The Book of Mormon in the English Literary Context of 1837

“Do you know anything of a wretched set of religionists in your country, superstitionists I ought rather to say, called Mormonites, or Latter-Day Saints?” So wrote the great English poet William Wordsworth to his American editor Henry Reed early in 1846. This is the only reference to Mormonism in Wordsworth’s surviving letters or other writings, and it may come as a shock to modern Latter-day Saints to find such anger and hostility towards us in a poet of whom we so often think as our poet, one who believed much of what we believe.

The literary giants of early nineteenth-century England did not foster nor usher in the restoration of the gospel. Indeed, as we have seen, the only one of these giants who knew about Mormonism was Wordsworth, and his sole recorded response, on earth, was hostility. My aim, then, instead, is to explore what happened to prevent the kind of spiritual marriage between the gospel message and English poetry which would seem almost expectable and which Shelley even seems to have envisioned. I will suggest, and suggest only, for proof in matters of mental and artistic and social influences seems impossible, one key ingredient in the literary context of the day which seems likely to have poisoned the atmosphere which in so many other ways seemed so likely to be receptive. The element of the literary context on which I shall focus is the discovery of a variety of treasures of ancient writings, all of which are bound to remind us in one way or another of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon.

Published in BYU Studies Quarterly 27:1
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