Reprinted by permission from the author.


Did the friendship really ever stand a chance?

Not likely.

Although Anderson portrayed the quarrel as a match between his own many kindnesses versus the Augsburg professor’s insults, the split likely came down to a disagreement on deeper levels.

By his own admission, Anderson was a religious “tramp.”

He waffled back and forth, a Quaker and Methodist shifting into Lutheranism, a liberal Unitarian for much of his adulthood, and had suggested to P.P. Iverslie that “there were good reasons to regard the story of Christ as a myth.” (98)

And finally, as Norwegian-American historian Paul Knaplund described it, he promoted

“a brand of fundamentalist Lutheran theology with tenets not found in any history of Christian dogmas.”

The only thing one could say with certainty about Anderson’s religious views “is that charity was absolutely excluded from them.” (99)

Knaplund continues:

“A born crusader, he was fearless, pugnacious, and zealous. He had a robust mind, a brittle temper, a long memory for real or fancied wrongs, and a lofty indifference to public opinion. Although extremely self-centered and sometimes vengeful, he could be both interesting and winsome in social intercourse.” (100)

Oftedal, on the other hand, was a faithful Haugean church leader, who poured himself into young pastoral students.

He believed the Bible to be true, Christ the only Savior, and forgiveness was available to all who fled to the throne of grace in Christ.

He was not going to change his views for the sake of friendship with an influential Norwegian-American.

He was not a person who “said one thing today and another tomorrow.”

He was a man who “devoted himself to an idea.”

Anderson was witty, forceful, belligerent and bright, to be sure, but Oftedal was never intimidated by those qualities.

As a steady Lutheran pietist, he would have prayed for Anderson’s conversion.

Anderson’s insults and criticisms would have run off Oftedal like so many raindrops dripping down an umbrella during an October shower in Stavanger.

To be sure, Oftedal held key advantages.

The Augsburg professor enjoyed two gifts the Wisconsin professor lacked—the presence of the Holy Spirit and a loyal friend.

What he may have lacked in qualities of tact and charity, Oftedal made up for with his joyful wit and bold personality.

Moreover, he had a close friend with whom he could confide.

Oftedal had Professor Georg Sverdrup, and Oftedal visited him most every night.

Anderson had no such relationship.

Ole Bull, Anderson’s closest friend, died when Anderson was thirty-four.

Bjornson, likewise, was a companion for a season, but they too had a falling out.

Few people could stand to be close with Anderson for too long.

Oftedal, the young professor, was consistent with Oftedal, the elder.

He told the truth, stood by it to the end and did not say one thing today and another thing tomorrow.

All the while, he remained steady as a friend.

Anderson told his version of the truth, and if saying so meant the end of a friendship, he let the relationship die.

As he said in his Life Story,

“It is not a matter of vanity or egotism, but simply a question of right on one side and wrong on the other.” (101)

He was on the right. Why bother continuing with a former friend on the wrong.

In the end, Anderson had had one other good friend for a while, a colleague at Albion Academy by the name of Thure Kumlein (1819-1888), almost thirty years Anderson’s elder when they worked together.

Kumlein became a noted ornithologist and naturalist for the University of Wisconsin.

After Anderson left Albion Academy under duress in 1868, Kumlein penned him a personal letter that probably explains the future conflict between Anderson and Oftedal best.

“Now Rasmus, I know that in writing this . . . I run the risk of being disowned by him as a friend and perhaps have him turn against me. But Rasmus, at the same time there is stuff in you for a great man, a useful man, and possibly a good man, if only that wonderful mind of yours could be trimmed a little, yes, considerably . . . on the whole, I hope that this fuss will do you good.” (102)


  1. Hustvedt, “Rasmus Bjorn Anderson—Pioneer Scholar,” n.p. (accessed May 3, 2014). The letter was written from P. P. Iverslie to Anderson, dated October 21, 1878.
  2. Knaplund, “Rasmus B. Anderson: Pioneer and Crusader,” 39-40. Online: (accessed April 24, 2014).
  3. Knaplund, “Rasmus B. Anderson: Pioneer and Crusader,” 23. (accessed April 24, 2014)
  4. Anderson, 373.
  5. Hustvedt, Rasmus Bjorn Anderson, Pioneer Scholar, n.p. (accessed May 3, 2014). Thure Kumlien to Anderson, April 13, 1869.