About the Collection
James Edward Talmage
by Jeffrey S. Hardy
James Edward Talmage was born on 21 September 1862 in Hungerford, Berkshire, England, to James Joyce Talmage and Susannah Preater. His father baptized him into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) on 15 June 1873. Of his conversion to the gospel he later remarked, “I set about investigating the claims of the Church and pursued the investigation by prayer, fasting, and research….After months of such inquiry, I found myself in possession of an assurance beyond all question that I was in solemn fact a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” 1 James maintained his stalwart testimony of the truthfulness of the LDS Church throughout his life.
In England James received his primary education from the best schools and in 1874 earned the distinguished title of Oxford diocesan prize scholar. Two years later the Talmages left England and emigrated to Utah, where they settled in Provo, Utah County. There James continued his studies under Dr. Karl G. Maeser at the Brigham Young Academy (BYA), and by the age of seventeen he had graduated and subsequently obtained the position of instructor at that institution. “To the classroom he brought such personality, such lucidity of explanation, such an energizing influence that students made unusual progress under his direction.” 2 From 1882 to 1884 he studied at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania and John Hopkins University in Maryland, the former of which awarded him an honorary doctorate in 1912.
In 1884 he returned to the BYA and assumed the position of professor of geology and chemistry. In addition to his university obligations, James also served as city councilman, justice of the peace, and alderman for Provo. On 14 June 1888 James married Mary May Booth in Manti, Utah, and eight children were born as a result of this union. Later that year he moved to Salt Lake City to head the Latter-day Saints College, a position that he maintained for five years. During this time he also accepted the presidency of the Deseret Museum, which flourished under his care until the Church discontinued its operation in 1919. In 1894 he began a three-year stint as president of the University of Utah, and also became a professor of geology at that institution. After nearly three decades in academia, James entered the private sector in 1907, devoting his practice to mining geology.
A great change in James’ life came on 8 December 1911 when he was ordained an apostle in the LDS Church. As such, in 1924, he was appointed president of the European Mission of the Church, headquartered in Liverpool, England. Elder Talmage spent considerable time and energy combating negative articles about the Church that appeared in newspaper throughout the British Isles by writing rebuttals and meeting with paper editors to ensure fair treatment in the press of the ‘Mormons.’ He remarked that “the ‘yellow press’ is declaring that the object of our missionary work is to induce women to migrate to Utah to become polygamous wives. This scurrilous falsehood, though refuted again and again seems to be of undying interest to a depraved primatistic taste.” 3 As to the success of this campaign, “within a few months, anti-Mormon attacks in the British press…had become the exception rather than the rule.” 4
James also lectured on the state of Utah and the beliefs of the Church at many civic and professional meetings, aided in this regard by his British upbringing and renown as a highly-respected scientist and educator. As mission president he made several trips across the European continent, meeting with Church members and missionaries, directing their work, teaching the gospel, and providing inspiration. He also arranged for a plaque commemorating the life of his BYA headmaster, Karl G. Maeser, to be placed at Maeser’s birthplace in Germany. This monument was dedicated on 19 November 1926 and Talmage reported that “the proceedings throughout were very impressive, and the hearts of all of us who knew or know of Brother Karl G. Maeser were deeply stirred.” 5 After over three years in Europe, James was released to return to Utah, which he did after a Mediterranean tour that included stops in Turkey, Syria, Palestine, and Egypt. Upon his release he humbly noted, “We trust that in the summing up of our labors during the last 38 months the Lord will graciously take note of our desires and intentions—for we have meant to do right, and have tried to do our best, though that best should have been better.” 6
During his life, James belonged to various professional and scholarly societies, such as the National Geographic Society, the Philosophical Society of Great Britain, and the Royal Society of Edinburgh. He was an avid reader and prolific writer. Not to mention the multitudes of articles that he penned, his major professional and ecclesiastical works include: First Book of Nature (1888), The Great Salt Lake, Present and Past (1900), The Articles of Faith (1899), The Great Apostasy (1909), The House of the Lord (1912), and Jesus the Christ (1915). Moreover, in 1902 he separated the Pearl of Great Price into verse form and added scriptural references, in preparation for a new edition. Few since have made such significant contributions to the wealth of doctrinal LDS literature as did Elder Talmage. A contemporary wrote that “Dr. Talmage is a writer and speaker of great ability and skill. He is an absolute master of English, both by pen and tongue, and possesses a musical eloquence of marvelous fluency and precision.” 7
James maintained an exhausting work regime that allowed no time for sports or other hobbies. His real passion was building up the kingdom of God; he even donated the proceeds from his very successful religious books to the Church. On 27 July 1933, James Edward Talmage died from inflammation of the heart at the age of seventy. Elder Melvin J. Ballard after his death proclaimed: “He takes with him the things that are worthwhile—a marvelous knowledge, his faith, his well-trained mind, and…his right to the holy Apostleship.” 8
1 James E. Talmage, The Parables of James E. Talmage, comp. Albert L. Zobell, Jr. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1973), 65-66.
2 Ibid., 65.
3 James E. Talmage, “Diary, 1924-1925,” 12 November 1924. MSS 229, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University.
4 John R. Talmage, The Talmage Story: Life of James E. Talmage—Educator, Scientist, Apostle (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company), 210.
5 James E. Talmage, “Diary, 1926-1927,” 19 November 1926. MSS 229, LTPSC.
6 Ibid., 31 December 1927.
7 Andrew Jenson, Latter-Day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia: A Compilation of Biographical Sketches of Prominent Men and Women in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, vol. 3 (Salt Lake City: Andrew Jenson Historical Co., 1901-1936), 789.
8 Lawrence R. Flake, Mighty Men of Zion ([Salt Lake City: Carl D. Butler, 1974]), 251.
Flake, Lawrence R. Mighty Men of Zion: General Authorities of the Last Dispensation. [Salt Lake City: Karl D. Butler, 1974].
Hartshorn, Leon Roundy. Exceptional Stories from the Lives of our Apostles. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1972.
Jenson, Andrew. Latter-Day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia: A Compilation of Biographical Sketches of Prominent Men and Women in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Vol. 3. Salt Lake City: Andrew Jenson Historical Co., 1901-1936.
Kenner, S. A. Utah As It Is: With a Comprehensive Statement of Utah As It Was. Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1904.
Our Prophets and Principles: Writings on Our Articles of Faith and Prophets Who Made Them Live. Salt Lake City: Instructor, 1966.
Simmons, Ralph B. Utah’s Distinguished Personalities: A Biographical Directory of Eminent Contemporaneous Men and Women Who Are the Faithful Builders and Defenders of the State. Salt Lake City: Personality Publishing Company, 1933.
Talmage, James Edward. “Papers, 1876-1933.” MSS 229, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University.
________. Parables of James E. Talmage. Compiled by Albert Zobell, Jr. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1973.
Talmage, John R. The Talmage Story: Life of James E. Talmage – Educator, Scientist, Apostle. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1972.
Van Wagoner, Richard S. A Book of Mormons. Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1982.
Warrum, Noble. Utah Since Statehood: Historical and Biographical. Chicago: S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1919.