Sacred Cow #10: W. W. Phelps Wrote “Praise To The Man”

History has always been replete with controversial questions–and perhaps always will be. ElizaOftimes these questions afford interesting subjects for discussion. This appears to be especially true in so-called “Mormon History.”

One question which has provoked considerable discussion is: Who authored the beautiful and well-known hymn, “Praise to the Man”

In the L.D.S. hymn books used today in worshipping assemblies, the author is given as W. W. Phelps and to him since 1863, has gone the credit for its authorship.

While there appears to be no question that W. W. Phelps was in the employ of John Taylor, editor and proprietor of the Times and Seasons at the time the poem first appeared in the paper on August 1, 1844, yet its authorship is there assigned to Eliza R. Snow (see facsimile following).

In the L.D.S. paper, the Frontier Guardian, published December, 1849, in Kanesville, Iowa, the hymn, Praise to the Man: was published with its authorship attributed to Miss Snow, as follows: Lines written by Miss Eliza R. Snow, upon the martyrdom of Joseph Smith, the Prophet and Seer.

Under date of December 12, 1849, the Journal History of the Church also names her as author of the hymn.

In correspondence written November 5, 1951, Mr. C. Cameron Johns, President of the Utah Poetry Society, stated:

“During the past years there have been many discussions as to whether the poet who wrote ‘Praise to the Man’ was W. W. Phelps or the poetess Eliza R. Snow. In my opinion there is within itself so much of that particular quality which distinguishes the writings of Miss Snow. To me the poem seems to express her personality every particle as much as ‘O My Father’… I’m certain that she should receive credit for the writing of the poem.”

How then did the story ever get started that W. W. Phelps was the author?

Although there is no evidence that W. W. Phelps ever claimed authorship yet in 1863 it was assigned to him in an English edition of the L.D.S. Hymn Book. It is quite apparent that some employee erred and his mistake has been carried down through the years until this noblest and sweetest spirit in Mormon poetry and song is deprived of the righteous honor of the authorship of this soul-stirring and beautiful tribute to the Prophet and Seer whom she so deeply revered.

This engrossing was done by Mr. Milton H. Ross, Utah’s own and the Nation’s greatest penman, and follows the original version of the hymn as it flowed from the gifted mind of Eliza R. Snow.  Historical accuracy is thus preserved.

(Originally published in “Eliza R. Snow -An Immortal”, N. G. Morgan, Sr. Foundation, 1957, page 234-235)

Mormon Chronicle addition:

Here is a scan of the original “Times and Seasons” (Vol 5 number 14 page 607) the poem was published and attributed to Eliza R. Snow. You will notice one difference between the original verbiage and that of what is in our hymnal today.

Originally it read, “Long shall his blood, which was shed by assassins, Stain Illinois, while the earth lauds his fame” where it now reads, “Long shall his blood, which was shed by assassins, Pleade unto Heaven, while the earth lauds his fame.”

Snow Praise to the Man

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14 Responses to Sacred Cow #10: W. W. Phelps Wrote “Praise To The Man”

  1. Jim says:

    Many non-mormon sources have her name as Eliza R. Snow Smith. Why doesn’t L-dS,inc recognize her as a wife of Joseph Smith? Not doing so is dishonest & deprives her of her marriage.

    • diligentdave says:

      How is it “dishonest”? My wife’s maiden name is still hers. Not adding mine is not forcibly “dishonest”. Your claim of dishonesty is one usually hurled at Latter-Day Saints and/or “The Church” by apostates, which I assume you apparently are!?!

      You also didn’t give YOUR last name. Are YOU being “dishonest”?

      As someone else in this thread pointed out, her ‘last’ “last” name was Young. She was married to him as a living husband longer than she was to Joseph Smith as a living mortal. Why not then Eliza R Young?

      I know, she was sealed to Joseph.

      What did SHE prefer to be called IN HER TIME? That might be the pièce de résistance. If she preferred to be called just by her maiden name, during her lifetime, then that would be a matter of her preference (I don’t know…

      • Natalie says:

        The claim of dishonesty hurled at the church is well deserved. You seem to be rather contentious and hostile at a person that seems to be struggling in a faith, which I would assume you would call a “saving faith”. So why is it that you’re condemning rather than trying to draw him back? It seems that you may be heading down a path of apostation as well with that bad attitude!

    • diligentdave says:

      …I don’t know that she did – prefer to be called by just her maiden name (as her last name) during her lifetime.

      But accusing “The Church” and/or it’s members as “dishonest” for using only her maiden name may simply be a matter of preference, simplicity, and brevity. Dishonesty has nothing to do with it.

    • Rob says:

      Because her full name would then be Eliza R. Snow-Smith-Young. Or to be technically correct it would be Eliza R. Snow-Young, since her first husband died and got remarried. But its mostly just a hassle. Nothing dishonest about it.

  2. Very interesting bit about the change in the text. What a great resource you have.

  3. Betty Bingham says:

    I am glad that at last someone is recognizing the truth about Eliza R. Snow SMITH. She indeed did write the hymn “Praise to the Man” and there have been changes made to the text. It did originally read “Stain Illinois while the earth lauds his fame”. It was that way in the hymn for as far back as I remember and that has been 80 years. I also know that Eliza R. Snow was a wife of Joseph Smith, but that Emma refused to admit it.

    • Paumea James Edward Horton McKay Jnr says:

      (a) I accept upon faith and the integrity of Betty Bingham re her claims re the authorship of “Praise To The Man” which is one of my most favorite hymns re Joseph Smith, especially “Millions shall know brother Joseph again”. (b) Re Eliza Snow Plural Wife Emma’s refusal. The writers of “Church Lesson Books”seem to want to portray church “Public Figures” as almost “translated beings”. Just present the facts in word and picture of all the wives of Joseph and their less than angelic interelationships as an example of “learning” and leave the judgment to God. PS My other favorite Hymn is O My Father. I sing it often to myself in “Public” and often people would say what a beutiful song and thus we have a gospel discussion. Thanks Eliza and God. Amen

  4. Lawrence R. Flake says:

    Why stop with Smith? Eliza was married later to the Prophet Brigham Young (for time). If you don’t think so, look at her gravestone, which reads:
    ELIZA ROXEY SNOW SMITH YOUNG

  5. Claudette Rayl says:

    In the History of the Church, Vol. 7, p. 211, it clearly shows that the poem written by Eliza R. Snow Smith Young was the first one above, to Elder John Taylor. The scanned page above shows the poem she wrote, with a double bar beneath, and the hymn below written without an author’s name on the scanned sheet. So, this proves nothing. There is no evidence in this document that she was the author of “Praise to the Man.” She did write a long poem praising Joseph Smith, soon after his martyrdom, which was recorded in History of the Church, Vol. 7, p. 154, with similar references to Illinois as in the original hymn, but it was not the same words as the hymn. There is not enough evidence here to prove that Eliza R. Snow is the author of Praise to the Man.

  6. Robin Hood says:

    This “hymn” is easily the worse in the hymn book. I won’t have it sung in my ward.

  7. Jim says:

    Her name is Eliza R. Snow SMITH-YOUNG, at least get the name correct.

  8. Jim Holmes says:

    So now, knowing the Smith and Young last names, will you moronicPriesthood types start lobbying the bigwigs in SLC to change the name so it is correct? How about lobbying them to change the manuals to reflect the truth of the ‘marriages’ – and possibly even the divorces of “the prophets”? You know, like Brigham Youngs many divorces and his refusal to pay spousal support?

    Niether He nor Joseph the sexual predator would be eligible for Temple Recommends in the LDS church today.

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