Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Dying In the Yoke-- Personal Observations on James E. Talmage

In 1985 when I was working on my master thesis on James E. Talmage I had some interesting experiences. I wrote a significant part of the first two chapters but my chair Thomas G. Alexander was too busy to give me much time so I never finished. He liked my first chapter but after that I never progressed. He was a nice guy and very likable and did his own work superbly. But my experience was that it was hard getting even an hour out of him so I switched to library studies. It was too frustrating to not have any help. I don't think he gave me over four hours in the year he was my adviser. I passed all the comps but never finished the thesis. I found out later when I completed a doctorate that his busyness was unique to him rather than most other graduate advisers, including men of national reputation who gave me days of their time. I should of have stuck with Marv Hill.

One of my memorable experiences was examining the manuscript for Jesus the Christ. This was the time of the Mark Hoffman bombing incident. I had gone to the Church Archives to examine the manuscript. At the time Glenn Rowe was the assistant to G. Homer Durham. On the day I made the request Rowe had to wait to take my request slip in for approval by Elder Durham. I sat in the anteroom. I overheard a phone conversation with Sam Weller where he wanted to trade the Church for some property in the downtown area. Elder Durham was not very happy about it and was in a bad mood because Weller was demanding a high price for some of Hoffman's finds. When Glenn Rowe took my request in to Elder Durham he was still charge up about Weller's request. Elder Durham started shouting at Brother Rowe his face turned bright red as he vented about Weller so he denied my request. Glenn came out and said you heard it for yourself. You can try to talking to him if you want. Knowing Elder Durham wasn't usually like that I went in asked for his permission again. He said "Why do you want to even see that?" I explained that I was doing my master's degree on Talmage under Thomas G. Alexander who suggested I look at it in my preliminary research. I said I wanted to see if there were any margin notes since they would be critical to my research. Finally he relented and gave me permission. He even graciously came out later and looked at the manuscript himself. I thanked him for letting me use it. I never had any difficulty with him and found him pleasant to deal with. I knew being a scholar himself and President of Arizona State University that he understood research demands. I was expecting the Jesus the Christ manuscript to be typewritten.

When the manuscript came out in its folder, it was written in James E. Talmage's personal handwriting. The most interesting thing was that it was written on yellowing pad paper from a local Salt Lake City lumber company. It was smaller than 8 1/2 by 11 inches so it was a pretty sizable file. Elder Talmage taught me frugality as he had written it on free paper. After that I tried to be more environmentally conscious and recyle computer paper by using it for notes. I also remember as I turned the pages and examined his book that there were relatively few cross outs. I really gained an appreciation that day for Talmage and his ability to write so well in draft form. I next concentrated my efforts on going through his journals which are located at the Special Collections department at BYU. Chad Flake and Scott Duvall where very kind in allowing me access.

In reading his journals, I learned a great deal about patience and tolerance in marriage. His wife Maia suffered from depression and had fits or mood swings that he would mention on occasion as she would become angry and yell at him on a regular basis. His notation would only say it happened with no blame or explanation. Only once or twice do I remember his mentioned she would go to her local physician for the condition. Since his wife served on the church-wide Young Ladies Mutual Improvement Board for many years I figured she was functional but just had a strong personality. I know the yelling had some affect on his children because a couple of them had some struggles with inactivity. I interviewed John for my thesis and who gave me some of this information. John told me he was was active but went through a short period of inactivity when he was younger. In his older years he was active and worked in the Salt Lake Temple. I figured if Talmage could endure shouting in his marriage than so could I and that my children would turn out fine too. I wonder if some of it has to do with husbands who work a lot.

I recently see that BYU has made available some of Talmage's diaries but when I searched for his wife's fits for a four year period from 1924-1928 that none were listed. I wondered if BYU was going to release his pre-1924 diaries which describes his ups and downs in his marriage. There really isn't much titillating stuff other than that and his use of hash once in a scientific experiment when he studied chemistry at John Hopkins University (See Dennis Rowley).

Mostly Talmage's diaries talk about his church assignments and an occasional spiritual experience. He received four different patriarchal blessings which are fascinating to read. He paid $1 to have a professional transcriber record his blessings. I learned from him that you need to have someone record it or it would be lost. That is why I have always used a digital recorder in my pocket when giving or receiving blessings/ordinations in my family. Our family has a personal Blessing Book. The microphone is unobtrusive and you can listen over and over until your transcription is as correct as you can get it.

I collected every article, diary entry of colleagues, or any mention of Talmage that I could find during my research, filling three xerox boxes using BYU, the LDS Church Archives, and the University of Utah. There wasn't any journal, or available diary that I didn't consult. My wife eventually threw it all in a landfill when we lived in California. I had intended to write a book on him.

I read some fascinating stories: In 1911 Francis M. Lyman was made the President of the Twelve Apostles. On December 8, 1911 James E. Talmage was made an apostle and served under Elder Lyman until 18 November 1916. Talmage was famous for working twelve to fourteen hour days. Even President Heber J. Grant was concerned that Talmage learn to enjoy life. Grant asked Talmage to show up to play golf with him and his golfing partner Charles W. Nibley, who was the presiding bishop. President Grant told Talmage that when he could drive the ball 200 yards down the fairway he could quit playing. Talmage showed up on the appointed day in his three piece suit with his black patent leather shoes on. He teed up the ball and drove it over 200 yards down the fairway. He looked at President Grant and said "Is that good enough" and walked off to continue his busy work schedule. Francis M. Lyman also talked constantly to Elder Talmage about his demanding work schedule that he said was making him a workaholic. Lyman told Talmage that he needed to loosen up a little and take time off to spend it with his family.

Talmage records in his journal that in a dream Francis M. Lyman came to him after he died. He was dressed all bedraggled and had stubble and a beard. He looked very tired and weary. Lyman turned to him and told him he was sorry he had ever talked to him about slowing down. Lyman said there was so much priesthood work in the spirit world that it was hard to get it done. Elder Lyman told Talmage that he should wear himself out in the work and it was better to die in the yoke. That is one of the most valuable lesson that I have ever heard and a testimony to Talmage's character that I admire.


Bored in Vernal said...

Talmage was famous for working twelve to fourteen hour days.

And we blame his wife's "fits" for the kids going inactive??

J. Stapley said...

My wife eventually threw it all in a landfill when we lived in California.

Yikes! Sorry to here about your exerience with Alexander. I have never worked with him personally, though his volume on Woodruff and Mormonism in Transition are classics. I imagine that the Smoot diaries were still unavailable when you were working, but still, in the mid eighties, you probably got some decent access.

A solid Talmage bio would be great, unfortunately there is so much that is now restricted.

Dr. B said...

I just made an observation about his working habits.

Smoot's diaries were available at the University of Utah. I spent some time with Stan Larson them. It is hard to believe he had been up there that long now.

John Talmage's bio doesn't really do him justice. I don't understand why Rowley didn't follow up on his two articles. He could have written a nice book. Talmage needs something more intellectual done on him that includes some analysis on his writings and accomplishments. Maybe you ought to give it a try.

I agree that it would be hard to get in to the archives today. I doubt after my posts even I could get in today. Guys like Van Orden and Whitaker might still be able to open the oak door since they have retained their relationships with the powers that be for thirty or so years now.

Stephen said...

That was very interesting, I'm sorry your papers were thrown out, but appreciate your sharing the comments and notes.