If the double image of Ann Eliza is disturbing, her two Brigham Youngs are nothing short of eerie. For the most part of her life Ann Eliza's mother, a woman given to secret fantasies and morbid brooding, carried about with her (according to her daughter) a perfectly false image of her hero, Brigham Young, "a creature of her imagination, and utterly unlike his real self."1 Along with that, Mrs. Webb had another idol, her adored and pampered daughter. And the dream of her life was to bring her two idols together in marriage. The daughter, who describes herself as a neurotic and overimaginative child, shared and surpassed her mother's talent for cloud piling, revelling in the vision of wonderful things to come and weeping bitterly when reality failed to match her expectations, as it always did.
But if one can dream of heroes such as never were, cannot one also imagine a corresponding breed of villain? The girl was sure she had heaven on a platter when she got James Dee; but when he failed to deliver he forthwith became no melted chocolate soldier but a walking horror, a swashbuckling hetman, a gloating sadist; henceforth she always spoke of Dee as "the man who 'blighted' her life."2 Since she admits that the premarital Dee was the simon-pure native product of her own wishful thinking, are we to accept the picture as sober reality when she turns the image neatly inside out? Ann Eliza's third husband was, according to all reports, before she met him just such a model father and mate as Dee became after she left him; but the moment she married Denning he underwent a hideous transmogrification into an elemental brute. That Ann Eliza certainly did things to men.
Well, between the two D's comes Mr. Big himself, the man from whom mama expected everything—and mama did have a way of letting Ann Eliza in on her little secrets. For him to let our Annie down was to invite a denunciation commensurate with his stature and his crime; only a full-scale epic could do justice to the theme, and that epic, the studied after-thoughts of a woman whose rage and frustration knew no bounds, is the subject of Mr. Wallace's great American novel. But just as Wallace is hard put to keep the real face of Ann Eliza from peeping out at us through his carefully censored pages, so all his piety and wit fail to make his portrait of Brigham Young come to life. The trouble is not that the Prophet is falsely portrayed, but that he is not portrayed at all. This is no living thing; such a creature never moved upon this earth nor in the waters or under the earth. This golem who does Mr. Wallace's bidding, trembling with rage or staring with fascination as he is told to, has nothing in common with the man whose life is as fully documented as that of any figure in our history; to his self-revealing letters, sermons, and deeds, Mr. Wallace prefers the Ann Eliza-Stenhouse image every time. And what is that image?
First, Brigham the Cad, either fawning or bullying, "arrogant to his inferiors, and unpleasantly familiar to the very few whom he desires for any reason to conciliate."3 Mean and ignoble he was: "I do not believe there is anywhere a man so suspicious of his workmen, . . . so anxious to cut their wages."4 "It don't make any difference whether they are satisfied or not" was the policy.5 If his assistants slipped up "he cursed them 'in the name of Israel's God'; he ridiculed them in public. . . . Their sole fault was, they had been too faithful to him."6 He cannot give the most casual instructions without being "sharp and abusive" about it.7 The only reason his closest friends put up with him is that "their interest and associations bind them to the church."8 Heartless is the word for Brigham: "I believe that, if every friend he had in the world lay before him, cold and still and with frozen pulse, he would look on unmoved and indifferent, and never shed a tear, so utterly heartless is he."9 Through the years the "faithful friendship" of Ann Eliza's mother was "met, as a matter of course, by unkindness and treachery on his side."10 His children "know nothing of fatherly affection, and . . . they feel, personally, only a dread and fear of him. He never invites their confidences, nor shows himself interested in their affairs." And why not? Because "all this would be quite incompatible with his ideas of prophetic dignity."11 That means he can't be decent to any of his children. When his little granddaughter was poisoned, "Brigham . . . rudely turned him [the doctor] out of doors. . . . The agonized parents dared not interfere, and in a few moments their child died before their very eyes, . . . an innocent victim to the Prophet's egotism and bigotry."12 Of course it was a different story when he took sick: "a doctor is summoned at once; . . . he employed at least half a dozen, . . . so great was his terror, and so absolute his horror of fatal consequences."13 For like all bullies he is a great coward, who "cringes . . . as a whipped cur" at "any adverse criticism."14
His specialty was mistreating the gentle sex, for "he had . . . no conception of feminine delicacy or sensitiveness."15 He was especially "fond of sneering" at his more "sickly wives," and the fact that one is an invalid "is sufficient to preclude her from receiving care or sympathy from her husband."16 Many a bride, "unused to toil and hardship, nurtured in luxury, reared in tenderness and love," had wakened up one morning to find herself "ruled over by a grasping, lecherous, heartless tyrant, who laughed at a woman's sorrows and flouted at her wrongs."17 When wives are discontented "he whines . . . and mimics them, until they are fairly outraged by his heartless treatment, and their indignation or grief gets the supremacy over their other trouble," and so tranquility reigns again in the household.18 Only by the spectacle of his own discomfiture did the brute supply his afflicted family with a few moments of emotional release: "As deeply hurt as Emmeline was by his rude boorishness of manner, . . . she could not help being pleased at seeing the punishment he was receiving at the hands of the outraged favorite."19
With the image of Brigham the Cad in mind, we are prepared for Brigham the Criminal, nothing less, in fact, than "the greatest criminal of the 19th century";20 "in crafty cunning and malicious shrewdness he is far in advance of any of his associates,"21 and this has made it possible for him to manage "a great many murders, of which he would probably avow himself entirely guiltless, since his hand did not perform the deed."22 Mr. Wallace is willing to buy this,23 though evidence for these thousands of murders on the plains comes from Hickman, who "claims that he did them all at Young's instigation."24 "What do you suppose I care for the law?" cries the crafty, cunning Brigham. "My word is law here. I wish you distinctly to understand that."25 In Ann Eliza's book this arch criminal sinks to the lowest depths when he even refuses to pay his hired assassins.26
For we must not forget Brigham the Miser. As his first counselor and dearest friends said, "Brigham's God is gold. . . . He has become a selfish, cold-hearted tyrant."27 More than one aged crone "supports herself entirely, independently of the man who has swindled her out of her home and her property,"28 for "he will do anything for money, or to have his wives get it for him"29—a bizarre way of acquiring wealth for an empire-builder, it must be admitted; but that just goes to show. "His avarice is so inordinate that no amount of suffering stands in the way of his self-enrichment";30 Indian wars were simply an opportunity "in some mysterious manner to make large sums of money";31 the Mormon Battalion was really Brigham's scheme for getting rich by pocketing every penny of the soldier's pay, "and if a soldier's wife ventured to ask him for anything, no matter how trifling it might be, she was rudely repulsed."32 "Men who have been in his employ for years . . . have never received the least remuneration";33 the Hand-Cart scheme was another "heartless and mercenary experiment . . . merely to help fill the purses of a false prophet and his corrupt followers";34 "indeed, the entire Hand-Cart expedition was a good speculation for the President, and helped replenish the prophetic pocket."35 No wonder he "rubbed his hands and smiled with overflowing complacency" as he thought about it.36 When missionaries asked for travel money from the huge missionary fund, "they were coolly told by Brother Brigham that there was no money for them—'not one cent'!" On the contrary, the Presiding Bishop took forty dollars from each of them for travel, and promptly trotted over to Brigham with the loot.37 When unscrupulous missionaries were able to pick up a sizeable bundle in the mission field, that was all right with Brigham as long as he got half the take. " 'Brother Calkins' not only visited him, but divided the spoils with him, his own share amounting to several thousand dollars."38 Another source of income was the theater: "built by money extorted from the people for the avowed purpose of erecting a Temple to God, it, of course, was no expense to him."39 But the big bonanza was "the 'church fund,' which virtually means 'Brigham's private purse.' . . . None of it has ever been appropriated to the cause for which it was supposed to be intended."40 While his wives toil at various menial tasks to support him, "he has $7,000,000 in the Bank of England," owns a third of all the property in Utah, and has an income of "probably much more" than $40,000 per month.41 "The story of his sordid avarice and his contemptible meanness in the accumulation of money would fill a volume," writes Mrs. Stenhouse,42 and though she gives no specific information, you get the sketch from Ann Eliza: "to covet his neighbors' goods is to possess them in some way or other, either honestly or otherwise [go on—finish the sentence!],—generally otherwise."43 Many were sent on missions and "thus heartlessly ruined and unjustly exiled . . . to gratify the covetousness and grasping of an avaricious tyrant."44 Three men who "absolutely refused to give up their stock" for one of his projects were chained together in a schoolhouse in Parowan, while Brigham Young took the herd and "sold every one of them to pay a large debt which he owed."45 He enjoyed this sort of thing, since "he could not endure to see a dollar go into another man's pocket. I believe the sight was positive pain to him."46 "The Prophet," writes Ann Eliza, "has a most decided objection to seeing any of his followers becoming independent. . . . He always finds some way to put a stop to their growing prosperity."47 Thus instead of being a great leader and colonizer when he had a chance to, "one of the benefactors of the human race, he has set the worst example which despot or false prophet ever presented to the world."48
He was able to get away with all this only because he was Brigham the Tyrant. The forms of democracy are meaningless "in polygamous Utah, ruled over by a treacherous tyrant."49 "There is no despotic monarchy in the world where the word of the sovereign is so absolute as in Utah."50 "The right of suffrage had been not granted, but commanded."51 "Every person of the female sex, from the babe in the arms to the oldest, bedridden, imbecile crone, has the right of elective franchise, and is compelled to use it."52 While babes in arms and aged crones were being driven to the polls, "young men, and even boys, were forced, not only into marriage, but even Polygamy, and none dared resist. . . . Everyone must marry."53 The slightest show of independence brought an instant charge of apostasy or excommunication, "the way in which persons are served even now who venture to disagree with Brigham Young,"54 and such a charge could mean only one thing—quick and certain death.55
But we must not let the enormity of his crimes blind us to the more endearing qualities of Brigham Young as the plain garden variety of Ignoramus and Boor. "Brigham Young is an uneducated man," Stenhouse reports; " . . . his opposition to education in others and to all that is intellectual and elevating does him little credit."56 Like all Mormon leaders, he "discouraged every attempt at self-improvement" in his followers.57 The ladies put Young in his place intellectually with a charge so crushing that we hesitate to repeat it: "He was, by trade, a painter and glazier, and has frequently said in public that in those times he was glad to work for 'six bits' a day."58 Of course his manners are atrocious and his vanity ridiculous, "more finical than an old beau, and vainer and more anxious than a young belle, concerning his personnel."59 Having no taste or self-control, "he indulges in the coarsest witticisms, and is not above positive vulgarity and profanity, both in language and manner."60 He was disgustingly pompous, and "royalty itself could assume no more the manner of receiving only what it is entitled to, than this ex-glazier, who used to work for 'six bits' a day."61 His gross ignorance and appalling boorishness were not redeemed by any practical good sense, for in his affairs Young was no less than "the Prince of Blunderers."62 Along with that he was the laziest man alive; indeed, Ann Eliza's only recollection of her grandparents is that her grandfather "used to assert that Brigham was the laziest man that ever lived,"63 and believe, me, friends, that is something.
But what we are all waiting to hear about is Brigham Young the Sex Fiend. Here the ladies let us down badly—but not Mr. Wallace! True, Ann Eliza can testify that her husband, "the monstrous polygamist,"64 "is filled with moral rottenness to the very core,"65 and Mrs. Stenhouse cries out, "What decent person could refrain from loathing such a man!"66 But for specific details we must go to Wallace: "Fifty-two wives," he screams in italics.67 During the last-minute crisis of the exodus from Nauvoo, Wallace's Brigham chose to retire like Paris to the harem and spend his days and nights in abandoned orgies. Wallace ticks off the list of women with a zest and relish rivaling that which he attributes to Brigham Young himself. In one day, in the final climactic crisis of Nauvoo, Brigham married four women. Why, we ask, since Mr. Wallace reports that he never had any progeny by any of the four?68 Plainly to take them under his protection in the dreadful time ahead—Wallace admits this two hundred pages later, but this is not the time to spoil the fun. On the very next day, he reports wittily, the man married again "almost as an afterthought," and then after just eleven days of "recuperating from his marathon of celestial marriages, Brigham vigorously returned to the altar."69 Those loaded words "recuperating" and "vigorously" should bring the reader to his senses in case he begins to suspect that this marathon of marriages was dictated by something more than lust.
So we have, summarizing all too briefly, even flippantly, what impassioned writers have devoted whole books to: Brigham Young the beast without a spark of honor, decency, humanity, or charity—mean, unspeakably cruel, resentful, suspicious of all, without a friend in the world; the miser, the murderer, the thief, the absolute tyrant, the oaf, the fop, the Prince of Bunglers, and the laziest man alive; and of course the lecherous degenerate. Wallace labors to make Brigham Young not less a villain but only a more plausible one: his man is just as tricky, greedy, tyrannical, cruel and bloody, and far more lecherous than the earlier and more spectacular Brigham. Yet without seeking beyond these same lurid pages we can discover a Brigham Young totally at variance with the one they have so dramatically described.
Brigham, the Good Guy
First of all it appears between the lines that this Brigham Young was a man of considerable achievement. Wallace minimizes this for all he is worth, passing by in silence Young's own valuable and revealing commentary on events as they occurred and discreetly omitting mention of what the man was really up against and how brilliantly he overcame incredible obstacles. His Brigham Young is simply a heavy-handed, oversexed, rather pompous robber-baron. By admitting that Young did achieve something, the ladies, on the other hand, are hard put to explain how he did it. It was simply by giving the appearance of being busy, if we would believe Ann Eliza,70 that "the laziest man that ever lived," parlayed his "six-bits a day" into "enormous riches."71 That was possible only because he was lucky, says Stenhouse: the man "whose narrow soul could never look beyond the little circle in which he lived; whose selfishness and heartlessness have been only equalled by his cruelty and degrading avarice, has, by force of circumstance alone, obtained a place in the recognition of the world, to which by nature or by grace he had not the shadow of a claim."72 It was just the purest luck that he found himself in one nightmare circumstance after another: that marauding bands burned the farms and villages in Illinois and Missouri; that Nauvoo was destroyed in midwinter; that fevers and epidemics swept the camp; that there was a desperate food shortage and totally inadequate supply of animals and vehicles; that the government drafted the five hundred, most able-bodied men at the crucial moment for a march to Mexico; that the saints arrived in the valley completely out of food and supplies in late July of one of the hottest and driest years on record; that mountain fever became general; that restless Indians threatened depredations on all sides; that there were plagues of crickets and grasshoppers; that a swarm of hostile and crooked spies and officials was followed up by the might of the U.S. Army; that calls for extermination of the Mormons in Congress and from the pulpit grew steadily louder, with Ann Eliza's shriek rising above the din.
Even if these were just lucky breaks for Brigham, shouldn't he be given some credit for knowing how to use them? Not a bit of it; it was all forced on him: "Experience, and a careful study of his life and doings, have convinced me that he is certainly not a great man or a man of genius in any sense of the word."73 It is not surprising that Mr. Wallace, faced with the thesis that B. Y. did what he did accidentally and quite in spite of himself, chooses to look the other way and forget that the fellow achieved anything at all.
Then there is a little matter of appearances. "To look at the man, rosy and smiling, comfortable in every particular, you would never take him to be the hard, cruel despot he is. He looks clean enough outwardly, but within he is filled with moral rottenness to the very core."74 We grant that appearances are not everything, but when after a long life of "moral rottenness" a man at the age of seventy-three appears "rosy, smiling, comfortable in every particular," we begin to wonder. "I was much pleased with the manner and appearance of Brigham Young," writes Stenhouse, "and felt greatly reassured; for he did not seem to me like a man who would preach and practice such things. . . . The Prophet made himself very affable. . . . His wives, too, . . . I found, as far as I could judge from such a casual acquaintance, to be amiable and kind-hearted ladies."75 But that will never do: "I, of course, regarded him from a woman's stand-point; but there were others who were accustomed to study physiognomy, and they detected—or thought they detected—in the cold expression of his eye and the stern, hard lines of his lips, evidences of cruelty, selfishness, and dogged determination which, it is only fair to say, I myself never saw."76
But none of those expert physiognomists were in a class with the great Richard Burton, a world traveler and linguist, a master in the art of dealing with pious rogues and religious impostors, who himself had played dangerous masquerades in the East and knew every trick in the book:
I had expected to see a venerable-looking old man. . . . Scarcely a grey thread appears in his hair. . . . The Prophet's dress was neat and plain as a Quaker's. . . . Altogether the Prophet's appearance was that of a gentleman farmer in New England—in fact, such as he is. . . . He is a well-preserved man, a fact which some attribute to his habit of sleeping . . . in solitude. His manner is at once affable and impressive, simple and courteous: his want of pretention contrasts favorably with certain pseudo-prophets that I have seen. . . . He assumes no airs of extra sanctimoniousness, and has the plain, simple manners of honesty. . . . He has been called hypocrite, swindler, forger, murderer. No one looks it less.77
Another and very different man of the world was Horace Greeley, who earlier found Brigham Young "very plainly dressed," with "no air of sanctimony or fanaticism. . . . He is a portly, frank, good-natured, rather thick-set man of fifty-five, seeming to enjoy life."78 Now we can understand why the ladies were so generous in their description of the outer man: because others could see Brigham Young too—here there is a check on their creative powers, which only come into play in situations where they are the only witnesses. The exterior fooled everybody but Ann Eliza. Greeley describes Brigham at fifty-five, Burton at fifty-seven, Stenhouse at seventy-three, Ann Eliza at seventy-four, and to all he is the same placid, cheerful, "frank, good-natured" man. Is that the triumph of hair dye, pancake make-up, or lighting? What human system could survive the "matrimonial spree" that Wallace knows all about79 and, while "filled with moral rottenness to the very core," present for decade after decade an appearance "comfortable in every particular?"80 That just proves to Ann Eliza what a total hypocrite he is: "The cunning of his device is shown in the religious mask which he puts upon its frightful face, and the Christian robes with which he hides its horrible deformity."81 So perfect is the disguise, fooling even a Richard Burton, that the only way one can detect it is to know the man's motives. Mrs. Brodie's classic libel of Joseph Smith is based entirely on her intuitive capacity to interpret his motives. According to Trevelyan,82 Macaulay "had a disastrous habit of attributing motives: he was never content to say that a man did this or that, and leave his motives to conjecture; he must always needs analyze what has passed through the mind of his dramatis personae ("actors in the drama"), as if he were the God who had created them."83 Deny this privilege to your Ann Elizas, Brodies, and Wallaces and what becomes of their stories? Thus Mr. Wallace can assure us that "Brigham instinctively understood what most military leaders learn from experience,"84 when, at the time he is describing, Brigham had had more experience in leadership than any ten generals since Washington.
In order to bring their double images of Brigham Young into focus, mesdames Stenhouse and Young want us to think that the two different men were the same Brigham at different periods. "When I first knew him," writes Stenhouse, "he dressed in plain, homespun, homemade and every article about his person and his houses, was as plain and unostentatious as could possibly be."85 Was that perhaps in Vermont? New York? Kirtland? Nauvoo? No, that was in the 1860s, when Brigham, the total fop, as Woodward describes him, first tried to woo Ann Eliza. For the times when he was a good guy, Ann Eliza herself must go back much farther: "I . . . look back almost to my very babyhood, and contrast Brigham Young as he then was with the Brigham Young of to-day. . . . [His manner] had nothing of the assumption and intolerance which characterize it now. Indeed there was, at that time, a semblance of humility."86 The lady seems to forget that it is this earlier tolerant Brigham who is the real monster of her story—it is to him she must go for all her atrocity stories up to the horrors of the "Reformation time," it is only the later Brigham who must watch his step and pine for the days long-passed when the simple drawing of his bowie knife from its sheath meant the immediate demise of a recalcitrant.87 Well, which was the devil, the young Brigham or the old one? What makes the problem more difficult is that both men seemed to have enjoyed enormous popularity. Which brings us to the problem of—
The Beloved Bogey
Without a single redeeming feature—hard, cruel, vicious, cowardly, treacherous, uncompromising—Brigham Young was still greatly loved and revered by the people. Stranger still, the nearer people were to him the more they loved him. "Most of his daughters worshiped him,"88 and "strange as it may seem," the wives he treated most savagely revered him as much as any.89 Ann Eliza has an explanation for that—the women were simply crazy: "What a lapse of memory. . . . Oh, what folly, what inconsistency, what madness!"90 No one ever catches her in such lapses of memory. "New indignation thrilled me as I told my story of bondage, such as my hearers never dreamed of."91 But even in her account the monster looks suspiciously like a papier-mâché dragon. The man who kept everyone in abject and terrified submission still "never dared to do anything which should advance 'Joe' [his darling son] in the church, for he knew very well that the people would not tolerate it for an instant."92 He ruled in the most absolute sovereignty on the face of the earth;93 "whatever he may say or do, no one dares resent his interference."94 Now turn the page and read along with Annie: "He does not seem to make a very decided impression on his listeners, however; even his wives and daughters following their own inclinations rather than his teachings."95 If another wife feels disaffected as Ann Eliza does, Brigham lets "her abuse religion and him as much as she pleases behind his back," exactly as Ann Eliza herself did, while her son "openly expresses his disgust at his hypocrisy and meanness, which he sees through very clearly."96
But if Brigham Young is a lax and inefficient tyrant, his suffering victims are even more oblivious to the role they should be playing. They always seem to enjoy their anguish. For two long years the Mormon Battalion "sent all their pay to their families, to the care of Brigham Young," who pocketed every penny of it and "rudely repulsed" any soldier's wife who "ventured to ask him for anything."97 One would expect some sort of complaint or investigation, or at least that some sly corporal would send his federal pay directly to his wife instead of to John D. Lee (wouldn't you know it?), who, according to Ann Eliza, was the party who always got the money and took it to Brigham. It is all so delightfully frank and brutal—John D. Lee is the crowning touch—that one wonders what need President Young had for his infinite powers of dissemblance. He doesn't even have to try to fool people: "Ignorant as he is, coarse and vulgar as he is, he has at least succeeded in winning women of refinement, of delicate sensibilities, as wives; and in many cases it has been done without the slightest attempt at coercion on his part." 98 When a reporter asked Ann Eliza, "Has Brigham ever used profane language to you?" she replied, "I can't say that he has, but he has used shockingly insulting and grossly vulgar language to me. Oh, sir, he is a vile old creature. I have heard him swear in the pulpit when talking of the Gentiles."99 The only knowledge she has of his vice is what she hears in public meetings—a significant admission indeed from the woman who is supposed to have known the man, oh so intimately.
While the people groaned under "the cold-blooded, scheming, blasphemous policy of Young," they rejoiced in his leadership, for "their faith was sublime in its exaltation."100 "He is met outside of every settlement which he visits" by a full-scale parade, marching under banners and cheering like mad,101 and none cheered louder than Eliza's own family, though Brigham had kept the family impoverished, separated, discouraged, and toiling in his interests ever since Nauvoo. Through the years Mr. Webb "had no time, of course, to devote to his family, or to labor for its support; he must give his strength, and his time, and his labor to Brigham Young."102 At the same time Mrs. Webb's "faithful friendship" for Brigham was "met, as a matter of course, by unkindness and treachery on his side."103 Yet these were the parents who were determined that their daughter, the apple of their eye, should marry Brigham Young. From the first, however, they made it clear that the girl would not have to marry the man if she really didn't want to, and here is a strange thing. For one year, she says, she fought by every means in her power104 to avoid having to marry Brigham Young; with what weapons did she fight? She could only think of one argument—the President was too old for her.105
If Ann Eliza had known just one really bad thing about Brigham Young, her parents would never have pressed her to marry him, or even permitted it. Along with that we have her own emphatic and repeated assurance that she knew of nothing wrong with Mr. Young until after she married him.106 True, he was a "monstrous polygamist," but as wife No. 19 she should at least have suspected that. Polygamous yes, monster, no: on the day he proposed (not to her but to her parents) Brigham Young talked long and earnestly with her on the subject of marriage, she says, yet even then she could not even remotely conceive of his having any but a fatherly interest in her. She had lived at the Lion House and knew all about the home life of Brigham Young, whom she and her family had known intimately all her life, and yet nothing was farther from her mind, she says, than the idea that President Young should lust after her—she simply couldn't believe it. And that gives you an idea of the high opinion she had of Brigham Young at the time: she was pleased and delighted, she says, to walk with him; she knew nothing bad about him whatever. Yet by this time his great crimes, including those against her own family, those crimes for which Ann Eliza is our chief informant, were already behind him. Something is badly out of focus.
It Must Have Been Two Other People
But if our portrait of Brigham Young is all awry we can always blame him for it. The man is so inconsistent. "In business matters," for example, ". . . his word is as good as his bond, but in the accumulation of wealth he has evinced an amount of dishonesty which can scarcely be credited."107 It is indeed hard to accept the total dishonesty of a man whose word is the soul of honor. He "always meets his obligations, and pays his debts," according to Stenhouse, ". . . but the way in which he has obtained his wealth would put to the blush the most dishonest member of any 'ring' in New York, or elsewhere."108 This is the more remarkable since Ann Eliza insists that the man never meets his obligations or pays his debts, but is always legally correct in his acquisition of wealth. The two ladies tell diametrically opposed stories. Another inconsistency was the way the ignorant Brigham would appear "a simple, easy-talking, courteous gentleman before strangers but . . . harsh and uncouth with those who are dependent upon him"109—a real Jekyll and Hyde, since nothing short of a miracle could make an uncouth man polished and urbane simply by stepping into the next room.
If Brigham Young the avowed foe of education insists on having his children study hard, that for Mrs. Stenhouse is simply another example of "his usual inconsistency" (not hers but his).110 Ann Eliza in her paraphrase of the Stenhouse passage tries to remove the inconsistency without success: "Unlettered and uncultured as he is, he recognizes the power of education, and that is why he is such a bitter opponent to general culture, and why, at the same time, he takes special care that his own children shall lack no advantages."111 Bearing in mind, of course, that he took no interest whatever in his children, even though he took time off from his busy schedule to come to Ann Eliza's fourth birthday party. His children, inheriting this wild inconsistency, adored their father who, too proud to notice them, nevertheless gave them earnest lectures and wrote them long letters. With equal consistency this man who "detested secrecy in general,"112 chose to operate all his days through a secret society—the mysterious Danites; and though "ill-cast for the role of model polygamist,"113 he played that role with "surprising (or understandable) zest."114 Of course the useful word "understandable" makes everything perfectly clear. To show you just how contrary the man can be, "he is . . . as sensitive to public opinion as though he were not constantly defying it."115 That is, he pays no attention to that public opinion to which he is so keenly sensitive. In short, he was a "turbulent, passionate, shrewd, illiterate, strangely powerful man,"116 who was at the same time cold, self-possessed, clumsy, bungling, remarkably well-informed, but withal weak and cowardly ("he cringes and crouches in as servile a manner as a whipped cur, when any adverse criticism is passed"),117 fawning, fickle, mean, vain and vulgar, "the great deceiver," "a remarkable union of compelling power over men and women and repulsive fraud and meanness."118 Seeing him in action, "you would never take him to be the hard, cruel despot he is."119 Neither would you take Pavlova to be a clumsy ox or Niels Bohr to be feeble-minded. Brigham Young is like the fruit that grows on the apple tree, looks like an apple, tastes like an apple, bears authentic apple seeds—and yet is a lemon. It is no wonder everybody thinks it is an apple, since it passes all known tests for apples—but for those who really know it is a lemon, that only makes its applelike qualities the more repulsive and fraudulent. Ann Eliza Young tells how seasoned journalists come from the East "brimming over with disgust and indignation,"120 eager to learn the worst about Brigham Young, and how the better they get to know him the more they come to admire him, until soon they are writing the most glowing reports about the man and his work; how Brigham does this Ann Eliza does not know—"I suppose his manner of influencing them differs, but I think it will be readily understood."121 Will it? Why must she be so evasive if it is so obvious? At any rate they call Brigham an apple, and to that she has only one reply: "It is not true, not one word of it[!]"122
The most remarkable treatise on the ambivalence of Brigham Young is Mr. Wallace's account of his marriages. The scene is, to use Mr. Wallace's favorite word, Fabulous. It is the picture of Brigham Young whiling away the hours in Byzantine dalliance while directing almost single-handedly the exodus from Nauvoo. Mr. Wallace never bothers to inform himself or his readers as to just what "sealing" and "celestial marriage" are; later on in the book he casually notes that "almost half of the women mentioned were Brigham's spouses in name only,"123 that in some cases "it is doubtful if their marriage was more than platonic"; he tells of one widow "salvaged by Brigham," and another woman who married him only for the duration of the trek, who at the end of it "had not yet cohabited with Brigham, asked him for an annulment . . . and it was granted."124 Even a professor of history might find it a little bit odd that all the marrying was done just before the departure from Nauvoo, and that "once established in Salt Lake City, Brigham refrained from further marital acquisitions and temporarily concentrated his energies on organizing a secure and civilized community";125 or as Mrs. Woodward puts it, he was too busy to think about petticoats. But not half so busy as he had been in Nauvoo! At last safe from his enemies, Brigham is free to indulge his lusts and appetites in Lucullan leisure—but prefers city-building instead. It was only during the Nauvoo crisis that the man chose to go on a sex binge without parallel in the history of the world—trust us to know all about the history of the world.
Here the Mormons are being driven from Illinois in the dead of winter; those mounted marauding mobs that were to become infamous in later years were already at work in cahoots with military and civil officials, inflicting maximum damage; the danger was increasing hourly, and on the shoulders of one man rested the responsibility for making and carrying out life-and-death decisions. So this man, who proved himself the ablest of leaders in this as in a hundred other dire emergencies, chose this time of all times for his "matrimonial spree."126 In Nauvoo as at Winter Quarters, "amid chaos Brigham maintained iron discipline and organization,"127 while he himself was sunk in riotous bouts of debauchery. Even Wallace should wonder just a little bit when he reports that "in the twenty-three days preceding the exodus . . . Brigham married eleven women ranging in age from seventeen to forty-two,"128 actually marrying seven in seven days running and another four on four successive days. Is that the way of libertines? Must they give their name to the women they carouse with? Must they be equally impartial to young and old? Those acquainted with the arcana of erotic literature tell me that such planned and imaginative debauchery requires before all else time, luxury, relaxation, and privacy—a few things that Brigham Young had less of at this juncture than any man in America. Yet this was the time and place he chose for his great "matrimonial spree," "recuperating" from one bout to "vigorously return" to the next.129 This is the satyr who is to lust after the fair Ann Eliza a generation later to make a plot for Mr. Wallace.
* Sounding Brass was originally published in Salt Lake City by Bookcraft in 1963. It carried the subtitle, "Informal Studies in the Lucrative Art of Telling Stories about Brigham Young and the Mormons."
1. Ann Eliza (Webb) Young, Wife No. 19; Or, The Story of a Life of Bondage, Being a Complete Exposé of Mormonism, and Revealing the Sorrows, Sacrifices and Sufferings of Women in Polygamy (Hartford, CT: Dustin, Gilman, 1875), 39.
2. Irving Wallace, The Twenty-Seventh Wife (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1961), 150.
3. Young, Wife No. 19, 519-20.
4. Ibid., 526.
5. Ibid., 535.
6. Ibid., 226.
7. Ibid., 345.
8. Ibid., 588.
9. Ibid., 516.
10. Ibid., 39 (emphasis added).
11. Ibid., 530.
12. Ibid., 350.
13. Ibid., 351.
14. Ibid., 212.
15. Ibid., 441.
16. Ibid., 491
17. Ibid., 224.
18. Ibid., 392.
19. Ibid., 328.
20. Ann Eliza Young, Life in Mormon Bondage (Philadelphia: Aldine, 1908), 197.
21. Young, Wife No. 19, 519.
22. Ibid., 269.
23. Wallace, Twenty-Seventh Wife, 30.
24. Young, Wife No. 19, 270.
25. Ibid., 176.
26. Ibid., 278-79.
27. Ibid., 519.
28. Ibid., 286.
29. Wallace, Twenty-Seventh Wife, 308.
30. Young, Wife No. 19, 514.
31. Ibid., 162.
32. Ibid., 165.
33. Ibid., 526.
34. Ibid., 214.
35. Ibid., 225.
36. Ibid., 214.
37. Ibid., 169-70.
38. Ibid., 596.
39. Ibid., 381.
40. Ibid., 521.
41. Wallace, Twenty-Seventh Wife, 308.
42. Mrs. T. B. H. (Fanny) Stenhouse, Tell It All: The Story of a Life's Experience in Mormonism (Hartford, CT: Worthington, 1874), 272.
43. Young, Wife No. 19, 234.
44. Ibid., 175.
45. Ibid., 162-64.
46. Ibid., 344.
47. Ibid., 174.
48. Stenhouse, Tell It All, 274 (emphasis added).
49. Young, Wife No. 19, 93.
50. Ibid., 308.
51. Ibid., 94.
53. Stenhouse, Tell It All, 321.
54. Young, Wife No. 19, 92.
55. For general tone, see ibid., 277-78.
56. Stenhouse, Tell It All, 269.
57. Ibid., 270.
58. Ibid., 265 (emphasis added).
59. Young, Wife No. 19, 520.
60. Ibid., 135.
61. Ibid., 428.
62. Ibid., 221.
63. Ibid., 469.
64. Young, Life in Mormon Bondage, 477.
65. Young, Wife No. 19, 269.
66. Stenhouse, Tell It All, 281.
67. Wallace, Twenty-Seventh Wife, 356.
68. Ibid., 85.
70. Young, Wife No. 19, 285.
71. Stenhouse, Tell It All, 274.
72. Ibid., 266.
74. Young, Wife No. 19, 269.
75. Stenhouse, Tell It All, 263-64.
76. Ibid., 264.
77. Wallace, Twenty-Seventh Wife, 92-93.
78. Ibid., 88.
79. Ibid., 84-87.
80. Young, Wife No. 19, 269.
81. Ibid., 329.
82. George M. Trevelyan, Clio, A Muse, and Other Essays (London: Longmans, Green, 1930).
83. Ibid., 45-46.
84. Wallace, Twenty-Seventh Wife, 191 (emphasis added).
85. Stenhouse, Tell It All, 291.
86. Young, Wife No. 19, 517.
87. Ibid., 520.
88. Wallace, Twenty-Seventh Wife, 265.
89. Young, Wife No. 19, 124-25.
91. Ibid., 572.
92. Ibid., 471.
93. Ibid., 308.
94. Ibid., 129.
95. Ibid., 131-32.
96. Ibid., 488.
97. Ibid., 164-65.
98. Ibid., 464.
99. Wallace, Twenty-Seventh Wife, 257.
100. Young, Wife No. 19, 204.
101. Ibid., 427.
102. Ibid., 336.
103. Ibid., 39.
104. Ibid., 444.
105. Ibid., 443.
106. Ibid., 441.
107. Stenhouse, Tell It All, 271.
109. Wallace, Twenty-Seventh Wife, 254.
110. Ibid., 271.
111. Young, Wife No. 19, 527.
112. Wallace, Twenty-Seventh Wife, 80.
113. Ibid., 81.
114. Ibid., 83.
115. Young, Wife No. 19, 520.
116. Ibid., 456.
117. Ibid., 212.
118. Wallace, Twenty-Seventh Wife, 371.
119. Young, Wife No. 19, 269 (emphasis added).
120. Ibid., 394.
123. Wallace, Twenty-Seventh Wife, 356.
124. Ibid., 86-87.
125. Ibid., 87.
126. Ibid., 84.
127. Ibid., 65.
128. Ibid., 84.
129. Ibid., 85.