Guest Post: “I Have Had Many Little Presents”: Joseph F. Smith and the Adoption of Edward Arthur Smith
In my recent post about my search for Edward Arthur Smith, I had mentioned the interesting announcement of the adoption of Edward to Joseph’s first wife, Levira. I discovered this letter while going through all of Joseph F. Smith’s letters for the time frame, trying to find out more information about the circumstances of Edward’s adoption. It is in some ways uncomfortable to read, but certainly has its lighter moments.
After being heavily involved in organizing a conference, and then traveling through Scotland for a month, Joseph F. Smith found himself back at his lodgings in Sheffield in the early part of May, 1863. In the start of the twelve page letter, Joseph describes looking at two of Levira’s letters to him, one dated February 4, and the other March 20, and realizing that he has not responded to the first in about three months, and the second for six weeks. Somewhat embarrassed, he takes a couple of pages to excuse his negligence, and ask for Levira’s understanding of his circumstances.
By the time Joseph got to the fourth page, he began to respond to some of Levira’s specific questions that had gone unanswered. He explained that the cold he had told her about in a January letter had indeed gotten better, but that he had since had two or three more, and seemed to be susceptible to the cold, damp winters of Great Britain.
Levira, home alone with little income, had apparently made a comment in one of her letters about “forever ceasing to joke me.” Joseph replied that he hoped that was not the case, and asked for her forbearance for his “earnestness.” “You know that I am a preacher,” he wrote, “and for a minister to talk about worldly riches, ah! Dreadful! I tell you we have nothing to do with “filthy lucre.’”
Joseph then instructs Levira to make allowances for their circumstances, and hopes she still feels, as she had apparently written, “with all his faults I love him still!” He promised that he would continue to try and improve, and then spends a couple of pages counseling Levira about avoiding offending others, or taking offense at other’s actions. “I do not know that I have an Enimy on Earth, but those who are Enimies to the principles of the Gospel.” Noting that if he had offended others and made enemies, he would do all in his power to make restitution, and if they have no just cause, “I pity them and will forgive them with all my heart.”
“I have been called a “liar,” a “bloody fool, a “Mormon Danite,” a “deceiver,” a “swindler,” and everything you could name,” he continued. To those, Joseph says “I forgive you, for you are ignorant and wicked and may God have mercy on you!”
Pardon me for saying this, but this may not have been exactly the kind of endearing letter Levira may have been hoping for from her husband that had already been absent on his mission for about three years. But the next page begins the really fun part.
On the eighth page of his letter, Joseph wrote that by the time Levira received his letter, he would be on a boat crossing the Atlantic on his return to Utah. He then writes the following:
“I have had many little presents since it has become know I am going home, and I do not think you could guess what all I have had given me, almost all kinds of things I assure you. I had a dog offered, of a fine bread [breed], but I declined. And I have had a present of a little boy about 4 years old! What do you think of that? Fine little fellow, his mother is dead, and father has not been heard of for a long time, & no one knows where he is. Perhaps such a present would not be welcome to you, but to me it is under the circumstances there is nothing but the poor house and a paupers lot for him here, and in the valleys he will at least be free from that. And I know you would be glad to save a soul from lifelong misery, and perhaps from dying without a knowledge of the gospel. And I am sure you will like him for he is a pretty boy. Prest. Cannon had kindly offered to help me home with him, which I hope may be accomplished safely. Some of my friends here have rigged him out very well for clothes, so that he will come tolerably comfortable.”
Over the next few weeks, Joseph’s journals and letters describe getting a few items for Edward, giving him to the care of a Sister Stevens on board an emigrant ship, and then accompanying President Cannon of the European mission on a few more tasks before Joseph himself departed for Utah on a later ship.
And then, nothing, no mention of Edward in letters or journals until about 1869 and later, when Edward began to be occasionally mentioned in journals about helping with the chores, being ill, or as the subject of the purchase of an item or two. Family stories indicate that Edward, with a pronounced cockney accent, struggled in school, and later letters from Joseph F. Smith remind Edward that school would be good for him, but that if he doesn’t come back to school, that he should constantly read and improve his mind in study.
Edward married young, and moved to Idaho with his new wife and family, and never lived in Utah again. Joseph continued to write up until Edward’s death in 1911, and one of Edward’s daughters tells of sitting on Joseph F. Smith’s lap when he visited the family in Canada sometime after Edward’s death for a conference. Whatever impressed Joseph with the little orphan lad in 1863 stayed with Joseph throughout the rest of his life, and his letters to Edward are full of love, concern, and instruction.
This letter to Levira is in many ways classic Joseph F. Smith, uncompromising in his commitment to the gospel, prone to a little bit of anger and righteous indignation, and full of love and concern for family and close friends. It is still a bit amusing to see how and where the announcement of Edward’s adoption was placed in the letter, and to read his obvious great pleasure in the unique and wonderful “present” of little Edward Arthur Smith.