Utah History Encyclopedia


By Becky White Workman
James E. Talmage was born in Hungerford, Berkshire, England, to James Joyce Talmage and Susannah Preator on 21 September 1862. In 1876 the family moved to Provo, Utah, where James attended Brigham Young Academy and was a student of Dr. Karl G. Maeser. He later attended Lehigh University (1882-83), Johns Hopkins University (1884), and Illinois Wesleyan University (1896). Talmage was professor of chemistry and geology at Brigham Young Academy from 1888 to 1893, and was president of the University of Utah from 1894 to 1897. He resigned as professor of geology at the latter institution in 1907 to pursue a private practice as a consulting mining geologist.

His scientific work brought him national and international recognition. In February 1891 he was made a Fellow of the Royal Microscopical Society of London. In December 1894 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, an honor conferred on few Americans. Two days after his election to the Royal Society, he was made a Fellow of the Geological Society of London. In December 1897 he became a Fellow of the Geological Society of America. He was also a member of the Victoria Institute, or Philosophical Society of Great Britain; a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science; and a corresponding member of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society.

Aside from institutional scientific study, Talmage was instrumental in promoting popular scientific study with his work at the Deseret Museum. Under his guidance, this museum grew rapidly and was regarded as one of the finest of its kind in the West.

On 14 June 1888 Talmage married Mary May Booth, daughter of Richard Thornton and Elsie (Edge) Booth. The couple were married in the Manti LDS Temple and had four sons and four daughters. Talmage held many church and civic offices including city councilor, alderman, and justice of the peace. On 7 December 1911 he was ordained an apostle in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and from then until his death gave great service to his church.

Of this calling and of other religious duties he said: "Every call I have received to an office in the priesthood has come to me because some one was needed to fill a particular place, and was in no sense a matter of advancement or honor to myself as an individual. . . . Early in life I realized that I would have to live with myself more than with anybody else, and I have tried to so live that I would be in good company when alone."

Among his more important writings, scientific and religious, are: First Book of Nature (1888), Domestic Science (1891), The Articles of Faith (1899), The Great Salt Lake, Present and Past (1900), The Story of "Mormonism" (1907), The Great Apostasy (1909), The House of the Lord (1912), Jesus the Christ (1915), The Vitality of "Mormonism" (1919), and Sunday Night Talks (1931), first given as radio speeches. In addition to these published works, he was the author of numerous scientific papers for journals, and was a prolific writer for church papers and magazines for a period of many years. Many of his scientific works were used as university textbooks.

Talmage had unusual expository writing and speaking ability, and was able to convey meanings and ideas skillfully. He had a remarkable memory which added greatly to his efficiency as a writer and speaker. With his knowledge and his mastery of the English language, he was able to command the admiration and respect of scholars, statesmen, and other leaders at home and abroad. His scholarly manner, his connections with learned societies, and his unusual ability as a teacher and speaker secured for him a scholarly prestige among his own people that has probably never been equaled by any other leader.

James Talmage died on 27 July 1933 and was remembered by Rudger Clawson: "The words he has written paint pictures even of comparatively commonplace matters in such colors and with such impressiveness that almost without variation they have in them that outstanding literary element which rarely fails to interest and entertain."

Disclaimer: Information on this site was converted from a hard cover book published by University of Utah Press in 1994.