s Courtship, by Susa Young Gates; and Wild Roses, by Howard R. Driggs. Others he has heard favorably commented upon but has not had the opportunity to read.

A Remark About Artists

CONCERNING artists, an opinion may be worth nothing from one whose only qualification for comment is admiration for their work. Yet, it seems to the writer, the sweeping statement that Utah has no artists should not have been made by any one, when inquiry could have ascertained that there are between 35 and 50 Utah artists whose work is being shown in exhibits held twice a month in Salt Lake City, and that 27 of the schools of Utah maintain art exhibits of their own. In the last ten years there have been 139 such exhibitions. Pupils are taught underlying principles; and as far as the writer can learn, there is perhaps no other State that is doing more to advance among its people a knowledge of art. So, too, if those who make the charge that Utah produces no artists had ever heard of C. E. Dallin of Boston, Avard Fairbanks of Ann Arbor, or Mahonri Young of New York, he would perhaps have realized that the atmosphere of Utah is not unfavorable to artistic development. The painters whose work is at all known to the writer were of earlier times, and while it appeared to compare favorably with contemporary American production, it was the output of men who had to work at something else for daily bread. One can hardly be an artist of world renown and be anything else. Art, said to be a jealous mistress, brooks no rivals; and in poor communities works of art have few chances of profitable sale.

Concerning Musicians

WITH music also, it is the writer’s conviction that Utah fares well. Certain critics have said that the work of several of her composers, notably that of [Evan] Stephens and [Arthur] Shepherd, is suggestive of the masters. The hymns of [George] Careless have the classical tone; those of [?] Fones, [Adam C.] Smyth, and others are said to be deeply harmonic; while so many persons in this State are notable in rendition and interpretation that space forbids the enumeration. Moreover, the writer would hesitate to name some rather than others, or to record an opinion of the work of those of whom he has slight knowledge. As to Stephens, several of his compositions, to my untrained apprehension, suggest the beauty of Foster’s work. “By the Brooklet,” a duet never published, is one of these; while it would not be surprising, at least to the writer and many other listeners, if his recent religious oratorios should be found to rank with world-famous productions. Shepherd’s work is beyond most of us, and we have listened to but little of it; yet from what we hear we do not doubt that it ranks high.

Community music flourishes in Utah. Each church has its choir and soloists; and the entire congregation also sings—a feature most distinctive, perhaps, of musical culture in this State. General participation in all kinds of public programs is usual, so that culture is widely diffused. Sunday Schools and young people’s meetings are participated in by people of all ages, and the practice of public speaking is said to be far more general here than elsewhere.

Science and History

SCIENCE and history are not usually considered literature; yet we may suppose that they are included in the view of our critics. Early in Utah history Orson Pratt was distinguished as an astronomer, [Joseph L.] Barfoot as a naturalist, [Edward W.] Tullidge as a historian. John R. Park and Karl G. Maeser are celebrated among early educators. Later, [Charles W.] Penrose and [C. C.] Goodwin stood out as able editors, the former reminding of Charles A. Dana, the latter of Henry Watterson. Able public speakers have never been rare here. In our day [B. H.] Roberts, in his “History of the Church,” may have rivaled Gibbon; and Levi Edgar Young‘s contributions are notable. Harvey Fletcher, physicist; R. V. Chamberlain, zoologist; Franklin S. Harris, biologist; Fred J. Pack, geologist; A. O. Treganza, ornithologist; Alfred Rordame, astronomer—these are among the names that come to mind as we think of scientific investigators of our day, working out problems in their respective fields and contributing to scientific knowledge.

As to publicists, of which Mr. DeVoto says Utah has produced none, did he never hear of George Q. Cannon, Joseph L. Rawlins, Reed Smoot, William H. King, George Sutherland, Justice of the U. S. Supreme Court, J. Reuben Clark, ambassador to Mexico, and others? Each of these, highly regarded in the halls of Congress, is nationally and internationally known and respected.

Medicine and surgery have flourished in Utah from the days of the colonists. The profession at present ranks high, receiving the encomiums of specialists over the whole country. So does the profession of teaching. Men and women, formerly of Utah, are prominent in education and other positions in many states of the Union and in offices of the federal government. It was once the writer’s privilege to show through the University Training School a visiting delegation of educational experts from Uruguay, who had spent a year at Columbia and other American universities. Without any invitation to do so, they pronounced the Stewart School one of the best, if not the best, they had visited on the continent.

Theology, Bible Study, Biography

THE disadvantage that attaches to works of a religious nature (the theologicum odium of the Middle Ages) persists from early times. No matter what an author produces by way of defense of the church or in way of exposition of doctrine, even though it may possess high merit, it is looked upon with suspicion and usually discounted by literary critics. A considerable number of works of this kind, designed chiefly as textbooks, have been produced in Utah. [B. H.] Roberts, [Orson F.] Whitney, [James E.] Talmage, [Nels L.] Nelson, [Ezra C.] Dalby, [John A.] Widtsoe, [David O.] McKay, and others have set forth scholarly materials of this nature, each book showing evidences of research. Notable among these is the Commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants, by Hyrum M. Smith, and J. M. Sjodahl, and An Introduction to the Study of the Book of Mormon, by Sjodahl; The Vitality of Mormonism, and other works, by James E. Talmage.

Biographies are not lacking. To the writer the most outstanding of these are The Life Story of Brigham Young, by Susa Young Gates and The Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, edited by Parley P. Pratt, Jr. Several able works on the history of the “Mormon Battalion” have been published, ([Daniel] Tyler, [Frank Alfred] Golder). The White Indian Boy, by Howard R. Driggs gives a good picture of life among the Shoshones. Hidden Heroes of the Rockies, by [Isaac K.] Russell and [Howard R.] Driggs, possesses literary merit besides giving evidence of painstaking research.

Referring again to The Life Story of Brigham Young, it was considered of sufficient merit that the conservative publishing houses of Jarrolds, London, and the Macmillan Company, of New York, have printed large editions at their own expense. Furthermore, an eastern magazine mentions this work as one worthy of consideration for the Pulitzer prize.

Improvement Era, v34 n5, March 1931

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I should note that Paul seems mistaken in some cases, and in other cases the individuals, while from Utah, are not Mormon. If the playwright Pollock that Paul refers to is Channing Pollock, I can’t find any indication that Channing ever lived in Utah. Nor can I find any indication of who “Margie Dwyer” is. C. C. Goodwin, longtime editor of the Salt Lake Tribune, was not Mormon, and I can’t find any musician named “Fones.” And even when I have been able to identify the individuals, they sometimes seem like a stretch—for example, Ezra C. Dalby wrote one, now forgotten, LDS manual on the Old Testament before 1931.

Still, the catalog of authors and artists above is interesting and valuable, as is some of the claims about these works—the suggestion that The Life Story of Brigham Young should have been considered for a Pulitzer Prize is surprising, if nothing else.

I like to think we would do better today in the catalog of valuable authors and artists that we could provide. But I must admit that I’m not sure how much progress Mormon Literature has made (or even how much value there is in measuring that progress). But, Paul does go on to make a wise conclusion to this article, which I will feature next week.

3 comments: “Sunday Lit Crit Sermon: J. H. Paul on status of Mormon Arts, 1931

  1. Th.

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    Still, a lot of unfamiliar names to look at. This Arthur Shepherd fellow, for instance.

    Also, I’m perfectly happy with Sutherland not being LDS.

  2. Kent Larsen Post author

    Th., I actually think that Shepherd is still known, at least among church musicians. But I agree that he is no where near as well known as, say, Evan Stephens.

    As for Sutherland, he does have LDS roots, which leads people like me to include him in some cases (I keep him on my list of Mormon politicians, for example). At the time he ran for office in Utah, he considered himself a protestant, and with Smoot and Kearns (a Catholic) was part of the Republican claim that the party in Utah wasn’t controlled by the Church.

    But, he is the only claim we have for a Mormon on the U.S. Supreme Court.

  3. Th.

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    At first I was excited by the notion, but that Sikh case is one of the most discomfitting in history, imho.

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