The Late Orson Pratt

In this issue will be found some notes in relation to the Pratt family re-union, held yesterday on the anniversary of the birthday of the Apostle Orson.

It is pleasing to note that the kindred of such a man keep his memory fresh in their hearts.  Brother Pratt himself, however, furnished the most enduring means of perpetuating his name and fame.  His travels, missionary labors, and the emanations of a great mind, inspired with the spirit of truth, through the medium of tongue and pen, will cause the memory of his deeds to endure.  Indeed the commemorative proceedings engaged in yesterday by his kindred were but a recognition of his bright career as an indefatigable dispenser of truth.

The writer of this knew the late apostle well.  He was one of the most remarkable men of the age.  Probably there have not been many to surpass him in some respects among the sons of men.  He was one of those peculiar spirits not liable to be too highly appreciated among the more practical fellow men.  He was a kind of world within himself, and was frequently oblivious to his grosser surroundings in this.  Most of the time he dwelt in the world of thought, and being in mental pursuit of the profound, he was liable to be looked upon as a child comparatively in the material matters pertaining to everyday life.  His spirit did not delight in nibbling little bunches of grass in a limited pasture, nor slaking his thirst at a diminutive spring.  He was in his element when he could drink copiously of the waters of the ocean of truth and appease his hunger upon the manna of eternity.  Men of that stamp are not appreciated by those who hug closely the earth and have to twist their necks in order to catch a glimpse of those who have climbed to the summit of a majestic mountain. 

In relation to persistency, perseverance and power of mental concentration, Brother Pratt was a marvel.  To these qualities, combined with his simple faith in God, he doubtless largely owed his success as a theologian, mathematician and astronomer, being in the latter science a discoverer.  When engaged upon any problem of importance it was not uncommon for him to work for weeks at a stretch not less than 18 hours out of the 24.  We have known him to do this.  Even in directions where his ability was not specially conspicuous, by perseverance he would master the theory of any subject, as for instance in the matter of languages.

It might be supposed from the quantity of Prof. Pratt’s writings occasionally produced within a brief time, that he was a rapid penman.  This was not the case, however, as in that particular, as well as in everything else, he was deliberate and measured.  The secret of his being able to do so much within a limited period was that he kept at it, going along at a regular and steady pace, with no breaks to speak of.  Men of that character will do immensely more work than the class who operate on the high pressure or lightning process, by spurts.  Their work is also generally more thoroughly and carefully done.

Brother Pratt was more or less methodical in all his proceedings.  While upon his last mission to Great Britain and engaged in preparing the foot-notes, or references, for the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants and getting his last astronomical work—“The Key to the Universe”—ready for the press, he had a habit of going out daily for exercise.  He invariably walked along the same streets in Liverpool, never changing his route, and it almost appeared as if his feet were planted on the same spots each time upon the flagged sidewalks.

At that time he was greatly exercised in his mind respecting the subject of the redemption of Zion, and he prayed much concerning her deliverance.  He repeatedly asked the Lord whether he would live to behold it.  He told the writer that the Lord would not give him any satisfaction upon that point, and he doubted whether he would live to see what he desired.  While then in Liverpool he began to show symptoms of the complaint which carried him off.

It is seldom that great men show greatness in all directions.  Perhaps all the qualities never appear in anything like even combination in one person.  But it is by those who have great specialties as a rule that the great works of the earth are performed, the peculiar faculties in which one may be deficient being found in another.  Thus is the divine economy accomplished by the operation of the infinite variety existing among the sons of men.

In the case of Brother Pratt the mental advantage of the possession of a sound body was exhibited.  He was but little over medium height, and of sinewy build.  He was capable of much physical activity and endurance, and had strength far above that which is ordinary.  Notwithstanding that he usually showed reserve, he occasionally threw it off, and was not always averse to a little sport with the boys.  A favorite pastime with some of the more muscular brethren used to be in the form of trials of strength by two seating themselves on the ground, each planting his feet against those of the other; both then seized a stout stick and pulled.  The one who pulled the other up was the victor.  On rare occasions Brother Pratt would take a hand at this game.  If there was any one who ever pulled him up we never learned of it.

His voice, as those who have so often heard it in the Tabernacle know, was remarkably powerful and resonant.  There are few, however, who were really aware of its full compass.  On one occasion he was, in Liverpool, preaching in the open air.  A man in the crowd he was addressing placed himself directly in front of and a few feet from Elder Pratt, and began denouncing him.  The Apostle, who had a determined will, never deigned to look at the fellow, but raised his voice, and drowned that of the disturber.  The latter then indulged in louder shouting, Elder Pratt raising his voice proportionately, and proceeding with his discourse until the fellow became exhausted and gave up the contest.

The late Apostle was not ordinarily communicative in conversation and did not appear to be at home in desultory talk.  He could, however, be induced to converse with animation, and was intensely interesting, when a friend knew how to lead him on.  The process was for the other party to fix on some profitable topic in line with one of the Elder’s peculiar themes.  This method generally caused him to fasten his mind upon the subject, and a rich flow of glowing thoughts was the result.

The foregoing was suggested by the fact of the reunion of the Pratt family.  It has been jotted down as the facts and observations have passed before the mind of the writer.  In local biographical references to prominent men there appears to be too great a tendency to remain within the limit of dry dates and relations of events in which they have taken part.  Those are of course of deep interest, but it does not always follow that they present the man, in the shape of his prominent characteristics, before the reader, who generally wants to know something about the personality of the subject.

[Deseret Evening News, Sept. 20, 1887]
[Journal History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Sep. 20, 1887, 2]

[transcribed and proofread by David Grow, Sept. 2006]

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