- William W. Phelps, Convert and Friend
“Praise to the Man” was written as a personal tribute to Joseph Smith by his friend and long-time associate, William W. Phelps. Brother Phelps had purchased a copy of the Book of Mormon from Parley P. Pratt in 1830, shortly after the Church was organized. After reading it, and meeting Joseph Smith later that year, he became convinced of the truthfulness of the gospel. In June of 1831, he traveled again to visit Joseph, who was by that time living in Kirtland, Ohio. During this second visit, Joseph received a revelation regarding William W. Phelps, a revelation which not only called upon him to be baptized, but gave him a future assignment in the Church:
D&C 55: Behold, thus saith the Lord unto you, my servant William… after thou hast been baptized by water… you shall have a remission of your sins and a reception of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands… And again, you shall be called to assist my servant Oliver Cowdery to do the work of printing…
Brother Phelps was indeed baptized shortly after hearing that revelation. His education and talent as a writer provided him with important tools for service in the rapidly growing Church. He worked tirelessly in various capacities, and sacrificed much of his and his family’s personal comfort to do so, often leaving his family for months at a time. He did much editorial work, establishing the monthly newspaper, The Morning and Evening Star, in Jackson County, Missouri. He was also a scribe and secretary for the Prophet Joseph Smith, and assisted Emma in preparing the first hymnal in 1835. He was an important poet of the early church. Many of his poems were set to music and adopted as hymns, fifteen of which are still in use in our current hymnbook:
The Spirit of God, 2 (Text)
Now Let Us Rejoice, 3 (Text)
Now We’ll Sing with One accord, 25 (Text)
Come, All Ye Saints of Zion, 38 (Text)
Come, all Ye Saints Who Dwell on Earth, 65 (Text)
Come, Let Us Sing an Evening Hymn, 167 (Text)
Joy to the world, 201 (Text alteration)
Adam-ondi-Ahman, 49 (Text)
We’re Not Ashamed to Own Our Lord, 57 (Text)
Redeemer of Israel, 6 (Text adaptation)
Glorious Things Are Sung of Zion, 48 (Text)
Gently Raise the Sacred Strain, 146 (Text)
O God, the Eternal Father, 175 (Text)
If You Could Hie to Kolob, 284 (Text)
- A Lesson in Forgiveness
Due to some financial improprieties, William W. Phelps was excommunicated in 1839. He became a bitter enemy of the Church and the Prophet, even agreeing to testify against Joseph in court. Thanks to the efforts of Phelps and others, Joseph was incarcerated in several Missouri prisons, including Liberty Jail, during that period.
Two years later, having felt tremendous remorse for his actions, Brother Phelps wrote a letter to Joseph, humbly begging to be allowed back into the fold of the Church. Joseph’s response stands as a prime example of charity and forgiveness:
“Believing your confession to be real, and your repentance genuine, I shall be happy once again to give you the right hand of fellowship, and rejoice over the returning prodigal…
Come on, dear brother, since the war is past, For friends at first, are friends again at last.
Yours as ever,
Joseph Smith, Jun.” (Linton, Roderick J. “The Forgiving Heart.” Ensign, April 1995, p.15).
Phelps returned to full fellowship and continued to serve as secretary and scribe to Joseph. He spoke at Joseph’s funeral, and about one month later, the text of “Praise to the Man” was published in the Times and Seasons, a periodical published in Nauvoo. The first two lines of the second stanza were originally:
“Long may his blood, which was shed by assassins,
Stain Illinois while the earth lauds his fame.”
They were changed in 1925 to:
“Long may his blood, which was shed by assassins,
Plead unto heav’n, while the earth lauds his fame.” (Davidson: Our Latter-Day Hymns).
Phelps traveled with the Saints to the Salt Lake Valley. There he served as one of the first regents of the University of Deseret (later the University of Utah), and was a representative in the Utah legislature. The stirring words of “Praise to the Man” are a powerful tribute from William W. Phelps to his dear friend, Joseph Smith. There is sadness in the hymn, and yet also joy and gratitude that Joseph completed his mission so well, and is now able to mingle in heaven with the prophets of old.
- Scotland the Brave Melody
It is entirely appropriate that this song, written in tribute to Joseph Smith, should be set to the tune of “Scotland the Brave,” one of Scotland’s two or three unofficial national anthems (they don’t have an official one). For one thing, Joseph had a strong Scottish heritage. His maternal ancestors came from Scotland. John Mack(e), the descendant of a long line of Scottish clergymen, was born in 1653 at Inverness, Scotland. He emigrated to Salisbury, Massachusetts, in 1669 and was Joseph’s great-great-grandfather.
Like the lyrics of “Scotland the Brave,” the lyrics of “Praise to the Man” reflect a bloody history, passionate loyalty, enduring love and lofty sentiments. Compare the choruses of the two:
Scotland the Brave Praise to the Man
Towering in gallant fame, Hail to the Prophet,
Scotland, my mountain hame Ascended to heaven!
High may your proud standards Traitors and tyrants
Gloriously wave! Now fight him in vain.
Land of my high endeavour Mingling with Gods,
Land of the shining river He can plan for his brethren;
Land of my heart forever Death cannot conquer
Scotland the brave! The hero again.
The passionate loyalty that Joseph inspired (as with that inspired by one’s native land) brought out the best in people. We see that in the case of William W. Phelps and many others. As President Gordon B. Hinckley said, “There were so many… who when they first met Joseph Smith seemed ordinary and unpromising, but who under the power of the truths and priesthood that Joseph Smith restored became giants in achievement through their service to others.” (Hinckley, Gordon B. “Praise to the Man.” Liahona, Jan. 1984). We see that growth in the people of our own wards and branches. Hopefully, we occasionally see it in ourselves.
- Congregation Choir Arrangements
Our Congregation Choir arrangements add a beautiful, alternate accompaniment to the original SATB found in the hymnbook. This alternate accompaniment could be used with the SATB for a piano/organ duet accompaniment for the entire congregation or for a large choir. It could also be used alone as a more embellished accompaniment for a solo singer or group, or just to enjoy as a piano solo. Our arrangements for this hymn include the sounds of Scotland. You can almost hear the drums and bagpipes!
Listen to our arrangements below. You will first hear just the organ doing the introduction. The piano joins in on the first verse and then the countermelody (vocal in one; violin in the other) joins in for the second demonstration verse.
Praise to the Man with vocal countermelody
Praise to the Man with flute/violin countermelody