Rough stone polished

While out walking this morning, D&C 128 came up on my iPod Shuffle. I have always loved this section, even as a teenage convert, because Joseph Smith’s voice and character seemed to come through so clearly. The section itself — a letter dictated by Joseph Smith (and transcribed by William Clayton) on September 6, 1842, while hiding out from attempts to arrest him and extradite him to Missouri1 — is a wonderful blend of (to draw upon Nibley) mantic (revelatory), sophic (logical), and yes, even rhetoric (“Courage, brethren! And on, on to the victory!”). But even in his rhetorical — and one might argue ecstatic — flight at the end of the section, he still brings it back to where it started: records and recorders (cf. v. 2-4 with the end of v. 24). And then, the flight done and the circle closed, he signs off with a very mild and calm

Brethren, I have many things to say to you on the subject; but shall now close for the present, and continue the subject another time. I am, as ever, your humble servant and never deviating friend, Joseph Smith. (D&C 128:25)

What struck me today, listening to this section, was the contrast with Joseph’s earliest autographical writings. Here’s a portion of his 1832 ‘History’ that Joseph wrote himself (as opposed to dictating to Frederick G. Williams) some 10 years before dictating D&C 128; I’ve modernized (or corrected) spelling, punctuation, and capitalization, as well as making some decisions regarding clauses and sentence breaks, so as just focus on the composition itself (and to account for whatever ‘polish’ William Clayton may have given his transcription of D&C 128):

I was born in the town of Sharon in the State of Vermont North America on the twenty-third day of December DC 1805 of goodly parents who spared no pains in instructing me in the Christian religion. At the age of about ten years, my father Joseph Smith Sr. moved to Palmyra, Ontario County, in the State of New York and being in indigent circumstances were obliged to labor hard for the support of a large family having nine children; and as it required the exertions of all that were able to render any assistance for the support of the family, therefore we were deprived of the benefit of an education; suffice it to say I was merely instructed in reading, writing and the ground rules of arithmetic, which constituted my whole literary acquirements. At about the age of twelve years, my mind became seriously impressed with regard to the all-important concerns for the welfare of my immortal soul, which led me to searching the scriptures, believing as I was taught, that they contained the word of God; thus applying myself to them and my intimate acquaintance with those of different denominations led me to marvel exceedingly; for I discovered that they did not adorn their profession by a holy walk and Godly conversation agreeable to what I found contained in that sacred depository. This was a grief to my soul. Thus from age twelve years to fifteen, I pondered many things in my heart concerning the situation of the world of mankind: the contentions and divisions, the wickedness and abominations, and the darkness which pervaded the minds of mankind. My mind became exceedingly distressed, for I became convinced of my sins and by searching the scriptures, I found that mankind did not come unto the Lord, but that they had apostatized from the true and living faith, and there was no society or denomination that build upon the gospel of Jesus Christ as recorded in the New Testament, and I felt to mourn for my own sins and for the sins of the world, for I learned in the scriptures that God was the same yesterday, today, and forever, that he was no respecter to persons, for he was God.2

Joseph by this point had already received quite a bit of polishing — he had dictated the entire Book of Mormon, plus close to half of the revelations that would eventually end up in the Doctrine and Covenants. Yet even so, I see a difference between Joseph’s style here and that found in D&C 128 some 10 years later. Joseph’s writing in his 1832 ‘History’ tends to plod along, winding through long, long sentences. D&C 128 has a lighter, clearer style, and there is a sense of structure and purpose, and even of joy — that Joseph knows where he’s going with all this, that he’s excited about it, and that each new strand he brings up gets woven into the overall tapestry. Even when he goes off on that ecstatic flight at the end, he does so for a purpose and — as noted above — he brings it back to his original topic and weaves it into the tapestry as well (cf. Jeff Bennion’s excellent post over at Mormon Mentality on Joseph Smith not being a “mystic”).

FWIW; YMMV. ..bruce..


1. The Revelations of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Lyndon W. Cook, Seventy’s Missionary Bookstore, 1981, pp. 284-285.

2. Adapted from The Papers of Joseph Smith: Volume I: Autobiographical and Historical Writings, Dean C. Jessee (ed.), Deseret Book, 1989, pp. 3-6.


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