Robert Kirby: Pride, forgiveness and the rest of the story about Thomas B. Marsh and Brigham Young

Years ago, a popular story on the subject of pride going before a fall circulated in various lesson manuals of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was referred to as “The Pint of Cream.”

In 1838, Thomas B. Marsh was the president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, second only to Joseph Smith in the Mormon hierarchy.

I don’t remember the exact particulars of the story, but it seems that one day Marsh’s wife had an argument with a neighbor over some milk produced by a cow the two families shared.

The dispute reached the point at which Marsh himself got involved. Failing to have the matter adjudicated in his family’s favor, he became an outspoken critic of the church and was excommunicated.

The moral of the story was that due caution should be exercised whenever we get a bug up our butts, lest pride allow it to become an enormous thing and bring about our downfall.

The good news (supposedly) was that Marsh later groveled sufficiently to be restored to the church and all was forgiven. Sort of. Which brings us to the rest of the story about Marsh.

After considerable suffering, Marsh made his weary way to Salt Lake City in 1857 and pleaded with Brigham Young for readmittance.

On a Sunday, Young presented Marsh to the congregation and explained to everyone what a jerk Marsh had been. Marsh appealed to the congregation, saying he was now a sick old man and wanted only to be a Mormon again.

Before putting the matter to a vote, Young improved on the wretched lesson of Marsh.

“[Marsh] told you that he is an old man. Do you think that I am an old man?” the “Diary of Brigham Young” notes on Page 75. “I could prove to this congregation that I am young, for I could find more girls who would choose me for a husband than can any of the young men.”

(Tribune file photo) Brigham Young, second president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Young pointed out that Marsh was less than two years older than him and that his haggard appearance was due to the effects of apostasy rather than age.

Nevertheless, the congregation voted to readmit Marsh.

Three years later, the Deseret News reported Young’s visit to a conference in Springville. After speaking, Young and some of the other brethren took a stroll to look at the gardens and orchards.

“Presidents Young and [Heber C.] Kimball called [in] to see Thomas B. Marsh, formerly president of the Twelve, who has for some time been seriously insane, so raving at times that he has had to be chained,” the News wrote June 26, 1861. “At the time of the visit, he was some[what] better, but, as represented, was a miserable looking object.”

Apparently Marsh got better rather quickly because, according to the history of the church, in less than a year he married, taught school in Spanish Fork, and later moved to Ogden, where he died in 1866.

I don’t know why Marsh was the one selected to be the negative example of pride, particularly since the rest of the story indicates that forgiveness wasn’t exactly Young’s response to his fall. Of the two, I wonder which one learned the most valuable lesson?

Said James Truslow Adams: “There is so much good in the worst of us, and so much bad in the best of us, that it ill behooves any of us to find fault with the rest of us.”

Robert Kirby is The Salt Lake Tribune’s humor columnist. Follow Kirby on Facebook.