Out of the Best Books

A Discourse by Moses Thatcher

Delivered at at the YMMIA Annual Conference
of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,
held in the Assembly Hall, Salt Lake City,
Sunday, June 9th, 1895

Collected Discourses (ed. Brian Stuy) 4.316-323

[01]  During the recent months I have avoided concentration of mind upon any given subject. In other words, I have sought to rest not only the body, but the mind as well; and I find by experience and observation, that the faculties of the mind are not unlike the different functions of the body, both requiring exercise in order to give them strength. The athlete who expects to perform well on the field of contest adapts his training and the care of his health under established rules. So where we do not think intensely, or practice concentration of thought, the mind is apt to indicate the consequences. When we speak of the powers of memory, we mean that the clear thinker is a hard worker. Thus in the literary field, it is said "hard writing, easy reading; easy writing, hard reading." We often hear it said by young people that they have not the language with which to express their thoughts as they would like to. But thorough examination will convince most people that it is not at all the lack of language that creates the difficulty; but the lack consists, largely, in powers of concentration, and in not having the thoughts well formed. Very crude language may be used, and it may be indifferently spoken, but if I am familiar with any subject, thoroughly understanding it, I will be able to convey, without much difficulty, its meaning to the intelligence of others. Where the thought is not well defined, and the mind is not well focussed, it may be explained that the difficulty arises in conveying it to others because the thought is not clear in him who undertakes to explain it. The efficiency and success of the Son of God lies in the fact that they understand it. Their souls have espoused those principles of equity, justice and righteousness, and they fully understand their beauty as laid down by the Master of masters, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The very simplicity of the language used by Him made those glorious truths as forceful, and as deeply profound to the minds of those who were called ignorant, as to the minds of those who were classed among the educated. Thus as members of Mutual Improvement Associations, it would be well for each of us to read nothing lightly. In this respect the modern practice of hastily glancing over newspapers has a very injurious effect upon the memory; because we read but for the moment. We are often astounded at the exhibition of predigious memory on the part of the few, but when we come to look into the methods by which they have acquired that wonderful degree of mind, with its strength of memory to retain, we find that they are close students; that they weigh every word and assimilate every thought which they care to remember. They feed on knowledge, whether uttered in their hearing or read from manuscript or from printed books. The memory day by day strengthens as judiciously exercised, just as do the functions of the body under scientific training. Upon this point I would desire to direct the attention of young men. While the institutions of learning as conducted throughout Christendom have largely proven ineffectual so far as the development of perfect harmony of the physical, mental and spiritual attributes of the human organism are concerned, it has recently come to be understood that no person can be expert, or even proficient, who seeks to train the mind in all the vast fields of diversified knowledge. So that while the training of all the faculties necessary to the health of the soul and of the intellect and body are requisite, if we would become proficient as instructors, or if we would reach the heights to which others have climbed, we must choose some branch of learning and largely continue our efforts along the lines leading to the highest degree of knowledge in that direction. The trouble in the institutions of learning among Christian nations has been, the faculties of the mind have often been too well developed, while the heart and soul have been neglected; the results have shown that many of our most noted institutions of learning have turned out intellectual giants but moral pigmies.

[02]  The better education is that which takes into consideration the training of the head, the heart and the hand, so that each may be in perfect harmony with the other. It has been said by a wise sage that "we may not prevent the birds from flying over our heads, but we can prevent them from building nests in our hair." Nor is it an impossibility to control, largely, the thoughts that enter the heart or soul, any more than it is impossible to control the acts of the body; and among us, it is especially required that "the spirit of the prophets shall be subject to the prophets." If that is true, then we may lay a foundation upon which by care, humility and prayer, we can erect a structure of thought that shall bring no reproach upon the thinker, but one that shall tend to purify not only the mind, but the body as well.

[03]  But careless, indifferent reading of even good books will not greatly aid the accomplishment of that desired object. In our desire for knowledge we would like to behold the faces of the great men of the earth, we would like to hear their voices; and if there is wisdom in what they say, we might wish to retain it in memory, the storehouse of the mind. That would be proper but how frequently has it occurred to us that the ordinary rulers—king, queen, emperor or president—are not apt to express their best thoughts in hotel lobbies, in private apartments or at a banquet. The best thoughts of men have usually been written not with ease but with care. Ponder over the writings of the historian Carlyle. He has written many volumes, and while not claiming ability to criticise such authors, I would say without hesitancy that there is a great deal of chaff among the sound and perfect wheat of his garnering. Ruskin, one of the foremost poets and thinkers, possibly of our day, can be said to have embodied altogether the best thoughts of his mind in a very small volume; and yet the complete works of Ruskin, on art, architecture, science, beauty and religion, compose eleven quite considerable volumes. Spencer, Mills and Huxley have recorded much that appears to me of little value, but each have written things of great moment, and while not intended, each has recorded thoughts calculated in my view to strengthen faith in the Deity and in the religion of Jesus Christ. We sometimes hear young men, in passing their opinions on a book they have read, express a liking for the work because it expressed just what they had thought and contained the same opinion which had become fixed in them; and they for that reason declare the work meritorious. The best books I have read have been written by men who did not think as I thought, but opened up new fields, by delving into the very ethics of the subject upon which they treated, and spent weary hours in polishing a jewel when found, but at no time in their writing expressing the thought that the polish was of greater value than the jewel itself. The history of the past may also mirror the best thoughts of the present; and a series of mirrors may reflect the best thought of the past, present and future ages. But no student of Zion should be ignorant of the fact that progress along the lines of higher civilization and of purer religion cannot be accomplished in this bright world unless there shall be an increase of faith and ability to believe in a Supreme Being—matchless, infinite and faultless. A faithless nation never yet accomplished anything worthy to be preserved upon the pages of history, either in war, statesmanship or religion. God our Heavenly Father, who created the heavens and the earth, and the fountains of water, may pass for a time unnoticed and unrebuked our carelessness, indifference, and even idolatry, so long as we err thoughtlessly and ignorantly. I am profoundly impressed with the thought that He is moved with compassion and pity for the ignorant. But when we come knowingly to give ourselves to idolatrous worship, pronouncing images made by the hands of men, and formed from wood, wax or stone, while knowing better, then we have a class of idolatry that is self-deceiving and therefore ruinous to the best emotions of the soul. Largely that is the condition of the Christian world today. They teach that which they do not believe, and the precepts of men they palm off for the doctrines of Christ. Here in these mountains we have gathered the youth of Zion from the various parts of the habitable world, and from the spirit world; we thus have the nucleus of a new growth, the foundation of which must be laid in those powers which are not confined to this world, but extend to the whole universe, Faith, the first principle of the Gospel and the best gift of God our Father to His children, being the key of knowledge, which is the source of life. In the development of true belief, we discover the higher characteristics of true education, in the acquirement of which we should look with care to the class of books we read, and we must be careful of how we read them. I believe that we are on the very threshold of a period when prophets, as well as poets, will become more numerous than they have been. I believe we are not far from a period when all Saints, from the inmost depth of their hearts, will repeat the saying of the ancient sage: "Would that all Israel were prophets." We need the spirit of prophecy which is not a testimony of the divinity of Christ and His mission, but is also a discerner of things with which we are surrounded, possessing the power of just and keen criticism—if you will allow me to use the term, which shall easily separate the tares that are mixed with the wheat, and while rejecting evil holds fast to all good.

[04]  I need not recommend to the youth of Zion a careful reading of the scriptures. That, I take it, they have done already. The Bible, the old and the new testaments, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, the Pearl of Great Price, and the sayings of the servants of God recorded in the Journal of Discourses, are not to be read lightly. We are not to suppose that we can easily fathom the expressions of the Spirit, while finding it difficult to comprehend the thoughts of wise men. We cannot read revelation as we read the words of fiction. We should have some comprehension of the conditions under which expressions were uttered, of the style of government under which the people lived to whom they were uttered. The weightier things of God, upon which we look as the anchors of the soul, should be reflected upon from every conceivable standpoint. And while, as members of the Mutual Improvement Association, we are undergoing this system of training, judgment should be turned inward, and not outward. Each day we should be able to weigh with impartial judgment, as far as that may be possible, what we have done, what we have said—regarding the force of example, as being more effective as a means of educations than precept can possibly be. Weigh the saying, "Let there be light and there was light." That may be flippantly thrown from the lips, and it may carry no weight to the mind; but, when you come to comprehend the power, the vastness of reach to be within the grasp of Him whose words the universe obeyed, then you have a faint idea of the limitless power of Him who uttered those words. And in that other saying, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." When we reflect upon profound sayings of that nature, having relation not only to time, but to eternity, we begin to understand in part the means through which Mormonism has startled the world. How barren, how unsatisfactory, the world's comprehension of the hereafter is! What do our Christian friends know respecting those bonds that are not broken in time or in eternity, as to the redemption of the soul, the repentance of spirits beyond the grave, eternal love reaching after every child of the great God, until every opportunity shall be afforded to all desiring the highest degree of intelligence, exaltation, power, glory, and happiness? To us have been revealed unions that bind husbands and wives, fathers, mothers and children, not alone for time, but throughout the endless ages of eternity. The keys of endless lives have been given to this people, without money, and to some they seemed of little value, even by so-called Latter-day Saints. I would, therefore, beseech members of the Mutual Improvement Association, to review the past, to prepare themselves for future examination, by starting at the first principles of the Gospel, calling to memory those sacred doctrines which once were understood and frequently enunciated, that they may have a renewed weight upon the heart and mind; for we cannot close our eyes to the fact that while we hope our organizations may be the means of converting many people who come to these mountain valleys, they also hope to make converts from the Latter-day Saints.

[05]  Advanced institutions of learning now recognize what is called the finer forces; and they expatiate learnedly about the efficacy of heat, light and color. Scientifically they tell of magnetic principles, which have long been among the greatest blessings God has conferred upon us as a people. They tell us that magnetism is conveyed from one being to another, that starts anew the springs of life. The Savior asked who had touched Him: virtue had departed out of Him. That was the key which unlocked healing powers. God has taught us to drink at the fountain: fallen dry leaves from the tree of life are the pickings of the nations. God gave to us freely, without money and without price. There are scores among us who have seen most marvelous cures effected among the people, and they were not called the effects of Christian Science, or of magnetism, or of hypnotism, or of any of those modern so-called advanced ideas, which, so far as known, are simply fragments of that healthy, pure and holy endowment that came as the handmaiden of God's holy priesthood when restored in this age. Yet many of our young people are devoting years of diligent study, hoping to mount the ladder of fame to its topmost rounds. When they learn all that is known in the institutions of learning of Europe and America, what will they have gained?

[06]  Well, some of them will learn that certain bright so-called philosophers have failed to find the missing link between the ape creation and God's highest handiwork, man, whom He created in His own image. But the link must be found, so they devote health and wealth looking for what never existed, but never comprehend that wise saying, "Man, know thyself." Why not commence to study that which was the latest, and the most perfect handiwork of the Creator? I do not decry education as such, and while I believe ambition to be a trait that ought not to be curtailed in youth, indeed, I have very largely modified my estimation of egotism itself. I once regarded young men who seemed vain and egotistic and superficial with a decree of distrust, but more recent years, and the trials, tribulations and experiences of those years have convinced me that a man needs to start out in youth with a large supply of self-conceit; for unless he does, the attritions of life will take all conceit so thoroughly out of him before he is sixty years of age that he will become a cynic, than that it would be better to continue the battle of life in the gratification of so-called ambition. A degree of laudable ambition is not to be condemned. But in holding this idea before you, my young friends, I would have you grasp the substance and as few shadows as possible. Having a steady hand, guided by an unerring eye, hold to the substance of truth, of religion, of God, and of yourselves. Avoid delusions and the errors of modern societies. That education which permits the daughter, full of the bloom of health, to run her flexible fingers over the keys of the piano while her mother is bending her tired back over the washtub cannot be just commended. The training which induces the boys of Utah to seek a living in the so-called professions while their fathers are earning that which they eat and wear by following the plow, is not the system that I could conscientiously advocate. I do not believe that God meant to announce that which was intended to be a curse upon humanity, when he told our first parents that they should earn their bread by the sweat of their brows. I am rather a believer in the efficacy of sweat. I do not believe that the physical organism can enjoy that health and tone of body necessary to the development of bright and pure minds, unless there is sufficient bodily exertion to free the system from accumulated poisons found everywhere in this world of ours. I therefore urge the youth of Zion to do everything in their power to dignify labor, holding it as superior in every way to capital; for there had been no capital had there been no labor. Labor is the creator of capital.

[07]  True religion founded upon knowledge is the progenitor of faith, and active faith becomes the key to progress, happiness and greatness. We read of the marvelous accomplishments of Napoleon and of Alexander—models in war; then turn to the apostles of modern thought, and after we have sifted and thoroughly assimilated all we are able to learn of them, we return with hunger of soul to the glorious field of modern revelation, and the opening up of that perfect channel through which prayer is heard and answered. We return as did the prodigal son, and gladly worship at the shrine of simplicity, around which gathers those blessings which God intended we should enjoy and extend to others.

[08]  I wish I was able to inspire in the minds of our youth a higher ideal than we seem to possess. We revere the memory of the founder of the Mutual Improvement Associations. We always thought him in life a great man, and at his funeral he was spoken of as the master mind that had left its mark throughout the Territory, and wherever the Latter-day Saints dwell; but the people of the world are coming forward now and out-stripping us in the admiration of that great man. I was not acquainted with the Prophet Joseph. I only knew him through reading his prophecies and revelations, and through the testimonies of those with whom he lived, and who still live with us, to bless, cheer and guide us. But to my mind, Brigham Young possessed the master mind that shaped largely the thought and work of this intermountain Territory. To me he appeared as a matchless peak towering above its kind. I know, however, how prone the human mind is to look back ward to something that can never come again, or to lift up an ideal so far in the future, that we neglect greatness and goodness in life's daily experiences; and while strewing flowers on the graves of the dead is a beautiful practice, and while Memorial Day glorifies the "Blue and the Grey," and links us in tender thought to the departed, I have thought how refining and appropriate it would be if the Mutual Improvement Associations, as such, could learn to strew flowers beneath the feet of those who stagger under the loads we have imposed upon them, thus cheering and comforting them in their life's struggle.

[09]  I have never been inclined in any sense to man worship, or to believe that one man has accomplished anything that others might not have accomplished; it has always been pleasing to me to revere age and to respect knowledge. I have. delighted in it. I learned that lesson from the heathen philosopher Confucius, who declared that there could be no true worship of God where there was no respect for gray hairs. Think, my young friends, of the honor conferred upon our organization by the President of the Church presiding over it as superintendent. We should observe his suggestions, counsel and advice to us, and carry it out. We are not justified in making his load heavy by being careless in regard to any of those counsels. Shall we, my young friends, while holding in memory the founder of the Mutual Improvement Associations, forget his grand character now looming before the world? In Salt Lake City, in San Francisco, in St. Louis, in Chicago, in New York, wise men give him honor while worshiping at the shrine of his statesmanship and greatness; shall we not, having had the honor of being organized by him during his lifetime, set an example worthy of imitation? Shall we waste our time carelessly in amusements in which there is no profit, in the exercise of the mind which does but weaken it, or shall we earnestly continue the work of mutual improvement, and maintaining it, learn not only to judge others with an impartial judgment, but also to judge ourselves correctly? Take that same great writer of whom I spoke a few minutes ago. What did he find? He had a wife that was very devoted to him. He had been educated to place woman on an inferior plane. He held it to be the duty of the wife to see that the slippers were well warmed before the glowing rate, to see that his food was ready and palatable. She indeed was a helpmeet to him; but until she died, until the day he had laid her away in a quiet grave, possibly unmarked by scroll or board, he had not learned, until he picked up her daily journal and read the outsprings of her refined soul, that his wife possessed talent as a writer that he had not gained, for she by intuition reached heights it had required him years to climb. The intuition of soul possessed by that refined, faithful wife and mother was discovered after she passed away. Let us make no mistake of that kind. Let us appreciate those who work for us now, and may be the blessings of the Almighty be upon the youth of Zion, that their part and portion may be of the fullness of health and strength of body and of vigor and inspiration of mind.

[10]  How long will it be before we are converted? Not until every youth of Zion is ready to throw out as he would throw out grains of sand, that necessary financial and required in the details of this work. I have said, and I say it again, that when a young man falls in love with a young woman, out from the best emotions of his heart come thoughts of her, and it grows and increases, until first and last is a disposition to please that young lady. He thinks of the glove that will fit her hand; the heart becomes such a keen judge that he gauges the size of her Finger without having the hand there to fit the ring upon. His judgment and taste become so quickened, that he knows in a moment the shade of ribbon that matches her complexion; and in all these thousand and one little details, he testifies of his affection, deep down in the heart, which he feels for that woman, that sweetheart of his, that helpmeet whom he would like to make the mother of his children. Why does he do it? Because his heart is engaged; and until the Mutual Improvement Associations fall in love with their work, as a young man falls in love with a young woman, I shall despair of its accomplishing what it ought to accomplish. No man ever yet loved the Gospel and the truths of the Gospel, that the spirit of consecration was not in his heart; he wanted to give to others to help along the glorious cause; and I say so long as it is an irksome task for the members of the Mutual Improvement Association to aid with a mere pittance per annum for the forwarding of this glorious work, I cannot hope that it will accomplish its glorious mission. I would not urge financial matters, I would have no man become an unwilling giver, for I do not believe that such can receive the best gifts of heaven. But I would say to the members of this organization, that here is a great school, and within it you may learn glorious principles; let us try to improve them. I regret exceedingly that I have not been able to do my part, but my heart is with you in this work, and I would like to see my young friends prepared to meet the world on every question intelligently, affording light and knowledge wherever they go. But above all things, I would like to think of the boys of Zion as being as spotless as the snow on the mountains; I would like to think of the daughters of Zion as being as pure as the angels of heaven. Of you, my young friends, is required the preservation of the chastity of our daughters and sisters. God has placed upon us that requirement. It is not for you to lead them into dangerous paths; it is not for you to leave them to be despoiled; it is your duty, and you are under obligations to preserve them free and virtuous, pure and holy. Any nation or people permitting the fountains of life to become contaminated, will die, as did Greece and Rome. If we can keep the fountains of life pure, individuals may fall, but so long as the body politic is sound, there is hope for the future. Amen.