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  Interview  
 
Interview with an author
There have been written many books about William and Catherine Booth, the founders of The Salvation Army. The contemporary biography "The General: William Booth" (2 vols) was written by David Bennett. He also edited and published "The Letters of William and Catherine Booth" and "The Diary and Reminiscences of Catherine Booth".
David Malcolm Bennett was born in London during the Second World War. His family attended a Methodist Church that was very near Chalk Farm Salvation Army Citadel. He came to Australia with his Australian-born wife and two children in 1973. He has been in the book trade since 1958, mainly as a bookseller, but also as a writer and publisher. He has been writing seriously since 1985. His books include "The Altar Call: Its Origins and Modern Usage", "The Funny Side of Church", "Why Left Behind Should Be Left Behind" and several other books.
He is a member of Creek Road Presbyterian Church in Brisbane.


David Bennett
1. David, you are not a member of the Salvation Army, what motivated you to research this theme and to write two books about William Booth?
In actual fact I am a Presbyterian, but I was brought up in a Methodist family. My local Methodist Church in London when I was a child was very near Chalk Farm Salvation Army, which had a great brass band, so I was aware of and impressed by The Salvation Army from my childhood. When I was a young man I read St John Ervine's wonderful two volume biography of William Booth, "God's Soldier". It captivated me. I was deeply impressed by the life of William Booth. He was a man dedicated to God and humanity. I was also intrigued by his astonishing family and the wonderful array of characters he assembled around him. My book "The General: William Booth" was written with the hope that I would do for my generation what St. John Ervine did for his.
2. How did you find your source? Did you also contact members of the Booth family?
There are many books on William and Catherine Booth and the early days of The Salvation Army, so the source material is plentiful. I had quite a number of these in my own library and was able to borrow others from friends. I also acquired other documents and information from Army Heritage Centres in England and Australia. I also had contact with Col. Yan Bramwell Booth in England, a great-grandson of William and Catherine. He was very helpful.
3. What are in your point of view the most important aspects regarding the books by William and Catherine Booth. How can we put these into action in our today's world?
There is no doubt that the Bible makes it very clear that we are to care about (to use William Booth's language) people's "souls". In other words, we must bring people to salvation in Jesus Christ. But the Bible also clearly teaches that we are to minister in other ways to those who suffer and are in need. The Salvation Army, taking the Booths as examples, brings those two elements together in a wonderful way. I think this two-pronged aspect of the Booths' ministry, followed by the Army, is a wonderful form of Christianity. There is, however, always the danger that the social work of the Army may push the evangelistic into the background, and this needs to be avoided. I have also been impressed by the international aspect of the Army. In the early days both William and Catherine regarded their mission field as Britain only. But it soon became clear that the Army could and should spread its wings overseas. From this The Salvation Army has become a truly international mission.

4. You edited and published also the letters William & Catherine Booth wrote to each other during many years (1852 - 1890). I imagine this book involved a lot of research. What particularly interested you about the letters that made you do this tremendous work?
Transcribing and editing the Letters did not require a great deal of research as such. However, the letters were not always dated, so I had to work out when they were written and how the different letters fitted together. This required some research. There were two main difficulties with transcribing the letters. The first was that I did this mainly from microfilm. Transcribing material from handwritten letters on microfilm is very hard and demanding work, particularly as some of the writing was difficult to read, and also because there were hundreds of microfilm frames to read. The other difficulty was relating what was on the microfilm to parts of the letters recorded in the major biographies. Many of the originals of the letters have been lost (so were not on the microfilm), and the only record of these comes in those biographies, but usually only in fragments and undated. The main reason I transcribed the Letters was to aid me in writing "The General: William Booth", but I soon realized that it would also assist other researchers so I decided to publish it too.

Catherine & William Booth
5. Letters are very private things. How did you get hold of these letters?
Yes, letters usually are private and I did have some early misgivings about publishing them, even reading them. However, there were two reasons I continued. First, many of the letters had been previously published in the biographies. Secondly, they are such a treasure they demand to be shared with the world. I purchased the letters on microfilm from the British Library. I published them with the permission of the British Library, the International Headquarters of The Salvation Army and Col. Yan Bramwell Booth, who, as far as I am aware, is the senior living member of the Booth family.
6. David, how would you describe the love affair between William and Catherine in the early stage? And how did it change during their long marriage?
William Booth became engaged to Catherine Mumford only a few months after they first met. Their letters began just before that engagement. The early letters make it very clear that they were very much in love. However, they also show that Catherine and William had plenty of disagreements. True love does not always flow smoothly. Their later letters demonstrate that in the last few years of Catherine's life their love was still very deep. It had, no doubt, changed and matured, but it had not declined. I once described the Booths' love affair as "An eternal triangle that worked". The third person was the Lord. They loved each other and they both loved God, and God deepened and motivated their relationship.
7. After reading these private letters between Catherine and William, what impression do you have of them?
In some respects I found the message of the letters overwhelming.
William and Catherine Booth were both Christian leaders of considerable stature. They were both great and influential figures. I know of no other Christian couple in the history of the Church of whom one could say that. It is sometimes asked which of the two was the greatest. It is probably an impossible question to answer.
William was a better leader, a real General. He was a dynamic figure, who had a great impact upon all those he met. He was described by one who knew him well as "a force".
Catherine was a deeper thinker, who undoubtedly was the major influence upon The Salvation Army in its use of women in ministry. However, some seem to think that Catherine was the boss. After having read all their letters and much else by and about them I am convinced that that is not true.

The General:
William Booth
written by David Bennett
8. Have you been contacted often regarding this subject since you have written the books?
Yes. Probably more accurately, I have been contacted fairly often. I suppose I must know the letters better than anyone still living, and so I have a thorough and unique knowledge of a major source of information about the Booths, which makes my views of interest. I am asked to speak occasionally at Salvation Army functions, and I am also asked to check articles about the Booths for historical accuracy. I am happy to help in these ways.
Thank you very much for this interesting interview.
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