Friday, February 1, 2013

The Illness of David H. Smith, Son of the Prophet

David H. Smith is the son of Joseph Smith, the Mormon prophet.  He was born five months after Joseph was assassinated by a mob in Carthage, Illinois 17 November, 1844.  David had a hard childhood.  His mother remarried, and he did not think highly of his stepfather.  He was also a pensive child, enjoying nature, have a special spot near Nauvoo where he would go and meditate.  He would listen to the birds, and there was a waterfall there he enjoyed.
David Smith became involved with the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, eventually becoming a counselor to his brother, the prophet president Joseph Smith III.  His older brother Alexander was also a counselor.  However the purpose of this writing is to explore David’s illness. 
David went on two missions to Utah.  Bother of which resulted in “brain fever. “  He ws hospitalized in san Francisco after his first visit, and then returned to the Midwest.  (F. Mark McKiernan, David H. Smith: A Son of the Prophet)  After returning from the first mission, he wrote a poem of discontent:
Let me be happy too. Oh! Restless soul
Fold they quick limbs and rest from care a while;
Watch the great clouds in fleecy volumes roll;
The lakelet in the sunshine seems to smile;--
Would God my friends were here to shar my thought—
Would I could find the rest I long have sought.

    Would I could speak the language of the hills
Would their plush velvet grace I could make known;
Could I translate the talking of the rills
That from their crowning dimples wander down—
I would not sing, and I yet I can not cease;
I can not murmur, yet I have no peace. 
(David H. Smith and Elbert A. Hesperis as quoted by Paul Edwards, BYU Studies 1972)

David’s illness began while he was in his twenties.  He seemed to recompose somewhat.  He married  Clara Charlotte Hartshorn and a son, Elbert Aorivl was born to this union.  (Edwards) 

He returned to Utah for another mission.  This mission too ended in his progressively getting ill.  On this second mission he was also subject to the spiritualistic tendencies of his companion.  “In 1872 David H. Smith was accompanied by Amasa M. Lyman, ex-Mormon apostle, to Cache Valley.  Meetings were held in Brigham City, Providence, Logan and Franklin.  Lyman at this time was practicing spiritualism and séances were held by the group.  The strain of the mission, accompanied by the by the effect of the spiritualist séances lead David Smith to a physical and spiritual break down.  David H. Smith was returned to the Midwest by Josiah Ells.  (unpublished article by the author available USU Library Special Collections, 1981)
His brother Joseph Smith also felt spiritualism had something to do with his breakdown.  “Years later, Joseph was to write in his account of the church that David had become associated with spiritualists in Salt Lake City and later in Malad, Idaho, when in that area in the 1870s.  He felt that somehow this was connected with his concern over the manifestations of the spirit, which grew out of hand.  (Paul Edwards, BYU Studies 1972)
After his second mission, while he was recovering, David began to realize things were not right.  He penned this poem:
I am Not As I Was
I am not as I was, she said, and bowed,
   The frosts have been upon me; and the wind
Of this world’s winter,-stormy, fierce and loud-
   Has touched my forehead roughly; and unkind
The will of fare has been.  I once was proud,
   With a sweet pride, and pleasure filled my mind.

Now I am broken’ and the tresses, then
   So free and flowing, wander now no more
In their old fashion, but seem dead; and when
   I look into my mirror for the eyes of yore
Those of a stranger answer me.  Ne’er again
   Can I recall the light that shone before.

The fair brief morning of my life is passed;
   Its wings of rainbow brightness were too swift;-
A change has crept over my soul at last;-
   The clouds band low that o’ver my landscape drift;
The beauty and glory round me case
   By Youth’s roseate dreams, begin to lift.

I strive to win again the pleasant thought;
   The music only speaks in mournful tone;
The very flowers wear a shade, and nought
   Can bring the halo that is gone;
And every company my soul hath sought,
   Though crowds surround me, finds me still alone.

I turn unto my tasks with weary hands,
   Grieving with sadness, knowing not the cause;
Before my face a desert path expands,
   I will not falter in the toil, nor pause;
Only, my spirit somehow understand
   The mournful truth-I am not what I was.  (Smith)
This poem gives us an idea of the progression of David’s illness.  Even so, he was confirmed a member of the first presidency of the Reorganization after his return, 3 March 1873.  However his health continued to deteriorate.  “He was finally taken to Alexander’s farm in Illinois in 1876 to recuperate.  He had a fixed delusion that he was director-owner of a large railroad company.  He would send numerous telegrams with regards to this.  He would also misuse railroad worker.  The town was very disturbed by his actions.  When Joseph came to visit, they encouraged him to have his brother institutionalized.  On 10 January 1877 he was committed to the Illinois Hospital for the insane.  (Edwards)
David had periods of more lucid behavior and thought, and periods when he did not.  The Reorganized church became concerned for his health and had a general fast in 1885.  However this same year, he was relieved of his position as counselor in the presidency.  He continued at the asylum the remainder of his life.  He passed away 29 August 1904 after 27 years in the Illinois Hospital. The cause of his death was directly related to his illness, which was described as “Melancholia Dementia.”  (Edwards)  Melancholia and Dementia were popular terms at the time.  The other diagnosis often used was mania.  This was not used to describe him.  Melancholia referred during the period to depressive conditions.  Dementia would refer to deterioration of the mind.  Calling his illness Melancholia Dementia they are indicating that his depression affected his mind.  Such happens even today and would either be called depression with psychotic features or depression with catatonic features.   As observed in this writing, it would appear David had traits of both depression as well as psychotic issues. 
David left behind a widow and a son.  He also left behind legacy in artwork and poetry.  

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