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To celebrate the study of the Doctrine & Covenants this year, Meridian will serialize The Revised and Enhanced History of Joseph Smith by His Mother. We begin with this introduction today.
To see all the installments of this serialization, published in order, click here.
Can you imagine what a boon it would be if the mother of any of the great men or women of the world had written their biographies? What if we had personal insights no other historian could give from the mother of George Washington or Joan of Arc? As Latter-day Saints, we have that kind of remarkable resource on the life of Joseph Smith, written by his mother Lucy Mack Smith, a rare thing indeed.
Lucy Mack Smith’s history has been available for generations in an edited form. However, Lucy’s original, raw notes, called the Preliminary Manuscript, surfaced again in the late 60’s in the Church archives. Based on these notes, we re-edited a new edition, called The Revised and Enhanced History of Joseph Smith by His Mother, that was much closer to Lucy’s own voice and includes important scenes and soliloquies taken from the original by the first editors.
What do we learn about Joseph in this very personal book that now includes Lucy’s forgotten writing? More than we have seen in the traditional versions we have had for decades. The additions only enhance the story, the affections and the poignancy of one of the most significant sagas of all time.
Considered by scholars to be one of the premier source documents about the restoration, Lucy’s story reads like a novel. You become, as one reader said, “a fly on the wall in the Smith family kitchen” reading Lucy’s story. Few can read this story without feeling poignant emotion for Joseph’s life and death.
Why Lucy Told the Story
It was the bleak midwinter of 1844-45, only months since her sons Joseph and Hyrum had been murdered by a gloating mob in Carthage Jail, when Lucy Mack Smith sat down to tell her life story to a twenty-three-year-old scribe named Martha Jane Knowlton Coray. Lucy was sixty-nine years old, afflicted, as she said, “by a complication of disease and infirmities” and still aching with loss.
In the fall of 1840 she thought she had experienced the most misery she would ever know. She recalled: “I then thought that there was no evil for me to fear upon the earth more than what I had experienced in the death of my beloved husband. It was all the grief which my nature was able to bear, and I thought that I could never again be called to suffer so great an affliction as this.”
But time had proven her wrong. Her nature would be called upon to bear more. On a June night in 1844, word had come to Nauvoo that her two sons had been murdered and thirty-three days later another son, Samuel, would languish and die of complications arising from being chased on horseback by the mob.
Of her six sons who had lived to maturity, five were gone, and with the exception of some sons-in-law, Lucy’s family was reduced to widows and fatherless children.
These weren’t her only losses. Once her son Joseph had received a heavenly vision and had learned that he was the prophet to restore the gospel in the latter days, trial had plagued Lucy. She had lost her farm in New York; she had seen her husband imprisoned; she had trudged through an incessant rain on the way to Missouri that reduced her to near death; she had seen soldiers whoop and holler as they dragged her sons to jail with a death sentence on their heads.
Of the endless grief, she said, “I often wonder to hear brethren and sisters murmur at the trifling inconveniences which they have to encounter…and I think to myself, salvation is worth as much now as it was in the beginning of the work. But I find that ‘all like the purchase, few the price will pay.’”
It was a woman who not only was willing to pay the price for her religious convictions, but already had, who sat down with the scribe that winter in Nauvoo. Thus, her history rings with sincerity and deeply-felt emotion. However much others may have doubted and harangued her son Joseph, Lucy had no doubt that he was exactly what he claimed himself to be–a prophet.
She had a remarkable story to tell and she told it remarkably-with passion, candor, and fluency. Apart from anything else, it would be a wonderful story for generations of readers, but beyond that, it gives a personal glimpse of Joseph Smith seen nowhere else.
Here is Joseph dealing with excruciating pain during a crude operation on his leg, sick with misery at Martin Harris’s loss of the 116 pages, laying a cloak down on the hard floor night after night to give someone else is bed in Kirtland. Through Lucy’s recollections, we enter the Smith family home, hear their conversations, watch a young prophet beginning to understand that he has a profound destiny.
How Joseph’s Story Became Edited
When Lucy had finished telling her story, Martha Jane and her husband, Howard Coray who had been one of Joseph Smith’s clerks, whose assignment included compiling the official historical record of the Church, took her raw notes, the Preliminary Manuscript, and substantially revised them. What had begun as Lucy Mack’s story became the history of Joseph Smith.
This was not merely a job of correcting grammar or changing and clarifying confusing chronologies. It has been suggested that “about one-fourth of the revised manuscript is not in the preliminary draft, while approximately ten percent of the earlier manuscript is omitted from the revised manuscript.”
What was added in the revision was information designed to make it a more balanced and complete history, as well as expand the information on Joseph Smith’s own version of the First Vision and Moroni’s first visit were included. Additional information was added from “The History of Joseph Smith” published earlier in the Times and Seasons. Gaps were filled, necessary explanations added. While Mother Smith was probably frequently consulted during the entire composition, and she clearly gave her approval to the final version, certainly her biggest contribution had already passed.
It is not surprising, then, to observe that while the revised version had strengths lacking in the Preliminary Manuscript, it is also further from Lucy’s own voice. The Corays deleted many of her soliloquies, they axed intimate details of family life and affectations, they sometimes avoided emotions, they polished her phrases. Unfortunately, comparing the Preliminary Manuscript with the revised version, it is clear that this is not always a favor.
The Corays’ edits led to a more fussy, formal speech pattern than Lucy is given to. Ironically, their changes sound old-fashioned to the modern ear, as opposed to Lucy’s more direct speech. But it is the moving from Lucy’s perceptions and feelings that is the greater loss.
The Coray’s 1853 edition often changes her voice, not allowing the full expression of her feelings about matters important to her. For instance, when Lucy was a young married woman searching for the truth, she went to the Presbyterian church and came away disappointed. In the 1853 edition it is recorded:
“I heard that a very devout man was to preach the next Sabbath in the Presbyterian Church; I therefore went to meeting, the full expectation of hearing that which my soul desired-the Word of Life. When the minister commenced speaking, I fixed my mind with deep attention upon the spirit and matter of his discourse; but, after hearing him through, I returned home, convinced that he neither understood nor appreciated the subject upon which he spoke, and I said in my heart that there was not then upon earth the religion which I sought.”
The Preliminary Manuscript reads with more passion and intimacy:
“At last I heard that one noted for his piety would preach the ensuing Sabbath in the Presbyterian church. Thither I went in expectation of obtaining that which alone could satisfy my soul-the bread of eternal life. When the minister commenced, I fixed my mind with breathless attention upon the spirit and matter of the discourse, but all was emptiness, vanity, vexation of spirit, and fell upon my heart like the chill, untimely blast upon the starting ear ripening in the summer sun. It did not fill the aching void within nor satisfy the craving hunger of my soul. I was almost in total despair, and with a grieved and troubled spirit I returned home, saying in my heart, there is not on earth the religion which I seek.”
The 1853 edition sometimes ignores emotion as if it were somehow embarrassing, editing out valuable detail about the feelings of the Smith family as they cope with their challenges. In the Preliminary Manuscript Lucy describes the exhaustion and anxiety of her husband when the doctors came to operate on little Joseph, after the boy has suffered weeks of anguish from a pain in his leg. This paragraph is entirely deleted from the 1853 edition:
“My husband who was constantly with the child, seemed to contemplate for an instant my countenance; then, turning his eyes upon his boy, at once all his suffering together with my intense anxiety rushed upon his mind. He burst into a flood of tears and sobbed like a child.”
Also missing from the 1853 edition is the expression of affection from Joseph Smith Sr. toward his children when they are reunited in Palmyra after some months’ separation. The 1853 edition tells of Lucy and her children arriving in Palmyra with a small portion of our effects, and barely two cents in cash.
“When I again met my husband at Palmyra, we were much reduced-not from indolence, but on account of many reverses of fortune, with which our lives had been rather singularly marked.”
She gives us a more personal picture in the Preliminary Manuscript:
“I then proceeded on my way, and in a short time I arrived in Palmyra with a small portion of my affects, my babes, and two cents in money, but perfectly happy in the society of my family.
“The joy I felt in throwing myself and my children upon the care and affection of a tender husband and father doubly paid me for all I had suffered. The children surrounded their father, clinging to his neck, covering his face with tears and kisses that were heartily reciprocated by him. We all now sat down and maturely counseled together as to what course it was best to take, and how we should proceed to business in our then destitute circumstances.”
In the Preliminary Manuscript Lucy periodically stops her narrative to give us a soliloquy. For the most part these were deleted, shortened or severely edited for the 1853 edition until her voice in these is sometimes hardly recognizable. For example, one night during the printing of the Book of Mormon, Lucy hid the manuscript in a chest under the bed to keep it from the clutches of conspiring men who had determined to steal and destroy it. Lying there upon the record, the important scenes of Lucy’s life began to play before her eyes. Cut from the 1853 edition is this insight into Lucy’s spirituality:
“At last, as if led by an invisible spirit, I came to the time [in my memory] when the messenger from Waterloo informed me that the translation was actually completed. My soul swelled with a joy that could scarcely be heightened, except by the reflection that the record which had cost so much labor, suffering, and anxiety was now, in reality, lying beneath my own head-that this identical work had not only been the object which we as a family had pursued so eagerly, but that prophets of ancient days, angels, and even the great God had had his eye upon it. ‘And,’ said I to myself, ‘shall I fear what man can do? Will not the angels watch over the precious relic of the worthy dead and the hope of the living? And am I indeed the mother of a prophet of the God of heaven, the honored instrument in performing so great a work?’ I felt that I was in the purview of angels, and my heart bounded at the thought of the great condescension of the Almighty.
“Thus I spent the night surrounded by enemies and yet in an ecstasy of happiness.”
Finally, the 1853 edition occasionally deletes an incident or description that completes the picture Lucy is painting. For instance, Lucy tells of the pitiful conditions of the refugees who fled to Far West when the militia had driven them from their homes in outlying areas. In the 1853 edition she says:
“It was enough to make the heart ache to see the children, sick with colds, and crying around their mothers for food, whilst their parents were destitute of the means of making them comfortable.”
This is a poignant scene by itself, but the Preliminary Manuscript adds a heartrending note.
“It was enough to make the heart ache to see children in the open sun and wind, sick with colds and very hungry, crying around their mothers for food and their parents destitute of the means of making them comfortable, while their houses, which lay a short distance from the city, were pillaged of everything, their fields thrown open for the horses belonging to the mob to lay waste and destroy, and their fat cattle shot down and turning to carrion before their eyes, while a strong guard, which was set over us for the purpose, prevented us from making use of a particle of the stock that was killed on every side of us.”
The Revised and Enhanced History of Joseph Smith by His Mother keeps the best of the additions the Coray’s added to the manuscript while including Lucy’s fresh language and passionate insights. Each chapter comes with many footnotes that place Lucy’s story in its larger context in church history.
While you study the Doctrine & Covenants, we hope you’ll enjoy the personal insights of the mother of the prophet as we serialize Lucy’s story this year.