Lewis Wallace, Army General, Evangelical Novelist
[February 15, 1905]
O Almighty God, who inspired thy servant Lewis to write the novel Ben Hurr, and thus help bring the Gospel story to men and draw them to thy Kingdom, grant that we might likewise confess and witness our faith before all men. We ask this for the sake of Jesus Christ, in whom all our intercessions are acceptable through the Spirit, and who liveth and reigneth for ever and ever. Amen.
Lewis "Lew" Wallace, the Militant Romantic, was born on April 10, 1827. As the son of the Governor of Indiana, and great-great nephew of the American Revolutionary War hero John Paul Jones, he had a heritage of Christian soldiers and statesmen in his family line. His Uncle was a Major in the Army and his father a Colonel of Militia.
Lieutenant Wallace raised a company for the Mexican American War, but did not see action. In 1861 he raised a regiment of volunteers at the beginning of the American War Between the States. He distinguished himself and was promoted to the rank of Major General. He was known as the "Savior of Cincinnati" for his defense of that city, and many would credit him for saving Washington DC, and perhaps the Union, with his delaying actions at the Monocacy River north of the city when it was threatened by a major Confederate force. After the war, Wallace facilitated the Mexican Revolution, and then was appointed Governor of the New Mexico Territory. After that he was Ambassador to Turkey.
Wallace became know throughout the world, however, for his Christian novel "Ben Hurr" He had been interested in writing from youth. At age 15 he wrote a novel about chivalry in the Crusades. After the war while on a train trip, he had a discussion with an agnostic who questioned his faith. In response, he began a study of the ancient Jews. He determined to write a novel to penetrate the mysteries of the Nativity, Magi, and life of Christ.
On November 12, 1880, while Governor of New Mexico Territory, he submitted his novel "Ben Hurr" to publishers and to his dying day considered it his most important achievement. The success of the novel was remarkable. In 1893 it received a rating of 83% for popularity by libraries. By the end of the decade, with sales of 400,000, it was a standard in schools. It was the most illustrated novel ever published with almost 1,000 illustrations. It was indorsed by Christian around the world, and for many Protestant Evangelical homes, Ben Hurr was the first novel to be allowed in the household. Sears and Roebuck ordered one million copies in 1933. It has been translated into many languages. It had a dramatic influence on The Rev Lloyd C Douglas who wrote the Robe in 1942, which became the second best-selling Christian novel. The book has never been out of print. It has been performed on the stage and screen, and is a perennial favorite. Wallace died on February 15, 1905.
The Rev. Mark Carroll, OC, 2005