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Monday, October 18, 2010

Book Review: Life History and Writings of John Jaques.

This book was put together by the great-granddaughter, Stella Jaques Bell, of John Jaques and includes his journal, his reminiscences,  some of his letters, his poetry as well as his sister-in-law.s recollections.  More importantly for us, it documents the deaths of three of the Ashtons; Sarah Barlow Ashton, Elizabeth Ashton and Baby Sarah Jane Ashton.  (See post from 10/12/10)  It also includes his obituary and other writings related to John Jaques.  It was published in 1978 by Ricks College Press.

John Jaques is prominent in LDS history as a former assistant editor of the Millennial Star, as well as the author of poems which are two LDS hymns, Oh Say What is Truth" and "Softly Beams the Sacred Dawning".  His "Cathecism for Children" was used in the Church Sunday School program for many years as an instruction for children.

The knock against this book is that it is hard to figure out the source for some of the material.  It goes back and forth between different sources and even different writers, and is at times hard to follow.

However it is probably the best original source material with regards to the handcarts.  Granted some of the material can be accessed from other sources such as the BYU Library and the Church History website.

My favorite quote is John Jaques words with regards to the women at the last crossing;
"That was a bitter cold day. Winter came on all at once, and that was the first day of it. The river was wide, the current strong, the water exceedingly cold and up to the wagon beds in the deepest parts, and the bed of the river was covered with cobble stones. Some of the men carried some of the women over on their backs or in their arms, but others of the women tied up their skirts and waded through, like heroines as they were, and as they had done through many other rivers and creeks. The company was barely over when snow, hail, and sleet began to fall, accompanied by a piercing north wind, and camp was made on this side of the river."

This book includes a general history of John's life after entering the valley, and his mission back to England.  Of course some of these things don't apply to the study of the handcart company, but are interesting none the less.


John Jaques wrote a summary of his life at age sixty.  He wrote with regards to the handcart trek, "Traveled one of the hardest journeys of my life across the plains by handcart, nearly worked to death, starved to death and froze to death."


Just a sample of John Jaques' poetry from the LDS Hymn Book:






1. Oh say, what is truth? ’Tis the fairest gem
That the riches of worlds can produce,
And priceless the value of truth will be when
The proud monarch’s costliest diadem
Is counted but dross and refuse.
2. Yes, say, what is truth? ’Tis the brightest prize
To which mortals or Gods can aspire.
Go search in the depths where it glittering lies,
Or ascend in pursuit to the loftiest skies:
’Tis an aim for the noblest desire.
3. The sceptre may fall from the despot’s grasp
When with winds of stern justice he copes.
But the pillar of truth will endure to the last,
And its firm-rooted bulwarks outstand the rude blast
And the wreck of the fell tyrant’s hopes.
4. Then say, what is truth? ’Tis the last and the first,
For the limits of time it steps o’er.
Tho the heavens depart and the earth’s fountains burst,
Truth, the sum of existence, will weather the worst,
Eternal, unchanged, evermore.
Text: John Jaques, 1827–1900
Music: Ellen Knowles Melling, 1820–1905

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