A Book Suggestion from George Q. Cannon

September 20, 2005 | 25 comments
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I am currently reading a book suggested to me by President George Q. Cannon. A while back, while reading his biography, I learned that George Q. was fond of the novels of Anthony Trollope. As my wife can attest, I am not much of a novel reader. However, George Q. has always been one of the more interesting Mormon leaders of the 19th century for me, and I thought it would be fun to see what kind of novels he enjoyed. Trollope does not disappoint. His novels are the original political thriller, except that they aren’t thrillers. Rather, they are big sprawling stories about Parliamentary intrigues meant to show up the tawdriness of the age (in this case high Victorian England). I have been reading Phineas Phinn, a novel about a young Irish barrister who, by a strange confluence of chances, finds himself elected to Parliament as a new Liberal member, just as the reigning Tory government is falling. We see Phineas driven by ambition as he sets about his political career, which provides a vehicle for Trollope to make all sorts of little jabs at Victorian morals.

I am not surprised that Cannon liked Trollope. He is an excellent example of an upwardly mobile, politically-inclined Briton. Of course, he found his route upward far from Westminster, first on the shores of the Mississippi at Nauvoo and later in Utah as Brigham Young’s counselor. At the height of his influence, he was de facto administrative head of the church, Utah’s Territorial Delegate to Congress, and the general mastermind of Mormon political, business, and legal affairs. He was certainly party to enough Byzantine backroom political deals to appreciate Trollope’s political yarns. Indeed, I imagine Cannon as one of the few culturally bi-lingual 19th century Mormon patriarchs. On one hand, I imagine him fitting in with atavistic, old-testament figures like John Taylor, Heber C. Kimball, or Wilford Woodruff. At the same time, he seems to have had the acumen and urbanity to negotiate the political, business, and legal world of the East.

We often enplot Mormon history as a story in which a pristine Utopian movement creating its communal Zion in splendid western isolation was slowly but steadily undermined by outside forces until it ultimately capitulated in ignominious compromise. The image of an amused Cannon reading Trollope on his way to or from Washington, DC is a reminder that the Utopian isolation was probably never as complete as we might imagine, and the Kingdom has always found use for bi-lingual and worldly ambassadors.

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25 Responses to A Book Suggestion from George Q. Cannon

  1. Costanza on September 20, 2005 at 1:03 pm

    Cannon was also extremely controversial. It was due to objections from a majority of the 12 to the probability that Woodruff would choose GQC as a counselor in the FP that Woodruff’s ascension to the presidency was delayed. Very interesting to learn about Cannon’s reading habits.

  2. Ronan on September 20, 2005 at 1:04 pm

    Nate, almost thou persuadest me to read Trollope.

    Nice post, BTW. Urbane 19th Mormon leaders? You’re right. That is a new concept for me.

  3. William Morris on September 20, 2005 at 1:05 pm

    I’m still recovering from the shock of discovering Orson F. Whitney’s admiration of Byron.

    And…

    I don’t know quite how to break this to you, Nate, but Meridian Magazine has already endorsed Trollope. ;-)

    ———-
    Can you say more about this whole novel business? Why don’t you read novels?

  4. Nate Oman on September 20, 2005 at 1:18 pm

    Blake I can understnad but Byron?!

    As for novels, the short answer is that I don’t have a lot of time for extracurricular reading these days. I tend to read legal theory in my spare time because I want to write law review articles so I can get an academic job. If I take a break from legal theory, I will generally read history. Only occasionally will I read novels. I suspect that in large part this is because I feel so ignorant about the actual world that I have a hard time investing the time to read about imaginary ones. This is a horrible bias, I realize, and it is one that I am trying to get over. Look! I am reading Trollope!

  5. Nate Oman on September 20, 2005 at 1:25 pm

    BTW, I remember reading that John Taylor was fond of Jules Verne.

  6. William Morris on September 20, 2005 at 1:28 pm

    Nate:

    Exactly my reaction. I’d even take Coleridge or Wordsworth. But Byron?

    And: Good on ya, mate. Embrace the glossy, sticky-sweet ways of the intellectual dilletante.

  7. Michael Towns on September 20, 2005 at 2:04 pm

    “Cannon was also extremely controversial. It was due to objections from a majority of the 12 to the probability that Woodruff would choose GQC as a counselor in the FP that Woodruff’s ascension to the presidency was delayed. Very interesting to learn about Cannon’s reading habits.”

    More details please!!!! Early Church history is a major interest of mine.

    ma·jor Audio pronunciation of “major” ( P ) Pronunciation Key (mjr)
    adj.

    1. Greater than others in importance or rank: a major artist.
    2. Great in scope or effect: a major improvement.
    3. Great in number, size, or extent: the major portion of the population.
    4. Requiring great attention or concern; very serious: a major illness.
    5. Law. Having attained full legal age.
    6. Of or relating to the field of academic study in which a student specializes.
    7. Music.
    1. Designating a scale or mode having half steps between the third and fourth and the seventh and eighth degrees.
    2. Equivalent to the distance between the tonic note and the second or third or sixth or seventh degrees of a major scale or mode: a major interval.
    3. Based on a major scale: a major key.

  8. Nate Oman on September 20, 2005 at 3:18 pm

    Ron Walker’s book on Heber J. Grant — _Qualities that Count_ — has a chapter that tells the story quite nicely, albeit from Heber J. Grant’s (a young member of the Twelve at the time) point of view.

  9. Bill on September 20, 2005 at 3:28 pm

    I don’t know why this anti-Byron incredulity keeps popping up. I would much rather read Don Juan than anything by Wordsworth, Coleridge, or Blake.

  10. Costanza on September 20, 2005 at 3:49 pm

    Michael,
    It is also discussed in Tom Alexander’s bio of Woodruff, “Things in Heaven and Earth” as well as in the published abridgement of Abraham H. Cannon’s journal.

  11. Michael Towns on September 20, 2005 at 4:54 pm

    But George Q. Cannon had already served as First Counselor during John Taylor’s administration…….I’m curious as to why the Twelve weren’t satisfied with his service in that position and why they wanted Woodruff to select another.

  12. Gallant on September 20, 2005 at 4:56 pm

    Novels are dumb.

  13. Bill on September 20, 2005 at 5:23 pm

    That sounds more like a comment your brother Goofus would make.

  14. Nate Oman on September 20, 2005 at 5:23 pm

    Michael: I would read some of the sources as it gets really complicated. Basically their was a perception that GQC was overly dictatorial and did not consult enough with the Twelve. There was also a belief that he had been taking unilateral action while President Taylor was ill. Finally, a lot of church investments had gone sour, and there were allegations of financial mismanagment or worse. Oh, and lots of the Twelve thought that some of Cannon’s offspring — in particular Frank — were shifty, good for nothings who took advantage of the Church and their father’s position in it for personal gain. And so on…

  15. Costanza on September 20, 2005 at 5:24 pm

    Michael,
    The issues are complicated, but basically some of the 12 were unhappy with Cannon
    and Taylor for their handling of certain business affairs. Also, Cannon was criticized by members of the 12 because they felt he had tried to protect his son–a member of the presiding bishopric–who had been excommunicated for adultery.

  16. Nate Oman on September 20, 2005 at 5:26 pm

    If I remember right the jilted wife of Cannon’s adulterous son was the daughter or neice or something or other of a member of the Twelve. Other issues included the fact that Cannon was a Republican — or at least a pragmatist who was willing to do deals with Republicans — while the majority of the Twelve were fairly partisan Democrats. (Although I may be getting the chonology off for the political stuff, which may have happened during Woodruff’s administration.)

  17. Costanza on September 20, 2005 at 5:32 pm

    In an episode worthy of a soap opera, the jilted wife and the mistress were sisters–daughters of Daniel H. Wells. The mistress became pregnant and died during childbirth. Cannon’s wife left him but they later reconciled.

  18. Costanza on September 20, 2005 at 5:41 pm

    Just for the record, the Cannon in question is John Q.

  19. Gallant on September 20, 2005 at 5:57 pm

    Bill is dumb.

  20. cadams on September 20, 2005 at 6:37 pm

    Just for the peanut gallery, I personally can understand why Orson would be interested in Byron, as it is recorded in Woodruff’s diary that he (along with Wordsworth and nearly 100 others including Signers of the Declaration of Independence) came to Wilford in an upper room of the St. George in 1877 on two consecutive nights, asking him for their temple work to be completed as they had laid the foundations of liberty in the world.

    While Byron was considered a libertine in his day, evidently he can now be seen in a different light. I’m now in the middle of “The Count of Monte Cristo” – seems that Dumas modeled much of the count and others on Byron’s poems.

    There is an excellent introduction these men’s lives (with some inaccuracies) in the book “The Other Eminent Men of Wilford Woodruff.”

  21. Susan on September 20, 2005 at 11:25 pm

    Nate, a novel? I stand amazed. Phineas Phinn is definitely good Trollope. There was a great Masterpiece production of this in the mists of time as well.

  22. Bill on September 20, 2005 at 11:33 pm

    Perhaps in order to confirm comment 19, I couldn’t resist sharing a dissenting view on Trollope I came across just today while reading the fourth volume of Lawrence Durrell’s magnificent Alexandria Quartet:

    With what high hopes we invaded London from the provinces in those old dead days, our manuscripts bagging out suitcases. Do you recall? With what emotion we gazed over Westminster Bridge, reciting Wordsworth’s indifferent sonnet and wondering if his daughter grew up less beautiful for being French. The whole metropolis seemed to quiver with the portent of our talent, our skill, our discernment. Walking along the Mall we wondered who all those men were – tall hawk-featured men perched on balconies and high places, scanning the city with heavy binoculars. What were they seeking so earnestly? Who were they – so composed and steely-eyed? Timidly we stopped a policeman to ask him. “They are publishers” he said mildly. Publishers! Our hearts stopped beating. “they are on the look out for new talent.” Great God! It was for us they were waiting and watching! Then the kindly policeman lowered his voice confidentially and said in hollow and reverent tones: “They are waiting for the new Trollope to be born!” Do you remember, at these words, how heavy our suitcases suddenly felt? How our blood slowed, our footsteps lagged? We had been bashfully thinking of a kind of illumination such as Rimbaud dreamed of – a nagging poem which was not didactic or expository but which infected – was not simply a rationalised intuition, I mean, clothed in isinglass! We had come to the wrong shop, with the wrong change! A chill struck us as we saw the mist falling in Trafalgar Square, coiling around us its tendrils of ectoplasm! A million muffin-eating moralists were waiting, not for us, but for the plucky and tedious Trollope!

  23. Ross Geddes on September 21, 2005 at 8:06 am

    I love Trollope. In my opinion, he’s the great surprise in Victorian literature. Dickens was undoubtedly a genius and often rose to great heights, but he is uneven. Eliot is the intellectual novelist par excellence, but she can be dry. Hardy’s tragedies are compelling but depressing, and his style is sometimes cumbersome. Thackeray is now remembered almost solely for one novel. The Brontes’ output, too, was not
    large.

    Trollope, on the other hand, wrote 47 novels, and they are amazingly even in quality. Although he is sometimes repetitive and wordy (it was after all the era of triple-decker novels), I think he wrote more great novels than any of his contemporaries. His strengths are many: realistic characterisation, superb dialogue, laugh-out-loud comedy, involving drama, and nearly always very readable. He is always reasonable, the epitome of
    common sense. His serious characters (some of his comic characters tip into farce) are multi-faceted, showing strengths and weaknesses, and he portrays “good” characters much more realistically than Dickens, for example. (Two of his most admirable characters, Plantagenet Palliser and his wife Lady Glencora, appear in the novel Nate is reading, plus several other novels.)

    Many female critics agree that his portrayal of women is outstanding. Living at a time when the women’s movement was hitting its straps, especially in the United States, Trollope was an interested observer and his books betray some ambivalence. Although he occasionally took potshots at what he considered excesses, it is clear from the large number of strong women who inhabit his novels and some of the dialogue they are given that in the main he was sympathetic to their cause. (He had a long and close platonic friendship with Kate Field, the American feminist and, incidentally, opponent of Mormon polygamy.)

    Which brings up an interesting question: what did Trollope think of Mormonism? Unfortunately, there’s not a lot to go on. He visited the United States five times, including at least one visit to Salt Lake City (in 1872). He planned to visit Brigham Young, but the prophet was not available. A pity. I think the pragmatic Brother Brigham and the reasonable Tony Trollope might have
    understood and respected each other. Certainly Trollope’s observations would have been worth reading.

    If you’re new to Trollope, I hope you’ll pardon a few suggestions. There’s a rich variety to choose from. There are two major series, “The Barsetshire Chronicles” and “The Pallisers”, consisting of six novels each. Generally, the first is lighter and cheerier (although “The Last Chronicle of Barset” is darker) and deals mainly with clerical and upper class characters in a rural English county. It’s best (but not essential) to read them in chronological order. The second series is sometimes called the Political or Parliamentary Novels because that’s the major theme (although the first, “Can You Forgive Her?”, is closer in tone to the Barsetshire novels). Reading them, you soon realise that politics hasn’t changed much in the last 130 years. Both series are magnificent.

    Outside these two series, there are many superb novels. “The Way We Live Now”, a scathing attack on the pursuit of money and shonky business dealings, is hauntingly modern and as good as “Our Mutual Friend”. “He Knew He Was Right”, recently televised by the BBC, is a devastating examination of the breakdown of a marriage, and just one of numerous
    insightful looks at male-female relationships in Trollope. Both of these novels are long, but there are some good shorter ones as well, such as “Cousin Henry” and “An Eye for an Eye”. In addition to the novels, there are some fine short stories, and several travel books (including one on “North America” written during a visit to the northern states in the early days of the Civil War), and an interesting autobiography (which damaged Trollope’s reputation for many years because he confessed that he wrote mainly for money).

    However, be warned: Trollope is addictive! And with 47 novels (all still in print), he can keep you going for a long time.

  24. Harold Curtis on September 25, 2005 at 11:46 am

    (Here is a little plagiarized fodder for the Feed Bin, cut and pasted for your enjoyment)

    Some Members of the Trollope Family:

    Frances Milton Trollope(1779-1863)
    Anthony’s mother, herself a famous novelist and travel writer.

    Cecilia Trollope (1818-1849)
    Anthony’s sister. Author of Chollerton, A Tale of Our Own Times (1846).

    Thomas Adolphus Trollope (1810-1892)
    Anthony’s older brother. Wrote many novels, mostly centered in Italy. Filippo Strozzi (1860) may have inspired George Eliot’s Romola. His autobiography, What I Remember (1887), contrasts some of his recollections of childhood with those of his younger brother Anthony.

    Frances Eleanor (Ternan) Trollope (1834-1913)
    Wife of Thomas A. Trollope. Sister of Ellen Ternan. Author of a number of novels.

    Henry Merivale Trollope (1846-1926)
    One of Anthony’s sons. Wrote one novel, My Own Love Story (1887).
    ……………………………………………………………………………..

    To write the great novella
    You must be the kind of fella
    Who really wants to tella
    The dirt on Cinderella

    Reciting great homily
    Is not anomaly
    In a family
    Of infamy (n. notoriety)

    Harold B. Curtis

  25. Ross Geddes on October 6, 2005 at 4:27 pm

    Probably no one but me is interested, but I thought I should correct a statement I made earlier (#23). It seems Anthony Trollope did meet Brigham Young in late 1872, but the meeting was brief and unsatisfactory, as Trollope related in his Autobiography (published in 1883, but written in1875-76):

    “I came home [from a visit to Australia and New Zealand] across America from San Francisco to New York, visiting Utah and Brigham Young on the way. I did not achieve great intimacy with the great polygamist of the Salt LakeCity. I called upon him, sending to him my card, apologising for doing sowithout an introduction, and excusing myself by saying that I did not like to pass through the territory without seeing a man of whom I had heard so much. He received me in his doorway, not asking me to enter, and inquired whether I were not a miner. When I told him that I was not a miner, he asked me whether I earned my bread. I told him I did. ‘I guess you’re a
    miner,’ said he. I again assured him that I was not. ‘Then how do you earn your bread?’ I told him that I did so by writing books. ‘I’m sure you’re a miner,’ said he. Then he turned upon his heel, went back into the house, and closed the door. I was properly punished, as I had been vain enough to conceive that he would have heard my name.”

    Ouch!