In 1858 Edward Tullidge wrote to Brigham Young to volunteer himself as the epic chronicler of the Restoration. The off-and-on again British convert to Mormonism enthusiasticaly described his fifteen-thousand-line epic style biography of Joseph Smith, “The Prophet of the Nineteenth Century.” He compared his work to Homer and John Milton and promised more to come.1 Evidently, Tullidge never completed the project.2 Fortunately, however, one chapter was published in The Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star in January 1858. I located a scanned image via Google Books,3 but since I couldn’t find a reliable transcription online I decided to furnish one for your reading, copying, and pasting enjoyment. I numbered the lines for easier reference. For this post I put together a quick comparison between Tullidge’s chapter and Milton’s Paradise Lost.
Tullidge’s debt to Milton is pretty obvious in structure and theme, with a few interesting exceptions. Structurally, he wrote the epic in the meter of iambic pentameter, which means that nearly all lines consist of ten syllables, just like Milton’s Paradise Lost and many other earlier English epics. Milton wrote in blank verse but Tullidge opted for rhyme, much like John Dryden did in “The State of Innocence and the Fall of Man” (London, 1674), an early adaptation of PL. Length-wise, Tullidge projected 15,000 lines, which would have been 4,435 lines longer than the final 12-book edition of PL! Thus, the books in PL averaged about 880 lines whereas Tullidge’s chapter contains 291. He had a lot of catching up to do.4 Like the second edition of Milton’s PL, Tullidge also provides an “Argument” at the outset of the chapter to summarize its content.
Thematically, Tullidge’s and Milton’s respective epics descend into the recesses of Hell where a council takes place between Satan and his lesser lords. Satan takes center stage in this chapter as the primary speaker, as he does in several books in PL. Debates over the centrality of Satan in PL aside, it isn’t certain whether Tullidge’s other chapters would have featured Satan so prominently. As in PL, Tullidge’s Satan discusses the war in heaven. Unlike PL, Tullidge’s poem describes the “first estate” foes of Satan as being premortal humans, “Jacob’s offspring—chosen of the skies” (lines 160, 169). These foreordained spirits are now “setting out for earth” in “daring bands” to confront Satan in “the final struggle” (lines 232-234). Joseph Smith is among them as the “pre-ordinated [sic] Seer” (line 273). Conversely, in Milton’s epic Satan and his armies faced off against Michael the archangel and armies of angels. The angels were not pre- or post-embodied humans as in Tullidge’s cosmology. Thus, in Tullidge’s account, the premortal war in heaven continues as a battle on earth between the same participants, whereas in Milton’s account humans were created to inhabit the earth after Satan and his hosts had been cast out of heaven.
Perhaps the finest achievement in Tullidge’s chapter is Satan’s reminiscent declaration of victory over Jesus Christ. Satan reminds his minions how they caused Jesus to suffer, bleed and die—their moment of triumph. But as Douglas J. Davies points out, an ironic double meaning echoes in Satan’s exultations:
“When came the Son to break our iron bands,
“And wrest the sceptre from our powerful hands,
“(My haughty rival—him whose name I hate,—
“With whom we battled in the first estate,)
“We fired our minions, hung him on the cross;
“His life and kingdom were at once his loss;
“Blows were his honours, mock’ry his renown,
“The rugged tree his throne, and thorns his crown:
“Say, my brave princes, was not triumph here!!
“Was he not mighty on his bloody bier!!”5
Although the poem is not without its flaws, its obvious derivation being one, Tullidge managed to Mormonize Milton’s biblically inspired plot line and the poem itself is still worth reading.
1. See Ronald W. Walker, “Edwin Tullidge: Historian of the Mormon Commonwealth,” Journal of Mormon History vol. 3 (1976), 57.
2. See The Life of Joseph the Prophet (Plano: Illinois, Board of Publication of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints), 687, which mentions that Tullidge had “partly written and published an epic poem entitled ‘The Prophet of the Nineteenth Century.”
3. E.W. Tullidge, “A Chapter From the Prophet of the Nineteenth Century,” The Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star no. 1, vol. 20, 2 January 1858, 14-16.
4. Milton’s original 10-book version of PL was later broken into 12 books with fifteen additional lines, bringing the total to 10,565 lines. See John T. Shawcross, “Milton in Print: A Review of Some Recent Editions of Paradise Lost,” Milton Quarterly, vol. 40, issue 3 (October 2006), 221.
5. Tullidge, lines 166-175. See Douglas J. Davies, Joseph Smith, Jesus, and Satanic Opposition: Atonement, Evil and the Mormon Vision (Farnham: Ashgate, 2010), 160.