from Gerry Chudleigh: This brief biography of Harold Bell Wright by Elsbery
Reynolds was first published as a 17-page booklet in 1916 when Wright’s, When
A Man’s A Man, was published. It
was later reprinted with an additional 3 pages of photos.
In 1919 it was included as an appendix in the back of Wright’s, The
Recreation of Brian Kent. Like
all other writings published before 1923, it is now in the Public Domain.
The following is copied from the back of The Recreation of Brian Kent.]
[from appendix of The Recreation of Brian Kent]:
This biographical sketch of Harold Bell Wright will give the reader a knowledge
and understanding of the life work, aims and purposes of the author as expressed
through his books. It is reprinted on these pages in response to popular
biography of a man is of importance and interest to other men just to the degree
that his life and work touches and influences the life of his time and the lives
in a feeble way, at best, can the life story of any man be told on the printed
page. The story is better as it is written on the hearts of men and women and
the man himself does the writing.
lives longest who lives best. He who carves deepest against corroding time is he
who touches with surest hand the greatest number of human hearts.
may or may not be a prodigy of physical strength. He may or may not be a tower
of mental energy. But so long as this old world stands the man with an
overpowering desire for all that is best for the race to be in the race, whose
life is in tune with the divine and with the good that is within us all, whether
he be orator, writer, artist or artisan, is a giant among men.
which we read makes a deeper and more lasting impression on our lives than that
which we see or hear. An author with millions of readers must be a great central
power of thought and influence, at least, in his own day and generation. We can
understand the truth of this through a study of the aims and life purposes of
Harold Bell Wright as expressed through his books and the circumstances under
which they were written.
wonderful popularity of this author is well estimated by the millions of copies
of his books that have been sold. This is also the greatest testimonial that can
be given to the merit of his work. The great heart of the reading public is an
unprejudiced critic. "Is not the greatest voice the one to which the
greatest number of hearts listen with pleasure?"
a man has attained to great eminence under adverse circumstances we sometimes
wonder to what heights he might have climbed under conditions more favorable.
Who can tell? It is just as easy to say what the young man of twenty will be
when a matured man of forty. The boy of poverty makes a man of power while the
boy nursed in the lap of luxury makes a man of uneventful life, and, again, a
life started with a handicap remains so through its possible tree score years
and ten and the life begun with advantages multiplies its talents ten and a
after all, is not the heart of man the real man and is it not the guiding star
of his ambition, his will, his determination, his conscience?
Bell Wright, the second of four sons, was born May 4, 1872, in Rome, Oneida
County, New York. From an earlier biographer we quote the following:
essential facts must be dug from out the past where they lie embedded in the
detrital chronicles of the race. Say, then, that away back in 1640 a ship load
of Anglo-Saxon freedom landed in New England. After a brief period some of the
more venturesome spirits emigrated to the far west and settled amid the
undulations of the Mohawk valley in central New York. Protestant France also
sent westward some Gallic chivalry hungering for freedom. The fringe of this
garment of civilization spread out and reached also into the same valley.
English determination and Huguenot aspiration touched elbows in the war for
political and religious freedom, and touched hearts and hands in the struggle
for economic freedom. Their generations were a genuine aristocracy. Mutual
struggles after mutual aims cemented casual acquaintance into enduring
friendship. William Wright met, loved and married Alma T. Watson. To them four
sons were born. A carpenter contractor, a man who builds, contrives and
constructs, is joined to a woman into whose soul of wholesome refinement come
images of dainty beauty, where they glow and grow radiant. With lavish
unrestraint the life of this French woman pours itself into her sons. The third
child died in infancy. The eldest survived his mother by some thirteen years.
The youngest is a constructive mechanical engineer. The second son is Harold
ten years this mother and this son live in rare intimacy. The boy's first
enduring impression of this life is the vision of the mother bending
affectionately over him while criticising the water color sketch his unpracticed
fingers had just made. Crude blendings and faulty lines were pointed out, then
touched into harmony and more accurate perspective by her quick skill. Together
their eyes watched shades dance on sunny slopes, cloud shadows race among the
hills or lie lazily in the valley below.
Nature and ebullient boy loved each other from the first. Alone, enravished, he
often wandered far in sheer joy of living. He brings, one day, from his rambles
a bunch of immortelles which mother graciously receives. Twenty years later the
boy, man-grown, bows reverently over a box of withered flowers--the same bouquet
the mother took that day and laid away as a precious memento of his boyish love.
Such was the first decade.
ten-year-old boy, motherless, steals from harsh labor and yet harsher
surroundings, runs to the home of sacred memories, clambers to the attic, and
spends the night in anguished solitude. This was his first Gethsemane. For ten
years buffeted and beaten, battling with adversity, sometimes losing but never
lost, snatching learning here and there, hating sham, loving passionately,
misunderstood, misapprehended, too stubbornly proud to ask apologies or make
useless explanations, fighting poverty in the depths of privation wrestling
existence from toil he loathed, befriending many and also befriended much, but
always face to face with the grim tragedy which has held part of the stage since
was the second decade. The first was spent on hill sides where shadows only made
the light more buoyant as they fled
The second was passed in the valley where the shadow hung lazily till the cloud
grew very black and drenched the soil.
to college, he undertook to acquire academic culture. As is well known, college
life with its professorial anecdotes and jokes, its student pranks and grind, is
routine drudgery and cobwebbery prose. Bookish professors and conventional
students rarely have just such an animate problem of French artistry and
Bohemian experience to solve. They did nobly, to be sure, but here was a mind
which threw over them all the glamour of romance."
Wright entered the Preparatory Department of Hiram College at the age of twenty,
having previously accepted the faith and. identified himself with the Christian
Church in the little quarry town of Grafton, Ohio. He continued active in the
different departments of work in his church all during his school years with the
ultimate result of his entering the ministry.
no financial means, while in school he made his way by doing odd jobs about
town, house painting and decorating, sketching, etc. After two years of school
life, while laboring to gain funds in order that he might continue his
schooling, he contracted from overwork and out-door exposure a severe case of
pneumonia that left his eyesight badly impaired and his constitution in such
condition that, to the present day, he has never fully recovered.
castles were tumbled and hopes blasted when his physician advised him that it
would be fatal to re-enter school for, at least, another year. Whereupon,
seeking health and a means of existence, starting from a point on the Mahoning
river, he canoed with sketch and note book, but alone, down stream a distance of
more than five hundred miles. From this point, by train, he embarked for the
Ozark mountains in southwest Missouri. Here, for some months, while gradually
regaining his strength, he secured employment at farm work sketching and
painting at intervals.
more, he found himself on bed-rock, taking his last cent to pay express charges
back to Ohio on some finished pictures, but, this time, fortune smiled promptly
with a good check by return mail.
was while in the Ozarks that Harold Bell Wright preached his first sermon. Being
a regular attendant at the services, held in the little mountain log school
house, he was asked to talk to the people, one Sunday, when the regular preacher
had failed to appear.
this Sunday morning talk, that could hardly be called a sermon, and others that
followed, he came to feel that he could do more good in the ministry than he
could in any other field of labor, and soon thereafter accepted a regular
pastorate at Pierce City, ,Missouri, at a yearly salary of four hundred dollars.
True to a resolve, that his work should be that through which he could help the
most people, he had now chosen the ministry. A further resolve that he would
give up this ministry, chosen with such earnest conviction, should another field
of labor offer more extensive measures for reaching mankind, took him, m later
years, into the field of literature. He left the ministry with many regrets but
with the same earnest conviction with which he had earlier chosen it.
the publication of "The Shepherd of the Hills" his Publishers assured
him that he could secure greater results from his pen rather than his pulpit and
prevailed upon him to henceforth make literature his life work. This was in
every way consistent with his teaching that every man's ministry is that work
through which he can accomplish the greatest good.
the battle of life there is always the higher ground that the many covet but few
attain. In reaching this height Mr. Wright has given to a multitude, his time,
strength and substance, that they, too, might further advance. He is
companionable, loving and loyal to his friends. He hates sham and hypocrisy and
any attempt to glorify one's self by means other than the fruits of one's own
boy, who from the death of his mother, was driven into a hand to hand struggle
with life for a bare existence, was necessarily forced into contact with much
that was vicious and corrupt. But he in no way became a part of it. That same
inherent love for mental cleanliness and spiritual truths that has so
distinguished the works of the man kept the boy unstained m his unfortunate
Wright resigned his charge at Pierce City for the larger work at Pittsburg,
Kansas. In the second year of his pastorate1899--he married Frances E. Long in
Buffalo, New York. This union of love had its beginning back in the school days
at Hiram. Unto them have been born three sons, Gilbert Munger, 1901, Paul
Williams, 1902, and Norman Hall, 1910.
Pittsburg, Mr. Wright received enthusiastic support from his church people.
Finances were soon in a satisfactory condition, and church attendance reached
the capacity of the building, but still the young pastor was not satisfied.
Pittsburg was a mining town, a young men's town. A little city with saloons and
brothels doing business on every hand. His soul was on fire for his church to do
a larger work and, with the hope of arousing his people, he conceived the idea
of writing "That Printer of Udell's," planning to read the story, by
installments, on special evenings of successive weeks, to his congregation.
was made the principal scene and the church of the story was the kind of church
he wanted his Pittsburg charge to be. The teachings set forth, through the
preacher of the story, in the latter half of the book, are the identical things
the author was preaching. The first chapters of the story are very largely
colored by Mr. Wright's early life, but they are by no means autobiographical.
Printer of Udell's" was written without thought or intention of offering it
for publication. During the author's ministry he made some of the warmest and
most abiding friendships of his life, and it was through certain of these
friends that he was persuaded from reading the story, as intended, but to offer
it for publication, giving it thus, a wider usefulness.
a leave of absence of several weeks from his church during the winter of 1901-2
he accepted an invitation from the pastor of a Chicago church to hold a special
meeting, and it was during this meeting that the author and his publisher met
time. Mr. Wright delivered a sermon entitled "Sculptors of Life" that
was so impressive that I sought him out with entreaties to repeat his sermon as
a lecture to a certain company of young people.
acquaintance thus begun very quickly became one of friendship, without any
knowledge or thought that it would in time lead to a co-operative life work, and
when the author later offered his book for publication it was without request or
thought of financial remuneration. Mr. Wright, however, was given a contract
paying him the highest royalty that was being paid for any author's first book.
Printer of Udell's" was written almost entirely in the late hours of the
night and the very early hours of the morning. Great demands were being made on
the author's time in the way of requests for officiating and speaking at public
and civic functions in addition to the now heavy requirements of his church. His
aggressive activities, backed by his splendid spirit, fearlessness and courage
in combating the evils of his little city made for him a host of admirers,
alike, among his enemies and friends. When he left to accept a pastorate in
Kansas City, Missouri, his resignation was not accepted.
one year in Kansas City he found that he was not physically able to carry out
the great city work as he had dreamed it and planned it, on a scale that would
satisfy his longings for service, and it made him seriously consider whether
there was not some other way that would more equally measure with his strength.
He went again to the Ozarks, this time for rest and meditation, and while there
began writing "The Shepherd of the Hills:" This story has a peculiar
significance for the author. He feels toward it as he can not feel for any of
his other books. "The Shepherd of the Hills" was written as a test.
The strength of the message he was able to put into the story and the response
it should find in the hearts of men and women was to decide for him his ministry
henceforth, whether he would teach the precepts of the Man of Galilee by voice
or pen. It was a testing time that bore fruit not only in this simple, sweet
story, that to quote an eminent divine, "is one of the greatest sermons of
our day," but resulted as well in the splendid volumes that have followed.
Shepherd of the Hills" was finished during the year of his pastorate at
Lebanon, Missouri, and but for the sympathy, encouragement and helpful
understanding of his church officers and membership, it is doubtful if the story
could ever have been completed. When Mr. Wright delivered the manuscript to his
publishers the first of the year, 1907, for publication the next fall, he had
accepted the pastorate of the Christian Church in Redlands, California, hoping
this land of sunshine would give him a larger measure of health.
months later, resigning his Redlands pastorate, he went to the Imperial Valley
and there, the following year, wrote "The Calling of Dan Matthews."
The church and its problems were weighing on the author and affecting his life
no less than when he was in the ministry and it was only natural that he should
give to the world "a picture that is true to the four corners of the
earth." Every incident in the story has its counterpart in real life and,
but few exceptions, came under the author's personal observation. He did not get
the real pleasure out of writing "The Calling of Dan Matthews" that he
did the story which preceded it. But he could not, try as he would, escape it.
publication of "The Calling of Dan Matthews" in the fall of 1909 was
just two years after the publication of "The Shepherd of the Hills."
Winning of Barbara Worth" required more time and effort in the collecting
of material than any book the author had written, but probably gave him, at
least, as much pleasure. He is very careful with regard to descriptive detail,
and even while writing "The Calling of Dan Matthews" he was making a
study of the desert and this great reclamation project. Before sending his
manuscript for publication he had it checked over by the best engineers on the
Pacific coast for inaccuracies in any of his descriptions that involved
engineering or reclamation problems.
Winning of Barbara Worth" bears the distinction, without doubt, of being
the only book ever published that called its publisher and illustrator from a
distance of two and three thousand miles, into the heart of a great desert, for
a consultation with its author. This story of the Imperial Valley and its
reclamation was written in the same study as was "The Calling of Dan
Matthews." A study of rude construction, about eighteen by thirty-five
feet, with thatched roof and outside covering of native arrow-weed and built
entirely by the author himself.
Mr. Wright finished "The Winning of Barbara Worth” --so named in honor of
Ruth Barbara Reynolds--he was a sick man. He often worked the night through,
overtaxing his nerve and strength. For several months he virtually dwelt within
the four walls of his study and for a time it was feared he would not live to
finish the book. He wrote the last chapters while confined to his bed, after
which he was taken by easy stages, through the kindness of friends, to that part
of Northern Arizona that is so delightful to all lovers of the out-of-doors. In
this bracing mile-high atmosphere he soon grew well and strong, almost to
ruggedness, and on the day his book was published he was riding in a wild horse
chase over a country wild and rough where the writer of this sketch would only
care to go, carefully picking his way, on foot. So it was weeks after
publication before the author saw the first bound copy of his book. During these
summer and fall months, while regaining his strength, he was busy with sketch
and note book collecting material, for this part of Arizona is the scene of his
novel "When a Man's a Man."
Yesterdays" was written in Tucson, Arizona, and was published in the fall
of 1912 just one year after the publication of "The Winning of Barbara
Worth." In order to write this story, with the least possible strain
on his nerves and vitality, Mr. Wright secluded himself in a little cottage
purchased especially for this work. His material was collected from the
observations of his thoughtful years and his intimate knowledge of human hearts.
This book is, perhaps, more representative of the real Harold Bell Wright than
anything he has done. It is the true presentation of his views on life, love and
religion. I once asked Mr. Wright; in behalf of the faculty, to deliver an
address to a graduating
of some twenty-odd young men of the Morgan Park Academy (Chicago). He was very
busy and I suggested that without special effort he make the commonplace remarks
that one so often hears on like occasions. For the first time that I remember he
somewhat impatiently resented a suggestion from me, saying, "These young
men are on the threshold of life and the very best that is within me is due to
them. I can give to them only such a message as I would, were I to stand before
judgment on the morrow." It was with just this spirit that the author wrote
"Their Yesterdays" the next book in order of publication was "The
Eyes of the World," published in the fall of 1914. It was written in the
same arrow-weed study on Tecolote Rancho in the Imperial Valley where he wrote
"The Calling of Dan Matthews" and "The Winning of Barbara
Worth." Being fully in sympathy with the author's purpose in writing this
story, the campaign of advertising was of such educational character and so
eventful in many ways, that it will long be remembered by authors, publishers
and reading public, and, we trust, make for cleaner books and pictures.
it was in the writing of "The Calling of Dan Matthews" so it was in
the writing of "The Eyes of the World," the sense of duty stood
highest. The modern trend in books and music and art and drama had so incensed
the author that "The Eyes of the World" was the result of his all
impelling desire for cleaner living and thinking. As is true of all writers,
there are sometimes those who fail to catch the message in Mr. Wright's books.
He is occasionally misunderstood, and that was especially true with "The
Eyes of the World:" To the great majority of people, clean living and
thinking, the message was not to be misinterpreted and to them the book is
blessed. To that small minority it was convicting and, from a few such, it
brought forth condemnation which, in a fellow author here and there, was
pronounced and emphasized by envy and jealousy. To critics of this class Mr.
Wright makes no reply and is not in the least disturbed.
Uncrowned King," a small volume--an allegory--published in 1910, to me, is
one of the most delightful of Mr. Wright's books. Possibly, it has an added
charm because of certain peculiar conditions. It was written in Redlands,
California, during the winter of 1909-10, although the notion for the little
volume occurred to the author while living in Kansas City. It was one of those
times when the longing and will to do a work greater than the physical would
permit seemed almost overpowering when, unconsciously coming to his aid, a young
woman talking to a company of Christian Endeavorers chanced to remark,
"After all, the real kings of earth are seldom crowned." All through
the evening service thoughts that this inspired kept running through the
author's mind and late that same night he wrote the outline which was only
completed some years later and given to his publishers to enrich the world.
first four novels in order of publication have been dramatized and enjoyed by
thousands from before the footlights and it has been a delight to renew
acquaintances with old friends in this way. It remained for "The Eyes of
the World" to be the first
his books to be presented in a feature production of motion pictures.
likes and dislikes of Harold Bell Wright are quite pronounced. He is
unpretending, cares not for the lime-light and avoids interviews for the public
press. Loud, boisterous conversation is but little less offensive to him than
vulgarity in speech or action. His friends are strong, clean-minded men who are
doing things in the world and are as necessary to his being as the air to his
existence, and his generosity to them is no less marked than his caring and
providing for his family, which is almost a passion. He is extremely fond of
most forms of out-door life. The desert with its vast expanse, fierce solitude
and varied colors is no less attractive to him than the peaceful quiet of wooded
dells, the beauty of flowering meadows or the rugged mountains with their
roaring trout streams that furnish him hours of sport with rod and line. He
enjoys hunting, horse-back riding or long tramps afoot. But when there is work
to be done it is the one thing that bulks largest and all else must wait.
finishing "The Eyes of the World," Mr. Wright embarked on the building
of a home in the Santa Monica mountains near Hollywood, California. So in the
summer of 1915 the little family of five began making their residence in the new
canyon home, one of nature's delightful spots.
again, the author went into camp in the Arizona desert while writing "When
a Man's a Man:" For he finds it very helpful to live in the atmosphere of
his story while doing the actual writing and he also avoids frequent
interruption. I think he got more real enjoyment out of this story than any he
has previously done. It is a story of the out-of-doors in this great unfenced
land where a man must be a man. I suppose, too, he enjoyed writing this work so
much partly, because it comes so easy for him to just tell a story without the
intervention of some nerve racking problem. The only book he has heretofore
written that is purely a story is "The Shepherd of the Hills," and I
sometimes wonder to what proportion of his readers does this Ozark story hold
first place. For all such, I am sure, "When a Man's a Man" will find a
reception of special heartiness because it is just a fine, big, wholesome novel
of simple sweetness and virile strength.
have written this sketch of Harold Bell Wright that you may know him as
intimately, if possible, as if you had met him in person. But should you have
the opportunity of making his acquaintance do not deny yourself the pleasure. If
you are a lover of his books I am sure you are just the kind of person that the
author himself delights to meet.
Heights," February 15, 1916.
to Harold Bell Wright Biographical Pamphlets