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BYU Studies Vol. 27 (1987)
The literary giants of early nineteenth-century England did not foster nor usher in the restoration of the gospel. Indeed, as we have seen, the only one of these giants who knew about Mormonism was Wordsworth, and his sole recorded response, on earth, was hostility. My aim, then, instead, is to explore what happened to prevent the kind of spiritual marriage between the gospel message and English poetry which would seem almost expectable and which Shelley even seems to have envisioned. I will suggest, and suggest only, for proof in matters of mental and artistic and social influences seems impossible, one key ingredient in the literary context of the day which seems likely to have poisoned the atmosphere which in so many other ways seemed so likely to be receptive. The element of the literary context on which I shall focus is the discovery of a variety of treasures of ancient writings, all of which are bound to remind us in one way or another of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon.
In 1848 James Brady, a poor Irishman living in Scotland, was baptized into the LDS church. Five years later he still was well acquainted with poverty but with the help of the Perpetual Emigrating Fund was able to heed Church counsel to flee “Babylon” and emigrate to America. En route to “Zion,” while in St. Louis, Missouri, he wrote to friends in Scotland, recalling the tight financial circumstances surrounding his departure: “When I left Glasgow I had 5 shillings and I gave 3[shillings] and sixpence in Liverpool for the harp of zion.” His grand sum of five shillings at departure would have equaled about one dollar and twenty-five cents in United States money, yet he paid, seemingly squandered, more than two-thirds of his total savings to buy a single volume of poetry! What influences acted upon destitute Brady and thousands of other poor LDS Saints, causing them to lay out scarce and needed savings to purchase a single book of poems? Early Mormon leaders placed such a high value on poetic expression of the principles of the restored gospel that Church funds were used to pay for the publication and distribution costs of the first book of LDS poetry. By purchasing the Harp of Zion, James Brady was participating in both a material and spiritual activity that would, he was assured, aid his eternal salvation.
In 1947 the artist Han van Meegeren stood in the criminal court in Amsterdam and admitted he was guilty of forgery in what may be the greatest known art fraud. Forty years later, in 1987, Mark Hofmann confessed his guilt of forgery, fraud, and murder growing out of what may be the greatest known historical document fraud. The two cases show some striking similarities.These two men, the artist and the forger, turned their considerable talents to crime because of vanity, anger, and greed. They might have gone undetected, but the love of money held them captive. They risked again and again exposure and imprisonment, unable to quit while ahead. Their forgeries went undetected for years but ultimately came to light when police began investigating the men for much different crimes. As bizarre as the story of Mark Hofmann may seem, he was merely acting out a new production of an old play.