Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
May 1, 1958

J. D. Tant -- Texas Preacher


Writing a biography is fascinating business. Especially .so when the subject of the work happens to be one's own father. For the past five months now I have been working, almost literally night and day, on the story of my father's life. For four of those months the Gospel Guardian has been edited by Charles A. Holt. He has done this work wholly without pay, and that he has done it in an outstanding way is known to all who read the journal. Without his generous and unselfish help the story of J. D. Tant would not have been written. It simply could not have been. If there shall be any value to this book, if it shall bring inspiration and courage to those who read, or smiles or tears, let it be remembered that both the author and his readers will be forever indebted to Brother Holt for making it possible for the Guardian's editor to be free to devote all his time and energies to producing the book.

My father was a colorful man and he lived in a colorful age. My problem is not one of a dearth of material at all, but rather an embarrassment by the very abundance of material. It has been my task to select, to choose, to epitomize and condense, to try to get the flavor of the man and his life from typical scenes, events, letters, articles, anecdotes, legends, travels, and all the multitudinous materials with which a biographer works.

The main research has been completed, and the first draft of the book has been written — some 170,000 words of it. I have now gone through this material for a second writing of the story, checking all references, adding a bit here, deleting a bit there, trying to weave the whole together into a clear and lucid narrative. There is a difference between the historian, the novelist, and the biographer. The historian is interested in events, action; the novelist is interested in human feelings, in thoughts and motives, in short, in "reaction;" the biographer tries to blend the two fields into a harmonious whole. He must stick strictly to facts as the true historian does; but at the same time he must try to understand, to interpret, to sympathize with the feelings and emotions of his characters as the novelist does. But he has not the liberty of the novelist to invent, to assign motives, thoughts, and even words to his characters. He must let them speak for themselves. Their feelings and reactions to the world and events about them must he set forth and revealed by their own words and behavior rather than by what the biographer himself might say or think about them.

The story of J. D. Tant as told by me, his son, may not be at all interesting to anybody else. I simply cannot know. But the writing of the story has been one of the most interesting — and rewarding — tasks of my life. I think I have come to know my father better, to understand him more fully, than was ever the case when I walked and talked with him. I have discovered both weaknesses and strengths in him of which I never knew. As I have ridden beside him through the long, lonely nights as he pushed his Texas pony to the limit to reach some preaching appointment, or as he wept in agony at the death of a son when he was hundreds of miles away from home (a brother whom I never knew), or as he felt the stinging humiliation of being rejected by a girl to whom he had proposed marriage after the death of his first wife, I have found sacrificial attitudes, nobility of character, and courage beyond anything I ever dreamed of when he was alive. And along with it I have found instances of stubbornness, rash and impulsive decisions, and a blindness to his own shortcomings that even at this late date makes me cringe. The writing of the story has been a deeply emotional experience. More than once I have felt scalding tears on my cheeks as I tried to put words to paper; and even more often than that I have had to stop from sheer inability to control my laughter at some of my father's stories and expressions.

I shall call the book "J. D. Taut — Texas Preacher," for that is what he was; and that is what he called himself. As I have read his articles, his letters, and the huge stack of papers which he left, I have been filled with an unutterable sense of regret that I did not know him better when he lived. I was only sixteen years of age when I left home, and was thirty-two years old when my father died. But in the last sixteen years of his life I would guess we were not together more than a score of times, and often only for a few hours, or at most a few days, on those occasions.

I have never known a man, either in real life or in literature, who had a greater singleness of purpose than J. D. Tant. He was a gospel preacher, first, last, and all the time. His own personal fortunes and comfort, his health, his family, his friendships, his prestige and popularity — everything else in life took second place to this one great task. His courting (I have nearly half a hundred love letters he wrote to my mother, Nannie Yater, before they were married) had to be sandwiched in between meetings and debates; the death of his son (at that time an only son) was not sufficient cause for interrupting a gospel meeting when many were being led to the truth; the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" brought him to the very brink of poverty and starvation, but broke his spirit not at all. He had a job to do; he gave his life to the doing of it.

And through it all he retained such a zest for living, such pure unbounded pleasure in simply being alive and kicking that his huge enjoyment was contagious. Life in his presence might be hard and exacting, and at times terrifying, but it was never dull! I have caught myself laughing far more often than weeping as I have lived again with him the events of nearly four-score years. Life to him was a solemn and serious business — with a hilarious undercurrent that was always right on the verge of taking over.

I am now in the third and final writing of the story. This is the manuscript (unless I change my mind) that will go to the printer. I hope to turn it over to him in July. If so, the book ought to be ready for delivery in late September or October. It will be about 350 pages in size, and will have perhaps twelve pages of pictures in it. Probably one-third of the book will be direct quotations from Tant's own writings — excerpts from letters, sermons, articles, and unpublished manuscripts. I'm sorry I can't use all the stories and materials I have, but I've tried to use enough to make the man live in the reader's mind.

Honestly, I don't know whether you'll enjoy this book or not. I have enjoyed writing it, of course; but it is notorious that an author is the poorest judge in the world of his own work. All I can suggest is that you buy a copy and see if you like it! (See advertisement on the back page.)

— F. Y. T.