The Papers of Joseph Smith

The image of Joseph Smith found in The Papers of Joseph Smith (PJS) reminds me of the only photographic image we have of Emily Dickinson, a daguerreotype made in 1848. Just as Dickinson’s poetry was posthumously “improved” by Thomas Wentworth Higginson and Mabel Loomis Todd in Poems of Emily Dickinson (1890, 1891), so the rather plain picture of Emily Dickinson was retouched to give her a blush and curls. Some may prefer the touched-up poetry and picture, but I prefer the authentic versions (including The Manuscript Books of Emily Dickinson: A Facsimile Edition [1981]). Similarly, I prefer the unpolished image of Joseph Smith that emerges from PJS, a carefully produced and ongoing collection of the Prophet’s papers.

Volume 1 contains these autobiographical and historical writings dating to Joseph Smith’s lifetime: a transcription of the earliest extant attempt by the Prophet to write a history of his life (1832)—which Jessee notes is Joseph’s “only autobiographical work containing his own handwriting” (1:1); Joseph Smith’s letter to Oliver Cowdery published in the Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate (1834); manuscript History of the Church (1834–36); journal extract published in the Times and Seasons (1839); 1839 manuscript draft of History of the Church; finished manuscript version of History (1839); Orson Pratt’s 1840 account of early Church history, containing the first publication of Joseph Smith’s 1820 vision; Orson Hyde’s Ein Ruf aus der Wuste (A Cry from the Wilderness), the first foreign-language printing (1842) of Joseph Smith’s first vision; Joseph Smith’s “Church History,” published in Times and Seasons (1842); a Pittsburgh Gazette interview with Joseph Smith (1843), containing a distinctive account of the 1820 vision; Daniel Rupp’s section on “Latter Day Saints” in his An Original History of the Religious Denominations at Present Existing in the United States (1844), giving in Joseph Smith’s words the origin, history, and beliefs of the Church; and a transcription from Alexander Neibaur’s journal (1844), including an account of the First Vision.

Volume 2 contains six segments of Joseph Smith’s Journal: Ohio Journal, 1832–1834; Ohio Journal, 1835–1836; Missouri Journal, 1838, March to September; Missouri Journal, 1838, September to October; Illinois Journal, 1839; Illinois Journal, 1841–1842.

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