Letter from Orson Hyde, 17 July 1841

  • Source Note
  • Historical Introduction

Document Transcript

Ratisbon, on the . July 17, 1841.
Dear Bro. Joseph, and all whom it may concern.
With pleasure I take my pen to write to you at this time, hoping this communication may find you as it leaves me, in good health and enjoying a comfortable measure of the Holy Spirit.
On the 20th of June last, I left for . in Holland, after writing a lengthy epistle to you, and also the copy of a letter addressed to the Rev. Doct. , President Rabbi of the Hebrews in , which I hope you have recieved ere this. The work of the Lord was steadily advancing in under the efficient and zealous labours of our worthy brother, .
The fine Steamer, Battavier, brought me safely over the billows of a tremendous rough sea in about 30 hours. Never did I suffer more from sea-sickness than during this short voyage; but it was soon over and we landed safely in . I took my lodgings at the London Hotel at two florins per diem, about three shillings and five pence sterling, or seventy five cents. Here I called on the Hebrew Rabbi, and proposed certain questions to him; but as he did not understand a word of English, it was hard for me to enter into particulars with him. I asked him, however, whether he expected his Mesiah to come directly from Heaven, or whether he expected him to be born of a woman on earth. He replied, that he expected him to be born of a woman, of the seed and lineage of David. At what period do you look for this event? Ans. “We have been looking a long time, and are now living in constant expectation of his coming.” Do you believe in the restitution of your nation to the land of your fathers, called the land of promise: “We hope it will be so,” was the reply. He then added, “We believe that many Jews will return to and rebuild the city—rear a Temple to the name of the Most High, and restore our ancient worship.” “ shall be the capital of our nation—the centre of our union, and the Standard and Ensign of our national existence. But we do not believe that all the Jews will go there, for the place is not large enough to contain them. They are now gathering there,” [p. 570] continued he, “almost continually.” I told him that I had written an address to the Hebrews, and was about procuring its publication in his own language; (dutch) and when completed, I would leave him a copy. He thanked me for this token of respect, and I bade him adieu. I soon obtained the publication of five hundred copies of the address, and left one at the house of the Rabbi—he being absent from home, I did not see him.
After remaining here about one week, I took the coach for , distance 7 hours, or about 30 English miles. is a fine town of about 80 thousand inhabitants. The cleanliness of its streets, the antique order of its architecture, the extreme height of its buildings, the numerous shade trees with which it is beautified, and the great number of canals through almost every part of the town filled with ships of various sizes from different parts of the world; all these, with many other things not mentioned contributed to give this place a peculiararity resembled no where else in the course of my travels, except in . Most of the business men here speak a little English—some speak it very well. In ascending the waters of the Rhine from the sea to , the numerous Wind-mills which I beheld in constant operation, led me to think, almost, that all Europe came here for their grinding. But I ascertained that they were grinding for distilleries, where the floods of gin are made, which, not only. deluge our beloved country with fatal consequences, but many others. Gin is one of the principal articles of exportation from this . In going to , I passed through a very beautiful town called “,” the residence of the King of Holland. I saw his palace which was guarded by soldiers, both horse and foot. For grandeur it bore but a faint resemblance to Buckingham Palace in : But the beautiful parks and picturesque scenery in and about , I have never seen equaled in any country. I remained in only one night, and a part of two days—I called on the President Rabbi here, but he was gone from home. I left at his house a large number of the addresses for himself and his peolpe, and took coach for on the Rhine. Took boat the same evening for Mazenty. Travelling by coach and steam is rather cheaper in this country than in the . We were three days in going up the Rhine to Mazenty. Holland and the lower part of Prus[s]ia are very low flat countries. The French and German language are spoken all along the Rhine; but little or no English. The Rhine is about like the Ohio for size, near its mouth where it empties into the . Its waters resemble the waters, dark and muddy. The scenery and landscapes along this river have been endowed with art and nature’s choicest gifts. I have been made acquainted with Europe, in , by books, to a certain extent; yet now my eyes behold!! It is impossible for a written description of a stranger’s beauty, to leave the same impression upon the mind, as is made by an ocular view of the lovely object. This is the difference between reading of and seeing the countries of Europe.
From Mazenty I came to Frankfort on the Main, by railroad—distance 7 hours. From Frankfort, I came to this place—distance about 30 hours, where Napoleon gained a celebrated victory over the Prusians and Austrians. The very ground on which I now write this letter, was covered by about 60 thousand slain in that battle. It is called the battle of Ackynaeal.
It was my intention to have gone directly down the to Constantinople; but having neglected to get my passport vezayed by the Austrian Embassador at Frankfort, I had to forward it to the Austrain Embassador at Munich and procure his permission, signature, and seal, before I could enter the Austrian dominions. This detained me five days, during which time I conceived the idea of sitting down and learning the German language scientifically. I became acquainted with a lady here who speaks French and German to admiration, and she was very anxious to speak the English—she proposed giving me instruction in the German if I would instruct her in English. I accepted her proposal. I have been engaged eight days in this task. I have read one book through and part of another, and translated and written con[s]iderable. I can speak and write the German considerable already, and the lady tells me that I make astonishing progress. From the past experience, I know that the keen edge of any work translated by a stranger in whose heart the spir [p. 571]it of the matter does not dwell, is lost—the life and animation thereof, die away into a cold monotony, and it becomes almost entirely another thing. This step is according to the best light I can get, and hope and trust that it is according to the mind of the Lord. The people will hardly believe but that I have spoken German before; but I tell them, neicht, not. The German is spoken in Prussia, , and in all the States of —the south of Russia, and in fine more or less all over Europe. It appears to me, therefore, that some person of some little experience ought to know this language so as to translate himself without being dependant on strangers. If I am wrong in my movement, pray that the spirit of the Lord may direct me aright. If I am right, pray that Heaven may speedily give me this language. It is very sickly in Constantinople, Syria and Alexandria, at present; I would rather, therefore, wait until cool weather before I go there. I might have written most of this letter in German; but as you would more readily understand it in English, I have written it in English.
With pleasure I leave the historical part of my letter, to touch a softer note, and give vent to the feelings of my heart.
I hope and trust that the cause which you so fearlessly advocate, is rolling forth in , with that firm and steady motion which characterizes the work of Jehovah. The enemies which we are forced to encounter are numerous, strong, shrewd and cunning. Their leader transfuses into them his own spirit, and brings them into close alliance with the numerous hosts of precious immortals who have been earlier taken captives by the haughty Tyrant, and sacrificed upon the altar of iniquity, transgression and sin. May it please our Father in Heaven to throw around thee his protecting arms,—to place beneath thee Almighty strength, ever buoy thy head above the raging waves of tribulation through which the chart of destiny has evidently marked thy course. Happy in the enjoyment of the distinguished consideration with which Heaven’s favor, alone, has endowed me. of bearing, with you, some humble part in laying the foundation of the glorious kingdom of Mesiah which is destined, in its onward course, to break in pieces and destroy all others and stand forever.
The friendship and good-will which are breathed towards me through all your letters, are received as the legacy which noble minds and generous hearts are ever anxious to bequeath. They soften the hard and rugged path in which Heaven has directed my course. They are buoyancy in depression,—joy in sorrow; and when the dark clouds of desponding hope are gathering thick around the mental horizon, like a kind angel from the fountain of mercy, they dispel the gloom, dry the tear of sorrow, and pour humanitie’s healing balm into my grieved and sorrowful heart. Be assured, therefore, Bro. Joseph, that effusions from the altar of a greatful heart are smoking to Heaven, daily, in thy behalf; and not only in thine, but in behalf of all Zion’s suffering sons and daughters whose generous magnanimity will ever environ and adorn the brow of the object of their compassion. Tho’ now far separated from you; and also from her who, with me, has suffered the chilling blasts of adversity, yet hope lingers in this bosom, brightened almost into certainty by the implicit confidence reposed in the virtue of that call which was borne on the gentle breeze of the spirit of God through the dark shades of midnight gloom, ’till it found a mansion in my anxious and enquiring heart, that my feet shall once more press the American soil; and under the shade of her streaming banner, embrace again the friends I love.
I never knew that I was, in reality, an American, until I walked out one fine morning in along the wharf, where many ships lay in the waters of the Rhine: Suddenly my eye caught a broad pendant floating in a gentle breeze over the stern of a fine ship at half-mizzen-mast; and when I saw the wide-spread Eagle perched on her banner, with the stripes and stars under which our fathers were led on to conquest and victory, my heart leaped into my mouth, a flood of tears burst from my eyes, and before reflection could mature a sentence, my mouth, involuntarily, gave birth to these words, “I am an American!
To see the flag of one’s country in a strange land, and floating upon strange waters, produces feelings which none can know except those who experience them. I can now say that I am an American. While at home, the warmth and fire of the American spirit lay in silent [p. 572] slumber in my bosom; but the winds of foreign climes have fanned it into a flame.
I have seen some of the finest specimens of painting and sculpture of both ancient and modern times. The vast variety of curiosities, also, from every country on the Globe, together with every novelty that genius could invent or imagination conceive which I have been compelled to witness in the course of my travels, would be too heavy a tax upon my time to describe, and upon your patience to read. I have witnessed the wealth and splendor of many of the towns of Europe,—have gazed with admiration upon her widely extended plains—her lofty mountains—her mouldering castles,—and her extensive vineyards: For at this season, nature is clad in her bridal robes, and smiles under the benign jurisprudence of her Author.
I have, also, listened to the blandishments, gazed upon the pride and fashion of a world grown old in luxury and refinement, viewed the pageantry of Kings, Queens, lords and nobles; and am now where military honor, and princely dignity, must bow at the shrine of clerical superiority. In fine, my mind has become cloyed with novelty, pomp and show; and turns with disgust from the glare of fashion to commune with itself in retired meditation.
Were it consistent with the will of Deity, and consonant with the convictions of my own bosom; most gladly would I retreat from the oppressing heat of public life, and seek repose in the cool and refreshing shades of domestic endearments, and bask in the affections of my own little family circle. But the will of God be done! Can the Mesiah’s kingdom but be advanced through my toil, privation, and excessive labours; and at last sanctify my work through the effusion of my own blood! I yield, O Lord! I yield to thy righteous mandate! Imploring help from thee in the hour of trial, and strength in the day of weakness to faithfully endure until my immortal spirit shall be driven from its earthly mansion to find a refuge in the bosom of its God.
If the friends in shall be edefied in reading this letter from , I hope they will remember one thing; and that is this; that he hopes he has a and two children living there; but the distance is so great between him and them, that his arm is not long enough to administer to their wants. I have said enough. Lord, bless my and children, and the hand that ministers good to them in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen. Adieu for the present.
Good rest on all the saints, throughout the world,
. [p. 573]


  1. 1

    Regensburg was commonly known as Ratisbon throughout the nineteenth century. (Handbook for Travellers in Southern Germany, 18, 91.)  

    Handbook for Travellers in Southern Germany; Being a Guide to Bavaria, Austria, Tyrol, Salzburg, Styria, &c., the Austrian and Bavarian Alps . . . . London: John Murray and Son, 1837.

  2. 2

    Letter from Orson Hyde, 15 June 1841.  

  3. 3

    Snow arrived in London on 11 February 1841. He was made president of the London conference of the church at its organization three days later. The conference comprised congregations from London, Bedford, Ipswich, and Woolwich. (Woodruff, Journal, 11 and 14 Feb. 1841.)  

    Woodruff, Wilford. Journals, 1833–1898. Wilford Woodruff, Journals and Papers, 1828–1898. CHL. MS 1352.

  4. 4

    A traveler taking Hyde’s same route aboard the Batavier in 1835 described the vessel as “a large, black-looking, rounded whale of a vessel,” with a “comfortable cabin on deck, and a platform on the roof of it.” (Rhenish Album, 4.)  

    The Rhenish Album; or, Scraps from the Rhine: The Journal of a Travelling Artist through Holland, up the Rhine to Strasburg, and Returning through Belgium. With Notices of Public Edifices, Hotels, &c. London: Leigh and Son, 1836.

  5. 5

    The New London Hotel was located behind Boompjes street in the center of Rotterdam and on the north bank of the New Meuse River. (New Picture of Rotterdam, 95; Rhenish Album, 1.)  

    A New Picture of Rotterdam; Containing: I. An Account of Its Origin and Subsequent Enlargements. II. A Succinct, but Complete and Critical History of the Town. III. A Complete Directory. . . . Rotterdam, Netherlands, Arbon and Krap, 1825.

    The Rhenish Album; or, Scraps from the Rhine: The Journal of a Travelling Artist through Holland, up the Rhine to Strasburg, and Returning through Belgium. With Notices of Public Edifices, Hotels, &c. London: Leigh and Son, 1836.

  6. 6

    Probably Rabbi E. J. Löwenstamm, who functioned as chief rabbi of Rotterdam from 1834 to 1845. (Jewish Encyclopedia, 9:229.)  

    The Jewish Encyclopedia: A Descriptive Record of the History, Religion, Literature, and Customs of the Jewish People from the Earliest Times to the Present Day. Edited by Isidore Singer. 12 vols. New York and London: Funk and Wagnalls, 1901–1906.

  7. 7

    The rabbi spoke in Dutch. Jewish congregations in the Netherlands had largely been assimilated into their country by this time, speaking Dutch instead of languages they previously spoke, including Yiddish. Hyde presumably conversed with the rabbi through a translator. (Zweip, “Yiddish, Dutch, and Hebrew,” 56–73.)  

    Zweip, Irene E. “Yiddish, Dutch, and Hebrew: Language Theory, Language Ideology and the Emancipation of Nineteenth-Century Dutch Jewry.” Studia Rosenthaliana 34, no. 1 (2000): 56–73.

  8. 8

    Between 1800 and 1850, the approximate number of Jews in Palestine rose from ten thousand to twelve thousand. (Mendes-Flohr and Reinharz, The Jew in the Modern World, 531.)  

    Mendes-Flohr, Paul R., and Jehuda Reinharz. The Jew in the Modern World: A Documentary History. New York: Oxford University Press, 1980.

  9. 9

    Although no copies have been located, this pamphlet was the church’s first known publication in a foreign language. It may have been similar to the church tract Hyde published in German the following year from a draft he wrote while in England. (Hyde, Ein Ruf aus der Wüste, i; Letter from Orson Hyde, 15 June 1841.)  

  10. 10

    The old English mile was likely an outgrowth of the Belgic-German mile, which is equal to 6,610 feet. Although it historically has varied in length, it was generally longer than the American mile by approximately a third. By the nineteenth century, however, the English mile was sometimes synonymous with the American mile of 5,280 feet. Based on Hyde’s estimation of thirty miles between Rotterdam and Amsterdam, his reference to the English mile likely coincides with the longer old English mile. (Klein, Science of Measurement, 69–70; Landmann, Universal Gazetteer [1840], iii.)  

    Klein, Herbert Arthur. The Science of Measurement: A Historical Survey. New York: Dover, 1988.

    Landmann, George. A Universal Gazetteer; or, Geographical Dictionary. London: Longman, Orme, and Co., 1840.

  11. 11

    Although quantities temporarily decreased between 1800 and 1850, records indicate that Holland was the primary supplier of gin to the United States from 1750 to 1916. (Solmonson, Gin, 87–88.)  

    Solmonson, Lesley Jacobs. Gin: A Global History. London: Reaktion Books, 2012.

  12. 12

    William II assumed the Dutch throne in 1840. The monarchy had two palaces in The Hague: Noordeinde and Huis ten Bosch. Based on Hyde’s comparison of the building to Buckingham Palace, he was likely referring to Noordeinde Palace. (Koopmans, Historical Dictionary of the Netherlands, 34, 245.)  

    Koopmans, Joop W. Historical Dictionary of the Netherlands. 3rd ed. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2016.

  13. 13

    The chief rabbi of Amsterdam died in December 1838. Rather than appoint a new chief rabbi, the Jewish congregation appointed a rabbinical court, or bet din, to lead and make decisions for them. The court consisted of A. J. Susan, J. M. Content, B. S. Berenstein, J. S. Hirsch, and J. D. Wynkoop. Hyde’s unsuccessful efforts to gain an audience with the “President Rabbi” might have been directed to any of these individuals who served in the court. (Jewish Encyclopedia, 1:542; see also Het Amsterdamsche Opper-Rabbinaat, 1–16.)  

    The Jewish Encyclopedia: A Descriptive Record of the History, Religion, Literature, and Customs of the Jewish People from the Earliest Times to the Present Day. Edited by Isidore Singer. 12 vols. New York and London: Funk and Wagnalls, 1901–1906.

    Het Amsterdamsche Opper-Rabbinaat. Amsterdam, The Netherlands: no publisher, 1839.

  14. 14

    Mainz, a city in the German Confederation, located on the Rhine. In nineteenth-century English, Mainz was traditionally spelled “Mayence.” It is likely that Hyde or the typesetter at the printing press, instead of spelling the city name as “Mayentz,” switched the letters “z” and “y” each time the name was written.  

  15. 15

    As Hyde notes, Regensburg was the stage for Napoleon’s battle with the Austrian Empire on 19–23 April 1809. Hyde likely conflated several closely related battles into one larger event. Fought within days and miles of each other, the battles of Abensberg, Ratisbon, Landshut, and Eckmühl all seem to merge in Hyde’s account into the Battle of Eckmühl (or Eggmühl), which he calls “Ackynaeal.” The Battle of Eckmühl was fought on 21–22 April 1809 in Eckmühl, Bavaria, fifteen miles outside of Regensburg. Conflating the battles would also result in a death toll closer to Hyde’s estimation of “about 60 thousand slain.” (Zabecki et al., Germany at War, 1:390.)  

    Zabecki, David T., Willam H. Van Husen, Carl O. Schuster, and Marcus O. Jones, eds. Germany at War: 400 Years of Military History. 4 vols. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC- CLIO, 2014.

  16. 16

    Franz de Paula von Colloredo-Waldsee served as Austrian ambassador in Munich from 1837 to 1843. (Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie, 4:415.)  

    Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie. 56 vols. Leipzig, Germany: Duncker and Humblot, 1875–1912.

  17. 17

    Hyde had some teaching experience. Zebedee Coltrin later recalled JS appointing Hyde as the instructor in the School of the Prophets, an organization for learning “revelations and doctrine, but also for learning English grammar.” (School of the Prophets Salt Lake City Minutes, 11 Oct. 1883.)  

    School of the Prophets Salt Lake City Minutes, Apr.–Dec. 1883. CHL.

  18. 18

    Orson Hyde’s son Joseph later recollected his father’s description of the agreement with this German woman and her family. According to Joseph Hyde, his father was to receive room and board, along with use of the house servants and horse-drawn carriage. In exchange, Hyde would teach the mother and her two daughters English. He was also permitted to take the daughters on any outings if all conversations outside the home were in English. (Hyde, “Orson Hyde’s Life,” 23.)  

    Hyde, Joseph S. “Orson Hyde’s Life,” no date. Weston Nephi Nordgren, Orson Hyde Research Files, ca. 1945–1979. CHL.

  19. 19

    According to a medical journal article published in 1847, Egypt, Syria, and Constantinople were recognized as primary sources of the plague. Despite some reports of the plague abating, outgoing ships from these areas were required to undergo a mandatory period of quarantine. (“Mediterranean Quarantine Regulations,” 280; Orson Hyde, Trieste, Austrian Empire, to “Dear Brethren and Sisters at Nauvoo,” 17 Jan. 1842, in Hyde, Voice from Jerusalem, 22.)  

    “Mediterranean Quarantine Regulations.” Edinburgh Medical and Surgical Journal 67 (1847): 259–297.

    Hyde, Orson. A Voice from Jerusalem, or a Sketch of the Travels and Ministry of Elder Orson Hyde, Missionary of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, to Germany, Constantinople, and Jerusalem. Liverpool: P. P. Pratt, 1842.

  20. 20

    See Daniel 2:44.  

  21. 21

    There is no known letter from JS to Hyde from early 1841. However, JS wrote to Hyde and John E. Page in May 1840 and to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles collectively in December 1840. (Letter to Orson Hyde and John E. Page, 14 May 1840; Letter to Quorum of the Twelve, 15 Dec. 1840.)  

  22. 22

    By the 1830s the burgeoning industrial revolution and developments in bureaucratic practice led to a modern German confederation of states that increasingly relied on clerical practices for administration rather than on the earlier monarchical models. However, the application of these practices could vary greatly from state to state; for example, “the Bavarian bureaucracy in the mid-nineteenth century . . . was plainly less hierarchical and authoritarian than the Prussian version.” (Osterhammel, Transformation of the World, 606.)  

    Osterhammel, Jürgen. The Transformation of the World: A Global History of the Nineteenth Century. Translated by Patrick Camiller. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014.

  23. 23

    Hyde’s mission was uniquely public. Not only were his letters home intended for publication, but his assignment as an “agent and representative in foreign lands” was to obtain as much information as possible from Jewish rabbis and community leaders regarding the “present views and movements of the Jewish people” and to “communicate the same to some principal paper for publication.” (Recommendation for Orson Hyde, 6 Apr. 1840.)  

  24. 24

    At the time of this letter, Hyde’s wife, Marinda Nancy Johnson Hyde, lived in Nauvoo with their two daughters, Laura, age four, and Emily, age one. (Hyde, Orson Hyde, 496.)  

    Hyde, Myrtle Stevens. Orson Hyde: The Olive Branch of Israel. Salt Lake City: Agreka Books, 2000.