Originally published in
ADVENTIST REVIEW, JUNE 11, 1981
Ellen White's Last Four Books--Part 1
The story behind the writing The Acts of the Apostles
By ARTHUR L. WHITE
Arthur L. White was secretary of the Ellen G. White Estate for 41 Years. Now in active retirement , he is writing a comprehensive biography of Ellen White.
As I have been writing chapters for the biography of Ellen White, my research has been most rewarding in revealing the degree of her active participation in literary work during the last four years of her life. The years involved are 1911 through 1914, as well as the first six weeks of 1915. During this period she was able to mark her eighty-fourth to eighty-seventh birthdays. Life Sketches of Ellen G. White, prepared hastily for the press and which appeared within a few weeks of her death in mid-July, 1915, devotes a few sentences to the preparation of the manuscripts for The Acts of the Apostles; Counsels to Parents, Teachers, and Students; Gospel Workers; and Prophets and Kings. On pages 434 and 436 the reader is correctly informed that she supervised this work and read the manuscripts for the chapters.
But the full extent of what was involved in developing these volumes has been dug out of the records and prepared for publication only within the past two months as I have been writing for what will be the last of the biography series. Ellen G. White--the Elmshaven Years. [Editors note: The author, for several reasons, chose to begin his writing with Ellen White's return to the United States from Australia in 1900, and has prepared the manuscripts for the last two of the six volumes of the biography. The first of these will be published in September of this year.] It has been a thrilling and most reassuring experience to me. Since it will be months before the volume containing this account will reach the reading public, I feel constrained to share it now with readers of the REVIEW. In this book Ellen White's active participation in literary work is portrayed right up to the time of the accident that terminated her work five months before her death.
At the outset it should be made clear that her four books noted above did not emerge as totally new literary productions. The Acts of the Apostles, published in 1911, is described in Life Sketches as "the revision of 'Sketches from the Life of Paul,'" a book that appeared originally in 1883. Counsels to Parents, Teachers, and Students, coming from the press in 1913, represented the organization and enlargement of materials first published mainly in the 1890s in Christian Education and Special Testimonies on Education. Gospel Workers, which came from the press in 1915, presented important counsels published in 1892 in a volume titled Gospel Workers, with a great deal of material added, representing her counsels to ministers. Prophets and Kings, published in 1917, was originally titled The Captivity and Restoration of Israel. It was a book Ellen White was looking forward to preparing for several decades. In doing so she wrote a number of articles, on Daniel, Nehemiah. Ezra, and other Old Testament personalities, that were published in the Review and Herald, The Signs of the Times, The Youth's Instructor, and Watchman Magazine. These, with chapters from Spiritual Gifts, volume 3, could provide much of the material that fills in the great controversy story from the time of David to the birth of Christ.
So there was a reservoir of materials in her periodical articles, reports of her sermons, and her manuscript files that would form the basis of these new books. But there was much to do in assembling and coordinating the materials before the book manuscripts would be ready for publication.
And there were gaps that had to be filled, with Ellen White providing new materials. It was to this end that she and her assistants turned their attention during the closing years of her life. I was familiar with this in broad outline, but was not fully aware of the extent to which those who worked with her looked to her for responsible participation during her sunset years until I dug into the correspondence files of W. C. White and C. C. Crisler as I wrote chapters for the biography. When I speak of the W. C. White correspondence files, I am talking about more than 30.000 letters. The C. C. Crisler correspondence is confined to a much smaller compass.
Because W. C. White was called upon to travel extensively in the general interests of the cause during the last four years of his mother's life, we have a detailed record of Ellen White's life during this time. Crisler, who headed the secretarial staff at Elmshaven, kept W. C. White informed on almost a day-to-day basis as to his mother's health and activities and the activities in the office during these periods of absence. When W. C. White was at home and in the office, there is no such record except when he or D. E. Robinson might be writing to fellow workers or to J. Edson White.
With this background, I shall now draw some paragraphs from chapters in the biography I am writing. To conserve space in giving credit to the writers from whom I quote, initials are used--EGW for Ellen G. White, WCW for W. C. White, CCC for C. C. Crisler, DER for D. E. Robinson, AGD for A. G. Daniells, and SNH for S. N. Haskell. In the office records before titles were affixed to the books in preparation, "New Testament History" refers to The Acts of the Apostles, and "Old Testament History" refers to Prophets and Kings.
In a letter written in 1911 to L. R. Conradi, who headed the work of the church in Europe, W. C. White, immediately after The Acts of the Apostles came from the press, presented a sketchy outline of how the book was prepared: "We are truly thankful that we have been enabled to gather together the principal parts of what Mother has written regarding the life and labors of the apostles . . . .
"You may be interested to know how we labored together in the preparation of the manuscript for the printer, and what part Mother was able to take in the work.
"At the beginning, Mother took a very lively interest in planning about the new book. She instructed us to search through her manuscripts and her published articles in the Review, The Signs, and other periodicals, and to gather together what she had written on the work and teachings of the apostles. The preliminary work took about five months of reading and research: then followed the work of selecting those articles and portions of articles and manuscripts which most clearly represented what she desired to say to all the people, both Adventists and members of other churches . . . .
"The burden of this work fell upon Brother C. C. Crisler, Mrs. Maggie Hare-Bree, and Miss Minnie Hawkins.
"Day-by-day manuscripts were submitted to Mother for reading. To these she gave her first attention early in the morning when she was rested and her mind was fresh, and she marked the manuscripts freely, interlining and adding words, phrases, and sentences to make the statements more clear and forceful, and these were passed back for a second copying.
"As the work progressed, Mother would frequently give us instructions regarding points of importance and which she knew she had written and which she wished us to take special pains to search for in her writings. Sometimes this instruction was given to those who brought her the manuscripts in her room, and oftentimes after reading a few chapters, or early in the forenoon after some important feature had been impressed upon her mind in night visions, she would come over to the office and talk the matter over with Brother Crisler.
"One day when she was talking with him and me together, she said, 'This book will be read by heathen in America and in other lands. Take pains to search out that which I have written regarding the work and teachings of Saint Paul that will appeal to the heathen.'
"At another time she said, 'This book will be read by the Jews. Take pains to use what I have written that will appeal to the Jews, and also that will appeal to our people as encouragement to work for the Jews.'
"And thus from time to time, she called our attention to the objects and aims that must be remembered in gathering from her writings that which would be most useful.--WCW to L. R. Conradi, December 8, 1911.
Throughout the year 1910, Ellen White and her assistants were giving a good deal of their time to the forthcoming printing of The Great Controversy. With that work largely out of the way, a choice must be made between the two projected Conflict of the Ages books, the one on Old Testament history and the other on New Testament history. When it became known that the Sabbath school lessons for 1911 were to cover the topic of the early Christian church and fully aware of the help the proposed E. G. White book would be, the decision was made in favor of the New Testament book which would serve as a most useful Sabbath school help. While it was too late to get out the finished volume, the materials as prepared could be published in the Review and Herald, as well as in The Signs of the Times and The Youth's Instructor.
Selecting and assembling the materials from these articles, sermons, general manuscripts, and other similar sources, was now the work of Maggie Hare-Bree, an assistant of long experience in Ellen White's work. With emphasis to be given to New Testament history, Maggie was instructed, first of all, to make an exhaustive study of the E. G. White sources to provide articles to parallel the 1911 Sabbath school lessons. The plan was that as soon as the work on The Great Controversy was completed. Clarence Crisler would assemble materials on the life of Paul. He would take the 1883 E. G. White book, Sketches From the Life of Paul, as the foundation of this work. This book had been out of print for some time, but Ellen White for many years had been looking forward to expanding its presentation. Now Crisler would draw from this, as well as from other Ellen White sources of the past 25 or more years.
Because Maggie, hard at work on the experiences of the early Christian church, became sick, the work was delayed. The deadline for copy for the January 5 issue of the Review, the time for the beginning of the new series, was missed (WCW to F. M. Wilcox, January 17, 1911). But four weeks later the Review and Herald carried two articles in time to parallel current Sabbath school lessons.
From time to time Ellen White called the attention of her
workers to the objectives and aims that needed to be
remembered in gathering from her writings that which
would be most useful.
The records indicate that Ellen White was much involved in the task, going over the materials as they were assembled, doing some editing and writing to fill in gaps. All of this was done with an eye on the full manuscript for the forthcoming book to be known as The Acts of the Apostles. On February 15 she wrote: "I am thankful that I can remain at home for a time, where I can be close to my helpers . . . . I have been very fully employed in the preparation of matter for the 'Life of Paul.' We are trying to bring out scriptural evidence of truth, and these, we believe, will be appreciated by our people."--Letter 4, 1911.
The work of article preparation and shaping up of chapters for the book manuscript proceeded well as Ellen White devoted much of her writing potential to this task. Although April was consumed in a trip to Loma Linda, in May she was back working on Acts (WCW to J. H. Behrens, May 21. 1911). On June 6 she reported that since her long trip in 1909 she had "written but few letters." and stated: "What strength I have is mostly given to the completion of my book on the work of the apostles."--Letter 30, 1911.
On July 25, in writing to F. M. Wilcox, editor of the Review and Herald, she said: "While preparing the book on the Acts of the Apostles, the Lord has kept my mind in perfect peace. This book will soon be ready for publication. When this book is ready for publication, if the Lord sees fit to let me rest, I shall say Amen, and Amen.
"If the Lord spares my life, I will continue to write, and to bear my testimony in the congregation of the people, as the Lord shall give me strength and guidance."--Letter 56, 1911.
Her Review articles running contemporaneously with the Sabbath school lessons continued, but in mid-August they began to take on the form of finished book chapters, which indeed they were. Up to this point, most of the material in the articles went into The Acts of the Apostles' chapters with some editing, some deletions, and some rearrangement of words. Through the rest of the year the articles and the book ran word for word.
On August 4, Ellen White reported in a letter to her son Edson: "My workers are busy completing the work to be done on the new book, The Acts of the Apostles. This we expect to close up very shortly . . . . My workers are continually bringing in chapters for me to read: and I lay aside my other work to do this. . . .This morning I have already read several chapters on the Life of Paul."--Letter 60, 1911.
Four weeks later she again mentioned the book in a letter to S. N. Haskell: "My work on the book, The Acts of the Apostles, is nearly completed."--Letter 64, 1911.
It was a joyous day, and one filled with satisfaction, when Ellen White could write as she did on October 6 to Elder and Mrs. Haskell:
"My book, The Acts of the Apostles, has gone to the press. Soon it will be printed and ready for circulation.
"I feel more thankful than I can express for the interest my workers have taken in the preparation of this book, that its truths might be presented in the clear and simple language which the Lord has charged me never to depart from in any of my writings.
"The Lord has been good to me in sending me intelligent, understanding workers. I appreciate highly their interest, and the encouragement I have had in preparing this book for the people. I trust that it will have a large circulation. Our people need all the light that the Lord has been pleased to send, that they may be encouraged and strengthened for their labors in proclaiming the message of warning in these last days."--Letter 80, 1911.
Clarence Crisler occasionally referred to the former book, Sketches From the Life of Paul, as he selected materials for The Acts of the Apostles. But there is nothing in the record to indicate that, while there had been some talk, particularly in and around Battle Creek a few years earlier, that Ellen White had plagiarized somewhat from Life and Epistles of the Apostle Paul, this was of any concern to Crisler and his associates. Life and Epistles of the Apostle Paul was a book jointly authored by W. J. Conybeare and J. S. Howsen, British clergymen--a book issued in the United States without copyright by several publishers. W. C. White in his comments on December 8, 1911, noted: "If you compare those chapters relating to the work of Paul with the old book, Sketches From the Life of Paul, you will observe that less room has been given to detailed descriptions of places and joumeyings and that more room has been given to his teachings and the lessons to be drawn from them."--WCW to L. R. Conradi, December 8, 1911. The Acts of the Apostles was off the press and ready for sale in late November, 1911.