Biography and family record of Lorenzo Snow/Chapter XXIII
Explanatory note.—Lorenzo writes to Elder Hyde.—Brightness of natural scenery.—Spiritual darkness.—A courageous minister.—Inscription attached to his portrait.—Hymn.—Drudgery.—Expression of gratitude.—A dream.—First Native ordained to preach.—Ordains Elders Woodard and Stenhouse to the High Priesthood.—The former to preside in Italy, the latter in Switzerland.—A Magnificent view.—Reflections.
IT will be understood by the following letter that Brother Lorenzo was on his way to England. He had left Elder Woodard in charge of the mission in Italy. This he was under the necessity of doing, in order to superintend the translation and publication of the Book of Mormon in the Italian language. During the progress of this very important work, whenever opportunities presented in which he could, with propriety, absent himself from the translating
room and the press, he traveled among the churches, attending Conferences and visiting the Saints in England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. This explains the reason why communications were subsequently addressed to him from Italy and Switzerland.
Turin, Italy, 25th January, 1851.
Dear President Hyde:
After a residence of seven months in Italy, I am about to bid it farewell for a season. If the attractions of physical nature could command all of my attention, I might long linger to gaze upon these realms of loveliness. One might travel far over the earth before he finds a fairer clime. Here man dwells beneath an almost cloudless sky. The sun rarely hides his face in summer or winter; and when, at eventide, his golden glories fade behind the western hills, the silver stars shed a serene lustre over the blue vault of immensity. But the remembrance of the moral scenery amid which I have been moving will be more imperishably engraven on my spirit than all the brightness of the firmament, or the verdure of prairies enameled with ten thousand flowers. Amid the loveliness of nature, I found the soul of man like a wilderness. From the palace of the king to the lone cottage on the mountains, all was shrouded in spiritual darkness. Protestant and Papist looked upon each other as outcasts from the hopes of eternity, but regarded themselves as the favorites of heaven. And thus they had done from time immemorial. The changing, ephemeral sectarianism of England and America, is in many respects unlike the sturdy superstition of this country. Here, Protestantism is not the offspring of boasted modern reformation; but may fairly dispute with Rome as to which is the oldest in apostasy. Every man holds a creed which has been transmitted from sire to son for a thousand years, whether he be Protestant or Catholic; and often he will lay his hand on his heart, and swear by the faith of his forefathers, that he will live and die as they have lived and died.
The Protestants form a very small minority. They have been harrassed for centuries by fierce attacks from powerful armies of Catholics. But after sanguinary persecutions, they have revived as the corn, and grown as the vine. Once, their last remnant was driven to Switzerland; but a courageous minister, assuming a military character, led them back victoriously to their native valleys. The portrait of this hero bears the following inscription:
I preach and fight—I have a double commission, and these two contests occupy my soul. Zion is now to be rebuilt, and the sword is needed as well as the trowel.
The English government has several times interfered in their behalf, and large donations have been sent to them from various Protestant countries. Many a tribute of admiration has been paid them by men of ability from the leading sects of Protestantism, till their church has been flattered into immeasurable self-importance.
The following hymn expresses the feelings engendered by their romantic situation:
For the strength of the hills we bless Thee,
Our God, our fathers' God:
Thou hast made Thy children mighty
By the touch of the mountain sod.
Thou hast fixed our ark of refuge,
Where the spoiler's foot ne'er trod;
For the strength of the hills we bless Thee,
Our God, our fathers' God.
We are watchers of a beacon,
Whose light must never die:
We are guardians of an altar,
'Midst the silence of the sky.
The constitution of this kingdom affords no guarantee that we shall ever enjoy the same religious privileges as our brethren in England and other countries.
A merciful Providence has hitherto preserved us from being entangled in the meshes of the law. A bookseller told me, the other day, that he was not allowed to sell a Bible. No work is permitted to be published that attacks the principles of Catholicism. I look with wonder upon the road in which the Lord has led me since I came to this land. From the first day I trod the Italian soil, there has been a chain of circumstances, which has not sprung by chance, but from the wise arrangements of Him who ruleth in the kingdoms of men. I thank my Heavenly Father that I was restrained from any attempt to hurry the great work with which I was entrusted. All the jealous policy of Italy has been hushed into repose by the comparative silence of our operations; and at the same time, no principle has been compromised—no concession has been made, but, from day to day, we have been constantly engaged, forming some new acquaintances, or breaking down some ancient barrier of prejudice.
Such moderation was not agreeable to me as a man, but I look forward to the day when the stability and grandeur of our building will be an ample reward for those months of labor which may not have been attended with anything extraordinary in the eyes of those who judge merely by the external appearance of the moment.
Here I may relate a dream, which, though simple in itself, presented a theme for meditation under our peculiar circumstances. I thought I was in company with some friends, descending a gentle slope of beautiful green, till we came to the bank of a large body of water. Here were two skiffs; and as I embarked in one, my friends followed in the other. We moved slowly over this widespreading bay, without wind or any exertion on our part. As we were on a fishing excursion, we were delighted with seeing large and beautiful fish on the surface of the water, all around, to a great distance. We saw many persons spreading their nets and lines, but they all seemed to be stationary, whereas we were in continual motion. While passing one of them, I discovered that a fish had got upon my hook, and I thought that it might perhaps disturb this man's feelings to have it caught, as it were, out of his hands, nevertheless, we moved along, and came to the shore. I then drew in my line, and was not a little surprised and mortified at the smallness of my prize. I thought it very strange, that among such a multitude of noble, superior looking fish, I should have made so small a haul. But all my disappointment vanished when I discovered that its qualities were of a very extraordinary character.
While encircled by many persons of noble bearing and considerable intelligence, a prospect seemed opening for the employment of some among them, in the work of the ministry. But the Lord judgeth not as man judgeth. The first native in these valleys that I ordained to preach the Gospel, was one who swayed no extensive influence, and boasted no great natural abilities; but he sought the Lord with fasting and prayer; and the Spirit rested upon him mightily, showing him in the dreams of night, the glorious reality of the work with which he had become associated.
Feeling it wisdom to send Elder Stenhouse to Switzerland, and to leave Elder Woodard in Italy, and knowing the formidable character of the difficulties with which they must struggle, I resolved to bestow upon them such blessings as they required in the discharge of their important duties; and as there is power, knowledge and wisdom in the High Priesthood of God, I felt it to be in accordance with the mind of the Spirit that they should be called to that office.
We have here no Temple—no building made by human hands, but the mountains tower around us—far above all the edifices which Protestants and Papists use in this country.
On Sunday, the twenty-fourth of November, we ascended one of these eminences which seem to occupy a position between earth and sky, and which, on a former occasion, we had named "Mount Brigham." During our tedious ascent, the sun shone forth in all its brightness; but in such parts as were shaded, we found snow on the ground, and many a craggy peak and rocky summit on every side, were white with the snowy fleeces of winter.
Having reached the place we sought, we gazed with rapture on the enchanting scenes of surrounding nature. Before us was a plain so vast that it seemed as if immensity had become visible. All was level in this ocean of space, and yet no sameness appeared on its fertile bosom. Here towns and cities were environed by the resources from which their inhabitants had been fed for ages. Ancient and far-famed Italy, the scene of our mission, was spread out like a vision before our enchanted eyes. Light and shade produced their effect in that magnificent picture, in a surprising degree; for while the clouds flung their shadows on one part, another was illuminated with the most brilliant sunlight as far as the eye could reach.
But there was one hallowed reflection which threw all around a brighter lustre than the noontide firmament: it was in that place, two months before, that we organized the Church of Jesus Christ in Italy. If we had stood upon a pavement of gold and diamonds, it would not have produced an impression like the imperishable remembrance of that sacred scene.
Amid the sublime display of the Creator's works, we sung the praises of His eternal name, and implored those gifts which our circumstances required.
I then ordained Elder Woodard a High Priest, and asked our Heavenly Father to give him wisdom and strength to watch over the Church in Italy, whatever might be the scenes through which it should have to pass; and that he might be enabled to extend the work which I had commenced.
I also ordained Elder Stenhouse a High Priest, and prayed that his way might be opened in Switzerland for carrying forth the work of the Lord in that interesting country. In a few days afterwards, Elder Stenhouse proceeded on his mission.
O Italy ! Thou birthplace and burial ground of the proud Cæsars—thou that swayed the sceptre of this mundane creation—land of literature and arts, and once the centre of the world's civilization. Who shall tell all the greatness which breathes in the story of thy past? And who, O who shall tell all the corruption which broods on thy bosom now?
Land of flowers and fruitfulness of the vine—the olive and orange—all that blushes in beauty and charms with delicacy, is spread o'er thy green fields, or grows in thy empire garden; but thy children are deep in pollution, and spring like thorns and thistles amid thy floral scenes of endless enchantment. From the wave-swept shores of the Mediterranean to the base of the bleak Alpine region, thy sunny plains lie spread like a fairy realm.
Here reposes the dust of millions that were mighty in ages gone by, and flooded the earth with the fame of their deeds. Here are the fields that have been crimsoned with the blood of royalty, and have become the grave of dynasties. Poets who sung the praise of nations, and princes that wielded the sceptre of power during many a crisis of the world's history, are laid low beneath the dust of thy fields and vineyards!
But is there nought here save the tomb of the past? O, Italy! Hath an eternal winter followed the summer of thy fame, and frosted the flowers of thy genius, and clouded the sunbeams of thy glory? No: the future of thy story shall outshine the past, and thy children shall yet be more renowned than in the ages of old. Though the triple crown of earth's proudest apostate shed a tinsel splendor over thy boundless superstition, Truth shall yet be victorious amid thy Babylonish regions. Where triumphant warriors were stained with gore, and princes reigned in the pomp of tyranny, the sure, though tardy working of the Gospel, now weaves a fairer wreath, and will wear a brighter crown.
I see around me many an eye which will one day glisten with delight at the tidings of eternal Truth many a countenance which will adorn the assemblies of the living God. There is yet the blood of heaven's nobility within the hearts of many amid thy sons and daughters; and sooner will that blood stain the scaffold of martyrdom than dishonor the manly spirits with which it is connected.
Geneva, 6th of February. I have reserved the closing of my letter till my arrival in Geneva. As I took my departure from Piedmont, much kindly feeling was manifested towards me. I beheld, with no small degree of satisfaction, the work of the Lord extending, and the lively efforts in operation for the spread of the principles of truth. You may form some idea of the difficulties which have beset my efforts to publish, when I tell you that "The Voice of Joseph" is now circulating in Italy with a woodcut of a Catholic nun, anchor, lamp and cross on the first page, and on the last Noah's ark, the dove and the olive.
With this work, and "The Ancient Gospel Restored," in my trunk, pockets and hat, I crossed the Alps in the midst of a snow storm, scarcely knowing whether I was dead or alive. It is one thing to read of traveling over the backbone of Europe in the depth of winter, but doing it is quite different.
Since my arrival in the far-famed city of Calvin, I have had several interviews with intelligent Swiss gentlemen, who have, through the efforts of Elder Stenhouse and the circulation of my works, become much interested, and promise fair to give a good investigation.
In consequence of so much difficulty and vexation in getting out publications in Italy, I feel unwilling to draw many books from that quarter; therefore, I feel it my duty to make arrangements to get a second edition of both work
published here. I am pleased with the prospect of establishing the Gospel in Geneva. I feel free and in a free atmosphere, and to prophesy good of Switzerland.
To President Orson Hyde,
Kanesville, Iowa Territory, North America.