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The Conflict of the Ages Series No. 4

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Archives / 1937 / April

 

 

The Conflict of the Ages Series No. 4

Various Authors

By THE ELMSHAVEN STAFF

 

 

Work of Mrs. White's Literary Assistants

The statement that in the preparation of her  writings for publication, Mrs. White had the help of one or more efficient workers who as­sisted in gathering the material and in helping to prepare it, does not mean that the books or articles were in any part the product of their pens. They were not.

The matters revealed to Mrs. White in vision were not usually a word-for-word narration of events with their lessons. They were generally in the nature of "flashlight" pictures or great panoramic views of various scenes in the ex­periences of men, sometimes in the past, some­times in the future. These views were in many instances accompanied by spoken instruction. At times, the actions and conversations of men in groups, or of churches, of conferences, and of multitudes were revealed, to her, with a clear perception of their purposes, aims, and motives. Often divine instruction was given to her re­garding the meaning and the use to be made of what was thus revealed.

When the time came to write out these reve­lations, Mrs. White would endeavor to trace in human language that which had been opened before her in these heavenly views. No super­natural force took mechanical control of her hand, and guided in the words which she wrote, and very rarely were the exact words which she should use dictated by the heavenly messenger at her side. Mrs. White speaks as follows re­garding her own choice of language in writing out her views:

"Although I am as dependent upon the Spirit of the Lord in writing my views as I am in receiving them, yet the words I employ in describing what I have seen are my own, unless they be those spoken to me by an angel, which I always enclose in marks of quotation."—Review and Herald, Oct. 8, 1867.

It was ever a source of regret to Mrs. White that her schooling had been very brief, and her knowledge of the technical rules of writing was therefore limited. W. C. White says he clearly remembers the earlier years of her work in Battle Creek, when James White, on coming home from the Review and Herald office, would be asked to listen to what Mrs. White had written, and to help her in preparing it techni­cally for publication. Then, as she read to him, he would comment on the matter, rejoicing in the power of the message, and would point out weaknesses in composition and faulty grammar.

Regarding such experiences, she made a statement in 1906 as follows:

"While my husband lived, he acted as a helper and counselor in the sending out of the messages that were given to me. We traveled extensively. Sometimes light would be given to me in the night season, some­times in the daytime before large congregations. The instruction I received in vision was faithfully written out by me, as I had time and strength for the work. Afterward we examined the matter together, my husband correcting grammatical errors, and eliminating needless repetition. Then it was carefully copied for the persons addressed or for the printer,"—Mrs. E. G. White, in "The Writing and Sending Out of the Testi­monies to the Church," p. 4.

As time went on, the making of copies of numerous individual testimonies made it neces­sary to employ a copyist, and as her husband could not give time to the technical correction of all her writings, the burden of making gram­matical corrections was often laid upon the copyist. Several persons were employed as literary assistants in the years that followed. They copied the testimonies, prepared the arti­cles for the periodicals, and the chapters for her books. Conscientious Christians only were chosen as literary assistants, and in their work they adhered strictly to the instruction which was given them regarding their part of the work.

It was well understood by the secretaries that only Mrs. White's thoughts were to be used, and even her own words, as far as grammatically consistent, in expressing those thoughts. In no case was the copyist or editor allowed to intro­duce thoughts not found in Mrs. White's manu­scripts. In cases where paragraphs and sen­tences lost some of their power because of faulty arrangement, the secretaries were ex­pected to make transpositions. They were also instructed to leave out that which was plainly unnecessary repetition. To these rearrange­ments and omissions, Mrs. White gave careful attention.

Regarding the handwritten manuscripts that came from her pen, her literary secretaries say that they varied markedly in literary perfec­tion. Usually the original manuscripts written when she was not burdened with travel and preaching, or full of anxieties connected with the conditions of the church, were found to be beautiful, forceful, eloquent in expression, and with very few grammatical imperfections. But not a few of the original manuscripts were written hurriedly when she was perplexed by cares and burdens, laboring under the feeling that the manuscript must be completed quickly. At such times she paid little attention to the rules of punctuation, capitalization, and spell­ing. There was much repetition and faulty grammatical construction. She expected that these matters would be corrected by the copyist.

Speaking of the work of her helpers, Mrs. White, in 1900, made the following interesting statement about the part taken in her work by Miss Marian Davis, who assisted her for more than twenty years:

"The books are not Marian's productions, but my own, gathered from all my writings. Marian has a large field from which to draw, and her ability to ar­range the matter is of great value to me. It saves my poring over a mass of matter, which I have no time to do."—Letter 61a, 1900.

Another of her secretaries, at a later time, wrote as follows:

The editors in no wise change Sister White's ex­pression if it is grammatically correct, and is an evi­dent expression of the evident thought. Sister White as human instrumentality has a pronounced style of her own, which is preserved all through her books and articles, that stamps the matter with her individual­ity. Many times her manuscript does not need any editing, often but slight editing, and again a great deal of literary work ; but article or chapter, whatever has been done upon it, is passed back into her hands by the editor."—Fannie Bolton, in "A Confession Concerning the 'Testimony of Jesus Christ,'" written in 1901.

Perhaps in some minds the question may linger as to whether the writings, in passing through the hands of the literary assistants, may not have been altered somewhat in thought, or have received additions to the thoughts of the author. This question is clearly answered by written statements from several of Mrs. White's helpers, found in our files.

D. E. Robinson, for many years a literary assistant, said in 1933:

"In all good conscience I can testify that never was I presumptuous enough to venture to add any ideas of my own or to do other than follow with most scru­pulous care the thoughts of the author."

W. C. White testified in 1900:

"None of mother's workers are authorized to add to the manuscripts by introducing thoughts of their own."

In the same year Miss Marian Davis wrote:

"From my own knowledge of the work, as well as from the statements of Sister White herself. I have the strongest possible ground for disbelieving that such a thing [the adding of thoughts by the copyist] was done."

Miss Fannie Bolton, for several years one of the helpers, testified in 1894:

I can say that just as far as it is consistent with grammar and rhetoric, her expressions are left intact."

These clear assertions are in harmony with Mrs. White's statement penned in 1906. After speaking of the help given by her husband and others, as before quoted, she said:

"As the work grew, others assisted me in the prep­aration of matter for publication. After my husband's death, faithful helpers joined me, who labored nn firingly in the work of copying the testimonies, and preparing articles for publication. But the reports that are circulated, that any of my helpers are per­mitted to add matter or change the meaning of the messages I write out, are not true."—"The Writing and Sending Out of the Testimonies to the Church," p. 4.

A Statement Regarding Later Books

To the question, "How were the later books prepared?" we might briefly reply: Mrs. White wrote voluminously on many topics. To sup­plement what was written specifically for some definite book, the literary assistant gathered from her various writings—published articles, manuscripts, letters, and reports of discourses —other related gems of thought. Working to­gether, Mrs. White and her assistants planned the outline of the books and prepared the mat­ter chapter by chapter. Then in its final form, the manuscripts were again read and given final approval by Mrs. White, and then sent to the printer.

The Conflict Story Completed

Although the outstanding features of the great conflict were covered in "Patriarchs and Prophets," "The Desire of Ages," and "The Great Controversy," there still remained two wide gaps in the portrayal of the conflict be­tween good and evil from the fall to the final restoration, one period reaching from the death of David to the birth of Christ, the other covering the first century of the Christian church. When other labors permitted, Mrs. White and her literary assistants undertook with enthusiasm the task of gathering and pre­paring matter for two more volumes to com­plete the series. As in the case of "The De­sire of Ages," there were to be found in earlier books and in periodical articles, hundreds of pages already in print covering portions of these periods. Also, many chapters and por­tions of chapters could be drawn from the manuscript file. Then much new matter was written by Mrs. White specifically for the work in preparation.

Limited space permits only one brief state­ment from Mrs. White relative to the work on these volumes. A letter written October 15, 1911, gives a picture of the work then in progress:

"My work on the hook, 'The Acts of the Apostles.' is completed. In a few weeks you shall have a copy. I have had excellent help in preparing this work for the press. There are other writings that I desire to get before our people, that they may speak when my voice is silent. The book on Old Testament History ["Prophets and Kings"], which we hope to bring out next, will call for earnest effort. I am grateful for the help the Lord is giving me in the labors of faith­ful, trained workers, and that these workers are ready to carry forward this work as fast as it is possible."—Letter 88, 1911.

A few months after the foregoing statement was penned, "The Acts of the Apostles" came from the press and was given a hearty welcome. Soon the work on "Prophets and Kings" was undertaken in earnest, but due to the pressure of other important tasks, was carried forward slowly. The author met with an accident as the last chapters were in preparation. Then, as Mrs. White was unable to continue her care­ful study and approval of new work on the manuscript, the work ceased. We quote from "Life Sketches" a few words regarding the completion of the book:

"At the time of her accident, in February, 1915, all but the last two chapters had been completed, . . . and these final chapters had been sufficiently blocked out to admit of completion by the inclusion of addi­tional matter from her manuscript file."—Page 436.

God-Given Instruction

During her last years, Mrs. White frequently took pleasure in rereading the books she had written containing the conflict story. In re­viewing her experience in bringing out these books, she places the origin of the information and instruction far beyond her own mind. In 1902, speaking of the source of light presented therein, she said:

"Sister White is not the originator of these books. They contain the instruction that during her lifework God lies been giving her. They contain the precious, comforting light that God has graciously given His servant to be given to the world. From their pages this light is to shine into the hearts of men and women, leading them to the Saviour."—"Colporteur Evangelist," p. 36.

Who can question the claim of the humble messenger that she was presenting light and instruction that she had received from heaven? Who can consistently gainsay the divine source of the information and the counsel given in these volumes, as they present the story of the conflict in such a manner as to "shed light on the fast-approaching struggle of the future"? Shall we not, with profound gratitude, give thanks to God, who has through His chosen method of communicating to His people, illumi­nated their pathway with precious light from heaven?

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