“During her lifetime, Ellen White wrote an estimated 25,000,000 words in her letters, manuscripts, articles, and books. Often, in her most productive years, she would average about 4,500 words (18 pages) a day.”—Robert Olson.
So here is a fact about professional writing: Ellen White wrote such a vast amount of material—that she either had to copy large amounts of it or she had to be a very original writer. There is no alternative.
“Mother writes very rapidly. She writes early in the morning, endeavoring to place upon paper a word-picture of the things that are flashed into her mind as a panoramic view of the movements of nations, of communities, of churches, and of individuals.”—W.C. White, Letter; May 13, 1904.
If she copied that much, we would have evidence of it today—for the other books from her time are still in existence, and they could easily be compared with her writings. But we do not have such evidence. There is hardly anything that can possibly be considered as evidence of copying. A word, a phrase here and there, does not constitute such evidence.
But there is another fact: If she had even resorted to copying a word from this book and a phrase from that book—she could not have produced the vast amount of material that issued from her pen! She would be too slowed down by copying bits and pieces from many books!
It would seem to be a lot harder to copy a little here and a little there—then to just sit there and write as it came to mind!
A professional writer finds it far easier to write than to have to constantly look up this item and quote that point.
If she copied a little from this book and a little from that book, she would have been forced to write so slowly that she could not have produced such a massive quantity of written material. In that case, she would only have written a few books and articles, not the immense amount she turned out.
But, if she wrote originally—that is, just sat down and wrote as it came to mind—then, and only then, could she have poured out the large amount of material which flowed from her pen! —Unless she used one other method:
Instead of doing original work, what other way could she have written so many books?
She could still have produced the terrific output—if she had straight copied whole chapters and books. But she did not do that. We know that she did not do that. All we have to do is read in the other books from her time to see that this was not the way she wrote.
Ellen White’s literary output approximated 25 million words during a writing career spanning nearly 70 years. A number of the 90-plus books, including compilations, from her pen in print today have been translated into as many as 100 languages. (According to research done at the Library of Congress by Roger Coon, she is the fourth most—translated writer in history, after Vladimir Lenin, Georges Simenon, and Leo Tolstoy.)
All in all, we see in these writings not only a depth of spirituality, but also an astounding productivity. She wrote so much!
Did you know that Ellen White wrote more than any other woman in history? Did you know that she is the most published woman author of all time? Did you know she is the second most published author (man or woman) in American history? She wrote a huge amount of material!
That is why people suspect she copied much of it from other authors.
It is easy to suspect such a thing, especially if you do not do much writing yourself. For many of us, the only way we could produce a lot of books—would be to copy them from other books! But, because this is such an important point, it is here stated again:
Ellen White wrote such an immense volume of books, articles, and letters that if she had copied, she would have had to do it on a massive scale—of entire chapters and books. If that had happened we would know it today; for all the contemporary 19th century books are still available.
It would be something like a bank robber: If one robbery succeeded, it would lead to still more, until he would be caught. If she had plagiarized so much material, it would all be directly traceable.
Joseph Smith (founder of the Mormon Church) plagiarized an entire book and published it as his own. We know because the other book still exists.
D.L. Canright (oddly enough, the first one to charge Ellen White with being a plagiarist) copied an entire book by Moses Hull, an earlier Adventist minister, and published it under his own name! So others have attempted this. But we can always track down what they did; because, as always occurs, copies of the other books still exist.
Yet, in the writings of Ellen White, we do not find evidence of massive copyings. We hardly find any hint of borrowings either. Ellen White was, by definition, a professional writer. A “professional writer” is one who spends large amounts of time writing. She wrote such a mass of material, it would have had to be either original or heavily copied! There simply is no other alternative.
The one writing the book you now have in hand is also a professional writer. He sits down and churns out publication after publication, week after week, year after year. Since 1980, he has probably produced more printed material than any other person in our denomination.
Yet he can tell you that no one can keep writing, hour after hour, day after day, unless he has a writing ability. A large literary output either has to be copied in massive quantities or it has to pour out of the head.
Every day, from Ellen White’s pen, there came diaries, magazine articles, letters—and still more pages (averaging 18 a day) of her latest book. She could not have produced such an output if she had used sources in the manner charged by Walter Rea! It just could not have been done! She could not possibly have the time to look up all those little bits and pieces in other books, here a little and there a little!
A non-wrlter does not realize this; he imagines that it would be easy for her to turn to this book and that book, and just copy down material. But no, that would only greatly increase the difficulty of the task! The use of sources would slow down the writing task.
The present writer has noticed that when he has to refer to source material (as finding the data and quotations for this book), the work goes much more slowly. It is always that way. To say it a third time: The only way Ellen White could have poured out such a volume of material—was either by being an original writer or by massive copying from other books. And if she had done the latter, it would have been discovered as such; yet no evidence of massive copying has ever been produced, in spite of Walter Rea’s misleading claims.
But didn’t she have lots of books in front of her as she wrote? That is what Walter Rea says.
Ellen White wrote wherever she could find a place to sit down—on the train, at camp meeting, on the ship, or wherever she was staying overnight. When at home, she wrote in her bedroom or sitting room. Visitors noted that there were few or no other books lying around, other than the Bible. The books were hardly to be found, because she was not referring to them.
Much of her writing was done in a comfortable chair with a lapboard in front of her, with no desk or table nearby loaded with books. How much research can you do sitting in an armchair, with a lapboard in front of you? Very little. But you surely can write a lot out of your head in an armchair with a lapboard in front of you. And that is what she did.
It has been charged that it was not Ellen White, but her assistants who wrote her books!
There are all kinds of charges against Ellen White. The devil hates those books; he suggests every possible excuse to ignore and oppose them.
As part of his exhaustive research Fred Veltman, the director of the Desire of Ages Project, analyzed not only that book, but also her earlier life-of-Christ writings. He discovered that the style, vocabulary, and concepts were identical in them all. It was clear that the same mind, the same hand had written both that book and her earlier writings on the same topics! Yet, when she wrote those earlier books, Ellen White did not have the helpers she had when she wrote most of her later books (from 1885 onward). Veltman’s conclusion from this was that Ellen White wrote Desire of Ages—and not her assistants! That is a major substantiation.
The little lady sat in an armchair, with a study board in front of her—and almost no room to put anything on it but a Bible and a sheet of paper—and wrote Desire of Ages!
Is that how she wrote her other books?
To our knowledge, that is how she wrote all her books, except when she was traveling from place to place, stopping overnight in someone else’s home, or attending a camp meeting or other gatherings. —And does anyone expect that she packed a pile of library books and took them around the countryside with her as she traveled?
Handwriting samples of her manuscripts, later published in books, shows that she wrote steadily. She did not write and rewrite, trying to figure out what she wanted to say or try to piece together what others said. She did not have a stack of books and jotted notes around her as she wrote.
Would her age have any factor in all this?
Ellen White was born on November 26, 1827. By the year, 1884, she had written only Volumes 1 to 4 of the Testimonies (primarily composed of collected letters), a few small books, and one major book (the 1884 edition of Great Controversy).
The truth was that she could not get much writing done until her husband died and she could get away from the seemingly endless squabbles at Battle Creek. So it was not until 1885 that she began her intense writing work, churning out one major book after another: the expanded 1888 edition of Great Controversy and, after that, Patriarchs and Prophets, Steps to Christ, Gospel Workers, Desire of Ages, Mount of Blessing, Christ’s Object Lessons, Education, Ministry of Healing, Acts of the Apostles, Prophets and Kings, and Counsels to Parents and Teachers, plus volumes 5 to 9 of the Testimonies.
So all of this talk about “copying” and “plagiarism” concerns books written during these last 30 years of her life, from 1885 to 1915. —But Ellen White was already 58 years old when she started all this writing in 1885!
Read the following list and see how old she was when each of those books was published. Think to yourself whether, at those ages, she would have the energy to plagiarize all those books as she sat in that soft chair with a lapboard: Great Controversy (1888, 60 years old), Patriarchs and Prophets (1890, 62), Steps to Christ (1892, 64), Gospel Workers (1892, 64), Desire of Ages (1892 to 1898, 64-70), Mount of Blessing (1896, 68), Christ’s Object Lessons (1900, 72), Education (1903, 75), Ministry of Healing (1905, 77), Acts of the Apostles (1910, 82), Prophets and Kings (1915, 87), and Counsels to Parents and Teachers (1915, 87).
It is amazing to think that she wrote those books at such advanced ages. Yet Veltman’s research shows that she did her own writing! (The preparation of the last two books primarily consisted in gathering together her earlier writings on a given subject; and she would write bridgework material connecting it.)
Once again, I say: Can anyone really imagine that such an aged lady spent her time ransacking through books for items to copy into her own? And can anyone think that she did it while sitting in a chair with a lapboard in front of her? Try sitting in a chair with a lapboard across the arms of your chair and see how much research in various books you can get done.
Surely, the God of heaven helped her turn out all those books and produce writings which were mutually harmonious and perfectly accurate!
But did she not read in other books?
Yes, there are times when she read in other books. We will understand this better in the following chapters on the Desire of Ages Project. Are there any exceptions to this pattern? Are there any times when she did sit down with a number of other books and refer to them? In real life there are always exceptions, when situations arise out of the ordinary, and a person has to do things differently than normal. In the case of Ellen White, that happened when she wrote the book, Great Controversy. In preparing the 1888 edition of Great Controversy, she did use statements of historians. But, on pages xi and xii of her Introduction—in that book,—she said she had done just that! She told the reader what she had done in that particular book, before they began reading chapter one.
“I have been bidden to make known to others that which has thus been revealed—to trace the history of the controversy in past ages, and especially so to present it as to shed a light on the fast approaching struggle of the future. In pursuance of this purpose, I have endeavored to select and group together events in the history of the church in such a manner as to trace the unfolding of the great testing truths that at different periods have been given to the world . .
“This history I have presented briefly, in accordance with the scope of the book, and the brevity which must necessarily be observed, the facts having been condensed into as little space as seemed consistent with a proper understanding of their application. In some cases where a historian has so grouped together events as to afford in brief, a comprehensive view of the subject, or has summarized details in a convenient manner, his words have been quoted; but in some instances no specific credit has been given, since the quotations are not given for the purpose of citing that writer as authority, but because his statement affords a ready and forcible presentation of the subject. In narrating the experience and views of those carrying forward the work of reform in our own time, similar use has been made of their published books.”—Great Controversy, pp. xi-xii.
A careful reading of the above quotation reveals why she incorporated statements by historians.
Also the space problem needed to be considered. In one of his books, Arthur L. White, her grandson, explains that Ellen White was hard-pressed by the Battle Creek publishing house to keep Great Controversy as short as possible.
When one stops to think about it, Great Controversy was a very difficult book to write. It is always difficult to place a lot of information in a small space. Yet this was the challenge she was confronted with, during the writing that book. There were so many truths to present; yet, if the book was too large, people would not want to buy and read it. But that book contained vital truths to be shared with everyone. —And we surely are thankful she wrote them down!
As the above statement says, she searched for short statements by historians which would briefly, succinctly, summarize various events. It was a means of keeping the book short so she could have more space, from chapter 23 onward, to say more about our time and final events!
Did she write other books that way also?
Never again did Ellen White find herself in that situation. In all her other books, we generally find only the slightest indications of parallels to other books. (However, as we shall notice later, there were a few instances in which she copied a few paragraphs from another writer, the way you would copy a pretty poem out of a book.)
Yet, in the one instance when she had to do it—while writing Great Controversy—she stated, at the very front of the book what she had done. Were there any historians’ books that she especially made use of? She especially used historical studies by J.H. Merle d’Aubigné (History of the Reformation) and J.A. Wiley (History of Protestantism).
But wasn’t it illegal for her to use statements by historians, without naming the sources?
At that time, writers regularly included other materials in their writings, without mentioning sources. It was commonly done. Various studies have been prepared by others, showing how frequently such men as John Wesley, Adam Clarke, Conybeare, Howson, and others regularly did it. It was commonplace; the sharing of truth was thought to be more important than quoting names.
Here is a sample comment, written over a hundred years ago, by a writer of that time:
“All the Commentators have drawn largely from the [church] fathers, especially from St. Augustine; and most of them have made general property of Patrick, Lowth, and Whitby. Poole has exhausted the old continental writers; Henry has made very free with Bishop Hall and others; Scott and Benson have enriched their pages abundantly from Henry; Gill has translated the spirit of Poole’s ‘Synopsis,’ but he most generally gives his authorities; Adam Clarke and Davidson have been much indebted to all the best critics, though the former does not always mention his obligations, and the latter never; but his preface to his admirable ‘Pocket Commentary’ is a confession that he intends to be no more than a compiler.”—Ingram Cobbim, The Condensed Commentary and Family Exposition of the Holy Bible, Preface, p. 9 (1863).
In her Preface to Great Controversy, as quoted earlier, Ellen White also clearly stated her indebtedness to earlier writers, in this case, historians; she was in no way trying to hide the fact. It is of interest that, in the pages of the Review, she recommended d’Aubigné’s History of the Reformation as an excellent set of books for everyone to read and share with others (Review, December 26, 1882). She wanted others to read the complete work, which she had, to some extent, used.
What was her normal pattern in reading and using other books?
We will understand this better in the following chapters on the Desire of Ages Project. Let us go directly to them.