A Short History of Mormon Publishing: Publishing in Foreign Missions

The third of seven posts and an introduction. See also Part II, Part I, Introduction


The murder of Joseph Smith and subsequent emigration of LDS Church members to Utah interrupted efforts to proselyte in most areas outside of the United States. Prior to the martyrdom, the Church had made some additional attempts to proselyte in other languages. Speakers of several other languages had joined the Church, many of whom were an important part of later missionary efforts, such as Dan Jones (Welsh), Peter O. Hansen (Danish), and  Daniel Carn (German). Enough German language speakers joined the saints in Nauvoo that a German-speaking congregation was established there[].

The first missionary to work in a non-English land was probably Orson Hyde, who, on his trip to the Holy Land in 1842, stopped first in Holland, and then in Germany, publishing tracts in each language and endeavoring to start missionary work there[]. While those efforts didn’t bear fruit, other missionaries were soon sent out, and the first non-English-speaking mission was opened in what is now French Polynesia (including Tahiti) in 1844[]. A second non-English-speaking mission was then opened in Wales the following year, after several years of effort under the British mission[]. Despite the interruption, the burgeoning mission in Great Britain (established in 1837) was also preserved, probably because it was producing enough members to sustain the missionary efforts there and in Wales, and still send converts to the United States.

In 1850 the Church was finally able to expand into non-English areas in a significant way. By the end of that year missions had been established in Scandinavia, France, Italy, Germany and Hawaii, and publishing efforts began in all those areas[]. Publishing a few tracts for missionary use was usually the first priority, followed by the Book of Mormon, a hymnal and a mission periodical. Translations of other tracts, books and scriptures then followed[].

Those staring these new missions and beginning to publish there faced many challenges. Since missionaries at this time traveled without purse or scrip, financing publications was always an issue. Orson Hyde taught English when he was in Germany to support himself and finance the publication of his tract in Germany[]. Elsewhere new converts and local members helped pay for publications. Once enough converts had been made, tithing, subscription prices and sales of books financed new publications.

Language barriers also affected the ability of new missions to proselyte and publish. While where possible, those called to open missions in non-English-speaking countries already knew the language, which allowed them to begin work immediately, that wasn’t always possible. Both John Taylor (in France) and Lorenzo Snow (in Italy) reported that they struggled to learn the language, even with help from other missionaries who did speak the language. During the mid 1850s and 1860s, the first LDS missionaries in New Zealand were forced to confine their efforts to the Anglo population because they could not speak the Maori language. When this difficulty was finally overcome in the 1880s, the number of Maori members soon rose to more than 80% of the members in New Zealand[].

Even with native speakers among the first missionaries in many countries, additional help from non-LDS native speakers was often sought. Danish native Peter O. Hansen, who joined the LDS Church prior to the exodus to Utah, completed his translation of the Book of Mormon into Danish before he left to help Erastus Snow open the Scandinavian Mission in 1849, but still spent the last 8 months of 1850 working with others in Compenhagen to improve his translation, which was finally published in 1851[]. John Taylor’s companions, Curtis E. Bolton and William Howells, apparently also spoke French, but their translation of the Book of Mormon into French was improved after they were joined by Louis A. Bertrand, a well-educated French native who soon joined the LDS Church and later became the French Mission President[]. The extra attention provided by non-LDS Church members was especially sought when the translation was from the Book of Mormon.

Local laws and customs also frequently got in the way of LDS publishing efforts. In France, permission from the government was required to publish, and when John Taylor published his pamphlet The Kingdom of God in 1851 anyway, after permission was denied, he was expelled from the country[]. The French mission also tried to get around these restrictions by publishing a bi-lingual French-German edition of the Book of Mormon in 1852 in Hamburg and importing copies  into France, but in the end wasn’t able to make that plan work either[]. A French Book of Mormon was eventually published in 1854.

Logistical problems also occasionally impeded LDS publishing efforts in these new missions. While the first German-language Book of Mormon was published in 1852 in Hamburg, the first successful German-language proselyting happened among the German speakers in Switzerland half a decade later[]. And while the French LDS periodical Étoile du Deséret (Star of Deseret) was published in Paris for a year, the Swiss mission launched its own periodical, Le Réflecteur (The Reflector), in part because of the distance[]. And, just like happened in England, the economics of printing pushed missions to print more copies than were immediately, or influenced them to put off printing until they were sure of demand. Logistics were also behind errors made, since some items translated from English were later re-translated when previous translations couldn’t be located.

The effect of all these challenges varied widely by mission, depending on the relative success of the mission. The Italian mission, which closed after a few years of effort, published a handful of items, including the Book of Mormon, but not including a hymnal, periodical or other scriptures[]. The Welsh mission, on the other hand, published all of these, along with several books, including a collection of tracts and a book of poetry[].

The Scandinavian mission, headquartered in Denmark and initially preaching in Danish, was the most successful of these early non-English-speaking missions. The mission published the first Danish hymnal in March of 1851, and by October of 1851 had started publishing a periodical, Skandinaviens Stjerne (Scandinavian Star, published continually through 1956 and then continued by Der Dansk Stjerne, The Danish Star, which was finally succeeded by the Liahona in 1984). By the end of 1852 it had in place all the principle publications later produced by any mission; Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, a periodical, a hymnal, the Pearl of Great Price, and many tracts for missionary use[].

But the Scandinavian mission also managed to go beyond this minimal standards. Like many missions, it published additional works useful for missionary work (such as Parley P. Pratt’s A Voice of Warning, which was translated into 6 different languages by 1900). Missions also translated materials useful for members, such as John Jacques’ Catechism for Children (in 5 different languages by 1900) and Pratt’s Key to the Science of Theology (in German and Dutch by the end of the century)[]. The Scandinavian mission was unusual because it went even further, adding a youth periodical in 1880 and translating many additional works into Danish, which ended the century as the non-English language with the most publications[].

Beyond these translations and basic works, some missions managed to produce a number of original works, beyond missionary tracts, in their languages. As mentioned above, the Welsh mission produced a book of poetry, a Mexican member produced his own doctrinal thesis, and, perhaps most interesting, the French mission president, Louis Bertrand, wrote and published Mémoires d’un Mormon (Memoirs of a Mormon) in 1862, a couple years before he closed the mission and emigrated to Utah[].

[] Scharffs, Gilbert. Mormonism in Germany. 1970, p. 4.

[] Scharffs, Gilbert. Mormonism in Germany. 1970, pp. 3-4.

[] “French Polynesia” in Deseret News 2006 Church Almanac, p. 352.

[] “Wales” in Deseret News 2006 Church Almanac, p. 472.

[] “Full-time Missions” in Deseret News 2006 Church Almanac, p. 484-85.

[] This is from my own analysis of titles published in each area, drawn principally from Flake, Mormon Bibliography, 1830-1930, online at (http://lib.byu.edu/dlib/mormon_bib/).

[] Scharffs, Gilbert. Mormonism in Germany. 1970, pp. 3-4.

[] “New Zealand” in Deseret News 2006 Church Almanac, p. 409.

[] Jenson, Andrew. “Scandinavian Latter-day Saint Literature.” Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine, 1922

[] “France” in Deseret News 2006 Church Almanac, pp. 349-350.

[] “France” in Deseret News 2006 Church Almanac, pp. 349-350.

[] Flake, Mormon Bibliography, 1830-1930, entry 718. Can be found online at (http://lib.byu.edu/dlib/mormon_bib/).

[] Scharffs, Gilbert. Mormonism in Germany. 1970, pp. 9-25;”Switzerland” in Deseret News 2006 Church Almanac, pp. 453-54.

[] Flake, Mormon Bibliography, 1830-1930, entries 3185 and 6842. Can be found online at (http://lib.byu.edu/dlib/mormon_bib/).

[] “Italy” in Deseret News 2006 Church Almanac, p. 376.

[]My own analysis of data drawn from Flake, Mormon Bibliography, 1830-1930. Can be found online at (http://lib.byu.edu/dlib/mormon_bib/); See also Davies, Mormon Spirituality: Latter Day Saints in Wales and Zion, 1987, pp. 8, 15.

[] Jenson, Andrew. “Scandinavian Latter-day Saint Literature.” Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine, 1922.

[] 50 Important Mormon Books, found online at http://www.mormontranslation.com/en/index.php?title=50_Important_Mormon_Books (requires free registration to view).

[] Jenson, Andrew. “Scandinavian Latter-day Saint Literature.” Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine, 1922; and my own analysis of data drawn from Flake, Mormon Bibliography, 1830-1930. Can be found online at (http://lib.byu.edu/dlib/mormon_bib/)

[] Flake, Mormon Bibliography, 1830-1930. Can be found online at (http://lib.byu.edu/dlib/mormon_bib/).

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8 thoughts on “A Short History of Mormon Publishing: Publishing in Foreign Missions”

  1. .

    I would love to see the bilingual book of Mormon. Was it side by side? The whole book in one language and then the other?

  2. Re (2), The description in Mormon Bibliography implies that it was some kind of alternating pages. I’m not exactly sure how that worked. It doesn’t sound like it would work the way that most bi-lingual editions work (text in each language on facing pages). But I can’t think of any way that does make sense, given what they were trying to accomplish.

    The Mormon Bibliography entry says that only a few copies were bound, and that the only known extant copies are in the Church archives. Perhaps I’ll take a look next time I get there.

  3. .

    I think so too. But I’m not about to learn Welsh and I’m inherently suspicious of poetry-in-translation.

  4. I suspect that any of these languages that had periodicals (Danish, German, French, Welsh) and possibly any that had hymnals also had poetry. Welsh is unique because it had a book of poetry published.

    Unfortunately, I don’t believe any of the LDS non-English periodicals are available electronically at this point — so they are another thing to check out either at the HBLL or at the Church archives.

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