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by Harvard S. Heath
THE MAN If The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has ever produced a child prodigy, it is James Edward Talmage. Born in England on September 21, 1862, Talmage emerged from rather humble beginnings to become one of the church’s most influential writers and theologians. His life and legacy continue to this day to inform the Mormon experience.
After the Talmage family’s introduction to Mormonism in England, James was baptized in 1873 and with his family left Liverpool in the spring of 1876 for Zion. Unfortunately, his diary entries do not begin until December 1879, thus depriving us of his feelings and views on his first seventeen years. Upon their arrival, the Talmages settled in Utah County. In addition to a home the family purchased in Provo, they bought a farm in Mapleton, as well, which they farmed for a number of years.
Within months after the family’s arrival, young James enrolled at Brigham Young Academy—a decision that would forever alter his life. He came under the influence of the academy’s president, Karl G. Maeser—another fortuitous event which exerted a lasting influence upon his career. Maeser, an educated Prussian convert, personified the combined traits of scholarship and a deep, abiding faith in the restoration of the LDS gospel. Ever the stern taskmaster, he demanded superior work in secular areas and spiritual commitments in the sacred sphere. Talmage saw in Maeser all that he wished to become. Little did Talmage know that his own career would, within a few short decades, eclipse anything Maeser had accomplished.
Talmage’s rise to academic excellence was meteoric. Even before he graduated from the academy, he was asked to teach classes in a number of different disciplines. His teaching career at BYA would actually begin before his seventeenth birthday. Samples that remain of his writing and lecture notes indicate a young man possessed of extraordinary talents. The clarity of his writing, his aptitude for analytical thinking, and perhaps most importantly his indefatigable efforts to work and study himself into exhaustion would be a trademark throughout his seventy-one years.
Talmage’s skills as an orator were soon recognized. His delivery and elocution were superb. His language, organization, and the substantive content of his lectures and sermons were masterpieces. He was soon in demand almost weekly to deliver a speech or to address some audience, whether academic, civic, or religious. He was chosen to deliver the 4th of July address for the city of Provo—an invitation he had to decline after the First Presidency of the LDS church requested that he accompany Maeser on a tour of church schools to report on the status of the church’s Educational School System. Prior to undertaking this trip, he was ordained an elder two months before his nineteenth birthday.
His life was now on course to become one of the church’s leading thinkers and writers. He continued to immerse himself in things sacred and profane. Science seemed to emerge as his favorite field of study. Hours of study, laboratory experimentation, and a desire to push deeper into chemistry, geology, and related sciences produced a young man ready to pursue an advanced degree in the east. After consulting with Maeser and church president John Taylor, he embarked on a new mission—matriculation at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. After meeting the graduate requirements there, he decided to move on to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, to continue his graduate studies. Later in life he would return to Lehigh to have conferred upon him an honorary doctorate.
In 1888 Talmage met and married the love his life, Merry May Booth of Alpine, Utah. He was a devoted and concerned husband throughout their forty-three years of marriage. To their union were born eight children. Despite the heavy loads of teaching, researching, writing, and traveling, Talmage devoted himself to his wife and family.
The 1890s were years filled with significant achievements. He won honors for his scientific work which took him to his native land to receive various honors. At the age of thirty-two, Talmage was appointed president of the University of Utah. But perhaps more importantly for Mormondom, these years saw the formation of a series of lectures given by Talmage which were later compiled for use in church schools. At the request of the First Presidency, he re-wrote these theological lectures for publication. The book came to be known as the Articles of Faith. It was published in 1899.
To this day Articles of Faith is one of the few books the church recognizes as reflecting Mormon theology. It is interesting to note that this book, at the behest of the First Presidency, was published under the church’s name and not by the author as an individual. The book has undergone numerous editions and remains one of the definitive works on Mormon principles and practices.
In 1900 Talmage was appointed by the First Presidency to prepare a revision of the Pearl of Great Price, one of the church’s four standard works of scripture. The revision was to place the text into paragraphs and verses to reflect the format of the other works in the Mormon canon (the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the Doctrine and Covenants). This project required two years to complete. With the new, revised text, the Pearl of Great Price was officially presented for a vote at the church’s October 1902 general conference.
By this juncture, church leaders fully realized the faithful talent exhibited in James E. Talmage. In 1909 Talmage was again summoned to church headquarters and asked to undertake an examination of the history of the Apostasy from the primitive church. The intent was to use the text as a series of lessons for the church’s youth-oriented Mutual Improvement Association. The next year Talmage printed a small pamphlet entitled The Story of Mormonism. Compiled from his many lectures and addresses delivered to various audiences around the country, the booklet was to be distributed at Temple Square to assist in explaining the history of the church to visiting non-members.
After a half century of serving his church from behind a microscope, speaking in front of audiences, and writing exhaustively on church theology, practice, and history, another event occurred which proved to be his most challenging and most rewarding—a call to the apostleship on December 7, 1911. In his fiftieth year, he became the fiftieth apostle chosen in the church and replaced the recently deceased John Henry Smith.
His writing career continued. For some time he had prepared and delivered lectures on the life of Jesus. Church leaders had encouraged this activity with the eventual hope that these notes and lectures would appear in book form. Constant delays, other assignments, and his professional work precluded its completion. Finally in 1914 the First Presidency directed him to proceed without delay and finish this most important project.
In an amazing achievement, Apostle Talmage completed this 800-page manuscript in just over seven months. The history of the writing of this book is significant in that church leaders provided a special room in the Salt Lake temple for him to use. In his indefatigable style, he would leave home early in the morning, packing his lunch in a black satchel, and work late into each evening—arriving home many a night after midnight. His work was published in 1915 and, in the author’s eyes, was the best book he ever wrote. Jesus the Christ is one of the most important Mormon publications ever to appear and enjoys the continual cachet of church leaders.
In the 1920s Talmage served the church in England as president of the European Mission. His speaking assignments only proliferated as his church and public appearances were evermore in demand. He continued to bring the same dedication, work habits, and zealousness to all his assigned activities. With the advent of radio technology, Talmage was one of the first church leaders assigned to prepare a series of lectures for delivery over this new medium.
However, as the 1920s wore down, so did James E. Talmage. A workaholic all his life, Talmage had frequent bouts with nervous and physical exhaustion. His physical problems dated back to his college days at Brigham Young Academy. A number of ailments plagued him. He was often advised by physicians, friends, and church leaders to ease up, but he never could.
In late July 1933, Talmage came down with a sore throat after delivering one of his Sunday radio addresses. Within a few days, he was near death as the streptococcus infection enervated him. Just four days after his diagnosis, the infection so weakened his heart in an already weakened body that he passed away on July 27, 1933.
Although his life was now over, his legacy was not. His accomplishments have survived to this day. What strikes one about his life and writing is that, unlike others of his generation, for example, Orson Pratt and B. H. Roberts, Talmage’s intellectual prowess, articulate arguments, eloquent prose and style never stood in the way of his commitment to the church and its leaders. Pratt, Roberts, and other church intellectuals (the Godbeites come to mind) periodically found their thinking, their research, their writings, and their personal introspections at variance with church leadership. Such tensions and doubts could produce adversarial relations leading to unpleasant outcomes.
For some reason, Talmage never succumbed to the trying dilemmas that faced many of his intellectual counterparts. This deference to authority may be viewed positively or negatively, depending on one’s stance on issues intellectual. For Talmage, he was always able and willing to work within the system, obediently yet brilliantly. Perhaps this explains why he was so often called upon to be the church spokesman and writer on most of the sensitive issues of his era. Perhaps such traits were in the minds of church leaders when the need to write The House of the Lord became necessary.
Few, if any, LDS books have had a history as bizarre and compelling as the genesis of The House of the Lord. Although the nineteenth century saw many polemical books and pamphlets written by the church to confront or address a concern raised by anti-Mormon literature, this particular book was written to fend off an imminent blackmailing scheme that dealt with photographs surreptitiously and illegally taken of the interior of the Salt Lake temple. Mormon temples were and are the most sacred of all Mormon edifices. Since Kirtland, Ohio, and Nauvoo, Illinois, the LDS church had stressed the sacred nature of the ordinances performed and the need to treat what occurs within the walls of the temple as something sacred, not to be divulged or discussed outside those holy structures.
There were some violations of this proscription. The most sensational to date was the discussion of temple ceremonies in the U. S. Senate committee sitting in judgment of Mormon apostle-senator Reed Smoot between 1903 and 1907. A number of disaffected Mormons testified before the committee on temple ceremonies. One in particular, former Brigham Young Academy professor Walter M. Wolfe, divulged certain oaths and covenants of the ceremony verbatim. This unpleasant experience continued to haunt and offend church leaders. Now this new bombshell. The First Presidency was adamant in declining to become involved in any blackmail scheme. Damage control was the chief priority in this latest public relations crisis. Thus began the saga of the writing of The House of the Lord.
The following entry is recorded in James E. Talmage’s journal of September21, 1911: “Forty-nine years old today. Had interview with the First Presidency, and was appointed by them to special work—viz, the preparation of the manuscript for a booklet on temples and temple work. A few days ago, specifically on the 16th inst. the Salt Lake Tribune announced under sensational headlines that the pictures of the interior of the temple in this city had been secured by men who surreptitiously gained entrance to the building and that the parties having the pictures so obtained were even then in New York negotiating for the sale of same to the theaters or ‘moving picture’ houses for public exhibition. It was stated that a first offer had been made to the Church officials and that $100,000 would be considered a fair basis of sale …”
The measured calm in which Talmage recorded this entry belies the anxiety that gripped leaders at church headquarters. The Salt Lake Tribune first broke the story with a sensational headline, and church leaders found themselves forced to respond quickly. There was no hesitation in selecting James E. Talmage to undertake this task with all possible alacrity.
After giving Talmage his assignment, the church through its journalistic organ, the Deseret News, ran its own campaign, downplaying the sensational nature of this latest exposé and at the same time attempting to discredit Max Florence, perpetrator of the scheme, as a prominent member of Salt Lake City’s criminal underworld. Through both newspapers, the story unfolded as to how Florence came into possession of the photographs. He had obtained them from an individual employed at one of Florence’s many motion picture theaters in Salt Lake City.
A recent Swiss-German convert to the LDS church, Gisbert Bossard had arrived in the city some six years before and within a short time became increasingly disenchanted with Mormonism—not with the religion and doctrine per se, but with its hierarchy which he deemed as unethical in business relationships. Theodore Bossard, Gisbert’s father, explained, “he [Gisbert] thinks the administration of the business of the church is crooked … for the last three years I have seen this idea of taking pictures of the inside of the temple develop in him.”
Bossard was well aware of the security surrounding the temple and knew he needed to have an accomplice who could provide access. This he found in a fellow countryman, Gottlieb Wuthrach, who was employed by the church as an assistant gardener for the temple grounds. Bossard, over a short period of time, was able to persuade Wuthrach that Bossard’s views of the church were correct and there was no shame or illegality in entering the temple and taking a few photographs. As a clincher, he appealed to Wuthrach’s cupidity, stating there was money to be made in such an endeavor if they could obtain the photographs.
Wuthrach accepted Bossard’s proposal. With the keys entrusted to him, he unlocked the doors allowing Bossard into the building during the spring and summer months of 1911 as the temple underwent its annual cleaning and renovations. Once inside the temple, Bossard had access to almost all the rooms. Although most photographs were taken at night using a magnesium powder flashlight, he brazenly entered occasionally during the day to take additional ones. There is some uncertainty as to whether the scheme originated with Bossard or whether Florence put up some advance money to entice him to take the photographs.
Once he had photographs in hand, Florence became involved. However, the fortunes Florence and Bossard envisioned evaporated as the first option, sale to the church, collapsed, and then the attempt to exhibit their “sensational” exposé ended in abysmal failure. No one in New York seemed interested in buying tickets to the bizarre attraction. Perhaps the church’s preemptive strike of announcing the publication of a book with accompanying photographs just days after Florence’s blackmail letter dampened any interest in viewing the Florence-Bossard show.
With the collapse of the Florence-Bossard blackmail scheme, it was now left to Talmage to write a book offsetting the wild speculations and notoriety the affair had unleashed. This would be a major undertaking, and Talmage assumed his task with his usual dedication and commitment—a task that would eventuate in the first church-approved book on LDS temples.
It seems clear that Talmage initiated the suggestion for writing such a book after the story broke. Although his journal entry of September 18 does not mention a letter he wrote to the First Presidency, his official letter of notification, dated September 22, assigning him the task, begins with the following, “Your communication of the 18th inst., suggesting the publication of a booklet dealing with temples in general and with modern temples in particular, to contain interior as well as exterior views of our temples was considered at our Council meeting yesterday resulting in action favoring your suggestion, also in our action appointing you to prepare the manuscript for the suggested booklet, the same to be revised by a committee to be appointed by ourselves for that purpose.” The letter of assignment also indicated that Ralph Savage, the son of prominent pioneer Utah photographer Charles Savage, was assigned to do the photographic work on the interior with Talmage supervising.
Talmage’s journal indicates he spent the next several weeks, sometimes alone, sometimes in the company of Savage, planning strategies on how to write the book. Under Talmage’s direction, Savage began immediately to photograph the areas of the temple for inclusion in the book. These were hectic months for Talmage. Although the writing of the book was his first priority, he had to keep other commitments—in Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Grand Rapids, all professional engagements needing his time.
As the year’s end approached, Talmage felt compelled to spend more of his working day on the manuscript. With most of the pictures taken, it was now his task to produce the manuscript. His diary frequently recounted, “Remained all night at the office as I have done often of late.” By the first week in December 1911, he had five chapters ready for review by the reading committee. The next day he continued his work in the temple not knowing what would occur the following day, December 7.
His journal for that date records the following: “Shortly after four o’clock this afternoon, I learned of a call upon me which must mark a great change in my work. This is no less than a call to the Holy Apostleship. This action was taken at this day’s council meeting of the First Presidency and Twelve … The announcement of my having been chosen came as a wholly unheralded action. I was with President Joseph F. Smith until a late hour yesterday, but by no word or act or intimation was such action suggested to my mind …”
From this juncture, Talmage’s journal entries change substantially. First, and of least importance, they were now typed instead of handwritten. Second, and of greater importance, he seemed more reserved and reticent to write the lengthy entries one was accustomed to reading. Perhaps this can be attributed to his busier schedule or perhaps now, because of his apostolic calling, he felt the need to weigh what and how should be committed to paper. From this point, there are only eleven references made to his work on the book-in-progress—and often only tersely mentioned. The first five chapters were completed just two days prior to his call to the Quorum of the Twelve. The writing of the remaining six chapters begs for more discussion in his journal.
The next entry discussing work on the book occurred in January 1912. Talmage was on assignment in Logan, Utah, and took occasion to “repair to the Temple and spent there several hours making observations and taking notes with reference to the prospective publication on Temples.” It is to be assumed, although no journal entries discuss it, that substantial time was devoted to completing the book.
By March 29, 1912, work had apparently progressed to a point that a meeting took place in the First Presidency’s office “regarding the forth-coming book on ?Temples.’” The church leaders “decided to issue an edition of 5000 copies and to place [an] order at once for paper and plates.” In April Talmage was again summoned to the Church Office Building to meet with the reading committee for “reading the manuscript of proposed Temple book.”
Again while on assignment at various functions in Sanpete County, he asked to be driven to Manti where “I went direct to the Temple, where I was met by President Lewis Anderson and by him conducted over the grounds and through the Temple, thus refreshing my memory, much to my advantage in writing the chapter for the forthcoming book …” There is no indication that during this period he had occasion to visit the St. George temple. Perhaps because one of the members of the reading had some current knowledge of that temple, it was not essential that Talmage journey south to St. George for additional research.
By July, Talmage was close to completing the manuscript and incorporating the changes the committee had suggested. He recorded on the July 4th holiday that “I spent the entire day at the office engaged in work on the Temple book.” This must have been a day for making final revisions. Four days later he observed, “Typesetting was commenced today on the proposed book on Temples.”
On the eve of publication, a minor scandal erupted which cast a pall over the project. A Salt Lake City business, Souvenir Novelty Company, issued a set of postcards of interior pictures of the temple. Talmage commented, “A very regrettable condition has come to light in connection with the publication of temple pictures. The city is flooded with cheap, gaudy post-cards containing pictures of the temple interior. A matter of possible violation of copyright is held for investigation pending the return of President Joseph F. Smith. In the meantime I have instructed to serve notice on the ‘Souvenir Novelty Company,’ to suppress the cards and all announcements of the same.”
This violation of copyright so incensed church leaders that at a meeting of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, the following measure was taken: “In the matter of publication of colored post cards showing temple interiors, referred to under date of 8th inst., the First Presidency has directed that the entire edition be destroyed.” It is unclear which photographs were used to replace those ordered destroyed.
By August 18, publication was close enough to completion that Talmage was not given any assignments outside the city to allow him to be by the publisher’s side in case of last-minute revisions or problems. This mention of his confinement to the city was the last entry his journal recorded until the official announcement of the book in September. The book must have gone to galley before the end of the month as Talmage’s presence at the publishing company was no longer required. His journal indicated he returned to his out-of-town assignments.
The long-awaited day occurred on September 30, 1912. Talmage proudly proclaimed, “This is the day of official publication of the long announced book on the temples entitled, ?The House of the Lord.’ The preface is dated September 21st but the distribution has been hindered by the non-arrival of covers. As given to the public the book comprises 238 pages plus vi pages of letter press and 98 pages of plates, descriptive matter, etc., making in all a volume of 336 plus vi pages. Of the 46 plates, 31 show interior views illustrative of the great Temple at Salt Lake City. The book is published by the Church.”
The Deseret Evening News carried a lengthy review of the book in its October 2 edition, referring to the work as one “of more than usual interest has just been issued from the Deseret News establishment, and is now on the market. We refer to ?The House of the Lord, by Dr. James E. Talmage, of the Council of the Twelve …” After describing in detail the book’s contents, the editorial closed with, “This is a book that should be found in every library, and especially among the literary treasures of the Latter-day Saints. The author is sufficient guarantee for the accuracy of the information given and the soundness of the doctrine it contains. And to say that it is issued from the Deseret News establishment is equivalent to stating that the mechanical work is as excellent as can be produced in this part of the country.”
Although other publications of the temple existed prior to his book, Talmage’s work remained the standard discussion of LDS temples and temple work for years. In hindsight it seems extraordinary that The House of the Lord went out of print as early as it did. When Bookcraft Publishers of Salt Lake City decided to republish it in a second edition in 1962, they gave the following reason: “During ten years of close association with the publication of Church books we have found that there are more requests for ‘The House of the Lord’ than for any other book that has been out of print as long as it has. It has probably been more frequently quoted than any other L.D.S. out-of-print book of its time.”
The publisher’s introduction to this second edition stated they resisted the impulse to correct “typographical errors in the original publication so we could bring you an exact reproduction.” They went on to comment that the company decided not to “delete or revise a few statements such as what the author said about Elijah. But even though Brother Talmage modified his views on this later on, we do not feel that we can take the liberty to change what he says.” In other areas that might have been updated, the publisher also declined to modify the text to conform with contemporary ideas on temples and their histories.
The second edition did, however, involve some changes. The publisher inserted additional “pictures and brief statements about the temples built since the book was first printed. We hope Elder Talmage would concur.” In closing, the publisher wrote, “It is an unusual procedure to have a book dedicated to the author. However, we would like to dedicate this reprinting of the ‘The House of the Lord’ to Elder James E. Talmage.”
What the publisher did not say was that they left out Plate 27 in the reprint. This plate in the first addition was a photograph of the “Holy of Holies” room in the temple. Whether this omission was requested by the church or was done on the publisher s own volition is not entirely clear. Evidence seems to fall to the former interpretation. When Deseret Book Company issued its reprint of The House of the Lord, they dropped this picture as well. They not only omitted that particular one but opted to take out most of the original photographs as well—substituting other photographs of other temples.
In Deseret Book’s 1968 reprint, unlike Bookcraft’s, they didn t offer any introduction or reasons for the changes in original format. The only attempt to explain the change in format is found in a footnote found at the bottom of the page of Appendix 1. “Since James E. Talmage prepared the original text for the House of the Lord the interior of the Salt Lake Temple has been remodeled and renovated to meet current usage. The material in this appendix, written by Wm. James Mortimer, patterned after the material written in chapter VIII, reflects the status of the Temple in 1968.” It should be observed that in this republication, color photographs replaced the former black and white ones.
The production values apparent in the present reprint of the first 1912 edition of The House of the Lord is a tribute to Talmage and the effort he expended in researching and writing this timeless classic. Although books on or about Mormon temples or temple work have proliferated beyond our ability to count, Talmage’s The House of the Lord continues to distinguish itself, for its prose is elegant, its photographs (though dated) remain visually impressive, and its treatment of the topic engaging. Although temple work has changed somewhat since 1912, and although clarifications by church leaders on doctrine and temple policies have perhaps superseded some of what Talmage penned in his first edition, his book will continue to command the respect and pre-eminence it so richly deserves.
Posted January 23, 2011
No text was provided for this review.