Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » The Loveliest Missionary Tract Ever Published
 


The Loveliest Missionary Tract Ever Published

By: Ardis E. Parshall - December 28, 2008

In 1909, after months of preparation, Ben E. Rich of the Eastern States Mission (with headquarters at New York) and German E. Ellsworth of the Northern States Mission (with headquarters at Chicago), jointly published a tract to be used as a missionary tool.

The 24-page (8×12) brochure wasn’t especially exciting on its face — this stiff brown cover, tied with string and announcing the hymn “O, My Father,” is what greeted readers. It was also expensive, costing nearly a dollar to produce in contrast to the usual 2- or 3-cent cost of normal missionary tracts, and so could not be widely and indiscriminately distributed. Instead, it was offered for sale and was given to civic and social leaders and others whose good opinion the missionaries especially sought.

So what was so special about it?

The inside cover featured three portraits set into an artistic framework. There was a portrait of Eliza R. Snow, author of the poem. A little oddly, perhaps, it also included the portrait of Robert C. Easton, a tenor formerly of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, son-in-law of Brigham Young, and a singer then living in New York City — not the portrait of James McGranahan, who wrote the tune most familiarly used today for “O, My Father.” But Easton had introduced that McGranahan tune to the members of the Church by singing “O, My Father” as a solo at the 1893 dedication of the Salt Lake Temple, and he performed it frequently at church services in New York, so his portrait, rather than that of the composer, represented the musical side of the hymn.

The third portrait is that of John Hafen, the Swiss-born, Utah-grown, Paris-trained artist. A brief outline of his life can be found in an Ensign article that accompanied a 1976 publication of the Hafen paintings then on display at BYU. The Ensign article offers a truer reproduction of the paintings’ colors so you may want to look there; the paintings as shown below are as they were actually printed by the 1909 color printing processes.

The color reproduction of those paintings is why, of course, the pamphlet was so expensive. Copies of the 1909 production can be found occasionally through the LDS used book dealers — it probably qualifies as rare, but not unobtainable. Perhaps a factor more than age contributes to its rarity: The First Presidency objected to the publication of this tract by two of its mission presidents, for reasons that I will blog about at a later date. For now, just enjoy the paintings and the delightfully art nouveau appearance of the lines of poetry.

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42 Comments »

  1. Wow. I’d love to be able to have one of these.

    And I think I can guess why they objected . . .

    Comment by Julie M. Smith — December 28, 2008 @ 3:01 pm

  2. Wow. This is exquisitely beautiful. I would love to see an original sometime.

    I have seen that illustration of the older gentleman walking with the younger girl before (in an Ensign?), but have never seen any of the others.

    Thanks for this!

    Comment by Hunter — December 28, 2008 @ 3:32 pm

  3. That is not only the most beautiful missionary pamphlet ever produced, it is the most moving I have ever seen. I found tears welling up just going through the pages. I think it should be reprinted and redistributed. ..bruce..

    Comment by bfwebster — December 28, 2008 @ 3:34 pm

  4. I just noticed that the melody of the hymn printed here is slightly different than in our present hymnal (see measures 7, 18 and 19). Not to threadjack, but does anyone know if this is the original melody, or just this particular arranger’s (Frank W. Merrill) version? I kind of like it better, what with the secondary dominant and all.

    Comment by Hunter — December 28, 2008 @ 3:38 pm

  5. Hunter,

    You might try this link. There is a youtube of someone singing it to Gentle Annie tune here.

    Comment by Jacob J — December 28, 2008 @ 9:11 pm

  6. Wow. Thanks for bringing this to my attention Ardis. Quite stunning. I was unaware of this artist as well.

    Comment by J. Stapley — December 28, 2008 @ 10:07 pm

  7. Ah! He was the guy that did “Girl among the Hollyhocks.” Now I know who he is. I would be interested in finding prints of a couple of these.

    Comment by J. Stapley — December 28, 2008 @ 10:11 pm

  8. Outstanding!

    Comment by BHodges — December 28, 2008 @ 10:46 pm

  9. […] My Father Ardis Parshall over at Keepapitchin has a great article on the most beautiful missionary tract ever produced.  Which I would tend to agree […]

    Pingback by O My Father « Banner, Sword, and Shield — December 28, 2008 @ 11:09 pm

  10. Didn’t BYU Studies do an article on this pamphlet, including the paintings and text, a few years ago. I thought that was where I saw the drawings for the first time.

    As an aside, I absolutely love O My Father set to the Gentle Annie tune. I have had this arrangement sung in church several times and I find that others in the congregation have the same feeling. They really do like the Gentle Annie tune.

    Comment by Maurine — December 28, 2008 @ 11:22 pm

  11. […] the video below, go over to Keepapitchinin (one of my favorite LDS blogs) and read this post about an LDS missionary pamphlet printed over 100 years ago that is absolutely exquisite. Or, better yet, start the video, then go over to the Keepapitchinin post and scroll appropriately […]

    Pingback by Adventures in Mormonism » Blog Archive » “O My Father” sung to “Gentle Annie” — December 29, 2008 @ 4:14 am

  12. Googling turns up this citation: Dawn Pheysey, “Testimony in Art: John Hafen’s Illustrations for ‘O My Father,'” BYU Studies 36, no. 1 (1996–97): 58–82. I wasn’t aware of such a recent article and haven’t seen it yet, or I probably would not have done this post. Other than having come across the Ensign article, I knew this brochure only from the work I’ve done on the early 20th-century church in New York City, much of which I’m confident has never been duplicated by anyone else.

    Ah, well. I wonder if I’m at least original by bringing you the images of the text accompanying the Hafen paintings (not just the text itself, but images of the text as it appeared in the tract for which the paintings were commissioned).

    [Later: I’ve just looked at the BYU Studies article. The reproduction of the paintings is beautiful and I’d suggest that’s where people go if they want to hold a printed copy of the artworks in their hands. Dawn Pheysey’s text (I’ve added her name to the citation above) is thorough and helpful, and duplicates my sources except for my New York materials. BYU Studies does not, however, show the art nouveau text accompanying the paintings in the 1909 pamphlet, so that much at least is original to this post.]

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — December 29, 2008 @ 4:22 am

  13. I’ve never seen this. It is lovely.

    We have a recent (2000) children’s board book that depicts a heavenly scene with a Mother standing right next to the Father and Son. I was floored when I noticed. It is so uncommon to see a Heavenly Mother depicted in art.

    Comment by Jami — December 29, 2008 @ 5:25 am

  14. John Hafen is a favorite of mine. The images can be also be viewed here.

    Comment by Justin — December 29, 2008 @ 7:21 am

  15. Just beautiful. Thank you, Ardis… I would not have seen this without your work to present it here.

    A couple of thoughts… or tho’ts… that’s how my husband’s grandmother spelled the word, too. I wonder if it was common in the early 20th century to drop the ‘ugh’ from words. (But I suspect it may have originally been typeset as “tho’ts” for lyric lines, because of the difficulty of spacing a long word under the notes.) And now that I dig out my Deseret Sunday School Songs book (copyright 1909), I see that’s exactly how it is written there (between “tho’t” and “makes”, the phrase barely fits under the tied dotted-quarter-quarter combo).

    The McGranahan tune is number 83 in Deseret Sunday School Songs, and is parenthetically marked as Tune: “My Redeemer”. It appears in the key of A-flat. Also in Deseret Sunday School Songs at number 181 the lyrics are set to “Tune: Austrian Hymn” by Franz Joseph Haydn, (in F-major) which tune I learned as a teen as a high school graduation song (“From These Halls of Truth and Knowledge”), but appears now in our current Hymns at 46 in the Key of B-Flat as “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken.”

    The accidental appearing in full measures 1, 5, 9, and 15 does not appear in Deseret Sunday School Songs; nor in the version of My Redeemer featured at number 352 in “Best Loved Songs and Hymns”, published 1961 and used in Southern Baptist churches (which my LDS mom, who is a hospice nurse in Tennessee and often sings hymns to her patients, gave me for Christmas last year). But the My Redeemer in Best Loved Songs does feature the rhythmical echoing men’s line familar to us older folks from the LDS 1948 Hymns number 138 (which is missing in the current hymnbook version).

    The 1948 Hymns has four arrangements of O My Father; three are the McGranahan (“Familiar”) tune, and with a tune by Lowell Mason. The congregational version is in A-Flat. One McGranahan arrangement is set for a men’s chorus (more-or-less a barbershop set-up, with melody on the second-tenor line), also in A-Flat, at number 336; another, called “[Evan] Stephen’s Arrangement” appears at 270 and is set in A-Natural for choir, with the melody sung by a solo soprano and accompanied in four parts with a rather rhythmical harmony that is reminiscent of the Mason version (and which would have required quite a bit of pencilling in of lyrics in the right places by the choir because the typesetting challenge to fit words and notes for four parts was clearly beyond the printer’s ability at that time).

    Anyway, none of these have the small choral echo line which appears in the arrangement featured in this post, so I suspect that the accidental and the echo are unique to this arranger. I like the accidental very much, and think it adds a nice touch.

    Comment by Coffinberry — December 29, 2008 @ 8:13 am

  16. Thanks for this post. I’ll have to play through the music when I have a moment. (Or thro’ the music; my grandma wrote like that, too, Coffinberry. I sometimes find myself writing tho’ like she did.)

    Comment by Researcher — December 29, 2008 @ 8:39 am

  17. Thank you Hunter, and especially Coffinberry, and Maurine and bfwebster and Jon, all of whom either commented on the music — far beyond any commentary I would be capable of — or built posts on your own sites regarding the music. I almost didn’t include the sheet music with this post because it was so familiar! If any of you want a better scan than you can get from lifting and enlarging the music here, drop me a note at Keepapitchinin dot AOL dot com (it ends in -inin rather than just -in) and I’ll email you one.

    And thanks for all the appreciative comments in general. It’s nice to know you respond the same way I do.

    Comment by Ardis Parshall — December 29, 2008 @ 8:44 am

  18. It’s interesting that in the second page, the two clauses are changed from questions:

    In thy Holy Habitation, did my spirit once reside? In my first primeval childhood, was I nurtured near thy side?

    to declarative statements.

    Was this a printing error? or did Brothers Rich and Ellsworth want to change the sense of the poem?

    Comment by Mark B. — December 29, 2008 @ 8:54 am

  19. #18 – Also interesting that the sheet music keeps it as a question.

    Comment by Eric Boysen — December 29, 2008 @ 9:45 am

  20. Wow! This is beautiful! I would love to find one for my collection. The 5th and 6th frame drawings are especially powerful. Thank you for sharing with all of us.

    [Sorry for the delay in having this appear online, Mormon Soprano — somehow it got caught in the spam filter, where I just discovered it. — Ardis]

    Comment by Mormon Soprano — December 29, 2008 @ 9:53 am

  21. PS. I would love to see these as matted sets, with a print of the picture on one side, and the corresponding text on the other. They would make a great set, but several of them would be striking conversation pieces as stand-alones in public parts of a home or office.

    Also, the whole thing reminds me that this kind of presentation-book lives on still in the LDS market. The subject matter makes me think of Rachel Ann Nunes’ “Daughter of a King”; and I recently saw an example of an illustrated song using “This is the Season.”

    Which, I suppose, is a reminder that what perhaps may strike us as overly sentimental now may appear freshly beautiful and insightful to our descendants 80 years from now.

    Comment by Coffinberry — December 29, 2008 @ 10:06 am

  22. To speak strictly of the tract, it kind of reminds me of a greeting card (in a good way). From looking at the time taken on it you can see why it was so expensive.

    Yet at the same time, who would now use that poem to teach a missionary lesson? I know a few missionaries on my mission who cringed when that one or if I could hie to Kolob were played.

    Comment by Jon W. — December 29, 2008 @ 10:38 am

  23. Thanks, Jacob J, for the recording of the text set to the tune of Gentle Annie. It’s gorgeous. (Wondering if our Bishop would allow it…)

    Also, Ardis, count me as one more who wouldn’t have seen these beautiful images absent your post. Thanks!

    Comment by Hunter — December 29, 2008 @ 4:04 pm

  24. Thanks also to Jacob J for the link to the BYU Studies article. I printed it off and just spent a nice half hour sight reading through the various arrangements. Some notes on a few of the tunes:

    Gentle Annie: lovely tune, beautiful song, but could be hard for congregations to sing if they were not thoroughly familiar with that type of music.

    Tullidge: (first setting by a Mormon) forgettable.

    Haydn (Deutschland, Deutschland; sung at Brigham Young’s funeral): nice tune, but a weird setting for this song.

    Careless: also nice, not my favorite, perhaps heavily influenced by Brahms.

    Durham’s Nephite Lamentation (he said he dreamed the melody as played by a Nephite soldier after a battle): sounds awfully Scotch-Irish. Perhaps the native Americans weren’t Welsh after all! Otherwise a beautiful tune.

    Our current tune, from the McGranahan song “My Redeemer.” I love the song My Redeemer! It’s lovely! I think if I had to choose one tune for Oh My Father, this might be it! (Glad it’s the one we have!)

    I like the Merrill arrangement as shown above. The repeated b natural jars the ear at first, but it quickly becomes addictive.

    I could keep going about the other versions, but that is a long enough comment! But what a fun historical recreation! Thanks, Ardis and all the commenters!

    Comment by Researcher — December 30, 2008 @ 7:33 pm

  25. John Hafen was my great great grandfather. My lineage comes from his son, John Leo Hafen, who apostatized from the church. My mother was a convert. It’s interesting to have pioneer ancestry but also have convert parents. We have a reprint of this tract that I enjoy looking at occasionally. I really love Hafen’s artwork.

    Comment by Carl Youngblood — December 31, 2008 @ 6:54 pm

  26. Clarification, in case it wasn’t obvious: my relation to Hafen is on my mother’s side.

    Comment by Carl Youngblood — December 31, 2008 @ 6:55 pm

  27. That is lovely! I wish I had one just so I could show it to people. Luckily, I can link to this post. :)

    Comment by Michelle Glauser — January 3, 2009 @ 8:10 am

  28. This pamphlet illustrates high points of our religion that we often undersell elsewhere. I suppose that is by design, but I am unclear as to why.

    Comment by S.Faux — January 12, 2009 @ 6:00 pm

  29. […] Missionary Tract Ever Published 2009 February 28 by Tristan Baier Originally published on The Keepapitchinin, […]

    Pingback by The Loveliest Missionary Tract Ever Published « Another Tristan Baier Weblog — February 28, 2009 @ 8:00 pm

  30. […] The fourth stanza refers to postmortal life. A wonderful addition to this activity would be to use these illustrations. (I am not sure about potential copyright issues re printing those out. I’d […]

    Pingback by FHE Lesson #2 | Times & Seasons, An Onymous Mormon Blog — March 28, 2009 @ 3:37 pm

  31. […] One: Be nice to Ardis so that she’ll send you high-resolution files of art that you have fallen in love […]

    Pingback by DIY Mormon Art | Times & Seasons, An Onymous Mormon Blog — April 23, 2009 @ 9:23 am

  32. Just found this lovely post and artwork, and curiosity is getting the better of me.

    Ardis, can you include a link somewhere to promised post about why the 1st presidency objected? (I briefly searched the archives at this site, but didn’t come up with anything…)

    Comment by Clark — March 24, 2010 @ 1:40 pm

  33. Haven’t written it yet, Clark. Thanks for the reminder.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 24, 2010 @ 1:57 pm

  34. In the late 1980s the Church Museum had a display of the original art and calligraphy. They also played as background all of the known tunes it had been sung to. Don Enders was the curator of this exhibit. Later, BYU has also had an exhibit of the originals. It appears the article was taken from the BYU exhibit.

    Comment by MARJORIE CONDER — May 3, 2010 @ 9:10 am

  35. This is my great great great great grandfathers work.

    Comment by Jay Devon Hale — May 30, 2010 @ 2:26 am

  36. That would be John Hafen.

    Comment by Jay Devon Hale — May 30, 2010 @ 2:30 am

  37. This is neat. I love items like this from history.

    Comment by Adam — November 3, 2010 @ 10:19 pm

  38. I’ve copied these onto my iPad and have set the first set as lock screen and wallpaper. I’ll cycle through the hymn as I change the settings.
    I’ll take them off if you want me to. Please don’t “hack” my iPad.

    Comment by wonderdog — April 21, 2012 @ 6:58 am

  39. wonderdog, unless you’re mimicking my entire post and publishing it as your own work, your iPad is safe. Enjoy!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — April 21, 2012 @ 8:04 am

  40. I’ve often thought about this particular post, and for some reason I have had the Wyeth tune of “Come Thou Font of Every Blessing” as one of the alternate tunes. I am currently practicing this song to that tune to sing with three other brethren from our ward this Sunday, and the arrangement is just beautiful. We get chills during practice for the interesting harmonies, and a couple of key changes. May be the most beautiful tune I have ever sung in church. If only we could do a multimedia presentation with these pictures….

    Comment by kevinf — September 6, 2012 @ 3:21 pm

  41. kevinf, if you do put such a thing together, I’ll send you the high rez scans.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 6, 2012 @ 3:25 pm

  42. […] John Hafen, art missionaries (=SLC Temple), pamphlet.    (Info here and links […]

    Pingback by How Can I Use Church Music to Learn about the Plan of Salvation? | Times & Seasons — February 3, 2013 @ 11:57 am

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