The Spirit — The Meaning in Small Changes

Some time ago I offered this note about Lorenzo (Dow) Barnes. I also quoted a couple of excerpts from Joseph Smith’s eulogy for Barnes. Like all the funeral sermons, this one demonstrates a fair number of variants in its imprints. Probably the most important imprint of the sermon is the one appearing in the History of the Church. As I have noted before, once an edition of a given sermon appeared in the 20th century, the text essentially settled down. Full sermons remained in the public eye as reprints of anthologies or other volumes, rarely as separate documents (those demonstrate more variation).

One interesting change in the Barnes sermon involved this phrase:

We should cultivate sympathy for the afflicted among us. If there is a place on earth where men should cultivate this spirit and pour in the oil and wine in the bosoms of the afflicted, it is in this place: [1]

The published history [1909] (in vol. 5, page 360) reads as:

We should cultivate sympathy for the afflicted among us. If there is
a place on earth where men should cultivate the spirit and pour in the oil and wine in the bosoms of the afflicted, it is in this place; and this spirit is’ manifest here;[2]

Most modern LDS church members would see a clear distinction in the injunctions in these two excerpts, I think. The use of the words “the spirit” has become so common in Latter-day Saint discourse that it is nearly in the category of punctuation. The phrase mostly appears as a clipped version of “the spirit of the Holy Ghost” or “the spirit of the Lord” or “the spirit of God.” This shortened form seems to appear in the KJV, but is rather uncommon in LDS literature of the 19th century I believe, though I have not done a thorough search. On the other hand, the earlier words “this spirit” (or similar variations) are an extremely common reference in 19th century Mormon literature and speech and could have a personal reference, but most often appears to be used as a synonym for disposition, feeling, movement or influence with either a positive or negative spin.

Why was a change made in the text? It is difficult to tell with complete assurance, but almost certainly this was a typographical error (reading further in the sermon seems to verify this). The base text for most of the history was not the manuscript itself, but previous imprints, nearly always the serialized version from the Millennial Star. The Barnes sermon is different in this respect since a printer’s error left out most of the sermon from the Star.

This is a small change, but there appears to be a significant difference in meaning.


[1] Manuscript history of the church 5:1553 (inscribed by Leo Hawkins).

[2] Vol. 5:360.

2 Responses to The Spirit — The Meaning in Small Changes

  1. J. Stapley says:

    I haven’t done a thorough search either, but “the spirit” is all over the place in Joseph Smith’s commandments/revelations.

  2. W. V. Smith says:

    Yes, it does appear in the revelations. It seems to appear in other literary contexts, but its usage is quite often a bit different than the way we use it today. Very often, the phrase is adjoined to some prepositional phrase. For example, “the spirit of slander” “the spirit of persecution.” It *is* used in letters from various missionaries, like John P. Greene or Lorenzo Barnes himself. It was certainly not unknown by any means. This of course makes the change of word somewhat significant in a different way than I suggested in the OP. The distinction is really between the original use and the change made in 1909. There are more such changes in this particular sermon, but that’s really beside the point. In the end, it is the kind of curiosity that finds importance in a technical way, but also in the sense of obvious change of meaning.

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