Henry Caswall's earliest published account of the Greek Psalter incident.

Jun 1842
Henry Caswall

Henry Caswall, The City of the Mormons; or, Three Days at Nauvoo, in 1842 (London: J. G. F. & J. Rivington, 1842), 5–7, 19–22, 27–29, 33–37, 43–45

J. G. F. & J. Rivington
Henry Caswall, Joseph Smith, Jr.
Reading Public

From this moment I determined to visit the stronghold of the new religion, and to obtain, if possible, an interview with the prophet himself. Accordingly, on Friday evening, April 15th, I embarked on board the fine steamer "Republic," bound, as her advertisement assured me, "for Galena, Dubuque, and Prairie du Chien." I had laid aside my clerical apparel, and had assumed a dress in which there was little probability of my being recognized as a "minister of the Gentiles." In order to test the scholarship of the prophet, I had further provided myself with an ancient Greek manuscript of the Psalter written upon parchment, and probably about six hundred years old. Shortly after six o'clock our paddles were in motion, and we were stemming the rapid current of the "Father of waters," while the booming of our high-pressure engine re-echoed from the buildings and the woods along the shore. . . . Farther onward the bluffs of Iowa rose boldly from the water's edge, while on the Illinois or eastern side, as the steamer gradually came round the curve, the Mormon city opened upon my view. At length, Nauvoo in all its "latter-day glory" lay[7] before me. The landing-place being difficult of access from the rapidity of the current, the steamer took me to Montrose immediately opposite, and touching for a moment, while I stepped on shore, in the next moment was again ploughing the descending waters.

. . .

On the following morning (Monday, April 18th), I took my venerable Greek manuscript of the Psalter, and proceeded to the ferry to obtain a passage. The boatman, being engaged to take over a family emigrating to Nauvoo, had provided himself with a heavy flat-boat, which promised us a long voyage. . . . Arriving at the city, I passed along a straggling street of considerable length bordering on the strand. Perceiving a respectable-looking store (or shop), I entered it, and began to converse with the storekeeper. I mentioned that I had been informed that Mr. Smith possessed some remarkable Egyptian curiosities, which I wished to see. I added that, if Mr. Smith could be induced to show me his treasures, I would show him in return a very wonderful book which had lately come into my possession. The storekeeper informed me that Mr. Smith was absent, having gone to Carthage that morning; but that he would return about nine o'clock in the evening. He promised to obtain for me admission to the curiosities, and begged to be permitted to see the wonderful book. I accordingly unfolded it from the many wrappers in which I had enveloped it, and, in the presence of the storekeeper and many astonished spectators, whom the rumour of the arrival of a strange book had collected, I produced to view its covers of worm-eaten oak, its discoloured parchments, and its mysterious characters. Surprise was depicted on the countenances of all present, and, after a long silence, one person wiser than his fellows, declared that he knew it to be a revelation from the Lord, and that probably it was one of the lost books of the Bible providentially recovered. Looking at me with a patronizing air, he assured me that I had brought it to the right place to get it interpreted, for that none on earth but the Lord's prophet could explain it, or unfold its real antiquity and value. "Oh," I replied, "I am going to England next week, and doubtless I shall find some learned man in one of the universities who can expound it." To this he answered with a sneer, that the Lord had chosen the weak things of the world to confound the mighty; that he had made foolish the wisdom of this world; and that I ought to thank Providence for having brought me to Nauvoo, where the hidden things of darkness could be revealed by divine power. All expressed the utmost anxiety that I should remain in the city until the prophet's return. The storekeeper offered immediately to send an express eighteen miles to Carthage, to hasten the return of Joseph. This I declined, and told him that my stay in Nauvoo must be very limited. They promised to pay all my expenses, if I would remain; and assured me that they would ferry me over the river as often as I desired it, free of charge; besides furnishing me with a carriage and horses to visit the beautiful prairies in the vicinity. At length I yielded to their importunities, and promised, that if they would bring me over from Montrose on the following morning, I would exhibit the book to the prophet. They were very desirous that I should remain at Nauvoo during the night; but as I had my fears that some of the saints might have a revelation, requiring them to take my book while I slept, I very respectfully declined their pressing invitation. They then requested to know where I was staying in Montrose. I mentioned the name of my hospitable entertainer; upon which they used the most violent language against him, and said that he was their bitter enemy and persecutor, that he was as bad as the people of Missouri, and that I ought not to believe a word that he said. They again pressed me most earnestly not to return to Montrose; but I continued firm, and expressed my intention of hearing both sides of the question.

. . .

I produced my wonderful book. The old woman scrutinized its pages, and in an oracular manner assured me that the Lord was now bringing to light the hidden things of darkness according to his word; that my manuscript was doubtless a revelation which had long been hidden, and which was now to be made known to the world, by means of her son the prophet Joseph. She then directed me up a steep flight of stairs into a chamber, and slowly crept up after me. She showed me a wretched cabinet, in which were four naked mummies frightfully disfigured, and in fact, most disgusting relics of mortality. One she said was a king of Egypt whom she named, two were his wives, and the remaining one was the daughter of another king. I asked her by what means she became acquainted with the names and histories of these mummies. She replied, that her son had obtained this knowledge through the mighty power of God. She accounted for the disfigured condition of the mummies, by a circumstance rather illustrative of the back-woods. Some difficulty having been found in unrolling the papyrus which enveloped them, an axe was applied, by which the unfortunate mummies were literally chopped open. I requested her to furnish me with a "Book of Mormon." She accordingly permitted me to take one of the first edition belonging to her daughter Lavinia, for which I paid the young lady a dollar.

From Mr. Smith's residence I proceeded to the Mormon printing office, where the official papers and "revelations" of the prophet are published in a semi-monthly magazine, denominated the "Times and Seasons." Here I purchased this magazine complete for the last year, the history of the persecution of the Mormons by the people of Missouri, and other documents of importance. The storekeeper met me at the printing-office, and introduced several dignitaries of the "Latter-day Church," and many other Mormons, to whom he begged me to exhibit my wonderful book. While they were examining it with great apparent interest, one of the preachers informed me that he had spent the last year in England, and that, with the aid of an associate, he had baptized in that country seven thousand saints. He had visited the British Museum, where he affirmed that he had seen nothing so extraordinary as my wonderful book. The Mormon authorities now formally requested me to sell them the book, for which they were willing to pay a high price. This I positively refused, and they next importuned me to lend it to them, so that the prophet might translate it. They promised to give bonds to a considerable amount, that it should be forthcoming whenever I requested it. I was still deaf to their entreaties, and having promised to shew the book to their prophet on the ensuing day, I left them and returned to Montrose.

. . .

The following morning (Tuesday, April 19th), a Mormon arrived with his boat and ferried me over to Nauvoo. A Mormon doctor accompanied me. He had obtained, I was told, a regular diploma from a medical school as a physician; but since the Mormons generally prefer miraculous aid to medicine, it is probable[34] that his practice is somewhat limited. He argued with me as we were on the passage, and evinced a tolerable share of intelligence and acuteness. The success of Mormonism in England was a subject of great rejoicing to him. I observed, that I had reason to believe that the conquests of Mormonism in Britain had been principally among the illiterate and uneducated. This, he partially admitted; but he maintained that God had always chosen the poor, for they were rich in faith. I replied, that the class of persons to whom he referred, abounded in wrong faith no less than in right faith; and that among the lower class of persons in England, the wildest delusions, of the most contradictory character, had, from time to time, been readily propagated. I further remarked, that the same class of people who believed in Joanna Southcote, might easily be persuaded to credit the divine mission of Joseph Smith. I begged him to inform me whether the Mormons believed in the Trinity. "Yes," he replied; "we believe that the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God; that makes three at least who are God, and no doubt there are a great many more." He went on to state, that the Mormons believe that departed saints become a portion of the Deity, and may be properly denominated "Gods."

On landing at Nauvoo, I proceeded with the Doctor along the street which I mentioned before as bordering on the strand. As I advanced with my book in my hand, numerous Mormons came forth from their dwellings, begging to be allowed to see its mysterious pages; and by the time I reached the prophet's house, they amounted to a perfect crowd. I met Joseph Smith at a short distance from his dwelling, and was regularly introduced to him. I had the honour of an interview with him who is a prophet, a seer, a merchant, a "revelator," a president, an elder, an editor, and the general of the "Nauvoo legion." He is a coarse, plebeian person in aspect, and his countenance exhibits a curious mixture of the knave and the clown. His hands are large and fat, and on one of his fingers he wears a massive gold ring, upon which I saw an inscription. His dress was of coarse country manufacture, and his white hat was enveloped by a piece of black crape as a sign of mourning for his deceased brother, Don Carlos Smith, the late editor of the "Times and Seasons." His age is about thirty-five. I had not an opportunity of observing his eyes, as he appears deficient in that open, straightforward look which characterizes an honest man. He led the way to his house, accompanied by a host of elders, bishops, preachers, and common Mormons. On entering the house, chairs were provided for the prophet and myself, while the curious and gaping crowd remained standing. I handed the book to the prophet, and begged him to explain its contents. He asked me if I had any idea of its meaning. I replied, that I believed it to be a Greek Psalter; but that I should like to hear his opinion. "No," he said; "it ain't Greek at all; except, perhaps, a few words. What ain't Greek, is Egyptian; and what ain't Egyptian, is Greek. This book is very valuable. It is a dictionary of Egyptian Hieroglyphics." Pointing to the capital letters at the commencement of each verse, he said: "Them figures is Egyptian hieroglyphics; and them which follows, is the interpretation of the hieroglyphics, written in the reformed Egyptian. Them characters is like the letters that was engraved on the golden plates." Upon this, the Mormons around began to congratulate me on the information I was receiving. "There," they said; "we told you so—we told you that our prophet would give you satisfaction. None but our prophet can explain these mysteries." The prophet now turned to me, and said, "this book ain't of no use to you, you don't understand it." "Oh yes," I replied; "it is of some use; for if I were in want of money, I could sell it, and obtain, perhaps, enough to live on for a whole year." "But what will you take for it?" said the prophet and his elders. "My price," I replied, "is higher than you would be willing to give." "What price is that?" they eagerly demanded. I replied, "I will not tell you what price I would take; but if you were to offer me this moment nine hundred dollars in gold for it, you should not have it." They then repeated their request that I should lend it to them until the prophet should have time to translate it, and promised me the most ample security; but I declined all their proposals. I placed the book in several envelopes, and as I deliberately tied knot after knot, the countenances of many among them gradually sunk into an expression of great despondency. Having exhibited the book to the prophet, I requested him in return to shew me his papyrus; and to give me his own explanation, which I had hitherto received only at second hand. He proceeded with me to his office, accompanied by the multitude. He produced the glass frames which I had seen on the previous day; but he did not appear very forward to explain the figures. I pointed to a particular hieroglyphic, and requested him to expound its meaning. No answer being returned, I looked up, and behold! the prophet had disappeared. The Mormons told me that he had just stepped out, and would probably soon return. I waited some time, but in vain: and at length descended to the street in front of the store. Here I heard the noise of wheels, and presently I saw the prophet in his waggon, flourishing his whip and driving away as fast as two fine horses could draw him. As he disappeared from view, enveloped in a cloud of dust, I felt that I had turned over another page in the great book of human nature.

The Mormons now surrounded me, and requested to know whether I had received satisfaction from the prophet's explanation. I replied that the prophet had given me no satisfaction, and that he had committed himself most effectually.

. . .

Here they interrupted me and said, that their preachers did not need the Bible, being inspired by the Holy Ghost. "No," I said, "it is not inspiration, it is a Satanic delusion. Your prophet has committed himself to-day, and I will make the fact known to the world. Would you believe a man calling himself a prophet, who should say that black is white?" "No," they replied. "Would you believe him if he should say that English is French?" "Certainly not." "But you heard your prophet declare, that this book of mine is a Dictionary of Egyptian hieroglyphics, written in characters like those of the original Book of Mormon. I know it most positively to be the Psalms of David, written in ancient Greek. Now what shall I think of your prophet?" They appeared confounded for a while; but at length the Mormon doctor said, "Sometimes Mr. Smith speaks as a prophet, and sometimes as a mere man. If he gave a wrong opinion respecting the book, he spoke as a mere man." I said, "Whether he spoke as a prophet or as a mere man, he has committed himself, for he has said what is not true. If he spoke as a prophet, therefore, he is a false prophet. If he spoke as a mere man, he cannot be trusted, for he spoke positively and like an oracle respecting that of which he knew nothing. You have talked to me very freely respecting the Church to which I belong; but I hardly like to tell you what I think respecting your religion, lest I should hurt your feelings." "Speak out," said some. "Go on," said others. "If Smith be not a true prophet," I said, "you must admit that he is a gross impostor." "We must," they replied. "Then I will freely tell you my opinion, so that you may not think that I intend to say at a distance what I would not say in Nauvoo itself. I think it likely that most of you are credulous and ignorant, but well-meaning persons, and that the time at least has been when you desired to do the will of God. A knot of designing persons, of whom Smith is the centre, have imposed upon your credulity and ignorance, and you have been most thoroughly hoaxed by their artful devices. Mahomet himself was a gentleman, a Christian, and a scholar, when compared with your prophet. And oh! how mournful to look round, as I can at present, and to reflect, how many have been drawn away from their homes, dragged across earth and sea, and brought to this unwholesome spot, where, with the loss of substance and of health, they are too often left to perish in wretched poverty and bitter disappointment." One of the Mormons who had listened attentively to what I said, now remarked with some solemnity of manner, "If we are deceived, then are we of all men the most miserable." "Indeed I believe you are most miserable," I replied, "and I pity you from the very bottom of my heart. And oh! how gladly would I see you delivered from this awful delusion, and returning to the bosom of that holy Catholic Church, from which many of you have apostatized. There you may find plain and honest teaching, without these lying signs and wonders. There you may find holy and solemn services fitted for the edification of the people of God. There you may find a true baptism, a true communion, true[45] gifts of the Holy Ghost, and true ministers who descend in one unbroken line from the Apostles sent forth by Christ Himself." Several of them now said that faith is the gift of God, that God had promised to give wisdom to those who should ask it; that they had prayed to God to guide them into all truth, and that He had led them to believe in the book of Mormon. I replied that God had appointed certain means of ascertaining the truth, and that if we neglect those means it will be vain to pray to Him for guidance. Thus He had declared his Church to be the pillar and ground of truth. But it was evident that they had not built upon the true ground, for they had attached themselves not to the apostolic Church, but a sect barely fifteen years old. The old man in blue now told me that they pitied me as much as I pitied them. "Come, my friend," he said to me, "let you and I go down to the Mississippi, only let me put you under the water and baptize you, and when you come up again, you will see all mysteries clearly, and will believe in our great signs and wonders." I told him in reply, that to submit to such a baptism would be almost the greatest sacrilege which a Christian could commit. "I must now leave you," I proceeded, "I have been among you three days; I have expressed my sentiments freely respecting your religion and your prophet, and I heartily thank you that you have listened to me with attention, and that although you have had me altogether in your power, you have not put me under the Mississippi and kept me there."

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