KFD5 (the Sermon in the Grove) and Display Postscript
January 8, 2012 4 Comments
I’ve been using LaTeX to construct typographical facsimiles for Joseph Smith (JS) sermon docs. The packages available to create “critical texts” are pretty feature rich, but limited in how text can be manipulated. Twenty odd years ago, Steve Jobs started NeXT Computer. The display technology was a breakthrough in a number of ways. One thing it allowed was the possibility to form and shape text like never before. Drag and drop on steroids. Pushing text around, shrinking/growing font size, moving text and characters upside down, sideways, curving it, writing sideways in margins. It was perfect for projects like mine. But it died and nothing like it seems to be available now. This is just a wish for it to return.
I’m working on the last chapter of the book now. Each chapter treats a sermon and the last chapter is all about the textual study of what is often called the “Sermon in the Grove.” (KFD5 in the book’s terms.) Usually the most fun for me is the genetic study of the “manuscript history” text of the sermon. (The manuscript history of the Church was a text created over a period from 1838 to 1857. KFD5 was edited for the history in 1856. The sermons received a separate treatment from much of the rest of the history.) For the most part, this genetic study has been rather straight-forward and I’ve indulged in post 1855 remarks in the genetic work. It seemed like the right thing to do.
Anyway, my present work centers around the 16 June 1844 sermon “variorum.” A variorum is a study of text variation over time. Various editions of KFD5 exist and editors molded the text in different ways. These editions tend to follow a similar pattern through time though some texts have a richer history than others. Creating a variorum is a tedious operation with little veins of gold sometimes appearing, but mostly it’s tedium. The price you pay for thoroughness. And of course it has to be done several times. Based on the fact that no one is perfect – and especially me.
For KFD5, and many of the other sermons of JS, the first print expression was in the Deseret News. The Church Historian’s staff supervised the printing of the history in the News most of the time and took some pride in doing so. They were angry when their other duties (they usually had to clerk for the legislature for a few weeks every year) placed the printing duty in the hands of the regular News staff, who seemed to bungle the operation often enough. (Albert Carrington was bad-mouthed as a rule. (grin))
After the D News edition, the history and therefore JS’s sermons went to England where the history (not the News per se) was reprinted in the Millennial Star. There were sometimes various other printings of the sermons in the 19th century. These were usually extracted from the Star, even in Utah, rather than the News. JS’s words were treated with some freedom by editors in the 19th century. The 20th century saw firming of the text, partly by virtue of improved printing technology. While 19th century editors might modify text rather extensively, 20th century editors were ever more conservative. This pattern is observed in LDS scripture publication in a compressed way. The Joseph Smith Papers Project has shown this in the magnificent manuscript revelation books heading up the Revelations and Translations series. I anticipate we will see more of this good stuff in the Documents Series.
We’re moving into a new generation of texts and in a way my work is a signal of that. I refer to the cessation of printing of the History of the Church. It is a great work, but it’s use has come to a climax and it is itself now a part of Mormon history. That is sad in some ways. But inevitable even in a very conservative organization like The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. New interpretations will come forth, better ones in many ways, but less connected with the source-makers if not the sources. Our distance from those sources is becoming New Testament like, though we don’t have the same text challenges as biblicists by any means. But we are moving from the culture, text and thought of the 19th century Church.
T. Edgar Lyon, a pioneer in modern Mormon historical efforts, saw this early on and communicated this nostalgia in a few reminiscences. One told of the “Old Nauvooers” and their testimonies a hundred years ago. That generation has long since passed and I fear an ever larger segment of Mormonism will forget them or never know them. Our official texts don’t mention those rank a file much but play to succinct formulaic repetitions of visions, martyrology, and the “essentials.” It’s a natural process and we even see it evidenced in the Book of Mormon. Legend and myth making.
The books we write, the songs we sing, the posts we blurt are like grass. It dies in it’s season and those grass blades are forgotten, becoming the mulch that nourishes the new. But perhaps someone a hundred years from now will still be wondering what Joseph Smith really said on such and such an occasion. My book won’t answer that question, but perhaps it will satisfy the yearning as it speaks to the impossibility of the task.
Will we write books in Heaven? I wonder. It is said there are books there, books of life. I wonder if there are any math books? And I wonder if I’ll get the chance to hear Joseph preach. I would like that.