Recently I was reading Daniel C. Peterson’s article A Response: What the Manuscripts and the Eyewitnesses Tell Us about the Translation of the Book of Mormon and came across this interesting tidbit:
David Whitmer repeatedly insisted that the translation process occurred in full view of Joseph Smith’s family and associates. (The common image of a curtain hanging between the Prophet and his scribes, sometimes seen in illustrations of the story of the Book of Mormon, is based on a misunderstanding. There was indeed a curtain, at least in the latter stages of the translation process. However, that curtain was suspended not between the translator and his scribe but near the front door of the Peter Whitmer home, in order to prevent idle passersby and gawkers from interfering with the work.)
This was the first I’d heard that the curtain wasn’t between Joseph and scribe. Makes me realize just how little I know about Church history. (Which is one of the reasons we’re doing the Mormon Texts Project.)
Beyond that, the article has two other anecdotes I found fascinating. First, from David Whitmer:
He could not translate unless he was humble and possessed the right feelings towards every one. To illustrate, so you can see. One morning when he was getting ready to continue the translation, something went wrong about the house and he was put out about it. Something that Emma, his wife, had done. Oliver and I went up stairs, and Joseph came up soon after to continue the translation, but he could not do anything. He could not translate a single syllable. He went down stairs, out into the orchard and made supplication to the Lord; was gone about an hour—came back to the house, asked Emma’s forgiveness and then came up stairs where we were and the translation went on all right. He could do nothing save he was humble and faithful.
I can relate — if I get put out about anything, bam, the Spirit’s gone. (Also, now that I’m twenty-eight, it’s dawning on me just how young Joseph was when he was translating the Book of Mormon. Wow.)
The second is from Martin Harris via Edward Stevenson:
By aid of the seer stone, sentences would appear and were read by the Prophet and written by Martin, and when finished he would say, “Written,” and if correctly written, that sentence would disappear and another appear in its place, but if not written correctly it remained until corrected, so that the translation was just as it was engraven on the plates, precisely in the language then used. Martin said, after continued translation they would become weary, and would go down to the river and exercise by throwing stones out on the river, etc. While so doing on one occasion, Martin found a stone very much resembling the one used for translating, and on resuming their labor of translation, Martin put in place the stone that he had found. He said that the Prophet remained silent, unusually and intently gazing in darkness, no traces of the usual sentences appearing. Much surprised, Joseph exclaimed, “Martin! What is the matter? All is as dark as Egypt!” Martin’s countenance betrayed him, and the Prophet asked Martin why he had done so. Martin said, to stop the mouths of fools, who had told him that the Prophet had learned those sentences and was merely repeating them, etc.