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I Was Canright's Secretary
by Carrie Johnson

Page 134

15. Canright Works on His Books

FROM DAY to day Mr. Canright labored on his books. He had only a little work to do to complete his book The Lord's Day. At the same time he was revising the introductory material for a new printing of Seventh-day Adventism Renounced. Curiously, he ended up using almost identical material in the opening pages of each book. But after his trip to Lincoln his main bookwork was the dictating of the chapters for the volume which he entitled Life of Mrs. E. G. White. This was not a biography, as the title might suggest, but an attack on Mrs. White and an attempt to "expose" her.

When he was dictating personal letters, I usually sat opposite his desk. At such times he was calm, composed, and had a note of assurance in his voice. Occasionally he would come to some point in his dictating in which he referred to Mrs. White. Strange as it may seem, his references, made almost inadvertently it seemed, were often favorable. But when he turned to his work on the Life of Mrs. E. G. White he would become agitated, pace the floor, and his words would be harsh, vindictive, belligerent, and unreasonable.

I have seen him on a number of occasions, when he would come, as it were, to a climax in his dictating on the life of Mrs. White, totally exhausted, tears flowing from his good eye as well as from the open socket while he wept bitterly. At such times I have seen him drop in his chair by his desk, and momentarily bury his face in his arms on the desk. Then as he swung his left arm in a gesture of utter despair, he would exclaim with three inflections, each more pathetic

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than the one before, "I'm a lost man! I'm a lost man! I'm a lost man!" Frequently he would add, "She was a good woman! I am gone! gone! gone!"

It was almost more than I could take. As a result I decided to take his dictation with my back turned to him, without having to witness his anguish. In this way I was able to proceed with my work.

The force of what seemed to me to be his repeated appeals for help weighed heavily upon my emotions, and I longed to go to the Tabernacle, and ask for help from the ministers in charge. But I felt I must not do this. I was bound by a pledge to secrecy and my loyalty to Mr. Cornell. I felt I could not reveal what I saw or heard to anyone in or out of the office.

I kept Mr. Canright informed in regard to Adventist meetings. Somehow he seemed to enjoy the prospect of attending Sabbath services, prayer meetings, and church functions. He made repeated attempts through me to secure invitations to church board meetings and other business meetings. His eagerness in this respect led some Adventists to believe he had returned to his former faith, or at least was in the process of doing so. But Mr. Canright's frequent remark when urged to do so was, "Oh, I want to, but I can't; it's too late!"

I often witnessed and heard the bitter lamentations he uttered at times. Then I would see his mood change. Sometimes this would take place within minutes, and the same old belligerent attitude would be manifested again.

He was a regular attendant at the Tabernacle church preaching service, but he never attended Sabbath school services there to my knowledge. Many noticed how punctual he was. If he arrived a little early he would linger in the vestibule, where some of the young people frequently waited, and as he would wait he would sometimes converse with the young men.

Mr. Canright seemed to know that Adventists were curious about him. Thus it was that as soon as he would come into the vestibule of the church some of the young men would gather around and ply him with questions.

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Somehow he seemed to enjoy this attention. I suppose it made him feel important.

As a rule, however, Mr. Canright chose to enter just as the first song was announced. He always seemed to come with his small brown satchel in hand and he would march clear down next to the front pew. On more than one occasion when prayer was announced and the congregation began to kneel, I have seen Mr. Canright make as if to kneel, but seemed unable to do so. Sometimes he would wave his right arm, and utter a distressed cry, "Don't let me fall, brethren, don't let me fall!" The deacons would then hurry to his aid, thinking he was ill, and would assist him outside. When he would reach the vestibule he would walk away on his own.

One Sabbath morning, thinking that perhaps he had left the Tabernacle in order to attend services in the Seventh Day Baptist church about four blocks away, I followed him to see. But his journey only led to the cottage behind the helpers' kitchen where he roomed.

Each Wednesday I informed him as to where the closest cottage prayer meeting was to be held. Frequently, just at meeting time, I have seen Mr. Canright, a pathetic figure, approaching in the distance, carrying his little satchel. I often heard him say that it contained early Adventist publications that had been suppressed. But though I often heard him refer to them, I never saw them.Note 1

He referred to these publications in a letter written March 1, 1914 to Elder J. H. Morrison (see pp. 164, 165).

At the cottage prayer meetings he would usually linger in the yard or on the porch until the first song was announced. Then he would enter with his little satchel.

Oftentimes Mr. Canright's attitude, his repudiations, his confessions, and the statements such as "I'm a lost man," or "She was a good woman," were freely discussed at these prayer meetings, and just as often heartfelt prayers were offered in his behalf.

But when reports of his confessions and statements leaked out, Mr. Canright would hasten to make public denial through the press.

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One day he dictated the following statement to me, which eventually appeared in his book Life of Mrs. E. G. White:


Since I withdrew from the Adventists, over thirty years ago, they have continued to report that I have regretted leaving them, have tried to get back again, have repudiated my book which I wrote and have confessed that I am now a lost man. There has never been a word of truth in any of these reports. I expect them to report that I recanted on my deathbed. All this is done to hinder the influence of my books. I now reaffirm all that I have written in my books and tracts against that doctrine. . . .

D. M. Canright,
Pastor Emeritus of the Berean Baptist Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

He used this statement, with some additions, again and again.

It always seemed strange to me that he should write vehement denials for the press, when I daily witnessed in private the very things he publicly denied.

At times he seemed to realize that he was possessed by a power over which he had no control. An overwhelming desire for peace of mind seemed to dominate his subconsciousness. He yearned to be free from whatever power it was that controlled him. He longed for the warmth of companionship of his former Seventh-day Adventist associates. But he seemed unable to obtain relief.

When church board meetings or conference camp meetings were announced his mind seemed to whirl in anticipation that he would be invited to attend. Somehow he appeared to take comfort from having his associates of Adventist days entreat him to return to his first love and devotion.

In his daily letter to Madge Goodrich, of the Detroit Baptist Herald—who, I concluded, was writing his biography—he painfully described his past years of existence and loneliness. He seemed to desperately want a way out of the fog. He seemed to sense that there were forces operating in his life that led him to do and say things at one time, which he felt grieved about at other times. The fact that he had seemingly lost his power of choice plagued him. Yet to my knowledge Mr. Canright never did admit even to his closest friends

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the fact that he had lost his power of personal choice or decision.

From day to day, but with some irregularities, the routine at the office continued. Mr. Canright almost seemed to ignore my existence, yet, in all fairness, I must say he always treated me with respect. There were many letters of inquiry to answer, enclosures to send out, and then, of course, the work on the books.

As the correspondence became more routine he left me to care for more of the details, such as selecting the tracts to be enclosed. One day while looking for tracts I had discovered a pigeonhole near the place where Mr. Canright kept leaflets, which contained a little pile of tracts entitled "Elihu on the Sabbath." Not being acquainted with their authorship or content at the time, I one day enclosed these with the form letter rather than the Canright tracts. Several days later two or three of these letters were returned marked "Insufficient Address." Mr. Canright opened them, and out dropped the Sabbath tracts—tracts I was later to learn were published by Seventh-day Adventists.

I expected to be rebuked for sending letters out without giving the full and proper address. But again something incredible happened. He looked at the tracts, recognized them as Seventh-day Adventist productions defending the seventh-day Sabbath, and said, "This is what I really wanted enclosed, but I couldn't say it that way." It left me puzzled.

Repeatedly while I was Mr. Canright's secretary, I heard him say one thing, as though under the control of some invisible power, while at other times I have heard him openly confess that he felt quite differently.

After the above-mentioned incident took place, and while receiving dictation adverse to Mrs. White, I sometimes would inquire, perhaps impertinently, whether that was really the way he wanted to say it. On such occasions he would sometimes reply, "What I want to say, I can't."

At that time I did not know enough to enable me to disentangle the intricacies of the issues that lay behind Mr. Canright's personal attack on Mrs. E. G. White, but I could see that they breathed the wrong spirit.

Many of the complimentary articles that appeared in

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newspapers, church organs, broadsides, and testimonials were written by Mr. Canright himself and prepared for the promotion of his literary productions. In his testimonials, a number of which I wrote at his dictation, he named many of the finer virtues and talents which he thought he possessed. These I sent at his behest to those whose signatures he believed would carry weight.

The careful reader may detect the characteristic Canright style in many of these testimonials and note the repetition of certain typical words and expressions. He may also observe that those who signed the testimonials could hardly have been in possession of all the points of information presented, such as details concerning Canright's work while a Seventh-day Adventist.

Canright seemed to derive some kind of satisfaction from being described in the press as "the ablest man in the Adventist denomination," or a "dumbfounder to the Adventists." With all of this I became well acquainted.

End Notes

1. These, incidentally, have all been reprinted in facsimile form by this publisher. [back to text]

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