Strangers and Pilgrims

Season 1 – Death of the Prophet Joseph Smith

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Saul Bellow Visits Nauvoo

In 1957 Saul Bellow wrote an essay called "Illinois Journey".  In the essay he talks about the city of Nauvoo.  He says:

On the Mississippi a few hours south of Galena, the Mormons built a city at Nauvoo in 1819 and erected a temple.

I'll stop quoting here to point out that he is wrong -- Nauvoo as we know it was founded in 1840.  But, not everyone is right about everything.  In fact, as I've researched for this podcast, it has been interesting to see how many books and articles disagree with one another about history, and say completely opposite things -- even when it comes to the objective parts of their stories.

Anyway, Saul Bellow continues:

After the murder of the prophet Smith and his brother in neighboring Carthage, the Mormons emigrated under the leadership of Brigham Young, leaving many empty buildings. . .

Now, unobtrusively but with steady purpose, the Mormons have been coming back to Nauvoo.  They have reopened some of the old brick and stone houses in the lower town, near the Mississippi; they have trimmed the lawns and cleaned the windows and set out historical markets. . .

Nauvoo today is filled, it seemed to me, with Mormon missionaries who double as tourist guides.  When I came for information, I was embraced, literally, by an elderly man; he was extremely brotherly, hearty and familiar.  His gray eyes were sharp, though his skin was brown and wrinkled.  His gestures were ample, virile, and western, and he clapped me on the back as we sat talking, and gripped me by the leg.  As any man in his right mind naturally wants to be saved, I listened attentively, but less to his doctrines perhaps than to his western tones, wondering how different he could really be from other Americans of the same type.  I went to lie afterward beside the river and look at Iowa on the other bank, which shone like smoke over the pungent muddy water that poured into the southern horizon.  Here the Mormons had crossed. . .

I just found this quote today in a book I got from the library called "There Is Simply Too Much To Think About."  It's selections of Saul Bellow's non-fiction writings.

I am glad I didn't find the quote sooner -- I would have been tempted to put it in Episode 9 of the podcast.

I found the quote because I was in the book's index looking for "Eliot, T.S.", because I was trying to find a quote from the book I remembered reading that I wanted to make a blog post out of.

When I was in the C's, working my way to the E's, in the index, however, I noticed "Cabet, Etienne" and had to stop because I knew he was the founder of the Icarian movement that bought up land in Nauvoo after the Mormons left.  I went and read the entry in which Cabet was mentioned and was surprised to find that Saul Bellow, Nobel Prize in Literature holding Saul Bellow, had described a Mormon Senior Missionary in Nauvoo.  And, I had to write it down in a blog post because I think Saul Bellow is one of the great writers, and I am tickled that he wrote about a senior missionary in Nauvoo.