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Good. And Evil.

Good. And Evil. January 13, 2022

 

Inside the Grandin Building
Technology has advanced a bit since the first edition of the English Book of Mormon came from E. B. Grandin’s printing company in 1830.    (Wikimedia Commons public domain photo)

 

***

 

I think that — understandably, given the many years and the considerable inflation that have intervened since the late 1820s — we modern Latter-day Saints typically fail to grasp the magnitude of the sacrifice made by Martin Harris in order to publish the Book of Mormon.

 

E. B. Grandin’s price was $3000 to produce 5000 high quality books.

 

Martin Harris was a locally prosperous small town farmer on the outskirts of Palmyra, New York, but $3000 was nearly the value of his entire farm.  To put this into perspective, Joseph Smith had bought his own fourteen-acre farm in Harmony, Pennsylvania — already cultivated and including a house — for the sum total of $200.

 

In other words, Grandin’s price was fifteen times the cost of Joseph’s Pennsylvania home and farm.

 

Day laborers in New York often worked for a dollar per day, which means that printing the Book of Mormon cost at least ten times as much as Joseph could have made by digging wells for an entire year.

 

(I’ve based the comments above on page 165 of the excellent book by Michael Hubbard MacKay and Gerrit J. Dirkmaat, From Darkness unto Light: Joseph Smith’s Translation and Publication of the Book of Mormon.)

 

To put it another way:  Printing and binding the Book of Mormon cost at least the amount that three thousand days of day-labor would have earned.  Plugging in the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour (a fairly conservative way to go, since the federal minimum wage hasn’t changed in at least six years, and since it is substantially lower than that of many local jurisdictions [e.g., California’s, which can range as high as $15.00 per hour]), and multiplying that by 8 hours, and then by 3000, we come up with a minimum modern equivalent figure of $174,000.  (At California’s figure, it could rise as high as $360,000.)

 

But let’s get back to the Mackay and Dirkmaat book, this time to page 175:

 

Martin Harris was obliged to mortgage all of the property that he owned.  And he did so in the face of incessant predictions that he was throwing his money away, and against the protests and machinations of his wife Lucy, who had once believed in the forthcoming book but was now bitterly hostile to Joseph Smith and to her husband’s involvement with the work of dictation.  (My addition:  And, as it happened, there was a boycott of the Book of Mormon that pretty well made the predictions come true.)

 

Why was Martin Harris so committed?

 

The precise date of the agreement with Grandin is unknown, but we do know that it had been concluded before 11 August 1829.

 

On 28 June 1829, though, Martin Harris (as one of the Three Witnesses) had seen the plates of the Book of Mormon and the angel Moroni, along with other related artifacts, and had heard the voice of God declaring the translation true.  I think it very possible that that experience might have had something of an impact on him.

 

***

 

Having recently considered the question “If God Does Not Exist, Is Everything Permitted?” I close with something in stark contrast to the words immediately above, something far more somber or even, perhaps, rather ferocious.  But, first, an explanation:

 

“Copybooks” were notebooks that were used in nineteenth-century British schools.  At the tops of their pages, at their “headings,” wise maxims and proverbs were printed that the children were directed to copy multiple times, thus improving both their penmanship and, it was thought, their character.  These maxims represented traditional morality, which, in this poem, Kipling contrasts with the fashionable “gods” of modern society and its new, supposedly improved morality.  Kipling published the poem at the end of the First World War, in which, fairly early on, his son John had been killed.

 

“The Gods of the Copybook Headings”

As I pass through my incarnations in every age and race,
I make my proper prostrations to the Gods of the Market-Place.
Peering through reverent fingers I watch them flourish and fall,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings, I notice, outlast them all.

We were living in trees when they met us. They showed us each in turn
That Water would certainly wet us, as Fire would certainly burn:
But we found them lacking in Uplift, Vision and Breadth of Mind,
So we left them to teach the Gorillas while we followed the March of Mankind.

We moved as the Spirit listed. They never altered their pace,
Being neither cloud nor wind-borne like the Gods of the Market Place,
But they always caught up with our progress, and presently word would come

That a tribe had been wiped off its icefield, or the lights had gone out in Rome.

With the Hopes that our World is built on they were utterly out of touch.
They denied that the Moon was Stilton; they denied she was even Dutch.
They denied that Wishes were Horses; they denied that a Pig had Wings.
So we worshipped the Gods of the Market Who promised these beautiful things.

When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace.
They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.
But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “Stick to the Devil you know.”

On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life
(Which started by loving our neighbour and ended by loving his wife)

Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “The Wages of Sin is Death.”

In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “If you don’t work you die.”
 
Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew,
And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true
That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four—
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.

As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man—

There are only four things certain since Social Progress began:—
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool’s bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;

And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!

 

 

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