The tributes paid this week to the memories of the illustrious brothers, Parley P. and Orson Pratt, bring to our recollection an old and sometimes disputed assertion—that the manifestation of genius is not restrained, though its expression may be modified, by the environments of the individual possessing it.
We incline to accept this view. For the more we have contemplated the actions of men who are truly great—men who arose because of what they achieved from their own qualities of mind and force of character—the more we are drawn to the conviction that greatness is largely an inherent quality, and that it will find expression of some notable sort, no matter what circumstances of life may surround and hamper its possessor. Probably there are few better illustrations of this view than can be found in the multifarious yet successful activity of the men named in this comment. Particularly is this true, let us say, of the work of the man of mighty intellect, the scholar and philosopher of the early Church, the Apostle to the latter-day Gentiles, the St. Paul of “Mormonism”—Orson Pratt, whose 100th birthday anniversary was observed here during the present week.
The influence and prestige of living men is frequently more dependent upon the positions they hold and the offices they occupy than upon any exceptional merit of either their words or actions. Position gives influence, because it commands patronage and wields power. But posthumous fame—that influence and honor which remain after the living personality has departed for other spheres of activity—does not have or need any such aid. The position of those whom the judgment of posterity decides shall be commemorated for their achievements is secure without such support.
It can be only real worth when a man’s works survive him and grow in significance with the passing years. A man who could find time, as a side issue, to write works on higher mathematics in the intervals of a missionary career perhaps as busy and strenuous, and possibly as productive in creating organized branches of the Church, as the labors of St. Paul himself, the prince of missionaries, must have been endowed with extraordinary gifts alike of mind, of character, and of body.
Not only was Orson Pratt a successful pioneer—the first of the company to set foot within this valley—but he was similarly a pioneer in various other forms of fruitful labor. In a sense he pioneered the way for succeeding missionaries of the Church by giving to them numerous clear-cut and telling examples of both how and what to preach. Christ and Him crucified, the divine calling of Joseph Smith and his testimony to those truths, the establishment of the kingdom of God and the harmony of the revealed plan of salvation as given to the modern Prophet, with other dispensations of the Gospel given to the people in earlier times—these were his themes. The proof that the Gospel is in harmony with the requirements and ideals of human reason, that scientific facts tend powerfully to sustain its teachings, that the soundest philosophy of all ages accords with the Gospel plan—these central facts were his especial delight, and he handled them with a power and incisiveness rarely if at all excelled in modern argumentative reasoning. The Gospel of the Kingdom was a subject that seemed to be his especial field; and the long prophesied establishment of this kingdom in the tops of the mountains, he believed was beginning to be realized in the settlement of the Latter-day Saints within the high valleys of Western America. His sermons on this subject thrilled the hearts and won the unbounded admiration of the people of the Church, and they even captivated the imagination of strangers to the faith. An example of these sermons may be found in Vol. XII of the Contributor, at the office of the Church historian.
His argumentative reasoning bears a strong resemblance to the pitiless irony with which Isaiah unmasked the barbarity and grossness of heathen gods and worship. Similarly, a relentless logic, not unlike the demonstrations of Paul, was used by this modern reasoner to sweep aside the unreality and to lay bare the deformity and mental impotence behind which the theologians of the day vainly tried to take refuge from his skillful onslaughts. For he showed, that in some parts of their theology they were but atheists, and were really more so than the materialistic scientists whom they especially abhorred. Like Tennyson he proved to them that “There lives more faith in honest doubt, Believe me, than in half the creeds.”
Paul journeyed in ancient Athens, the seat of Grecian learning and culture, to declare its philosophic people the true nature of the powers, which, as unknown gods, they ignorantly worshiped. Orson Pratt, in the modern Athens—Edinburgh—performed for the people of the British Isles a service precisely similar to that of the ancient apostle.
Thus, Paul had taught to the Athenians the personality of God—a first great truth in opposition to their great pantheistic falsehood that God is nature; the modern Apostle proved not alone the personality but the historical embodiment of the persons of the Father and the Son, as manifested to man in our time and in former dispensations. By saying, “God is a spirit,” theologians left the impression that God is only a spirit; Orson Pratt showed that man is also a spirit and that being a spirit does not prevent a person from possessing a body.
From the declaration that God had created the world and all that is therein, men had proceeded to develop the strangest of all theological dogmas—that the world and the universe were created out of nothing. But the modern Apostle held that out of nothing, nothing comes; so that in some way, the very elements must be eternal in essence, no matter what changes in form and condition they undergo.
These things have often been proved since that day; it was Orson Pratt’s privilege to adduce the clear reasons from Scripture and logic, showing that they are true. Genius shows the way, which others follow. This work of genius and inspiration, in opposing to the great falsehoods of men, the great truths of revelation and in sustaining and justifying the latter by the science of the day, was perhaps the most significant work of the manifold labors of this modern Apostle. He attended no schools, he had no teachers. Without these aids, he wrought in the ancient and modern languages, higher mathematics, philosophy, astronomy, history, theology, mastering each in such time as he had to spare amid life-long missions and repeated crossings of the continent and the ocean and among environments not at all conducive to profound research. Such work is genius; and the special turn of it, on its face argues that it was largely influenced by the divine favor and prompted by special inspiration.
[Journal History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Oct. 14, 1911, 1]
[Deseret Evening News, Oct. 14, 1911]
[transcribed and proofread by David Grow, Apr. 2006]