long ago ideas

“When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago." - Friedrich Nietzsche. Long ago, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery conquered false claims that the Book of Mormon was fiction or that it came through a stone in a hat. But these old claims have resurfaced in recent years. To conquer them again, we have to return to what Joseph and Oliver taught.

Thursday, June 4, 2015


From February 15 through November 15, 1842, the Times and Seasons included this statement at the end of each paper:

THE TIMES AND SEASONS, is edited by JOSEPH SMITH. Printed and published about the first and fifteenth of every month, on the corner of Water and Bain Streets, Nauvoo, Hancock County, Illinois, by JOSEPH SMITH.

TERMS. Two Dollars per annum, payable in all cases in advance. Any person procuring five new subscribers, and forwarding us Ten Dollars current money, shall receive one volume gratis. All letters must be addressed to Joseph Smith, publisher, POST PAID, or they will not receive attention.

This signature block was identical from issue to issue because it was "stereotyped."

Oxford's English dictionary defines "stereotype" this way: "1. The method or process of printing in which a solid plate of type-metal, cast from a papier-mâché or plaster mould taken from the surface of a forme of type, is used for printing from instead of the forme itself. 2. a. A stereotype plate."

In other words, when a printer in the 1830s wanted to reproduce the identical text or drawing over and over, it was far easier to create a metal plate (a stereotype) than to reset each letter by hand (or risk having letters fall out from a block of type). The Nauvoo printing office included a stereotype foundry. The masthead of the paper was printed with a stereotype (as were advertisements in the Wasp).

[Note: the term "stereo" comes from the Greek word for "solid," which makes sense here: a stereotype is "solid type" as opposed to loose type in which each letter must be individually set. A system that produces "stereophonic sound" creates sound that is solid and three-dimensional, which is really an illusion of directionality and audible perspective. That use doesn't lead to the common figurative meaning, however. We have to look at the printing term to derive the figurative meanings, given in the Oxford dictionary this way: 3. fig. a. Something continued or constantly repeated without change; a stereotyped phrase, formula, etc.; stereotyped diction or usage. b. A preconceived and oversimplified idea of the characteristics which typify a person, situation, etc.; an attitude based on such a preconception. Also, a person who appears to conform closely to the idea of a type.]

Today we refer to this as "boilerplate," meaning language that is repeated over and over, such as in a legal agreement (like an insurance contract). Boilerplate is a better term now because the term "stereotype" today has a different connotation than it did originally (although today's figurative meaning is derived from the original literal meaning). Boilerplate simply refers to text that is repeated over and over.

The stereotype in the Times and Seasons was changed starting with the July 1, 1842 edition.

You can see here that the typesetter retained the first line and reconfigured the rest of the top portion, but didn't change the Terms. Evidently, the change was made to avoid the unnecessary duplication of Joseph Smith's name and to eliminate the hyphen on Water. Most likely, the Terms portion was a separate stereotype so they could have changed the Terms whenever they wanted.

Here's the key point. Some authors have taken this stereotype to mean that Joseph Smith personally edited everything in the Times and Seasons between February 15 through November 15, 1842 (although the August 1st edition lacked the boilerplate). There are lots of reasons why this can't possibly be true, starting with Joseph's own assertion that he had nothing to do with the February 15 paper despite the use of his name as Editor in the stereotype. I've addressed these reasons in my book, The Lost City of Zarahemla, but in this blog, I just wanted to explain how this stereotype is essentially meaningless as proof of who was actually editing the paper.

There were similar stereotypes for the Wasp, the Nauvoo Neighbor, and all the other newspapers of the time. When John Taylor became the editor of the Times and Seasons, the paper used a stereotype with his name on it. It should be obvious that such stereotypes were used to save time and money, not to claim the editor read and edited everything in the paper. For example, William Smith was absent during part of June 1842, but the Wasp still printed the stereotype with his name on it. Even after John Taylor was seriously wounded at Carthage, the Times and Seasons used the stereotype with his name on it.

In the modern world, corporate executives, government officials, fundraisers, (and even LDS Church leaders) have automatic signing machines. Years ago, they had signature stamps. Does this mean that President Obama reads every item that goes out over his signature? He doesn't even have time to sign all the material, let alone read it. He, like many busy people, rely on staff to handle these matters. That this also happened in 1842 is demonstrated by the wedding announcement incident I discuss in my book.

Back in Nauvoo times, they used stereotypes. Anyone can believe whatever they want, but it is naive in the extreme to believe this stereotype is proof that Joseph Smith wrote unsigned articles, or even articles signed by "Ed." The use of these stereotypes is no evidence that Joseph Smith edited, or even read, (let alone wrote) everything in every issue of the Times and Seasons before it was published--even during the period when his name was on the stereotype.

Another thing many people don't realize is this was not the first Church newspaper of which Joseph was the nominal editor. Here's the stereotype from the Elders' Journal, published in Kirtland on October and November 1837:

Despite this stereotype, here's what Joseph Smith's history has to say regarding Don Carlos: "On  the commencement of the publication of the Elders Journal in  Kirtland, he took the control of the establishment until the  office was destroyed by fire in December 1837, when in consequence  of persecution he moved his family to New Portage." Consistent with this biographical detail, Erastus Snow and Wilford Woodruff wrote to Don Carlos as editor. Woodruff wrote, "My object in addressing you at this time, is to forward you a list of the names of some of our friends from the several Islands of the sea, who wish you to send them your valuable paper, vis: the Elders Journal." This was pursuant to the directions given in the Prospectus for the Elders' Journal and it sets a precedent for Joseph's name appearing as Editor while one of his brothers does the work. I think the same thing happened with William Smith and the Times and Seasons, but that's much too long a discussion for this blog. It's all in my book, The Lost City of Zarahemla.

[Note: The original Times and Seasons stereotype with Joseph's name was adapted from one Robinson published only once, on Feb. 1, 1942, after he added Gustavus Hills to his staff.]

Prior to that, Robinson used a less informative one:

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