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Mormon Passage of George D. Watt: First…
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Mormon Passage of George D. Watt: First British Convert, Scribe for Zion

by Ronald G. Watt

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George D. Watt was a man of many remarkable talents and capabilities, but he also had some significant flaws in his personality. This biography, by a great-grandson and long-time employee in the Mormon Church historian's department, demonstrates the talents and capabilities well: stenographer to Brigham Young; originator of the Deseret Alphabet (an interesting venture into improving English orthography), Compiler of the Journal of Discourses (a truly fantastic collection of Mormon sermons stretching over three decades in the late 1800s), horticulturist, missionary, churchman, close associate of Church authorities. But the flaws are equally visible: stubborness, impulsiveness, issues with his own self-worth in the eyes of others, and eventually abandonment of religious teachings adhered to for over thirty years. The story is at once uplifting and tragic, enlightening and depressing. The author is not a strong writer. The text is halting, repetitious, awkard and at times unclear. He leaves strings dangling on many occasions that might better have been resolved. In addition, he indulged in speculation concerning aspects of Watt's life that is not warrented based on the absence of a record or narrative. Watt is a relatively unknown character in Mormon history, more than likely because he was excommunicated for leaving the tenents of the faith and subscribing to a particularly opportunistic spiritualism. But he contributed so much to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints during the years of his productive membership that a biography is only right and proper. With this foray into the life of George D. Watt, there may now be interest in dealing with him in a more scholarly and literary manner. Hopefully there is a significant biography of this immensely interesting and important historical figure in the future. ( )
  BlaueBlume | Jun 12, 2010 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0874217563, Hardcover)

Nineteenth-century Mormonism was a frontier religion with roots so entangled with the American experience as to be seen by some scholars as the most American of religions and by others as a direct critique of that experience. Yet it also was a missionary religion that through proselytizing quickly gained an international, if initially mostly Northern European, makeup. This mix brought it a roster of interesting characters: frontiersmen and hardscrabble farmers; preachers and theologians; dreamers and idealists; craftsmen and social engineers. Althoughthe Mormon elite soon took on, as elites do, a rather fixed, dynastic character, the social origins of its first-generation members were quite diverse. The Mormon Church at its beginning provided a good study in upward mobility. George D. Watt, for instance, was a self-educated convert with both unusual, for the time and place of frontier Utah, clerical skills and ambitions to improve his status. A man with intellectual pretensions, he had little formal training but a strong will, avid curiosity, and appetite for knowledge. Those traits made up for what he lacked in schooling and drew him into what served as intellectual circles among the Mormon elite and, later, on the church’s disenchanted fringe. They also made him for a time essential to Brigham Young as a clerk and reporter but sent him into religious and social exile, due to a contest of wills with his employer that Watt had no chance of winning,. 
Reputed to have been the first of the many English converts to the LDS church, Watt’s repeatedly demonstrated ability to learn quickly made him an early master of Pitman shorthand, just then coming into use. Employing this skill, he made two important contributions to Mormon literature: First, he more than anyone created, based on that shorthand, the Deseret Alphabet, which now is a curiosity but then was an innovation that, intended to create a unique Mormon orthography and pedagogy, stands well for the broad attempt to build in Utah the wholly self-sufficient culture of the Kingdom of God. Second, his efficient note taking allowed him to take down the sermons of Young and other church leaders and publish them in the Journal of Discourses, an indispensible historical record. In addition Watt learned, thought, and wrote about a variety of subjects, from horticulture to spiritualism, which helped define him as a resident Utah intellectual. He eventually left the Mormon Church, but the records of his domestic life before and after that decision provide a rich portrait of the working of polygamous households, particularly complicated ones in his case. Despite his accomplishments, because of his potential, George Watt’s story is at heart a tragedy. His breach with Young resulted in social isolation, poverty, and rejection by friends and associates. He never, though, lost his sense of independence or his avid mind. Whether facing an economic affront or pressing, in writing, his own conclusions about life and God, he engaged the challenge where he found it.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:06 -0400)

Nineteenth-century Mormonism was a frontier religion with roots so entangled with the American experience as to be seen by some scholars as the most American of religions and by others as a direct critique of that experience. Yet it also was a missionary religion that through proselytizing quickly gained an international, if initially mostly Northern European, makeup. This mix brought it a roster of interesting characters: frontiersmen and hardscrabble farmers; preachers and theologians; dreamers and idealists; craftsmen and social engineers. Althoughthe Mormon elite soon took on, as elites do.… (more)

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