Happy birthday, Lew Wallace
Lewis Wallace (April 10, 1827 – February 15, 1905) was an American lawyer, Union General in the Civil War, territorial governor and statesman, politician, and author. Wallace served as governor of the New Mexico Territory at the time of the Lincoln County War. He put the squeeze on Billy the Kid!
To me, he is a fine example of the classic American male: soldier, statesman, spiritual guy, and author of a best-selling novel! And he was from Indiana. And he wrote this:
“Men speak of dreaming as if it were a phenomenon of night and sleep. They should know better. All results achieved by us are self-promised, and all self-promises are made in dreams awake. Dreaming is the relief of labor,the wine that sustains us in act. We learn to love labor, not for itself, but for the opportunity it furnishes for dreaming, which is the great under-monotone of real life, unheard, unnoticed, because of its constancy. Living is dreaming. Only in the graves are there no dreams.”
Wallace started writing after the war, and while serving as governor, he completed his second novel. This one made him famous–Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1880). It became the best-selling American novel of the 19th century, surpassing Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The book has never been out of print and has been adapted for film four times.
In his autobiography he recounted a life-changing journey and conversation in 1875 with Colonel Robert G. Ingersoll, whom he met on a train. During the journey Ingersoll, a well-known agnostic, quizzed Wallace about the history and ideas of Christ. Wallace realized during the conversation how little he knew about Christianity. He wrote, “I was ashamed of myself, and make haste now to declare that the mortification of pride I then endured…ended in a resolution to study the whole matter.” Writing about Christianity helped him become clear about his own ideas and beliefs. Wallace developed the novel Ben-Hur from his studies. The historian Victor Davis Hanson has argued that the novel drew from Wallace’s life, particularly his experiences at Shiloh, and the damage it did to his reputation. The book’s main character, Judah Ben-Hur, accidentally causes injury to a high-ranking commander, for which he and his family suffer tribulations and calumny. He first seeks revenge and then redemption. (Wallace may have felt bitterly toward U.S. Grant, but I hardly think he modeled the character of Messala after him.) Well, Wallace may have worked through a few personal issues, but writing can do that.
After Wallace retired home to Indiana, he built himself a wonderful writing study. (I want one too!)
His home in Crawfordsville, Indiana is on my bucket list of places I want to visit. I have been to Crawfordsville (known as the “Athens of Indiana”) and to Wabash College, but I have not been to his home (yet).
Wallace also liked to write under his favorite tree, known fondly as “the Ben-Hur Beech”.
I am with you, Lew!
“I know what I should love to do – to build a study; to write, and to think of nothing else. I want to bury myself in a den of books. I want to saturate myself with the elements of which they are made, and breathe their atmosphere until I am of it. Not a bookworm, being which is to give off no utterances; but a man in the world of writing – one with a pen that shall stop men to listen to it, whether they wish to or not.”
― Lew Wallace
By the way, it is that time of year again–almost time to watch the 1959 version of Ben-Hur! I can’t wait! But I will wait for daughter #1 to come home and watch it with me Easter weekend!