Friday, March 16, 2012

Life in Utah, Seen from Lancaster in 1855

The following editorial, "Life in Utah", appeared in the 6 June 1855 issue of the Lancaster Examiner and Herald. It's quite possible that not a few of my ancestors would've read this article when it was first printed there. A number of typographical errors are here retained.
Fve hundred and seventy English converts to Mormonism arrived at New York last week in one ship, which swells the number dispatched this spring by the Liverpool agency to nearly four thousand. We presume that the annual accessions to the colony in Utah do not average less than twenty thousand - a somewhat portentious fact, considering that the avowed object of the Mormon leaders is to establish an independent empire, strong enough to prevent interference with their peculiar customs.

Editors ought to understand every thing, but we confess to being puzzled by these Mormons. If we were to judge them by their creed alone, we should pronounce them to be ignorant and sensual fanatics; but when we observe their conduct, we cannot shut our eyes to the fact that except in one particular, it appears to be exemplary; while in some respects their behavior is really admirable. - The ship in which those five hundred and seventy arrived a few days ago was a model of cleanliness and order; every thing was managed so that each passenger had his fair share of room and convenience. No confusion, no quarrelling, no vice. The Mormons, too, are remarkably industrious; in energy, in perseverance, and in the sense of adapting means to ends, they are not equalled, except, perhaps, by the Jesuits. It is but a very few years since they began their settlement in Utah. What is Utah now.

We have before us several numbers of the Deseret News - a weekly paper published at Great Salt Lake City at six dollars a year; and a most curious, interesting, well-conducted sheet it is. We always read it with interest, because it lays open a kind of life which is singularly different from that of any other community.

We have called it a well conducted paper. It is entitled to that praise. The digest of the news of the world is fully and skilfully made up. It is evident that the people there are deeply interested in the Russian war, and they are kept as well informed of its events, and even of its gossip, as the inhabitants of this city. A paragraph announces that "A complete list of the killed and wonnded in the Brtish at the battle of Inkerman is posted up on the second door, south of the post-office for the information of those who may have relations or acquaintances engaged in the European war." We find in the four numbers before us long letters from the Crimean correspondence of the London Times, Victor Hugo's speech on the Polish revolution, and a mass of intelligence from India, China, Europe, New York, much of it given in the editor's own language, with characteristic comments.

The same number attributes the late depression in business to the "increasing gross wickedness and high-handed abominations prevading all classes, from the highest to the lowest." Yet there is a certain robust jollity about the very denunciations of the Mormon editor, like that of a good-humored dog who barks loud when a stranger approaches, but wags his tail at the same time; or like that of those reverend wags who preach vigorous damnation from the pulpit and keep the supper-table in roars of laughter at their jobs. The editor of the Deseret News generally has a corner for a sly joke from Punch.

He is jealous for the credit of his city and its newspaper. The following is an extract from an editorial:

Doubtless it is strange, to those who do not discern the signs of the times, that Utah scarcely furnishes the minutese noticeable item toward swelling the vast catalogue of crimes which are cursing every other portion of the earth. It is for this reason, we presume, that the world's papers so often read, "The news from Utah are unimportant." It does not seem to be spicy enough for the morbid appetite of this fast generation. Independent of having no extensive catalogue of revolting crimes that would make even devils blush, and independent of bowing down with the whole soul to gaining notoriety, amassing wealth, and giving loose rein to every sinful indulgence of passion, is there no beauty nor interest in the chronicle of the even tenor of the righteous course of a mighty community?

We attribute the morality of Utah to the absence of temptation. Men, as a general rule, will not steal, when they have a fair chance to better their condition by honest exertion. It is the difficulty of earning a living that makes thieves.

We are glad to perceive from the Deseret News that the Mormons - unlike the shakes and other enthusiasts - are a reading people. The editor chronicles the arrival of the Eastern mail with bags of magazines and books, complaining bitterly of the loss of part of their contents by the way. He inserts, also, an interesting account of the first meeting of the "Universal Scientific," the object of which is stated to be -

The improvement and elevation of the intellectual powers and pursuits of its members.
  1. By having lectures and essays on every branch of useful arts and sciences.
  2. Through the use of a good library and reading room.
  3. By collections in every department to form an extensive museum.
  4. By obtaining instruments and apparatus to illustrate and advance the arts and sciences, and by every other laudable means within their reach.
An address delivered on the occasion by the president of the Society is as able and interesting a thing of the kind as we remember. - One passage about the museum we quote:

There are no people who exist upon earth that have greater resources and facilities from which to form an interesting and useful library and museum, than the inhabitants of Deseret. Our representatives, in the capacity of travelers, statesmen, and missionaries, will plow every ocean, tread every soil, visit every clime, mingle with every people of all languages, tongues, and dialects upon the face of the whole earth; they will thereby be enabled to obtain a specimen from every mountain, land, and sea; every beast, fowl, fish, and insect, and every plant and herb, and instruments for the practice illustration of every art and science. We should, as soon as practicable, erect a good substantial building, divided into suitable apartments for a library, museum, reading-room, with a hall for public lectures.

And this brings us to the most remarkable feature of the paper - the letters from the Mormon missionaries in all quarters of the globe, written to the elders, and giving an account of the progress of the missionaries' labors. The letters published in the four numbers of the paper which we are now reviewing are sufficient to show the extensive sweep of the Mormon net, and the devoted earnestness with which the Mormon "fishers of men" ply their vocation. The following is a list: a letter dated from the Sandwich Islands, one from China, one from the Cape of Good Hape, one from Manchester, England, three from London, two from smaller English towns, one from Malta, one from the Crimea, one from Philadelphia, one from Texas, one from Glasgow, one from Dublin, one from Switzerland, and three from places in Utah. These letters are long and generally well written, mingling details of business with sentiment and reflection.

To complete our survey of Life in Utah, as exhibited in the Deseret News, we turn for a moment to its advertising columns. There are only a few advertisements, and most of them relate to the finding and straying of cattle:

WHOEVER has found a wife Heifer Calf, with a hole in each ear 1 1/2 inch in diameter, will please leave word at the Post Office.
TAKEN UP - a small speckled PIG; inquire of G. B. GARDNER, 19th Ward.

The following advertisement is curious:

LOOK HERE, everybody in Utah who is expecting to use brooms! We the subscribers are preparing to plant thirty acres of broom corn, which we intend to manufacture into brooms next fall and winter. Our brooms we will sell low and warrant them to do good service. We wish to supply G. S. L. City and other settlements in the Territory; we solicit the patronage of the public. We hereby notify the people that they may expect to be furnished with brooms without their raising broom-corn for their own use.

A truly novel way of forestalling the market. We notice several advertisements like this:

A FAIR WARNING. All members of the 10th quorum of Seventies are hereby notified that a meeting of this Quorum will be held on the 3d Sunday in March (18th), at half-past 4 o'clock P.M., at the House of Royal Barney, 18th Ward.

Members residing in this city, or elsewhere, who do not attend, or report themselves to the Quorum, will be dealt with accordingly.

Meetings will be continued every two weeks from the above set time.
President, residing in G. S. L. City

We are too little acquainted with Mormon theology to be able to explain what kind of an institution the 10th Quorum of the Seventies may be. In the advertisement of the Polysophic Academy, we are glad to read that "during the interval of School hours the Young Gentlemen will be taught gymnastic and military exercises," and "the Young Ladies will have the advantage of classes in music and dancing."

Not a word about polygamy in the Deseret News - a fact not without significance. It seems to show that the leaders feel that that is the blot upon their system - its defect, its vice and its danger - and they are right. Polygamy belongs to the luxurious and stagnant East; in the busy, progressive West it can have no permanent place. A system which degrades that sex upon the virtue of which the virtue of mankind depends, will not be long countenanced by the honest Saxons who compose the majority of the Mormon colonists. Upon this rock of polygamy Mormonism will split, unless the leaders are wise in time.

What consequences have flowed from the belief, once universal, but not universal now, that there can be such a thing as a WRITING possessed of absolute authority in any matter of opinion?

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