Joseph Smith and Pearl Curran- aka Patience Worth

 

Joseph Smith dictated the words of the entire Book of Mormon, as we know it today, in about 3 months. This of course does not take into account the time to produce the 116 pages that were lost or the near decade of time Joseph was either producing this narrative in his mind, or receiving instruction from the angel Moroni, whichever story resonates more with you. There are disparate opinions among Latter-day Saints about the divinity of the Book of Mormon. Some view it entirely an ancient work, translated miraculously through the gift and power of God. Some believing Mormons view it as modern expansion of an ancient source, meaning Joseph Smith added some of his own ideas and copied KJV passages of scripture into the text. Some critics view it as a 19th century work crafted carefully by Joseph Smith over a long period of time and put to paper in a short period of time. Hugh Nibley famously challenged his BYU students to come up with a similar work as the Book of Mormon, with all its complexities, in a semesters time (more time than he said Joseph Smith had to produce the Book of Mormon).

What about the examples in history of others who were also gifted, prolific dictators of text? Does it automatically prove their works are inspired, or divine?

What similarities are there between Joseph Smith and Pearl Curran-aka Patience Worth?

Original_ouija_boardPearl Curran was a housewife, who on July 8, 1913 in St. Louis Missouri, through the use of a ouija board, introduced Patience Worth to the world. Patience was a spirit, who had been dead for over 250 years. Here is the first communication received from Patience.

Many moons ago I lived. Again I come- Patience Worth my name

 

When asked when she lived, the dates 1649 – 94 were given and that her home was “Across the sea”. Although Worth indicated that she was from England, she never named the town or village in which she lived. She did give some clues which were deduced by Casper Yost and other intimates of the Currans to indicate that Patience Worth had lived in rural Dorsetshire with her father John and mother Anne. Curran had a mental picture of the place in which Patience Worth lived indicating that Patience lived in “…green rolling country with gentle slopes, not farmed much, with houses here and there. Two or three miles up this country on this road was a small village —few houses.” Mrs. Curran then visualized Patience leaving for America on a huge, wood three-masted schooner. Patience was described by Mrs. Curran as “…probably about thirty years. Her hair was dark red, mahogany, her eyes brown, and large and deep, her mouth firm and set, as though repressing strong feelings. Her hair had been disarranged by her cap, and was in big, glossy, soft waves.” Mrs. Curran also saw Patience “sitting on a horse, holding a bundle tied in sail-cloth, tied with thongs and wearing a coarse cloth cape, brown-gray, with hood like a cowl, peaked. The face is in shadow. She is small and her feet are small—with coarse square-toed shoes and gray woolen stockings.” After a long voyage the ship arrives at the jagged coast of America where they could find no landing place for the ship. Several flat boats were launched and Mrs. Curran saw Patience standing in the prow of her boat and one of the first to reach the shore. Patience Worth was later to indicate that she was eventually killed by the Indians.“-https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patience_Worth

Irving Litvag said:

In a literary ‘career ‘ of nearly twenty-five years she would produce the astounding total of almost four million words, seven full-length books, thousands of poems ranging from a few lines in length to hundreds, uncounted numbers of epigrams and aphorisms, short stories, a few plays, and thousands of pages of witty, trenchant conversation with the hundreds of guests who came to call on her. Of one of her books a distinguished historian would later say: ‘Unquestionably this is the greatest story of the life and times of Christ penned since the Gospels were finished.’ A noted professor at Oxford would call her ‘a philological marvel.‘”

I need to make it clear that I am in no way trying to prove or disprove the authenticity of the work produced either by Joseph Smith or Pearl Curran. I am simply pointing out some interesting parallels between two gifted orators, who lived almost a century apart.

 

Very limited formal education

Pearl Curran:

“Her family moved to St. Louis when she was 14. She made a last attempt at attending school but was discouraged when placed in a lower grade based on her academic skills…The Currans had an average education for that time and owned few books; neither of them had travelled extensively. The first seven years of their marriage were uneventful.” (http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=39153867)

“In two sessions of two hours each on November 26 [1914], Patience dictated “The Fool and the Lady,” a sort of medieval Pagliacci…Whatever you may think of this as drama or as poetry- and admittedly it is hardly suited to the tastes of today’s Broadway theatergoer- it must be conceded that there is power here and deep feeling and a gift for language. And it came from whom- a conventional, unliterary, presumably untalented St. Louis housewife?– “Singer in the Shadows: The Strange Story of Patience Worth”- Irving Litvag, page 31 

“Speaking through a Ouija board operated by Pearl Lenore Curran, a St. Louis housewife of limited education, Patience Worth was nothing short of a national phenomenon in the early years of the 20th century. Though her works are virtually forgotten today, the prestigious Braithwaite anthology listed five of her poems among the nation’s best published in 1917, and the New York Times hailed her first novel as a “feat of literary composition.”http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/patience-worth-author-from-the-great-beyond-54333749/?page=1

Joseph Smith:

at the age of  about ten years my FatherJoseph Smith Seignior  moved to Palmyra Ontario County in the State of  New York and being in indigent circumstances were  obliged to labour hard for the support of a large  Family having nine chilldren and as it require d theirexertions of all that were able to render  any assistance for the support of the Family therefore we were deprived of the bennifit of an  education suffice it to say I was mearly instruct tid in reading and writing and the ground <rules> of  Arithmatic which const[it]uted my whole lite rary acquirements.Joseph Smith Jr. written in his own hand

It has become traditional to emphasize the fact that Joseph Smith did not have much formal education. While it is essentially true that none of the Smiths had much formal education because that all had to work just to stay alive, we should not forget that even though he did not spend much time in classrooms, Joseph Smith did become a very educated person. He was a gifted learner who was often taught by divine tutors. He was also able to transfer what had been learned into masterful teachings in delivering a prophetic message to the world in this last dispensation.”– Brian L. Smith, “Joseph Smith: Gifted Learner, Master Teacher, Prophetic Seer,” in Joseph Smith: The Prophet, The Man, ed. Susan Easton Black and Charles D. Tate Jr. (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1993), 169–181

 

Difficulty composing text on their own, when not dictating their works

Pearl Curran:

“Now tell me this Mrs. Curran asked Holt. If I can do these things, and it is a part of me, if it is voluntary or conscious in even a measure, why are none of these scenes, none of these stories, none of Patience Worth’s works of today; and why is it that I don’t have visions of this time and day? It is very hard for me to write in the ordinary way. I have been almost all afternoon writing this letter to you, while if it had been The Sorry Tale or a big poem, I would have done three thousand words in an hour and three quarters and forgotten it.”“Singer in the Shadows: The Strange Story of Patience Worth”- Irving Litvag, page 125

Joseph Smith:

Joseph Smith could neither write nor dictate a coherent and well-worded letter, let alone dictate a book like the Book of Mormon. And, though I was an active participant in the scenes that transpired, and was present during the translation of the plates, and had cognizance of things as they transpired, it is marvelous to me, ‘a marvel and a wonder,’ as much so as to anyone else.”– Joseph Smith III, “Last Testimony of Sister Emma,” Saints’ Herald 26 (October 1, 1879): 289–90

 

Both were able to coherently dictate large volumes of text in a short period of time

Pearl Curran:

“The writing of ‘The Sorry Tale’ was to continue for twenty months. Parts of it were dictated almost every session with the ouija board during that period. At first the segments mostly were brief, perhaps 500 words, sometimes less. Later, they lengthened to 2,000 and 3,000 words, and eventually a segment of 5,000 words was dictated in one evening, with the ouija board churning out letters as fast as they could be noted down.“Singer in the Shadows: The Strange Story of Patience Worth”- Irving Litvag, page 74

During one two-week period five sittings produced 16,000 words of the book. At one sitting, 5,800 words were dictated, the most productive session up to that time. On two occasions 3,000 words were given in a ninety-minute period.”– “Singer in the Shadows: The Strange Story of Patience Worth”- Irving Litvag, page 113

“…As for my person, I still confess myself baffled by the experience. I can only say that as regards to the reputed cooperation between Pearl Curran and Patience Worth, the observable data of the performance excluded every chance of collusion or fraud. Mrs. Curran, seated before the board, rendered the message as it came in Ouija fashion, letter by letter, in such a rapid sequence that Mr. Curran’s mechanical side of the performance was scarcely short of miraculous. To realize that , spell out aloud consecutively some printed pages at a steady rate of about 36 words per minute. Unless you, too, have your connection with some invisible prompter, I predict that in less than five minutes you will be fumbling and stumbling all over your letters…Now, Mrs. Curran, with no text whatever before her, had no difficulty in carrying on for two or three hours at a stretch…that stunning five-thousand word description of the Crucifixion in The Sorry Tale came out of a single session.”“Singer in the Shadows: The Strange Story of Patience Worth”- Irving Litvag, page 257

“Speaking through a Ouija board operated by Pearl Lenore Curran, a St. Louis housewife of limited education, Patience Worth was nothing short of a national phenomenon in the early years of the 20th century. Though her works are virtually forgotten today, the prestigious Braithwaite anthology listed five of her poems among the nation’s best published in 1917, and the New York Times hailed her first novel as a “feat of literary composition.” Her output was stunning. In addition to seven books, she produced voluminous poetry, short stories, plays and reams of sparkling conversation—nearly four million words between 1913 and 1937. Some evenings she worked on a novel, a poem and a play simultaneously, alternating her dictation from one to another without missing a beat. “What is extraordinary about this case is the fluidity, versatility, virtuosity and literary quality of Patience’s writings, which are unprecedented in the history of automatic writing by mediums,” says Stephen Braude, a professor of philosophy at the University of Maryland Baltimore County and a past president of the American Parapsychological Association, who has written widely on paranormal phenomena.”http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/patience-worth-author-from-the-great-beyond-54333749/?page=1

“A poem of 25 lines was demanded, the lines beginning with the letters of the alphabet, except X, in due order. It was instantly dictated. I asked for a conversation between a lout and a maid at a country fair, to be couched in archaic prose, and a poem in Modern English on ‘The Folly of Atheism’- first a passage of one and then a passage of the other, thus alternating to the end. This seemed to me an impossible mental feat. But it was done so rapidly as to tax the recorder- four passages of humorous prose abounding in archaic locutions, alternating with four parts of a poem in modern English of lofty and spiritual tenor; and when assembled each factor made a perfectly articulated little piece of literature.”“Singer in the Shadows: The Strange Story of Patience Worth”- Irving Litvag, page 227

Joseph Smith:

“Joseph’s many responsibilities often interrupted the translation process, sometimes for several months. Yet, once Joseph was free to dedicate his entire effort to translation, the work surged forward and he translated eight to ten pages a day, completing the preponderance of the Book of Mormon translation in approximately sixty-three working days… Could any one of us today produce such a work? Could a thousand of the world’s best theologians and scholars of ancient languages or antiquities write a similar book of such supernal, transcendent value? No other person with such limited education and facility as Joseph has single-handedly translated in such a short period of time from ancient writings over five hundred pages of scriptural text.https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1995/04/the-translation-miracle-of-the-book-of-mormon?lang=eng

 

Both were able to pick up dictation right where they left off, dictate without written material in front of them, and both had many different scribes

Pearl Curran:

“Mrs. Curran was to have many partners in the project. “As in all her work, it mattered not who was present or who sat at the board with Mrs. Curran. Whether the vis-a-vis was man or woman, old or young, learned or unlettered, the speed and quality of the production were the same. From start to finish, some 260 persons contributed in this way to the composition of this strange tale, some helping to take a few hundred words, some many thousands. Parts of the story were taken in New York, Boston, and Washington. Each time the story was picked up at the point where the work was stopped at the previous sitting, without a break in the continuity of the narrative, without the slightest hesitation, and without the necessity of a reference to the closing words of the last preceding installment. These words were often read for the benefit of those present, but Patience repeatedly proved that it was not required by her.”Patience Worth, The Sorry Tale, New York : Henry Holt and Company,1917, preface by Casper S. Yost, p. V

Joseph Smith:

Q. Had he not a book or manuscript from which he read, or dictated to you?

 

A. He had neither manuscript nor book to read from.

 

Q. Could he not have had, and you not know it?

 

A. If he had had anything of the kind he could not have concealed it from me.

 

Q. Mother, what is your belief about the authenticity, or origin of the Book of Mormon?

 

A. My belief is that the Book of Mormon is of divine authenticity- I have not the slightest doubt of it. I am satisfied that no man could have dictated the writing of the manuscripts unless he was inspired; for, when acting as his scribe, your father would dictate to me hour after hour; and when returning after meals, or after interruptions, he would at once begin where he had left off, without either seeing the manuscript or having any portion of it read to him. This was a usual thing for him to do. It would have been improbable that a learned man could do this; and, for one so ignorant and unlearned as he was, it was simply impossible.– Joseph Smith III, “Last Testimony of Sister Emma,” Saints’ Herald 26 (October 1, 1879): 289–90

Joseph Smith had many different scribes to transcribe his dictation. Some of the scribes were Martin Harris (for the 116 pages), Emma Smith and perhaps her brother Reuben Hale. Oliver Cowdery was the main scribe for the book as we know it today. Another individual who may have served as a scribe for a short stint is John Whitmer (it’s been suggested it is his handwriting attributed to an “unknown scribe.”)

Both were unfamiliar with the historical period they were writing about, but claimed to receive details through “divine” means.

Pearl Curran:

“She sits down with the ouija board as she might sit down to a typewriter, and the receipt of the communication begins with no more ceremony than a typist would observe. Mrs. Curran has had no experience in literary composition and has made no study of literature, ancient or modern. Nor, it may be added, has she made any study of the history, the religions, or the social customs of the period of this story, nor of the geography or topography of the regions in which it is laid. Her knowledge of Palestine and of the beginnings of the Christian religion is no greater, and probably no less, than that of the average communicant.Patience Worth, The Sorry Tale, New York : Henry Holt and Company,1917, preface by Casper S. Yost, p. iii

“All of her knowledge of material things seems to be drawn from English associations. She is surprisingly familiar with the trees and the flowers, the birds and the beasts of England. She knows the manners and customs of its people as they were two or three centuries ago, the people of the fields or the people of the palace. Her speech is filled with references to the furniture, utensils and mechanical contrivances of the household of that time, and to its articles of dress, musical instruments, and tools of agriculture and the mechanical arts.Casper S. Yost, Patience Worth: A Psychic Mystery, New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1916 p. 15

“It will probably be quite evident to a reader of the whole matter that whoever or whatever it is that writes this poetry and prose, possesses, as already intimated, not only an unusual mind, but an unusual knowledge of archaic forms of English, a close acquaintance with nature as it is found in England, and a familiarity with the manners and customs of English life of an older time. Many of the words used in the later compositions, particularly those of a dramatic nature, are obscure dialectal forms not to be found in any work of literature. All of the birds and flowers and trees referred to in the communications are native to England, with the few exceptions that indicate some knowledge of New England. No one not growing up with the language used could have acquired facility in it without years of patient study. No one could become so familiar with English nature without long residence in England: for the knowledge revealed is not of the character that can be obtained from books. Mrs. Curran has had none of these experiences. She has never been in England. Her studies since leaving school have been confined to music, to which art she is passionately attached, and in which she is adept. She has never been a student of literature, ancient or modern, and has never attempted any form of literary work. She has bad no particular interest in English history, English literature or English life.“-Casper S. Yost, Patience Worth: A Psychic Mystery, New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1916 p. 33

“The ‘problem of knowledge,’ as Casper Yost termed it, was always to be one of the most perplexing mysteries of the Patience Worth case. Earlier in 1917, in a national magazine article, Yost had pointed out again that Mrs. Curran never had read anything archaic, any books on English literature, and her education had not covered this field. And, in addition to her exhaustive knowledge of English life and customs, Patience Worth in her newest book, ‘enters the Palestine of 2,000 years ago and reveals a knowledge of the minutia of its life that is simply amazing.‘”“Singer in the Shadows: The Strange Story of Patience Worth”- Irving Litvag, page 139 

Joseph Smith:

Some words he did not know how to pronounce, even words, she said, ‘like Sarah or Sariah, and he had to spell it out,’ and she would pronounce it for him. When he stopped for any purpose at any time he would, when he commenced again, begin where he left off without any hesitation, and one time while he was translating he stopped suddenly, pale as a sheet, and said, ‘Emma, did Jerusalem have walls around it?’ When I answered ‘Yes,’ he replied ‘Oh! I was afraid I had been deceived.’ He had such a limited knowledge of history at that time that he did not even know that Jerusalem was surrounded by walls.Emma Smith to Edmund C. Briggs, “A Visit to Nauvoo in 1856,” Journal of History 9 (January 1916): 454

“During our evening conversations, Joseph would occasionally give us some of the most amusing recitals that could be imagined. He would describe the ancient inhabitants of this continent, their dress, mode of travelings, and the animals upon which they rode; their cities, their buildings, with every particular; their mode of warfare; and also their religious worship. This he would do with as much ease, seemingly, as if he had spent his whole life among them.”Lucy Mack History, 1845

 

Both outgrew the need for physical objects

Joseph Smith:

“At a meeting on June 28, 1874, attended by President Brigham Young and many other General Authorities, Elder Pratt told his audience about being “present many times” when Joseph Smith “was translating the New Testament.” Seeing no interpretive instruments in use during the translation process, he wondered why Joseph “did not use the Urim and Thummim, as in translating the Book of Mormon.”

 

As Elder Pratt watched the Prophet translate, “Joseph, as if he read his thoughts, looked up and explained that the Lord gave him the Urim and Thummim when he was inexperienced in the Spirit of inspiration. But now he had advanced so far that he understood the operations of that Spirit, and did not need the assistance of that instrument.”https://www.lds.org/ensign/2015/10/joseph-the-seer?lang=eng

Pearl Curran:

“Then, as an experiment, but still using the board, Mrs. Curran for the first time dictated an entire poem word by word, without spelling out single letters as she always had done in the past. From that day on, Mrs. Curran generally dictated the poems word by word. Her speed didn’t falter under the new system and her husband once timed her delivery at 110 words per minute. On occasion Mrs. Curran would begin receiving dictation from Patience when she was not sitting at the board. Once she was in the midst of typing a letter to Mrs. Behr when, she said, she heard Patience “softly, insistently dictating” and she wrote down a poem.

 

On February 12,1920, the ouija board was discarded for good. It had been decided to risk experimenting without the board…From this day forth there were no physical objects serving as any type of intermediary in the case of Patience Worth. Pearl Curran simply saw the pictures and the words in her head and called them out, as coming from the hand of Patience Worth.”“Singer in the Shadows: The Strange Story of Patience Worth”- Irving Litvag, page 190

 

Both sincerely believed in the authenticity of their work

Pearl Curran:

Let any man announce himself a psychic if he would feel the firm ground of his respectability slip from beneath his feet. He may have attained through rigorous living an enviable reputation, but if he once admits himself an instrument differing in any manner from the masses, he will find himself a suspected character. Science with side glances will talk secretly of dire and devious matters, connecting with his name such doubtful associates as disassociations, obsessions, secret deviltries of all manner and kind. They humor the subject and listen tolerantly to his effort to prove himself sane, while they cast wise eyes and smile.

 

He will find that the mere act of honestly trying to give the world truth, has opened the door of his soul to ridicule and abuse. It is my honest belief that the humiliation the world has offered to the psychic has kept many splendid examples of God’s mysteries hidden and there are many true and wonderful phenomena that are not disclosed or announced, for this reason only.”- Pearl Curran- “Singer in the Shadows: The Strange Story of Patience Worth”- Irving Litvag, page 194

Joseph Smith:

“No man knows my history. I cannot tell it: I shall never undertake it. I don’t blame any one for not believing my history. If I had not experienced what I have, I would not have believed it myself” (History of the Church, 6:317).

“So it was with me. I had actually seen a light, and in the midst of that light I saw two Personages, and they did in reality speak to me; and though I was hated and persecuted for saying that I had seen a vision, yet it was true; and while they were persecuting me, reviling me, and speaking all manner of evil against me falsely for so saying, I was led to say in my heart: Why persecute me for telling the truth? I have actually seen a vision; and who am I that I can withstand God, or why does the world think to make me deny what I have actually seen? For I had seen a vision; I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it, neither dared I do it; at least I knew that by so doing I would offend God, and come under condemnation.”Joseph Smith History, 1:25

Conclusion

So were the literary creations of Joseph Smith and Pearl Curran the products of imaginative, creative minds, divine inspiration, or perhaps a little of both? This blog post does not attempt to critique the methods or results of what Joseph and Pearl dictated, but their claims were taken at face value. There are a number of differences between Joseph Smith and Pearl Curran, but based on the number of similarities, can someone accept one of them as inspired and reject the other as uninspired? If the quality and speed at which Joseph Smith dictated the words of the Book of Mormon are indicators of divine inspiration and assistance, can the same be said about the religious works of Patience Worth?

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