A new discovery pushes the date of Hugh Nibley's first known published work back by five years much to the surprise of Louis C. Midgley, who has been keeping an eye on Nibley publications for decades. His efforts resulted in the comprehensive Nibley bibliography listing 16-year-old Hugh's 1926 poem "Of Birthdays" in the top spot.1 A clue pointing to Hugh's even earlier premier is found in Boyd Jay Peterson's biography of the admired Mormon scholar:
El and Sloanie [Hugh Nibley's father and mother] allowed Hugh great latitude in [his] educational arrangement. He spent a great deal of time exploring in the woods or riding his bicycle about town. "I would always stop on the Broadway Bridge and look down the river," mused Hugh. "As far as you could see were the masts of ships—three-masters, four masters. The three-masters were the common ones." Hugh was a very capable artist by age ten and enjoyed sketching the ships and making models out of balsa wood.2As it turns out, Hugh Nibley's earliest known published work was one such sketch, featured alongside the work of other children in a 1921 issue of the Church's Juvenile Instructor that I stumbled on by sheer accident.3 Click the image for a full page view:
[And a big salute to Rebecca Gentry's excellent Uncle Sam/goat portrait! And extra credit goes to anyone who can decipher the meaning of the cryptic "Twin Brothers" poem by Thelma Buys.]
Hugh Nibley, "Of Birthdays," Improvement Era 29/8 (June 1926): 743 as found in Louis C. Midgley, "Hugh Winder Nibley: Bibliography and Register," By Study and Also by Faith: Essays in Honor of Hugh W. Nibley, ed. John M. Lundquist and Stephen D. Ricks (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1990), 1:xv—lxxxvii.
Boyd Jay Peterson, Hugh Nibley: A Consecrated Life, (Greg Kofford Books, 2002), p. 28.
Juvenile Instructor 56/1 (January 1921): 49.