As I’ve looked at early published information about Mormonism, looking for, among other things, early literary efforts, I was surprised that I hadn’t seen anti-Mormon literary works. While the first Mormon literary works, poetry, appear in 1832 with the first issue of the Evening and Morning Star, I haven’t noticed many literary works by non-Mormons before the late 1830s (in contrast to anti-Mormon non-fiction, which is common). Then, last week, I came across a newspaper article with a short, two-line, poem that might qualify as the first anti-Mormon literary work.
Not only short, the poem isn’t particularly noteworthy. Perhaps its most sophisticated literary feature is that one of the phrases in the poem isn’t limited to the first line, but spills onto the second–not very sophisticated, but it runs against the norm for poetry, and perhaps shows that the unknown author may have had some exposure to poetry.
Other than that, the poem is more like bathroom graffiti–the short, offensive and sometimes amusing poems I’ve seen all my life in bathroom stalls. It appears at the end of an initial review of the Book of Mormon in The Free Enquirer, a newspaper edited by Robert Dale Owen, a socialist proponent who later was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Indiana, serving from 1843 to 1847.
The review came from his brother, William Owen, who was able to read the Book of Mormon while traveling on the Erie Canal near Syracuse, New York, in the summer of 1831. After describing its contents, William reports that:
In short, it is, in many respects, so similar to the Bible and such a parody on it, that a Christian might well write at the end of it, as some one wrote on the copy I saw: “This work seems throughout a burlesque on the Bible.”
The poetry I mention William says was also written into the copy William found, almost like graffiti:
“He who’d believe the plates of brass
“Of Mr. Smith must be an ass.”
From “Mormon Bible.” The Free Enquirer 3 Sept 1831, pg 364
I must admit that I chuckled on reading it — just like I sometimes do at bathroom graffiti. Still, given the mention of “plates of brass,” the author, whoever he is, must have read at least the beginning of the Book of Mormon.
Fortunately, it is hardly a damning indictment.