“Books,” Ensign, Nov. 1972, 82
This handsomely illustrated book by Paul Cheesman is not an exhaustive study of the pre-Columbian ruins in Mesoamerica, nor does it make any pretense in that direction. It is, instead, a photographic essay of the evidences in stone and other artifacts of advanced cultures that flourished anciently, from Peru on the south and northward across the Central American isthmus into Mexico.
The major achievement of the book is the interest evoked in the reader by the author’s matchless color photographs. The gold-washed Palenque Palace in Mexico and the mountaintop granite fortress of Machu Picchu amid Peru’s lush jungle greenery are truly breathtaking.
As to the connecting link between early America and the Book of Mormon, the author declares: “In my research on ancient America, along with my study of the Book of Mormon, I have never found anything to discourage me in my convictions that the parallels in the two areas are not just coincidental, and … I have found hundreds of examples that would substantiate the Book of Mormon story.”
One can only view with respectful awe the carefully wrought jewelry and pottery of these early artisans and their exquisite architecture, which defies duplication. Their knowledge of science was no mean thing either. The author says of an imposing acropolis and plaza complex at Copan in Honduras:
“Researchers believe that the important astronomical discovery of determining the exact length of intervals between eclipses was calibrated here. There were also great calculators and mathematicians who regulated the peoples’ lives by the heavenly bodies.”
In the late 1960s, a young supermarket employee noted the name John R. Talmage on the check he was cashing and asked, “Are you a descendant of the man who wrote the Church books?”
The boy was astonished to learn that the check belonged not to a distant descendant, but a son of James E. Talmage. “Why, I thought Elder Talmage lived back in Brigham Young’s time,” he declared.
The misconception may not be widespread, but it does illustrate that James E. Talmage has become a legend to the generations that have succeeded him, generations that know him only through his writings.
In his book The Talmage Story, John R. Talmage gives fresh insight into the life of his father and helps us see James E. Talmage as a real person, full of warmth and vitality, intensely alive, and possessing boundless humanity and boundless persistence.
There is a story about his persistence in this book: During the days when James E. Talmage was president of the University of Utah, from 1894 to 1897, he acquired a bicycle for transportation. And though he was far more than a dilettante cyclist, his skill did not come easily.
Half a block from the Talmage home, a single-plank footbridge crossed a ditch of running water. Whenever President Talmage approached it, he dismounted his cycle and crossed on foot. One day he evidently decided he was far too advanced to continue this prudent practice, so he determined he would learn to negotiate the tricky passage on wheels.
Trundling his bicycle fifty yards or so down the road, he mounted and rode furiously toward the plank crossing, turning onto it with grim-lipped determination—and plunging off the edge in a spectacular, bone-shaking crash into the ditch. He repeated this for the next hour until he succeeded enough times to convince himself he was master of the art.
That night Elder Talmage, badly bruised, but triumphant, returned home a full hour late for dinner. His wife nearly went into shock when she saw him; she thought he had been mobbed.
He hadn’t been mobbed. Not that time. He’d been the victim of his own persistence. But in this book, John Talmage tells us how his father almost was mobbed many years later, as a member of the Council of the Twelve.
It happened in November 1917, when Elder Talmage was appointed to represent the Church at the Pittsburgh meetings of the National Reform Association’s Third World Christian Citizenship Conference. There had been numerous indications that the discussion on Mormonism was to be nothing more than an attack upon the Church. And so it was.
There was a mob spirit at that meeting and as it fed upon itself, the violence increased. Elder Talmage recorded what happened:
“I was hustled and jostled along the foyer toward the exit of the Mosque … the mob seemed to lose sight of me. For the last few yards I walked in the midst of the throng, untouched by all. I saw several people looking for me in bewilderment, and heard uttered inquiries of, ‘Where is he?’, etc. President McCune handed me my overcoat and hat, which I leisurely donned along with muffler and gloves, and then descended the steps to the street. … I learned … that while I was surrounded on the stage, a crowd in the foyer was plotting to seize me as I would leave.”
The courage with which James E. Talmage met and passed through this difficulty was manifest throughout his life, including the following incident, which illustrates his great compassion and humanity.
In the spring of 1892 a diphtheria epidemic was at its height in the territory. The Martins, a family of nonmembers who lived near the Talmages, were without help and in the grip of the dreadful disease. When Elder Talmage heard of their plight, he immediately changed clothes and proceeded to their home, where he “found to exist a pitiful state of affairs.” He worked throughout the day, cleaning and administering to the sick family.
When he returned the next morning, he learned that the young Martin boy had died during the night, and the little girl of five was in her last agonies. He took her in his arms.
“She clung to my neck,” he related later, “ofttimes coughing bloody mucus on my face and clothing, and her throat had about it the stench of putrefaction, yet I could not put her down from me. During the half hour immediately preceding her death, I walked the floor with the little creature in my arms. She died in agony at 10 A.M.”
Such was the humanity, courage, and persistence of James E. Talmage, a man who made many great scholarly contributions to the Church. The Articles of Faith, The Great Apostasy, The House of the Lord, his painstaking work in establishing the present format for the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price, and his powerful and moving Jesus the Christ are memorials to his name.
But it may be well to remember that a man is more than his writings, and that the works of James E. Talmage are but witnesses of his richly abundant and inspired life as an educator, a scientist, and an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ.