Interestingly enough, General Lew Wallace, Indiana’s greatest hero in the National Hall of Fame, is little known – yet his great work, Ben-Hur, has been translated into almost every language in the world, and has brought countless millions into the loving arms of their Messiah, Jesus Christ.
When asked by W.H. Warner for the “diamond sentence” in his famed book, General Wallace replied, “Here it is: ‘I am the resurrection and the Life.’ In Wallace’s Autobiography, he writes the following concerning Ben-Hur:
“…The Christian world would not tolerate a novel with Jesus Christ its hero, and I knew it. Nevertheless, writing of Him was imperative, and He must appear, speak, and act. Further, and worse as a tribulation, I was required to keep Him before the reader, the object of superior interest throughout.
And there was to be no sermonizing. How could this be done without giving mortal offence? It does not become me to intimate any measure of success in the accomplishment; yet I may be pardoned for an outright confession of the rules I prescribed for my government in the dilemma. First, I determined to withhold the reappearance of the Saviour until the very last hours. Meantime, He should be always coming — to-day I would have Him, as it were just over the hill yonder; tomorrow He will be here, and then — tomorrow. To bring Balthasar up from Egypt, and have him preaching the Spiritual Kingdom, protesting the Master alive because His mission which was founding the kingdom, was as yet unfulfilled and looking for Him tearfully, and with an infinite yearning, might be an effective expedient. Next, He should not be present as an actor in any scene of my creation. The giving a cup of water to Ben-Hur at the well near Nazareth is the only violation of this rule. Finally, when He was come, I would be religiously careful that every word He uttered should be a literal quotation from one of His sainted biographers.
Of the more than seven years given the book, the least part was occupied in actual composition. Research and investigation consumed most of the appropriated time. I had to be so painstaking! The subject was the one known thoroughly by more scholars and thinkers than any other in the wide range of literature…
Nor must it be supposed I wrote day after day continuously. I wanted to; but through the whole period I was a bread-winner. Consequently my book-making hours were such as I could snatch from professional employment. Sometimes Ben-Hur or Simonides or Balthasar would call me imperiously; and there being no other means of pacifying them, I would play truant from court and clients. There are numberless paragraphs in the volume recognizable as having been blocked out on the cars ‘between cities’ or in the waits at lonesome stations…
Of course, most of the writing was done at Crawfordsville, with the night as the favoring time. on summer days, business permitting, the preferred spot was beneath a beech-tree, one of the many of its kind…Its spreading branches droop to the ground, weighed down by their wealth of foliage, and under them I am shut in as by the walls of a towering green tent. How often, while lending me its protection and fragrant coolness, it has been the sole witness of my struggle to whip an obstinate thought into comeliness of expression; and how often, out of respect for me, it has maintained a dignified silence when it might have laughed at my discomfiture. I am under the great gray arms of the same tree at this present writing. The hum of singing things imparts life to the silence; the sunlight freckles the sward, the birds hunt their prey almost to my feet, all as when I wandered with Ben-Hur through the Grove of Daphne.
Everybody has heard of the old palace in Sante Fe, New Mexico. A rambling, one-story adobe structure, with walls in places six feet thick…The second floor from the west end plaza front opens into a spacious passage…Back of the executive office is an extensive room provided with a small window and one interior entrance. The walls were grimy, the undressed boards of the floor rested flat upon the ground; the cedar rafters, rain-stained, and over weighed by tons and tons of mud composing the roof, had a threatening downward curvature. Nevertheless, in that cavernous chamber I wrote the eighth and last book of Ben-Hur. My custom when night came was to lock the doors and bolt the windows of the office proper, and with a student’s lamp, bury myself in the four soundless walls of the forbidding annex.
Once there, at my rough pine table, in the hush of that gloomy harborage, I beheld the Crucifixion, and strove to write what I beheld. The name Ben-Hur was chosen because it is Biblical, and easily spelled, printed and pronounced.
As this article is in the nature of confessions, here is one which the reader may excuse, and at the same time accept as a fitting conclusion: Long before I was through with my book, I became a believer in God and Christ…”
Ben-Hur – what a masterpiece! Lew Wallace – what an American hero!
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