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Catherine Marshall’s “A Man Called Peter”





November 1, 2017

Of our 70 previous book selections, eight have been biographical:

Laurence Bargreen’s Over the Edge of the World

     Richard Henry Dana’s Two Years Before the Mast

     Frank and Ernestine Gilbreth’s Cheaper By the Dozen

     Ralph Moody’s Little Britches

     Slavomir Rawicz’s The Long Walk

     P. R. Reid’s The Colditz Story

     Thoreau’s Walden

     David Wyss’s The Swiss Family Robinson

It’s time for our ninth.

How well I remember the one-two punch of Catherine Marshall’s biography of her minister husband’s life: A Man Called Peter (1951), followed by the profoundly emotive movie in 1955. This 20th Century Fox film featured a stellar cast, including Richard Todd, Jean Peters, Marjorie Rambeau, Jill Esmond, Lee Tremayne, and Robert Burton. It was directed by Henry Koster. It was nominated for a Best Color Cinematography Academy Award.

At the time the book and film came out I was of an age where I was seeking values to live by, thus the book so deeply moved me that it has been a significant part of me ever since.

Marshall, a native of Scotland, emigrated to the U.S. in 1927, literally destitute. But what a meteoric rise he had! Pastoring churches such as Atlanta’s Westminster Presbyterian Church and Washington, D.C.’s prestigious New York Avenue Presbyterian Church (the Church of the Presidents, including Lincoln), and finally his last ministry: Chaplain of the United States Senate.

But it was not for the prestigious pulpits that we remember him today, but for the love story with his wife and biographer. But other reasons are recounted in a McGraw-Hill dust jacket:

It is a record of love and faith that has few equals in real life and is a book which brings alive the magnificent sincerity with which Dr. Marshall brought God into the affairs of men. No intellectualized theologian, Peter Marshall was a dynamic individual who drew many of his ideas for prayers and sermons from his own life and experiences. His approach to life was broad and the enthusiasm that characterized his approach to religion was equally strong in his enjoyment of football and baseball; his irrepressible good humor cropped up as often in his sermons as it did in his vigorous participation in games of all kinds.A collection of his sermons and prayers titled Mr. Jones, Meet the Master was on the best-seller lists continuously for several years. Scenes you will never be able to forget: his providentially falling on the edge of an abyss in fog so thick one more step would have meant death; a church sermon in which Catherine was so love-struck she walked out of the sanctuary, her heels clicking with every step, and Peter staring at her almost in a trance, unable to speak until she passed out of sight; that unforgettable cruise to Scotland, and his introducing his bride to his birth-country; the way youth followed him as though he were himself the Pied Piper; Catherine’s years in bed fighting tuberculosis and the beginning of her personal relationship with her Lord—and so much more. And Peter Marshall’s way too short life, dying at the peak of his career of a heart attack—he was only 46!

This much I can promise you: when you complete the book, you will not be the same person you were when you started.

And if you know of a young person who is searching for answers, for values, for a spiritual mentor, gift that person with a copy of this one-of-a-kind-book.

Do let me know what you think of it.


Continue reading Catherine Marshall’s “A Man Called Peter”

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Jane Porter’s “The Scottish Chiefs”

April 6, 2016


It is a daunting task, late in life, to return to a book you loved in the morning of your life. I grew up devouring entire libraries, consequently most I read I’ve long since forgotten. But not this one. This one I first read when only sixteen.

As I was deciding which of the books I have loved most during my life’s journey, an early spring snowstorm brought Colorado traffic to a near halt; it came in two stages: 33 inches first, then 28 more inches. So why not choose a book I could savor—and just bunker down in it.

So I built a crackling fire in our moss rock fireplace, opened up Scotland-born author Jane Porter’s timeless historical classic; The Scottish Chiefs, sporting stunning full-color illustrations painted by that master of book art, N. C. Wyeth, and stepped back in time to a long-vanished world. Porter lived and wrote from 1776-1850.

Scotland has been much in the news in the last couple of years. Mainly, because there has been a strong movement there to separate itself from England, Wales, and North Ireland, and become completely independent again.

But why, out of all the thousands of books I’ve read in life, would I choose this particular one as our book of the month? Especially an old historical novel, first published in 1810. Furthermore, the setting is much older than that: clear back to 1296-1305.

In no time at all, I lost all track of time as I vicariously reveled in a 700-year-old story about one of the most romantic figures Scotland has ever known, William Wallace.

For this Charles Scribner edition, Kate Douglas Wiggin penned a marvelous introduction; in which she reminisces: “I might have been a child again, hearing my mother’s voice calling me to supper from my nook in the window-seat, while I pleaded, ‘Oh! Only five more minutes, please! Wallace has just rescued Lady Helen and he’s bearing her in his arms over the rushing torrent on a bridge of a single tree!’ . . . . But more than that, “I feel keenly the value of any work of fiction that can awaken in its readers such an ardor of sympathy, such intensity of interest, such a belief in the reality of its characters, such admiration and reverence for their magnificent moments!”

Wiggin notes that the novel was based on prodigious scholarship, keeping in mind that accurate 13th century historical records were sparse indeed. Indeed, printing would not exist until several hundred years later. . . . “If Porter sometimes exaggerated the virtues of the noble Wallace, his achievements never fell upon incredulous years in the days of youth, nor do they now. I heartily believe that Wiggin is right in acclaiming him as “one of the most complete heroes that ever filled the pages of history.”


But as for me in this late-life re-read, I soon realized why the book is still being cherished 200 years after its birth. Even though I knew I wasn’t reading a happily-ever-after or a page-turning whodunit—I simply couldn’t put it down. My soul was inspired once again—something that doesn’t often happen in this jaded world we live in today.

And there are the villains! “Miss Porter had a rare knack at creating villains, and Soulis, DeValence, Hesselrigge, Cressingham, and Monteith are certainly an unequaled quintet. . . . And the Lady Mar, fair Helen’s stepmother, seemed to my youthful mind in every way more malignant than Lady Macbeth.”

I also agree with Wiggin in her contention that “the world has always needed heroes and it needs them sadly now, for the greatest good a hero does to the race is to be a hero and thereby inspire others to heroic living.”

The book is not only timeless, it will be reveled in by all generations. One of our age’s major misconceptions is that one-size-fits-all for each age-group. My mother never made that mistake with her three children: she gave us room to soar, to stretch the mind, to grapple with the deep thoughts of life—even the infinite—or, in Browning’s Andrea del Sarto persona,

“A man’s reach should exceed his grasp—
Else what’s a heaven for?”

In conclusion, if you read only this one book in the entire year, and returned to Porter’s well again and again, you’d still feel immeasurably blessed and stretched by the experience.

Be sure and seek out an unabridged copy (a little over 500 pages). And do splurge on one of those stunning N.C. Wyeth-illustrated hardbacks. And take your time—and do let me know if it touches your heart as much as it does mine.

Later this year, for a special birthday celebration, we plan to pay a visit to Scotland ourselves.