Thursday, October 2, 2014

A “Powerful” Chance Encounter with William George Jordan

imageThe Power of Truth was written by William George Jordan and first published in 1902. My father encouraged me to read it for years and when I finally did I wondered why I had not read it earlier.  It affirms what most of us believe but don’t articulate. It offers insights into human nature that provides comfort and can inspire us to become the kind of people God would have us be. It is on my must read list.  This is one of the few books that you can turn to any page, put your finger anywhere on the page and find a quotable quote in the paragraph that your finger is on.

The Power of Truth was Jordan’s third book. The Kingship of Self-Control (1898) and The Majesty of Calmness(1900) preceded it.  In typical Jordan style the name of the book is also the title of the first chapter.

I believe Jordan reveals a something of himself in his last chapter, “The Way of the Reformer”:

Sweet indeed is human sympathy, the warm hand clasp of confidence and love brings a rich inflow of new strength to him who is struggling, and the knowledge that someone dear to us sees with love and comradeship our future through our eyes, is a wondrous draught of new life. If we have this, perhaps the loyalty of two or three, what the world says or thinks about us should count for little. But if this be denied us, then must we bravely walk our weary way alone, toward the sunrise that must come.

The little world around us that does not understand us, does not appreciate our ambition or sympathize with our efforts that seem to it futile, is not intentionally cruel, calloused, bitter, blind, or heartless. It is merely that busied with its own pursuits, problems and pleasures, it does not fully realize, does not see as we do.

The world does not see our ideal as we see it, does not feel the glow of inspiration that makes our blood tingle, our eye brighten, and our soul seem flooded with a wondrous light. It sees naught but the rough block of marble before us and the great mass of chips and fragments of seemingly fruitless effort at our feet, but it does not see the angel of achievement slowly emerging from its stone prison, from nothingness into being, under the tireless strokes of our chisel. It hears no faint rustle of wings that seem already real to us or the glory of the music of triumph already ringing in our ears.

Certainly William was a reformer. His first copyrighted work dealt with improving education, his next three, improving individuals, then he moved to improving government, back to individuals, then marriage, political institutions, individuals and education once again. He was always trying to improve the world around him.

He not only wrote about improving the human nature, he practiced what he preached. After William Jordan’s father in passed away in 1883 his mother lived with him until she died in 1919. An older sister Barbara Jordan lived with him for at least 20 years. Additionally, a younger married sister Mary Jordan Cox along with her 18 year old daughter Dorothy May Cox were lived with him for a period of time around 1920 (Mary and her husband had gone through bankruptcy). As there was not room for her husband and son in the Jordan residence they ended up boarding in a nearby home—sources: the 1900, 1910, and 1920 census records and a conversation with Dorothy May Cox’s daughter.

Perhaps the resistance he received for his educational views, family circumstances and work related struggles together with his faith led him to conclude “The Way of the Reformer” with this thought:

And when it is all over and the victory is yours, and the smoke clears away and the smell of the powder is dissipated, and you bury the friendships that died because they could not stand the strain, and you nurse back the wounded and faint hearted who loyally stood by you, even when doubting, then the hard years of fighting will seem but a dream. You will stand brave, heartened, strengthened by the struggle, recreated to a new, better and stronger life by a noble battle, nobly waged, in a noble cause. And the price will then seem to you—nothing.

One measure of a good book is one that no matter how many times you read, new insights are gained. By that standard The Power of Truth is a book is outstanding.

Although he was Episcopalian, and spent most of his life in New York City, William George Jordan’s writings were very popular among members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day. The following is a brief history of how that came to be.

In 1903 The Power of Truth was published in England under the name Great Truths. Heber J. Grant, who later became the president of the Church, encountered Great Truths while in serving in England as a president of the European mission. .

While in England, Grant encountered another book that had great influence on him, not only because of its contents but also for the practice it began. Pausing one day in the editorial office of the Millennial Star [an LDS Magazine which served British members], he casually thumbed through a slender volume, … . Grant found himself captured by the author's simple phrases and practical lessons. He read the volume seven times and began to liberally salt his sermons with its messages. “I know of no book of the same size, that has made a more profound impression upon my mind,” he wrote enthusiastically to Jordan, “and whose teachings I consider of greater value.”

Grant decided the book deserved wide circulation. Inquiring of the publishers, he learned that of the original five thousand copies printed only a few hundred had been sold. The rest of the copies were scheduled for the incinerator. Grant immediately purchased these … and began to mark and inscribe copies for friends. Before leaving Europe he ordered another one thousand copies printed. Due to his constant and impassioned boosting, the book eventually gained popularity in Utah.Thus began one of Grant's characteristic hobbies: buying hundreds and sometimes thousands of copies of books for distribution to friends.—Ronald W. Walker, “Heber J. Grant’s European Mission, 1903-1906”, Journal of Mormon History, Volume 14, 1988, p. 27

Note, In a speech at a ceremony in the Heber J. Grant Library at BYU President Grant estimated that he had given away roughly 100,000 books—“President Grant – The Patron of Drama, Literature, Art and Music”, Improvement Era, Nov 1936.

Between 1908 and 1913 the following books by William George Jordan were published in the Improvement Era (an official magazine of the LDS church) in serial form: The Kingship of Self-Control, The Majesty of Calmness, The Crown of Individuality, Little Problems of Married Life. Thus for over five years LDS Church members were exposed to William George Jordan on nearly a monthly basis.

On the day Heber J. Grant was sustained as the President of the Church, Nov 23, he spoke at the funeral services of the former president, Joseph F. Smith. President Grant paid tribute to Joseph F. Smith using quotes from The Power of Truth (Lucile C. Tate, LeGrand Richards: Beloved Apostle, 1982, p 106-107).

In 1933 Heber J. Grant in connection with Deseret Book purchased the copyright to The Power of Truth from William George Jordan’s window, Nell Mitchell Jordan. In 1934 it was published in the Improvement Era (one chapter per month) and in 1935 it was published in hardback by Deseret Book. I suspect few individuals, let alone non-members, have had more words published in LDS periodicals than Mr. Jordan.

LDS Church leaders have used quotes from Jordan in talks, articles and books since 1908. The list of LDS leaders who have used quotes from Mr. Jordan’s books include Marvin J. Ashton, M. Russell Ballard, J. Richard Clarke, Heber J. Grant, Ardeth G. Kapp, Harold B. Lee, David O. McKay, Thomas S. Monson, LeGrand Richards … .

Thus a “chance” encounter with a small book in England not only had a remarkable effect on one man but, through Heber J. Grant, William George Jordan was introduced to multiple generations of LDS church members.

Below is a favorite quote from each chapter:

I. The Power of Truth
Truth can stand alone, for it needs no chaperone or escort. Lies are cowardly, fearsome things that must travel in battalions. They are like a lot of drunken men, one vainly seeking to support another.

II. The Courage to Face Ingratitude
Man should not be an automatic gas-machine, cleverly contrived to release a given quantity of illumination under the stimulus of a nickel. He should be like the great sun,itself which ever radiates light, warmth, life and power, because it cannot help doing so, because these qualities fill the heart of the sun, and for it to have them means that it must give them constantly.

III. People Who Live in Air Castles
The man who permits regret for past misdeeds, or sorrow for lost opportunities to keep him from recreating a proud future from the new days committed to his care, is losing much of the glory of living.

IV. Swords and Scabbards
Reputation is what the world thinks a man is; character is what he really is … Reputation is the shell a man discards when he leaves life for immortality. His character he takes with him.

V. The Conquest of the Preventable
It is ever the little things that make up the sum of human misery. All the wild animals of the world combined do but trifling damage, when compared with the ravages of insect pests. The crimes of humanity, the sins that make us start back affrighted, do not cause as much sorrow and unhappiness in life as the multitude of little sins, of omission and commission that the individual, and millions like him, must meet every day. They are not the evil deeds that the law can reach or punish, they are but the infinity of petty wrongs for which man can never be tried until he stands with bowed head before the bar of justice of his own conscience.

VI. The Companionship of Tolerance
Tolerance makes the individual regard truth as higher than personal opinion; it teaches him to live with the windows of his life open towards the east to catch the first rays of the sunlight of truth no matter from whom it comes, and to realize that the faith that he so harshly condemns may have the truth he desires if he would only look into it and test it before he repudiates it so cavalierly.

VII. The Things that Come too Late
It takes over thirty years for the light of some of the stars to reach the earth, some a hundred, some a thousand years. Those stars do not become visible till their light reaches and reacts on human vision. It takes an almost equal time for the light of some of the world's great geniuses to meet real, seeing eyes. Then we see these men as the brilliant stars in the world's gallery of immortal great ones. This is why contemporary reputation rarely indicates lasting fame. We are constantly mistaking fireflies of cleverness for stars of genius.

VIII. The Way of the Reformer
… it is the fight that is made when all seems lost that really counts and wrests victory from the hand of seeming defeat.

You can view/download The Power of Truth using the following links: HTML, PDF.  A complete list of books and pamphlets by WJG can be found in my post “Books by William George Jordan.”

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