Olin, Stephen, Dd, Lld
Olin, Stephen, D.D., LL.D., one of the most noted of American divines, and an educator highly esteemed in his day, was a minister of the Methodist Episcopal Church. He was born in Leicester,Vermont, March 2, 1797, and was the oldest son of Henry Olin, who was at different times judge of the supreme court of Vermont, member of Congress, and lieutenant-governor. Stephen Olin graduated at Middlebury College, the valedictorian of his class, and was pronounced by one of the professors "the ripest scholar who had ever come before him to be examined for a degree." As his health was injured by severe study, he was advised to go to South Carolina, where he was elected principal of Tabernacle Academy, Abbeville District. There he was converted, and soon after began to preach the Gospel. In 1824 he was admitted to the South Carolina Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, and stationed in Charleston, where he ministered during the summer months, in connection with another preacher, to four large congregations, including three thousand slaves. He had the happiness of receiving two hundred of these into the Church, and between forty and fifty white persons. His coadjutor being absent, these excessive labors proved too exhausting, and he was obliged to go to the North. In July, 1826, he was appointed professor of English literature in the University of Georgia. He entered upon the duties of his chair Jan. 1, 1827, and retained his position for seven years, in bad health most of the time; "nevertheless he was a brilliant professor, and has left the impress of his mode of instruction on the institution to this day." In 1827 he was married to Miss Bostick, of Milledgeville, Ga., who died in Naples, Italy. in 1839. In 1832 he was elected president of Randolph Macon College, Virginia. He at first declined, but was subsequently induced to accept the position, upon which he entered March 5, 1834, when he delivered his inaugural address, and it was said that the prosperity the college enjoyed during his administration was mainly due to his exertions and controlling influence. The years from 1837 to 1841 he passed in an extended tour in Europe and the East; and the fruits of his observation in the latter region have appeared in two excellent volumes, Travels in Egypt, Petrea, and the Holy Land (N. Y. 1843), and a posthumous work, entitled Greece and the Golden Horn. This account of Egypt was said to be "the best, on the whole, in the language." In Petra he discovered some very interesting monuments of the ancient civilization of that wonderful city, which had been overlooked by all previous travelers.
In his Travels Dr. Olin spoke of "a broken arch, supposed to be the remains of an ancient bridge connecting the Temple with Mount Zion, as having been known to Mr. Catherwood and other travelers and residents." For this he was charged (in the North American Review for October, 1843) with plagiarism, and with doing great injustice to Dr. Robinson, who in his Biblical Researches, the Bibliotheca Sacra, and elsewhere, claimed to have been the discoverer of this interesting monument, and especially to have been, so far as he knew and believed, the first to recognize in this fragment of an arch the remains of the bridge spoken of by Josephus. The controversy with Dr. Robinson which ensued, and which appeared in the N. Y. Commercial Advertiser and in the Christian Advocate for 1844- 1845, contained an unqualified denial of the charge of plagiarism, sustained in the most important point by the testimony of two missionaries of the American Board, whose letters made all further words superfluous. The Rev. Cyrus Hamlin wrote from Bebek, near Constantinople: "I read Dr. Robinson's note in the North Anmerican of July with profound surprise, being confident that I had heard Mr. Homes affirm that he informed Dr. Robinson of the existence. of that arch as a remnant of the bridge spoken of by Josephus. I immediately addressed a note to Mr. Homes, which with the reply I forward to you." Mr. Homes wrote: "In 1837, while residing several months at Jerusalem, I discovered one day with surprise in the obscure part of the city where it is situated the remains of the arch, and fancied that it had never obtained, so far as I knew, the notice of any traveler. . . . In the spring of 1838, at the time of a missionary council in Jerusalem, I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Robinson. We were all anxious to show Dr. Robinson all the noticeable places in Jerusalem which might possibly suggest to him facts regarding its ancient topography. One forenoon I eagerly told Dr. Robinson of the existence of this now famous arch, and from his surprise and awakened interest it was evident he had never heard of it before. And before he went to see it, I remarked to him on the probability that it was the bridge mentioned in history as going from the Temple to Mount Zion." Mr. Hamlin further writes: "Mr. Homes has shown me the journal of his residence in Syria, and under date of May, 1837, among a number of things noted as worthy of special examination is this brief minute, 'The bridge crossing from Mount Zion to Mount Moriah.' The entry was made at the time when he first: began to regard the arch as a remnant of that bridge, and that was nearly one year previous to Dr. Robinson's visit to Jerusalem. He afterwards visited it repeatedly, sometimes in connection with travelers; and when Dr. Robinson arrived in Jerusalem, he brought it to his notice as a remnant of the bridge spoken of by Josephus." An incorrect allusion to this controversy in Allibone's Biographical Dictionary renders a full statement of the facts important.
In 1842 Dr. Olin was elected president of the Wesleyan University, which office he continued to fill until his death. This high school became under Dr. Olin's administration the best of the Methodist connection, and at once took its place beside the foremost and oldest of the New England colleges. True it lacked the money which the others had to supply all their wants, but so untiring was Dr. Olin in his efforts to make the Wesleyan University a power in the land that, notwithstanding all the embarrassments surrounding him and all the opposition facing him, he yet gathered about him a faculty inferior to none other in the country. Indeed, while Dr. Olin was a wonderful preacher, combining affluence of thought, overwhelming earnestness of feeling, and physical power of delivery to a degree unrivaled in his time; and while his intellect was of extraordinary sweep and power; while morally his life was a perpetual struggle after the highest ordeal — he longed to be like Christ; and while his printed sermons have the grand reach of Chalmers, with the practical directness of application which has recently been so much admired in Robertson; it is nevertheless to be insisted upon that it was not as a preacher and philosopher that Dr. Olin should take first rank, but rather as an educator. As the head of a university he was truly in his own place — a veritable king of men; none who came near him failed to acknowledge the supremacy of his great nature; none of his students, whose conceptions of the powers and duties of humanity were elevated by their personal contact with him, failed to be impressed with their duty towards the world into which they launched out from college. In 1843 Dr. Olin married Miss Julia M. Lynch, daughter of Judge Lynch, of New York. Dr. Olin was elected delegate to the General Conferences of 1844 and 1852, and delegate from the New York and New England Conferences to the first meeting of the Evangelical Alliance in London, 1846. He was a contributor to the Wesleyan Journal, the Christian Advocate and Journal, and the Methodist Quarterly Review, He died at Middletown, Conn., Aug. 16, 1851. Two volumes of Sermons, Lectures, and Addresses were published at New York in 1852. In 1853 these were followed by his Life and Letters. edited by Mrs. Olin, and enriched by the valuable contributions of his friends.
"Dr. Olin was a man of remarkable organization. His physical and mental proportions were alike gigantic. His intellect was of that imperial rank to which but few of the sons of men can lay claim. At once acute, penetrating, and profound, it lacked none of the elements of true mental greatness. We have known many men far superior to him in acquired learning; but for breadth and comprehensiveness of range, for vigor and richness of thought, for fertility and abundance of invention, we have never met his equal. But grand as was Dr. Olin's intellectual being, his moral life was still grander. So overshadowing, indeed, was its majesty, that we can hardly contemplate any portion of his nature apart from it. With such qualities of mind and heart, is not wonderful that he was pre-eminent as a preacher. In overmastering power in the pulpit, we doubt whether living he had a rival, or dying has left his like among men" (Rev. Dr. McClintock, in Methodist Quarterly, Oct. 1851, p. 652). "He had the real celestial fire of sacred oratory. He had great power of insight and logic; but his chief strength lay in the enkindling and electric energy of his sympathetic and emotional nature. The great truths which his intellect issued were effective because they were borne on the glowing and irresistible stream of his sensibilities" (New-Englander, 12:124-151). "His character-moral, social, and intellectual — was throughout of the noblest style. In the first respect he was pre-eminent for, the two chief virtues of true religion-charity and humility. The original powers of his mind were, however, his great distinction. These, like his person, were all colossal in grasp and strength, with the dignity which usually attends them; a comprehensive faculty of generalization, which felt independent of details, but presented in overwhelming logic grand summaries of thought. This comprehensiveness, combined with energy of thought, was the chief mental characteristic of the man. Under the inspiration of the pulpit it often, and indeed usually became sublime. Ever and anon passages of overwhelming force were uttered, before which the whole assembly seemed to bow, not so much in admiration of the man, as in homage to the mighty truth. Such passages were usually not poetic, for he was remarkably chary of his imagery; but they were ponderous with thought; they were often stupendous conceptions, such as you would imagine a Sanhedrim of archangels might listen to uncovered of their golden crowns" (Rev. Dr. Stevens, in the Methodist Quarterly for July, 1852). "We do not hesitate," says the Rev. Dr. Wightman, of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, "to express our conviction that, with the pre-eminent qualifications he possessed for influencing young men, for wielding aright the potent instrumentalities belonging to the professor's chair, aided by the power which gave his sermons a baptism of fire when occasionally he was able to preach, Dr.
Olin did more for the Church than if he had even worn the mitre. We never knew a professor or president half so idolized by his students, one half so fitted to impress the great lineaments of his own character on the susceptible minds of young men, or so qualified to bring the vital spirit of religion into all the agencies and appliances of education. His work was marked out by Providence; he was sustained in it until the mission of his life closed." "In the intimate blending of logical argument with fiery feeling, he was more like what we know Demosthenes to have been than any speaker we have ever listened to; and his power (as was the case with the great Athenian orator) did not consist in any single quality — in force of reasoning, or fire of imagination, or heat of declamation — but in all combined. The printed sermons are vigorous, massive, and powerful to a degree unsurpassed in modern literature, unless perhaps by Chalmers and Robert Hall; but they are yet a very inadequate representation of the living preacher" (Rev. Dr. McClintock, in Meth. Quar. Rev. 36:9, 33). See, besides his Life and Letters mentioned above, Fish, Pulpit Eloquence, ii, 5, 27; Biographical Sketches of Methodists; Gorrie, Lives of Methodist Ministers, p. 383; Southern Literary Messenger, 1:15; Sherman, Sketches of New England Methodism, p. 414; Meth. Qu. Rev. July, 1852, p. 430, 477; Jan. 1854, p. 9; Oct. 1853, p. 600.