Van Wagoner's Sidney Rigdon:
A Portrait of Biographical Excess
Van Wagoner’s Sidney Rigdon: A Portrait of Biographical Excess
Reviewed by Howard K. Harper, Steven C. Harper, and David P. Harper
Richard Van Wagoner’s award-winning biography, Sidney Rigdon: A Portrait of Religious Excess, is undoubtedly the best to date. It argues accurately
that Rigdon played a crucial role in the development of early Mormonism and that
his contribution was diminished in the wake of his unsuccessful bid to shoulder
Mormon leadership after the martyrdom of Joseph Smith. Alas, though, this much-needed
treatment of Rigdon is also fundamentally, not simply tangentially, defective.
The book paints an inaccurate portrait of Sidney Rigdon, based largely on a mistaken
clinical diagnosis. This Rigdon becomes a tool for criticizing modern Mormonism.
One need not read all the way to his epilogue to recognize Van Wagoner’s
agenda, but it is most clearly stated there. He intends to expose the “warts
and double chins of religious leaders” and “warns all of us that we
must ultimately think for ourselves rather than surrender decision-making to others,
especially to those who dictate what God would have us do” (pp. x, 457-58).
In this way Van Wagoner casts Sidney Rigdon as an object lesson calculated to
censure modern Mormons for what his related Journal of Mormon History essay calls
“group gullibility.”1 To that end, Van Wagoner’s biography of
Rigdon employs a reductionist psychological approach akin to what Gary Bergera
describes as a “dogmatic use of theories of personality,”2 achieving
something similar to what historian Robert Brugger calls “clinical profiles
promenading as biography” and psychologist Alan Elms terms “pathography.”3
Van Wagoner thinks of Sidney Rigdon as “a biographer’s dream”
(p. x), presumably because of Rigdon’s rich, unusual life and his significant
contributions to a remarkable religious movement. But Rigdon is also a biographer’s
nightmare. Rigdon biographers must deal with a shortage of evidence. Van Wagoner
addresses that problem by diagnosing Rigdon with the bipolar disorder commonly
called manic-depression. Based on bits of evidence described as “ample,”
Van Wagoner fleshes out Rigdon’s personality using an “inventory of
symptoms taken from the Diagnostical and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders,”
essentially concluding that because Rigdon had the disorder, he must have had
its symptoms (p. 117). Complicating the matter, he conflates manic-depressive
disorder with “madness,” which he uses synonymously with “religious
excess.” This abuses biography in two ways. First, available evidence does
not allow a clinical diagnosis of manic-depressive disorder. Second, persons with
bipolar disorders like manic-depression should not be passed off as mad. Persons
who suffer manic-depression are afflicted by a disorder of internal etiology that
can be debilitating but also remarkably creative. Manic-depression does not necessarily
make one’s religiosity pathological, though Van Wagoner uses it to portray
Rigdon so. Rather than appreciating the complexity of a life, this portrait of
religious excess is shallow, caricaturing Rigdon’s long, varied life in
a clinical profile. That profile is inaccurate, a misdiagnosis of a man long since
dead.4 Sidney Rigdon: A Portrait of Religious Excess is a compounding of errors
calculated to reprove perceived anti-intellectualism in “modern Mormons.”5
It may, however, be more misleading than imperfect religious leaders with unexposed
warts and double chins.
This volume misled a highly regarded historian. John Brooke’s review in
the Journal of American History lauds Van Wagoner’s “signal contributions”
and accepts the reading of Rigdon’s “mood swings, suggesting that
they were a manic-depressive disorder caused by head injuries, first as a child
and second when he and Joseph Smith were tarred and feathered by a mob in Ohio
in 1832. Van Wagoner sees this disorder as the key to Rigdon’s erratic performance.”6
As Brooke naively notes, Van Wagoner makes his case for a manic-depressive Rigdon
based on a childhood head injury (the incredible evidence of which will be treated
hereafter). But manic-depression, by definition, cannot be caused by injuries.
Mood disorders are only diagnosed when “it cannot be established that an
organic factor [like injury or illness] initiated and maintained the disturbance.”7
Rigdon suffered brain trauma on 24 March 1832. Manic-depression was not the cause
of any mania or depression he experienced as a result of that.
Rigdon was dragged from his bed and across cold earth “by his heels . .
. so high from the ground that he could not raise his head from the rough, frozen
surface.” The abuse left Rigdon unconscious and his “head highly inflamed”
and led directly to a delirious state in which he threatened to kill both his
wife and Joseph Smith.8 Rigdon’s delirium typifies the actions neurologists
and neuropsychologists expect to follow the trauma described. Indeed, people who
experience such trauma generally respond aggressively as Rigdon did or fall into
a passive, sluggish state. The recovery of aggressive ones is often more successful.9
Rigdon’s “derangement, as documented by several witnesses, lasted
much longer than after the mobbing in Hiram” (p. 127). Effects of the beating,
including mood swings, may have lasted a lifetime. However, the mood swings that
follow a traumatic brain injury are qualitatively different from manic-depressive
illness and are not symptoms of that condition. There is scant evidence of dementia
later in Rigdon’s life, but a sufferer of manic-depressive illness endures
repeated manic episodes, which cannot be caused by head trauma.
To account for a manic-depressive Rigdon prior to 1832, Van Wagoner suggests that
Rigdon’s presumed clinical illness or “debilitation”—said
to have “often plunged him into the blackest despair or spiraled him into
unrealistic ecstasy”—was “possibly precipitated by a childhood
head injury” (pp. viii-ix, emphasis added). As a result, Rigdon’s
“existence was overshadowed by melancholia, a metaphysical sadness best
known today as Bipolar Affective Disorder or Manic-Depressive Illness” (p.
viii).10 “When Sidney was seven years old,” Van Wagoner writes, “he
had been thrown from a horse. His foot got caught in a stirrup and he was dragged
some distance before being rescued” (p. 116). Loammi Rigdon, Sidney’s
younger brother who became a doctor, purportedly made the following statement—the
only known one—about this incident and its effects on Sidney:
He received such a contusion of the brain as ever afterward seriously affected
his character, and in some respects his conduct. His mental powers did not seem
to be impaired, but the equilibrium of his intellectual exertions seems thereby
to have been sadly affected. He still manifested great mental activity and power,
but was to an equal degree inclined to run into wild and visionary views on almost
every question. (pp. 116-17)
This is problematic evidence. Judging from the genealogical data provided by Van
Wagoner, Loammi Rigdon must have been four years old at the time of Sidney’s
accident, making his memory of the event questionable. Moreover, Sidney and Loammi
had minimal contact throughout their adult lives, so his statement is suspicious;
perhaps it is an effort by Loammi or others to explain Sidney’s embarrassing
involvement in Mormonism or to discredit Mormonism via Sidney. This seems likely
when it becomes clear that the source of the statement is an 1875 newspaper unsympathetic
to Sidney Rigdon and Mormonism. By that time the four-year-old observer had lived
nearly sixty-nine years and been dead for a decade.11 Nevertheless, this is the
“medical opinion” (p. 117) that bears the heavy burden of supporting
Rigdon’s presumed manic-depressive illness. If true, the statement is evidence
of an injury that may cause depression but cannot cause the clinical condition
known as manic-depression. If fabricated, the statement was designed to mislead
and lacks credibility. In either scenario its value as medical opinion is wildly
Van Wagoner cites Alexander Campbell’s analysis of Rigdon’s “fits”
but fails to adequately assess Campbell’s motives. Campbell was no disinterested
observer. He was apparently “first to make public [or private] mention
of Rigdon’s ‘peculiar mental and corporeal malady'” (p.
117).12 Campbell and Rigdon were close associates in the Reformed Baptist movement
of the 1820s. Their relationship changed when Rigdon fell “into the snare
of the Devil in joining the Mormonites” and “led away a number of
disciples with him” (p. 81).13 Rigdon underwent a rapid transformation from
trusted aide and “prominent” preacher in Campbell’s movement
to Joseph Smith’s spokesman,14 where revelations equated him with John the
Baptist and the priesthood empowered him, as it did the ancient apostles, to authoritatively
lay on hands. Campbell was “always disrespectful to Rigdon” after
that (p. 60).15 While smarting over the loss of his lieutenant to Joseph Smith
(whom Campbell considered a charlatan prophet, successfully but wrongly usurping
the role of primitive Christianity’s restorer), Campbell “forewarned
that he intended to expose the claims of Mormonism ‘by examining the character
of its author and his accomplices.'” In that context Campbell “disparaged
his former lieutenant by referring to his eccentricity—the first public
assessment,” Van Wagoner wrote, “of Rigdon’s possible manic-depressive
illness” (pp. 80-81). With motivation to disrepute, Campbell felt
“induced to ascribe” Rigdon’s “apostasy” to a “peculiar
mental and corporeal malady, to which he has been subject for some years. Fits
of melancholy succeeded by fits of enthusiasm accompanied by some kind of nervous
spasms and swoonings” (p. 81, emphasis added) now seemed noteworthy. Campbell
was describing behavior said to have been ongoing while Rigdon was his associate,
during which time Campbell praised Rigdon in print for his success in gaining
converts.16 Campbell’s comments could be seen as self-interested—praise
for Rigdon when he brought converts and defamation when he took them back.
Early in the book Van Wagoner describes Sidney Rigdon as “well suited for
preaching.” “Rigdon was blessed,” he states, “with a powerful
and mellifluous voice, enthusiasm, and a prodigious memory for scripture.”
Continuing with some hyperbole, Van Wagoner says that “his listeners gulped
his words in like a gush of cool water. An avatar of eloquence who carried the
flame of the visionary tradition, he could sway by the sheer force of his faith,
passion, and ideological fervor” (p. viii). Rigdon’s gift for clear,
powerful preaching is attested by his friends and foes in sources both within
and outside the Church of Jesus Christ. As a Reformed Baptist, Rigdon was noted
for his prowess at the pulpit.17 In 1821 Rigdon was considered “the great
orator of the Mahoning [Baptist] Association.”18 An associate found him
“fluent in utterance, with articulation clear and musical.”19 Upon
joining Mormonism, Rigdon was assigned to preach to nearby Shakers, lift up his
voice in the eastern United States, and proclaim the gospel in Cincinnati and
elsewhere. In 1833 he was ordained to speak for Joseph Smith because he was “mighty
in testimony” and in “expounding all scriptures.”20 At the dedication
of the Kirtland Temple in March 1836, Rigdon “spoke two hours and a half
in his usual logical manner. His prayer and address were very forcible and sublime,
and well adapted to the occasion.”21 A listener noted Rigdon’s “mild
and persuasive eloquence of speech” (p. 171).22 “Even Jedediah Grant,”
Van Wagoner noted, “a caustic Rigdon critic in later years, admitted that
he [Rigdon] ‘was truly a man of talents, possessing a gift for speaking
seldom surpassed by men of this age'” (p. 111).23 Rival David Whitmer
remembered that Rigdon was a “powerful orator” (p. 73).24
This evidence contrasts starkly with manic speech, as defined by the standard
Manic speech is typically loud, rapid, and difficult to interrupt. Often it is
full of jokes, puns, plays on words, and amusing irrelevancies. It may become
theatrical, with dramatic mannerisms and singing. Sounds rather than meaningful
conceptual relationships may govern word choice (clanging). . . . Frequently there
is a flight of ideas, i.e., a nearly continuous flow of accelerated speech, with
abrupt changes from topic to topic, usually based on understandable associations,
distracting stimuli, or plays on words. When flight of ideas is severe, speech
may be disorganized and incoherent.25
It is difficult to listen to manic speech. Yet every known account of Rigdon’s
public speaking describes him as eloquent if sometimes overstated. He clearly
maintained his faculties for speaking clearly and convincingly during the most
expansive and the most depressing periods of his life. The same could not be said
of one who suffered manic-depressive disorder.26
Van Wagoner considers Rigdon’s Nauvoo illness a classic bout of manic-depressive
illness, but a specific form of recurrent malaria accommodates the evidence much
better (see pp. 117, 267-70, 279, 281). He notes that Rigdon suffered aguelike
symptoms beginning in 1839, and that “ague again brought him low during
the season of 1840″ (p. 279). He recognizes these symptoms as indicative
of the widespread malaria of that time and place, and remarks that the parasitic
disease often manifested itself “by months or even years of anemia and periodic
fevers” (pp. 266-67). Van Wagoner nonetheless dismisses malaria, citing
McKiernan’s 1971 Rigdon biography as evidence that he “contracted
an unspecified disease (not malaria) which disabled him for months at a
time” (p. 117).27 McKiernan had reasoned that “if Rigdon had suffered
from chronic malaria he would have been bedfast for a few days each month as the
disease completed its cycle, but Rigdon was confined to his sickbed for months
at a time.”28 But this is wrong. Rigdon was not incapacitated for months
at a time. Rigdon’s son John wrote that his father suffered from “bilious
temperament” and was “sick most of the time in Nauvoo. . . . For weeks
at a time he would not be able to leave his bed.”29 Otherwise, as Van Wagoner
recognized, “the public record shows him to be engaged in numerous activities”
(p. 282). John Rigdon confirmed that sometimes Sidney “would be able
to be around and at such times he would on Sundays preach to the people.”30
Rigdon is thought to have suffered from malaria in Nauvoo in 1839 and again in
1840, and clearly some sort of illness nagged him until 1844. Considering the
length of Rigdon’s periods of incapacitation—weeks, not months—and
the five-year duration of the illness, it seems likely that a specific type
of recurrent malaria caused the “poorest health of his life.”31 Strains
of the recurrent malaria type prevalent in nineteenth-century North America typically
cause cyclical fevers approximately eight days after infection. This initial attack
is followed by a relatively long latency period of between four and fourteen months.
Following the second attack, newly released parasites attack the body at regular
intervals of three weeks to three months, with each attack lasting a few days
to a few weeks.32 One could hardly find a better example of typical symptoms
of this type of malaria than Rigdon’s Nauvoo illness. It exactly explains
the timing of his first two attacks of malaria, as well as the periods of
incapacitation he endured for days to weeks at a time, but also why he could be
regularly engaged in normal activities.33 Typically the immune system eradicates
this type of malaria approximately five years after infection, which coincides
with the duration of Rigdon’s illness suffered while he lived in “sickly,”
malaria-infested Nauvoo from 1839-44 (see p. 267).34
Van Wagoner dismisses malaria and opts instead to equate what John Rigdon called
his father’s “bilious temperament” with melancholia, which Van
Wagoner—basing his verdict on a textbook classified by the Library of Congress
as juvenile literature (p. 117)—concludes was synonymous with manic-depression.35
Bilious temperament is not a specific illness but an umbrella for symptoms similar
to those of “people infected with the benign [recurrent] form” of
malaria who “show diminished vitality, indolence, soon become continuously
tired and occasionally have fever.”36 Professor James Jensen, a world-renowned
malariologist, has examined all available evidence and concluded that Rigdon probably
suffered from malaria and that his symptoms could well have been caused by the
recurrent type noted above. Recognizing the impossibility of conclusively diagnosing
malaria in the long-since dead—given the impossibility of discovering the
parasite in the patient’s blood—Professor Jensen wisely qualifies
his assessment. But it is imprudent for Rigdon biographers to preclude malaria
as a cause of Rigdon’s illness for the same reason. Based on circumstantial
evidence, the case for malaria outweighs that for manic-depressive illness.37
Evidence of Rigdon’s moodiness comes from accounts, as Van Wagoner notes,
that “attempted to disparage Rigdon.” To say, as one witness did,
that Rigdon sank into despondency “when dark clouds overspread the horizon,”
is merely to declare that depressing circumstances cause depressing feelings (p.
117). Rigdon’s life was marked by depressing and edifying events. His frequent
persecutions escalated to beating and imprisonment and were complicated by nearly
constant financial strains, by malaria, and by ecclesiastical responsibilities
he believed came from God. Such environmental factors could account for whatever
mental instabilities Rigdon manifested without labeling his religiosity excessive.
In his classic study The Varieties of Religious Experience, William James notes
that “nothing is more common in the pages of religious biography than the
way in which seasons of lively and of difficult faith are described as alternating.
Probably every religious person has the recollection of particular crisis in which
a directer version of the truth, a direct perception, perhaps, of a living God’s
existence, swept in and overwhelmed the languor of the more ordinary belief.”38
Such a common religious phenomenon could account for Rigdon’s spiritual
exuberance while tar and feathers, brain bruises, poverty, imprisonment, and disease
depressed him. In context, Rigdon’s experiences might well be judged normal
by a pragmatist like James.39 Anyway, James argues that pathological behavior
is not an appropriate criterion for determining the usefulness of religious experience.
This approach to determining the value of religiosity is markedly different than
Van Wagoner’s. James asks whether religious experience was useful, and if
so considers it positive without regard to categories of mental health. Van Wagoner
asks whether his subject was mad, and if so considers the religious experience
excessive. Van Wagoner’s portrait of religious excess is the sum of various
“eccentricities.” Repeated allusions mark Rigdon as “mad,”
an “addict,” a “fool” who experienced “frequent
bouts of mania” (though none clearly documented), suffered from “dementia”
(after the 1832 head trauma), and therefore “walked perilously close to
the abyss of madness” (p. 457) or “the edge of religious madness”
(p. 17). Therefore Rigdon “manifested a pathological kind of religiosity”
Van Wagoner considers evidence that appears to support his preferred diagnosis
and overlooks evidence to the contrary. He does not consider “implications
carefully while evaluating the available biographical and historical evidence.”
He does not weigh “all of the relevant evidence” nor consider alternative
possibilities.40 In his introduction, Van Wagoner proclaims himself “a rock-ribbed
skeptic” (p. x). But the book and the related essay reveal a remarkable
willingness to credit the incredible and to scrutinize Brigham Young but not Alexander
Campbell. The labels gullible and skeptical are applied self-servingly, without
appreciating how nuances of those characteristics can describe each of us. His
Rigdon is best described by the word zealot. Yet perhaps the most interesting
feature that emerges from this biography is how Van Wagoner becomes his subject.
He is “an avatar of eloquence who . . . could sway by the sheer force of
his faith, passion, and ideological fervor” (p. viii). Regarding this issue,
Ronald W. Walker has written: “Fervid passions not only distort personality
but often refocus a book into something which is no longer biography.”41
Also, “Since a biographer often interprets his subject in his own image
or at least as a reflection of his own concerns, ‘the first method of modern
biography . . . is self analysis.’ By seeking to understand his personal
motivation in subject, thesis, and fact selection, in short, by psychoanalyzing
self, the author may avoid distortions in interpretation.”42 It is his own
“thirst for wholeness” that inspires Van Wagoner’s remarkable
zeal to expose Rigdon’s warts and double chins (see p. x). He has probably
added appendages that the important and still elusive Rigdon never had.
- Richard S. Van Wagoner, “Sidney and Me,” Journal of Mormon History
22/2 (1996): 151.
- Gary James Bergera, “Toward ‘Psychologically Informed’ Mormon
History and Biography,” Sunstone, December 1991, 29.
- Robert J. Brugger, review of Shrinking History: On Freud and the Failure of
Psychohistory, by David E. Stannard, William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., 38/1
(1981): 131. Alan C. Elms, Uncovering Lives: The Uneasy Alliance of Biography
and Psychology (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), 9.
- Joseph Smith pathographer Fawn Brodie paused momentarily to note the “difficulties
of clinical diagnosis of a man long since dead.” Fawn M. Brodie, No Man
Knows My History (New York: Knopf, 1978), 419. Ronald W. Walker, “The Challenge
and Craft of Mormon Biography,” BYU Studies 22/2 (1982): 189, emphasizes
this point: “It is difficult enough to pronounce a diagnosis with the patient
emitting a stream of consciousness on the couch without being a biographer separated
from a subject by time and distance.”
- Van Wagoner, “Sidney and Me,” 151.
- John Brooke, review of Sidney Rigdon: A Portrait of Religious Excess, by Richard
S. Van Wagoner, Journal of American History 82/3 (1995): 1208. David Whittaker’s
review expressed concern at Van Wagoner’s “description of religious
faith as . . . mental illness.” Journal of Mormon History 23/1 (1997): 192-93.
- Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 3rd ed., rev. (DSM III-R)
(Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Association, 1987), 217, 228. Organic
factors—meaning factors that are not part of a person’s normal physiology—could
include tumors, infectious agents, drugs, or head trauma. Since the publication
of Sidney Rigdon, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th
ed. (DSM IV) (Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Association, 1994), has been
published; see 350-66 for relevant information.
- History of the Church, 1:265.
- “Severely injured patients may display a pattern of acute confusional
behavior shortly after return to consciousness that can last for days but rarely
for more than several weeks. The confusional state is typically characterized
by motor restlessness, agitation, incomprehension and incoherence, and uncooperativeness,
including restive and even assaultive behavior.” Muriel D. Lezak, Neuropsychological
Assessment, 3rd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), 189. “Aggressive
behaviors, temper outbursts, and agitation are well-known consequences of cerebral
injuries. These behaviors are the most difficult consequences of brain injury
for caregivers to evaluate or manage and one of the most stressful for families
to experience.” Thomas Galski et al., “Predicting Physical and Verbal
Aggression on a Brain Trauma Unit,” Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
75/4 (1994): 380.
- One cannot accurately diagnose manic-depressive illness unless it “cannot
be established that an organic factor initiated and maintained the disturbance”
(DSM III-R, 217).
- Loammi Rigdon died in 1865 (see pp. 11 n. 1, 13 n. 13). Loammi’s purported
statement appeared in the Baptist Witness, 1 March 1875, as noted in J. H. Kennedy,
Early Days of Mormonism (New York: Scribner’s Sons, 1888), 63. There is
no evidence that Van Wagoner or any other Rigdon biographers ever saw the Baptist
Witness citation themselves, and we too have been unable to locate it. It is likely
that all biographers who mention Loammi’s statement have relied on Kennedy’s
report of it. Kennedy’s Early Days of Mormonism was published in London
and New York simultaneously and quotes a part missing from Van Wagoner in which
Loammi expresses what could be seen as an explanation for his brother’s
embarrassing involvement in Mormonism. Sidney’s head injury, Loammi reportedly
concluded, made him “a fit subject for any new movement in the religious
world” (p. 63).
- Millennial Harbinger 2 (1831): 100-101.
- Ibid. Rigdon’s influence on those who had been followers of him and
Campbell turned very many into followers of Joseph Smith and himself. In the Kirtland,
Mentor, Hiram area of northern Ohio, Campbell lost a significant following to
- See Henry K. Shaw, Buckeye Disciples: A History of the Disciples of Christ
in Ohio (St. Louis, Mo.: Christian Board of Publication, 1952), 41-44.
- See Doctrine and Covenants 35:3-5; 36:2.
- In June 1828 Campbell noted how effective Rigdon had lately been: “Bishops
Scott, Rigdon, and Bentley, in Ohio, within the last six months have immersed
about eight hundred persons.” “Extracts of Letters,” Christian
Baptist, 2 June 1828, 263. Between early 1828 and 1830 Rigdon was “one of
the leading preachers of the Disciple faith upon the Western Reserve, prominent
in all the councils of the church, listened to with love and respect, and in close
personal fellowship with the great men of that denomination.” Kennedy, Early
Days of Mormonism, 67.
- Shaw, Buckeye Disciples, 44.
- Kennedy, Early Days of Mormonism, 65.
- Amos S. Hayden, Early History of the Disciples in the Western Reserve, Ohio
(Cincinnati: Chase & Hall, 1875), 191-92.
- See Doctrine and Covenants 49:1, 3; 61:30-31; 93:51; and 100:9-11.
- History of the Church, 2:414. See Messenger and Advocate 2/6 (March 1836):
- Quoting Edmund Flagg, The Far West (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1838),
- Jedediah M. Grant, Collection of Facts Relative to the Course Taken by Elder
Sidney Rigdon in the States of Ohio, Missouri, Illinois, and Pennsylvania (Philadelphia:
Brown, Bicking & Guilbert, 1844), 6.
- David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ (Richmond, Mo.: David
Whitmer, 1887), 35.
- DSM III-R, 215. Rigdon opposed the use of dramatic mannerisms in preaching.
John Welch and Jan Shipps, eds., The Journals of William E. McLellin, 1831-1836
(Urbana: University of Illinois Press and BYU Studies, 1994), 148.
- Representing himself before a Clay County, Missouri, magistrate in 1839, Rigdon
answered charges of treason by appealing to the sufferings he had endured as a
servant of the Lord. “He spoke of tar and feathers, homeless children, mobbings,
hunger, cold, and of destitution,” Van Wagoner wrote, recognizing that Rigdon’s
“unique rhetorical skills served him well” (p. 254). Alexander Doniphan,
a witness to Rigdon’s performance, noted, “Such a burst of eloquence
it was never my fortune to listen to. At its close there was not a dry eye in
the room.” Saints Herald 31/31 (1884): 490.
- F. Mark McKiernan, The Voice of One Crying in the Wilderness: Sidney Rigdon,
Religious Reformer, 1793-1876 (Lawrence, Kans.: Coronado, 1971), 108.
- Ibid., 165 n. 36.
- J. Wycliffe Rigdon, “Life Story of Sidney Rigdon,” 161, emphasis
added, in Family and Church History Department Archives, The Church of Jesus Christ
of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City. See also Karl Keller, ed., “‘I
Never Knew a Time When I Did Not Know Joseph Smith': A Son’s Record
of the Life and Testimony of Sidney Rigdon,” Dialogue 1/4 (1966): 15-42,
quoted by Van Wagoner on p. 117.
- J. W. Rigdon, “Life Story of Sidney Rigdon,” 161.
- McKiernan, Voice of One Crying, 108.
- There are four types of malaria, all caused by parasites of the genus Plasmodium.
One of the types frequently kills its host and the other three are said to make
the host wish for such relief. Once injected into the bloodstream through the
bite of an infected mosquito, parasites are carried to and infect the liver. They
rapidly reproduce there and are released back into the bloodstream to prey upon
the host’s red blood cells. Two of the four types of malaria recur in cycles
because a portion of the parasites remain in the liver in a latent state, later
to reproduce again and reinfect the blood. Francisco J. López-Antuñano
and Gabriel A. Schmunis, “Plasmodia of Humans,” in Parasitic Protozoa,
ed. Julius P. Kreier, 2nd ed. (San Diego: Academic Press, 1993), 5:135-266.
The malaria species P. vivax was the one form of latent malaria present in North
America in the 1830s and 40s. Common in temperate areas, its latent quality allows
it to survive in human hosts over winter months when the Anopheles mosquito, the
nonhuman host that serves as the site for the parasite’s sexual reproduction
and the vector by which the disease is transferred to humans, cannot survive the
cold. The parasite probably survived in its initial latent period in Rigdon over
the winter of 1839 and 1840 (a more likely scenario than Rigdon contracting nonrecurrent
malaria two years in a row). Malaria of this type was common in New York, Pittsburgh,
and Nauvoo as well as other American areas during Rigdon’s lifetime.
- Both Van Wagoner and McKiernan concede that Rigdon contracted malaria in 1839,
the beginning of his five-year illness (pp. 267-68).
- Dickson D. Despommier, Robert W. Gwadz, and Peter J. Hotez, Parasitic Diseases,
3rd ed. (New York: Springer-Verlag, 1995), 184; J. W. Rigdon, “Life Story
of Sidney Rigdon,” 161; and McKiernan, Voice of One Crying, 108. On sickly
Nauvoo, see H. Dean Garrett, “Disease and Sickness in Nauvoo,” in
Regional Studies in Latter-day Saint Church History: Illinois, ed. H. Dean Garrett
(Provo, Utah: BYU Department of Church History and Doctrine, 1995), 169-82.
- He cites Dianne Hales, Depression (New York: Chelsea House, 1989), 26, as
saying that the ancient Greek physician Galen first connected melancholia
and mania. This is mistaken. Hales cites Aretaeus as “proposing for the
first time that melancholia and mania . . . were symptoms of a single disorder.”
Van Wagoner relied on the findings of a second-century AD physician, cited
in a book for juveniles that is “not intended to take the place of the professional
advice of a physician,” (as noted on the copyright page of Hales’s
book), and inaccurately cited what it said.
- Karlhanns Salfelder, M.D., Protozoan Infections in Man: Colour Atlas (Stuttgart:
Schwer, 1988), 109. These symptoms could be mistaken for those of melancholia,
which a 1942 medical dictionary define as “apathy and indifference to one’s
surroundings, mental sluggishness and depression.” Thomas L. Stedman, Stedman’s
Shorter Medical Dictionary (Chicago: American Publishers, 1942), 359.
- From statements made in interviews with Professor James Jensen at Provo, Utah,
9-23 January 1997. Professor Jensen is Trager Professor of Parasitology
at Brigham Young University. A modest assessment of his contributions to the field
of malaria research shows him to be among the world’s leading experts. Jensen’s
professorship is named for his mentor during a postdoctoral program at the Rockefeller
Institute, after which he taught and researched at Cornell University and Michigan
State University School of Medicine before joining the faculty at Brigham Young
University. His distinguished research includes malaria field studies in Brazil,
Columbia, Peru, Indonesia, and the Sudan, where his work spanned seventeen years.
We appreciate Professor Jensen’s willingness to lend his expertise to this
paper, but he is in no respect accountable for the results.
- William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience (New York: Penguin, 1985),
- Ibid., 189-258.
- Bergera, “Toward ‘Psychologically Informed’ Mormon History,”
29; James Clifford, From Portraits to Puzzles: Problems of a Literary Biographer,
John W. Harrelson Lectures (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1970),
- Walker, “Mormon Biography,” 182.
- Ibid., 189-90.