Is Nephi Anderson “Scriptus”?

Scott Hales digs into the Church History Library archives for more information on Mormon novelist Nephi Anderson and his potential link to a Deseret News columnist named “Scriptus”.

Wm writes: Scott Hales — who most AMV readers will know from The Low-Tech World and Modern Mormon Men — spent some time earlier this year doing archival research on Mormon literature. Here’s a guest post by Scott that comes out of some of that research.

Is Nephi Anderson “Scriptus”?

by Scott Hales

In the Nephi Anderson Collection of the Church History Library is a folder that contains newspaper clippings that Nephi Anderson collected throughout his life. Most of these are of articles, letters to the editor, or poems he published in newspapers in Utah, a few eastern cities, and England. Many of them, like clippings about missionary work or anti-Mormon activity in England, are unremarkable because they represent the kind of thing you would expect Anderson to save. Others, like a few describing violent crimes (“Child Murder Near Southend, Head Broken with a Slater’s Hammer,” “Ex-Convict Found Drowned”), raise fascinating questions about why an author known for his sentimentality, “lovely spirit,” and the “gentleness and kindness in his being” would be drawn to such grisly stories. (I have my own theories about the dark imagination of Nephi Anderson, but I’ll save them for a later post.)

Also contained in this folder are clippings from an 1897 newspaper column called “Fly Leaves,” a kind of literary fact dump with the occasional sentence or two of cultural commentary. The author of the column is listed as “Scriptus,” an obvious pseudonym like those used so often at the time (B.H. Roberts, for example, was “Horatio;” Emmeline Wells was “Amethyst;” Susa Young Gates was “Homespun,” etc.)

Because so much of what Anderson collected in the folder was his own work, I immediately assumed that he was “Scriptus,” took a mental note of it, and moved on to other matters. Later, after I returned home from my research trip, I did a quick search for “Scriptus” in the Improvement Era and other journals and magazines from the time, but came up with nothing. Disappointed, I again moved on to other matters.

Fast forward a month: I am looking through Utah newspapers for evidence that connects Anderson’s Added Upon to Edward Bellamy’s best-selling utopian novel Looking Backward. For anyone who has read the two novels, the connection is a fairly obvious one and many, many people, including Richard Cracroft and AMV’s Kent Larsen, have noted it. But, aside from a brief mention of Bellamy in his essay “Purpose in Fiction,” Anderson seems never to have written anything significant about Bellamy or Looking Backward in any of his journals or letters” not any that have survived, at least. So all I can do is try to show how the newspapers Anderson was known to have read the Ogden Standard, the Deseret News featured the occasional tidbit on Bellamy. Easy enough.

Then I find this interesting paragraph in the Deseret Evening News:

It is not often the author of such a book as Looking Backward lets nine years elapse between books. Edward Bellamy did not take advantage of the immense popularity of his former book to flood the market with works “by the author of Looking Backwards.” He was satisfied with the 400,000 copies sold; but meanwhile was not idle. He has issued another volume called Equality. This book is a continuance or sequel to the first, the same characters and scenes being used. The work deals with those high ideals of socialism which so charmed the reader in Looking Backward. Mr. Bellamy’s book came as a sort of revelation to the world. Yet over fifty years before the law of consecration was revealed to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, by the Prophet Joseph Smith, and the world has had ample opportunity to know about it. Mr. Bellamy’s man made scheme following somewhat the revealed law on the same subject, received the wonder and applause of the world: the heaven revealed order makes no stir, receives no attention. What a strange order of things! (8)

I check the date on this piece: 18 September 1897. The title: “Fly Leaves.” Author: “Scriptus.” It’s one of the pieces I found but obviously did not read closely enough in the clippings folder at the Church History Library.

I read the paragraph again, looking for evidence that connects Anderson to “Scriptus.” If Anderson is “Scriptus,” then this column provides concrete evidence that Anderson not only read Looking Backward, but also drew connections specifically between Bellamy’s utopian society and the law of consecration, which is what he seems to do anyway in Added Upon.

The second reading yields nothings, so I do another search for other “Fly Leaves” columns in the Deseret News archives and get a few hits. One column, dated 4 October 1897, begins with a notice of the death of the mother of Bjornistjerne Bjornson, a Norwegian author whom Anderson alludes to favorably in The Castle Builder (1902). Further down the column are other notices about literary figures Robert Louis Stevenson and Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen, whose work Anderson knew very well (and also alludes to in The Castle Builder). Another column, dated 19 October 1897, discusses the translation of Ben Hur into Arabic, English novelist Jerome K. Jerome, and American writer Julian Hawthorne. The content of both columns seem consistent with Anderson’s interests, especially in Norwegian writers.

I go back to the 18 September “Fly Leaves” and find perhaps the best evidence that Anderson is “Scriptus.” There, at the bottom of the column, “Scriptus” recommends Amelia E. Barr’s short story “Prisoner of Conscious” as “fiction with a ‘purpose’”:

It is a powerful piece of fiction, and the evident purposes is to show the hideousness of the ‘old confessions of faith’ and religious teachings which have made hopeless prisoners of so many people [“¦] After reading such a story the Latter-day Saint who does not send a grateful prayer to God for the restoration of the Gospel with all its life and light, must be dead to the principles of gratitude. (8)

What draws my attention here is the attention “Scriptus” pays to “purpose” in fiction, which is one of the ideas Anderson championed in his quest to make fiction, and the idea of fiction, “safe” for Latter-day Saints. My mind immediately moves ahead four months to Anderson’s essay “Purpose in Fiction,” which was published in the February 1898 issue of the Improvement Era. In this essay, Anderson argues that “[a] good story is artistic preaching. A novel which depicts high ideals and gives to us representations of men and women as they should and can be, exerts an influence for good that is not easily computed” (271). This sounds like “Scriptus” to me. Maybe it’s not conclusive—but the evidence seems strong.

So far I have been unable to find anything else by “Scriptus” aside from the three “Fly Leaves” columns in the Deseret News. I keep my eyes open, though. In the 1880s and 90s, Mormon fiction writers used pseudonyms as a way to shield their identity from a public that was suspicious of those who wrote imaginative literature, especially fiction. So maybe more is out there by “Scriptus,” maybe some of Anderson’s earlier attempts at fiction.

In some ways, though, I like that Nephi Anderson seems not to have made more use of the “Scriptus” moniker. Perhaps he realized that Mormon readers were ready for fiction,and the best thing a Mormon fiction writer could do was be an author not only in deed, but also in name.

25 thoughts on “Is Nephi Anderson “Scriptus”?”

  1. Fascinating, and, I think, very useful.

    Scott, did you check this against the list of pseudonyms that is there in the library? I think its mainly for the Young Women’s Journal, Contributor and other Church magazines, but I assume it is possible that there is a listing for Scriptus. I can’t find the xerox copy I made of it at the moment.

    In any case, it does look like this is likely Anderson.

  2. Kent–

    I didn’t realize there was a list, but it’s definitely something to look into. As I state in the post, I haven’t found any other instances where Anderson seems to have used the pseudonym.

    I also don’t mention it post, but the choice of using the pseudonym seems a little odd for Anderson since he was already publishing fiction and non-fiction under his real name and nothing he says in the “Fly Leaves” column seems inconsistent with the content of his other writings or out of the ordinary. Why hide?

    I wonder if it was simply an experiment.

  3. I just checked the pseudonym list Kent refers to (a 1992 compilation by Melvin Bashore, if you need to find it for future research), and there are no listings for either “Scriptus” or Nephi Anderson. That suggests to me that it isn’t a pseudonym that appears in the late 19th/early 20th century Church magazines (as Kent mentions, it does include the names used in Young Woman’s Journal fiction, and those the Contributor, Juvenile Instructor, Improvement Era, and a few other sources). I am not certain whether Mel’s list includes all the pseudonyms used in the indexed publications, or only those he was able to identify.

    I love your analysis here.

  4. I’ll ask Mel if he’s okay with my scanning or transcribing and posting at Keepa, or for you to post in some other venue. It would be a wonderful research tool, but I’ll only do it if Mel approves.

    If the list can be posted, it would be wonderful to expand it, with links to the evidence and reasoning such as this post.

  5. Mel would be pleased to have his pseudonym database posted online somewhere it could be useful to more people. He thinks he may still have an electronic copy in some ancient format, but if not I will transcribe it.

    Do one of you AMVers want to think about where to host it? Here, Keepa, or perhaps AML? Also, if I transcribe it from scratch, would it be best to do it in Excel? Help me figure all that out, and we’ll make a great Mormon literature research tool accessible, and expandable through work like Scott’s.

  6. Ardis, that sounds great.

    Transcribing it into excel might be best, or directly into Google doc’s spreadsheet.

    Google docs’s spreadsheets has the advantage that it is sortable by the user without the user downloading it — so its easy online for the user to sort by either the person or the pseudonym.

    But it might also be good to have it simply posted to one of the sites.

    I have no idea which site would be best. It would be nice to have it on AMV, but I can see the logic for having it on Keepa also. And if you do the work, I think you deserve whatever benefit can come from it.

  7. I’m not saying that AMV is ever going away, but it would be cool if we could get posted somewhere with an aura of permanence.

    Sure,Mormon Studies money for endowed chairs — but even better: how about some donations for a Mormon Studies digital resources center?

  8. Wm, I think you are stepping in MLCA database territory.

    How I wish that would get resolved. Its really part of the same issue, isn’t it?

  9. I think it makes better sense to post it here or somewhere connected with AML, simply because it will then be where more people who could find it useful could actually find it. I’d probably do a Keepa post with a link, which would satisfy any feelings of ownership I might have. If your wish for a central repository domes true, it could always be transferred.

    Mel did find and provide me with an electronic copy, but I think it’s best to retype it, because it’s a Word file converted from an old version of WordPerfect, and the columns are kind of scrambled.

    Kent, if I type this in Excel (easier for me than having to be online with Goodle docs), could you convert my Excel file to a Google docs spreadsheet without a lot of hassle?

  10. .

    Wow! This is exciting.

    Add this to fake names in the D&C and fake names on the Bloggernacle, and suddenly we have a whole history of Mormon pseudonymy.

  11. .

    I may have said it in a funny way, but I really wasn’t thinking of it as a joke. Why the heck not? I bet there are some interesting discoveries to be made.

    I’ll add to the list that Mitt Romney’s Secret Service code name is Javelin.

  12. I’ve taken it as a joke, and tried to joke a bit more about it, but I do see that it could be a fascinating article, and perhaps a useful one. I’m not sure that I see enough material for a conference, but what do I know?

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