Mrs. White's Literary Borrowings

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Section Titles
The Plagiarism Charge—Part I
The Form of the Answer
The Historical Background of Literary Borrowing
Religious Writers Borrowed Without Acknowledgment
All Commentators Have Borrowed—Often Without Credit
Canright as an Author
Why Parallels Are Cited
The Legal Aspect of Plagiarism
What Is the Essence of Plagiarism?
The Historical Background of “The Great Controversy”
The “Spirit of Prophecy” Volumes
Writers Quoted in “The Great Controversy”
The “Protest” of “Leading Brethren”
The 1888-Edition Preface
Mrs. White Describes Prophet's Work
The Total of Literary Borrowing in “The Great Controversy”
Borrowed Matter in “The Great Controversy”
“Taken Largely”!
“Sketches From the Life of Paul”
Conybeare and Howson Book Widely Circulated
The Extent of Mrs. White's Borrowings in Her Work on Paul
Borrowings From Farrar
Do the Facts Justify the Charge of Plagiarism?

The Plagiarism Charge—Part I

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Charge: In certain of her books Mrs. White “copied extensively from other authors without giving credit,” generally without even using quotation marks, and this she pretends was all revealed to her directly from heaven.

In 1883 she published her work Sketches From the Life of Paul. She “copied a large part of her book directly from” an 1852* English work by Conybeare and Howson, The Life and Epistles of Saint Paul. The publishers declared, in the preface, that it was written by “special help from the Spirit of God.” Adventists “innocently read her book as material given to her by revelation.” “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 Hence it was withdrawn from sale.”

“‘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 taken largely 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.”

“As soon as this book [the 1884 edition of Great Controversy] was read by some of the leading brethren, they discovered that it was largely taken from other publications. They very earnestly protested to Mrs. White,” but without avail, as edition after edition was published “between 1884 and 1888.”

“Protest against using the thoughts of others without credit continued to be presented to Mrs. White so that is 1892 [correct date, 1888] a new and enlarged edition was published in which a few of the plagiarized portions were enclosed in quotation marks, but without credit.” In the preface to this edition she “admits that she had

* The critics cite “1855,” but the first edition was published in 1851 and 1852; 1855 was the date of the Scribner “third edition,” or reprint from the first English edition.

On the title page of the book, and in the Introduction, James White states explicitly the sources from which he drew.


taken some of her information from other authors.” Not until 1911 did she “come out honestly and give the proper credit to the authors from which she had plagiarized so much.”

These two books are the ones routinely presented as proof that Mrs. White plagiarized and that she deceived her followers into thinking that these plagiarisms were inspired. It is insinuated that various of her works are heavily tainted with plagiarism, but for some reason the charge is largely confined to these two books.*

The Form of the Answer

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The answer to this charge will be in the form of an answer to the following questions:

1. What really constitutes plagiarism?

2. What is the historical background of Sketches From the Life of Paul and The Great Controversy?

3. In copying certain passages from other writers, did Mrs. White practice deceit upon the communicants of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, for whom her books were initially and primarily published?

4. Approximately how much did she borrow from other authors without employing quotation marks?

5. In thus borrowing, was she guilty of plagiarism?

6. Does the evidence support the charge that she was threatened with a lawsuit?

7. Does the fact that Mrs. White borrowed certain passages from other writers throw a cloud over her claim to having written by inspiration from God?

The Historical Background of Literary Borrowing

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In order rightly to evaluate the charge before us, we need to examine the subject of literary borrowings in its historical setting. The old saying that there is nothing new under the sun finds ample illustration in the history of literature. Literary ideas, themes, plots, et cetera, seem to be strangely alike century after

* Strictly speaking, it is only necessary to establish a case with one book. Conversely, if we are able to show that the two prime exhibits do not prove the charge, it may reasonably be assumed that no secondary exhibits could. The facts are that other exhibits are rarely submitted, except, at times, a few citations from Patriarchs and Prophets.


century. Different writers fall into similar forms of expression in describing similar incidents. One writer, though patently borrowing phrases or sentences from another writer, may use these simply as part of his foundational material on which he rears a literary edifice that is sufficiently different from that of the other writer to warrant the judgment that it is a piece of truly original literary architecture. It is in this very area that much of the dispute and uncertainty have arisen.

Works on plagiarism cite numerous instances where a poet, for example, has taken couplets from an earlier poet's work, turning the phrases, embellishing the thought, changing the literary figure. Then another poet, and still another, down through the years has continued the changing. There is newness, yet there is no doubt that the original couplets are the substratum of their work. Many, we might safely say most, of the great poets have thus drawn, at times, on the past. One poet reasonably justifies such a procedure in these words:

“Though old the thought and oft exprest,
‘Tis his at last who says it best.”

So general has been the practice, by prose writers as well as by poets, of drawing more or less from earlier works that the noted author, Vicente Blasco-Ibañez, declared, in a vein of hyperbole:

“One is compelled not only to say, but also to believe, that all the great writers, absolutely all, are plagiarists, and that the best of each does not belong to him, because he has taken it from others.”—Quoted by Maurice Salzman in Plagiarism, The “Art” of Stealing Literary Material, p. 22.

Another writer on this general subject observes: “The great [literary] artist is only one of a long chain of borrowers and adapters.”—W. A. Edwards, Plagiarism, An Essay on Good and Bad Borrowing, p. 114.

Religious Writers Borrowed Without Acknowledgment

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The greatest difficulty of all in evaluating a charge of plagiarism against an author has been in the field of religious writing. Religious writers, in general, have felt that they were writing, not to advance their own interests, but the interests of the kingdom of


God, and that Whatever might contribute to that objective should be drawn upon. They have also felt that the common source of all religious writing is the Bible, on which no one has a monopoly. Listen to this frank statement by none other than John Wesley as to how he proceeded in his writing in relation to other authors:

“I once designed to write down barely what occurred to my own mind, consulting none but the inspired writers. But no sooner was I acquainted with that great light of the Christian world, (lately gone to his reward) Bengelius, than I entirely changed my design, being thoroughly convinced it might be of more service to the cause of religion, were I barely to translate his Gnomon Novi Testamenti, than to write many volumes upon it. Many of his excellent notes I have therefore translated. Many more I have abridged, omitting that part which was purely critical, and giving the substance of the rest….

“I am likewise indebted for some useful observations to Dr. Heylin's Theological Lectures: and for many more to Dr. Guyse, and to the Family Expositor of the late pious and learned Dr. Doddridge. It was a doubt with me for some time, whether I should not subjoin to every note I received from them the name of the author from whom it was taken; especially considering I had transcribed some, and abridged many more, almost in the words of the author. But upon farther consideration, I resolved to name none, that nothing might divert the mind of the reader from keeping close to the point of view, and receiving what was spoken only according to its own intrinsic value.”—Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament, Preface.

All Commentators Have Borrowed—Often Without Credit

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A Bible commentator makes this general statement with regard to the practice followed by theological writers through the years in quoting from men who had preceded them:

“All the commentators have drawn largely from the 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 an honest confession that he pretends to be no more than a compiler; some original thoughts appear, however, to be scattered among his notes.”—Ingram Cobbin, The Condensed


Commentary and Family Exposition of the Holy Bible (London: William Tegg, 1863), Preface, p. iv.

In general, it did not occur to these writers to put quotation marks around every phrase or sentence they might borrow, much less to give documentary reference. They seemed to reason that they were drawing from a common pile of building material that had been produced by earlier literary builders. They saw no reason why they ought not to be free to pick up a brick here or a board there, or even several boards nailed together, to incorporate into the edifice that they were constructing.

Or, to change the figure: They felt that they could rightly borrow from the blueprints of earlier author-architects a design for a pillar, a cornice, or some other detail of the new edifice they were creating. They felt that in turn the blue print of their finished literary edifice would provide further material from which later authors would draw, and thus they would be making a contribution that would ethically justify their borrowings. Nor did they feel that the finished structure which came from their hand and pen was any the less theirs because they had followed this procedure. It never occurred to them that they must label the pillar, or the cornice, or whatever it was that they borrowed in design, as having come from an earlier design, in order to be considered honest builders.

Canright as an Author

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Lest any doubt remain in some reader's mind that we are glossing over the literary picture of the past in order to make out a case for Mrs. White, we wish to give one more exhibit from the field of religious writers. In 1878 Canright published a book called The Bible From Heaven. This had been the title of a book by Moses Hull issued in 1863. Both men were Seventh-day Adventist ministers at the time they wrote, and both books were published at the Seventh-day Adventist publishing house in Battle Greek, Michigan. A comparison of these two books reveals that Canright borrowed much from Hull, sometimes whole pages. Nor was the borrowing merely of the thought, with occasional phrases, sentences,


or paraphrases. He simply copied verbatim. We give one specific illustration from the midst of an extended borrowing:

Moses Hull, 1863 D. M. Canright, 1878
    “We now come directly to the
question, Are the sciences really
against the Bible? We answer, No. It
is true that the Bible does not abound
with lectures upon physiology, anatomy,
hygiene, materia medica, chemistry,
astronomy, or geology. It is not
given to teach these subjects. God has
given us the stars to teach us astronomy,
the earth to teach us geology,
and the Bible to teach us religion.
Yet we are not willing to admit that
anything in the Bible contradicts any
of the sciences.
    “As each new science has been discovered,
it has been supposed by infidels
that in it they would find a new
ally, but, alas for infidelity, the older
sciences have all proved to be of
heavenly birth, and have given their
testimony in behalf of God and the
Bible; so will the new ones when more
perfectly understood. Of all the sciences,
geology, if it may be termed a
science, has proved itself the most
fallible, and yet its professors are the
most noisy in their boasts of what
they intend to do.”—The Bible From
Heaven, pp. 168, 169.
    “We now come directly to the
question, Are the sciences really
against the Bible? We answer, No. It
is true that the Bible does not abound
with lectures upon physiology, anatomy,
hygiene, materia medica, chemistry,
astronomy, or geology. It is not
given for the purpose of teaching
these subjects. God has given us the
stars to teach us astronomy, the earth
to teach us geology, and the Bible to
teach us religion. Yet nothing in the
Bible contradicts the sciences. As
each new science has been discovered,
it has been supposed by infidels that
in it they would find a new ally; but,
alas for infidelity, the older sciences
have all proved to be of heavenly
birth, and have given their testimony
in behalf of God and the Bible; so
will the new ones when more perfectly
understood. Of all the sciences,
geology, if it may be termed a science,
has proved itself the most fallible; and
yet its professors are the most noisy
in their boasts of what they intend
to prove.”—The Bible From Heaven,
p. 288.

Neither in his preface, nor anywhere else in his book, did Canright indicate that he was borrowing from Hull. Indeed, he did not indicate, even by quotation marks, that he was borrowing this material from anyone.

Why Parallels Are Cited

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Canright borrowed with a vengeance; he never even troubled to adapt the wording or to paraphrase it to fit it into the structure of his own thought, as Mrs. White and other truly creative writers


did. But we doubt not that he felt entirely clear in conscience in doing what he did. Now, nowhere in Mrs. White's writings are there such extended verbatim borrowings as those of Canright from Hull. Yet Canright was the man who soberly and solemnly initiated against Mrs. White the charge of plagiarism!

In thus giving a recital of some of the literary practices of the past, particularly in the field of religious writing, we are not necessarily saying that such practices were ideal—we are sure they were not. For some generations there has been a steadily growing conviction that an author should give to his readers clear evidence of his literary borrowings. In fact, the trend has gone almost to the extreme today, so that many writers feel that they should not only use quotation marks, but also give the name of the author, if they borrow so much as a part of a sentence.

Both the moral and the legal angles of literary borrowing have provoked endless dispute and revealed every shade of opinion. Authors who have devoted books to the subject confess to difficulty in framing a wholly satisfactory definition of plagiarism. Courts have likewise found themselves in difficulty. It is not an uncommon thing for higher courts to reverse lower courts in suits for infringement, infringement being the legal aspect of plagiarism.

A modern writer on this subject said, with regard to the writing of his own book:

“I am fully aware of the difficulty of deciding what is plagiarism and what is legitimate borrowing. This very chapter is plagiarism of a sort. If I had indicated the source of every statement made, the notes would have been so numerous as to interfere with the continuity of the letterpress: I have, therefore, confined myself to occasional references, and have indicated the quotations I have made; but I must bear the blame of having sometimes used the investigations of others with only a general acknowledgment of indebtedness.”—H. M. Paull., Literary Ethics, pp. 126, 127.

The Legal Aspect of Plagiarism

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Because of the well-defined copyright laws that now obtain in the United States—and in most other countries for that matter—it is possible for an author who feels that another writer has plagiarized his work to enter suit against him. Needless to say


many such suits have been instituted. As a result there is a rather large body of decisions that set forth the consensus of legal thinking on this matter. The following is quoted from the authoritative summary of the current rulings of the courts regarding this matter:

“In determining the question of infringement, the amount of matter copied from the copyrighted work is an important consideration, but to constitute infringement it is not necessary that the whole or even a large portion of the work shall have been copied, although on the principle of de minimis non curat lex it is necessary that a material and substantial part of it shall have been copied, it being insufficient that mere words or lines have been abstracted. If so much is taken that the value of the original is sensibly diminished, or the labors of the original author are substantially and to an injurious extent appropriated by another, that is sufficient in point of law to constitute a piracy. The question is one of quality rather than quantity and is to be determined by the character of the work and the relative value of the material taken, and it has been said that in deciding questions of this sort the court must look to the nature and objects of the selections made, the quantity and value of the materials used, and the degree in which the use may prejudice the sale, diminish the profits, or supersede the objects of the original work.”—18 Corpus Juris Secundum, Sec. 94, p. 218.

“Making extracts, even if they are not acknowledged as such, appearing under all the circumstances of the case, reasonable in quality, number, and length, regard being had to the object with which the extracts are made and to the subjects to which they relate, is a fair and noninfringing use.”—Ibid., Sec. 105, p. 224.

What Is the Essence of Plagiarism?

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After we have considered the legal aspect, and the changing viewpoint of different generations as to how extensively a writer may properly copy from others without acknowledgment, we still have before us the primary question: Morally speaking, what is the essence of the offense called plagiarism? The answer is evident: The attempt of a writer to deceive his readers into thinking that the entire work which bears his name is wholly his own, when in fact some strands of the fabric were drawn, not from his own mental spinning wheel, but from the fabric of some other author's work.*

* Paull well observes that a plagiarist is distinguished by the fact that he “always hopes that he will not be found out.”—Op. cit., p. 45.


There are two ways by which a writer usually seeks to protect himself against the charge of plagiarism: 1. First and most generally, by using quotation marks, which marks fully protect him, even though he does not cite the source of the quotations. 2. By making some introductory statement that informs the reader at the outset that the author has drawn in part from others. This latter procedure is sometimes followed when the matter drawn from others is a minor amount and is essentially background material, not central to the main theme of the writer.*

With these facts regarding plagiarism and infringement before us, let us turn to an examination of the two books by Mrs. White that are so uniformly presented as exhibits by those who wish to charge her with flagrant violation of the rules of elementary honesty in literary borrowing.

The Historical Background of “The Great Controversy”

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We turn, first, to the book, The Great Controversy. On March 14, 1858, Mrs. White took part in a funeral service at Lovett's Grove schoolhouse near Bowling Green, Ohio. As she was speaking she was taken off in vision. In 1860 she wrote of this experience as follows:

“In this vision of Lovett's Grove, most of the matter of the Great Controversy which I had seen ten years before, was repeated, and I was shown that I must write it out.”—Spiritual Gifts, vol. 2, p. 270.

Six months after this experience, her book, Spiritual Gifts. The Great Controversy, Between Christ and His Angels, and Satan and His Angels, came from the press.

The range of this work—in which is found the present Great Controversy in embryo—is described in the following item in the Review and Herald:

“It is a sketch of her views of the great controversy between Christ and his angels, and the Devil and his angels, from the fall of Satan until the controversy

* These two ways, though protecting a writer against the charge of deceit, do not protect him from the charge of infringement—the legal aspect of plagiarism—if the work from which he has quoted is copyrighted and the publishers owning the copyright feel that their property rights have been damaged. The legal aspect of plagiarism involves other grounds than that of deceit.

Generally referred to now simply as Spiritual Gifts, volume 1.


shall close at the end of the 1000 years of Rev. xx, by the destruction of sin and sinners out of the universe of God. It will contain between two and three hundred pages.”—June 24, 1858, p. 48.

In this first brief presentation—219 small pages—important facts of history, coupled with the divine plan of God behind history, are set forth.

This 1858 volume, Spiritual Gifts, volume 1, is not only the present Great Controversy in embryo, it is really the present five-volume Conflict of the Ages Series in embryo. This first volume of Spiritual Gifts, plus volume 3, and a portion of volume 4, both published in 1864,* constitute Mrs. White's original sketch of the plan of salvation from the fall of Satan, through the creation and fall of man, the antediluvian period, the history of Israel, the first advent of Christ and the activity of the apostles, the history of the Dark Ages, the Advent Movement of the nineteenth century, the delusions of the last days, the conflict ended, and the earth re-created.

The “Spirit of Prophecy” Volumes

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But Mrs. White's vision at Lovett's Grove in 1858 was not the only vision she received concerning the great controversy between Christ and Satan. In the years that followed she received other visions that brought more sharply into focus further areas and aspects of the great subject and made more clear some parts of former visions. She therefore set out to enlarge and thus quite completely rewrite the material on the plan of God through the ages. This enlarged presentation was published in a series of four volumes bearing the general title, The Spirit of Prophecy. Volume 1, published in 1870, covers the period from the fall of Lucifer to Solomon's reign. Volumes 2 and 3, published in 1877 and 1878, cover the life of Christ and the work of the apostles. In 1884 volume 4 was published (with the specific title The Great Controversy Between Christ and Satan From the Destruction of Jerusalem to the End of the Controversy). This covers the period from the early church to the inheritance of the saints upon the New

* Volume 2 is biographical.


Earth. In other words, it covers the period discussed in the current book, The Great Controversy.

This five-hundred-page work met with an immediate and favorable response. From its first publication in 1884 up until 1888, it went through ten editions, or rather printings, and until the 1888 revision the text of this work remained unchanged.*

In 1888 Mrs. White amplified and in part rewrote this 1884 volume, in order to present the subject in still greater detail and better to adapt the subject matter to the broadened reader audience. The text of this work continued unchanged from 1888 to 1911. In 1911, when it became evident that the plates were worn out and the type would have to be reset for new plates, certain minor revisions were made, such as to free passages of ambiguity, to complete the work of placing within quotation marks all passages drawn from other writers, and to give the source of each quotation.

Writers Quoted in “The Great Controversy”

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The charge against Mrs. White is that her book The Great Controversy was “taken largely” from the following named works: Andrews' History of the Sabbath, D'Aubigne's History of the Reformation, Wylie's History of the Waldenses, Uriah Smith's Sanctuary, and James White's Life of Wm. Miller. The problem before us is not whether she borrowed, but how much she borrowed and whether she borrowed in such a way as to deceive the reader. The first question to consider is this: Were these five works here mentioned unfamiliar to Seventh-day Adventists so that citations from them, without quotation marks, could easily be palmed off on the unsuspecting membership, preachers and laity alike, as the words and thoughts of Mrs. White? This is obviously a most

* In the first two editions (printings), in 1884 and 1885, the volume is designated on the title page as the fourth of the four-volume work The Spirit of Prophecy. But only the main title, The Great Controversy Between Christ and Satan, appears on the cover of the special printing for colporteur sale as a separate work. The third edition (1885), planned especially for colporteurs, drops the series title and volume number from the title page and preface, adds illustrations, and enlarges the page size, but in this new dress it continues to be issued from the same plates.

The 1888 edition, with a revised and enlarged text, drops all connection with the four-volume set called The Spirit of Prophecy. As the first issue of the work in its present form, it introduces the text which is now known as the “old edition” in contrast to the “new edition” as revised in 1911.


important question. Fortunately, an unequivocal answer can be given

What of D'Aubigne's History? Mrs. White specifically encouraged, not only our ministers, but our people at large, to read this work. Less than two years before the 1884 edition of The Great Controversy was published, she wrote:

“Provide something to be read during these long winter evenings. For those who can procure it, D'Aubigne's History of the Reformation will be both interesting and profitable. From this work we may gain some knowledge of what has been accomplished in the past in the great work of reform.”—Review and Herald, Dec. 26, 1882, p. 789.*

Wylie's History of the Waldenses must also have been in a great many Adventist libraries, both ministerial and lay. This fact Mrs. White knew. So enthusiastic were the Adventist leadership regarding the book that in January, 1883, it was offered as a premium with Review and Herald subscriptions. (See the Review of Jan. 2, 1883, p. 16.) This was almost a year and nine months before the 1884 edition of The Great Controversy came from the press. In January, 1884, the Signs of the Times, published by the Pacific Press Publishing Association, and widely circulated both within and without the denomination, offered the book as a premium with subscriptions. (See Signs of the Times, Jan. 31, 1884, p. 80.) This was many months before The Great Controversy was published. Needless to remark, Mrs. White was acquainted with these premium offers.

And what of Uriah Smith's Sanctuary, J. N. Andrews' History of the Sabbath, and James White's Life of Wm. Miller? These three Seventh-day Adventist books were certainly in most ministerial libraries and in the libraries of a great many of the laity. The membership had been encouraged to read them carefully. This fact, of course, Mrs. White knew.

Now what do all these facts add up to? One obvious conclusion:

* In the Review and Herald of Dec. 11, 1883, p. 783, is found a brief list of “Valuable Books for Reference,” which are offered for sale. Included is D'Aubigne's History.

The Great Controversy came out in September, 1884. The Signs of the Times, Oct. 2, p. 592, announced that it was ready in time for the camp meeting, which was held in September. (Ibid., p. 584.)


Mrs. White must have known that her readers, preachers and laity alike, in the denomination, would see immediately that certain passages in The Great Controversy were not original with her, in other words, that she could not have thought that she was going to deceive them into thinking that the writing was wholly hers. And that leads on to another equally obvious conclusion: Mrs. White must have felt that she had nothing dishonorable to hide in the matter of this literary borrowing, and that her borrowings could be harmonized with her claims to inspiration. To draw any other conclusions than these would be equivalent to saying that in publishing The Great Controversy Mrs. White deliberately set out to expose herself as a literary thief and a prophetic fraud.

The “Protest” of “Leading Brethren”

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Apparently the critics did not think of this when they made the charge: “As soon as this book [The Great Controversy, 1884 edition] was read by some of the leading brethren, they discovered that it was largely taken from other publications,” and accordingly “they very earnestly protested to Mrs. White.” If this charge were true, it would prove too much; namely, that Mrs. White's borrowings were so evident that it was impossible to believe that she had any thought of deceiving her readers when she borrowed literary passages. Let that point be clear at the outset. Whether the “brethren” did or did not protest to Mrs. White, would not affect that point. Incidentally, if “leading brethren” could discover Mrs. White's literary borrowings, why could not intelligent laymen discover them also? If the charge were true, we should really expect a general protest to rise from the church membership at large. And that would certainly be something large enough and grave enough to leave an indelible mark on the documentary records of the denomination.

But what are the facts? A search of the correspondence of those times that is available at the office of the Ellen G. White Publications—and it is plentiful—reveals not even a suggestion of any protest against this literary borrowing for The Great Controversy. Strange indeed! The matter should have saturated the


correspondence in 1884 and 1885. Nor is there anything in the Review and Herald, the church paper, that gives a hint of such uprising, though the paper certainly took note of numerous controversial matters, directly and pungently, in the style of those times.

Even more incredible is this further part of the charge:

“Protest against using the thought of others without credit continued to be presented to Mrs. White so that in 1892 [correct date, 1888] a new and enlarged edition was published in which a few of the plagiarized portions were enclosed in quotation marks, but without credit.” In the preface to this edition she “admits that she had taken some of her information from other authors.”

Here is a singular situation. To meet the criticism she encloses “a few,” but only a few, of the quotations in quotation marks! Do we not have here an added deception? She appears to give full credit but does not. We should expect the protest to increase to deafening volume. But incredible as it seems, the protests, we are permitted to believe, died right out with the publication of this 1888 edition! The critics do not even suggest that there was any protest beyond that date!*

The 1888-Edition Preface

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And what of the preface of the 1888 edition in which she “admits that she had taken some of her information from other authors”? It would be superfluous for her to make an admission in the preface when this edition contains numerous quotation marks that make evident that “some” material is being “taken … from other authors.” A few facts will suggest why she wrote that preface. The 1884 edition did not contain an author's preface. Soon, however, colporteurs began to sell the book to the world at large. With that expanded non-Adventist audience before her

* It seems almost profitless to inquire: On what evidence is the charge of protest by the brethren based? But to make the record complete, we should explain that the only evidence submitted is a statement made by Dr. J. H. Kellogg in 1907, to a committee of the Battle Creek church who called upon him just before he was disfellowshiped from the church. He spoke to them extemporaneously, and with few interruptions, for seven hours, his words being taken down stenographically. We leave the reader to judge how much weight should be given to the unsupported charge of a man who was openly hostile to the denomination in general and Mrs. White in particular, who looked back twenty-three years, through the distorting vapors of that hostility to an alleged incident of 1884. It is painful to have to refer, even briefly, to this distressing episode of 1907. But we have no option if we are to place this charge in its historical context.


mind's eye she enlarged the work and wrote a preface. Naturally she might wish to make a statement as to the principle that governed her in using quotations from various historians. We say “naturally,” because the question had been raised as to how the words of a secular writer could be incorporated in a book and still the book be viewed as “all inspired by the Holy Spirit.”

In what appears to be Canright's first major attack, in writing, on the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and on Mrs. White—a series of articles in the Michigan Christian Advocate in 1887*—his only reference to her literary borrowings is this brief paragraph:

“She often copies, without credit or sign of quotation, whole sentences and even paragraphs, almost word for word, from other authors. (Compare ‘Great Controversy,’ page 96, with ‘History of the reformation,’ by D'Aubigne, page 41.) This she does page after page. Was D'Aubigne also inspired?”—October 8, 1887, p. 2.

This statement concerning Mrs. White's literary borrowings is significant, not only because of its brevity, but also because it does not use the word “plagiarize,” or raise the grave charge of theft. Canright here poses simply this question: “Was D'Aubigne also inspired?” and leaves the reader to conclude that neither D'Aubigne nor Mrs. White was inspired. That this kind of question had some currency is revealed by the fact that the Seventh-day Adventist Church paper, in discussing charges against Mrs. White, presents this as one of them: “She quotes sometimes from history; are all historians inspired?”—Review and Herald, Oct. 18, 1887, p. 649.

* The articles appeared in the issues of July 16, 30, August 6, 13, 20, 27, September 10, 17, 24, October 1, 8, 15. The articles from July 16 through October 1 focus on the Sabbath doctrine. The issues of October 8 and 15 discuss Mrs. White. His article in each of these issues was printed on page 2.

The historical development of the charge against Mrs. White in relation to her literary borrowings is interesting to say the least. Canright, in his first book against her, published in 1889, expands his 1887 charge to three short paragraphs. The essence of the charge is still that of false claim to inspiration, inasmuch as the works of secular writers are quoted. But the third paragraph concludes thus: “This proves her guilty of stealing her ideas and matter from other authors and putting them off on her followers as a revelation from God!” In his 1919 book on Mrs. White's life he focuses on the “plagiarism” side of the matter, discussing it at length.

The striking change in emphasis in this literary-borrowing charge probably reflects two facts: 1. In the 1880's, when many of the best writers borrowed with only casual credit, at most, a prime emphasis on Mrs. White's alleged “plagiarism” would not have sounded too impressive to the reader. 2. As the years passed and literary customs and laws changed, the plagiarism charge could naturally be made to seem impressive. We might also add that the passing years had probably erased from Canright's mind all memory of his 1878 book, The Bible From Heaven, which as we have noted, was so largely copied from a similarly named work by Moses Hull in 1863!


Quite apart from critics, whom Mrs. White sometimes answered, this question of historians and inspiration might very understandably have perplexed some sincere church members.* And in the light of such a question, and of the fact that she was enlarging the book for wider circulation, how natural that she should provide a preface that would clarify the whole matter. Listen to her words, as we quote at length from her preface the part that is here relevant:

Mrs. White Describes Prophet's Work

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“Through the illumination of the Holy Spirit, the scenes of the long-continued conflict between good and evil have been opened to the writer of these pages. From time to time I have been permitted to behold the working, in different ages, of the great controversy between Christ, the Prince of life, the author of our salvation, and Satan, the prince of evil, the author of sin, the first transgressor of God's holy law. Satan's enmity against Christ has been manifested against his followers. The same hatred of the principles of God's law, the same policy of deception, by which error is made to appear as truth, by which human laws are substituted for the law of God, and men are led to worship the creature rather than the Creator, may be traced in all the history of the past….

“As the Spirit of God has opened to my mind the great truths of his Word, and the scenes of the past and the future, I have been bidden to make known to others what has thus been revealed,—to trace the history of the controversy in past ages, and especially to so 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, that have excited the wrath of Satan, and the enmity of a world-loving church, and that have been maintained by the witness of those who ‘loved not their lives unto the death.’

“In these records we may see a foreshadowing of the conflict before us. Regarding them in the light of God's Word, and by the illumination of his Spirit, we may see unveiled the devices of the wicked one, and the dangers which they must shun who would be found ‘without fault’ before the Lord at his coming.

“The great events which have marked the progress of reform in past ages, are matters of history, well known and universally acknowledged by the

* This could have provided a shadowy foundation for the charge that “leading brethren” “protested.”

In the 1911 edition the “Author's Preface” becomes the “Introduction.”


Protestant world; they are facts which none can gainsay. 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 except in a few instances no specific credit has been given, since they are not quoted 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 occasionally been made of their published works.”—Author's Preface, pp. (g), (h). (Preface dated “Healdsburg, Cal., May, 1888.”)

Thus since 1888 Mrs. White has been on record, not simply as declaring openly that she borrowed from other works—though that fact is generally revealed by quotation marks—but more particularly as explaining why she thus borrowed, and the relation of such borrowing to her revelations from God. The very principle that she set forth in the preface to The Great Controversy as to the use of historical descriptions, can apply equally to other descriptions, or even to comments on a point at issue, provided those comments simply present, in the most succinct form, a statement of a truth already divinely presented to her. The very fact that The Great Controversy has had such wide and continuing sale to the world has made rather unnecessary a further statement in any later work which might have incorporated matter from other writers.*

The Total of Literary Borrowing in “The Great Controversy”

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According to the charge, The Great Controversy “was taken largely” from other works. Mrs. White definitely indicates in her preface that the borrowed part was both small in amount and secondary in significance. In our examination of The Great Controversy we shall take the 1911 edition—known as the new edition

* We shall not here expand on the subject of literary borrowing and inspiration. It will be considered at length in chapter 30.


—as our guide and standard, because, according to the critics themselves, this edition gives “proper credit to the authors from which she had plagiarized so much.” The paging of this 1911 edition is almost identical with that of the 1888, or old edition, as is also the text. Hence it is a simple task to compare quotations. Furthermore, the 1884 edition—The Spirit of Prophecy, volume 4—is sufficiently similar to the 1888 and 1911 editions, in subject sequence, and sometimes in construction, to enable us to make comparisons.

Borrowed Matter in “The Great Controversy”

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Let the reader go through the pages of the 1911 edition, noting the quotation marks enclosing statements by other writers, and excluding quotations from Scripture. Does the total of quoted portions warrant the critics' sweeping statement that the book “was taken largely” from the writings of others? The answer is patently No. By actual count, excluding Bible quotations, only 12 per cent of the book is quoted matter.

But let us look more closely at this quoted material. In a majority of instances such quotations are largely, if not wholly, the words of some notable person in history, such as Luther or some martyr. Thus, the historian is himself simply copying. Mrs. White may quote Luther's words as found in Wylie, but she might have quoted them as found in any one of a hundred church histories. To the extent that anyone, including a prophet, discusses history—and The Great Controversy has a historical framework—he must certainly quote the words of various notable personages connected with that history. Such words are the common property of all writers.

To be exact, then, we should subtract from The Great Controversy total of quotations drawn from D'Aubigne, Wylie, and others, all the lines that consist of the words of historical personages, and view the quotations in terms of the words actually borrowed from the historians themselves. A breakdown of the 12 per cent of quoted matter reveals that exactly two thirds of it (8 per cent of the book) consists of quotations from various historical personages,


thus only one third of it (4 per cent of the book) is material drawn from original writing by other authors, such as D'Aubigne, Wylie, et cetera. In other words, only 4 per cent of the 1911 edition of The Great Controversy is borrowed from the actual words of other authors.

So much for the 1911 edition. Let us compare its almost identical pages with those of the 1888 edition. According to the critics, we should expect to find most of the quotation marks missing in the 1888 edition. Instead, we find that quotation marks stand out almost as prominently on the pages of this edition as on those of the 1911 edition, even though the source of the quotations is generally not given.*

Let us look, finally, at the 1884 edition. Fortunately, copies of its numerous printing are not really rare; hence, many readers will be able to check personally on the statements here made. The number of pages in this edition is much less than in the others, but so is the number of quotations. If the reader really wishes to make a careful check, he can generally follow in the 1884 edition the sequence of the narrative as given in the later editions. Thus he can check the quoted material. He will discover that many of the quotations have quotation marks, and that the grand total of quoted passages that have no quotation marks is small in relation to the total volume of the book.

“Taken Largely”!

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The critics say that when the first (1884) edition of The Great Controversy came out it was found to have been “taken largely” from other works, that in the 1888 edition “a few of the plagiarized portions were enclosed in quotation marks,” and that finally in the current (1911) edition Mrs. White gave “the proper credit to the authors from which she had plagiarized so much.” If these words mean anything, they mean that this 1911 edition was “taken

* In some instances a different quotation may be used on a page, but we are here discussing, not the text of quotations, but the acknowledgment of quoting by the use of quotation marks.

In the 1888 and 1911 editions less space is given to certain historical aspects of the Sabbath question than in the 1884 edition. If the reader will compare the section in the 1884 edition that discusses the Sabbath, with J. N. Andrews' History of the Sabbath, he will find that it contains about a hundred or so lines that cover the same ground, but are only in part paraphrased or similarly worded. But even if the whole hundred lines were paraphrased, which is by no means the case, it would be equivalent to less that 1 per cent of the book.


largely” from other works. But, as just noted, a count of lines in this edition discloses that the actual words of other writers constitute only 4 per cent of the contents. Again, if the critics' words mean anything, they mean that the same amount of borrowing was done in the preceding editions. Probably the reader now has a better idea of what they mean when they say “taken largely”; namely, taken in very small part, taken very limitedly, that is, 4 per cent!

“Sketches From the Life of Paul”

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Let us now examine the book Sketches From the Life of Paul, which, with The Great Controversy, is the chief alleged plagiarism exhibit of the critics. In Spiritual Gifts, volume 1 (1858), to which we have earlier referred, Mrs. White devotes three or four chapters to the apostle Paul. In volume 3 of The Spirit of Prophecy (1878) she expands her discussion of Paul, though she confines herself to the first part of his career. In a pamphlet on Paul published the same year (one of the Redemption series),* she traces the story three chapters further, but still not beyond the second missionary journey.

She later added to all this and brought forth in June, 1883, a book entitled Sketches From the Life of Paul. This book was most evidently published, not simply as a devotional work, but also as a Sabbath school lesson help. Beginning with the second quarter of the year 1883 and going through to the end of the second quarter of 1884, the Sabbath school lessons in all Seventh-day Adventist churches were on the Acts of the Apostles.

The charge against Mrs. White in relation to this book is that she “copied a large part” of it “directly from” an English work by Conybeare and Howson, entitled The Life and Epistles of St. Paul.

* Redemption: or The Teachings of Paul, sometimes bound with seven other pamphlets (1874-1878) under the cover title Life of Christ and His Apostles, in two volumes.

A letter dated “Oakland, Cal., June 5, 1883,” from Mary K. White to her husband, W. C. White, states: “The last signature of Life of Paul was printed last night between ten and one o'clock. The plates will be shipped to B. C. [Battle Creek] to-day. Fifty books will be ready to mail this afternoon….”

An announcement in the Signs of the Times, published by the Pacific Press at Oakland, in 1883, carries the heading “Sketches From the Life of Paul,” and states in part: “This is the title of a book of 334 pages, just issued from this office…. For sale at this office, and at the office of the Review and Herald, Battle Creek, Mich.”—June 7, 1883, p. 264.

It is evident from this that the work was jointly published.


That she did draw from this work is freely admitted at the outset—the quality and the quantity of the borrowing we shall consider later. But first let us ask: Was the Conybeare and Howson book a rare work unknown to Adventists in general, so that there would be little likelihood of their recognizing quotations from it if they were given in Mrs. White's book on Paul?

Conybeare and Howson Book Widely Circulated

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We have just stated that her book was published in June, 1883, with a special view to serving as a Sabbath school lesson help. But that was not the only lesson help. The Conybeare and Howson book was also used, and with this difference: It was promoted and widely circulated in the denomination before Mrs. White's book on Paul was printed. In fact, it began to be circulated in January, 1883, as a premium with subscriptions to the Review and Herald and to the Signs of the Times.* This widespread promotion of the Conybeare and Howson book Mrs. White heartily endorsed. As a part of an advertisement for the book in the Signs in February, 1883, is found this statement from her:

“The Life of St. Paul by Conybeare and Howson, I regard as a book of great merit, and one of rare usefulness to the earnest student of the New Testament history.”—Signs of the Times, Feb. 22, 1883, p. 96.

This widespread and impressive promotion, coupled with the study of the book as a lesson help, must have made its very words and sentences familiar in a great many Adventist homes by the middle of 1883. All this Mrs. White knew when she sent forth her work on Paul's life at that time.

And what do all these facts add up to? The answer is the same as that already given in connection with the book, The Great Controversy. Mrs. White knew that a great host of her readers would note that there had been certain borrowings from the other book on Paul. Therefore she must have felt that those borrowings were in no way dishonorable and could be harmonized with her claim to inspiration. And, we repeat here for emphasis: To draw any

* See announcement of this in the Review of Jan. 2, 1883, p. 16, and in the Signs of Jan. 11, 1883, p. 24.


other conclusion than this would be equivalent to saying that in publishing her work on Paul Mrs. White deliberately set out to expose herself as a literary thief and a prophetic fraud! A most irrational conclusion!

The Extent of Mrs. White's Borrowings in Her Work on Paul

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The charge asserts that Mrs. White “copied a large part of her book” from Conybeare and Howson. But what are the facts? * Sketches From the Life of Paul might be described as a series of spiritual lessons hung on a framework of historical facts and descriptions. And it is in the framework that the borrowings from Conybeare and Howson are found. Direct quotations of words, phrases, and clauses, plus any accompanying close paraphrase, constitute about 7 per cent of Sketches From the Life of Paul.

It is an interesting fact that the Conybeare and Howson work borrowed from other religious writers, and without credit or quotation marks. The second chapter (written by Howson) opens with a comment on what some “modern Jews”—unnamed—have written concerning Christianity. A footnote remarks concerning the works of these Jews: “Some of these works have furnished us

* In dealing with the question of literary borrowing in The Great Controversy, we had a common point of departure with the critics—the 1911 edition which they willingly admit encloses all of the quotations within quotation marks. But in regard to Mrs. White's book on Paul, the case is different. We must simply go through the book page by page, comparing it with the Conybeare and Howson work.

Now, quotations may be verbatim or they may be paraphrases. And paraphrases may shade all the way from being nearly verbatim quoting to being little more than similar in literary construction. No two literary examiners would agree as to where the line divides and genuine similarity disappears. In this particular case the problem is further complicated by the fact that both books follow a common historical sequence, that of the book of Acts, and both often quote, either directly or indirectly, the phrasings of Scripture. Obviously, a critic might find, or at least think that he had found, a larger number of instances of copying, in the area of paraphrase, than other readers might. However, the estimates from which are derived the percentages noted herein have been made on a liberal basis, allowing for even more of the context than the critics' samples would indicate. Mrs. White has been given the benefit of the doubt where the similarity of wording or construction is easily attributable to the common Biblical source, but whole paragraphs are included which may show duplication of wording in only a few scattered spots, if the connecting material follows the thought so closely as to suggest a paraphrase. This has doubtless resulted in the inclusion of some parallelisms arising from the independent use of similar language by two authors describing the same events. An example of this error is a passage marked, in the initial survey, as somewhat similar to a parallel section in Farrar's The Life and Work of St. Paul, but afterward discovered to have been taken from one of Mrs. White's earlier works published in 1878, a year before Farrar's book came out! Thus the effort to be fair has doubtless raised the percentages somewhat higher than they would be if all the facts could be known. We do not believe that the figures we give would be materially changed by a dispassionate literary examiner.

The edition of the Conybeare and Howson work used in this examination was published by T. Y. Crowell, 744 Broadway, New York. The edition bears no date.

“Close paraphrases” describes generously the kind of paraphrased matter cited by the critics as exhibits of Mrs. White's “plagiarism.”

To be still more generous we should state that an additional 2.5 per cent of her book might be considered loose paraphrases.


with useful suggestions, and in some cases the very words have been adopted.” But nowhere in the nearly fifty pages of that chapter can we discover when Howson is quoting from these Jewish writers. Evidently he did not consider it necessary to give any more credit than this very brief and very vague footnote. (See Conybeare and Howson, The Life and Epistles of St. Paul, vol. 1 [lst ed., 1851], p. 34, footnote.)

Borrowings From Farrar

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If we were to take literally the charge before us, we would investigate the matter of literary borrowings no further. Mrs. White is alleged to have “copied a large part of her book directly from” Conybeare and Howson. In fact, a present-day critic assures his readers that she copied “practically all” of her book from the English work. However, some have declared that she borrowed a few passages from Farrar's The Life and Work of St. Paul.

Mrs. White's borrowings from Farrar—direct quotations, plus any accompanying close paraphrase—constitute about 4 per cent of her book.*

An interesting fact comes to light in this connection, which probably explains why most critics have referred only to Mrs. White's borrowings from Conybeare and Howson, though Farrar's book was certainly well known. Farrar's book reveals a number of paraphrases from Conybeare and Howson when he deals with historical matters! Quite likely Mrs. White's critics may have thought that she was simply borrowing from Conybeare and Howson when, strictly speaking, she was drawing from Farrar!

In the preface to his work Farrar, who was an eminent divine of the Church of England, frankly admits that “all students of St. Paul” are indebted to Conybeare and Howson. But he immediately explains that his work has been “written in great measure with a different purpose, as well as from a different point of view.”

* An additional 1.85 per cent of her book might be considered loose paraphrases.

The full title of the work and the edition used in making this examination of borrowings is F. W. Farrar, The Life and Work of St. Paul. New York: E. P. Dutton & Company, 713 Broadway, 1879. (2 volumes.)

In his preface Farrar says: “Circumstances have precluded me from carrying out my original intention of actually visiting the countries in which St. Paul laboured; and to do this was the less necessary because abundant descriptions of them may be found in the works of many recent travellers. This branch of the subject has been amply illustrated in the well-known volumes of Messers. Conybeare and Howson, and Mr. Thomas Lewin. To those admirable works all students of St. Paul must be largely indebted, and I need not say that my own book is not intended in any way to come into competition with theirs. It has been written in great measure with a different purpose, as well as from a different point of view.”—Page viii.

This relationship between Farrar's work and Conybeare and Howson's warrants the statement that Mrs. White was making no attempt to deceive her readers into thinking certain historical statements were hers, even though they may have come from Farrar, which was not as widely circulated among the Adventist membership as was the other work.


Thus he justifies his paraphrastic borrowings and occasional verbatim phrases without quotation marks. His prefatory statement met every ethical demand, because his readers were made conscious of Conybeare and Howson at the outset and of the possibility, at least, that that work Would be drawn upon.

If the preface to Mrs. White's work had stated what she knew was evident to her readers, that she had drawn on the Conybeare and Howson work, there would hardly have been even a technical ground for a charge against her. However, she might have said, as did Farrar, that her book was “written in great measure with a different purpose, as well as from a different point of View,” though that was also rather evident. In fact the preface, written by her publishers, declared that “the distinctive feature of the book” was not the “historical narrative” but certain “moral lessons” that were drawn. And it was repeatedly advertised, from the first, as valuable chiefly for “the lessons that are drawn” from Paul's experiences, and “their practical application to our own times.”*

If all the critics scrutinizing through the years Mrs. White's book on Paul, have never even suggested that she drew from other writers than those named, we should hardly be asked to comb the libraries in search of further possible borrowed lines. Thus we may conclude that the total verbatim borrowings and close paraphrases, reckoned generously, are about 11 per cent, and consist almost entirely of historical data and descriptions.

Do the Facts Justify the Charge of Plagiarism?

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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

* See Signs of the Times, June 7, 1883, p. 264, Aug. 23, p. 384, etc.


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:*

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.

(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.)

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.

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.

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

* Strictly speaking, plagiarism can acquire a legal quality only when the work plagiarized is covered by a copyright, the purpose of the copyright being to protect the work, among other things, from being plagiarized. Legally speaking, plagiarism is known as infringement. In democratic countries, like America, laws are the crystallization of the thinking and viewpoint of the citizenry. Hence the questions asked in a court of law to discover if there has been infringement are essentially the same questions that should be asked in the court of public opinion to discover if there has really been plagiarism. We should remember that not only has the whole subject of plagiarism been viewed differently in different generations, but that in our present day the subject is held by the courts to be a confessedly complex one.


central to the spiritual theme that always distinguished Mrs. White's writing.*

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.

* Patently, nothing that we have written or have quoted from legal or other authorities warrants any slothful, intellectually lazy, or unimaginative person in feeling that he is given license to appropriate the work of others simply to save himself from study or creative effort. Such a person cannot meet the stipulations set down in this chapter.

* See Appendix K, p. 643, for a discussion of a charge that certain pictures in The Great Controversy were “purloined.”

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