Friday, July 1, 2011

Rose Eytinge Reminisces About Brigham Young

Rose Eytinge (1838-1911) was a prominent American actress of the nineteenth century who performed in a wide variety of venues. In 1905, she published her Memories, containing brief chapters on her experiences meeting a variety of notable people and her visits to not a few noteworthy places. The thirty-fourth chapter concerns her visit to Salt Lake City, and I reprint the chapter in full here, as taken from Rose Eytinge, The Memories of Rose Eytinge: Being Recollections and Observations of Men, Women, and Events, During Half a Century (New York City, NY: Frederick A. Stokes, 1905), 276-280:

Salt Lake City is to-day, as I understand from recent visitors there, a typical, thriving, Western business centre, differing in no special features from any town of like size; but a quarter of a century ago it was unique. I think no other spot on earth was like it, and it was like no other spot on earth; it was such a mingling of the savage and the civilised, the fervid pietist and the reckless agnostic, the thrifty money-spinner and the careless spendthrift.

The same strong contrasts that marked its social aspects characterised its natural features. It was a great strip of sandy desert, backed by frowning mountains, and made all the more awe-inspiring by the mysterious presence of the Great Salt Lake. But this sandy desert had, by the marvellous energy of the sect that had put up its tents in it, been transformed into a garden. The streets were shaded by trees, and made sweet and refreshing by pure water, both having been brought down from those frowning mountains. Cleanliness, order, quiet, and apparent peace reigned everywhere.

To this most interesting spot I was invited to come and play an engagement. I timed my acceptance so that my season would close there, and thus I might devote a brief time to a visit in the city and its neighbourhood. On my arrival I was waited upon by a couple of white-whiskered, reverend-looking men, the bearers of an invitation from Brigham Young to become his guest during my stay. When I learned that I was to be entertained at the best hotel in the place, where the best suite had been reserved for me, and not in any one of the score or so of his marital establishments, I promptly accepted the great polygamist's hospitality.

The next morning a fine carriage, drawn by a pair of spanking bays, drew up in front of the hotel, and a message was sent me that this carriage was at my disposal for the period of my stay. Promptly at nine o'clock every morning it appeared, and a great joy and comfort it was to me.

I lost no time in paying my respects to my host, and a very interesting old man I found him. He certainly was a most courteous, thoughtful, and attentive host, and he lost no opportunity to make my visit agreeable. Day after day parties were formed to go to some one of the many marvellous spots with which the surrounding country abounded, and these parties were usually recruited from members of his very numerous families. There were scores of young and middle-aged men and women who called him father, and they one and all treated him with great respect and deference. I soon found, however, that his many wives were very chary of meeting, and always referred to each other in cold, grudging terms. This state of feeling seemed to be universal among Mormon wives.

In all essentials, but not in name, Brigham Young was a sovereign, and his rule was absolute. Nothing could exceed his pride in his principality and in his own part in its establishment. He would point to the great range of mountains all around us, and say, "Look at 'em; all the gold in California is nothin' compared with the wealth that's in them mountains." And when I put to him the pertinently natural question why he did not get some of it out, he would answer: "If I did, we would be swarmed out and trodden down by armies of Gentiles, for the Gentiles love gold a heap better than they do their God, for all their talk."

We had many talks on the subject of his peculiar faith, more particularly the feature of polygamy, which he, of course, strenuously defended, while I as strenuously opposed it.

I particularly remember one little incident. He took me one day, on a visit of inspection, to a house in course of erection. As we passed from room to room this subject of polygamy was under discussion, and by way of illustrating his argument he pointed out the many spacious advantages of the house, and said:

"Now suppose you were living in this house, and say you were sealed to me, and I were to bring in another wife and establish her in another wing, why should you object? What would you do?"

To which I replied:

"Do? I would dance on her!"

The old man dropped on a pile of lumber that lay conveniently near, and laughed until I thought he would do himself an injury.

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