William Wines Phelps (usually known as W. W. Phelps) is probably most often thought of in conjunction with some of the most beloved hymns of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “Praise to the Man,” “The Spirit of God,” “Gently Raise the Sacred Strain,” and “If You Could Hie to Kolob” are just a few of the fifteen hymns that he wrote that appear in the current hymnal. But there was so much more to his life, and Bruce Van Orden, an emeritus professor of church history and doctrine at Brigham Young University, has been researching it for decades. This research was recently given a boost by the Joseph Smith Papers Project, which gave greater access to materials that Phelps was involved with.
There is little known about Phelps’s early life, or where and how he was educated, but he grew into a very intelligent and articulate man. He joined the Church in 1831 at age 39, and his talents were immediately put to use. He served in church leadership councils, including the Council of Fifty (it was he that coined the term “theodemocracy”); he was a writer, poet, and printer, and actually did more ghostwriting for Joseph Smith than was previously realized. He was also very much a family man, as well as a close friend of Joseph (again, moreso than has previously been understood). This book concentrates on these facets of his life.