St. Louis Gazette/May 23, 1844
It is a melancholy thing to consider the aberrations of the human mind and heart which almost daily are brought before our eyes in one form or another. We call our century a great age, the age of improvement and enlightenment. In many respects it is so. Practical philosophy has surely made the most wonderful advances during the last half of the nineteenth century; but whether that can also be said of moral and higher philosophy is, to say the least, rather doubtful. For when we behold such absurdities as Millerism and Mormonism counting tens and hundreds of thousands of intelligent human beings among their converts, we are tempted to think that some peculiarities of our famous era of enlightenment would not have disgraced the darkest era of medieval darkness. And yet the chief absurdity of Mormonism is belief in the pretended attributes and works of its prophet, priest, and prince. The religion of the Mormons, so far as we know its peculiarities, is much like that of the Protestant church. It embodies faith in original sin, regeneration, atonement, the continuation of the soul, and the reward and punishment of the soul after death as taught in the New Testament. The Mormons do not believe in infant baptism, nor in any kind of baptism as a necessity for salvation. With them the efficacy of this sacrament depends on the attitude of the person who submits to it. Generally speaking, we do not think that the most conservative Protestant would seriously quarrel with their religious creed as taught and exhibited, but so far as the practical application of these teachings is concerned -- that is something quite different.
We are not well enough informed to report with exactitude on the distinguishing characteristics and features of their social system, but we are inclined to believe that in this respect the Mormons have been much abused. We have not the remotest intention of wishing to uphold the Prophet's moral character, but the whole congregation of Nauvoo does not consist of prophets. Many of his followers condemn and publicly denounce him. Dissensions of all kinds are not only numerous in Nauvoo, but new ones are incessantly breaking out among the Saints, and it is therefore hard to know whether the Prophet's authority is on the wax or on the wane -- whether it is greater or less than it was in the beginning, and whether this new faith will fall with its founder or some new Elijah will appear who can take up his mantle and wear it. Quite recently a group of Mormons renounced the authority of Prophet Smith, basing their defection on the fact that Smith, although once a true prophet, has lost his dignity and is no longer worthy to be their spiritual ruler. These people changed only their prophet, not their religious belief. The new shepherd is one named William Law, incidentally a very important name; this is, in fact, the name of the famous Law who a half century ago projected the idea of Mississippi steamboat navigation.
It can hardly be doubted that the Mormon community is not now a happy one, even though it is definitely increasing. There is a dejected, subdued, and sullen air and aspect about the men, and a timid, retiring, and abashed manner about the women indicating anything but a proud, enterprising, and independent spirit in either -- a spirit conscious of rectitude and honor, and determined to uphold them. What we thought when we saw these 'peculiar people,' we often later heard others say: namely, that many Mormons would surely not hesitate to separate from the group if they could find an asylum in the world to which they could flee and where they could regain their former dignity and reputation. But this is hardly possible.
There is little hope for worldly prosperity in Nauvoo. The city is neither a commercial mart in itself, nor does it supply the markets of others. It is to a certain extent quite isolated, and has absolutely no principle of aggregation -- if we except that of accumulating population. And in this respect, it surely takes the prize! During the last three months, immigration has added no fewer than four to five hundred people to the population of Nauvoo; and strangely (perhaps significantly), those who have swelled the ranks of the New Jerusalem are mainly transatlantic emigrants.
The average Mormon woman has much personal charm, and Nauvoo is famous for the beauty of its women. One of our friends who visited the theater there assured us that he was quite dazzled by the beauty of the ladies who crowded the dress circle. To judge from the playbill lying before us, this theater must be very entertaining. The announcement on the playbill reads: "MASONIC HALL." Nauvoo, April 24, 1844. "A Grand Moral Entertainment" will be presented for lifting a debt of President Joseph Smith, which he had to contract because of the odious persecution and vexatious lawsuits of Missouri. His friends, as well as the honored public, will gladly respond to such a laudable call, in patronizing the efforts of those who offer rational amusement combined with a practical purpose. The historical drama, a tragedy in five acts, is entitled PIZARRO, or The Death of Rolla. The whole to conclude with a very humorous farce, JOHN JONES, or The War Office. New scenery, costumes, and decorations. Directed by Thomas A. Lyne of the theaters of the Eastern states. Price per seat: 50 cents. Box office opens at 6 o'clock. First act begins at 7 o'clock. Good music; strict order; no smoking allowed; front seats reserved for ladies.
This handbill was given to us by the colporteur of the newspaper who was at the same time distributing the Mormon organ, the 'Nauvoo Neighbor,' a small semiweekly sheet. The 'Times and Seasons' is another Mormon newspaper; it appears monthly or semimonthly, occasionally or semi occasionally, or even -- according to the circumstances -- not at all.