Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Defender of the Faith

I had the chance to read through portions of Truman Madsen's biography of B. H. Roberts the other day. I have always had a place in my heart for Truman's work. This one in particular helped me get further into the mind of B. H. Roberts. I think my next stop is to read his diaries. But I was a little disapponted with one error in his chapter on Roberts tenure as acting mission president.

Roberts hatched a plan which was approved, according to Madsen, by the First Presidency "two elders would be sent to the 'courthouses in the county seats to give them information on the historical, social, political and religious phases of the work of the Lord.' Roberts picked Elder John H. Gibbs as the first of the two missionaries, but according to Madsen, the second missionary was Elder William S. Berry.
Madsen also ascribed additional significance to his death because of the "irony that his two appointed 'peacemakers' were the ones who had been shot down." But Elder Gibbs companion was William Howell Jones, not Elder Berry. This is made clear from every original source, including the journals of Elder Gibbs and Berry, and the writings of Elder Jones. Elder Jones was also at the masscare, and survived to describe his role.

That isn't the only error I found, but the others were understandable, considering Madsen was working with Roberts own writings. And erros in Roberts writing would be a whole other post. Some of the errors in Madsen's book are a matter of opinion, so aren't worth addressing it here. While I love reading his material and still suggest you read this book, I have to wonder what other errors there might be.
With Elder Gibbs, Roberts assigned William S. Berry, at forty-six a mature and seasoned missionary and a native of Tennessee. Roberts described him as "somewhat slow of speech, but endowed to a remarkable degree with good sound sense, and of a mild and genial disposition," a man who spoke and acted out of practical wisdom. With dedication not uncommon in that era, he had come on his two-year mission, leaving behind a family of fifteen children.


Ardis E. Parshall said...

Madsen's history is suspect everywhere -- he may have been a marvelous scholar in his niche, but he was very careless with historical detail (some of his errors about Roberts' short story "Corianton" are headscratchers).

BruceCrow said...

I had wondered if this was the case. But I don't know enough about the subjects he writes about to vet them properly.

Ardis E. Parshall said...

He's not horribly, horribly bad, just careless. If some detail doesn't fit with what you thought you already knew, you're probably right and should doublecheck the source before adopting Madsen's version. I think Madsen was interested in grand ideas and thought that mundane details were too picky to be concerned with.