The Mormons

Churches and Chapels by Atticus (Contents)

There are about 1,100 different religious creeds in the world, and amongst them all there is not one more energetic, more mysterious, or more wit-shaken than Mormonism. It is a mass of earnest “abysmal nonsense,” an olla-podrida of theological whimsicalities, a saintly jumble of pious staff made up – if we may borrow an idea – of Hebraism, Persian Dualism, Brahminism, Buddhistic apotheosis, heterodox and orthodox Christianity, Mohammedanism, Drusism, Freemasonry, Methodism, Swedenborgianism, Mesmerism, and Spirit-rapping. We might go on in our elucidation; but what we have said will probably be sufficient for present purposes. There are some deep-swimming fish in the “waters of Mormon;” but the piscatorial shoal is sincere enough, though mortally odd-brained and dreamy. On the 22nd of September, 1827, a rough-spun American, named Joseph Smith, belonging to a family reputed to be fond of laziness, drink, and untruthfulness, and suspected of being somewhat disposed to sheep-stealing, had a visit from “the angel of the Lord.” He had previously been told that his sins were forgiven; that he was a “chosen instrument,” &c., and on the day named Joseph found, somewhere in Ontario, a number of gold plates, eight inches long and seven wide, nearly as thick as tin, fastened together by three rings, and bearing inscriptions, in “Reformed Egyptian,” relative to the history of America “from its first settlement by a colony that came from the Tower of Babel at the confusion of tongues, to the beginning of the 5th century of the Christian era.”

These inscriptions were originally got up by a prophet named Mormon were, as before stated, found by Joseph Smith, were read off by him to a man rejoicing in the name of Oliver Cowdery, and they constitute the contents of what is now known as the Book of Mormon. Smith did not translate the “Reformed Egyptian” openly – if he had been asked to do so, he would have said, “not for Joe;” he got behind a blanket in order to do the job, considering that the plates would be defiled if seen by profane eyes; and deciphered them by two odd lapidistic transparencies, called “Urim and Thummin,” which he found at the same time as he met with the records. Report hath it that Joe’s “translation” of the sacred plates is substantially a paraphrase of a romance written by one Solomon Spalding; but the Mormons, or rather the members of “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints,” deny this, and say that at least eleven persons saw the original plates after transcription. They may have seen them; but nobody else has, and Heaven only knows where they are now.

Did you ever, gentle reader, see the “Book of Mormon?” We have one before us, purchased from a real live Salt Lake missionary; but it is so dreadfully dry and intricate, and seems to be such a dodged-up paraphrase of our own Scriptures, that we are afraid it will never do us any good. It professes to be a “record of the people of Nephi, and also of the Lumanites their brethren, and also of the people of Jared, who came from the tower.” The Mormons think it equal in divine authority to, and a positive corollary of, the Old and New Testaments. It consists of several books, and many chapters; the books being those of Nephi, Jacob, Enos, Jarom, Mosiah, Alma, Helaman, Nephi, Mormon, Ether, and Moroni. The language is quaint and simple in syllabic construction; but the book altogether is a mass of dreamy, puzzling history – is either a sacred fiction plagiarised, or a useless and senile jumble of Christian and Red Indian tradition. Smith, the founder of Mormonism, had only a rough time of it. His Church was first organised in 1830, in the State of New York. Afterwards the Mormons went into Ohio, then established themselves in Missouri, were next driven into Clay County, subsequently look refuge in Illinois, and finally planted themselves in the valley of the great Salt Lake, where they may now be found.

Smith came to grief in 1844, by a pistol shot, administered to him in Illinois by a number of roughs; and Brigham Young, a man said to be “very much married,” and who will now be the father of perhaps 150 children, was appointed his successor. Mormonism is disliked by the bulk of people mainly on account of its fondness for wives. The generality of civilised folk think that one fairly matured creature, with a ring on one of her left-hand fingers, is sufficient for a single household – quite sufficient for all the fair purposes of existence, “lecturing” included; but the Latter-day Saints, who were originally monogamists, and whose “Book of Mormon” condemns polygamy, believe in a plurality of housekeepers. They contend that since the finding of the sacred record by Smith there has been a “divine” revelation on the subject, and that their dignity in heaven will be “in proportion to the number of their wives and children” in this.

Leaving the polygamic part of the business, we may observe that the Mormons believe that God was once a man, but is now perfect; that any man may rise into a species of deity if he is good enough; that mortals will not be punished for what Adam did, but for what they have done themselves; that there can be no salvation without repentance, faith, and baptism; that the sacrament – bread and water – must be taken every week; that ministerial action must be preceded by inspiration; that Miraculous gifts have not ceased; that the soul of man “co-existed equal with God;” that the word of God is recorded in all good books; that there will be an actual gathering of Israel, including the Red Indians, whom they regard with much interest as being the descendants of an ancient tribe whose skins were coloured on account of disobedience in some part of America about 2,400 years ago; that the “New Zion” will be established in America; and that there will be a final resurrection of the flesh and bones – without the blood – of men. Some of their moral articles of belief are good, and if carried out, ought to make the Salt Lake Valley a decent, peaceable place, notwithstanding all the wives therein. In one of the said articles they express their belief in being “honest, true, chaste, temperate, benevolent, virtuous, and upright,” and further on they come down with a crash upon idle and lazy persons, by saying that they can be neither Christians nor enjoy salvation.

In 1837, certain elders of the Mormon church, including Orson Hyde and Heber C. Kimball, were sent over to England as missionaries; the first town they commenced operations in, after their arrival, was – Preston; and the first shot they fired in Preston was from the pulpit of a building in Vauxhall-road, now occupied by the Particular Baptists. Things got hot in a few minutes here; it became speedily known that Hyde, Kimball, and Co. were of a sect fond of a multiplicity of wives; and the “missionaries” had to forthwith look out for fresh quarters. They secured the old Cock Pit, drove a great business in it, and at length actually got about 500 “members.” Whilst this movement was going on in the town, the missionaries were pushing Mormonism in some of the surrounding country places. At Longton, nearly everybody went into raptures over the “new doctrine;” Mormonism fairly took the place by storm; it caught up and entranced old and young, married and single, pious and godless; it even spread like a sacred rinderpest amongst the Wesleyans, who at that time were very strong in Longton – captivating leaders, members, and some of the scholars in fine style; and the chapel of this body was so emptied by the Mormon crusade, that it was found expedient to reduce it internally and set apart some of it for school purposes. To this day the village has not entirely recovered the shock which Mormonism gave it 30 years ago. During the heat of the conflict many Longtonians went to the region of Mormondom in America, and several of them soon wished they were back again.

In Preston, too, whilst the Cock Pit fever was raging numbers “went out.” After the work of “conversion,” &c., had been carried on for a period in the sacred Pit mentioned, the Mormons migrated to a building, which had been used as a joiners shop, in Park-road; subsequently they took for their tabernacle an old sizing house in Friargate; then they went to a building in Lawson-street now used as the Weavers’ Institute, and originally occupied by the Ranters; and at a later date they made another move – transferred themselves to a room in the Temperance Hotel, Lime-street, which they continue to occupy, and in which, every Sunday morning and evening, they ideally drink of Mormondom’s salt-water, and clap their hands gleefully over Joe Smith’s impending millenium. There are only about 70 members of the Mormon Church in Preston and the immediate neighbourhood at present; but they are all hopeful, and fancy that beatification is in store for them. We had recently a half-solemn, half-comic desire to see the very latest development of Preston Mormonism in its Lune-street home; but having an idea that strangers might be objected to whilst the “holding forth” was going on, that, in fact, the members had resolved themselves, through diminished numbers, into a species of secret conclave, we were rather puzzled to know how the business of seeing and hearing could be accomplished.

Nevertheless we went to the Temperance Hotel, and after some conversation with a person there – not a Mormon – we decided to go right into the meeting-room, the idea being that, under any circumstances, we could only be pitched into, and then pitched out. And with this notion we entered the place, put our hat upon a table deliberately, took a seat upon a form quietly, and then looked round coolly in anticipation of a round of sauce or a trifle of fighting. But peace was preserved. There were just six living beings in the room – three well-dressed moustached young men, a thinly-fierce-looking woman, a very red-headed youth, and a quiet little girl. For about 30 seconds absolute silence prevailed. The thin woman then looked forward at the red-haired youth and in a clear voice said “Bin round there yet – eh?” which elicited the answer “Yea, and comed whoam.” “Things are flat there as well as here aren’t they – eh?” And the red-haired youth said “Yea.” “Factories arn’t doing much now, are they?” said she next, and the rejoinder was “They arn’t; bin round by Bowton, and its aw alike.”

This slightly refreshing prelude was supplemented by sapient remarks as to the weather &c.; and we were beginning to wonder whether the general service was simply going to amount to this kind of conversation or be pushed on “properly” when in stepped a strong-built dark-complexioned man, who marched forward with the dignity of an elder, until he got to a small table surmounted by a desk, whence he drew a brown paper parcel, which he handed to one of the moustached young men, who undid it cautiously and carefully, “What is it going to be?” said we, mentally; when, lo! there appeared a white table cloth, which was duly spread. The strong built man then dived deeply into one of his coat pockets, and fetched out of it a small paper parcel, flung it upon a form close by, seized a soup plate into which he crumbled a slice of bread, then got a double-handled pewter pot, into which he poured some water, and afterwards sat down as generalissimo of the business. The individual who manipulated with the table cloth afterwards made a prayer, universal in several of its sentiments; but stiffened up tightly with Mormon notions towards the close. Two elderly men and a lad entered the room when the orison was finished, and a discussion followed between the “general” and the young man who had been praying as to some hymn they should sing. “Can’t find the first hymn,” said the young man; and we thought that a pretty smart thing for a beginning. “Oh, never mind – go farther on – any – long meter,” uttered his interlocutor, and he forthwith made a sanguine dash into the centre of the book, and gave out a hymn.

The company got into a “peculiar metre” tune at once, and the singing was about the most comically wretched we ever heard. The lad who came in with the elderly men tried every range of voice in every verse, and thought that he had a right to do just as he liked with the music; the elderly men near him hammed out something in a weak and time-worn key; the woman got into a high strain and flourished considerably at the line ends; the little girl said nothing; the three young men seemed quite unable to get above a monotonous groan, and the general looked forward, then down, and then smiled a little, but uttered never a word, and seemed immensely relieved when the singing was over. The bread which had been broken into the soup plate was next handed round, and it was succeeded by the pewter pot measure of water. This was the sacrament, and it was partaken of by all – the young as well as the old. During the enactment of this part of the programme a gaily-dressed young female, sporting a Paisley shawl, ear-rings, a chignon, a small bonnet, and the other accoutrements of modern fashion, dropped in, and also took the sacrament. Another hymn was here given out, and the young woman with the Paisley shawl, &c., rushed straight into the work of singing without a moment’s warning. She carried the others with her, and enabled them to get through the verses easily. Just when the singing was ended, a rubicund-featured and bosky female, who had, perhaps, seen five-and-forty summers, landed in the room, took a seat, and then took the sacrament. She was the last of the Mohicans, and after her appearance the door was closed, and the latch dropped.

Speaking succeeded, and the talkers got upon their feet in accordance with certain nods and memoes from the chairman. They all eulogised in a joyous strain the glories of Mormonism, but never a syllable was expressed about wives. A young moustached man led the way. He told the meeting that he had long been of a religious turn of mind; that he was a Wesleyan until 17 years of age; that afterwards he found peace in the Smithsonian church; that the only true creed was that of Mormonism; that it didn’t matter what people said in condemnation of such creed; and that he should always stick to it. The thin woman, who seemed to have an awful tongue in her head, was the second speaker. She panegyrised “the church” in a phrensied, fierce-tempered, piping strain, talked rapidly about the “new dispensation,” declared that she had accepted it voluntarily, hadn’t been deceived by any one – we hope she never will be – and that she was happy. Her conclusion was sudden, and she appeared to break off just before reaching an agony-point. The third talker was one of the old men, and he commenced with things from “before the foundations of the world,” and brought them down to the present day. His speech was earnest, florid, and rather argumentative in tone. After stating that he had a pious spell upon him before visiting the room, and that the afflatus was still upon him, he entered into a labyrinthal defence of “the church.” “Mormonism,” he said, “is more purer than any other doctrine that is,” and “this here faith,” he continued, “has to go on and win.” He talked mystically about things being “resurrectioned,” contended that the Solomon Spalding theory had been exploded, and quoting one of the elders, said that Mormonism began in a hamlet and got to a village, from a village to a town, thence to a city, thence to a territory, and that if it got “just another kick it would as sure as fate be kicked into a great and mighty nation.” This “old man eloquent” seemed over head and ears in Mormonism, and almost shook with joy at certain points of his discourse. The fourth, and the last, speaker was the chairman. He raised his brawny frame slowly, held a Bible in one hand, and started in this fashion – “Well I s’pose I’ve to say something; but I can’t tell what it’ll be.” This declaration was followed up by a long, wandering mass of talk, full of repetition and hypothetical theology – a mixture of Judaism, Christianity, and Mormonism, and from the whole he endeavoured to distil this “fact” that both Isaiah and St. John had made certain prophetic statements as to the Book of Mormon and its transcription by Joe Smith.

It did not, however, appear from what he said that either Isaiah or the seer of Patmos had named anything about the blanket trick which had to be adopted by Joe is translating “the Book.” But that was perhaps unnecessary; and we shall not throw a “wet blanket” upon the matter by further alluding to it. When the chairman had done his speech, the doxology was sung, and this was supplemented by benediction, pronounced by a young man who shut his eyes, stretched his hands a quarter of a yard out of his coat sleeves, and in a most inspired and bishoply style, delivered the requisite blessing. Hand-shaking, in which we found it necessary to join, supervened, and then there was a general disappearance. The whole of the speakers at this meeting – which may be taken as a fair sample of the gatherings – were illiterate people, individuals with much zeal and little education; and the manner in which they crucified sentences, and maltreated the general principles of logic and common-sense, was really disheartening. They are very earnest folk; we also believe they are honest; but, after all, they are “gone coons,” beyond the reach of both physic and argument. We knew none of the Mormons who attended the meeting described, and singular to say the proprietor of the establishment wherein they assembled had no knowledge of either their names or places of abode. They pay him his rent regularly, and he deems that enough. All that we really know of the sect is, that their chairman is either a mechanic or a blacksmith somewhere, is plain, muscular, solemn looking, bass-voiced, and dreamy; and that his flock are a small, earnest, and preciously-fashioned parcel of sincere, yet deluded, enthusiasts.