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review 2019-03-24 22:15
The Christian's Wedding Ring, containing Five Letters and a Series of Poems, written by A Lady with the Sincere Desire of Sowing the Seeds of Union in the Christian Church
The Christian's wedding ring [microform]: containing five letters and a series of poems - Jane Porter

I'm being a bit disingenuous marking this "read". Unless you're passionately interested in obscure Christian theological apologetics of the 1870s (I'm not), this volume is pretty much unreadable. However, as the product of a Canadian woman of some apparent intelligence, though little literary talent and less taste in subject matter, it still was worth scanning through for points of interest.

The broad subject of all of the lengthy sermonizing in the 5 "letters", and much of the undistinguished verse - I won't call it poetry - is ecumenicalism. In addition to desiring the "union in the Christian Church" referred to in the subtitle (her explanations of doctrinal differences reveal her as definitely Protestant), this author appears to hold out some desire for the reunification of all adherents of the Abrahamic religions, under the Christian umbrella of course.

The volume, which exists physically at the University of Toronto library and in e-form on both the Internet Archive and the CIHM free miccrofilm scans (http://eco.canadiana.ca/view/oocihm.03865/3?r=0&s=1), was published by Montreal's Lovell publishing house in 1874. Unlike many items coming out of Canadian publishing houses at this period, this appears to be genuinely Canadian in origin, which means that I was somewhat perplexed at first to see that it is attributed in worldcat to "Jane Porter".  The 19th-century literary Jane Porter I know of, the authoress of "The Scottish Chiefs", died in 1850 and has nothing to do with Canada. However this, it appears, is another Jane Porter, and there is a little - a very little - further literary activity by her tracked in Watters' definitive bibliography of Canadian literature. However, we don't know much about her, though the small personal clues in the miscellaneous verse suggest that she was single, fairly active and interested in Canada and current events, a churchgoer in Montreal, and very likely was published by Lovell as a favour to help her financially. (There's one short poem where she asks readers to buy her books, and ruefully tells us her publisher would prefer her to write romances).

I scribbled down a few notes about two things - comments about religion that struck me as different from mere convention; and phrases or subjects of poems that reflected either Canada or current events or both.

On the religious front, her five letters certainly have an ecumenical set of addressees. The first is to Princess Victoria (Queen Victoria's daughter, Queen of Prussia, politically liberal). All the blithe internalized misogyny of her time comes out in this letter of a woman to a woman, even though at the same time Princess Victoria is urged to exert her considerable political influence. "Female education is not practical," and the calling of wives and daughters is home-making. Indeed, Miss Porter goes so far as to deride nuns for abandoning their home duties. The second letter is to the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire (whom she congratulates, by the way, on the opening of the Suez Canal in 1870).  The third letter is to "Dear Jewish friends", while the fourth is to Pope Pius IX (accompanied by a portrait of him that looks quite demonic). The last letter to so the "Archbishop of Syra and Tenos" (orthodox) who had taken part in ecumenical talks - unsuccessful, one presumes - with the Church of England at Ely in 1870.

Canada is not really present in the prose, but quite a lot of the verse is either explicitly on Canadian subjects, or contains references such as:
The rapids with majestic roar
Proud St. Lawrence at our shore.

On the subject of the Friday fish fast, she has this to say:
The Esquimaux on fish subsist.
Without it, how can they exist?
If eating fish is called a fast,
Their fasting days forever last.

(Apparently Miss Porter was not aware of Inuit seal-hunting).

Other Canadian subjects memorialized in verse include John Bethune, the very prominent Montreal Anglican clergyman who died in 1872; a church in Trois Rivieres, Niagara Falls, the April 1873 wreck of the "Atlantic" off Halifax, a boat race in St John NB in which a man died, and a Montreal incident in which nine people were poisoned with stolen wine. For reasons unknown, there are also some Boston poems, and poems about 1871 fires in both Chicago and Wisconsin, as well as an unexpected poem "On Philately". A few people will know what I mean if I say some of these poems are "McGonagall-esque" (no, not the Harry Potter one).

It's easy to be derisive about this kind of bad book that pops up (only because some of its contents have rhyme and metre, I'm sure) in the miscellaneous anonymous literature sections of very large research libraries. And, I suppose, it's also easy to be too imaginatively sympathetic with the Miss Jane Porters of the Victorian colonial world, trying to sell flat conventional poetry and tortuous, untutored theology as belles lettres. Perhaps Miss Porter had a very comfortable life and was merely a hobbyist. She is dust and we will never know; thanks to big libraries, microfilm, and the internet, her book has been saved from that same dust for other odd ducks like myself to ponder over.

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review 2019-03-17 23:51
E.J. Waggoner: From the Physician of Good News to Agent of Division
E.J. Waggoner: From The Physician Of Good News To The Agent Of Division - Woodrow W. Whidden

One of the pivotal figures at the 1888 Minneapolis General Conference sessions, he did not plan to follow his father into ministry but when he did he tragically followed his example.  Woodrow W. Whidden’s E.J. Waggoner: From the Physician of Good News to Agent of Division follows not only the life of the Adventism’s most controversial figures, but also the developments of his theological thinking which both contributed to Seventh-day Adventist thinking and to his separation from Adventist doctrines.

 

Whidden brought the most out of limited sources available to detail Waggoner’s life beginning with the troubled family life of his troubled Adventist minister father and egotistical, uncaring mother.  Waggoner’s family were encouraged and rebuked by Ellen White throughout the young E.J.’s childhood and his home life might have led to heartbreak later in his life.  Not wanting to follow his father into the ministry, Waggoner studied medicine and became friends with John Harvey Kellogg as he began his career in medicine which came to an end after a “vision” at a campmeeting in which Waggoner was impressed by Christ on the cross and began his lifelong theological study of justification and sanctification.  Upon entering the ministry, Waggoner became was prolific in preaching, lecturing, writing, and in editorial work for the next two decades in both the United States and Great Britain but that would later result in have no time to nurture his marriage resulting in a scandalous divorce after his family’s return to the United States.  The lead up and aftermath of the 1888 Minneapolis is hinge of the biography and Whidden analyzes Waggoner’s role thoroughly.  Yet the most interesting aspect of the biography was Whidden’s analysis of Waggoner’s theology on justification and sanctification throughout his life divided into four time frames by Whidden.

 

The difficulty of finding sources to chronicle Waggoner’s life did not deflect from Whidden’s achievement in revealing the numerous facets of his subject’s life especially in the lead up to the “biggest” scandal in Adventism at the time with Waggoner’s divorce.  The most important aspect of the book was Whidden’s in-depth discussing of Waggoner’s evolving theological beliefs, especially justification and sanctification, and how his bent towards mysticism as well as his slow moving away from distinct Adventist doctrines.  Another important aspect is Whidden’s analysis of Ellen White’s interactions with Waggoner both in encouragement and concerned rebuke as well as if Waggoner’s later theological beliefs takeaway his emphasis on his Christ-centered message before, during, and after 1888.  If there is on serious drawback is that Whidden’s study of Waggoner’s theology is very deep and can be a tad mindboggling.

 

E.J. Waggoner is an insightful look into the life of one of the most important second generation figures in Adventism.  Woodrow Whidden’s expert work on getting out the most from the few primary sources available as well as his theological analysis is a great asset for any reader in Seventh-day Adventist biography and history.

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review 2019-02-10 23:39
John Harvey Kellogg: Pioneering Health Reformer
John Harvey Kellogg, M.D.: Pioneering Health Reformer - Richard W. Schwarz

A pioneer of the Adventist health message and controversial figure that had a very public break from the Church, yet his life was whole lot more.  John Harvey Kellogg: Pioneering Health Reformer by Richard W. Schwarz details the long life of a man who wanted to teach and not become a doctor, but who became both in advocating healthy living.

 

Schwarz begins the biography in the standard way in relating the background of Kellogg family just before John Harvey birth then proceeded to follow the young Kellogg’s life until he became a doctor.  The biography then shifts into various facets of Kellogg’s life ranging from his appointment to head Battle Creek Sanitarium and developing it, his development of various health foods and later his efforts commercially, his family life with 42 adopted children and cool relationships with his siblings, his humanitarian efforts, his work and later break with the Seventh-day Adventist Church including his relationship with Ellen White, and many more.  The final chapter chronicles the latter events of his 91 year long life including the struggle to keep Battle Creek Sanitarium open.

 

In around 240 pages, Schwarz gives a thorough look into everything that John Harvey Kellogg did throughout his life but in a non-chronological manner save for his early and late life.  Given the start length of the book and the long life of its subject, this non-chronological look was for the best as Schwarz covered topics in a straightforward manner and avoiding attempting to cover all of them in a on and off if the biography was written in a chronological fashion.  This format also allowed Schwarz to reference big events that effected all topics and foreshadowing there importance for when he covered them later in the book.

 

John Harvey Kellogg: Pioneering Health Reformer is a well-organized and informative biography of a notable pioneer in the Adventist health system that also influenced the larger American health landscape.  Richard W. Schwarz work is outstanding and his prose presents a very easy read which makes this book a highly recommended one for anyone interested in Adventist health history.

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review 2019-01-20 23:08
W.W. Prescott: Forgotten Giant of Adventism's Second Generation
W.W. Prescott: Forgotten Giant of Adventism's Second Generation - Gilbert M. Valentine

The work of reform and those that spearhead them are never easy, especially when religious belief is thrown into the mix.  Gilbert M. Valentine’s biography of administrator, educator, preacher, and theologian W.W. Prescott, lives up to its subtitle Forgotten Giant of Adventism’s Second Generation, and shows his impact on the denomination over the course of 52 years and influence beyond.

 

Prescott’s life before beginning his denominational work in 1885 was first as a son of a hardworking New Hampshire business man and Millerite, who would not become a Seventh-day believer until his son was 3 years old.  The success of his father’s business allowed Prescott to get a very thorough education resulting in attending and graduating from Dartmouth.  He began his career as a principal at several schools before going into publishing until the call to become president of Battle Creek College began his career in denominational service.  From the outset, Prescott’s task to reform the College was went up against some faculty and their connections in the larger Adventist community, yet he slowly changed the institution to be more in-line to the thoughts of Ellen White on education.  Besides college president, Prescott became the denomination’s head of education and helped found two more colleges that he became titular president of at the same time he was in charge of Battle Creek.  Eventually Prescott would find himself playing peacekeeper between those in support and opposed to the 1888 message of E.J. Waggoner and A.T. Jones joins, but still upset people which eventually forced him to take refuge in Australia where his preaching and evangelism grew in leaps and bounds.  After an “exile” in England, Prescott was called to be the right-hand man to new General Conference President Arthur Daniells, which would begin a partnership of almost two decades in various forms.  Yet Prescott became the fount of controversy first as editor of the Review and Herald especially during the crisis with John Harvey Kellogg and then with his new theological understanding of “the daily” in Daniel 8 that was integrated into his Christocentric approach to Adventist doctrine and preaching, which would touch off numerous personal attacks for the rest of his life and overshadow the rest of his career especially as he attempted to help the denomination with problems that would later cause consternation nearly half a century later.

 

Due to my own reading of Adventist history, I had come across the name of Prescott but had not known the extent of his involvement with the denomination in so many areas, locations around the world, and controversies.  There is a lot packed into the 327 pages of text that Valentine expertly wove together to create an enthralling biography of man he grew to know well due to his years of research for his doctoral dissertation.  If there is critique I could l give this book, it would be that it was too short because it felt like Valentine did not go as in-depth as he would like in this presentation of his much longer dissertation.

 

W.W. Prescott: Forgotten Giant of Adventism’s Second Generation lives up to its name, giving the spotlight to an influential man in the history of the denomination that is unknown to a majority of Seventh-day Adventists today.  Gilbert M. Valentine’s work in writing a comprehensive and readable biography of a man who was involved in so many matters is excellent and just makes this book highly recommended for those interested in Seventh-day Adventist history.

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review 2019-01-18 22:22
The Rise and Fall of the British Empire
The Rise and Fall of the British Empire - Lawrence James

The largest empire in history ended less than a century ago, yet the legacy of how it rose and how it fell will impact the world for longer than it existed.  Lawrence James’ chronicles the 400-year long history of The Rise and Fall of the British Empire, from its begins on the eastern seaboard of North American spanning a quarter of the world to the collection of tiny outposts scattered across the globe.

 

Neither a simple nor a comprehensive history, James looks at the British Empire in the vain of economic, martial, political, and cultural elements not only in Britain but in the colonies as well.  Beginning with the various settlements on the eastern seaboard of North America, James describes the various colonies and latter colonial administrators that made their way from Britain to locations around the globe which would have an impact on attitudes of the Empire over the centuries.  The role of economics in not only the growth the empire but also the Royal Navy that quickly became interdependent and along with the growth of the Empire’s size the same with the nation’s prestige.  The lessons of the American War of Independence not only in terms of military fragility, but also politically influenced how Britain developed the “white” dominions over the coming centuries.  And the effect of the liberal, moralistic bent of the Empire to paternally watch over “lesser” peoples and teach them clashing with the bombast of the late-19th Century rush of imperialism in the last century of the Empire’s exists and its effects both at home and abroad.

 

Composing an overview of 400-years of history than spans across the globe and noting the effects on not only Britain but the territories it once controlled was no easy task, especially in roughly 630 pages of text.  James attempted to balance the “positive” and “negative” historiography of the Empire while also adding to it.  The contrast between upper-and upper-middle class Britons thinking of the Empire with that of the working-class Britons and colonial subjects was one of the most interesting narratives that James brought to the book especially in the twilight years of the Empire.  Although it is hard to fault James given the vast swath of history he tackled there were some mythical history elements in his relating of the American War of Independence that makes the more critical reader take pause on if the related histories of India, South Africa, Egypt, and others do not contain similar historical myths.

 

The Rise and Fall of the British Empire is neither a multi-volume comprehensive history nor a simple history that deals with popular myths of history, it is an overview of how an island nation came to govern over a quarter of the globe through cultural, economic, martial, and political developments.  Lawrence James’s book is readable to both general and critical history readers and highly recommended.

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