More yet – Boap.org and Early Saints’ Journals, etc.
August 21, 2009 2 Comments
One of my favorite things on boap.org is the ever growing collection we call in house, “Early Saints.” It has a much longer, more descriptive title on boap.org. If you scroll down the home page, you’ll see a link about diaries and journals, that’s it. This is a set of autobiographies, biographies, diaries, letters and reminiscences of people who had some contact with Joseph Smith.
The collection began with Milton V. Backman and Keith Perkins who drew together many of the sources. After that we gradually began to expand it and we continue to do so. Fans, if there are any out there, will notice that I added a short diary today.
Diaries and autobiographies are by definition a narrow slice of perceptive reality. What one person perceives of an event may be quite different from what another does. Ask any trial lawyer: eyewitnesses are often the most unreliable witnesses. But when someone records a bit of their past, it is sometimes the only view we get of important events. Ten cameras at an NFL game don’t always tell you what happened to the ball, but an unbiased referee sometimes sees things the cameras don’t. Those who composed their autobiographies late in life are subject to the tricks our brains play on us in regard to storage. Many husbands will attest to the fact that their wives swore to have no more babies, but a couple of years go by and it seems only the pleasant cuteness of the last one can be recalled. I could cite tomes on historiography and psychology but really it’s a matter seeing memory foibles and biases you observe in other people, in yourself. People report things that have significance in many cases. Nephi is a great example. It seems clear that the beheading of Laban divided his life into childhood and adulthood. His detail and mulling of the incident show it was something truly significant to him.
A kind of ideal situation may occur when independent witnesses concur in regards to what words are spoken in a given situation. Some brains will often recall the spoken word with reasonable accuracy when the report is made within a short time of the event. It’s even better of course if the reporters are present and trying to record on the spot. Coherence of such reports are quite reliable in recalling exact words. But most of the time, the witnesses found in the Early Saints collection are far from that ideal. They often display various kinds of interpretive bias, but any historian dealing in primary sources is familiar with that.
There are about 161 entries in the collection at this point (I was actually counting them when my wife interrupted me and I lost my place – I think). They have varying quality. Some are short and seem unimportant to me. Others are longer with detail I’ve found useful if for nothing more than to give clues to other sources. Some are written for publication and sometimes suffer from various kinds of bias because of that.
There are many important diaries and journals, etc. to the point, that don’t find a home in Early Saints. I wish I had time to collect them, but I just have too many things going on. One that would be useful would be Wilford Woodruff. He’s less important in the Joseph years than later perhaps, but still he is an important witness. I wish we had unlimited access to a Bill Clayton holograph. It would be better than (the still very fine effort of Robert Fillerup) what we have.
How about George A. Smith? We don’t have him. One I have, are the published letters of Charlotte Haven’s letters from Nauvoo. Her observations of Nauvoo folk are interesting, if sometimes a little tart. There are any number of sources we *don’t* have up. But let’s think positive!
What are my personal favorites? (You can offer yours too.) I like Joel Johnson. We put up all his journals, because he’s a relative so there is some prejudice on my part. I like William W. Phelps’ letters. I particularly enjoyed Charles Francis Adams’ diary, but even more the Mass. Historical Society President’s remarks about Joseph Smith (this was in the 1940s I think) who published the diary – something to the effect that Joseph deserved to die and rid the nation of a blot on its history – that’s not exact – that kind of prejudice still exists of course. Another one I like is Hepzibah Richards’ letters. Milo Andrus’ staccato account is fun. The Kirtland Elders Quorum record is a fun one. T. Edgar Lyon’s accounts of people in his childhood ward are some of my favorite stories. They had a powerful effect on the lives of those who lived them. Well, I have lots of favorites.
P. S. If you are holding copies of such things that fit the profile, and we don’t have them, shame on you! Gimmee, gimmee, gimmee!