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William W. Phelps’s Mad Poetry: “The Apostates’ New Names”

By: Ardis E. Parshall - July 12, 2011

I know I’ve been down on William W. Phelps recently. That doesn’t cover my full assessment of the man – what would my Church sound like without “The Spirit of God Like a Fire Is Burning” and “Gently Raise the Sacred Strain” and “Praise to the Man” and “Now Let Us Rejoice” and “Redeemer of Israel” and “O, God the Eternal Father” and “Come All Ye Saints Who Dwell on Earth” and so very many more favorite hymns flowing from his pen? And as a people we’d be the poorer without the example of friendship and complete forgiveness (on both sides) after the breach between Phelps and Joseph Smith was healed, with the resulting couplet, “’Come on, dear brother, since the war is past, for friends at first, are friends again at last.” His contributions to the printing of news and history and doctrine and scripture of the Church put us all in his debt.

There is little doubt, though, that Phelps suffered from dementia of some kind during his later years. That was not his fault, of course, nor does it cast the slightest shadow on his earlier contributions. Even in his declining years, he was able to recall facts of early Church history that, for example, helped us identify the real men behind the “unusual names” that used to appear in a few sections of the Doctrine and Covenants.He never lost his way with words, even when his poetry ceased to be usable by the Church: The following “poem,” a writing which he called “a flight of mind” and which was labeled in Brigham Young’s office as “scurrility, mistaken for wit,” has an undeniably arresting rhythm and vocabulary, yet conveys little meaning beyond a mean-spiritedness directed toward men who, over the years, had lost their positions  for challenging the leadership of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young.


The Apostates’ New Names
By the King’s Jester.

Did you ever see the punkies*
That are hatch’d from Mormon flunkies,+
With a face as firm as monkies:
In the cause of Baalzebub?

(Chorus)

They’re the nincumpoops of Nimrod: –
Yea, the real spawn of Devils: –
And they all swim together
In the venom of the damn’d.

There was William E. McLelin,
Like an old “Rotten Melon,”
With the bighead, badly swelling,
When he sever’d from the Twelve. [Chorus

Tis “the serpent” bites keenest,
When his body looks the greenest;
So was Lyman Johnson meanest,
When he turn’d away from God. [Cho.

Lyman Wight, “the Wild Ram,” wonder’d,
When the God of heaven thunder’d,
So the foolish Mormon blunder’d
Down the precipice below. [Cho

William Smith was like a “thistle;”
Riding Rigdon, “Satan’s whistle”
With each other “little missile,”
Join’d the devils devilish crew. [Cho

T.B. Marsh, “the spotted Lizzard,”
Gave his wife a double gizzard,
When the “Streppings” came to izzard,
And the fools both quit the faith. [Cho

John F. Boynton, was “an Adder”
Full of poison from his Fadder,
At the foot of Mesmer’s ladder,
In the Luciferan school. [Cho

G.M. Hinkle, what a creature!
He was truly: – “pumpkin Eater” –
Hardly sense to sit and teter
On a knotty hemlock rail. [Cho

La! and Baneemy, “the gander,”
With his Wild Geese does wander,
In the dismal swamp yonder,
Cause the “Iron goose” won’t lay. [Cho

But “the Ghost” is Gladden Bishop,
Who always throws a wish up,
Just to hold the Devil’s dish up,
When old granny’s making Sop. [Cho

Copper Strang, “lawyer Jack Ass,”
Who made Page his private pack Ass
When he kept a secret Nach Lass
Went a cross lots down to hell. [Cho

Bennett, Laws, and all the “heady,”
Now prepare to pucker steady.
In your flight to brimstone Eddy,
With your colors: “Bound to Hell” [Cho

* small gnats
+ McLilin, Hinkle, Gladen Bishop &c.



30 Comments »

  1. A fascinating find! Do you have any idea of whether this was distributed at all or sung? Is there a year for it?

    Comment by Craig M. — July 12, 2011 @ 8:19 am

  2. Glad none of my ancestors made the list! (yikes!)

    I’ll have to remember “nincumpoops of Nimrod.” I’m sure that will come in handy at some point. I think I know some of them here in modern days.

    Comment by Grant — July 12, 2011 @ 9:07 am

  3. It is undated, Craig. Since Brigham Young didn’t appreciate it, I’m sure he didn’t distribute it or call for its performance, although it’s catchy enough that I wouldn’t be too surprised to learn that some clerk might have snickered at it and repeated some of the lines out of school. (Phelps wrote specifically that he wasn’t keeping a copy, so it’s unlikely he spread it.)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 12, 2011 @ 9:07 am

  4. Grant, that’s *exactly* what I mean about his not having lost his touch with language. Whatever “nincumpoops of Nimrod” might actually mean — if anything — it is instantly attractive and very memorable. They say poets have a touch of madness anyway, and Phelps’ gift may always have been due in part to some mental defect. My speculation, of course; I only play psychologist online.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 12, 2011 @ 9:10 am

  5. Awesome.

    Comment by Ben Park — July 12, 2011 @ 9:21 am

  6. How funny!!! Too bad it’s not included in the current hymnal. It’d be a great intermediate hymn. I’m sure the congregation would love to belt out “nincumpoops of Nimrod”. :-)

    Comment by Steve C. — July 12, 2011 @ 9:34 am

  7. Nincumpoops of Nimrod would be a great name for a group blog.

    I think this is a gem.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — July 12, 2011 @ 9:36 am

  8. I’m surprised — and tickled — that you’re liking this oddity so well.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 12, 2011 @ 9:58 am

  9. That alliteration on the N reminds me of the William Safire/Spiro Agnew team’s “nattering nabobs of negativism” which would have only got better if he could have worked “nincompoops of Nimrod” in as well.

    And “Hinkle”–I don’t recognize the name (and haven’t followed the link yet), but isn’t that the name of Charlie Chaplin’s character (hah! three ch’s in a row!) in The Great Dictator?

    Comment by Mark B. — July 12, 2011 @ 10:28 am

  10. Now if only I could find a way to weave in the Knights who say Nee into the song, then my life’s work would be done.

    Comment by Jacob M — July 12, 2011 @ 10:51 am

  11. Fascinating stuff, Ardis.

    Comment by Christopher — July 12, 2011 @ 11:01 am

  12. Interesting. But why do I have a sneaking suspicion that this post is not going to be featured in “Today in the Bloggernacle”??

    Comment by Researcher — July 12, 2011 @ 11:45 am

  13. Move over, William Shakespeare. Here comes William Phelps.

    I like BY’s notation, that speaks well of him.

    Comment by Mark Brown — July 12, 2011 @ 12:00 pm

  14. 12. No, but she’ll laugh and forward the link to her husband who researches many of these “apostates.”

    Comment by EmJen — July 12, 2011 @ 12:42 pm

  15. Nimrod, please note that this is a mockery of apostates by Phelps, not by “the Mormons,” and that it was specifically labeled by certain of Phelps’s contemporaries as “scurrility.”

    Also, your comment is otherwise in violation of the comment policy of a blog that is aimed primarily at believing Mormons, as you must certainly realize.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 12, 2011 @ 1:06 pm

  16. Delicious! The meter’s a little quirky, so it’s hard to find a tune that fits, but “Brightly Beams our Father’s Mercy” is a reasonable (and rather funny) approximation. The barbershoppy harmony adds a nice touch to “the nincompoops of Nimrod”, I think :)

    Comment by Kristine — July 12, 2011 @ 1:08 pm

  17. Ah, the power of the Ardis dis! One note of disapproval, and the offending comment disappears into the ether!

    As my English great-grandfather might have said, “that’s one ‘ard dis!”

    Comment by Mark B. — July 12, 2011 @ 1:16 pm

  18. Har, har, har! (or ‘ar, ‘ar, ‘ar, if you prefer)!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 12, 2011 @ 1:47 pm

  19. Kristine: I will never be able to sing “Brightly Beams” the same again. Thanks.

    Comment by Ben Park — July 12, 2011 @ 4:09 pm

  20. Kristine, you are so right. “Brightly Beams” is one of my favorite hymns and now I’ll be like Ben Park and start singing these words. Oh well! Just so I don’t sing them out loud and have people thinking I’m crazy.

    Comment by Maurine Ward — July 13, 2011 @ 12:00 am

  21. WWP is one of my favorites. This ditty is funtacular!

    Comment by WVS — July 13, 2011 @ 2:32 am

  22. Maurine #20. I always sing the original words to “Praise to the man” but then I’ve never been to church in Illinois.

    Comment by Grant — July 13, 2011 @ 6:32 am

  23. I wonder if W. W. Phelp’s old age might explain his recollection that Joseph recieved a revelation saying that the Lamanites would become white and delightsome thrugh polygamy and his translation of a “Nephite” coin.

    (http://www.fairwiki.org/Mormonism_and_polygamy/Lamanites_to_become_%22white_and_delightsome%22_through_polygamous_marriage)

    (http://www.mormondialogue.org/topic/54032-has-a-nephite-coin-been-found/page__p__1208998811__hl__%2Bnephite+%2Bcoin__fromsearch__1#entry1208998811)

    Comment by mapman — July 13, 2011 @ 11:04 am

  24. This is simply fabulous.

    Comment by Matt — July 13, 2011 @ 11:34 am

  25. I suppose it could be a little too convenient to brush away everything WWP wrote late in life by our pleading his dementia as an explanation, but the more oddities that pile up for which he is the sole source, the more difficult it is to find any other explanation. IMO.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 13, 2011 @ 11:47 am

  26. As a fan of early Mormon folk music, this is a great find. I assume you found it in BY’s papers somewhere.I’m going to make a copy of this and keep it, and the comments, in my music file.

    Comment by Elaine T. — July 13, 2011 @ 4:21 pm

  27. Praise to the Man also slammed enemies of the Church.

    Thomas B. Marsh did come back into the Church, so this probably was before that.

    Comment by Mike H. — July 13, 2011 @ 7:54 pm

  28. The missionary who converted my great-great-great grandparents made the list!

    Comment by Left Field — July 13, 2011 @ 8:00 pm

  29. Well, doesn’t that add an unexpected twist to family history! You should sing this at your next family reunion, or at least the relevant verse and chorus.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 13, 2011 @ 8:03 pm

  30. thanks again Ardis for a delightful find. Made me chuckle.

    Comment by peter Fagg — July 22, 2011 @ 12:52 pm

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