Sidney Lanier HTML version

College Days
January 6, 1857, Lanier entered the sophomore class in Oglethorpe University, situated at
Midway, Ga. -- two miles from Milledgeville, which was then the capital of the State. It
would be difficult to imagine a greater contrast than that between the sleepy town of
Milledgeville and progressive Macon, or between Oglethorpe and the better colleges of
the South at the present time. The essentially primitive life of the college is seen in an act
which was passed by the legislature making it unlawful for any person to "establish,
keep, or maintain any store or shop of any description for vending any species of
merchandise, groceries or confectioneries within a mile and a half of the University." It
was a denominational college established by the Presbyterian Church, and belonged to
the synods of South Carolina and Georgia. Like many other denominational colleges
throughout the South, it arose in response to a demand that attention should be given in
education to the cultivation of a strong religious faith in the minds of students. The older
State universities were supposed to be dominated by the aristocratic class and by political
parties, and there was a tendency in them towards a more liberal view of religion than
comported with an orthodox faith. The origin of the denominational colleges was similar
to that of Princeton and the smaller colleges of New England. Many of them, with small
endowments and a small number of men in the faculty, did much to foster intellectual as
well as spiritual growth; their place in the history of Southern life has not been fully
appreciated. Before the public-school system of later days was established, they did much
to educate the masses of the people.
Oglethorpe, at the time when Lanier became a student, was presided over by Rev. Samuel
K. Talmage, originally of New Jersey, a graduate of Princeton and a tutor there for three
years. He was a warm personal friend of Alexander H. Stephens, and was known
throughout Georgia as a preacher of much power, "foremost in the councils of his
church." Another member of the small faculty was Charles W. Lane, of the department of
mathematics, of whom one of his friends wrote that he was "the sunniest, sweetest
Calvinist that ever nestled close to the heart of Arminians and all else who loved the
Master's image when they saw it. His cottage at Midway was a Bethel; it was God's house
and heaven's gate."
The piety of such men confirmed in Lanier a natural religious fervor. But the man who
was destined to have a really formative influence over him was James Woodrow, of the
department of science. A native of England and during his younger days a citizen of
Pennsylvania, he had studied at Lawrence Scientific School under Agassiz, and had just
returned from two years' study in Germany when Lanier came under his influence.
Circumstances were such that he never became an investigator in his special line of work,
but he was a thorough scholar who kept abreast with the knowledge of his subject. He
afterwards became professor of science in the Presbyterian Theological Seminary at
Columbia, S.C., and later the president of the University of South Carolina. In 1873 and
1874 he was the champion of science against those who called the church "to rise in arms
against Physical Science as the mortal enemy of all the Christian holds dear, and to take
no rest until this infidel and atheistic foe has been utterly destroyed."* Dr. Woodrow