Edward Tullidge’s attempts at starting a Mormon Literature

1.16.13 | | 12 comments

Tullidge-BenIsrael-1887-CoverIt is wonderful to come across completely new information on one subject when you are searching for information in a completely different area. In my case, I was looking for background on Edward Tullidge and why he was in New York City in 1866, and I discovered the Edward Tullidge who tried to create a Mormon literature in 1864. I also discovered that my impression of Tullidge, as an inconstant and unfaithful Church member involved in the Godbeite schism, was not a fair impression. And I came to the conclusion that we, in Mormon letters, need to give Edward Tullidge, the author, poet, playwright and editor, more attention when we look at Mormon literary history.

What has led me to this conclusion is a single article in the Journal of Mormon History written by Ronald W. Walker1. Not only did this article provide the information I was looking for, it also told me about Tullidge’s attempt at creating a Mormon literature in Utah in 1864, an entire episode of Mormon literary history that I knew nothing about. The following is my summary of the relevant material in Walker’s article.

Tullidge was an English convert who joined the Church in 1838 at age 19. He was enthusiastic, and spent, by his own claim, much of the next 18 years preaching the gospel. Well educated and talented, Tullidge eventually became an editor of the Church’s Millennial Star from 1856 to 1861, putting his efforts into writing. But others who knew him then found Tullidge inconstant, moving from one thing to another, struggling with alcoholism and subject to wide emotional swings. Prior to editing the Millennial Star he even was excommunicated at his own request before returning to the Church.

In 1861 Tullidge immigrated to Utah and became very enthused with serving the Church. He wrote to Brigham Young explaining that although he was trained as a shoemaker, he would work at anything. A second letter to the Church president made his desires clearer; he commended Brigham for his attitude toward drama and then noted “yet our people have no national drama; and in fact, properly speaking, no national literature.” By ‘national,’ Tullidge meant, of course, the Mormon nation. He continued:

Allow me here, brother Brigham, to speak of myself. From the time I came into the church, I fervently desired to live to see the Saints a great nation, and ranking in the first class of civilized society. To desire to see this was in me also a desire to help work it out. To be numbered among the workers out of Zion’s social and national greatness, became my ambition. Although then but a Simple Mormon boy, I realized the fact that no nation could rank high in civilization without a national literature. I chose that part as my particular sphere… to become one of the workers out of our civilization and national destiny.

Unfortunately, Brigham Young never gave Tullidge the approval that he wanted, leaving him to try to fulfill his literary ambitions with an occasional article for the Deseret News, while surviving as a shoemaker. He tried again to get Young’s interest in 1863, proposing a literary school and the “Deseret Literary Manuscript Magazine.” Brother Brigham again failed to give him the approval sought.

Just over a year later, Tullidge joined with a fellow former Millennial Star editor, E. L. T. Harrison, to start what was apparently the first literary magazine in the intermountain west, Peep O’Day. Unfortunately, Tullidge’s disappointment with Brigham Young and with his control in Utah led him to make the periodical somewhat radical, suggesting that the theocratic beliefs of the Church were in error. The magazine’s attempt to foster a new, universal civilization based on Mormon beliefs failed, and it folded after just five issues (96 pages in total).

The magazine’s failure was hard for Tullidge to swallow and he began to sink into depression. He returned to earlier projects, including editing Wilford Woodruff’s journal, which allowed him to live in Woodruff’s home. By March 1866 Woodruff discovered Tullidge in bad shape, “raving mad,” and “drinking very hard.” Woodruff and his family helped Tullidge through the crisis over a month.

When Tullidge returned to health, he soon departed for New York City, believing that Brigham Young had approved his projects, including writing pro-Mormon articles for national newspapers and magazines. He managed to place at least six pieces in widely circulated periodicals, including the Galaxy and the Phrenological Journal. After returning to Utah in 1868, he became involved in a literary magazine started by his co-editor Harrison, the Utah Magazine. Tullidge was given temporary charge of the the periodical while Harrison accompanied the magazine’s benefactor, prosperous merchant William S. Godbe, to New York, where, unknown to Tullidge, the two resolved to try to reform Mormonism, creating a schism based on their spiritualist beliefs. When they returned to Utah, they involved Tullidge in the effort without disclosing the spiritualist basis for their effort. The schism eventually failed.

Over the next few decades, Tullidge continued to vacillate in his feelings for Mormonism, perhaps because of his emotional swings, perhaps because of his frustrations at a lack of success at his efforts. He would spend a few years working in the Church’s favor, writing books like Life of Brigham Young: Or, Utah and Her Founders (1876) and The Women of Mormondom (1877) and then switch allegiances. After Godbe he returned to the Church, and then switched allegiance to the Reorganized church, rewriting (unsuccessfully, Walker’s article hints) his 1878 Life of Joseph the Prophet to fit RLDS views. A few years later he was back in the LDS fold, where he finally stayed, again writing. He edited his history periodical, Tullidge’s Quarterly Magazine from 1880-1885 and started another periodical, The Western Galaxy, in 1888, but it folded after 4 issues.

Today he is perhaps best known for his History of Salt Lake City (1886), which is still considered an important early Mormon history. And in literature, his one-time dream, Tullidge didn’t leave us barren. In addition to the occasional poem, Tullidge left at least four published plays, all taking historical figures for their subjects, including Oliver Cromwell (1870), Ben Israel (1875), Elizabeth of England (1879) and Napoleon (1888).

Reviewing all this, I think there are still many questions about Tullidge and his motives. While Walker never makes any suggestion, Tullidge’s mood swings and inconstancy followed by manic effort makes me wonder (in my untrained lack-of-knowledge about psychology) if he might have been bipolar, or what he might have been able to do if his alcoholism had been under control. At least, these musings make me want to give Tullidge the benefit of the doubt.

Especially since I really identify with his effort to start a Mormon literature. I’m sorry that he wasn’t successful.

  1. Walker, Ronald W. (1976). “Edward Tullidge: Historian of the Mormon Commonwealth”. Journal of Mormon History 3: 55–72.

12 comments: “Edward Tullidge’s attempts at starting a Mormon Literature

  1. Kent Larsen Post author

    Ben, am I off my gord, or does Tullidge’s constantly shifting, sometime manic and sometimes depressed actions sound like he could be bipolar?

  2. Ben P

    Oh, that is definitely there. He also has some legitimate mental breakdowns that put him out of comission for months at a time, so there are some serious issues involved.

  3. Th.

    .

    Sad story. I too wish he’d had more success. And I want to know more about Brigham’s motivations in turning him down.

    Where did you read Ben Israel, James?

    Clarification question:

    he even was excommunicated at his own request before returning to the Church

    This sounds to me like he asked for the formality just before rejoining the fold. But it could mean he’d asked when he left. Do you know which it is?

  4. Kent Larsen Post author

    “This sounds to me like he asked for the formality just before rejoining the fold”

    Walker’s article doesn’t make it sound like that Th. It wasn’t just before he returned. It was at the depth of his reaction against the Church as a missionary, and he had essentially given up on religion, according to Walker. But, he also makes it clear that we don’t know much about this time. Tullidge didn’t leave a journal and the only source that Walker mentions is the diary of Job Smith, who was Tullidge’s missionary leader (conference president I guess?).

  5. Lorraine Miller

    I am a great, great grand niece of Edward Tullidge. I have been interested in him all my life. You can learn more about him as a young boy through the writing of one of his sisters, Elizabeth Tullidge Little who married a nephew of Brigham Young and died in Kanab. He had a second sister who was married to Alexander Pyper, the church organist, if I remember correctly. Edward had a younger brother, John, who was a landscape artist and painted with the famous artists of the day. The LDS church has many of his painting stored in their archives. There after, John Sr. was a musician and died falling down the steps of the Salt Lake Theater. It was suggested that he was drunk but I don’t think so. I don’t believe it was the Sons of Dan, either.
    Edward’s Grandfather in Weymouth, England was a shoemaker but he must have been extremely wealthy, leaving enough money to his young wife that she in turn, left or gave money to the two sisters to come to Utah. The brothers and parents immigrated the following year. I have often wondered if the grandfather was involved in smuggling as it was a great pastime in that time and place.
    I was in a wonderful independent bookstore in Palo Alto and came across a history “Kingdom of the Saints” by Roy B. West. He suggests that Edward had his first ‘falling out’ with Brigham Young when Young placed part of the blame of the hand cart disaster on Franklin D. Richards. At the time Richards was editor of the Millenial Star and Tullidge was the assistant editor. Apparently in that case, he had more loyalty for Richards than the church.
    I came across a description of the trial of the Godbeites. It’s been awhile but as I recall, after Godbe was ‘exed,’ Brigham Young asked if anyone else felt they should be ‘exed’ as well. Tullidge raised his hand. At the same time, he must have elbowed shy brother John because he raised his hand, too. They were both gone. It is for this reason my family believes the Cburch does not want to display his paintings.
    Young refused to help Edward publish his history of Utah., favoring another historian. Edward mortgaged his home and lost everything. I know this is getting too dramatic but after his death, his wife Suzannah became a prostitute. She died in a drunken stupor in a tent on 9th west. She apparently had remarried.
    I guess it’s silly to ask but what do you two historians of Tullidge think about this news?
    Lorraine Miller

  6. Bev Barham

    Lorraine, your story is fascinating. Edward Tullidge is my great-grandfather. He had three daughters Nellie (my grandmother), Blanche and Suzy. My grandmother never had much to say of her father or of her mother. I have inherited many of his publications. Sad to hear that Suzannah died destitute, and a prostitute as well. Makes sense though, since grandma and her sisters went to live in the Beehive House until they married. Nellie married William Copp from Colorado, who was at least 20 years her senior. She had four boys, including my father Douglas. Though she never denounced her mormon roots, her children were raised presbyterian, including my dad. When I moved to Park City thirty years ago I came across some old articles Tullidge wrote that were featured in the Park Record.

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