Alexander Means was described in his day as a polymath--a person with extensive learning in several fields of study. Means was, among other things, a Methodist minister, an inventor, a physician, and a poet.
Born in Statesville, North Carolina, in 1801, Means began his career as a school teacher in Georgia. His curiosity later took him into medicine, electronics, and ministry. At age twenty-four, he went to Transylvania University in Kentucky, where he studied medicine for a year. Soon after, while practicing medicine in Covington, Georgia, he was granted a local preacher's license by the Methodist Episcopal Church.
The three great interests in Means's life were science, religion and education, and he found that the first two came together naturally in the third. In 1834, the Georgia Conference chose Means as the first superintendent the Manual Labor School, a vocational school of the day. Means served until 1838, when he resigned to become professor of natural sciences in Emory College in its first year of instruction.
Traveling in England in 1851, Means became acquainted with the experiments of Michael Faraday, and on his return to Oxford he exhibited in his Emory laboratory what many regard as the first electric light in America. Considered more imaginative than inventive, it is said that Means predicted the phonograph and the electric engine two decades before their invention.
Ever energetic, Means willfully kept a torturous schedule from 1841 to 1858. Although he held the sciences chair at Emory College from 1838 until his resignation of the presidency in 1855, he was granted permission simultaneously to lecture in chemistry during the winter terms at Augusta Medical College from 1841 to 1858, and in 1853 he was elected president of the Southern Masonic Female College in Covington, a position he resigned the following year to accept the presidency of Emory. Always looking for new opportunities, Means proposed in 1855 that Emory should assume the property and charter of Oglethorpe Medical College, then a school of Oglethorpe University, and manage it as one of Emory's departments. The Emory trustees respectfully but firmly declined.
After serving as president of Emory for one semester, the board reluctantly granted permission for Means to accept a professorship in the Atlanta Medical College. A year later, a dissatisfied board convinced the distracted Means to resign the presidency, effective December 1855. Still, Means continued to alternate his teaching between the medical colleges in Atlanta, during the summer, and Augusta, during the winter. His later career continued to be distinguished by scientific work, and he was eventually elected a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In 1883, at the age of eighty-three, Means died in Oxford and was buried there.
What drove Alexander Means so vigorously? What gave him the inspiration, the will to get up every morning and discover and solve? Could it possibly be a joy, an awe, a reverence in his heart which he captured in a few lines of text that he wrote while in his thirties? These words, attributed to Means, were set to music and first published in 1835 in William Walker's collection, The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion.
Words attributed to Alexander Means (1801 – 1883)
What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul,
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul.
When I was sinking down, sinking down, sinking down,
When I was sinking down, sinking down,
When I was sinking down beneath God’s righteous frown,
Christ laid aside His crown for my soul, for my soul,
Christ laid aside His crown for my soul.
To God and to the Lamb, I will sing, I will sing;
To God and to the Lamb, I will sing.
To God and to the Lamb Who is the great “I Am”;
While millions join the theme, I will sing, I will sing;
While millions join the theme, I will sing.
And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on;
And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on.
And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing and joyful be;
And through eternity, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on;
And through eternity, I’ll sing on.
"Presidents - Alexander Means, 1801 - 1883." The History of Emory University. Ed. Office of the Deputy to the President. Emory University, 11 Oct. 2007. Web. 22 Sept. 2009. <http://emoryhistory.emory.edu/people/presidents/Means.htm>.
"What Wondrous Love Is This?" NetHymnal. 4 Oct. 2007. Web. 22 Sept. 2009. <http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/w/h/a/whatwond.htm>.
"Wondrous Love, 252 of Southern Harmony." Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Calvin College. Web. 22 Sept. 2009. <http://www.ccel.org/ccel/walker/harmony/files/hymn/Wondrous_Love.html>.