“What Might Have Been”
Life of D.M. Canright
Stories such as this are hard to write and harder to understand. Yet, it seems there is a need for the writing, so that we may see from how far this man fell, and be sure that we keep Jesus in the front of our lives, and not self.
He was young, he was a forceful, articulate speaker and writer, and had much ability and many talents to offer the Seventh-day Adventist church. Dudley Marvin Canright, or D. M. as many called him, had been working in California helping the Sabbath Schools, when he was called back East. After helping in fourteen camp meetings in 1876, he led out in an eight-week evangelistic tent meeting in Rome, New York. These meetings, and others which followed were huge successes. Sometimes, Canright worked along with the Whites, and James, who was the General Conference president at the time, admired his drive and accomplishments. He saw him as having the ability “to establish the work in new fields.” The camp meeting at Groveland, Mass. had an attendance of 15,000 to 20,000 people for weekend services. Ellen White also spoke here.
During this time, Lucretia Canright came down with tuberculosis, never having been strong since the birth of their second child. Within a few months of treatment in Massachusetts, she was no better, in fact, Dudley could see that her condition was worsening. So, he took Lucretia to Battle Creek and placed her in the sanitarium, in Dr J.H. Kellogg’s care, while he went as a male nurse with James White to Colorado. It was obvious that he never missed an opportunity to exalt himself to Elder White, and it was clear he was hoping to be the next conference president. Canright was ordained about this time.
In early August, word reached Canright and James White that Lucretia was worse. When he arrived at Battle Creek, although she was still able to go out for buggy rides, she was slowly weakening. On the twenty-first of August, the couple drove sadly out to Oak Hill Cemetery, and Lucretia showed Dudley the spot where she would like to be buried. It is at the back of the cemetery, on a small knoll, that overlooks the rest of the cemetery.
Let us listen to a close friend, D. W. Reavis, as he describes what happened with Canright. Some of the students from Battle Creek attended Professor Hamil’s School of Oratory in Chicago. Elder Canright firmly believed that a thorough study in, and mastery of, expression he could accomplish his consuming desire to be a popular public speaker. His opportunity to “prove” this came in the largest church of the West Sde, as he spoke on “The Saint’s Inheritance” to more than 3,000 people. After the benediction, his friend could not get to Canright for more than a half an hour, so many people were crowded around him. But, his friend said, “I knew it was not the oratorical manner of the delivery, but the Bible truth, clearly and feelingly presented, it was the power in that timely message.”
But, later, the two friends were alone, and Reavis was shocked to hear Elder Canright exclaim, “D.W., I believe I could become a great man were it not for our unpopular message.” His friend told him, 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, and had doubtless been there for some time, just not expressed in words.
Canright continued as a worker for several years afterward, but the feeling that being an Adventist was his principal hindrance increased as time passed. He finally decided that he could reach his goal of fame through denouncing the unpopular doctrines of the denomination, and began on his self-imposed task of attempting to “expose” the so-called errors in the doctrines he had preached.
From 1880 to 1903, Reavis occasionally corresponded with Elder Canright, trying to save him from wrecking his life and injuring the cause he had done so much to build up. Finally, he went with Reavis to a general meeting of the workers in Battle Creek. He was well received, but he seemed to be torn in two parts…joy and relentless grief.
Before Canright went home to Grand Rapids, MI, he and Reavis had a private talk. Canright admitted that what his friend had predicted had come to pass, and that he wished the past could be blotted out and that he was back in our work just as at the beginning. Reavis tried to get him to go to the workers and tell them just what he had told him, and assured him that they would be glad to forgive all and to take him back in full confidence. Reavis said, “I never heard anyone weep and moan in such deep contrition as that once leading light in our message did. It was heartbreaking even to hear him. He said he wished he could come back to the fold as I suggested, but after long, heartbreaking moans and weeping, he said: ‘I would be glad to come back, but I can’t. It’s too late! I am forever gone! Gone! As he wept on my shoulder he thanked me for all I had tried to do to save him form that sad hour. He said, ‘D.W., whatever you do, don’t ever fight the message.”
Selected Messages Book 2, pp162-170 has a heartrending appeal from Ellen White to D.M. Canright….but he refused to listen.
Taken from and compiled from
2SM, Hindsight, Light Bearers
By Dorothy Dunbar