Ellen G. White and Her Critics


The Threatened Lawsuit Quashed

We believe the reader will conclude that the threatened lawsuit has been quashed, and with the quashing of the lawsuit disappears all the sinister significance that critics have tried to inject into the simple fact that no further edition of Sketches From the Life of Paul was published. EGWC 457.9

We have traced the story of a threatened lawsuit through a labyrinth of hearsay, gossip, innuendo, and evil implication, and now, at the end of the path, we remind the reader that we have explored what the critics consider is perhaps their choicest, most plausibly presented “proof” of Mrs. White’s fraud and evil activity, particularly in relation to the charge of plagiarism. EGWC 457.10

Note.—We are under no obligation to offer an explanation of how the lawsuit myth started, but for those who are understandably affected by the old saying that where there is so much smoke there must be some fire, we venture the following, frankly admitting it is only a surmise based on a reminiscence: EGWC 457.11

Mrs. White’s son, W. C. White, when asked whether there was any letter from Crowell Company that might have provided even a shadow of a foundation for a lawsuit story, is reported by his son to have replied in substance thus: The Pacific Press and Review and Herald publishing houses purchased several thousand copies of the Conybeare and Howson work in 1883 in connection with the Sabbath school lessons, and as a premium book. Then when orders for the books ceased, the Crowell Company wrote inquiring about the matter. Just what the company said in its letter, we do not know, for the correspondence files of both the Pacific Press and the Review and Herald were destroyed in disastrous fires in later years. EGWC 457.12

Now an inquiry in the 1880’s could easily become, in 1907, a “request” to cease publishing Mrs. White’s book, and a threat of prosecution in 1919. There are many stories to the effect that Adventists, in the early 1840’s climbed up in trees all over New England in anticipation of the end of the world. Some of these stories are in impressive reference works. Exhaustive examination of old newspapers and journals reveals that this story stemmed from a newspaper item in 1843 about a certain named man who allegedly climbed a tree, jumped, broke his neck, and died. The newspaper item was widely reprinted in the press. There is no other incident that can provide even a semblance of a historical foundation for the numerous stories of Adventists climbing trees. It should also be added that a correction appeared shortly in the 1843 newspapers. From it and certain investigation these facts appear: The man did not die of a broken neck; in fact, there was no evidence he broke his neck, no evidence that he jumped from a tree, no evidence that he was an Adventist, but rather clear evidence that he was not an Adventist, and that his actions whatever they were, were those of a demented man. EGWC 458.1

Now, if a little item in the press of 1843 could produce, erelong, a whole forest of trees, filled with a whole company of Adventists, it should not be difficult to see how a bland letter of inquiry in the 1880’s could produce at least one threatened lawsuit in the twentieth century. Hence it would seem to follow that the old saying about much smoke and some fire is not too dependable, though it must be admitted that one tree in 1843 provided, shortly, enough wood for a very great fire. * EGWC 458.2

This is probably the setting in which to offer comment on another idle story. A present-day critic at the close of his charge of plagiarism adds for good measure: “When I was active with the denomination it was currently reported that people, on entering Mrs. White’s room, frequently found her copying from a book on her lap, but as they entered, she tried to conceal the book.” EGWC 458.3

If Mrs. White wished to copy something from a book, why should she wish to hide the fact from a visitor? In the preface to the 1888 edition of The Great Controversy she announced to all the world that she did borrow, at times, the words of others. Which is another way of saying that sometimes she would have their books before her! EGWC 458.4

Exhaustive inquiry and investigation produces the following as the only apparent source of this story: Mrs. White was writing. A young minister entered her study. She quickly covered her writing with her apron. She happened to be writing a letter that discussed him, and, incidentally, discussed him favorably, and she did not wish him to learn that fact at the time! EGWC 458.5