Ellen G. White and Her Critics


Do the Facts Justify the Charge of Plagiarism?

We have found that: 1. The principal works Mrs. White quoted in The Great Controversy and Sketches From the Life of Paul were widely found in Adventist homes. 2. That her borrowings were chiefly historical or descriptive background material. 3. And that those borrowings constitute a minor part of her two works. In the light of these facts we ask: Can Mrs. White rightly be charged with plagiarism? Let us break down the question into several parts to cover the moral and the legal phases: * EGWC 426.3

1. Was there an intent to deceive? We believe the unprejudiced reader will willingly answer No. And that answer removes completely the shady color of evil intent that some have sought to cast over Mrs. White in this matter. EGWC 427.1

(In the following questions we have quoted phrases from the summary of the current court rulings on infringement—the legal side of plagiarism—which was cited earlier in this chapter.) EGWC 427.2

2. Did Mrs. White take “so much ... that the value of the original is sensibly diminished, or the labors of the original author are substantially and to an injurious extent appropriated”? The answer is surely an emphatic No. EGWC 427.3

The material in Mrs. White’s book on Paul drawn from Conybeare and Howson was equivalent to less than 4 per cent of this English book, for it was a large work. And that drawn from Farrar was equivalent to less than 2 per cent of his book, for it also was a large work. As to The Great Controversy (1911 edition), only 4 per cent of the material is borrowed from other authors. But this 4 per cent is drawn from a number of works, with only a very small per cent being drawn from any particular work. The same would be essentially true of the 1888 edition and the 1884 edition. And it is only the 1884 edition against which any really plausible argument can be presented that plagiarism occurred. EGWC 427.4

3. Were the borrowings “reasonable in quality, number, and length,” particularly in regard “to the nature and objects of the selections made” and “the subjects to which they relate”? The answer is Yes. The material quoted was background material, not central to the spiritual theme that always distinguished Mrs. White’s writing. * EGWC 427.5

Only one point more in the charge of plagiarism against Mrs. White remains to be examined—the lawsuit that was allegedly threatened if her work on Paul was not taken off the market. This will be considered in the next chapter. EGWC 428.1