Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Prophet and the Postage

One of the most enjoyable parts of doing research--on any topic--is coming across a bit of information that maybe has nothing to do with one's subject, yet is irresistibly interesting. As you may know, I've been researching the early days of the LDS church for my thesis paper on temple architecture, and part of that includes reading about Joseph Smith.

Joseph Smith was the man through whom the church was restored in the 1830s and we consider him our first modern prophet, because he saw God, talked with angels, performed miracles, translated the Book of Mormon, and established a functioning church from the ground up. I don't know how he even found time to sleep, because when you read about his life during the 1830s and early 1840s, he was laboring (personally hauling stone) on the temple, traveling around visiting the various branches of the church, preaching, re-translating the bible, caring for his family, forming a bank and a store, evading angry mobs...

His life was not easy, but from all accounts he was a happy person, full of faith and hope. And yet he was a man like any other, subject to human error and disappointments, not perfect. I don't say this to disparage him, only remind myself that he was a real person, because it can be easy to idealize and give iconic status to important and awesome historical figures such as he was. But he was a man--he even had pet peeves.

I was reading a compilation of Joseph Smith's journals, and came across the following passage from Saturday, the 5th of December, 1835:

I received a letter today from Reuben McBride, Vilanova, NY. Also another from Parley Pratt's mother in law from Herkimer County, NY of no consequence as to what it contained, but cost me 25 cents for postage. I mention this as a common occurrence and I am subjected to a great deal of expence in this way by those who I know nothing about, only that they are destitute of good manners. For if people wish to be benefited with information from me, common respect and good breeding woud dictate them to pay the postage on their letters.

Well, I would be mad too if people kept sending me letters that I had to pay the postage on. And it must have been a fat letter "of no consequence" for 25 cents of 1835 money! But there was no Miss Manners back then to set people straight on postal etiquette. And I'm sure that it just goes to show how generous and kind Joseph was that people would want to write to him, even though they couldn't afford to, and that he would pay the postage though he could have just as easily refused and sent the letters back. So if you find yourself complaining a little bit, don't worry--even the prophet couldn't help grumbling a tiny bit now and then.


Holly said...

When I visited Kirtland with my family as a little girl, they told us there was a big problem with people sending Joseph Smith hate mail with the postage due. I can't remember exactly the details, but either he made a code for his friends regarding a certain way to send mail with postage due or he eventually stopped excepting all of them.

Lis said...

This is a lovely post, and a hilarious anecdote. I feel sad that now said rant would come via email.