Wednesday, September 5, 2012

President Heber J. Grant: Nephi Anderson's #1 Fan

Here's a letter from President Heber J. Grant to Nephi Anderson shortly before Anderson's unexpected death. As President Grant alludes to in his final paragraph, the two men had worked closely together in Liverpool a little over a decade earlier when Anderson took over the editorship of the Millennial Star. They frequently corresponded, and Grant was one of the first to send his condolences to Anderson's wife, Maud, when Anderson passed away suddenly in early January 1923.


As is evident from the letter, the President of the Church was one of Anderson's many fans. The book he first refers to, A Heap o' Livin', is a 1916 collection of popular poetry by Edgar A. GuestAdventures in Contentment is a popular short story collection from 1907 by David Grayson, the pen name of Ray Stannard BakerHeart Throbs, I initially assumed, was Heart Throbs of the West, but it seems as if that series was published later. 

The story that President Grant raves about is "Distance Lends Enchantment," a kind of Mormon You've Got Mail from the October 1922 issue of the Improvement Era. The story is printed in full below:




Distance Lends Enchantment

By Nephi Anderson

Andrew Harper sat on the back porch with his heels on the railing and his chair comfortably tilted, reading the latest issue of the Rushtown Rustler. He was so absorbed in its contents that he failed to see Miss Josephine Fuller, his neighbor, who was coming, with cup in hand, to borrow some sugar, until she stepped on to the porch and mischievously tipped his chair nearly to falling.

"Halloo, Josephine," he greeted. "You're just the person I want. Have you seen today's Rustler?

"No; not yet."

"Well, here it is; and there's another article in it by Byjo? This time I don't agree with him or her, whichever it is. Sit down a minute while I read it."

"I'm in a hurry now. I come a-borrowing again, you see; but what is it? I'd like to hear it, if it isn't too long." She took the chair which he pushed toward her. Then he read:

" 'Tis distance lends enchantment to the view. The far mountain lifts its peak in glory, bathed in the radiance of the rising or the setting sun. Its rugged sides are softened by the distance. A nearby view dicloses only the common rock and brush and withered grass and sun-baked earth; but the ugliness of the near is toned down the farther one gets from it, until the distance throws over the whole a mellow beauty.' "

"What do you think of that?" he asked.

"I think it's true," she answered.

"True! Rubbish! Just a bit of 'fine' writing, just a little rhetoric. Listen, here's some more:

" 'I see a King's castle on the hill-the distant hill, mind you-where the fair Queen lives. I see arching trees, the green of broad lawns, dotted with colorful flowers. Fountains are playing, and walks and drives curve like ribbons in and out. Then there is a glimpse of the sea-the distant sea, mind you, which is never rough or ugly, but which shimmers like a faroff heavenly region of peace and bliss."

"He'd best write his poetry in rhyme and rhythm," he commented.

"Oh, I don't know. It sounds rather nice as it is."

"Yes; but this distance stuff. It isn't, it can't be altogether true. Why, I can see the beauty of the near, right here and now. For example-" The speaker turned in his chair so as to face the prospect which lay toward the north. The girl followed his gaze, glancing now and then at the animated face of the young man, as he pointed at the objects named.

"I see beauty in our place and yours, too. The garden, the nearby fields, the water ditches, the fences-yes, the crooked ones as well as the straight, your house, half hidden by that twisted apple tree-"

"And the gate-"

"Yes; if it had more than one hinge it would not incline to that artistic angle."

"And the weeds in the back yard?"

"I'd rather see a knot-grass carpet than brown earth."

"And what about the people who live in the near-by houses?-But you've gotten in bad this morning," she hurried on. "Is that all from your famous author. I must really go."

"Just another paragraph. Listen to this:-"

" 'All this is not the sole property of the King. He may have papers to show that he is the owner, and that he is at the expense of keeping it up, and that he pays the taxes; but, after all, the real value of the property is in its beauty and the joy it gives to the beholder; and I, with my seeing eyes, may, in reality, call it all mine, perhaps with more truth than the King himself.' "

The young man carefully folded the paper as he arose with his neighbor. "He's been reading Prue and I," said he.

"Very likely," she agreed.

"I wish I knew just who the writer is. He is interesting me very much. He seems to have such a keen insight into things, the common things which we common people know and can understand."

"He, you say. You take it for granted that the writer is a man."

"Yes; I think so."

"Why?"

"Well-never mind, I-I wouldn't want to offend my next door neighbor." He laughed, opened the door for her, and called out to his mother to keep an eye on her sugar bowl. When the girl walked back carefully because of the heaped-up sugar, Andrew looked at her from the open doorway until she disappeared behind the foliage of the apple tree.

"By gum," he commented to himself, "I don't know which of us is right, for there's Josephine-she looks good to me near as well as afar."

The editor of the Rushtown Rustler explained to Andrew Harper when he called at the office of that paper that he could not reveal the identity of his valuable contributor, "Byjo."

"Is it a man or a woman?" asked Andrew.

"That would be partly telling, and I am under bonds not to tell."

"May I write to her-or him?"

"Oh, yes; I shall be glad to see that your letters are delivered." The editor seemed pleased to know of the interest the articles were creating.

Andrew did not write immediately. In fact, he hardly knew why he should write and what. He had only a desire to get into closer touch with this "Byjo." There were some things in "Byjo's" articles which seemed to be written to him, for him. He understood them and the spirit which seemed to make them so alive. Although he had expressed the thought to Josephine that "Byjo" must be a man, he hoped that the penname might cover the identity of a woman. Every week Andrew discussed the articles as they appeared, with his neighbor, Josephine Fuller. Josephine was a good girl, a mighty fine girl, but as she was not "literary" she could not be expected to talk intelligently with him on the merits of this rising author. Besides, she asked such foolish question, and acted in such a disinterested way lately.

Then he wrote a letter to "Byjo," care of the Rustler. In a week a reply came to hand. He took the letter over to Josephine. She read it slowly.

"What do you think of it?" he asked. "Is it written by a man or a woman?"

Josephine held the letter closer to the light and scanned it carefully. "I can't tell for sure," she said, "but I'd guess 'Byjo' to be a woman."

"I was thinking the same. I believe there's an effort to disguise the handwriting, but there's something feminine about it. It's merely a note of thanks for my letter of appreciation. She couldn't say much of course, to a stranger. Do you think by the tenor of her letter that she would take offense at my continuing the correspondence?"

The girl held the letter up again to the light as if she could divine something from the white spaces of paper. "No, I think not," she decided. "You might try."

"There are so many things I should like to ask her. Let's call her a woman for the sake of clearness in speaking. She puts some things so queerly and some so pointedly that I should like to discuss them with her. I wonder now-do you think she is old-or young?"

Josephine looked at him with something akin to a frown. "Well, Andy Harper, how should I know. In your next letter you might ask her."

"Oh, I couldn't do that."

"Why not? I'd advise you, as you seem to want my advice, to begin right with this lady of the mysteries who seems to have gotten such a hold on your imagination. She might prove to be as old as your grandmother, and then what?"

"Why, Josephine, I wasn't thinking of it in that way?"

"In what way? What have I said? Good day, Mr. Harper, I have a lot of sensible things to do."

She strode away with head in air, leaving Andrew to gaze after her. What was the matter with her? Was she-no, it couldn't be that she was jealous. The thought added zest to the young man's modest adventure.

Josephine Fuller was as keen to get the local paper on its weekly visits as was her neighbor Andrew Harper; and they continued to discuss the articles of "Byjo," although Andrew avoided as much as possible the mention of the writer as a personality. Andrew was a kind hearted young man, and he did not wish to unduly agitate his fair neighbor. The truth was that the correspondence which he had begun was flourishing wonderfully. Not only did "Byjo" answer his letters, but the replies soon became longer and quite gossipy, then they took a more confidential tone. A subtle hint, now and then, seemed to tell him that his correspondent was a woman, and a young woman at that. And so he became bolder in his letters, and finally he asked to know the truth about the writer's identity. His next letter told him that 'Byjo" was a pen name for a young lady, "not more than twenty-five and unmarried."

Andrew Harper's heart was aflame. He could hardly go about his work calmly. Something which had the stamp of a real romance was coming into his life. It was definitely "she" and "her" now both in his letters and in his thoughts. What a girl she must be out of whose heart and brain could come such noble thoughts and beautiful ideas! He must know more of her. Could he ask her for her real name, or for her photograph? He read her letter over again and seemed to take courage. Yet he hesitated, and he could not very well take counsel of Josephine on that matter. He was neglecting his neighbor sadly of late. But the heart pressure became too strong for him to resist, and so he asked his unknown correspondent plainly both for her name and her picture. In her reply she stated that "really and truly" she had no photograph of herself later than ten years ago, and as to her name-"Why, what's in a name?"

But one refusal would not stop Andrew Harper. He continued trying to bring this enchanted distance nearer to his view, and he so pressed his requests that eventually "she" promised to meet him in person.

"It had best be on a Sunday," she wrote, "so that you will not lose anything more than a Sunday sermon on this wild-goose chase. I warn you now that you will be terribly disappointed, but perhaps it will be the kindest act I can do for you, to have you disillusioned thus 'early in the game.' If you are still determined to know the truth, I will meet you next Sunday at 3:30 in the little park one block east from the Rustler office. There is a small bench, room enough for two, in the corner by the big tree near the grand stand. I'll be there reading a copy of the Rustler.

Andrew walked the air. He could hardly abide the appointed day. Never before were his clothes so well brushed. Never were his shoes so shiney as in preparing for the event. Never before had he spent so much at one time in the barber shop on a Saturday evening.

He washed the one-seated buggy that was to take him to town, and carefully curried the horse he was to drive. "I warn you that you will be disappointed," she had written. In what way? he wondered. Could she be playing a joke on him? Or was there some physical deformity in the girl? She had said something about teaching him a lesson. Would she make a fool of him? Well, he did not think so. At any rate, no one else knew about this, and there would be none to laugh at him should it turn out disastrously. Even Josephine knew nothing about it, for which he was mighty thankful. Well, he could not back out now, even if he had a mind to, which he had not.

Sunday afternoon, Andrew drove out of the yard toward town. The distance was not far. He tied his horse in front of the court house at three o'clock. He was in no hurry. He must give her time to get to the rendezvous first, so he strolled about trying to calm himself for the ordeal. At five minutes to the appointed time he arrived at the park. A girl was sitting on the designated seat-with room enough for two. She was dressed in white. Her large straw hat was lying on the seat beside her. She was reading a paper which she was holding close to shield her face. On a near approach he saw it was a copy of the Rushtown Rustler.

Andrew stopped in front of the girl. "Ahem," he said.

The paper was lowered, and the smiling, blushing face of Josephine Fuller was revealed. She arose, reached out her hand to the dumbfounded Andy, and said:

"How do you do, Mr. Andrew Harper. I am glad to see you. Sit here, there is just room enough for two."

Andrew limply took the proffered seat. Speechless, he looked at her, then down at his feet, then away to the distant mountain, then back to the blushing girl. He was completely nonplussed. His nervous system had received the greatest shock in its history. After a time he could only breathe-

"By Joe!"

"Yes," she said, "that is one of my names. What is your pleasure, Mr. Andrew Harper?"

"Josephine, don't-don't rub it in so hard."

Her face softened. She saw how distressed he was as he sat there with head hanging as if in shame. She placed her hand on his arm in true comradeship.

"Forgive me, Andy. I-I only wanted to prove to you that distance lends enchantment. That the nearby is often so little and mean and of no account."

He looked up into her face with a weak smile; but as he continued to look into the mischievous but forgiving face beside him, a conviction grew upon him, and his heart leaped with joy when he realized that the charming, alluring distance had come so near and seemingly so attainable in the person of his next door neighbor. He took her hand and would have taken both, but she sprang up with:

"Behave yourself. Here comes daddy to take me home."

"But, Josephine, my horse and buggy are just around the corner; and I have so much to explain, and-"

"Well, you can tell me the rest this evening-after meeting. Goodby."

5 comments:

  1. .

    It's pretty clear Grant is dictating, the way he repeats himself he's obviously unable to look back at what he's already said.

    What do you know about those books he mentions?

    .

    I don't know for certain if it was your hint or if the storytelling alone would have managed this or if I've read too much O. Henry and Saki in my life, but I certainly saw this end coming. I still enjoyed it though, the dramatic irony certainly carrying me along. I rather wish she had not made the distance thing so plain, but it's hard to blame Anderson for that. At times, when I read these stories, I feel like he's showing his audience how to read literature. Holding our hand, as it were.

    He worked hard to bring us literature. I like to think we're starting to thank him.

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  2. It's probably this: Heart throbs: In Prose and Verse Dear to the American People, edited by Joseph Mitchell Chapple and published in 1905, according to Amazon.com:

    http://www.amazon.com/Heart-throbs-contributed-initiated-Contributed/dp/B0008CFKW8

    The book had a sequel, More Heart Throbs. (I think that libraries in the UW system consider them as 2 volumes of the same work.) They were very popular in households of the early 20th century; I'm familiar with them through my mother (born in 1927), who was the youngest in her family and knew them from her growing up.

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  3. Wow. Nice find, Jonathan. I think an interesting study would be one that looks that the reading habits of the prophets. I'd be interested to learn their literary tastes.

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  4. .

    I have a book frequently quoted in conference theseadays that seems much like that:

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