MEETING # 1407
March 13, 1986
An Unforgettable Scientist,
The Life of Louis Agassiz
by Charles D. Howell Ph.D.
Assembly Room, A. K. Smiley Public
Louis Agassiz was
America's leading scientist in the mid-nineteenth century. He proposed the Theory of Ice
Ages, and contributed greatly to ideas of geological succession and taxonomy and to the
theory of embryonic recapitulation. All these had a profound influence on the thinking of
Charles Darwin, helping convince him of the truth of the theory of evolution. Agassiz ,
unfortunately, was bound from his youth to the theory of catastrophism of his mentor Baron
Georges Cuvier, Napoleon's Chief of Science. So, he could not agree with Darwin. In spite
of this.he had a tremendous influence on the development of literature in promoting the
love of nature so characteristic of that time. His closest friend, outside of scientific
circles, was Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Oliver Wendell Holmes' famous poem, "The
Chambered Nautilus" was inspired by Agassiz. He also profoundly influenced the
patterns of laboratory teaching of biology of the past century, and directly inspired a
generation of teachers of biology, and indirectly several generations since, including the
author and his teachers, all of whom hive been evolutionists.
Biography of the Author
Howell was born Oct. 29, 191'`, in the slate quarry area of Pennsylvania, in E. Bangor. He
was brought OF in Brooklyn, N.Y., leaving home for Oberlin College and The Johns Hopkins
University, for baccalaureate and doctoral degrees. He is a member of Sigma Xi, and
a Fellow of the National Public Health Service. He has published papers on the development
and physiology of the heart, genetics, and more recently on problems of insect evolution.
He has taught in Universities, and Medical schools, but has been most at home in Liberal
Arts college, having spent 25 years in the Department of Biology of the University of
Redlands. His biggest jobs have been, Chairman of Premedical Advisory Committees, and
Chairman of Departments of Biology.
His motto: Retired biologists don't quit,
they re-equip and continue biologizing.
An Unforgettable Scientist,
The Life of Louis Agassiz
by Charles D. Howell
Prophets Agassiz was
the Carl Sagan or Isaac Asimov of pre-civil war America. He was born in Motier,
Switzerland, May 28, 1807, and named Jean Louis Rodolphe Agassiz, and was known to his
European family and friends as Louis. But in America he was known to everyone simply as
Agassiz. Even his America wife never called him by any other game. !
Louis Agassiz left behind students who
became teachers and research workers who aimed, like him, to stimulate others to learn in
the Agassiz manner, "from nature, not books". His -eminent work on fishes was
carried on in America by David Starr Jordan, whom\remember especially as President of
Stanford University. One student, W. K. Brooks, worked with him int~exhuberating
atmos~hereiof the marine school on Penikese Island, Agassiz's last summer. Be carried the
Agassiz method to The Johns Hopkins University, heading the first science department in
America entitled, ''Department of Biology. Brooks passed the inspiration to Ross Harrison,
whose techniques were used in the development of the polio vaccine seventy-five years
later. He also passed it to Thomas Hunt Morgan, pioneer American geneticist., who won the
Nobel Prize in Medicine for his work on the heredity of the fruit fly.
Fourteen college generations after his
death his name and methods were still being invoked to signify inspired biological effort.
I heard it at Oberlin College, ad again at Johns Hopkins. His methods became the
foundation for the type of laboratory work we carried on there# in Which students saw
first-hand, and dissected, specimens written about in books. Nature was first, books
second. No wonder I looked forward to learning more about Louis Agassiz.
I was twelve years out of college
before I had the first opportunity to study the life of this great mane In a post-graduate
seminar on the history of biology in America, I drew the assignment on the lives of
Louis and Alexander Agassiz, father and son. This was at the University of Rochester. I
learned then that Agassiz was not only an inspiring leader and triumphant figure, but in
some ways also a tragic one. Now forty years later, I pass this on to you.
Louis was born in Motier, Switzerland. His
father was the last in a long line of Protestant Ministers steaming from the Reformation.
His mother came from the Mayor family noted for its physicians and prominent businessmen.
He and his brother here great fisherman, but not always with a hook and line. They were noted for catching fish with their bare hands. lie began a notebook with cats on
fish with accurate figures Then he was twelve years old, and claims he learned~all he knew
about fish before he was fifteen. Not only did they collect, but learned about the habits
of fish. No wonder he became the outstanding authority on fish in later life.
Although he got a unique education from
nature, it was not his only education. He was an extraordinary scholar with a fine memory.
He learned to converse in Latin, as well as in^German and English. As a boy he WAS noted
for ~ manual dexterity and his fine handicraft. He was a skillful cobbler, and even made
shoes for his sister's dolls. He was complimented for the fine watertight barrels he could
He was also very daring. a story is told
of his crossing an icefield with his brother and sighting a fissure. He lay down across
it, and let his smaller brother walk across it over his body. As a mountain climber and
climber of glaciers he was inexhaustible. After one experience with him on a glacier
is is said his guide went home with shattered nerves.
He became a handsome young man, with
resolute, commanding features, and fascinating eyes. His eloquence, brilliance: and
persuasiveness are legion. One story illustrates this. He and his brother were
hitch-hiking home from college.a wealthy man picked them up and was so captivated by his
conversations with Louis that he tried to adopt him, offering his family a large sum of
money' and guaranteeing his education. This was, of course turned dowdy.
His family, not being wealthy, had to
appeal to relatives to assist in his education. They tried to direct him into a business
career, but this conflicted with his natural interests and was a cause of some family
strife. In spite of this, and with some help from his Uncle; a doctor, he got to the
University of Zurich, then the University of Heidelberg, and finally to the University of
Munich where he was presumably a student of medicine.
Very influential at Munich was the
embryologist, Dollinger, in whose house he and some friends lived. Much of
"Agassiz's later work was to be in embryology. They also studied under Oken, the
famous professor of Naturphilosophie. This, the students decided was unscientific. They
formed their own "Little Academy", which met in Agassiz's room where they
discussed their latest idea. They were more interested in nature than medicine, and were
constantly collecting things. It is said they had forty birds in their room at one time, /
besides fish, and mammals.
The collections became so great that the,-
had to get Louis's uncle, and later his grandfather,to set aside rooms in their homes to
house the excess specimens. fit this time he was presented with a complete
collection of fishes from Brazil for his study. Without telling his family of this
fact, he begged them to allow him to pursue the study of natural} history alone for one
year, with the promise that he would return to medicine the following year. This
was granted, and in that year he completed his study of these fish and won his Ph. D. with
such distinction that the faculty awarded the degree without requiring the customary oral
examination. So he could publish the tremendous work, signing Ph.D. after his name, in
Now he returned to medicine~and was
awarded the M.D. the following year with distinction. He even returned home and tried to
practice medicine, but he couldn't stop collecting fish. At this time the Museum of Munich
gave him another collection of E˘European fish. To work on these he had to have artists
to make drawings. Early in life he relied on his sister. In college he won ~ loyal fliers
to be his artist for twenty years. This was Joseph Denkel (Dinkel) who was left behind
only when Agassiz went abroad to America.
For some time he had desired to work with
Georges Cuvier in Paris. Cuvier was the world's outstanding comparative anatomist and paleontologist at that time. He too was a Huguenot. He had been Napoleon Bonaparte's
scientist, and retained his position after Napoleoleon's exile,ln spite of his religion,
because of his tremendous renown. Louis's excuse for leaving for Paris with Dinkel was,
the best medicine follows the best museums. This was 1830.
In Paris he was stricken with poverty, but
carried on his work, and with such distinction, that Cuvier turned over all his fish
collections to him. The two men had much in common, sharing a catastrophic concept of the
origin of species. This began with the biblical story of Noah's flood, but quickly
they realized that this could not account for the number of catastrophes they found in the
Geological record. Nevertheless, both firmly continued to believe that species were fixed
and immutable, created by God where they were found. This happy association was terminated
when an epidemic struck Paris in 1832, taking the life of Cuvier. His last words to
Agassiz were, "Be careful, remember, work kills." Louis never
heeded this advice.
Two things now called him back to
Switzerland, but he left Dinkel behind in Paris making drawings. First, he was called to
be the first Professor of Natural History and Geology at the new University of Neuchatel.
Second, he returned to marry Cecile Braun, sister of his best friend. She also had been
involved in making drawings for him, and some of the finest lithographs in his works were
done by her.
One wonders what would have happened in
Paris if Agassiz had not met Alexander von Humboldt, the famous German geographer and
oceanographer, who was at the height of his fame at that time. The two men had a meeting
of minds, and Humboldt became as a second father to Louis. In addition to intellectual
stimulation, he also helped Louis and Dinkel financially.
Back in Switzerland, Louis pursued his
adventures with glaciers. Trying to solve a problem, the presence of erratic boulders on
glaciers, he explored glaciers on Mt. Aar, Mt. Blanc, the Matterhorn and others, He
c&me to a most controversial conclusion, that an ice sheet had covered all of
northern Europe in ancient times. Even Humboldt was skeptical of this at first. He
repeated 09 observaion9 in Scotland, convincing one of his critics of the validity of his
theory, which suddenly won the day, being accepted and bringing great honor to him. Both
Charles Lyell, the father of modern geology, and Charles Darwin applauded this,
considering his thinking kaleidoscopic.
Agassiz met Lyell at this time, and Lyell
later wrote how impressed he was with Agassiz's insights into Paleontological history. At
this time Lyell had no thought of evolution. He was pleased to be the Geologist who wrote
Agassiz , notifying him that he had won the Wollaston Prize.
The precision of Agassiz's observations is
illustrated by a singular event. A family had lost a member who had fallen into a crevasse
on a glacier. They sought Louis's help to recover the body for a Christian burial. Louis
studied the site, and calculated the date when the body would emerge at the melting edge
of the glacier. It should be noted that this involved a totally new concept, for before
this time glaciers were thought to be immobile. The family camped below the glacier on the
appointed date and did recover the body as predicted.
Agassiz had gained eminence at age 22.
Approaching forty, his contributions were worthy of a Nobel Prize, if it had been in
existence. Be was, instead, invited to give the Lowell Lectures in Boston, and was given a
grant by Frederick III of Prussia to study the natural history of the United States. He
prepared to leave for America. He first gave his Lowell lectures a trial run in Neuchatel,
entitling them, "The plan of Creation". In them his philosophy of nature
appears. The origin of this is expressed in poetic form by William Wadsworth
Longfellow' written ten years later in honor of his fiftieth birthday. Be is imagining the
childhood of Agassiz:
And Nature , the old nurse took
The child upon her knee,
Saying, "Here is a story-book
Thy Father has written for thee.
Come, wander with me," she said,
"Into the region yet untrod,
And read what is still unread
In the manuscript of God."
In that ten years he had adopted America
and America claimed him. They were turbulent years, his wife dying of T.B. months
before he learned of it. He married Elizabeth Cary, known as ''Lizzie", an
eminent woman in her own right, who later became the founding President of Radcliffe
College. His children came to America and were brought up by Lizzie.
His breadth and depth of knowledge
astonished everyone. Wealthy men determined to keep him in America and financed a position
to fit him in the newly created Lawrence School of Theoretical and Practical Science at
Harvard. He was to be Professor of Zoology and-Geology. He traveled the length and breadth
of the country, so in demand, that second appearances had to be made often to satisfy
crowds which came to hear him lecture. When the Civil War broke out he became an American
In the meantime he not only had won the
Wollaston Prize, but also the Wollaston Medal, and the Cuvier Prize in parts, as well as
the Legion of Honor. He was also elected to the Royal Society of London, and later given
their highest honor, the Copley Medal. IN America there were no such awards for
scientists, but he was active in supporting Joseph Henry in establishing our National
Academy of Sciences, and was an active member of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian
He loved his students and taught them that "A physical fact is as sacred as a moral principle."' He also taught that all
knowledge he obtained was but a revelation of the working of the mind of God. Yet he was
not a biblical literalist, but merely believed he saw God in nature as much as in the
Bible. He had developed his own nature-philosophy, in spite of believing that Omen's
nauturphilosophie was unscientific.
He had tremendous inductive capacities,
and they offered insights into areas of biology (This word was still not much in use yet).
But his insights were grasped better by others than by himself. He studied in detail the
embryology of Echinoderms (starfish and their relatives), Molluscs, Fish and
Turtles. In all of them he pointed out that the embryological development of higher
forms contains features seen in adults of lower forms. He carried this further than we are
wont to do today, writing "So striking is the resemblance of the young of higher
animals to the full-grown of lower types, that it has been assumed by many writers that
all the higher animals pass, during the earlier stages of their growth , through phases
corresponding to the permanent constitution of the lower classes."
Furthermore, he saw these types in the
fossil records, and correlated the lower and higher fossils in a remarkable evolutionary
sequence,but totally denied the evolutionary concept of genetic relationship. Yet he
wrote, "there is a manifest progress in the succession of' being on the surface of
the earth"...' especially in their increasing resemblance to man". He concluded
only that God had the higher forms in mind when he created the lower ones.
Leconte, one-time student of
Agassiz and later an eminent biologist wrote, : I think it can be shown that/Agassiz, more
than any other man, is due the credit of having established the laws of succession of
living forms in the geological history of the earth... also that to him, more than to any
other man, is due the credit of having perfected the methods by use of which (The
comparative embryological method) biological science has advanced 80 rapidly." That was in the late 19th century.
He pointed out further that Agassiz had
brought together the classification of animals, their embryological development, and their
geological order. "The one grand idea underlying Agassiz's whole life-work was the
essential identity of the three series, and therefore the light which they must shed on
each other." Agassiz built the structure of evolution but called it
development, denying the possibility of hereditary continuity in the living world.
Great minds can only go so far from
their roots. Creative men have limits as do ordinary men. They can see amazing new things,
and fail to grasp the next step. It so happened to Priestley, also an adopted American,
who, handcuffed by his ideas of Phlogiston, could not understand oxidation; and it
happened to Agassiz shackled to the idea of Creationism.
1859 was a critical year. Humboldt, his
great supporter, died, and Darwin's "Origin of Species" was published bed.
Although Agassiz could not accept evolution, his criticism of it way far less devastating
than expected. He admonished his students not to be prejudiced against Darwin, and they
were not. He never did publish a scientific critique of Darwin's work, md most of his
associates wished he had~second thoughts about evolution. His close friend, Wyman quote
him as saying, " If I were a comparative anatomist, as you are, I should probably
think as you do. But I cannot accept this new doctrine consistently with the views I have
already put forth.~' However, he also added, "and I do not intend to''.
He could not imagine that God might create
new things by a process of natural mutation. Of course such an idea as not known to Darwin
either. And Mendel's work on genetics, though written before both men died, was
incomprehensible to all biologists till the 20th century.
J. S. Packard, one of his student quotes
him as saying at one time, "the greatest mistake of my scientific life has
been combating the theory of evolution. I saw it coming for years and my Essay on
Classification was written largely to forestall it. I believe it all wrong, but
not I see it will prevail."
This had little influence on
leadership in America. The scope of his collections and publications continued to grow,
and to involve more people and space than he could afford. It was an old story. He was
constantly in debt, and in the nick of time a philanthropist would bail him out. He
inveigled the State Legislature to support him, as well as getting money from the
University ~d friends. His wife even ran a school for girls to help pay the bills. Later
on their families become his supporters. But the greatest support for his project was to
come from his own 900, Alexander, who as a mining engineer (as well as biologist) became a
multi-millionaire from copper interests.
The Museum of Comparative Anatomy at
Harvard, started in empty barns, now is still prominent and is fondly called The Agassiz
Museum to this day.
Through the Saturday Club of Boston,
be had a great influence on literati of the Golden Age of American Literature. Emerson had
a custom of inviting bright people to his home for dinner. Under Agassiz's influence this
expanded into a group meeting regularly at Parker's Coffee House,each Saturday. They began
eating at 3 p.m. and remained together, without a set agenda, for hours, sometimes past
midnight. The membership of the group varied from year to year, but included at some time:
James Wadsworth Longfellow, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Richard Henry Dana, James Russell Lowell,
Benjamin Pierce, Sumner and Hoar, who were members of President Lincoln is cabinet, Andrew
(Governor of Massachusetts), Henry James, William Dean Howells, Charles William James,
Francis Adams Francis Parkman and others. Thoreau gathered specimens for him.
It is possible that the adulation
of this group blinded Agassiz to scientific reality of the outside world. He seems
unto wined by contemporary science. Yet in spite of his opinion on evolution, as Lowell
wrote, he lived on "In minds touched with firet~by his towering personality .
Many more poems were written about him or
as a result of his lectures than is popularly known. The best known is "The Chambered
Nautilus", written by Holmes after one of Agassiz's inspiring talks on nature. It has
been quoted by many,a teacher and preacher, and been memorized by many a student looking
for inspiration for life's work. Most of us can quote it:
Build thee more stately mansions, oh,
As the swift seasons roll!' leave thy low-vaulted past!
Let each new temple, nobler than the last,
Shut thee from heaven with redone more vast,
'Till thou at length are free, Leaving this outgrown shell by life's unresting sea.
In spite of a stroke in 1868 he continued
his tumultuous life. In 1873 he pushed an idea he had long cherished, to have a summer
school for nature education by the sea. A wealthy businessman reading about it in the New
York Times gave him major financial support and that summer an exciting school was held on
the Island of Penikese. It served as the forerunner of the famous Marine Biological
Laboratory at Woods Hole, now perhaps the world's greatest Marine Laboratory. The
exuberance at Penikese brought many of his former students together, with new ones to be
inspired. The high spirit of the event lead John Greenleaf Whittier to pen "The
Prayer of Agassiz" from which these few lines are taken"
On the Isle of Penikese,
Hinged with sapphire seas,
Fanned by breezes salt and cool,
Stood the Master with his school....
Said the Master to the youth
Owe have come in search of Truth....
We are reaching , through His Laws,
To the garment-hem of Cause."....
Agassiz's enthusiast made it a
success in spite of difficulties in the circumstances of running and building the
school. Without his influence, putt- turf it perished, although the idea Has revived years
later and incorporated in the Marine Biological Laboratory-on the Mainland, a much more
He was adored as much at home as in the
public eye. His wife wrote, "I can never tell anyone how delightful it was to live by
the side of a mind so fresh and original, so prodigal of its intellectual capital."
In their companionship she lived for twenty year, "a life that grew daily fuller and
richer in happiness."
His son and close associates referred to
him as a "steam engine". The steam gave out on Dec. 14, 1873, after another
stroke, this time paralyzing his tongue. He son had a rough granite boulder brought from
his favorite site, the Glacier of Air. On it he had cut three words:
Agassiz, Elizabeth Cary. 1886. Louis
Agassiz, his life and correspondence.3 vols.
Hougton, Mifflin, Boston.
Agassiz, Louis. 1863. Methods of study in
natural history .
Ticknor and Fields, Boston.
1857-1862. Contributions to the natural
history of the United States of America. Little, Brown and Co.Boston.
" . 1874. Evolution and permanence of
types. Atlantic Monthly, 33 (January).
Cooper, Lane. 1917. Louis Agassiz as a
teacher. Comstock, Ithaca.
Jordan, David Starr. 1892. Agassiz at
Penikese. Popular Science Monthly, 40: 721_729.
Lurie, Edward. 1960. Louis Agassiz, a life
in science. Univ. Chi.
Lyman, Theodore. 1874. Recollections of
Louis Agassiz. Atlantic Monthly, 33:221-229.
Teller, James D. 1947. Louis Agassiz and
men of letters. Scientific Monthly : 428-432.
Tharp, Louise Hall. 1959. Adventurous
alliance, the story of the Agassiz family of Boston. Little, Brown and Co.
In addition to the distinguished
Saturday Club, Louis Agassiz also belonged to a club which met fortnightly, and was called
The Friday Club. This club may have been composed more of his executive friends
-businessmen and publishers, etc. The club was a dinner club, limited to twelve members.
Consult James D. Teller, "Loui4Agassiz and Men of Letters", Scientific Monthly, 1947 pp 428-432, for
lists of membership in both the Friday Club and the Saturday Club of Boston
By Oliver Wendell Holmes. This poem was
written after an inspiring presentation about the biology of this Mollusk. It is
essentially a squid or cuttlefish with a shell that is prized for its beauty.
This is the ship of pearl, which poets feign
Sails the unshadow'd main -
The venturous bark that flings
On sweet Sumner wind its purple wings,
In gulfs enchanted, where the siren sings,
And coral reefs lie bare,
Where the cold sea-maids rise to sun their streaming hair.
Its webs of living graze no more unfurl;
Wrecked is the chip of pearl!
And every chambered cell,
Where its dim dreaming life was wont to dwell,
A's the frail tenant shaped his growing shell,
Before thee lies revealed -
Its iris 'd ceiling rent, its sunless crypt unsealed.
Year after year Held the silent toil
That spread his lustrous coil;
Still as the spiral grew.
We 'oft the past yearn dwelling for the new,
Stole with soft step the shining archways through,
Built up its idle door,
Stretched in his last-found hole, and knew the old no more.
Thanks for the heavenly message brought
Child of the wandering sea
Cast from her lap forlorn!
From thy dead lips a clearer note is born
Than ever Triton blew from wreathed horn
While on mine ear it rings,
Through the deep caves of thought I hear a voice that sings, -
Build thee more stately mansions, oh, my soul,
As the swift seasons roll!
Leave thy low-vaulted past!
Let each new temple, nobler than the last,
Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast,
Till thou at length art free,
Leaving thine outgrown shell by life's unresting sea.
THE FIFTIETH BIRTHDAY OF AGASSIZ
By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. One
of at least three poems read at Agassiz's birthday celebration before the Saturday
Club. Ralph We Emerson records the event in his journal, "The flower of the feast we
the reading of three poems, written by our three poet<, for the occasion. The first by
Longfellow, .. the second by Holmes; the third by Lowell...
It was fifty years ago
In the pleasant month of May,
In the beautiful Pays de Vaud, A child in cradle lay.
And Nature, the old nurse, took
The child upon her knee,
Saying: "Here is a story -book
Thy Father has written for thee."
'Rome wander with me," she said,
"Into the regions yet untrod,
And read what is still unlead
In the manuscript of God."
And he wandered away and away
With Nature, the dear old nurse,
Who sang to him night and day
The rhymes of the universe.
And whenever the way seemed long,
Or his heart began to fail,
She would sing a more wonderful song,
or tell a more marvellous tale.
So she keeps him still a child,
And will not let him go,
Though at times his heart beats wild
For the beautiful Pays du Vaud
Tho' at times he hears in his dreams
The Ranz des Vaches of old,
And the rush of mountain streams,
From the glaciers clear and cold.
And the mother at home says, "Hark!
For the voice I listen and yearn;
It is growing late and dark,
And my boy does not return."
May 28, 1957
THE PRAYER OF AGASSIZ
By John Greenleaf Whittier, on the event
of opening the Penikese School, July 1873, near Woods Hale, Mass.
On the Isle of Penikese,
Ringed about by sapphire seas,
Panned by breezes salt and cool,
Stood the Master with his school
Said the Master to the youth:
"We have come in search of truth,
Trying with uncertain key
Door by door of mystery;
We are reaching, through his laws,
To the garment-hem of Cause.
Him, the endless, unbegun, The unnamable the One,
Light of all the light the Source,
Life of life and Force of force.
As with fingers of the blind,
We are groping here to find
What the hieroglyphics mean
Of Unseen in the seen,
What the thought which underlies
Nature's masking and disguise,
What it is that hides beneath
Blight and bloom and birth and death.
By past efforts, loss and failing,
Of our weakness made aware,
On the threshold of our task
Let us light and guidance ask,
Let us pause in silent prayer "
Even careless heart was moved,
And the doubting gave assent
With gesture reverent,
To the taster well beloved.
As thin mists are glorified
By the light they cannot hide,
All who gazed upon him saw,
Through its veil of tender awe,
How his face was still alit
By the old sweet look of it,
Hopeful, trustful, full of cheer,
And the love that casts out fear.
Elegy to Agassiz
By James Russell Lowell
Lowell was in Italy when Agassiz died. His
tribute to Agassiz covered eleven pages in the Atlantic Monthly. He writes that his
appreciation of Agassiz grew as he came to know him better, and that on his death he found "This impression of Agassiz had wormed itself into my consciousness and without me
knowing it had colored my whole poem." The final portion is quoted here.
We have not lost him all; he is not gone
To the dumb herd of them that wholly die;
The beauty of his better self lives
In minds he touched with fire, in many an eye
He was a Teacher: why be grieved for him
Whose living word still stimulates the air:
In endless file shall loving scholars come
The glow of his transmitted touch to share,
And trace his features with an eye less dim
Than ours whose sense familiar wont makes numb.
A LIST OF THE PUPILS OF AGASSIZ
READ nature, not books,'
said Agassiz, adding: 'If you study nature in books, when you go out of-doors you cannot
find her.' Upon this principle of observation he built up his school, a practical
institution dealing in reality, which maturing in America at an opportune moment in our
national history, directly or indirectly brought us our first seashore-laboratories, many
of our great natural history museums; among them the American Museum of Natural History,
the Cambridge Museum of Comparative Zoology, and the Peabody Museum of Salem,
Massachusetts; as well as countless university departments of natural science, and a
flourishing group of explorers of the life of the ocean.
distinguished biologic American of the fifties, sixties, and seventies was a friend or
student of Agassiz's. The roster is bright with accomplishment, even today. A diligent
search in the memories of J. Walter Fewkes, of the Smithsonian Institution, and David
Starr Jordan, president of Leland Stanford Junior University (two surviving Agassiz
students), supplemented by early reports of the Museum of Comparative Zoology, yields the
following great, although incomplete list:
Alpheus Hyatt, of
Cambridge William H. Brewer, of Yale
Addison E. Verrill, of Yale
J. Walter Fewkes, of the National Museum
Edward S. Morse, of the
Salem Peabody Museum
Alexander Agassiz, of
H. James Clark, of Cambridge
F. W. Putnam, of the Cambridge Peabody
Museum and the American Museum of Natural History
Samuel H. Scudder, of the Harvard Museum
Burt G. Wilder, of Cornell
William James, the
psychologist N. S. Shaler, of Harvard
John McCrady, of Sewanee, Tennessee
J. Henry Blake, hydrographer, of Cambridge
Joseph Trimble Roth:
Count Pourtales, of Cambridge Sidney I.
Smith, of Y.
Theodore Gill of the Smithsonian
Institution and the Library of Congress
Theodore Lyman, of Cambridge
J. A. Allen, mammalogist and ornithologist
of the American Museum of Natural History
William K. Brooks, of the Johns Hopkins
Walter Faxon, of Cambridge
Charles S. Minot, of Boston
C. O. Whitman, of Clark University and the
University of Chicago
David Starr Jordan
E. A. Birge, of the University of
Samuel Garman, ichthyologist of the
Alpheus S. Packard, of Brown University
Charles Stimpson, of Chicago University
T. B. Stowe}l, of the Cortland State
P. R. Uhler, of the Baltimore Peabody
S. M. Buck, of Cambridge
Harland Ballard, of Lenox Academy
Joseph Bassett Holder, of the American
Museum of Natural History
Joseph Trimble Rothrock, of Philadelphia
Sidney I. Smith, of Yale
Henry A. Ward, of Ward's Natural Science
Frederick H. Snow, chancellor of the
University of Kansas
W. O. Crosby, of Boston
Ernest Ingersoll, author of scientific
Orestes St. John, of the Canadian
C. Frederick Hartt, of Cornell and Brazil
S. V. R. Thayer, of Boston
Caleb Cook, of the Salem Peabody Museum
Charles Foley, ornithologist of Canada
Henry Wheatland, of Cambridge
William Glen, of Cambridge
William N. Rice, of Middletown,
General Albert Ordway, of Richmond,
William H. Niles, of Massachusetts
Institute of Technology
Albert S. Bickmore, founder of the
American Museum of Natural History
F. A. Sherrif, of Boston :
Edwin Norton, entomologist of Farmington,
S. R. Jillson, of Judson, Massachusetts
W. J. Beal, of the Lansing [Michigan]
Horticultural and Agricultural College
T. P. Chandler, of Cambridge
Richard Bliss, of Cambridge
Samuel Lockwood, archaeologist and
geologist of Freehold, New Jersey
J. B. Perry, of Cambridge
Francis Sanborn, of Andover, Massachusetts
(Occasionally) Edward Drinker Cope
Edward Burgess, of the Normal College of
the City of New York
E. T. Cresson, of Philadelphia
C. W. Bennett, of Holyoke
Edwin Bicknell, of the Salem Essex
J. H. Emerton, of Boston
E. P. Austin, of Cambridge
E. C. Howe, of Yonkers, New York
Horace Mann's sons, Benjamin P., and
The Museum of Comparative
Zoology at Harvard University opened its doors under a grant secured · by Agassiz from
the Massachusetts Legislature, and with the additional pecuniary support of Mr. Francis C.
Gray, of Boston, in 1859. Nineteen students of the Harvard classes in zoology at the
Lawrence Scientific School were enrolled as students and assistants. This number had
increased by 1872 to one hundred and three, but the Civil War, intervening in 1861, had
called many of the young men to the armies of both North and South. The early
museum-reports consequently contain incomplete references to men, later lost sight of or occasionally accounted for in such notes as: Craigin, died in the army of
fever. Other names without subsequent clues of identity are: Hansen; M. Gugenheim; Edward
King; N. Bowditch; C. A. Shurtleff; J. H. Fowler; John Bartlett; S. C. Martin; Louis
Cabot; A. R. Crandall; J. Boll (a young Swiss); Wing; and W. ]. Hubbard.
The encouragement of women
students bears witness to Agassiz's open-minded attitude toward the world and education. A
number of young women worked in the library and in the preparation" departments,
cleaning and mounting fossil lanes and shells, classifying and arranging exhibits.
Undoubtedly their maiden aunts decried the evil influence of the Civil War on the younger
generation, but the fact that they did a good job stands in the museum-records, amid
frequent references to Miss Slack, the librarian; Miss Annie Cutler, and the Misses
Atkinson, Harris, Clark, and Cook.