5. Ups and Downs in the Battle
ON SUNDAY, April 20, 1879, the Battle Creek Tabernacle was dedicated. The young
widower, Canright, had a part in the opening ceremonies along with such men as Uriah
Smith, J. N. Andrews, and George I. Butler. James and Ellen White were not in Battle
Creek at the time. Canright was now at the height of his influence. His pay
equaled that of the president of the General Conference$12.00 per week. As
president of the Ohio Conference he was serving in executive capacity. But he still
found real satisfaction in holding meetings in new areas where the message had not been
proclaimed. At heart, Canright was an evangelist.
In August the Ohio Conference at its annual constituency meeting held in
connection with the camp meeting elected D. M. Canright president. But he continued
with his evangelistic thrust. His responsibilities in Ohio did not prevent him from
making forays into the Kentucky-Tennessee Conference, which at his suggestion was divided
and organized into two separate State conferences. (Review and Herald, Oct.
23, 1879.) Nor did they prevent him from holding meetings from time to time in Michigan.
As president of the Ohio Conference, Canright planned and executed a strong
program. One who witnessed to this was Drury W. Reavis, a student of Battle Creek
College, called by Canright to come to Ohio to carry on special Sabbath school
promotion. Reavis, longtime employee of the Review and Herald publishing house,
recalls in his book "I Remember" that as a president, Canright "was a fine
general" (page 114),
and stated: "I found Elder D. M. Canright, who
was then regarded as one of our most efficient ministers, to be a most congenial man,
fair, honest, ready to help everybody in every way possible. He was a wonderful help
to me, and I shall always feel greatly indebted to him."Ibid., p. 116.
"I felt highly honored by being selected by Elder Canright to do
special Sabbath school work in Ohio. This appointment," declared Reavis,
"proved to be the beginning of a very close, mutual, friendly association."
Reavis recalled that he was acquainted with the Canright family. Lucretia
had been a close friend of some of his intimate friends.
Continuing, Reavis writes: "Elder Canright talked freely with me about
everything in which he was interested, about his personal difficulties, about his past
trials and sorrows, and of his future hopes and plans. He seemed to find consolation
in going over these things with me. He evidently felt that while I sympathetically
listened, I would not repeat. . . .
"The elder was remarkably bright, and grew rapidly from his humble
beginning, through the blessing of God, and the power of the message he proclaimed with
Heaven-bestowed ability. He was so greatly admired and openly praised by our workers
and the laity, that he finally reached the conclusion he had inherent abilitythat the
message he was proclaiming was a hindrance to him rather than the exclusive source of his
power."Ibid., p. 117.
Then Reavis recounted a significant incident that occurred in the summer of
1880. Canright had continued his administrative ministry in Ohio apparently with a
steady purpose. But, as he confided in a published statement later, in the summer of
1879 he met with almost insurmountable personal trials. (Review and Herald,
Sept. 13, 1881.)
One problem he had to contend with about this time was his throat. On May 4,
1880, he wrote of this and his plans to Ellen G. White:
You know the difficulty I have had in my throat, and with my voice, on account of bad
habits of speaking. From the little instruction I have had since last fall, in
Elocution, I believe I can get over that and learn to speak properly and easily. If
not, it is certain I will have to abandon speaking
sooner or later. I have the opportunity of giving my whole attention to it this
summer. Brother Miller from the College is to be with me several weeks in O[hio] and
teach me and others in this line.
Then in the middle of the summer I propose to spend a few weeks with Hamill in
Chicago. The way is open for me to do this now, and if I lose this chance I may
never get it again. I feel as though it was about life or death with me. As
you know the importance of this better than I do, I think you will sympathize with me, and
agree that I ought to take this chance to improve in speaking if I can.D. M. Canright
letter to Ellen G. White, May 4, 1880.
This Canright did. The late summer found him in Chicago studying elocution
at Hamill's school. Reavis says:
During the summer and fall of 1880, immediately after graduation, I, with other students from Battle Creek College, attended Professor Hamill's School of Oratory in
Chicago. Elder Canright, inoculated, at heart, with a belief that through a thorough
study in, and mastery of, expression he could accomplish his consuming desire to be a
popular public speaker [while still president of the Ohio conference], joined us; and
because of my former pleasant association with him, I became his critic as he lectured,
upon invitation, through the influence of the School of Oratory, in many of the largest
popular churches in Chicago during the summer vacation of the pastors of these
churches. In these lectures he applied the oratorical principles taught in the
school, and needed a critic versed in these principles, to follow him in his lectures and
later point out his misapplications, and of course to compliment him on all that were
rightly applied. He had more invitations than he could possibly accept; so he
selected the largest and most popular churches.
One Sunday night, in the largest church of the West Side, he spoke on "The
Saint's Inheritance" to more than 3,000 people, and I took a seat in the gallery
directly in front of him, to see every gesture and to hear every tone, form of voice,
emphasis, stress, and pitch, and all the rest. But that was as far as I got in my
part of the service, for he so quickly and eloquently launched into this, his favorite
theme, that I, with the entire congregation, became entirely absorbed in the Biblical
facts he was so convincingly presenting. I never thought of anything else until he had
After the benediction I could not get to him for more than half an hour, because
of the many people crowding around him, complimenting and thanking him for his masterly
discourse. On all sides I could hear people saying it was the most wonderful sermon
they had ever heard. I knew it was not the oratorical manner of the delivery, but
the Bible truth clearly and feelingly presented, that had appealed to the peopleit was
the power in that timely message. It made a deep, lasting impression upon my
mind. I saw that the power was all in the truth, and not in the speaker.
After a long time we were alone, and we went into a beautiful city park just across the
street, which was almost deserted because of the late hour of the night, and sat down to
talk the occasion over and for me to deliver my criticisms. But I had none for the
elder. I frankly confessed that I became so
completely carried away with that
soulinspiring Biblical subject I did not think once of the oratorical rules he was
applying in its presentation. Then we sat in silence for some time. Suddenly the elder
sprang to his feet and said, "D. W., I believe I could become a
great man were it not for our unpopular message."
I made no immediate reply, for I was shocked to hear a great preacher make such a
statement; to think of the message, for which I had given up the world, in the estimation
of its leading minister, being inferior to, and in the way of, the progress of men, was
almost paralyzing. Then I got up and stepped in front of the elder and said with
much feeling, "D. M., the message made you all you are, and the day you leave it, you
will retrace your steps back to where it found you."
But in his mind the die was evidently cast. The decision had doubtless been
secretly made in his mind for some time, but had not before been expressed in words.
From that night the elder was not quite the same toward our people and the work at
large.I Remember, pp. 118, 119.
Reavis then makes reference to Canright's later defection and presents some of his
"His estrangement began and developed through harboring that greatest
seductive thing that finds its way into some human hearts, which I name an abnormal desire
to be great, not great in the true meaning of the word, but great only in the estimation
of peopleto be popular."Ibid., p. 117.
"The feeling that being an Adventist was his principal hindrance increasing
as time passed, he finally reached the conclusion that he could achieve his goal of fame
through denouncing the unpopular doctrines of the denomination, and he finally worked
himself out of the denomination."Ibid., p. 119.
Canright's thirst for popularity was so strong that at that time, it seems, he
began to cast about for ways to achieve his ambition now audibly disclosed to a close
friend. He went to the Ohio camp meeting in late September fully intending to close
up his work there and to decline any invitation, should it be extended, to continue as
president of the conference. And indeed he did, but as the matter was pressed upon
him he consented "to act as President with the privilege of being absent from the
conference a share of the time." The report is that "he was unanimously
elected." (Review and Herald, Sept. 30, 1880) He was soon, very soon, to resign this post of duty. George I. Butler reports, "In October of 1880, he had another
backset. He became discouragedwe never knew from what special causeand ceased to preach." (Review and Herald Extra,
December, 1887.) He began to lecture on elocution.
Reavis locked in his heart the experience he had with Canright that summer.
But the Lord who reads the hearts of all men opened up to Ellen G. White the basis of
Elder Canright's weakness and lack of stability. On October 15, she wrote to him:
I was made sad to hear of your decision, but I have had reason to expect it. . . .
Satan is full of exultant joy that you have stepped from beneath the banner of Jesus
Christ, and stand under his banner. He sees in you one he can make a valuable agent
to build up his kingdom. You are taking the very course I expected you would take if
you yielded to temptation.
You have ever had a desire for power, for popularity, and this is one of the
reasons for your present position. But I beg of you to keep your doubts, your
questionings, your skepticism to yourself. The people have given you credit for more
strength of purpose and stability of character than you possessed. They thought you
were a strong man; and when you breathe out your dark thoughts and feelings, Satan stands
ready to make these thoughts and feelings so intensely powerful in their deceptive
character, that many souls will be deceived and lost through the influence of one soul who
chose darkness rather than light, and presumptuously placed himself on Satan's side, in
the ranks of the enemy.
You have wanted to be too much, and make a show and noise in the work, and as the
result your sun will surely set in obscurity. [underlining supplied] Every day
you are meeting with an eternal loss. The schoolboy who plays truant thinks he is
cheating his parent and his teacher; but who is meeting with the greatest loss? Is it not
himself? Is he not cheating and deceiving himself, robbing himself of the knowledge
he might have? God would have us become efficient in copying the example of Christ
in good works; but you are playing truant, you are nursing a feeling which will sting and
poison your soul to its own ruin, playing truant upon important eternal things, robbing
your soul of the richness, the knowledge of the fullness of Christ. Your ambition
has soared so high, it will accept of nothing short of elevation of self. You do not
know yourself. What you have always needed was a humble, contrite heart. . . .
God has chosen you for a great and solemn work. He has been seeking to
discipline, to test, to prove you, to refine and ennoble you, that this sacred work may be
done with a single eye [sic] to His glory which belongs wholly to God. What a
thought that God chooses a man and brings him into close connection with himself, and
gives him a mission to undertake, a work to do, for Him. A weak man is made strong,
a timid man is made brave, the irresolute becomes a man of firm and quick decision.
What! is it possible that man is of so much consequence as to receive a commission from
King of Kings! Shall worldly ambition allure from the sacred trust, the holy
The Majesty of heaven came to our world to give to man an example of a pure and spotless life, and to sacrifice Himself to the joy of saving the perishing. Whoever
follows Christ is a colaborer with him, sharing with him the divine work of saving
souls. If you have a thought of being released from it because you see some prospect
of forming an alliance with the world which shall bring yourself to greater notice, it is
because you forget how great and noble it is to do anything for God, how exalted a
position it is to be a colaborer with Jesus Christ, a light bearer to the world, shedding
light and love upon the pathway of others.
You will have a great conflict with the power of evil in your own heart. You have
felt that there was a higher work for you, but, oh, if you would only take up the work
lying directly in your path, and do it with fidelity, not seeking in any way to exalt
self, then peace and joy would come to your soul, purer, richer, and more satisfying than
the conquerors earthly warfare. To live and work for God and make the best use we
can of all our time and faculties, is to grow in grace and knowledge. This we can
do, because it is our work. You must needs put away your questioning doubts, and
have full faith in the reality of your divine mission, to be indeed successful in
labor.Published in Selected Messages, book 2, pp. 162-168.
Her letter closed with these earnest words:
I now appeal to you to make back tracks as fast as possible; take up your God-given mission, and seek for purity and holiness to sanctify that mission. Make no delay;
halt not between two opinions. If the Lord be God, serve Him; but if Baal, serve
him. You have the old lesson of trust in God to learn anew in the hard school of
suffering. Let D. M. Canright be swallowed up in Jesus. . . .
Now, Elder Canright, for your soul's sake grasp firmly again the hand of God, I
beseech you. I am too weary to write more. God deliver you form Satan's snare
is my prayer.Ibid.
As Elder G. I. Butler writes of this experience he reports of Canright that "when
he gave up preaching he began to lecture on elocution, and traveled considerably in
Wisconsin and Michigan, holding classes. He told me himself that for a time he then
ceased to observe the Sabbath. . . . He thought then quite seriously of preaching for the
Methodists. . . . But the Elder's conscience troubled him greatly at times. He wrote
me, desiring to see me and have a long talk. We met in Battle Creek the following
January, and had some fifteen hours' conversation."Review and Herald Extra,
Canright's version appears in an article of his entitled, "Danger of Giving Way to Discouragement and Doubts,"
published in the Review and Herald of September 13, 1881. He confessed:
About a year ago I became wholly discouraged. It seemed to me that my work amounted to nothing, and that I might as well give up. . . .
I passed four months in this way. I looked in every direction to see if
there was not some mistake in our doctrine, or if I could not go some other way. But
I could not see why, according the Bible, the great pillars of our faith were not sound. .
. . I found that my faith in the Advent doctrine was so strong that I could never believe
anything else; so I gave up trying to. . . .
So. . . . I came to Battle Creek . . . and freely talked over with Eld. Butler,
Bro. and Sr. White, and others, my difficulties and trials. They did all they could,
and all I could ask, to assist me. . . .
As I took hold again to labor, and tried to look on the side of courage and faith
in the work, I found my difficulties disappearing, and my former interest and confidence
in the message reviving, till now I feel clear and settled in the work again. .
If the Bible does not plainly and abundantly teach the doctrines of the third
angel's message, then I despair of ever knowing what it does teach. . . . I have not
further doubt as to my duty and the work of my life. As for years in the past, so in
the future, all that I am and have shall be thrown unreservedly into this work. . . . I
humbly trust in the grace of God to help me keep this resolution.
Elder White was pleased to report in a letter to his wife, written from New York
City on February 4, 1881, that "Elder Canright is doing splendid in getting on the
track." He had taken Canright with him on a short itinerary to New York
State. As White reported this he states: "I am glad to report him on better
ground than ever before. Poor C[anright] has been crowded too hard, but God is
rescuing him."James White letter, Feb. 17, 1881
During the preceding fall months, while lecturing on elocution in Michigan, Elder
Canright met Miss Lucy Hadden, of Otsego. Their friendship developed into love, then
to a marriage proposal. In early April, 1881, with Canright back in the ministry,
the two visited Elder and Mrs. White. "She is a girl highly thought of and
intelligent, . . ." wrote Ellen White, "not perhaps devotional." Lucy
was indeed intelligentshe was skilled musically and had taught school. Her mother
had long been a Sabbathkeeper, but her father made no profession of religion. There
would never be the closeness between Lucy and Mrs. White that had existed between Lucretia
The Canright marriage was the last to be recorded in James White's
handwritten record book. He performed the
ceremony on April 24, 1881. Dudley Canright was forty, Lucy twenty-five years
On May 17 the bride wrote the following letter of appreciation:
Dear Brother White:
. . . I feel desirous of tendering you my sincere thanks for your kindness to me
while in B[attle] C[reek], and I will try and not take too much of your time in doing so.
[I] shall always remember with pleasure our visit at your romantic home, and also
the fine ride to the city you and I took together. I used to be somewhat afraid of
Bro. White, but since our wedding and especially that ride, instead of feeling that way,
you seem almost like my father. Indeed, [I] shall love you for making our wedding go
off so pleasantly.
Dudley and I often speak of it and wonder if there ever was a nicer wedding; of
course we think not.
Sometime, and we hope before very long to have the pleasure of entertaining you
and Sr. White in our home. . . . We hope to make it a home in every sense of the
word. I feel that the beauty of our home will be the children. I hope I may
wait patiently for the time to come when we will be all together. . . .
Dudley will attend the camp meeting at Spring Arbor, and the one at
Allegan. I should be more than pleased to accompany him, especially to A[llegan];
but we wish to attend the meeting at Alma, and they want Dudley to dedicate the church at
St. Louis; so we feel I had better remain near here while he goes. But if I could be
of any service by going, would try and go.
The friends in Lake View express a strong desire to see Bro. and Sr. White.
I think it would do them good to have you come here. Remember me to Sr. White.
I hope she is gaining all the time.
(Signed) Lucy H. Canright
Genevieve and Fred found in Lucy a second mother. This marriage seemed for
a time to aid in stabilizing Dudley's personal faith. Just three months after the
wedding, writing from Carson City, Michigan, he made the following promise:
Dear Brother White:
. . . You can set your mind at rest about my making you or the cause any
trouble. When I cannot labor in perfect harmony with my brethren and our doctrines I
will quit and give you due notice of it. If there is anything I
don't see or
understand as the body of our people do, no one shall know it only by my silence about it.
D. M. Canright letter to James White, July 15, 1881.
On August 6, 1881, Elder James White died. Canright wrote to his widow:
I know how close this blow must come to you, but I believe that your faith in God together with your good judgment will sustain you so that you will not sink down under it
as some do. In the notice of the funeral I was glad to see your hopeful words and
determination to go right on with your work. You will have the prayers of twenty
thousand people to sustain you.
At both camp meetings all speak of Brother White with the greatest tenderness and
mourn his death as a personal loss. I am very glad now that I had the privilege of
being with him so much the last few months. All the feeling of trial which I have
felt toward him were entirely removed. No one could have been more kind and fatherly
toward me than he was. We had many very free talks together about our mutual trials
and mistakes. I think I never saw Brother White so tender and patient as he was
these last few months of his life. I shall always remember this with pleasure.
It seems now to me that the Lord was preparing him for what has come.
Notwithstanding all the trials I have had with him as you know, I shall remember him with
tenderness and kindness. I have confidence that his purpose was to do right. I
cannot yet bring myself to realize that he is really gone. It leaves a vacancy which
no one else can ever fill.
As I take hold and labor with our people I find my interest in the work growing stronger
and my difficulties disappearing. . . I have no other thought than to put all my energies
in the work just as I formerly did. You can rely upon it that there is just
where you will always find me. . .
Lucy is with me and joins in sending you our sympathy and kindest feelings of
regard.D. M. Canright letter, Aug. 22, 1881. (Italics supplied.)
Readers of the Review and Herald read Canright's eulogy of his old friend:
"During the last few months of his life I was with him about eight weeks. . . .
Previous to this time, for a short period, there had been some difference between us; but
he met me in the most friendly and cordial manner, and did all any person possibly could
to help me. Where he thought he had made mistakes, he acknowledged it frankly, and
most cheerfully forgave what I had done to grieve him; and I must say that I have never
found any person more ready to do both these things than Bro. White. In our travels
together, he often mentioned the mistakes he thought he had made in his life.
As we prayed
along together, he would weep over them, and plead for grace to be a true Christian man. .
. . Several times I saw him tried in a manner to test the patience and good grace of the
mildest man. I was exceedingly pleased to see him bear it with the greatest kindness
and patience."Review and Herald, Aug. 30, 1881.
A month after Elder White's death, Elder Canright wrote the article "Danger of
Giving Way to Discouragement and Doubts" mentioned earlier. In it he confessed:
One who has not experienced it, can have little idea how rapidly discouragement and
doubts will grow upon a person, when once they are given way to. In a short time,
everything seems to put on a different color.
Twenty-two years ago I embraced the Seventh-day Adventist faith. I received
it as a whole, with unbounded confidence and enthusiasm. It was like a new
revelation to me, and it filled my heart with rejoicing. Five years later, I began
preaching it. . . .
Of course I regret now that I gave way to discouragements and doubt but I think I
have learned a lesson by it which I shall not need to learn again as long as I
live.Ibid., Sept. 13, 1881. (Italics supplied.)