Liverpool: Published for Orson Pratt by S.W. Richards, 1853. First edition. 297pp. Duodecimo [15.5 cm] Full black diced pebbled leather with the title gilt on the backstrip. Near fine. Name in ink on the front pastedown. In custom burgundy faux-leather clamshell case with black gilt-stamped spine label. Item #45900
This diminutive volume and the words contained therein have caused great controversy since it's original publication. Lucy Mack Smith (1776-1856) wrote the memoir based on her family history and the religious revelations of her son Joseph Smith (1805-1844). With Lucy Smith's permission, but without the approval of LDS Church President Brigham Young (1801-1877), Orson Pratt, Sr. (1811-1881) published Biographical Sketches in Liverpool, England in 1853. Initially, the book was praised in a November 1854 Deseret News article which stated that "…many facts which it contains, and never before published, are of great importance to the world, and the work constitutes a valuable acquisition to the libraries of the Saints." Pratt, who was one of the Twelve Apostles of the LDS Church, frequently battled with Brigham Young over their differing religious theories. Young "…was really angry at Pratt over doctrinal matters and, about half the time, while dressing him down in public and in private, simply threw in Biographical Sketches for good measure." (Anderson, Lavina Fielding, ed. Lucy's Book: A Critical Edition of Lucy Mack Smith's Family Memoir. Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2001; p. 101). Further evidence of this doctrinal feud becoming personal between the two men can be found in the October 21, 1865 edition of the Millennial Star (pp. 657-658). The First Presidency of the LDS Church openly condemns Biographical Sketches and advises: "…it should be gathered up and destroyed…In Great Britain, diligence has been used in collecting and in disposing of this work, and we wish that same diligence continued there and also exercised here, at home, until not a copy is left. The inquiry may arise in the minds of some persons, 'Why do you want to destroy this book?' Because, we are acquainted with individual circumstances alluded to in it, and know many of the statements to be false…"
The lengthy admonishment went on to state that, if any church members owned a copy: "…to dispose of it so it will never be read by any person again. If they do not, the responsibility of the evil results that may accrue from keeping it will rest upon them and not upon us…those who have been instructed respecting its character, and will still keep it on their tables, and have it in their houses… need rebuke, it is transmitting lies to posterity to take such a course, and we know that the curse of God will rest upon every one, after he comes to the knowledge of what is here said, who keeps these books for his children to learn and believe in lies. (Star pp. 657-658)
Orson Pratt also did not escape public chastisement from the First Presidency: …"brother Pratt had it printed, and published it, without saying a word to the First Presidency or the Twelve about what he was doing. This is the way the book came into being. It was smuggled, juggled and foisted into existence as a book…" (Star pp. 657-658)
Subsequently, many of the books were destroyed. Individuals still owning copies were instructed to turn them over to their Bishops or to the church offices to be disposed of. People who voluntarily turned in their copies were paid with a credit towards their tithing or in other works of the church. For this reason, the Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and his Progenitors for Many Generations is a rare, controversial and historically important book. Flake/Draper 8080. Howes S637. Mormon Imprints 47. Mormon Fifty 41. Auerbach 1234. Scallawagiana Hundred 46. Graff 3860. Crawley 829.