John Lyon: The Life of a Pioneer Poet

In this sixth volume of the BYU Religious Studies Center’s Specialized Monograph Series, Ted Lyon provides a perceptive life study of his talented great-grandfather poet as well as a needed cultural history. The book is well organized, extensively researched, effectively written, handsomely packaged, and an important history/biography. What more could we ask of a book or its author?

When John Lyon (b. 1803) died in 1889 he was widely known through his work as territorial librarian, Endowment House superintendent, newspaper arts critic, and poet. The first LDS writer to publish a complete book of poetry, he reigned as Mormondom’s premier male poet (counterpart to Eliza R. Snow). Seven of his poems became early LDS hymns. Because his work has since slipped into obscurity, one purpose of this history, according to the author, is to give new life to this once famous man and rescue him and his poetry from “dark anonymity” (xiii).

The author breaks John Lyon’s life into six long chapters, averaging fifty pages each. Chapter 1 covers John’s life from birth in Glasgow to apprentice weaver at nine and through schoolless years to adulthood—twenty-one years that made him curious, hard working, and largely self-taught. Here the author splendidly recreates the early nineteenth-century Scottish social milieu—a must-read for anyone researching ancestors of that place and time.

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