I was up at Church Archives recently and while waiting for the items I had requested to be pulled, I began browsing the shelves and noticed a volume of Darwin’s Descent of Man. I pulled it down off the shelf. It looked like an older copy, with marbleized paper for flyleaves. The title page revealed that it was an 1897 edition, printed by D. Appleton and Company. I opened it up to the first blank page and found stamped in purple ink: “Joseph F. Smith Jr.” Hopeful that I might find some good marginalia, I began flipping through. I was not disappointed. There was commentary on several pages–and it was characteristically Joseph Fielding Smith. “Argument of a fool!” he wrote in the margin of one page. “Booh!” on another. “Wrong again!” he wrote next to Darwin’s assertion that Africa is probably “the birthplace and antiquity of man.” Where Darwin suggests that all vertebrates “are derived from some fish-like animal” Smith writes, “Only a fool could argue in this way!” Where Darwin refutes the arguments of those who assert that man was originally civilized and “savages” had “since undergone degeneration” Smith writes, “But they are right!” And my personal favorite: where Darwin lays out the human pedigree as stemming from marine animals–admittedly giving to humans “a pedigree of prodigious length, but not, it may be said, of noble quality”–Smith writes: “A Wonderful pedigree / Mr. D. may claim it as his, but it is not mine!”
I continued browsing the shelves after putting Darwin back, to see if I could find any other such gems. I did find one more of Joseph Fielding Smith’s books: a slim volume titled Bacon’s Essays. He didn’t seem to have nearly as much beef with Francis as with Chuck. There weren’t any annotations, and I only found one pencil mark in the whole book, presumably the only point he disagreed with Bacon on, though not vehemently enough for it to merit a remark. It’s next to a paragraph on marriage, in which Bacon argues that “a single life doth well with churchmen, for charity will hardly water the ground where it must first fill a pool” (a footnote here explains Bacon’s meaning: “if clergymen have the expenses of a family to support, they will hardly find means for the exercise of benevolence towards their parishners”).
It is unfortunate that JFS’s books were not kept together as a collection in the Archives–as are B. H. Roberts’s–but are rather scattered throughout the shelves. Who knows where else they might be? It would be a worthy effort to locate them–or those of other prominent historical figures who wrote in their books–and bring them together into collections.