Two King Follett Sermon (Text) Traditions
December 14, 2009 6 Comments
The two most influential texts of Joseph Smith’s “King Follett Sermon” are those arising from the 1850s church historians, and the B. H. Roberts 1909 Improvement Era text. Currently reprinted (by church organs like Deseret Book) versions of this sermon are based on the Roberts text. The 1850s text was the survivor text from the 19th century. The other text traditions from that century fell out of usage in church printings before 1900. Aside from accidentals and Roberts’ changes in a small part of the text, his main textual alterations involved the addition of footnotes.
The King Follett Sermon was not printed in volume 6 of the Roberts’ edited History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1912. The sermon had been removed at the direction of President Joseph F. Smith at the last moment. The removal constitutes an important episode in the history of the sermon, but a full understanding of the issues would require too much space here.
The sermon was restored in the 1950 revised edition of the history, but it was not based on the sources used in the surrounding text of the history (which itself is based on a 19th century episodic printing in England rather than the manuscript of the history itself). Instead, the 1950 edition used Roberts’ text, as did the earlier 1938 container Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith.
The Roberts tradition was created by him as a way to both counter rising prejudice about the accuracy of the sermon “report” itself and to place Roberts’ interpretive comments before church readership. It failed somewhat in the former purpose and succeeded eventually in the latter. The story here is a long and complex one and leads to obscure corners of Mormonism. 
As a sort of straight-forward comparison between the two text traditions, i.e., the church’s manuscript history text (ca 1855), and the 1909 Roberts text, I draw your attention to a preliminary parallel here. The two texts are expressed in variorum  fashion, showing how various editions of the text have changed through different printings of the sermon in the 19th and 20th centuries (beware, this text is just a draft and is not complete or completely correct -moreover, not all 19th and 20th century printings involved these two text traditions -also(!) Roberts’ footnotes are not displayed). The odd abbreviations are explained as follows:
DN : Deseret News (ca 1856)
MS2: Millennial Star (ca 1860)
JD: Journal of Discourses (ca 1860)
CON: The Contributor (ca 1890)
GM2: Third manuscript version of KFS by Jonathan Grimshaw (ca 1855) and as it was slightly edited again, as it appeared in the manuscript history of church. GM2 was founded on an earlier (and secondary) printing of the sermon in Nauvoo in 1845
IE: The 1909 Era text (= R1)
R2: Liahona the Elders Journal (ca 1911)
R3: 1913 version of the 1909 text publ. by Roberts
R4: 1938 Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith
R5: ca 1950 revised ed. of History of the Church
R6: edited version of R5 appearing in the Ensign magazine (ca 1971)
 I don’t mean to imply that Roberts was motivated by personal prestige. He clearly felt that his comments placed the sermon’s text within the boundaries of Joseph’s intent and current church teachings. A significant portion of church leaders eventually agreed.
 A variorum essentially allows the reader to reconstruct any edition of the text observed by the footnotes.