A Believing People: Literature of the Latter-day Saints

Section Introduction: Journals and Diaries

Richard Cracroft and Neal Lambert, editors

...I know that the record which I make is true; and I make it with mine own hand; and I make it according to my knowledge. --Nephi, The Book of Mormon

In the same New England spirit which compelled so many of their puritan forebears, the Saints of Mormondom have been inveterate diarists. Often with makeshift pens and fragments of pencils, sometimes by candlelight, sometimes by moonlight, these diarists inscribed the account of God's dealings with his modern-day Israel onto the pages of individual journals and diaries. Sometimes these pages are, in their lack of explanation, frustratingly vague. On the other hand, they are sometimes florid with a profuse "literary" prose. But at their best, when directed and informed by the immediate impress of the events themselves, the journals, diaries, and personal accounts of early Mormondom comprise one of the most distinctive and remarkable bodies of literature to come from the first hundred years of the Church.

Guided by their own understanding of the significant, and building out of materials supplied by their own senses, these people wrote passages that are often rich with the passionate apprehension of the feel, smells, and sights of life itself. Indeed, at their best the writings in these journals anticipate the terseness and concrete renderings that have come to be hallmarks of twentieth-century literary style. And the power of that style gives memorable impact to the pages of these works of unsophisticated art.

One cannot expect to find in these writings the tight structure that unifies most longer works of imaginative literature, such as the novel. But attempts to edit and improve the journals and diaries should be undertaken with care. For while the editor may wish to bring certain events closer together for a more dramatic juxtaposition, he may do so only at the expense of something that is perhaps more significant' a structure dictated by time itself, the inexorable progress of days lived one by one. The result of this structure is, for the reader, the experience of a life shared-anticipa-tions and hopes both realized and forgotten, fears and disappointments confronted and endured.

The journals presented here represent a wide range of styles and experiences. From the unsophisticated, childlike recollections of Mary Goble Pay to the learned and voluble account of William Clayton, all these writers are artists in their own right. Their experiences are sometimes delightfully humorous without intending to be; they are sometimes innocently pathetic without consciously trying to evoke our tears. But above all, they manifest an artistic honesty which is not only refreshing but profound in its revelations about living not only as "Mormons" but as believing human beings.

Of course, journal keeping in the Mormon Church does not end with the nineteenth century. Even now on the shelves of many missionary apartments are those ubiquitous green or blue books with the blank pages waiting for the pen. Hopefully in the hearts of at least some of these twentieth-century journalists stir the same devotion to the record and the same honest ability to see and sense clearly that characterize the journals and diaries represented here.

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