The man Joseph Smith

His mien, manner impressed others

A "living human multitude" is how author Truman G. Madsen has described the Prophet Joseph Smith, "many men in one, as it were."

Joseph Smith, in the judgement of others, as portrayed in early drawings, was a handsome man with gentle features.
Joseph Smith, in the judgement of others, as portrayed in early drawings, was a handsome man with gentle features. Photo: Deseret News file photo

"You never quite get to the bottom" in studying the life of the Prophet, he said. "There is always more. You can be so impressed and overcome with glimpses that you say, 'Nothing good that I could learn of him would be surprising.' And then you become surprised. There is always more." (Joseph Smith the Prophet, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1989, pp. 19, 35.)

That is the assessment of a scholar from studying the historical record; here are a couple of opinions from those who observed first-hand the Prophet of the Restoration and the founder of Nauvoo. One is from Parley P. Pratt, who knew, served with and loved the Prophet. The other is from Matthew S. Davis, a member of Congress who heard the Prophet speak in Washington D.C.

"He received me with a hearty welcome," Elder Pratt wrote of his first meeting with the Prophet, "and with that frank and kind manner so universal with him in after years. . . .

"President Joseph Smith was in person tall and well built, strong and active, of a light complexion, light hair, blue eyes, very little beard, and of an expression peculiar to himself, on which the eye naturally rested with interest, and was never weary of beholding. His countenance was ever mild, affable, beaming with intelligence and benevolence; mingled with a look of interest and an unconscious smile, or cheerfulness, and entirely free from all restraint or affectation of gravity; and there was something connected with the serene and steady penetrating glance of his eye, as if he would penetrate the deepest abyss of the human heart, gaze into eternity, penetrate the heavens, and comprehend all worlds.

"He possessed a noble boldness and independence of character; his manner was easy and familiar; his rebuke terrible as the lion; his benevolence unbounded as the ocean; his intelligence universal, and his language abounding in original eloquence peculiar to himself — not polished — not studied — not smoothed and softened by education and refined by art; but flowing forth in its own native simplicity, and profusely abounding in variety of subject and manner. He interested and edified, while, at the same time, he amused and entertained his audience; and none listened to him that were ever weary with his discourse. I have even known him to retain a congregation of willing and anxious listeners for many hours together, in the midst of cold or sunshine, rain or wind, while they were laughing at one moment and weeping the next. Even his most bitter enemies were generally overcome if he could once get their ears.

"I have known him when chained and surrounded with armed murderers and assassins who were heaping upon him every possible insult and abuse, rise up in the majesty of a son of God and rebuke them, in the name of Jesus Christ, till they quailed before him, dropped their weapons, and on their knees, begged his pardon and ceased their abuse.

Joseph Smith, in painting by Theodore Gorka, sits comfortably with friends in a Nauvoo setting.
Joseph Smith, in painting by Theodore Gorka, sits comfortably with friends in a Nauvoo setting. Photo: Courtesy Church Audiovisual

"In short, in him the characters of a Daniel and a Cyrus were wonderfully blended. The gifts, wisdom and devotion of a Daniel were united with the boldness, courage, temperance, perseverance and generosity of a Cyrus. And had he been spared a martyr's fate till mature manhood and age, he was certainly endued with powers and ability to have revolutionized the world in many respects, and to have transmitted to posterity a name associated with more brilliant and glorious acts than has yet fallen to the lot of mortal. As it is, his works will live to endless ages, and unnumbered millions yet unborn will mention his name with honor, as a noble instrument in the hands of God, who, during his short and youthful career, laid the foundation of that kingdom spoken of by Daniel, the prophet, which should break in pieces all other kingdoms and stand forever." (Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1985, pp. 31-32.)

Congressman Davis heard the Prophet preach on Feb. 5, 1840, soon after the Latter-day Saints settled Nauvoo. Joseph was in Washington to seek from the national government a redress of grievances for the wrongs suffered by the saints in Missouri. In a letter to his wife, the congressman wrote:

"I went last evening to hear 'Joe Smith,' the celebrated Mormon, expound his doctrine. I with several others, had a desire to understand his tenets as explained by himself. He is not an educated man; but he is a plain, sensible, strong-minded man. Everything he says is said in a manner to leave an impression that he is sincere. There is no levity, no fanaticism, no want of dignity in his deportment. He is apparently from forty to forty-five years of age, rather above the middle stature, and what you ladies would call a very good looking man. In his garb there are no peculiarities; his dress being that of a plain, unpretending citizen. He is by profession a farmer, but is evidently well read.

" . . . During the whole of his address, and it occupied more than two hours, there was no opinion or belief that he expressed, that was calculated, in the slightest degree, to impair the morals of society, or in any manner to degrade and brutalize the human species. . . . There was no violence, no fury, no denunciation. His religion appears to be the religion of meekness, lowliness and mild persuasion. . . .

"Throughout his whole address, he displayed strongly a spirit of charity and forbearance. The Mormon Bible, he said, was communicated to him direct from heaven. If there was such a thing on earth as the author of it, then he (Smith) was the author; but the idea that he wished to impress was that he penned it as dictated by God.

"I have taken some pains to address this man's belief as he himself explained it. I have done so because it might satisfy your curiosity and might be interesting to you and some of your friends. I have changed my opinion of the Mormons. They are an injured and much-abused people. Of matters of faith, you know I express no opinion." (History of the Church 4:78-79.)

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