Artemus Ward (the pen name of Charles Farrar Brown[e], 1834-1867) was a popular American humorist and lecturer, whose stories appeared in countless newspapers and were compiled into several volumes. He was reportedly a favorite author of Abraham Lincoln, and one of Mark Twain’s inspirations.
We – we Mormons – should be flattered (?) that we were the subject of so many of his writings. He visited Utah in the days when wagon travel was the only way of reaching us, and he wrote an entire book (Artemus Ward among the Mormons, 1866) about us.
Following is one of his Mormon “romances.” Whatever else we might say about stereotypes and being held up to ridicule, I have to say that this extended “Mormon joke” completely lacks the scorn and bitterness of most of the rest of the public press of the 1860s.
Romance of Reginald Gloverson and His Twenty Wives
The morning on which Reginald Gloverson was to leave Great Salt Lake City with a mule train dawned beautifully.
Reginald Gloverson was a young and thrifty Mormon, with an interesting family of 20 young and handsome wives. His unions had never been blessed with children. As often as once a year he used to go to Omaha, in Nebraska, with a mule train for goods; but, although he had performed the rather perilous journey many times with entire safety, his heart was strangely sad on this particular morning and filled with gloomy forebodings.
The time for his departure had arrived. the high spirited mules were at the door, impatiently champing their bits. The Mormon stood sadly among his weeping wives.
“Dearest ones,” he said, “I am singularly sad at heart this morning, but do not let this depress you. The journey is a perilous one. But, pshaw! I have always come back safely heretofore, and why should I fear? Besides, I know that every night as I lay down on the broad starlit prairie your bright faces will come to me in my dreams and make my slumbers sweet and gentle. You, Emily, with your mild blue eyes, and you, Henrietta, with your splendid black hair, and you, Nelly, with your hair so brightly, beautifully golden, and you, Molly, with your cheeks so downy, and you, Betsy, with your wine red lips – far more delicious, though, than any wine I ever tasted – and you, Maria, with your winsome voice, and you, Susan, with your – with your – that is to say, Susan, with your – and the other 13 of you, each so good and beautiful, will come to me in sweet dreams, will you not, dearestists?”
“Our own,” they lovingly chimed, “we will!”
“And so farewell!” cried Reginald. “Come to my arms, my own!” he said – “that is, as many of you as can do it conveniently at once, for I must away.”
He folded several of them to his throbbing breast and drove sadly away.
But he had not gone far when the trace of the off hind mule became unhitched. Dismounting, he essayed to adjust the trace, but ere he had fairly commenced the task the mule, a singularly refractory animal, snorted wildly and kicked Reginald frightfully in the stomach. He arose with difficulty and tottered feebly toward his mother’s house, which was near by, falling dead in her yard with the remark, “Dear mother, I’ve come home to die!”
“So I see,” she said. “Where’s the mules?”
Alas, Reginald Gloverson could give no answer. In vain the heart-stricken mother threw herself upon his inanimate form, crying, “Oh, my son, my son, only tell me where the mules are, and then you may die if you want to!”
In vain, in vain! Reginald had passed on.
The mules were never found.
Reginald’s heartbroken mother took the body home to her unfortunate son’s widows. But before her arrival she indiscreetly sent a boy to burst the news gently to the afflicted wives, which he did by informing them in a hoarse whisper that their “old man had gone in.”
The wives felt very bad indeed.
“He was devoted to me,” sobbed Emily.
“And to me,” said Maria.
“Yes,” said Emily, “he thought considerably of you, but not so much as he did of me.”
“I say he did!”
“And I say he didn’t!”
“Don’t look at me with your squint eyes!”
“Don’t shake your red head at me!”
“Sisters,” said the black haired Henrietta, “cease this unseemly wrangling. I, as his first wife, shall strew flowers on his grave.”
“No, you won’t,” said Susan. “I as his last wife shall strew flowers on his grave. It’s my business to strew.”
“You shan’t, so there!” said Henrietta.
“You bet I will!” said Susan, with a tear suffused cheek.
“Well, as for me,” said the practical Betsy, “I ain’t on the strew much, but I shall ride at the head of the funeral procession!”
“Not if I’ve been introduced to myself, you won’t!” said the golden haired Nelly. “That’s my position. You bet your bonnet strings it is!”
“Children,” said Reginald’s mother, “you must do some crying, you know, on the day of the funeral, and how many pocket handkerchers will it take to go round? Betsy, you and Nelly ought to make one do between you.”
“I’ll tear her eyes out if she perpetuates a sob on my handkercher!”
“Dear daughters-in-law,” said Reginald’s mother, “how unseemly is this anger! Mules is $500 a span, and every identical mule my poor boy had has been gobbled up by the red man. I knew when my Reginald staggered into the dooryard that he was on the die, but if I’d only thunk to ask him about them mules ere his gentle spirit took flight it would have been $4,000 in our pockets, and no mistake! Excuse these real tears, but you’ve never felt a parent’s feelin’s.”
“It’s an oversight,” sobbed Maria. “Don’t blame us!”
The funeral passed off in a very pleasant manner, nothing occurring to mar the harmony of the occasion. By a happy thought of Reginald’s mother the wives walked to the grave 20 abreast, which rendered that part of the ceremony thoroughly impartial.
That night the 20 wives, with heavy hearts, sought their 20 respective couches. But no Reginald occupied those 20 respective couches – Reginald would never more linger all night in blissful repose in those 20 respective couches – Reginald’s head would never more press the 20 respective pillows of those 20 respective couches – never, never more!
In another house, not many leagues from the house of mourning, a gray haired woman was weeping passionately. “He died,” she cried, “he died without sigerfyin, in any respect, where them mules went to!”
Two years are supposed to elapse between the third and fourth chapters of this original American romance.
A manly Mormon, one evening, as the sun was preparing to set among a select apartment of gold and crimson clouds in the western horizon – although for that matter the sun has a right to “set” where it wants to, and so, I may add, has a hen – a manly Mormon, I say, tapped gently at the door of the mansion of the late Reginald Gloverson.
The door was opened by Mrs. Susan Gloverson.
“Is this the house of the Widow Gloverson?” the Mormon asked.
“It is,” said Susan.
“And how many is there of she?” he inquired.
“There is about 20 of her, including me,” courteously returned the fair Susan.
“Can I see her?”
“Madam,” he softly said, addressing the 20 disconsolate widows, “I have seen part of you before. And although I have already 25 wives, whom I respect and tenderly care for, I can truly say that I never felt love’s holy thrill till I saw thee. Be mine, be mine!” he enthusiastically cried, “and we will show the world a striking illustration of the beauty and truth of the noble lines, only a good deal more so:
”Twenty-one souls with a single thought,
Twenty-one hearts that beat as one.”
They were united, they were.
Gentle reader, does not the moral of this romance show that – does it not, in fact, show that, however many there may be of a young widow woman – or, rather, does it not show that, whatever number of persons one woman may consist of – well, never mind what it shows, only this writing Mormon romances is confusing to the intellect. You try it and see.