Disgusted with Darwin, but Bacon’s okay–mostly

By December 3, 2007

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.

Article filed under Miscellaneous


  1. Stan, thanks for the writeup. I’m quickly becoming fascinated with marginalia. Does B.H. Roberts have any noteworthy marginalia? (That is probably worth it’s own post).

    I recently learned that Cotton Mather’s library contained quite the assortment of marginal notes, including one Catholic treatise that included the word “Divinity” in its title. Mather proceeded to cross out “Divinity” at the top of every page that contained the book’s title and in its place wrote “HERESY.”

    Comment by Christopher — December 3, 2007 @ 2:26 am

  2. Roberts has got enough marginalia in his collection to merit a dissertation! I’ve seriously considered it, really. I’ve read thru his Darwin, Spencer, James, Fiske, and a few others and am working on a little something with it. His collection is pretty incredible and he marked it up something fierce.

    Comment by stan — December 3, 2007 @ 2:43 am

  3. I’m surprised that his books are sitting on open shelves.

    I looked through his Man, His Origin and Destiny and found references to that same 1897 edition. After ridiculing theories from some evolutionists, JFS writes: “However, Mr. Charles Darwin, the king-bolt of the entire group, was guilty of saying things just as foolish as any of these. Here are a few examples. I quote from Darwin’s Descent of Man, published by D. Appleton, edition of 1897.”

    Earlier in the chapter, JFS cites the line referring to “a pedigree of prodigious length, but not, it may be said, of noble quality.” No witty retort, however.

    Comment by Justin — December 3, 2007 @ 11:01 am

  4. Stan, why does it not surprise me that you’re considering yet another disseration idea? I think that you’ll have to mention Jack Welch in your acknowledgements if you do write on Roberts’ marginalia, since iirc it was he that first suggested that a dissertation be written on the topic.

    Comment by David Grua — December 3, 2007 @ 11:33 am

  5. This is interesting, but not in fact surprising. The fundamentalists loved (and still love) Bacon – he fits right into their worldview, which is tremendously rational and inductive, if you accept their premises.

    Darwin is a different matter entirely. He asks us to believe in something we can’t hold in front of us like we can the Bible.

    Given JFS’s collaboration with fundamentalists like George McCready Price (Ronald Numbers’s book _The Creationists_ documents their correspondence) we should almost expect this sort of thing.

    Comment by Matt B — December 3, 2007 @ 12:32 pm

  6. Oh, Sweet! Thanks for the write-up.

    Comment by Jared* — December 3, 2007 @ 2:18 pm

  7. Jared: No prob, dude.

    Justin: Thanks for looking that up.

    Matt B.: True–if I would have found endorsement of Darwin’s views in the margins I would have been skeptical and assumed they were added later by someone else; or I would have written an article on multiple personalities associated with prophetic mantles (only prophet when acting as one) or something like that.

    David: what’s iirc? And yes, though I don’t plan on doing an entire thesis on this (metaphysical religion is still just too alluring to let go of), I do have an article or two in the workings; and, though I was already planning on viewing the Roberts collection to look for significant marginalia in his copy of Spencer’s First Principles before Welch mentioned the idea (I had just become aware of the collection the day before Welch presented to the seminar), he did mention the suitability of the topic for a thesis, so some recognition would surely be in order.

    Comment by stan — December 3, 2007 @ 3:03 pm

  8. iirc = “if I remember correctly.” Keep in mind, Stan, that David has been around this bloggernacle much longer than you or I and thus is familiar with all the abbreviations and lingo.

    I am curious as to what other personal libraries would yield marginalia and notes as interesting as Roberts or JFS? Bruce R. McConkie maybe?

    Comment by Christopher — December 3, 2007 @ 3:11 pm

  9. Chris: One collection I would love to see is Talmage’s reference books from when he was writing Jesus the Christ.

    Comment by Ben — December 3, 2007 @ 3:25 pm

  10. I know someone who had seen McKay’s copy of Man: His Origin and Destiny. As it is hearsay, I won’t go into details, but I was mightily entertained.

    Comment by J. Stapley — December 3, 2007 @ 3:47 pm

  11. Great little nugget, thanks for this interesting post.

    Comment by BHodges — December 5, 2007 @ 3:35 pm

  12. […] lead and post my MHA paper (in 2 parts) here. Since I already blogged my intro previously–on Joseph Fielding Smith’s reading of Darwin–I’ll skip that and proceed right into the Roberts […]

    Pingback by Juvenile Instructor » Marginal Dialogues: The B. H. Roberts Memorial Library — May 30, 2008 @ 9:59 am

  13. […] Disgusted With Darwin, But Bacon’s Ok–Mostly […]

    Pingback by Juvenile Instructor » From The Archives: Posts You Might Have Missed — October 21, 2008 @ 2:40 am


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