Tuesday, April 16, 2013

mormonhermitmom's review of Latter Leaves in the Life of Lorenzo Snow, by Dennis B. Horne with material prepared in 1890 by Orson F. Whitney

I was given this book as a thank you from one of our Sunday School teachers.  I had substituted for him a couple of Sundays while he was recovering from surgery.  In the LDS Church, our focus in Relief Society/Priesthood lessons are taken from the writings of Lorenzo Snow, fifth president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  We don't use this text by Dennis Horne, but a church produced manual that doesn't really focus on Snow's life.  I was pleased to receive this book as a way to learn more about Lorenzo Snow.

While Dennis Horne has done a bang-up job on running down sources and sorting fact from fiction, I wonder if he should have top billing on authorship.  While the cover says, "with material prepared in 1890 by Orson F. Whitney", the reader comes to find that most of the book is taken heavily from Whitney's work, Latter Leaves from the Life of Lorenzo Snow, which covered the years 1884 to 1889.  Horne admits this from the get go.  Unfortunately, throughout the book, I found myself reading along and suddenly finding the "voice" of the writer had changed.  I had hoped that Horne would set off the material Whitney had written from his own. Instead, it seemed he was extensively paraphrasing Whitney's work, inserting his own words here and there without warning.  When the older turns of phrase change to more modern syntax and cadence, you know that Horne has been using Whitney's words and trying to sew on his own.

When my mother and I were trying to bring family stories together in a book for our relatives to read, I always made sure that any materials taken from journals, histories written by others, or other sources, that each source was properly quoted and sometimes put in a block quote format so that there was no question as to who was speaking (writing). I'm sure Horne was trying to keep this work from becoming too disjointed with liberal quotes, but it almost felt like there was a thin line between summarizing, paraphrasing, and outright plagiarism.  Just the feeling I had.  I'm sure it was unintentional on Horne's part.

To be fair, Horne devotes a whole chapter to Orson F. Whitney, outlining a short biography of him and explaining how Whitney ended up with the job as Snow's biographer while Snow was still alive.  Horne also states in the Introduction that chapters 1 and 2 of this book draws heavily on the biographical work of Eliza R. Snow, Lorenzo's sister, who catalogued Lorenzo's life up to 1884. That book was generally just distributed to family members and Whitney's book was intended to be a "sequel" if you will.

One other contributor Horne mentions is Lorenzo's son LeRoi C. Snow, whose written articles about his father in such publications as the Improvement Era have been a source for other historians about the later years of Lorenzo's life.  Horne states that some of LeRoi's writings about his father are accurate, but others lean towards exaggeration and no corroborating testimony is available to confirm some of the stories that he's told, particularly the story about the prophecy Snow had about tithing and whether a drought in Southern Utah would abate once the people of the church more faithfully paid their tithing.  That brought me up short.  I remember a BYU film entitled The Windows Of Heaven that reenacted that very story.  Apparently, according to a majority of eyewitness accounts of Lorenzo speaking to the Sanits in St. George, Snow did seem to pause in his talk and then very fervently preached that the principle of tithing should be more obediently focused on.  However the promise that a severe drought would lift if the Saints would pay their tithing was NOT ever made.  It appears only LeRoi remembered such a promise.  He was there with his father at the time, but no one else who wrote of the talk that Lorenzo Snow made that day made any note of such a promise.  The folks in the BYU film department must have taken LeRoi at face value and not made any effort to confirm if the "faith promoting" story was true.  Oops.

Lest you think I am dismissing this book entirely, let me say that despite not knowing which commentary was Whitney's and which was Horne's at times, I did for the most part enjoy it.  The notes and appendices were well ordered and many details of Lorenzo's life were well documented by multiple sources.  Horne was nothing if not thorough.

Before you ask, yes, polygamy is mentioned in the book.  Actually it dominates a few chapters where we see how Lorenzo Snow spent time "underground" avoiding capture due to the U. S. Marshalls looking to prosecute offenders of the "segregation law" forbidding polygamy in Utah territory.  Snow was apprehended, convicted and taken to the Utah Penitentiary for a time.  The legal battles are well covered.  I found this part particularly interesting because I have an ancestor who was also incarcerated for polygamy.  I didn't find his name among the others who were pictured in the striped suits, but it was interesting because Whitney wrote quite a bit about the conditions within the prison.  That information never made it into the history of my ancestor, just that he spent time there.  My ancestor brought home and autograph book, with signatures of some of the prominent leaders of the LDS Church at that time who were also incarcerated there. I don't remember if Lorenzo Snow's signature was in there.  (Time for me to go check that source again.)

This volume is definitely for an LDS audience.  Anyone hoping for a completely factual work without spiritual assumptions would better look elsewhere.  Even though polygamy is not practiced by the LDS people today, the "rightness" of the principle is affirmed by Lorenzo's writings, heavily quoted in this volume. The doctine of "As man now is, God once was; as God is, man may become", which Lorenzo preached about repeatedly is a thread that runs throughout the book.  Those who are not of the LDS faith my find the biography a bit "preachy".  It makes sense, though, since Lorenzo did preach for much of his adult life.  Just be prepared if all you want is the facts.  You are going to get a bit of a Sunday School lesson if you read this.

I'm not going to take this book to my local library for donation.  Yes, it has flaws, which the author freely admits to, and I can accept that.  If you happen to be an LDS Relief Society teacher or Priesthood Quorum teacher, this might be a good secondary reference to fill in where the Church's lesson manual is a little thin.  You might want to ignore the polygamy chapters though.  No need to beat a dead horse.


2 comments:

  1. To clarify, from the Introduction of Latter Leaves:

    "In the present volume, most of chapters three through eleven, and a part of twelve, constitute Whitney's work, with some light copyediting and inclusion of additional material." (page 14)

    I think this is very plain and clear in stating which chapters are Whitney's and which are not. Not much ambiguity there.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I stand corrected. For those readers who actually read Introductions, that will be clear. For those that don't...

    ReplyDelete

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