Mark Twain Meets The Mormons

Copied from "Roughing It - A Personal Narrative" as he tried to figure out the Mormons during his two day stop over in Great Salt Lake City on his way to silver mines of Nevada.
All men have heard of the Mormon Bible, but few, except the elect have seen it or at least taken the trouble to read it. I brought away a copy from Salt Lake. The book is a curiosity to me. It is such a pretentious affair and yet so slow, so sleepy, such an insipid mess of inspiration. It is chloroform in print.

If Joseph Smith composed this book, the act was a miracle. Keeping awake while he did it, was at any rate. If he, according to tradtion, merely translated it from certain ancient and myteriously engraved plates of copper, which he declares he found under a stone, in an out of the way locality, the work of translating it was equally a miracle for the same reason.

The book seems to be merely a prosey detail of imaginary history with the Old Testament for a model followed by a tedious plegiarism of the New Testament. The author labored to give his words and phrases the quaint old fashioned sound and structure of our King James translation of the scriptures. The result is a mongrel, half modern glibbness and half ancient simplicity and gravity. The latter is awkward and constrained, the former natural, but grotesque by the contrast. Whenever he found his speech growing too modern, which was about every sentence or two, he ladeled in a few such scriptural phrases as, "exceeding sore," "and it came to pass," etc. and made things satisfactory again. "And it came to pass," was his pet. If he had left that out, his bible would have been only a pamphlet.

The title page goes as follows: "The Book of Mormon, an account written by the hand of Mormon upon plates taken from the plates of Nephi. Wherefore, it is an abridgement of the record of the people of Nephi, and also of the Lamanites - Written to the Lamanites, who are a remnan of the house of Israel; and also to Jew and Gentile. Written by way of commandment and also by the spirit of prophecy and of revelation - written and sealed up and hid up unto the Lord that they might not be destroyed, to come forth by the gift and power of God unto the interpretation thereof - sealed by the hand of Moroni and hid up unto the Lord, to come forth in due time by way of the Gentile - the interpretation thereof by the gift of God.

An abridgement taken from the Book of Ether, also, which is a record of the people of Jared, who were scattered at the time the Lord confounded the language of the people, when they were building a tower to get to heaven - (hid up is good, and so is wherefore, though why, wherefore? Any other word would have answered as well, though in truth it would not have sounded so scriptural.)"

Next comes the testimony of three witnesses. "Be it know unto all nations, kindreds, tongues and people unto whom this work shall come, that we, through the grace of God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, have seen the plates which contain this record which is a record of the people of Nephi and also of the Lamanites, their brethren and also of the people of Jared, who came from the tower of which hath been spoken. And we also know that they have been translated by the gift and power of God, for His voice hath declared it unto us. Wherefore we know of a surety that the work it true. And we also testify that we have seen the engravings which are upon the plates and they have been shown unto us by the power of God and not of man. And we declare with words of soberness that an angel of God came down from heaven and he brought and laid before our eyes that we beheld and saw the plates and the engravings thereon. And we know that it by the grace of God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ that we beheld and bear record that these things are true. And it is marvelous in our eyes. Nevertheless, the voice of the Lord commanded us that we should bear record of it. Wherefore to be obedient unto the commandments of God we bear testimony to these things. And we know that if we are faithful in Christ we shall rid our garments of the blood of all men and be found spotless before the judgement seat of Christ and shall dwell with Him eternally in the heavens. And the honor be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost, which is one god, Amen. Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer and Martin Harris."

Some people have to have a world of evidence before they can come anywhere in the neighborhood of believing anything, but for me when a man tells me that he has seen the engravings which are upon the plates and not only that, but an angel was there at the time and saw them see him and probably took his receipt for it, I am very far on the road to conviction no matter whether I have ever heard of that man before or not, and even if I do not know the name of the angel or his nationality either.

Next is this, "And also the testimony of eight witnesses. Be it know unto all nations, kindreds, tongues and people unto whom this work shall come, that Joseph Smith,Jun., the translator of this work, has shown unto us the plates of which hath been spoken, which have the appearance of gold and as many of the leaves as the said Smith has translated we did handle with our hands; and we also saw the engravings thereon, all of which has the appearance of ancient work and of curious workmanship. And this we bear record of with words of soberness, that the said Smith has shown unto us, for we have seen and hefted, and know of a surety that the said Smith was got the plates of which we have spoken. And we give our names unto the world, to witness unto the world that which we have seen. And we lie not, God bearing witness of it. Christina Whitmer, Jacob Whitmer, Peter Whitmer, Jun., John Whitmer, Hiram Page, Joseph Smith, Sen., Hyrum Smith, Samuel H. Smith."

And when I am far on the road to conviction and eight men. be they grammatical or otherwise come forward and tell me that they have seen the plates too, and not only seen those plates, but hefted them, I am convinced. I couldn't feel more satisfied and at rest if then entire Whitmer family had testified.

The Mormon Bible consists of fifteen books, being the books of Jacob, Enos, Jarom, Omni, Mosiah, Zenif, Alma, Helaman, Ether, Moroni, two books of Mormon, and three of Nephi. In the first book of Nephi is a plagiarism of the Old Testament which gives an account of the exodus from Jerusalem of the children of Lehi. Then it goes on to tell of their wanderings in the wilderness during eight years and their supernatural protection by one of their number, a party by the name of Nephi. They finally reach the land of Bountiful and camp by the sea. After they had remained there for the space of many days, which is more scriptural than definite, Nephi was commanded from on high to build a ship wherein to carry the people accross the waters. He travestied Noah's ark but he obeyed orders in the matter of the plan. He finished the ship in a single day while his brethren stood by and made fun of it and of him too, saying, "our brother is a fool he thinketh that he can build a ship."

They did not wait for the timbers to dry but the whole tribe or nation sailed the next day. Then a bit of genuine nature cropped out and is revealed by outspoken Nephi with scriptural frankness. They all got on a spree. They and also their wives began to make themselves merry insomuch that they began to dance. to sing and to speak with much rudeness, yeah, they were lifted up to exceeding rudeness. Nephi tried to stop these scandalous proceedings but they tied him neck and heels and went on with their lark.

But observe how Nephi, the prophet circumvented them by the aid of the invisible powers. "And it came to pass that after they had bound me in so much that I could not move, the compass which had been prepared of the Lord did cease to work, wherefore they knew not wither they should steer the ship, in so much that there arose a great storm, yea a great and terrible tempest and we were driven back upon the waters for the space of three days. And they began to be frightened exceedingly lest they should be drowned in the sea. Nevertheless they did not loose me and on the fourth day which we had been back, the tempest began to be exceedingly sore. And it came to pass, that we were about to be swallowed up in the depths of the sea." Then they untied him. "And it came to pass, after they had loosed me, behold I took the compass and it did work wither I desired it. And it came to pass that I prayed unto the Lord and after I had prayed the winds did cease and the storm did cease and there was a great calm."

Equipped with their compass, these ancients appeared to have had the advantage of Noah. Their voyage was toward a promised land, the only name that they gave it. They reached it in safety.

Polygamy is a recent feature in the Mormon religion and was added by Brigham Young after Joseph Smith's death. Before that it was regarded as an abomination. This verse from the Mormon Bible occurs in chapter two of the book of Jacob. " For behold, thus saith the Lord. This people begin to wax in inequity, they understand not the scriputures for they seek to excuse themselves in commiting whoredoms because of the things which were written concerning David and Solomon, his son. Behold, David and Solomon truly had many wives and concubines, which thing was abominable before me, saith the Lord. Wherefore, thus saith the Lord, I have led this people forth out of the land of Jerusalem by the power of mine arm, that I might raise up unto me a righteous branch from the fruit of the loins of Joseph. Wherefore I, the Lord God, will not suffer that this people shall do like unto the people of old."

However, the project failed or at least the modern Mormon end of it, for Brigham suffers it. This verse is from the same chapter. "Behold the Lamanites, your brethren, whom you hate because of their filthiness, and the cursings which hath come upon their skins are more righteous than you, for they have not forgotten the commandment of the Lord, which was given unto our fathers, that they should have, save it for one wife. And concubines they should have none."

The following verse in the chapter nine of the book of Nephi appears to contain information not familiar to everybody. "And now it came to pass that when Jesus had ascended into heaven the multitude did disperse and every man did take his wife and his children and did return unto his own home. And it came to pass that on the morrow, when the multitude did gather together, behold Nephi did and his brother, whom he had raised from the dead, whose name was Timothy, and also his son, whose name was Jonas, and also Nathoni, and Mathonehah, his brother, and Cumen, and Cumenomni, and Jeremiah and Shemnan and Jonas and Zedikiah, and Isaiah. Now these were the names of the desciples of whom Jesus had chosen."

In order that the reader may observe how much more grandeur and picturesqueness as seen by these Mormon twelve accompanied one of the tenderest episodes in the life of our Savior than other eyes seem to have been aware of I quote the following from the same book of Nephi. "And it came to pass that Jesus spake unto them and bade them, arise. And they arose from the earth and he said unto them, blessed are ye because of your faith. And now behold my joy is full. And when he had said these words he wept and the multitude bear record of it and he took their little children one by one and blessed them and prayed unto the Father for them. And when he had done this he wept again and he spake unto the multitude and saith unto them, behold your little ones. And as they looked to behold, they cast their eyes towards heaven and they saw the heavens open and they saw angels descending out of heaven as it were in the midst of fire. And they came down and encircled those little ones about and they were encircled about with fire and the angels did minister unto them and the multitude did see and hear and bear record and they know that their record is true for they, all of them, did see and hear every man for himself and they were in number about two thousand and five hundred souls and they did consist of men, women and children." And what else would they be likely to consist of?

The book of Ether is an incomprehensible medley of history, much of it relating to battles and seiges among peoples the reader has possibly never heard of and who inhabited a country which is not set down in the geography. There was a king with the remarkable name of Coriantumr, who warred with Sharrod and Lib and Shiz and others in the planes of Heshlon and the valley Gilgal and the wilderness of Akish and the land of Moran and the plains of Agoth and Orgarth and Ramah and the land of Korihor and the hill Cumnor and by the waters of Ripliancum, etc, etc,etc.

"And it came to pass after a day of fighting that Coriantumr, upon making a calculation of his losses found that there had been slain two millions of mighty men and also all of their wives and all of their children." Say, five or six million in all. "And he began to sorrow in his heart..." Unquestionably it was time. So he wrote to Shiz asking for a cessation of hostilities and offerning to give up his kingdom to save his people. Shiz declined except upon the condition that Coriantumr would come and let him cut his head off first. A thing which Coriantumr would not let him do.

There was more fighting for a season. Then four years were devoted to gathering forces for a final struggle. After which ensued a battle which I take it, is the most remarkable set forth in history, except perhaps for that of the Kilkenny Cats, which it resembles in some respects.

This is the account of gathering and of the battle. "And it came to pass that they did gather together all the people upon all the face of the land who had not been slain save it was Ether. And it came to pass that Ether did behold all the doings of the people and he beheld that the people who were for Coriantumr were gathered together to the army of coriantumr and the people and the people who for Shiz were gathered together to the army of Shiz, wherefore they were for the space of four years gathering together the people that they might get all who were upon the face of the land and that they might recieve all the strength which it was possible that could recieve. And it came to pass that when they were all gathered together, everyone to the army which he would, with their wives and their children, both men, women and children being armed with weapons of war, having shields and breastplates and head plates, and being clothed after the manner of war, they did march forth one against the other to battle."

"And they fought all that day and conquered not. And it came to pass that when it was night they were weary and retired to their camps. And after they had retired to their camps they took up a howling and a lamentation for the loss of the slain of their people. And so great were their cries, their howlings and lamentations that it did rend the air exceedingly. And it came to pass that on the morrow they did go again to battle and great and terrible was that day. Nevertheless they conquered not and when the night came again they did rend the air with their criess and their howlings and their mournings for the loss of the slain of their people."

"And it came to pass that Coriantumr wrote again an epistle unto Shiz desiring that he would not come again to battle but that he would take the kingdom and spare the lives of the people, but behold the spirit of the Lord had ceased striving with them and Satan had full power over the hearts of people. For they were given up unto the hardness of their hearts and the blindness of their minds that they might be destroyed. Wherefore they went again unto battle."

"And it came to pass that they fought all that day and when the night came they slept upon their swords and on the morrow they fought even until the night came and when the night came they were drunken with anger, even as a man is drunken with wine and they slept again upon their swords. And on the morrow they fought again and when the night came they had all fallen by the sword save it were fifty and two of the people of corinatumr and sixty and nine of the people Shiz. And it came to pass that they slept upon their swords that night and on the morrow they fought again."

"And they contended in their mights with their swords and with their shields all that day and when the night came there were thirty and two of the people of Shiz and twenty and seven of the people of Coriantumr. And it came to pass that they ate and slept and prepared for death on the morrow. And they were large and mighty men and as to the strength of men."

"And it came to pass that they fought for the space of three hours and they fainted with the loss of blood. And it came to pass that when the men of Coriantumr had recieved sufficient strength that they could walk, they were about to flee for their lives, but behold Shiz arose and also his men and he swore in his wrath that he would slay Coriantumr or he would perish by the sword. "

"Wherefore he did pursue them and on the morrow he did overtake them and they fought again with the sword. And it came to pass that when they had all fallen by the sword save it were Coriantumr and Shiz, behold Shiz had fainted with the loss of blood. And it came to pass that when Coriantumr had leaned upon his sword, that he rested a little, he smote off the head of Shiz. And it came to pass that after he smote off the head of Shiz, that Shiz raised upon his hands and fell. And after that he had struggled for breath, he died."

"And it came to pass that Coriantumr fell to earth and became as if he had no life. And the Lord spake unto Ether and said unto him, Go forth and he went forth and beheld that words of the Lord had all been fulfilled and he finished his record. And the hundreth part I have not written." Seems a pity that he didn't finish for after all his dreary former chapters of common place he stopped just as he was in danger of becoming interesting.

The Mormon Bible is rather stupid and tiresome to read. But there is nothing vicious in its teachings. Its code of morals is unobjectionable. It's smooched from the New Testament and no credit given.

At the end of our two days sojourn we left Great Salt Lake City hearty and well fed and happy. Physically superb, but not so very much wiser as regards the Mormon question than when we arrived perhaps. We had a deal more information than we had before of course but we didn't know what portion of it was reliable and what was not, for it had all come from acquaintances of the day, strangers, strictly speaking.

We were told for instance that the dreadful Mountain Meadow Massacre was the work of the Indians entirely and that the gentiles had meanly tried to fasten it upon the Mormons. We were told likewise that the indians were to blame partly and partly the Mormons and we were told likewise and just as positively that the Mormons were almost, if not wholly and completely responsible for that most trecherous and pitiless butchery.

We got the story in all these different shapes, but it was not til several years afterward that Mrs. Weight's book, The Mormon Prophet, came out with Judge Cradlebough's trial of the accused parties in it and revealed the truth, that the latter version was the correct one and that the Mormons were the assassins. All our information had three sides to it and so I gave up the idea that I could settle the Mormon question in two days. Still, I have seen newspaper correspondents do it in one.

I left Great Salt Lake a good deal confused as to what state of things existed there and sometimes even questioning in my own mind whether a state of things existed there at all or not.

Comments Sections

Funny and to the point. Mormons do not think for themselves but are part of a collective mind like the Borg in Star Trek. May they all have the chance to learn to think again and find the errors of this group's teachings. It can be done. I did it after being part of the "collective" for over 25years. "Free at last free, at last" as Martin Luther King once said. To all Mormons, research the history of the church on your own, then like me you will see the truth. - 07/24/2005 - anon

I am also very displeased with your sense of humor...or lack thereof. Please consider the fact that you have things in your life that are important to you and that if someone made a mockery of them then you may have similar feelings. We don't ask that you believe the same way...but we do want to be able to believe the way that we feel is most correct. I hope that with time you will understand what I mean...and when you do, please remove this website. Thank you. - 07/23/2005 - anon

This quote is from "Papa Hemingway" by AE Hotchner, who knew Hemingway for years. It's apparently a real incident.

Ref. Chapter 11 "Ketchum" pp.170,171

Gary Cooper and Ernest [Hemingway] had been good friends from the time they first met in Idaho in the early thirties. They respected each other's hunting skills and knowledge of the outdoors and were always completely honest with one another....

"Ain't this Mormon country wonderful!" Cooper said. "They know how to live."

"I'm practically one myself," Ernest said. "Had four wives, didn't I?" He took a sip of wine. "To tell the truth, if I were reborn and had a choice, I'd be a Mormon." - 05/21/2005 - submission from Hemingway fan

One little known point is that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle also wrote about the Mormons (without naming them by name) in a not-too-complimentary first book, entitled "A Study in Scarlet." He attributes to them a great deal of personal piety, along with a tendency towards nepotism, forced marriages, revenge killing, and the like. It's a good read. - 03/25/2004 - anon

While Twain has a twinkle in his eye concerning many things religious, he does a good job in revealing the nature of man.

His account of the Meadows massacre is a case in point.

The sadness is that Mormons have had most, if not all, of their powers of critical thinking taken away, transferring them to the local religious authorities. In this respect they are not much different than the strictest forms of Islam, Catholicism, Unification Church or what ever form of cult that uses the same techniques to create the illusion of a "heaven on earth is us" approach. When leaders are given the authority to tell you what God says, be prepared for a long Dark Age of Spiritual enterprise. The good news is that the enterprise of making money will not be a problem.

May God give them back their inner sight. - 11/09/2003 - anon

I've Read alot recently about the institutionalized racism and polygamy endorsed by fundamentalist mor(m)ons, and about the con artist Joe smith. I should also point out that at the time joe smith claimed he translated the book of mormon with his magical "seer stone", ancient egyptian had not even been translated yet. Several years later the language was finally translated, and the examples of egyptian that joe smith showed did not translate into what he claimed it did. In short joe smith was a retard and mormonism sucks, but then on the other hand it is the nature of all organized religions to suck. - 05/09/2003 - from Kaimetsu

Mark Twain...A very interesting man. Quite possibly one of the greatest literary minds in all of Western Literature, with a devilish sense of humor to boot. While Mark Twain didn't necessarily paint the best picture of the Mormons, he probably would have done the same to most religions. Twaim simply did not put much stock in organized religion. But the interesting thing is that it seems he actually read parts of the book of Mormon, as he told some of the stories in it that many skip over. The most interesting thing I think though is what Twain puts at the end of his tale - "At the end of our two days sojourn we left Great Salt Lake City hearty and well fed and happy. Physically superb, but not so very much wiser as regards the Mormon question than when we arrived perhaps." Twain seems to have admitted that while he wasn't sold in the least on Mormonism, he still admitted that he knew very little about it. - 12/14/2002 - from MaherShalalHazbal

Hat Tip to Zane Grey - Life Among the Mormons

12/06/2002 - Deepbreath

I suppose some would call him the first anti-Mormon but his stories do an excellent job of demonstrating what life was like in the Southern Utah/Northern Arizona region under the dominance of the Mormons.

Here is my favorite quote from "Riders of the Purple Sage", available in free electronic form from Project Gutenberg on the web.

"I'd like to tell you why I'm goin'," he continued, in coldness he had seldom used to her. She remarked it, but it was the same to her as if he had spoken with his old gentle warmth. "But I reckon I won't. Only, I'll say that mercy an' goodness, such as is in you, though they're the grand things in human nature, can't be lived up to on this Utah border. Life's hell out here. You think--or you used to think--that your religion made this life heaven. Mebbe them scales on your eyes has dropped now. Jane, I wouldn't have you no different, an' that's why I'm going to try to hide you somewhere in this Pass. I'd like to hide many more women, for I've come to see there are more like you among your people. An' I'd like you to see jest how hard an' cruel this border life is. It's bloody. You'd think churches an' churchmen would make it better. They make it worse. You give names to things--bishops, elders, ministers, Mormonism, duty, faith, glory. You dream--or you're driven mad. I'm a man, an' I know. I name fanatics, followers, blind women, oppressors, thieves, ranchers, rustlers, riders. An' we have--what you've lived through these last months. It can't be helped. But it can't last always. An' remember his--some day the border'll be better, cleaner, for the ways of ten like Lassiter!"

Comments Section

Mark Twain had a very shallow concept of what truth is. Was he a religious man? Did he not know of the trials of the Mormons in this land of "freedom of religion"? I feel he knew more of his own lives and not of those who were commited to restoring that which was lost after the last ancient prophet,disciple was killed. I am a convert and I knew what I read in the Book of Mormon was true. I could never deny it. Mark Twain was a good writer of his day to day life and others in his region. When you look at the great people like Thomas Jefferson and Martin Luther who were searching for truth in life, Mark Twain could only touch the very surfaces of life.

Did any one know that women in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (aka Mormons) were the first women in the United States to vote? How about some of the first doctors? That Brigham Young sent women East to learn to be doctors? hmmmmmmm, something to think of. The women in the church are the most liberated, because we are the Lord's true church on the earth. - 13/02/2003 - from

Mark Twain is full of crap. Many remarks of his about the Book of Mormon were false and it seems as though he was pretty niave about the Book and what the Mormon church is all about. The Book of Mormon is the number two best seller in the world behind the Bible. How can Mark Twain say that it is tiresome and stupid. I have read that Book many times and I can see that no human being could write that book with some divine help. - 11/05/2002 - anon
Editor's Note: We couldn't agree more with this person's last sentence.

I recently passed through Salt Lake City on my way to Colorado and was struck by how incredibly naive the residents were. The museum in Temple Square seems rather mundane. What I found curious was why were otherwise seemingly intelligent successful people taken in by this gobbledigook? I think the answer is rather sad. They need to believe to belong,in SLC,in the surrounding areas,and they need to keep that beehive humming. - 09/07/2002 - from intrepid traveler

Twain was a sharp writer, and it's obvious he took few pains in describing the Mormons. If Mormons only knew how inconsequential most people consider their church to be. Mormons  sometimes suffer delusions of grandeur, supposing that the reason they have so many critics is that apostate preachers (protestants, catholics, etc.) fear them as competition. In truth, most preachers in other denominations are either indifferent or clueless about Mormons. In short, Mormonism just isn't the factor she likes to think she is. That Twain realized this enough in his day, such that he didn't bother lending much of his literary talent to writing well on the matter, seems telling to me. He had better things to do with his time. - 6/21/2002 - anon

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