The Life of Ellen White by D.M. Canright

Chapter 10 - A Great Plagiarist

About 1904, Dr. J.H. Kellogg and his Sanitarium associates, it was learned, were not accepting as from God all of Mrs. White's writings. They found numerous contradictions in them, and believed that many of them were inspired by the officials, and were calling attention to some of these things.

Mrs. White thereupon wrote them a "testimony," asking that they write out their difficulties regarding her writings, and send them to her. In this communication, dated March 30, 1905, she not only promised to clear up these difficulties, but said that God would help her to do this. She said:

"Recently in the visions of the night I stood in a large company of people. . . I was directed by the Lord to request them, and any others who have perplexities and grievous things in their minds regarding the testimonies that I have borne, to specify what their objections and criticisms are. The Lord will help me to answer these objections, and make plain that which seems to be intricate. . . Let it all be written out, and submitted to those who desire to remove the perplexities. . . They should certainly do this, if they are loyal to the directions God has given."

Dr. Charles E. Stewart, one of the Battle Creek Sanitarium physicians, took her at her word, and wrote out a large number of "perplexities" which he and others had found in her writings, and sent them to her.

What did Mrs. White do? Instead of fulfilling her promise and attempting an explanation, she had another "vision," in which she was instructed by "a messenger from heaven" not to do so. Here are her words, written under date of June 3, 1906:

"I had a vision, in which I was speaking before a large company, where many questions were asked concerning my work and writings. I was directed by a messenger from heaven not to take the burden of picking up and answering all the sayings and doubts that are being put in many minds."

Notice: First, "in the visions of the night," she was "directed by the Lord" to request those men who had "perplexities and grievous things in their minds" concerning her writings, to "specify what their objections and criticisms are." "Let it all be written out," she said. Then she not only promised to answer these objections and criticisms, but said, "The Lord will help me to answer these objections, and make plain that which seems to be intricate." Then, after the brethren had done exactly what she told them to do, she had another "vision," in which she was "directed by a messenger from heaven" not to do the very thing she promised to do, and said the Lord would help her to do!

In doing this she involved herself, and, through claiming divine revelation for what she had written in both communications, involved God, in a most glaring contradiction and cowardly backdown. As usual, she placed upon God the responsibility for her failure. He had not come to her rescue and helped her as she had said he would, so, through another "vision," she makes him responsible for her breaking her promise.

The simple solution of it all is, she could not clear up these difficulties, nor answer these objections. They were too much for her. Seeking to get these men to commit themselves openly in writing, she had made a promise which she could not fulfill. In the net she had spread for others her own foot was taken. (Ps. 9:15)

One of the perplexities mentioned by Dr. Stewart in his communication was:

The Charge of Plagiarism

The rights of authorship are recognized and protected by copyright laws the world over. Any infringement of these rights, even where credit is given, is punishable by severe penalties, and frequently by confiscation of the works involved.

Plagiarism, or literary piracy, is the worst form of this offense. It is the appropriating of the writings of another as one's own, without quotes or credit. It is indulged in by uneducated, pedantic and unscrupulous persons, who desire to appear what they are not, or to make money from the products of other minds.

Mrs. White's works abound in offenses of this kind. Few Seventh-day Adventists know this. Many of the striking passages in her writings, which her followers have thought evidences of her inspiration and supernatural powers, have been fond, upon investigation, to have been copied verbatim, or with but slight verbal changes, from the writings of others. A careful examination has revealed eighteen close parallels between her writings and the Book of Jasher, a book twice mentioned in the Bible, but not a part of the Bible; yet she never once in all her writings refers to the Book of Jasher.

The Standard Dictionary gives the following definition of plagiarism: "The act of plagiarizing or appropriating the ideas, writings or inventions or another without due acknowledgment; especially, the stealing of passages, either word for word or in substance, from the writings of another, and publishing them as one's own; literary or artistic theft."

One of the damaging facts against the claim of divine revelation in the writings of Mrs. White is that she copied extensively from other authors without giving credit. In the text of her books where she has done this she gives no hint of it in any way. She did not put the passages referred to in quotation marks, nor in any other way indicate that she had made use of the literary productions of others. The proof of this is abundant in several of her works.

In 1883 she published a work, of 334 pages, entitled "Sketches from the Life of Paul." In the preface the publishers declared it to be written by "special help from the Spirit of God." In 1855, twenty-eight years prior to this, the "Life and Epistles of the Apostle Paul" had been published by Conybeare and Howson, two English authors. I have both books. A comparison of them reveals the fact that Mrs. White copied a large part of her book directly from this previously published work. Yet she nowhere makes the least reference to that work, nor does she give credit by the use of quotation marks or otherwise for the material which she thus so extensively copied. Very few Adventists are aware of this fact; hence they innocently read her book as material given to her by revelation of the Holy Spirit in harmony with the misleading statement made in the preface by the publishers.In 1907, Dr. Stewart published a pamphlet of eighty-nine pages, in which he arranged in parallel columns quotations from Mrs. White's book and the book by Conybeare and Howson just mentioned. These show beyond dispute that she copied her matter directly from the older book. The material for Dr. Stewart's book was gathered and prepared in response to the request of Mrs. White, in 1905, already referred to. But she never attempted to answer the difficulties he presented. Copies of his book have been in the hands of their leaders now for years; yet not a word of explanation has been attempted.Dr. Stewart says: "In order to make clear what I mean with reference to the similarity in the two books, I will arrange some of the matter in parallel columns:

"Sketches from the Life of Paul" By Mrs. E.G. White, 1883

"Life and Epistles of the Apostle Paul" By Conybeare and Howson, 1855, 3rd ed.

"The judges sat in the open air, upon seats hewn out in the rock, on a platform which was ascended by a flight of stone steps from the valley below" (p. 93) "The judges sat in the open air, upon seats hewn out in the rock, on a platform which was ascended by a flight of stone steps immediately from the Agora" (p. 308).

"Had his oration been a direct attack upon their gods, and the great men of the city who where before him, he would have been in danger of meeting the fate of Socrates" (p. 97)

"Had he begun by attacking the national gods in the midst of their sanctuaries, and with the Areopagites on the seats near him, he would have been in almost as great danger as Socrates before him" (p. 310)

"An extensive and profitable business had grown up at Ephesus from the manufacture and sale of these shrines and images" (p. 142)

"From the expressions used by Luke, it is evident that an extensive and lucrative trade grew up at Ephesus from the manufacture and sale of these shrines" (p. 432)

"Only their reverence for the temple saved the apostle from being torn in pieces on the spot. With violent blows and shouts of vindictive triumph, they dragged him from the sacred enclosure" (p. 216)

"It was only their reverence for the Holy Place which preserved him from being torn to pieces on the spot. They hurried him out of the sacred enclosure and assailed him with violent blows" (p. 547)

"In the excitement the flung off their garments as they had done years before at the martyrdom of Stephen and threw dust into the air with frantic violence. This fresh outbreak threw the Roman captain into great perplexity. He had not understood Paul's Hebrew address, and concluded from the general excitement that his prisoner must be guilty of some great crime. The loud demands of the people that Paul be delivered into their hands made the commander tremble. He ordered him to be immediately taken into the barracks and examined by scourging, that he might be forced to confess his guilt" (p. 220)

"In their rage and impatience they tossed off their outer garments (as on that other occasion when the garments were laid at the feet of Saul himself) and threw dust into the air with frantic violence. This commotion threw Lysias into new perplexity. He had not been able to understand the apostle's Hebrew speech and when he saw its results he concluded that his prisoner must be guilty of some enormous crime. He ordered him therefore to be taken immediately from the stairs into the barracks and to be examined by a torture in order to elicit a confession of his guilt" (p. 557)

"Among the disciples who ministered to Paul at Rome was one Onesimus, a fugitive from the city of Colosse. He belonged to a Christian named Philemon, a member of the Colossian church. But he had robbed his master and fled to Rome" (p. 284)

"But all of the disciples now ministering to Paul at Rome, none has for us a greater interest than the fugitive Asiatic slave Onesimus. He belonged to a Christian named Philemon, a member of the Colossian church. But he had robbed his master and at last found his way to Rome" (p. 610)

So plainly and fully was Mrs. White's book copied from the older book, that the publishers of Conybeare and Howson's work threatened prosecution if her work was not suppressed. Hence it was withdrawn from sale, and for many years has not been listed among her books. Did any prophet of old have to suppress one of his books because he had stolen so much of the matter in it from some other writer? The writers of the Bible frequently quote one from the other, but with due credit. (See Dan. 9:1,2; Matt. 24:15; Acts 2:25-28; Rom. 9.)But, as Dr. Stewart observes, this is not an isolated case. Continuing, he made the following comparisons between her book, "Great Controversy," and Wylie's "History of the Waldenses" and D'Aubigne's "History of the Reformation," thus:

"Great Controversy" By Mrs. E.G. White

"The bull invited all Catholics to take up the cross against heretics. In order to stimulate them in this cruel work, it absolved them from all ecclesiastical pains and penalties; it released all who joined the crusade from any oaths they might have taken; it legalized their title to any property which they might have illegally acquired, and promised remission of all their sins to such as should kill any heretic. It annulled all contracts made in favor of the Vaudois, ordered their domestics to abandon them, forbade all persons to give them any aid whatever, and empowered all persons to take possession of their property" (p. 83)

"History of the Waldenses" By Rev. J.A. Wylie

"The bull invited all Catholics to take up the cross against heretics, and to stimulate them in this pious work, it absolved them from all ecclesiastical pains and penalties, general and particular; it released all who joined the crusade from any oaths they might have taken; it legitimatized their title to any property they might have illegally acquired, and promised remission of all their sins to such as should kill any heretic. It annulled all contracts made in favor of the Vaudois, ordered their domestics to abandon them, forbade all persons to give them any aid whatever, and empowered all persons to take possession of their property" (p. 28)

"Great Controversy" By Mrs. E.G. White

"In the gloom of his dungeon, John Huss had foreseen the triumph of true faith. Returning in his dreams to the humble parish where he had preached the gospel, he saw the pope and his bishops effacing the pictures of Christ which he had painted on the walls of his chapel. The sight caused him great distress; but the next day he was filled with joy as he beheld many artists busily engaged in replacing the figures in great numbers and brighter colors. When their work was completed, the painters exclaimed to the immense crowds surrounding them, 'Now let the popes and bishops come! They shall never efface them more!' Said the reformer as he related his dream, 'I am certain that the image of Christ will never be effaced. They have wished to destroy it, but it shall be painted in all hearts by much better preachers than myself'" (pp. 91, 92)

D'Aubigne's "History of the Reformation"

"One night the holy martyr saw, in imagination, from the depths of his dungeon, the pictures of Christ that he had painted on the walls of his oratory, effaced by the popes and his bishops."The vision distressed him; but on the next day he saw many painters occupied in restoring these figures in greater numbers and in brighter colors. As soon as their task was ended, the painters, who were surrounded by an immense crowd, exclaimed, 'Now let the popes and bishops come! They shall never efface them more!' . . . 'I am no dreamer,' replied Huss, 'but I maintain this for certain: That the image of Christ will never be effaced. They have wished to destroy it, but it shall be painted afresh in all hearts by much better preachers than myself'" (p. 3)

Here are other examples of Mrs. White's plagiarisms:

Unpublished Testimony of Mrs. White, Aug 5, 1896:

"The laws governing the physical nature are as truly divine in their origin and character as the law of the ten commandments.""Testimony," Vol. II."It is just as much a sin to violate the law of our being as to break on of the ten commandments" (p. 70).

Cole's "Philosophy of Health," Published 1853, 26th ed.

"The laws which govern our constitutions are divine; and to their violation there is affixed a penalty, which must sooner or later be met. And it is as truly a sin to violate one of these laws as it is to violate one of the ten commandments" (p. 8).

Mrs. White's "Great Controversy" ed. 1888

"The cross of Christ will be the science and the song of the redeemed through all eternity" (p. 651).

Robert Pollok's "Course of Time" written in 1829

"Redemption is the science and the song of all eternity" (p. 55)

These quotations from her different books show that Mrs. White practiced this literary stealing right along all through her life. Ten times as much could readily be given. The Great Controversy is her most popular book with her people. Every line is accepted as original with her; all inspired by the Holy Spirit. Carefully studying it, we found that it was largely taken from Andrews' History of the Sabbath, Wylie's History of the Waldenses, D'Aubigne's History of the Reformation, Smith's Sanctuary, Elder White's Life of Wm. Miller, itself a copied book, and other works.

The quotations already given are sufficient to show that Mrs. White's inspiration was from very human sources, although she sent her works forth as inspired by the Holy Spirit. The facts here cited are all in print, and can not successfully be denied. From these facts the reader can judge for himself as to how much reliance can be placed on her claim that all her writings were inspired and dictated by the Holy Spirit. In his communication to her Dr. Stewart said:

"I am informed by a trustworthy person who has had an opportunity to know, that you, in the preparation of your various works, consulted freely other authors; and that it was sometimes very difficult to arrange the matter for your books in such a way as to prevent the reader from detecting that many of the ideas had been taken from other authors."
Remember that Mrs. White never answered Dr. Stewart's communication, which she herself invited through her professed revelation from God on March 30, 1905. And since she did not in several years find it either possible or convenient to answer what she had not only promised to answer, but what she said God would help her to answer, it is evident that it is impossible for these objections to be answered. Mrs. White can not answer them now, for she is dead; and after a lapse of more than eleven years [Editor: 93 years now] none of her followers has attempted to answer them.

One Advent sister who had been with Mrs. White for ten years told the author personally that she had seen her copying from a book in her lap. When visitors came in she would cover the book with her apron until they had gone, then proceed with her copying. Her works show that the sister told the truth. Such work is considered dishonorable in any one. It is defined as "literary theft." Webster says:

"Plagiarist: A thief in literature; one who purloins another's writings and offers them to the public as his own."

This is exactly what Mrs. White did, as already shown. But she did more than steal her material from other authors; she sent it forth to the world as a divine revelation given to her by the Holy Spirit from God himself.

Occasionally a college student is detected in the appropriation from some author of an essay which he submits to his teacher as his own production. When discovered, he is promptly expelled or suspended for misconduct.

As may be seen from the preface or introduction to almost any standard or reputable work, honorable authors take pleasure in acknowledging the assistance they have received from the productions or labors of others. Mrs. White, it seems, suppressed this fact as far as possible in the preparation and publication of her works. The only plausible excuse that can be offered for this is that she had a diseased brain, and was a monomaniac on the subject of her visions, revelations and religious ideas, and thought her "gift" gave her a right to do that which would be reprehensible in others. This accounts for her numerous plagiarisms and contradictions, which never seemed to trouble her.

Had we the space, we could give dates, places, and names of persons involved, when we, with others, told her all about certain circumstances having to do with some other persons; shortly, she would have a "testimony" for them respecting what we had told her; but, instead of telling the source of her information, she delivered it as a direct revelation from God. She knew that we were aware of the source of her information; but that did not seem to disconcert her at all.

All of those near to her well understood how to use her influence through testimonies, and many of them did it. Especially did her husband, Elder White, secure in this way "divine sanction" for all his plans. It helped him in a remarkable way, as it did also her two sons and other leaders later. Therefore, neither he nor they would allow Mrs. White's "revelations" to be questioned in any way. To do so was the greatest of all heresies, and meant summary excommunication from the church, without hearing or trial.In 1909, at the last General Conference of her people that Mrs. White ever attended, a glaring illustration of her plagiarism was discovered. A certain minister was asked to read one morning before a large audience, a selection from a collection of her unpublished testimonies. As he read it he recognized it as his own production. Without quotes or credit of any kind, Mrs. White had taken it bodily from a communication which he had sent her some years before, and appropriated it as her own. This man, who from childhood had been taught to believe in her inspiration, was dumbfounded, and began to investigate her claims for himself. To his surprise, he soon found them groundless.

Miss Marian Davis, the literary worker who had the most to do of any one in the preparation of Mrs. White's books, was one day heard moaning in her room. Going in, another worker inquired the cause of her trouble. Miss Davis replied:

"I wish I could die! I wish I could die!"

"Why, what is the matter?" asked the other.

"Oh" Miss Davis said, "this terrible plagiarism!"

It is said that before her death Miss Davis was greatly troubled over the connection she had had with Mrs. White's plagiarism, for she knew how extensively it had been carried on. In 1911, only four years before Mrs. White's death, three thousand dollars was spent on the revision of her book, "Great Controversy," chiefly to relieve it of some of its most glaring plagiarisms. The revision began to be demanded by some of her own people who had become aware of the facts.This charge against her, therefore, must stand. She was a copyist rather than an original or inspired writer. While professing to be the special mouthpiece for God, she was guilty of practicing this literary fraud practically all her life. This nullifies her claim to inspiration. God does not inspire his prophets to steal.While Mrs. White took so freely from the writings of others without giving credit, and thus took credit to herself which did not belong to her, she was very particular about receiving credit herself. Jan. 30, 1905, Dr. David Paulson, of Chicago, wrote her, asking permission to make extracts from her writings for his monthly magazine, The Life-boat. Feb. 15, 1905, her son, W.C. White, replied as follows:

"Mother instructs me to say to you that you may be free to select from her writings short articles for The Life-boat. Or you may make extracts from these MSS. and from similar writings, in your articles, in each case giving the proper credit."
Why did not Mrs. White do as she wished to be done by, and "in each case," where she made use of the writings of others, give "the proper credit"? From what has been presented, the answer is plain. She was so anxious to make books, so possessed with the idea of her own self-importance, and so desirous of appearing something she was not, that she ignored the rights of others, purloined from their writings, and became a pronounced literary kleptomaniac.
Previous Chapter Next Chapter BACK HOME