Mormon Literature Sampler:

How I Became a "Mormon"

Karl G. Maeser*

Only in compliance with the counsel of President F. D. Richards have I reluctantly yielded to the repeated solicitations of the editor to relate briefly in the columns of the Era the incidents preceding and accompanying my conversion to the great work of the latter days, and my baptism into The Church, at Dresden, Saxony, October 14, 1855.

As "Oberlehrer" at the Budich Institute, Neustadt, Dresden, I, like most of my fellow-teachers in Germany, had become imbued with the scepticism that characterizes to a large extent the tendency of modern higher education, but I was realizing at the same time the unsatisfactory condition of a mind that has nothing to rely on but the ever changing propositions of speculative philosophy.

Although filled with admiration of the indomitable courage, sincere devotion, and indefatigable energy of the great German Reformer, Martin Luther, I could not fail to see that his work had been merely all initiatory one, and that the various protestant sects, taking their initiative from the revolutionary stand of the heroic monk at Wittenberg and Worms, had entirely failed to comprehend the mission of the reformation. The only strength of Protestantism seemed to be its negative position to the Catholic church; while in most of the positive doctrines of the multifarious protestant sects their antagonism to one another culminated only too often in uncompromising zealotry. These ideas illustrate in the main my views on religious subjects, at that time, and are explanatory of the fact that scepticism had undermined the religious impressions of my childhood days, and why infidelity, now known by its modern name as agnosticism, was exercising its disintegrating influence upon me.

In that dark period of my life, when I was searching for a foothold among the political, social, philosophical, and religious opinions of the world, my attention was called to a pamphlet on the "Mormons," written by a man named Busch. The author wrote in a spirit of opposition to that strange people, but his very illogical deductions and sarcastic invectives aroused my curiosity, and an irresistible desire to know more about the subject of the author's animadversion caused me to make persistent inquiries concerning it. There were no "Mormons" in Saxony at that time, but, as I accidentally found in an illustrated paper, they had a mission in Denmark. Through an agent, I obtained the address of Elder Van Colt, then President of the Scandinavian mission. My letter addressed to that gentleman brought the answer that neither he nor his secretary could understand much German, but that Elder Daniel Tyler, President of the Swiss and German mission at Geneva, would give me all information I should desire on the subject of "Mormonism." I addressed myself, therefore, to that gentleman.

What I now relate in this paragraph, I never learned until twelve years later, at Beaver City, Utah, where Brother Tyler related it in my presence, at a meeting of the Relief Society. When my letter arrived at Geneva, headquarters of the mission, one of the traveling Elders suggested to President Tyler to have nothing to do with the writer of the letter, but to send it back without any answer, as it was most likely only a trick of the German police to catch our possible connections in that country. President Tyler declared that as the letter was impressing him quite differently, he would send it back as suggested, but that it would come back again with more added to it, if the Lord was with the writer. Thus I got my letter back without any explanation or signature, only in a new envelope addressed to me. I felt insulted, and sent it with a few words of inquiries about this strange procedure, to Elder Van Cott, at Copenhagen. By return mail I received an apology from President Van Cott, stating that there must be a mistake somewhere, as Elder Tyler was a good and wise man. He had, however, sent my letter again to Geneva with an endorsement. This led to a long correspondence between Elder Tyler and myself. Pamphlets and some books were forwarded to me. Having some conceited notions in those days about illiteracy, and no faith in Bible or religious doctrines, correspondence and publications had no other effect upon me than to convince me that "Mormonism" was a much bigger thing than I had anticipated. I therefore expressed a desire for having an Elder sent to me.

A few weeks after that request had been made, Elder William Budge, now President of Bear Lake Stake, arrived at my house. It was providential that such a man was the first "Mormon" I ever beheld, for, although scarcely able to make himself understood in German, he, by his winning and yet dignified personality, created an impression upon me and my family which was the keynote to an indispensable influence that hallowed the principles he advocated. After about eight weeks' sojourn in our family, during which time my brother-in-law, Brother Edward Schoenfeld, and wife, and another teacher at one of the public schools in Dresden, had become interested in the teachings of the "Mormon" Elder, Elder F. D. Richards, then President of the European mission, and Elder William Kimball, arrived in Dresden. A few interviews at which Elder Budge acted as interpreter, led to the baptism of eight souls in the river Elbe; the first baptisms after the order of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in that country.

On coming out of the water, I lifted both of my hands to heaven and said: "Father, if what I have done just now is pleasing unto thee, give me a testimony, and whatever thou shouldst require of my hands I shall do, even to the laying down of my life for this cause."

There seethed to be no response to my fervent appeal, and we walked home together, President Richards and Elder Budge at the right and the left of me, while the other three men walked some distance behind us, so as to attract no notice. The other members of the family were baptized a few days later. Our conversation was on the subject of the authority of the Priesthood, Elder Budge acting as interpreter. Suddenly I stopped Elder Budge from interpreting President Richards' remarks, as I understood them, and replied in German, when again the interpretation was not needed as President Richards understood me also. Thus we kept on conversing until we arrived at the point of separation, when the manifestation as suddenly ceased as it had come. It did not appear to me as strange at all while it lasted, but as soon as it stopped, I asked Brother Budge what that all meant, and received the answer that God had given me a testimony. For some time afterwards, whenever I conversed with President Richards, in England, we could understand each other more readily than when I was conversing with others, or rather trying to converse, until my progress in the English language made this capacity unnecessary.

This is the plain statement of the power of the Holy Spirit manifested to me by the mercy of my Heavenly Father, the first one of the many that have followed, and that have corroborated the sincere conviction of my soul, that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is of God and not of man.

*Karl G. Maeser (1828-1901), one of Mormondom's most beloved educators, was born in Meiszen, Saxony, Germany. Well educated, Dr. Maeser became a successful German educator. He was baptized into the Church in 1855, after which he resigned his position and moved with his family to London, where he labored among German-speaking residents, building up a branch of the Church. In 1856, he emigrated to Philadelphia, where he labored for the Church until 1860, then moved to Utah and began teaching school. In 1864 he was called to become tutor to Brigham Young's family. Later, in 1867, while he was serving as an organist for the Tabernacle Choir, he was called to preside over the Swiss and German mission, where he founded the Church journal, Der Stern. In 1876 Brigham Young called Dr. Maeser to establish the Brigham Young Academy in Provo, Utah (later BYU), where he worked until his death, a leader in the Church Sunday School system and in the higher education program of the Church. This account of his conversion was published in the 1889 Improvement Era.

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