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