This statement dictated by W. C. White in 1935, illustrates the working relationship that existed between E. G. White and her literary assistants in the building of chapters for certain of her books. —Editors.
It is a marked characteristic of Ellen White's writings that a great portion of the connected history of the great controversy, from the rebellion in heaven to the restoration of the kingdom, was written by her in separate articles as the subject had been flashed upon her mind from time to time. Therefore, there was much material to be considered and much labor to be be stowed in order to supply the important features of history not touched upon in the articles already written. That which had been used as articles in the papers or was waiting in manuscript must be so adjusted and perfected as to make a harmonious connected treatise. The method by which this was done will illustrate the way in which other books from her pen were later on prepared.
First of all, with the help of Sister Marian Davis, she gathered the articles that had been printed in the Review and the Signs of the Times and arranged them in order. Then the manuscripts which she had written on various subjects were brought together and arranged in their proper relation to one another and to the printed matter.
Then the little book, first published in 1858, containing a brief outline of Great Controversy, was brought forward and those chapters relating to the period of the history of the church which was to be dealt with in the book manuscripts under consideration, were read chapter by chapter. In connection with this were read that which had been published in periodical articles and that which had been written and was to be had only in manuscript form. Then diligent study was given to the question as to how far that which was already written covered the. field to which it related and how much there was in the mind of Sister White that needed to be added.
In this work Sister White went over the matter carefully by herself and Sister Davis went over the matter by herself. Then they sat down together and Sister White would read and then relate to Sister Davis those things which were clear in her mind that needed to be added.
Oftentimes I had the good fortune to be present when these subjects, chapter by chapter, were studied in this way, and it is not strange that Sister Davis and I were deeply interested and charmed by the thrilling things which Sister White related regarding the controversy that had never as yet been written.
Marian Davis searched her writings
At this point in our study, the work was divided and Ellen White took up the matter of writing out those things which were essential to make connections and to emphasize that which was already written. At the same time Sister Davis was given the task of a further study of those writings which covered in duplicate or sometimes in triplicate those portions of the history which we had in print and in manuscript.
Sister White said to her, "I must devote my time and energy to the writing of those portions of the subject which have not heretofore been written upon, and to you I commit the task of a careful study of those portions which have been writ ten upon two, or three, or four times, and gathering from each article or manuscript the statements that are most clear, forceful and concise and bringing them into a relation to make good read able chapters."
As the work proceeded, Sister White would call Sister Davis to her room and read to her what she had written, and Sister Davis, with her memory of what had been related orally * would often point out some feature of the story which had been overlooked, and with her intense sympathy for the reader, would point out portions that were repetitious and would suggest the rearrangement of paragraphs to make the presentation more easily understood and more forceful.
Then at another time Sister Davis would bring forward what she had been working on and read it aloud to Sister White, expecting and receiving instruction as to wherein some important point had not been made as forceful as it ought. That led to a second study of the material, and if the matter desired was to be found in the material, instruction was given as to how it should be brought in.
Oftentimes it would be found that matter called for by Sister White was not to be found in the material. Then she would say, "I will take up the subject and write in that which has been left out." So the work proceeded.*
Sister White was given remarkable vigor of mind and wonderful volume of precious history, and instruction was brought forward that had never been presented before.
The ever-present problem of space
A very serious perplexity which was met over and over again was the fact that what Sister White had written was so extended that it seemed impossible to find place for it all in books of acceptable size.
With The Great Controversy, volume 4, published in 1884, as with others of her works, the matter written was more than the printer felt could be used in making a book of saleable dimensions. Therefore manuscripts presented for the consideration of those connected with the publishing houses were sometimes returned with the request that the chapters be shortened. This threw a heavy burden upon Sister White and her helpers.
Time and again manuscripts covering an important period in the history were shortened to meet the expectations and counsels of the publishers, and then after being submitted, the subject would be renewed to Sister White in night vision, and she would rewrite the whole topic, making it more complete.
In many ways, the makeup of this book was directed by divine revelation. It was shown to Sister White in night vision that it was not a wise plan to commence this volume as had been planned, with the experience of the apostles and then pass on to the experience of the early church and the destruction of Jerusalem and the apostasy; and it was presented to her that a wiser plan would be to commence with the destruction of Jerusalem, making it clear and strong as a figure and a lesson regarding the final destruction of the world. That this should be followed by a picture of the apostasy of the Christian church and later on by the revolt from baptized heathenism in the great reformation under Luther and his associates. That this should be presented in a way to prepare the mind of the reader to under stand the revolt from formal Christianity and subservience to the papacy by the last-day reformation which would carry the Sabbath and the Advent truth to all parts of the world.
It was no small disappointment to lay aside manuscripts and printed articles relating the experience of the early church before the destruction of Jerusalem and take up the task of writing new matter to form the book as it finally came into print.
When the work was completed, there was great rejoicing, not only in the White family, but also on the part of the publishers and in a much wider circle when the book was placed before our people.
Translating Great Controversy
Three years after this wonderful book was placed before the English readers of all lands, Ellen White was in Europe. The new publishing house at Basel, called the Imprimerie Polyglotte—the printing house of many languages—had only recently been completed. It had been built with a view to an enlargement of the work, and there were suites of rooms which at first could be rented to families of workers.
Sister White rented one of the largest of these suites, and made this her place of residence for the two years that she was laboring in different parts of Eu rope.
After a general meeting at Basel and a visit to our work in Norway, Sweden, and Denmark, she settled down to do additional writing. Then we learned that an attempt had been made to translate this book, generally called Great Controversy, into the French and German languages. Much sorrow had been ex pressed over the effort to secure translators who could do the subject justice.
Beginnings had been made on two translations into the French language, and three beginnings had been made by German translators to produce an acceptable translation into the German. Each translator was skillful in pointing out the weaknesses of others and none of them were able to satisfy Elder Whitney and his associates regarding his own work.
What could be done? Soon it was pro posed by Elder Whitney that the German and French translators with Sister Davis, W. C. White, and himself, should meet together morning by morning, and spend an hour in a faithful study of the English book, that all might have the clearest understanding of its meaning.
It was found that Sister White's writings contained many figures of speech which it was difficult to translate, and it was agreed that as Sister Davis read the English that she be interrupted at any time with questions as to the exact meaning of the words read and that Elder Whitney should frequently interrupt the reading and ask the translators how they would handle such and such a passage.
After a very interesting passage had been read, which needed keen insight on the part of the translator, he would say, "Wait, Sister Davis. Now, Brother A'franc, how would you put that in French?" Or appealing to Brother Vuilleumier, he would say, "John, how would you put that in French?" Then each one of the French translators would make propositions. Sometimes one, two, and sometimes three propositions were made before they and Elder Whitney could come to an agreement as to the very best way to express the thought.
After reading on to another such pas sage, the reader would be stopped and the question would be asked, "Professor Kuhn, how would you translate that into German?" Or, "Mrs. Bach, how would you express that in German?" Then Professor Kuhn, and Mrs. Bach, Henry Fry, and others would enter into a serious discussion as to the best way for this to be translated.
Much discussion was given to the best way of translating those figurative statements with which the copy abounded, and it was enlightening to all of us to see how far away from the real meaning of the figure were many of the propositions that were made.
A very interesting feature of the work of preparing this book for publication in German and in French was the fact that Sister White was writing much new material as she came in contact with our people individually; and in meeting and hearing their conversations and testimonies, there was brought to her mind many things regarding the experiences of God's people in the European countries during Reformation days. Also, as she visited places of historic interest, there was brought fresh to her mind what had been revealed to her regarding the happenings of these places.
(To be continued.)
* Ellen White's reference to this, as she spoke of the work of Marian Davis, was quoted in part 1 of this series (June, 1979): "When she would be gathering up the precious jots and tittles that had come in papers and books and present it to me, 'Now,' she would say, 'there is something wanted. I can not supply it.' I would look it over, and in one
moment I could trace the line right out." —Manuscript 95, 1904.