Topic Study: Historical Book “Young Man’s Guide”

(October 2005)

I received a gift from Rick Ringer of an 1834 edition of “Young Man’s Guide”.  The book was purchased by his wife’s, Andrea, Grandfather while attending Harvard in 1905 I believe.  The inside front cover is inscribed with “Nathan L. Whettten, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass 1930”.  Rick indicated that they believe that he was still active in the church at the time, but either while at Harvard or later while in Connecticut, he became disaffected and stopped attending the church.

Other books in the box included one from the 1870 on the Mormon’s and Polygamy, an expose by a federal marshal in Utah, and a second edition of Ethan Smith’s “View of the Hebrews” which has been suggested was the source of Joseph Smith’s ideas for the Book of Mormon.  It is interesting to note the first book to suggest such a connection was published in New York in 1903.  These two books seem to indicate some interest in early church history books.  I wondered if perhaps he thought there was some connection between “Young Man’s Guide” and Joseph Smith.

Here is what I have learned about the book today:

William Alexander Alcott

ALCOTT, William Alexander, author, born in Wolcott, Connecticut, 6 August 1798; died in Auburndale, Massachusetts, 29 March 1859. He supported himself in youth by working on a farm in summer and teaching in winter, studied medicine at Yale, and practiced for several years. In 1832 he associated himself with William Woodbridge in the preparation of school geographies and atlases, and in editing the “Annals of Education” and the “Juvenile Rambles,” the first weekly periodical for children published in America. His interest in improving the condition of the public schools led to his writing numerous articles on the subject, published in the Hartford and New Haven journals. For his paper “On the Construction of School-houses” he was awarded a premium from the American institute of instruction. About 1832 he removed to Boston, and there published the “Young Man’s Guide,” a book that exerted great influence by disseminating correct physiological principles. Upward of 100 books and pamphlets were published by him, including “The House I live in,” “The Young Housekeeper,” “The Library of Health” (6 vols.), ” Moral Reform,” “My Progress in Error,” and a “Prize Essay on Tobacco.” He spent his winters in travel, visiting school-houses, more than 20,000 of which he is said to have inspected, and lecturing. His name is identified with some of the most valuable reforms in education, morals, and physical training of the present century.

Edited Appletons Encyclopedia, Copyright © 2001 VirtualologyTM  (Source)

Dr. Alcott is mentioned twice in the LDS Collection for his writing on the evils of tobacco by Widtsoe.  I wondered if perhaps the purchaser thought there was a connection between his book, published in the early 1800’s and the Word of Wisdom.  This particular edition is the 1834 edition, and Joseph Smith’s revelation, the Word of Wisdom, was received in 1833.  However, the edition of the book I have is the second edition.  The 1832 edition could have had an influence on Joseph Smith if he had known of the book.  Here are a few comments from the book:

“Smoking has every where, in Europe and America, become a tremendous evil…This plague, like the Egyptian plague of frogs, is felt everywhere, and in everything. It poisons the streets, the clubs, and the coffee-houses; — furniture, clothes, equipage, persons, are redolent of the abomination…Smoking is indecent, filthy, and rude, and to many individuals highly offensive.”

As to the value of the book, it appears Rick Ringer was quote a price from the used book store in Bloomington/Normal of about $3.00.  He was told generally they offer about ¼ of the anticipated retail price, making that perhaps $12.00.  A search of the internet shows the prices to range from $30 to $87, but those are perhaps in better condition than the book I have received.

I am not sure how I would ever establish a connection between Joseph Smith and this book, or why Andrea’s grandfather bought it.  An on-line version of the book can be found here.

[Updated 11/14/2006]  Things in Heaven and Earth: The Life and Times of Wilford Woodruff, a Mormon Prophet, by Thomas G. Alexander (© 1991, Signature Books) page 153 notes that while Wilford was presiding over the Eastern States Mission in 1848 in Boston “He read and reflected positively on current self-help books such as William A. Alcott’s The Young Man’s Guide and Jason Whitman’s The Young Lady’s Aid.”  (Woodruff, Journal, 3:366 – 9 Sept. 1848)  I think it is interesting that Wilford was in Boston at the time of reading these books, the same city the books were purchased in the twentieth century.]

Initial writing finished October 2005

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