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Louis Agassiz: His Life and Correspondence by Louis Agassiz

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such naturalists as occupy themselves with ichthyology to send him
the fishes of the country where they live; he mentions those who
have already sent him collections, and promises duplicates from the
Paris Museum to those who will send him more. He names the
countries also from which he has received contributions, and
regrets that he has nothing from Bavaria. Now I possess several
specimens of all the native species, and have even discovered some
ten not hitherto known to occur here, beside one completely new to
science, which I have named Cyprinus uranoscopus on account of the
position of the eyes, placed on the top instead of the sides of the
head,--otherwise very like the gudgeon. I have therefore thought I
could not better launch myself in the scientific world than by
sending Cuvier my fishes with the observations I have made on their
natural history. To these I should like to add such rare Swiss
species as you can procure for me. So do not fail.


NEUCHATEL, August 25, 1828.

. . .I received in good time, and with infinite delight, your
pleasant letter of July 27th. Its mysteries have however been
unveiled by Dr. Schinz, who came to the meeting of the Natural
History Society in Lausanne, where he met papa and my uncle, to
whom he pronounced the most solemn eulogiums on their son and
nephew, telling them at the same time what was chiefly occupying
you now. I congratulate you, my dear brother, but I confess that
among us all I am the least surprised, for my presentiments about
you outrun all this, and I hope soon to see them realized. In all
frankness I can assure you that the stoutest antagonists of your
natural history schemes begin to come over to your side. Among them
is my uncle here, who never speaks of you now but with enthusiasm.
What more can be said? I gave him your letter to read, and since
then he has asked me a dozen times at least if I had not forgotten
to forward the remittance you asked for, saying that I must not
delay it. The truth is, I have deferred writing till the last
moment, because I have not succeeded in getting your fishes, and
have always been hoping that I might be able to fulfill your
commission. I busied myself on your behalf with all the zeal and
industry of which I was capable, but quite in vain. The devil
seemed to be in it. The season of Bondelles was over two months
ago, and there are none to be seen; as to trout, I don't believe
one has been eaten in the whole town for six weeks. I am forever at
the heels of the fishermen, promising them double and treble the
value of the fish I want, but they all tell me they catch nothing
except pike. I have been to Cudrefin for lampreys, but found
nothing. Rodolphe* (* An experienced old boatman.) has been
paddling in the brook every day without success. I went to Sauge,
--no eels, no anything but perch and a few little cat-fish. Two
mortal Sundays did I spend, rod in hand, trying to catch bream,
chubs, etc. I did get a few, but they were not worth sending. Now
it is all over for this year, and we may as well put on mourning
for them; but I promise you that as soon as the spring opens I will
go to work, and you shall have all you want. If, in spite of
everything, your hopes are not realized, I shall be very sorry, but
rest assured that it is not my fault. . .


MUNICH, October 29, 1828.

. . .I have never written you about what has engrossed me so
deeply; but since my secret is out, I ought not to keep silence
longer. That you may understand why I have entered upon such a work
I will go back to its origin. In 1817 the King of Bavaria sent two
naturalists, M. Martius and M. Spix, on an exploring expedition to
Brazil. Of M. Martius, with whom I always spend my Wednesday
evenings, I have often spoken to you. In 1821 these gentlemen
returned to their country laden with new discoveries, which they
published in succession. M. Martius issued colored illustrations of
all the unknown plants he had collected on his journey, while M.
Spix brought out several folio volumes on the monkeys, birds, and
reptiles of Brazil, the animals being drawn and colored, chiefly
life-size, by able artists. It had been his intention to give a
complete natural history of Brazil, but to the sorrow of all
naturalists he died in 1826. M. Martius, desirous to see the
completion of the work which his traveling companion had begun,
engaged a professor from Erlangen to publish the shells, and these
appeared last year. When I came to Munich there remained only the
fishes and insects, and M. Martius, who had learned something about
me from the professors to whom I was known, found me worthy to
continue the work of Spix, and asked me to carry on the natural
history of the fishes. I hesitated for a long time to accept this
honorable offer, fearing that the occupation might withdraw me too
much from my studies; but, on the other hand, the opportunity for
laying the foundation of a reputation by a large undertaking seemed
too favorable to be refused. The first volume is already finished,
and the printing was begun some weeks ago. You can imagine the
pleasure I should have had in sending it to our dear father and
mother before they had heard one word about it, or knew even of the
proposition. But I hope the premature disclosure of my secret
(indeed, to tell the truth, I had not imposed silence on M. Schinz,
not dreaming that he would see any one of the family) will not
diminish your pleasure in receiving the first work of your brother
Louis, which I hope to send you at Easter. Already forty colored
folio plates are completed. Will it not seem strange when the
largest and finest book in papa's library is one written by his
Louis? Will it not be as good as to see his prescription at the
apothecary's? It is true that this first effort will bring me in
but little; nothing at all, in fact, because M. de Martius has
assumed all the expenses, and will, of course, receive the profits.
My share will be a few copies of the book, and these I shall give
to the friends who have the first claim.

To his father Agassiz only writes of his work at this time: "I have
been very busy this summer, and I can tell you from a good source
(I have it from one of the professors himself) that the professors
whose lectures I have attended have mentioned me more than once, as
one of the most assiduous and best informed students of the
university; saying also that I deserved distinction. I do not tell
you this from ostentation, but only that you may not think I lose
my time, even though I occupy myself chiefly with the natural
sciences. I hope yet to prove to you that with a brevet of Doctor
as a guarantee, Natural History may be a man's bread-winner as well
as the delight of his life. . ."

In September Agassiz allowed himself a short interruption of his
work. The next letter gives some account of this second vacation


MUNICH, September 26, 1828.

. . .The instruction for the academic year closed at the end of
August, and our professors had hardly completed their lectures when
I began my Alpine excursion. Braun, impatient to leave Munich, had
already started the preceding day, promising to wait for me on the
Salzburg road at the first spot which pleased him enough for a
halt. That I might not keep him waiting, I begged a friend to drive
me a good day's journey, thinking to overtake Braun the first day
on the pleasant banks of the Lake of Chiem. My traveling companions
were the younger Schimper [Wilhelm], of whom I have spoken to you
(and who made a botanical journey in the south of France and the
Pyrenees two years ago), and Mahir, who drove us, with whom I am
very intimate; he is a medical student, and also a very
enthusiastic physicist. He gave me private lessons in mathematics
all winter, and was a member of our philomathic meetings. Braun had
not set out alone either, and his two traveling companions were
also friends of ours. One was Trettenbacher, a medical student
greatly given to sophisms and logic, but allowing himself to be
beaten in argument with the utmost good nature, though always
believing himself in the right; a thoroughly good fellow with all
that, and a great connoisseur of antiquities. The other was a young
student, More, from the ci-devant department of Mt. Tonnerre, who
devotes himself entirely to the natural sciences, and has chosen
the career of traveling naturalist. You can easily imagine that
this attracts me to him, but as he is only a beginner I am, as it
were, his mentor.

On the morning of our departure the weather was magnificent.
Driving briskly along we had various surmises as to where we should
probably meet our traveling companions, not doubting that, as we
hoped to reach the Lake of Chiem the same day, We should come
across them the day following on one of its pretty islands. But in
the afternoon the weather changed, and we were forced to seek
shelter from torrents of rain at Rosenheim, a charming town on the
banks of the Inn, where I saw for the first time this river of
Helvetic origin. I saluted it as a countryman of mine, and wished I
could change its course and send it back laden with my greetings.
The next day Mahir drove us as far as the shore of the lake. There
we parted from him, and took a boat to the islands, where we were
much disappointed not to find Braun and his companions. We thought
the bad weather of the day before (for here it had rained all day)
might have obliged them to make the circuit of the lake. However,
in order to overtake them before reaching Salzburg, we kept our
boatmen, and were rowed across to the opposite shore near
Grabenstadt, where we arrived at ten o'clock in the evening. In the
afternoon the weather had cleared a little, and the view was
beautiful as we pulled away from the islands and watched them fade
in the twilight. I also gathered much interesting information about
the inhabitants of the waters of this lake. Among others, I was
much pleased to find a cat-fish, taken in the lake by one of the
island fishermen, and also a kind of chub, not found in
Switzerland, and called by the fishermen here "Our Lady's Fish,"
because it occurs only on the shore of an island where there is a
convent, the nuns of which esteem it a great delicacy.

The third day we reached Traunstein, where, although it was Sunday,
there was a great horse fair. We looked with interest at the gay
Tyroleans, with the cock-feathers in their pointed hats, singing
and yodeling in the streets with their sweethearts on their arms.
Every now and then they let fall some sarcastic comment on our
accoutrements, which were indeed laughable enough to these people,
who had never seen anything beyond their own chalets, and for whom
an excursion from their mountains to a fair in the nearest town is
a journey. It was noon when we stopped at Traunstein, and from
there to Salzburg is but five leagues. Before reaching the
fortress, however, you must pass the great custom-house on the
Bavarian frontier, and fearing we might be delayed there too long
by the stupid Austrian officials, and thus be prevented from
entering the city before the gates were closed, we resolved to wait
till the next morning and spend the night at Adelstaetten, a pretty
village about a league from Salzburg, and the last Bavarian post.
Night was falling as we approached a little wood which hid the
village from us. There we asked a peasant how far we had still to
go, and when he had answered our question he told us, evidently
with kind intention, that we should find good company in the
village, for a few hours earlier three journeymen laborers had
arrived there; and then he added that we should no doubt be glad to
meet comrades and have a gay evening with them. We were not
astonished to be taken for workmen, since every one who travels
here on foot, with a knapsack on his back, is understood to belong
to the laboring class. . .Arrived at the village, we were delighted
to find that the three journeymen were our traveling companions.
They had come, like ourselves, from Traunstein, where we had missed
each other in the crowd, and they were going likewise to sleep at
Adelstaetten, to avoid the custom-house. Finally, on Monday, at ten
o'clock, we crossed the long bridge over the Saala, between the
white coats with yellow trimmings on guard there. On the Bavarian
frontier we had hardly remembered that there was a custom-house,
and the name of student sufficed to pass us without our showing any
passports; here, on the contrary, it was another reason for the
strictest examination. "Have you no forbidden books?" was the first
question. By good fortune, before crossing the bridge, I had
advised Trettenbach to hide his song-book in the lining of his
boot. I am assured that had it been taken upon him he would not
have been allowed to pass. In ransacking Braun's bag, one of the
officials found a shell such as are gathered by the basketful on
the shores of the Lake of Neuchatel. His first impulse was to go to
the office and inquire whether we should not pay duty on this,
saying that it was no doubt for the fabrication of false pearls,
and we probably had plenty more. We had all the difficulty in the
world to make him understand that not fifty steps from the
custom-house the shores of the river were strewn with them. . .
After all this we had to empty our purses to show that we had money
enough for our journey, and that we should not be forced to beg in
order to get through. While we underwent this inquisition, another
officer made a tour of inspection around us, to observe our general
bearing, etc. . .After having kept us thus on coals for two hours
they gave us back our passports, and we went our way. At one
o'clock we arrived at Salzburg as hungry as wolves, but at the gate
we had still to wait and give up our passports again in exchange
for receipts, in virtue of which we could obtain permits from the
police to remain in the city. From our inn, we sent a waiter to get
these permits, but he presently returned with the news that we must
go in person to take them; there was, however, no hurry; it would
do in three or four hours! We had no farther difficulty except that
it was made a condition of our stay that we should not appear in
student's dress. This dress, they said, was forbidden in Austria.
They begged More to have his hair cut, otherwise it would be
shortened gratis, and also informed us that at our age it was not
becoming to dispense with cravats. Happily, I had two with me, and
Braun tied his handkerchief around his neck. It astonished me,
also, to see that we were not entered on the list of strangers
published every evening. So it was also, as we found, with other
students, though the persons who came with them by the same
conveyance, even the children, were duly inscribed. It seems this
is a precaution against any gathering of students. . .

The letter concludes in haste for the mail, and if the story of the
journey was finished the final chapter has not been preserved. Some
extracts from the home letters of Agassiz's friend Braun, which are
in place here, throw light on their university life for the coming
year.* (* See "Life of Alexander Braun", by his daughter, Madame
Cecile Mettenius.)


MUNICH, November 18, 1828.

. . .I will tell you how we have laid out our time for this term.
Our human consciousness may be said to begin at half-past five
o'clock in the morning. The hour from six to seven is appointed for
mathematics, namely, geometry and trigonometry. To this appointment
we are faithful, unless the professor oversleeps himself, or
Agassiz happens to have grown to his bed, an event which sometimes
occurs at the opening of the term. From seven to eight we do as we
like, including breakfast. Under Agassiz's new style of
housekeeping the coffee is made in a machine which is devoted
during the day to the soaking of all sorts of creatures for
skeletons, and in the evening again to the brewing of our tea. At
eight o'clock comes the clinical lecture of Ringseis. As Ringseis
is introducing an entirely new medical system this is not wholly
without general physiological and philosophical interest. At ten
o'clock Stahl lectures, five times a week, on mechanics as
preliminary to physics. These and also the succeeding lectures,
given only twice a week on the special natural history of
amphibians by Wagler, we all attend together. From twelve to one
o'clock we have nothing settled as yet, but we mean to take the
lectures of Dollinger, in single chapters, as, for instance, when
he comes to the organs of the senses. At one o'clock we go to
dinner, for which we have at last found a comfortable and regular
place, at a private house, after having dined everywhere and
anywhere, at prices from nine to twenty kreutzers. Here, for
thirteen kreutzers* (* About nine cents of our money.) each, in
company with a few others, mostly known to us, we are provided with
a good and neatly served meal. After dinner we go to Dr. Waltl,
with whom we study chemistry, using Gmelin's text-book, and are
shown the most important experiments. Next week we are to begin
entomology with Dr. Perty, from three to four, three times a week.
From one to two o'clock on Saturday we have a lesson in
experimental physiology, plainly speaking, in animal dissection,
from Dr. Oesterreicher, a young Docent, who has written on the
circulation of the blood. As Agassiz dissects a great many animals,
especially fishes, at the house, we are making rapid progress in
comparative anatomy. At four o'clock we go usually once a week to
hear Oken on "Natur-philosophie" (a course we attended last term
also), but by that means we secure a good seat for Schelling's
lecture immediately after. A man can hardly hear twice in his life
a course of lectures so powerful as those Schelling is now giving
on the philosophy of revelation. This will sound strangely to you,
because, till now, men have not believed that revelation could be a
subject for philosophical treatment; to some it has seemed too
sacred; to others too irrational. . .This lecture brings us to six
o'clock, when the public courses are at an end: we go home, and now
begin the private lectures. Sometimes Agassiz tries to beat French
rules and constructions into our brains, or we have a lesson in
anatomy, or I read general natural history aloud to William
Schimper. By and by I shall review the natural history of grasses
and ferns, two families of which I made a special study last
summer. Twice a week Karl Schimper lectures to us on the morphology
of plants; a very interesting course on a subject but little known.
He has twelve listeners. Agassiz is also to give us lectures
occasionally on Sundays upon the natural history of fishes. You see
there is enough to do. . .

Somewhat before this, early in 1828, Agassiz had made the
acquaintance of Mr. Joseph Dinkel, an artist. A day spent together
in the country, in order that Mr. Dinkel might draw a brilliantly
colored trout from life, under the immediate direction of the young
naturalist, led to a relation which continued uninterruptedly for
many years. Mr. Dinkel afterward accompanied Agassiz, as his
artist, on repeated journeys, being constantly employed in making
illustrations for the "Poissons Fossiles" and the "Poissons d'Eau
Douce," as well as for his monographs and smaller papers. The two
larger works, the latter of which remained unfinished, were even
now in embryo. Not only was Mr. Dinkel at work upon the plates for
the Fresh-Water Fishes, but Mr. J.C. Weber, who was then engaged in
making, under Agassiz's direction, the illustrations for the Spix
Fishes, was also giving his spare hours to the same objects. Mr.
Dinkel says of Agassiz's student life at this time:--* (* Extract
from notes written out in English by Mr. Dinkel after the death of
Agassiz and sent to me. The English, though a little foreign, is so
expressive that it would lose by any attempt to change it, and the
writer will excuse me for inserting his vivid sketch just as it

"I soon found myself engaged four or five hours almost daily in
painting for him fresh-water fishes from the life, while he was at
my side, sometimes writing out his descriptions, sometimes
directing me. . .He never lost his temper, though often under great
trial; he remained self-possessed and did everything calmly, having
a friendly smile for every one and a helping hand for those who
were in need. He was at that time scarcely twenty years old, and
was already the most prominent among the students at Munich. They
loved him, and had a high consideration for him. I had seen him at
the Swiss students' club several times, and had observed him among
the JOLLY students; he liked merry society, but he himself was in
general reserved and never noisy. He picked out the gifted and
highly-learned students, and would not waste his time in ordinary
conversation. Often, when he saw a number of students going off on
some empty pleasure-trip, he said to me, 'There they go with the
other fellows; their motto is, "Ich gehe mit den andern." I will go
my own way, Mr. Dinkel,--and not alone: I will be a leader of
others.' In all his doings there was an ease and calm which was
remarkable. His studio was a perfect German student's room. It was
large, with several wide windows; the furniture consisted of a
couch and about half a dozen chairs, beside some tables for the use
of his artists and himself. Dr. Alex Braun and Dr. Schimper lodged
in the same house, and seemed to me to share his studio. Being
botanists, they, too, brought home what they collected in their
excursions, and all this found a place in the atelier, on the
couch, on the seats, on the floors. Books filled the chairs, one
alone being left for the other artist, while I occupied a standing
desk with my drawing. No visitor could sit down, and sometimes
there was little room to stand or move about. The walls were white,
and diagrams were drawn on them, to which, by and by, we artists
added skeletons and caricatures. In short, it was quite original. I
was some time there before I could discover the real names of his
friends: each had a nickname,--Molluscus, Cyprinus, Rhubarb, etc."

From this glimpse into "The Little Academy" we return to the thread
of the home letters, learning from the next one that Agassiz's
private collections were assuming rather formidable proportions
when considered as part of the household furniture. Brought
together in various ways, partly by himself, partly in exchange for
duplicates, partly as pay for arranging specimens in the Munich
Museum, they had already acquired, when compared with his small
means, a considerable pecuniary value, and a far higher scientific
importance. They included fishes, some rare mammalia, reptiles,
shells, birds, an herbarium of some three thousand species of
plants collected by himself, and a small cabinet of minerals. After
enumerating them in a letter to his parents he continues: "You can
imagine that all these things are in my way now that I cannot
attend to them, and that for want of room and care they are piled
up and in danger of spoiling. You see by my list that the whole
collection is valued at two hundred louis; and this is so low an
estimate that even those who sell objects of natural history would
not hesitate to take them at that price. You will therefore easily
understand how anxious I am to keep them intact. Can you not find
me a place where they might be spread out? I have thought that
perhaps my uncle in Neuchatel would have the kindness to let some
large shelves be put up in the little upper room of his house in
Cudrefin, where, far from being an annoyance or causing any smell,
my collection, if placed in a case under glass, or disposed in some
other suitable manner, would be an ornament. Be so kind as to
propose it to him, and if he consents I will then tell you what I
shall need for its arrangement. Remember that on this depends, in
great part, the preservation of my specimens, and answer as soon as

Agassiz was now hurrying forward both his preparation for his
degree and the completion of his Brazilian Fishes, in the hope of
at last fulfilling his longing for a journey of exploration. This
hope is revealed in his next home letter. The letter is a long one,
and the first half is omitted since it concerns only the
arrangements for his collections, the care to be taken of them,


MUNICH, February 14, 1829.

. . .But now I must talk to you of more important things, not of
what I possess, but of what I am to be. Let me first recall one or
two points touched upon before in our correspondence, which should
now be fully discussed.

1st. You remember that when I first left Switzerland I promised you
to win the title of Doctor in two years, and to be prepared (after
having completed my studies in Paris) to pass my examination before
the "Conseil de Sante," and begin practice.

2nd. You will not have forgotten either that you exacted this only
that I might have a profession, and that you promised, should I be
able to make my way in the career of letters and natural history,
you would not oppose my wishes. I am indeed aware that in the
latter case you see but one obstacle, that of absence from my
country and separation from all who are dear to me. But you know me
too well to think that I would voluntarily impose upon myself such
an exile. Let us see whether we cannot resolve these difficulties
to our mutual satisfaction, and consider what is the surest road to
the end I have proposed to myself ever since I began my medical
studies. Weigh all my reasons, for in this my peace of mind and my
future happiness are concerned. Examine my conduct with reference
to what I propose in every light, that of son and Vaudois citizen
included, and I feel sure you will concur in my views.

Here is my aim and the means by which I propose to carry it out. I
wish it may be said of Louis Agassiz that he was the first
naturalist of his time, a good citizen, and a good son, beloved of
those who knew him. I feel within myself the strength of a whole
generation to work toward this end, and I will reach it if the
means are not wanting. Let us see in what these means consist.
[Here follows the summing up of his reasons for preferring a
professorship of natural history to the practice of medicine, and
his intention of trying for a diploma as Doctor of Philosophy in
Germany.] But how obtain a professorship, you will say,--that is
the important point? I answer, the first step is to make myself a
European name, and for that I am on the right road. In the first
place my work on the fishes of Brazil, just about to appear, will
make me favorably known. I am sure it will be kindly received; for
at the General Assembly of German naturalists and medical men last
September, in Berlin, the part already finished and presented
before the Assembly was praised in a manner for which I was quite
unprepared. The professors also, to whom I was known, spoke of me
there in very favorable terms.

In the second place there are now preparing two expeditions of
natural history, one by M. de Humboldt, with whose reputation you
are surely familiar,--the same who spent several years in exploring
the equatorial regions of South America, in company with M.
Bonpland. He has been for some years at Berlin, and is now about to
start on a journey to the Ural Mountains, the Caucasus, and the
confines of the Caspian Sea. Braun, Schimper, and I have been
proposed to him as traveling companions by several of our
professors; but the application may come too late, for M. de
Humboldt decided upon this journey long ago, and has probably
already chosen the naturalists who are to accompany him. How happy
I should be to join this expedition to a country the climate of
which is by no means unhealthy, under the direction of a man so
generally esteemed, to whom the Emperor of Russia has promised help
and an escort at all times and under all circumstances. The second
expedition is to a country quite as salubrious, and which presents
no dangers whatever for travelers,--South America. It will be under
the direction of M. Ackermann, known as a distinguished
agriculturist and as Councilor of State to the Grand Duke of Baden.
I should prefer to go with Humboldt; but if I am too late, I feel
very sure of being able to join the second expedition. So it
depends, you see, only on your consent. This journey is to last two
years, at the end of which time, happily at home once more, I can
follow with all desirable facilities the career I have chosen. If
there should be a place for me at Lausanne, which I should prefer
to any other locality, I could devote my life to teaching my young
countrymen, awaken in them the taste for science and observation so
much neglected among us, and thus be more useful to my canton than
I could be as a practitioner. These projects may not succeed; but
in the present state of things all the probabilities are favorable.
Therefore, I beg you to consider it seriously, to consult my uncle
in Lausanne, and to write me at once what you think. . .

In spite of the earnest desire for travel shown in this letter it
will be seen later how the restless aspirations of childhood,
boyhood, and youth, which were, after all, only a latent love of
research, crystallize into the concentrated purpose of the man who
could remain for months shut up in his study, leaving his
microscope only to eat and sleep,--a life as sedentary as ever was
lived by a closet student.


ORBE, February 23, 1829.

. . .It was not without deep emotion that we read your letter of
the 14th, and I easily understand that, anticipating its effect
upon us all, you have deferred writing as long as possible. Yet you
were wrong in so doing; had we known your projects earlier we might
have forestalled for you the choice of M. de Humboldt, whose
expedition seems to us preferable, in every respect, to that of M.
Ackermann. The first embraces a wider field, and concerns the
history of man rather than that of animals; the latter is confined
to an excursion along the sea-board, where there would be, no
doubt, a rich harvest for science, but much less for philosophy.
However that may be, your father and mother, while they grieve for
the day that will separate them from their oldest son, will offer
no obstacles to his projects, but pray God to bless them. . .

The subjoined letter of about the same date from Alexander Braun to
his father tells us how the projects so ardently urged upon his
parents by Agassiz, and so affectionately accepted by them, first
took form in the minds of the friends.


MUNICH, February 15, 1829.

. . .Last Thursday we were at Oken's. There was interesting talk on
all sorts of subjects, bringing us gradually to the Ural and then
to Humboldt's journey, and finally Oken asked if we would not like
to go with Humboldt. To this we gave warm assent, and told him that
if he could bring it about we would be ready to start at a day's
notice, and Agassiz added, eagerly, "Yes,--and if there were any
hope that he would take us, a word from you would have more weight
than anything." Oken's answer gave us but cold comfort;
nevertheless, he promised to write at once to Humboldt in our
behalf. With this, we went home in great glee; it was very late and
a bright moonlight night. Agassiz rolled himself in the snow for
joy, and we agreed that however little hope there might be of our
joining the expedition, still the fact that Humboldt would hear of
us in this way was worth something, even if it were only that we
might be able to say to him one of these days, "We are the fellows
whose company you rejected."

With this hope the friends were obliged to content themselves, for
after a few weeks of alternate encouragement and despondency their
bright vision faded. Oken fulfilled his promise and wrote to
Humboldt, recommending them most warmly. Humboldt answered that his
plans were conclusively settled, and that he had chosen the only
assistants who were to accompany him,--Ehrenberg and Rose.

In connection with this frustrated plan is here given the rough
draft of a letter from Agassiz to Cuvier, written evidently at a
somewhat earlier date. Although a mere fragment, it is the
outpouring of the same passionate desire for a purely scientific
life, and shows that the opportunity suggested by Humboldt's
journey had only given a definite aim to projects already full
grown. From the contents it must have been written in 1828. After
some account of his early studies, which would be mere repetition
here, he goes on: "Before finishing my letter, allow me to ask some
advice from you, whom I revere as a father, and whose works have
been till now my only guide. Five years ago I was sent to the
medical school at Zurich. After the first few lectures there in
anatomy and zoology I could think of nothing but skeletons. In a
short time I had learned to dissect, and had made for myself a
small collection of skulls of animals from different classes. I
passed two years in Zurich, studying whatever I could find in the
Museum, and dissecting all the animals I could procure. I even sent
to Berlin at this time for a monkey in spirits of wine, that I
might compare the nervous system with that of man. I spent all the
little means I had in order to see and learn as much as possible.
Then I persuaded my father to let me go to Heidelberg, where for a
year I followed Tiedemann's courses in human anatomy. I passed
almost the whole winter in the anatomical laboratory. The following
summer I attended the lectures of Leuckart on zoology, and those of
Bronn on fossils. When at Zurich, the longing to travel some day as
a naturalist had taken possession of me, and at Heidelberg this
desire only increased. My frequent visits to the Museum at
Frankfort, and what I heard there concerning M. Ruppell himself,
strengthened my purpose even more than all I had previously read. I
was, as it were, Ruppell's traveling companion: the activity, the
difficulties to be overcome, all were present to me as I looked
upon the treasures he had brought together from the deserts of
Africa. The vision of difficulty thus vanquished, and of the inward
satisfaction arising from it, tended to give all my studies a
direction in keeping with my projects."

"I felt that to reach my aim more surely it was important to
complete my medical studies, and for this I came to Munich eighteen
months ago. Still I could not make up my mind to renounce the
natural sciences. I attended some of the pathological lectures, but
I soon found that I was neglecting them; and yielding once more to
my inclination, I followed consecutively the lectures of Dollinger
on comparative anatomy, those of Oken on natural history, those of
Fuchs on mineralogy, as well as the courses of astronomy, physics,
chemistry, and mathematics. I was confirmed in this withdrawal from
medical studies by the proposition of M. de Martius that I should
describe the fishes brought back by Spix from Brazil, and to this I
consented the more gladly because ichthyology has always been a
favorite study with me. I have not, however, been able to give them
all the care I could have wished, for M. de Martius, anxious to
complete the publication of these works, has urged upon me a rapid
execution. I hope, nevertheless, that I have made no gross errors,
and I am the less likely to have done so, because I had as my guide
the observations you had kindly made for him on the plates of Spix.
Several of these plates were not very exact; they have been set
aside and new drawings made. I beg that you will judge this work
when it reaches you with indulgence, as the first literary essay of
a young man. I hope to complete it in the course of the next
summer. I would beg you, in advance, to give me a paternal word of
advice as to the direction my studies should then take. Ought I to
devote myself to the study of medicine? I have no fortune, it is
true; but I would gladly sacrifice my life if, by so doing, I could
serve the cause of science. Though I have not even a presentiment
of any means with which I may one day travel in distant countries,
I have, nevertheless, prepared myself during the last three years
as if I might be off at any minute. I have learned to skin all
sorts of animals, even very large ones. I have made more than a
hundred skeletons of quadrupeds, birds, reptiles, and fishes; I
have tested all the various liquors for preserving such animals as
should not be skinned, and have thought of the means of supplying
the want in countries where the like preparations are not to be
had, in case of need. Finally, I have trained as traveling
companion a young friend,* (* William Schimper, brother of Karl.)
and awakened in him the same love of the natural sciences. He is an
excellent hunter, and at my instigation has been taking lessons in
drawing, so that he is now able to sketch from nature such objects
as may be desirable. We often pass delightful moments in our
imaginary travels through unknown countries, building thus our
castles in Spain. Pardon me if I talk to you of projects which at
first sight seem puerile; only a fixed aim is needed to give them
reality, and to you I come for counsel. My longing is so great that
I feel the need of expressing it to some one who will understand
me, and your sympathy would make me the happiest of mortals. I am
so pursued by this thought of a scientific journey that it presents
itself under a thousand forms, and all that I undertake looks
toward one end. I have for six months frequented a blacksmith's and
carpenter's shop, learning to handle hammer and axe, and I also
practice arms, the bayonet and sabre exercise. I am strong and
robust, know how to swim, and do not fear forced marches. I have,
when botanizing and geologizing, walked my twelve or fifteen
leagues a day for eight days in succession, carrying on my back a
heavy bag loaded with plants or minerals. In one word, I seem to
myself made to be a traveling naturalist. I only need to regulate
the impetuosity which carries me away. I beg you, then, to be my

The unfinished letter closes abruptly, having neither signature nor
address. Perhaps the writer's courage failed him and it never was
sent. An old letter (date 1827) from Cuvier to Martius, found among
Agassiz's papers of this time, and containing the very notes on the
Spix Fishes to which allusion is here made, leaves no doubt,
however, that this appeal was intended for the great master who
exercised so powerful an influence upon Agassiz throughout his
whole life.

In the spring of 1829 Agassiz took his diploma in the faculty of
philosophy. He did this with no idea of making it a substitute for
his medical degree, but partly in deference to Martius, who wished
the name of his young colleague to appear on the title-page of the
Brazilian Fishes with the dignity of Doctor, and partly because he
believed it would strengthen his chance of a future professorship.
Of his experience on this occasion he gives some account in the
following letter:--


MUNICH, May 22, 1829.

As it was necessary for me to go through with my examination at
once, and as the days for promotion here were already engaged two
months in advance, I decided to pass it at Erlangen. That I might
not go alone, and also for the pleasure of their company, I
persuaded Schimper and Michahelles to do the same. Braun wanted to
be of the party, but afterward decided to wait awhile. We made our
request to the Faculty in a long Latin letter (because, you know,
among savants it is the thing to speak and write the language you
know least), requesting permission to pass our examination in
writing, and to go to Erlangen only for the colloquium and
promotion. They granted our request on condition of our promise
(jurisjurandi loco polliciti sumus) to answer the questions
propounded without help from any one and without consulting books.
Among other things I had to develop a natural system of zoology, to
show the relation between human history and natural history, to
determine the true basis and limits of the philosophy of nature,
etc. As an inaugural dissertation, I presented some general and
novel considerations on the formation of the skeleton throughout
the animal kingdom, from the infusoria, mollusks, and insects to
the vertebrates, properly so called. The examiners were
sufficiently satisfied with my answers to give me my degree the
23rd or 24th of April, without waiting for the colloquium and
promotion, writing to me that they were satisfied with my
examination, and therefore forwarded my diploma without regard to
the oral examination. . .The Dean of the Faculty, in inclosing it
to me, added that he hoped before long to see me professor, and no
less the ornament of my university in that position than I had
hitherto been as student. I must try not to disappoint him. . .

A letter from his brother contains a few lines in reference to
this. "Last evening, dear Louis, your two diplomas reached me. I
congratulate you with all my heart on your success. I am going to
send to grandpapa the one destined for him, and I see in advance
all his pleasure, though it would be greater if the word medicine
stood for that of philosophy."

The first part of the work on the Brazilian Fishes was now
completed, and he had the pleasure of sending it to his parents as
his own forerunner. After joining a scientific meeting to be held
at Heidelberg, in September, he was to pass a month at home before
returning to Munich for the completion of his medical studies.


MUNICH, July 4, 1829.

. . .I hope when you read this letter you will have received the
first part of my Brazilian Fishes from M.--, of Geneva, to whom
Martius had to send a package of plants, with which my book was
inclosed. I venture to think that this work will give me a name,
and I await with impatience the criticism that I suppose it will
receive from Cuvier. . .I think the best way of reaching the
various aims I have in view is to continue the career on which I
have started, and to publish as soon as possible my natural history
of the fresh-water fishes of Germany and Switzerland. I propose to
issue it in numbers, each containing twelve colored plates
accompanied by six sheets of letter-press. . .In the middle of
September there is to be a meeting of all the naturalists and
medical men of Germany, to which foreign savants are invited. A
similar meeting has been held for the last two or three years in
one or another of the brilliant centres of Germany. This year it
will take place at Heidelberg. Could one desire a better occasion
to make known a projected work? I could even show the original
drawings already made of species only found in the environs of
Munich, and, so to speak, unknown to naturalists. At Heidelberg
will be assembled Englishmen, Danes, Swedes, Russians, and even
Italians. If I could before then arrange everything and distribute
the printed circulars of my work I should be sure of success. . .

In those days of costly postage one sheet of writing paper was
sometimes made to serve for several members of the family. The next
crowded letter contains chiefly domestic details, but closes with a
postscript from Mme. Agassiz, filling, as she says, the only
remaining corner, and expressing her delight in his diploma and in
the completion of his book.


August 16, 1829.

. . .The place your brother has left me seems very insufficient for
all that I have to say, dear Louis, but I will begin by thanking
you for the happiness, as sweet as it is deeply felt, which your
success has given us. Already our satisfaction becomes the reward
of your efforts. We wait with impatience for the moment when we
shall see you and talk with you. Your correspondence leaves many
blanks, and we are sometimes quite ashamed that we have so few
details to give about your book. You will be surprised that it has
not yet reached us. Does the gentleman in Geneva intend to read it
before sending it to us, or has he perhaps not received the
package? Not hearing we are uneasy. . .Good-by, my dear son; I have
no room for more, except to add my tender love for you. An
honorable mention of your name in the Lausanne Gazette has brought
us many pleasant congratulations. . .


August, 1829.

. . .I hope by this time you have my book. I can the less explain
the delay since M. Cuvier, to whom I sent it in the same way, has
acknowledged its arrival. I inclose his letter, hoping it will give
you pleasure to read what one of the greatest naturalists of the
age writes me about it.


PARIS, AU JARDIN DU ROI, August 3, 1829.

. . .You and M. de Martius have done me honor in placing my name at
the head of a work so admirable as the one you have just published.
The importance and the rarity of the species therein described, as
well as the beauty of the figures, will make the work an important
one in ichthyology, and nothing could heighten its value more than
the accuracy of your descriptions. It will be of the greatest use
to me in my History of Fishes. I had already referred to the plates
in the second edition of my "Regne Animal." I shall do all in my
power to accelerate the sale among amateurs, either by showing it
to such as meet at my house or by calling attention to it in
scientific journals.

I look with great interest for your history of the fishes of the
Alps. It cannot but fill a wide gap in that portion of natural
history,--above all, in the different divisions of the genus Salmo.
The figures of Bloch, those of Meidinger, and those of Marsigli,
are quite insufficient. We have the greater part of the species
here, so that it will be easy for me to verify the characters; but
only an artist, working on the spot, with specimens fresh from the
water, can secure the colors. You will, no doubt, have much to add
also respecting the development, habits, and use of all these
fishes. Perhaps you would do well to limit yourself at first to a
monograph of the Salmones.

With my thanks for the promised documents, accept the assurance of
my warm regard and very sincere attachment.


At last comes the moment, so long anticipated, when the young
naturalist's first book is in the hands of his parents. The news of
its reception is given in a short and hurried note.


ORBE, August 31, 1829.

I hasten, my dear son, to announce the arrival of your beautiful
work, which reached us on Thursday, from Geneva. I have no terms in
which to express the pleasure it has given me. In two words, for I
have only a moment to myself, I repeat my urgent entreaty that you
would hasten your return as much as possible. . .The old father,
who waits for you with open heart and arms, sends you the most
tender greeting. . .


1829-1830: AGE 22-23.

Scientific Meeting at Heidelberg.
Visit at Home.
Illness and Death of his Grandfather.
Return to Munich.
Plans for Future Scientific Publications.
Takes his Degree of Medicine.
Visit to Vienna.
Return to Munich.
Home Letters.
Last Days at Munich.
Autobiographical Review of School and University Life.


HEIDELBERG, September 25, 1829.

. . .THE time of our meeting is almost at hand. Relieved from all
anxiety about the subjects I had wished to present here, I can now
be quietly with you and enjoy the rest and freedom I have so long
needed. The tension of mind, forced upon me by the effort to reach
my goal in time, has crowded out the thoughts which are most
present when I am at peace. I will not talk to you of what I have
been doing lately, (a short letter from Frankfort will have put you
on my track), nor of the relations I have formed at the Heidelberg
meeting, nor of the manner in which I have been received, etc.
These are matters better told than written. . .I intend to leave
here to-morrow or the day after, according to circumstances. I
shall stay some days at Carlsruhe to put my affairs in order, and
from there make the journey home as quickly as possible. . .

The following month we find him once more at home in the parsonage
of Orbe. After the first pleasure and excitement of return, his
time was chiefly spent in arranging his collections at Cudrefin,
where his grandfather had given him house-room for them. In this
work he had the help of the family in general, who made a sort of
scientific fete of the occasion. But it ended sadly with the
illness and death of the kind old grandfather, under whose roof
children and grandchildren had been wont to assemble.


ORBE, December 3, 1829.

. . .I will devote an hour of this last evening I am to pass in
Orbe, to talking with you. You will wonder that I am still here,
and that I have not written. You already know that I have been
arranging my collections at Cudrefin, and spending very happy days
with my grandfather. But he is now very ill, and even should we
have better news of him to-day, the thought weighs heavily on my
heart, that I must take leave of him when he is perhaps on his
death-bed. . .I have just tied up my last package of plants, and
there lies my whole herbarium in order,--thirty packages in all.
For this I have to thank you, dear Alex, and it gives me pleasure
to tell you so and to be reminded of it. What a succession of
glorious memories came up to me as I turned them over. Free from
all disturbing incidents, I enjoyed anew our life together, and
even more, if possible, than in actual experience. Every talk,
every walk, was present to me again, and in reviewing it all I saw
how our minds had been drawn to each other in an ever-strengthening
union. In you I see my own intellectual development reflected as in
a mirror, for to you, and to my intercourse with you, I owe my
entrance upon this path of the noblest and most lasting enjoyment.
It is delightful to look back on such a past with the future so
bright before us. . .

Agassiz now returned to Munich to add the title of Doctor of
Medicine to that of Doctor of Philosophy. A case of somnambulism,
which fell under his observation and showed him disease, or, at
least, abnormal action of the brain, under an aspect which was new
to him, seems to have given a fresh impulse to his medical studies,
and, for a time, he was inclined to believe that the vocation which
had thus far been to him one of necessity, might become one of
preference. But the naturalist was stronger than the physician.
During this very winter, when he was preparing himself with new
earnestness for his profession, a collection of fossil fishes was
put into his hands by the Director of the Museum of Munich. It will
be seen with what ardor he threw himself into this new
investigation. His work on the "Poissons Fossiles," which placed
him in a few years in the front rank of European scientific men,
took form at once in his fertile brain.


MUNICH, January 18, 1830.

. . .My resolve to study medicine is now confirmed. I feel all that
may be done to render this study worthy the name of science, which
it has so long usurped. Its intimate alliance with the natural
sciences and the enlightenment it promises me regarding them are
indeed my chief incitements to persevere in my resolution. In order
to gain time, and to strike while the iron is hot (don't be afraid
it will grow cold; the wood which feeds the fire is good), I have
proposed to Euler, with whom I am very intimate, to review the
medical course with me. Since then, we pass all our evenings
together, and rarely separate before midnight,--reading alternately
French and German medical books. In this way, although I devote my
whole day to my own work about fishes, I hope to finish my
professional studies before summer. I shall then pass my
examination for the Doctorate in Germany, and afterward do the same
in Lausanne. I hope that this decision will please mama. My
character and conduct are the pledge of its accomplishment.

This, then, is my night-work. I have still to tell you what I do by
day, and this is more important. My first duty is to complete my
Brazilian Fishes. To be sure, it is only an honorary work, but it
must be finished, and is an additional means of making subsequent
works profitable. This is my morning occupation, and I am sure of
bringing it to a close about Easter. After much reflection, I have
decided that the best way to turn my Fresh-Water Fishes to account,
is to finish them completely before offering them to a publisher.
All the expenses being then paid, I could afford, if the first
publisher should not feel able to take them on my own terms, to
keep them as a safe investment. The publisher himself seeing the
material finished, and being sure of bringing it out as a complete
work, the value of which he can on that account better estimate,
will be more disposed to accept my proposals, while I, on my side,
can be more exacting. The text for this I write in the afternoon.
My greatest difficulty at first was the execution of the plates.
But here, also, my good star has served me wonderfully. I told you
that beside the complete drawings of the fishes I wanted to
represent their skeletons and the anatomy of the soft parts, which
has never been done for this class. I shall thereby give a new
value to the work, and make it desirable for all who study
comparative anatomy. The puzzle was to find some one who was
prepared to draw things of this kind; but I have made the luckiest
hit, and am more than satisfied. My former artist continues to draw
the fishes, a second draws the skeletons (one who had already been
engaged for several years in the same way, for a work upon
reptiles), while a young physician, who is an admirable
draughtsman, makes my anatomical figures. For my share, I direct
their work while writing the text, and thus the whole advances with
great strides. I do not, however, stop here. Having by permission
of the Director of the Museum one of the finest collections of
fossils in Germany at my disposition, and being also allowed to
take the specimens home as I need them, I have undertaken to
publish the ichthyological part of the collection. Since it only
makes the difference of one or two people more to direct, I have
these specimens also drawn at the same time. Nowhere so well as
here, where the Academy of Fine Arts brings together so many
draughtsmen, could I have the same facility for completing a
similar work; and as it is an entirely new branch, in which no one
has as yet done anything of importance, I feel sure of success; the
more so because Cuvier, who alone could do it (for the simple
reason that every one else has till now neglected the fishes), is
not engaged upon it. Add to this that just now there is a real need
of this work for the determination of the different geological
formations. Once before, at the Heidelberg meeting, it had been
proposed to me; the Director of the Mines at Strasbourg, M. Voltz,
even offered to send me at Munich the whole collection of fossil
fishes from their Museum. I did not speak to you of this at the
time because it would have been of no use. But now that I have it
in my power to carry out the project, I should be a fool to let a
chance escape me which certainly will not present itself a second
time so favorably. It is therefore my intention to prepare a
general work on fossil ichthyology. I hope, if I can command
another hundred louis, to complete everything of which I have
spoken before the end of the summer, that is to say, in July. I
shall then have on hand two works which should surely be worth a
thousand louis to me. This is a low estimate, for even ephemeral
pieces and literary ventures are paid at this price. You can easily
make the calculation. They allow three louis for each plate with
the accompanying text; my fossils will have about two hundred
plates, and my fresh-water fishes about one hundred and fifty. This
seems to me plausible. . .

This letter evidently made a favorable impression on the business
heads of the family at Neuchatel, for it is forwarded to his
parents, with these words from his brother on the last sheet: "I
hasten, dear father, to send you this excellent letter from my
brother, which has just reached me. They have read it here with
interest, and Uncle Francois Mayor, especially, sees both stability
and a sound basis in his projects and enterprises."

There is something touching and almost amusing in Agassiz's efforts
to give a prudential aspect to his large scientific schemes. He was
perfectly sincere in this, but to the end of his life he skirted
the edge of the precipice, daring all, and finding in himself the
power to justify his risks by his successes. He was of frugal
personal habits; at this very time, when he was keeping two or
three artists on his slender means, he made his own breakfast in
his room, and dined for a few cents a day at the cheapest eating
houses. But where science was concerned the only economy he
recognized, either in youth or old age, was that of an expenditure
as bold as it was carefully considered.

In the above letter to his brother we have the story of his work
during the whole winter of 1830. That his medical studies did not
suffer from the fact that, in conjunction with them, he was
carrying on his two great works on the living and the dead world of
fishes may be inferred from the following account of his medical
theses. It was written after his death, to his son Alexander
Agassiz, by Professor von Siebold, now Director of the Museum in
the University of Munich. "How earnestly Agassiz devoted himself to
the study of medicine is shown by the theses (seventy-four in
number), a list of which was printed, according to the prescribed
rule and custom, with his 'Einladung.' I am astonished at the great
number of these. The subjects are anatomical, pathological,
surgical, obstetrical; they are inquiries into materia medica,
medicina forensis, and the relation of botany to these topics. One
of them interested me especially. It read as follows. 'Foemina
humana superior mare.' I would gladly have known how your father
interpreted that sentence. Last fall (1873) I wrote him a letter,
the last I ever addressed to him, questioning him about this very
subject. That letter, alas! remained unanswered."

In a letter to his brother just before taking his degree, Agassiz
says: "I am now determined to pursue medicine and natural history
side by side. Thank you, with all my heart, for your disinterested
offer, but I shall not need it, for I am going on well with my
publisher, M. Cotta, of Stuttgart. I have great hope that he will
accept my works, since he has desired that they should be forwarded
to him for examination. I have sent him the whole, and I feel very
sure he will swallow the pill. My conditions would be the only
cause of delay, but I hope he will agree to them. For the
fresh-water fishes and the fossils together I have asked twenty
thousand Swiss francs. Should he not consent to this, I shall apply
to another publisher."

On the 3rd of April he received his degree of Doctor of Medicine. A
day or two later he writes to his mother that her great desire for
him is accomplished.


MUNICH, April, 1830.

. . .My letter to-day must be to you, for to you I owe it that I
have undertaken the work just completed, and I write to thank you
for having encouraged my zeal. I am very sure that no letter from
me has ever given you greater pleasure than this one will bring;
and I can truly say, on my own part, that I have never written one
with greater satisfaction. Yesterday I finished my medical
examination, after having satisfied every requirement of the
Faculty. . .The whole ceremony lasted nine days. At the close,
while they considered my case, I was sent out of the room. On my
return, the Dean said to me, "The Faculty have been VERY MUCH"
(emphasized) "pleased with your answers; they congratulate
themselves on being able to give the diploma to a young man who has
already acquired so honorable a reputation. On Saturday, after
having argued your thesis, you will receive your degree, in the
Academic Hall, from the Rector of the University." The Rector then
added that he should look upon it as the brightest moment of his
Rectorship when he conferred upon me the title I had so well
merited. Next Saturday, then, at the very time you receive this
letter, at ten o'clock in the morning, the discussion will have
begun, and at twelve I shall have my degree. Dear Mother, dismiss
all anxiety about me. You see I am as good as my word. . .Write
soon; in a few days I go to Vienna for some months. . .


ORBE, April 7, 1830.

I cannot thank you enough, my dear Louis, for the happiness you
have given me in completing your medical examinations, and thus
securing to yourself a career as safe as it is honorable. It is a
laurel added to those you have already won; in my eyes the most
precious of all. You have for my sake gone through a long and
arduous task; were it in my power I would gladly reward you, but I
cannot even say that I love you the more for it, because that is
impossible. My anxious solicitude for your future is a proof of my
ardent affection for you; only one thing was wanting to make me the
happiest of mothers, and this, my Louis, you have just given me.
May God reward you by giving you all possible success in the care
of your fellow-beings. May the benedictions which honor the memory
of a good physician be your portion, as they have been in the
highest degree that of your grandfather. Why can he not be here to
share my happiness to-day in seeing my Louis a medical graduate!. . .

Agassiz was recalled from Vienna in less than two months by the
arrival in Munich of his publisher, M. Cotta, a personal interview
with whom seemed to him important. The only letter preserved from
the Vienna visit shows that his short stay there was full of
interest and instruction.


VIENNA, May 11, 1830.

. . .Since my arrival I have seen so much that I hardly know where
to begin my narrative, and what I have seen has suggested
reflections on many grave subjects, of a kind I had hardly expected
to make here. Nowhere have I seen establishments on broader or more
stately foundations, nor do I believe that anywhere are foreigners
allowed more liberal use of like institutions. I speak of the
university, the hospitals, libraries, and collections of all sorts.
Neither have I seen anywhere else such fine churches, and I have
more than once felt the difference between worshiping within bare
walls, and in buildings more worthy of devotional purposes. In one
word, I should be enchanted with my stay in Vienna if I could be
free from the idea that I am always surrounded by an imperceptible
net, ready to close upon me at the slightest signal. With this
exception, the only discomfort to a foreigner here, if he is
unaccustomed to it, is that of being obliged to abstain from all
criticism of affairs in public places; still more must he avoid
commenting upon persons. I am especially satisfied with my visit
from a scientific point of view. I have learned, and am still
learning, the care of the eyes and how to operate upon them; as to
medicine, the physicians, however good, do not surpass those I have
already known; and as I do not believe it important that a young
physician should familiarize himself with a great variety of
curative methods, I try to observe carefully the patient and his
disease rather than to remember the medicaments applied in special
cases. Surgery and midwifery are poorly provided, but one has a
chance to see many interesting cases.

During the last fortnight I have visited the collection of natural
history often, generally in the afternoon. To tell you how I have
been expected there from the moment I was known to be here, and how
I was received on my first visit, and have been feted since (as
Ichthyologus primus seculi,--so they say), would, perhaps, tire you
and might seem egotistical in me, neither of which do I desire. But
it will not be indifferent to you to know that Cotta is disposed to
accept my Fishes. He has been at Munich for some days, and Schimper
has been talking with him, and has advanced matters more by a few
words than I had been able to do by much writing. For this reason I
intend returning soon to Munich to complete the business, since
Cotta is to be there several weeks longer. Thus I shall have
reached my aim, and be provided from this autumn onward with an
independent maintenance. I was often very anxious this past winter,
in my uncertainty about the means of finally making good such large
outlays. If, however, Cotta makes no other condition than that of a
certain number of subscribers, I shall be sure of them in six months.
You may thus regard what I have done as a speculation happily
concluded, and one which places me at the summit of my desires, for
it leaves me free, at last, to work upon my projects. . .

A letter to his brother, of the 29th of May, just after his return
to Munich, gives a retrospect of the Viennese visit, including the
personal details which he had hesitated to write to his father.
They are important as showing the position he already, at
twenty-three years of age, held among scientific men. "Everything,"
he says, "was open to me as a foreigner, and to my great surprise I
was received as an associate already known. Was it not gratifying
to go to Vienna with no recommendation whatever, and to be welcomed
and sought by all the scientific men, and afterwards presented and
introduced everywhere? In the Museum, not only were the rooms
opened for me when I pleased, but also the cases, and even the
jars, so that I could take out whatever I needed for examination.
At the hospital several professors carried their kindness so far,
as to invite me to accompany them in their private visits. You may
fancy whether I profited by all this, and how many things I saw."
After some account of his business arrangements with Cotta, he adds
"Meantime, be at ease about me. I have strings enough to my bow,
and need not feel anxious about the future. What troubles me is
that the thing I most desire seems to me, at least for the present,
farthest from my reach,--namely, the direction of a great Museum.
When I have finished with Cotta I shall begin to pack my effects,
and shall hope to turn my face homeward somewhere about the end of
August. I can hardly leave earlier, because, for the sake of
practice, I have begun to deliver zoological lectures, open to all
who like to attend, and I want to complete the course before my
departure. I lecture without even an outline or headings before me,
but this requires preparation. You see I do not lose my time."

The next home letter announces an important change in the family
affairs. His father had been called from his parish at Orbe to that
of Concise, a small town situated on the south-western shore of the
Lake of Neuchatel.


ORBE, July, 1830.

. . .Since your father wrote you on the 4th of June, dear Louis, we
have had no news from you, and therefore infer that you are working
with especial zeal to wind up your affairs in Germany and come home
as soon as possible. Whatever haste you make, however, you will not
find us here. Four days ago your father became pastor of Concise,
and yesterday we went to visit our new home. Nothing can be
prettier, and by all who know the place it is considered the most
desirable position in the canton. There is a vineyard, a fine
orchard filled with fruit-trees in full bearing, and an excellent
kitchen garden. A never-failing spring gushes from a grotto, and
within fifty steps of the house is a pretty winding stream with a
walk along the bank, bordered by shrubbery, and furnished here and
there with benches, the whole disposed with much care and taste.
The house also is very well arranged. All the rooms look out upon
the lake, lying hardly a gunshot from the windows. There are a
parlor and a dining-room on the first floor, beside two smaller
rooms; and on the same floor two doors lead out into the flower
garden. The kitchen is small, and on one side is a pretty ground
where we can dine in the open air in summer. The distribution of
rooms in the upper story is the same, with a large additional room
for the accommodation of your father's catechumens. A jasmine vine
drapes the front of the house and climbs to the very roof. . .

To this quiet pretty parsonage Madame Agassiz became much attached.
Her tranquil life is well described in a letter written many years
afterward by one of her daughters. "Here mama returned to her
spinning-wheel with new ardor. It was a work she much liked, and in
which she was very skillful. In former times at grandpapa's every
woman in the house, whether mistress or maid, had her wheel, and
the young ladies were accustomed to spin and make up their own
trousseaus. Later, mama continued her spinning for her children,
and even for her grandchildren. We all preserve as a precious
souvenir, table linen of her making. We delighted to see her at her
wheel, she was so graceful, and the thread of her thought seemed to
follow, so to speak, the fine and delicate thread of her work as it
unwound itself under her touch from the distaff."

Agassiz was detained by his publishing arrangements and his work
longer than he had expected, and November was already advanced
before his preparations for leaving Munich were completed.


MUNICH, November 9, 1830.

. . .According to your wish [this refers to a suggestion about a
fellow-student in a previous letter] I shall not bring any friend
with me. I long to enjoy the pleasure of family life. I shall,
however, be accompanied by one person, for whom I should like to
make suitable arrangements. He is the artist who makes all my
drawings. If there is no room for him in the house he can be lodged
elsewhere; but I wish you could give me the use of a well-lighted
room, where I could work and he could draw at my side through the
day. Do not be frightened; he is not at my charge; but it would be
a great advantage to me if I could have him in the house. As I do
not want to lose time in the mechanical part of my work, I would
beg papa to engage for me some handy boy, fifteen years old or so,
whom I could employ in cleaning skeletons and the like. Finally,
you will receive several boxes for me; leave them unopened till I
come, without even paying the freight upon them,--the most
unsatisfactory of all expenses;--and I do not wish you to have an
unpleasant association with my collections.

My affairs are all in order with Cotta, and I have even concluded
the arrangement more advantageously than I had dared to hope,--a
thousand louis, six hundred payable on the publication of the first
number, and four hundred in installments, as the publication
goeson. If I had not been in haste to close the matter in order to
secure myself against all doubt, I might have done even better. But
I hope I have reconciled you thereby to Natural History. What
remains to be done will be the work of less than half a year,
during which I wish also to get together the materials for my
second work, on the fossils. Of that I have already spoken with my
publisher, and he will take it on more favorable conditions than I
could have dictated. Do your best to find me subscribers, that we
may soon make our typographical arrangements. . .

His father's answer, full of fun as it is, shows, nevertheless,
that the prospect of domesticating not only the naturalist and his
collections, but artist and assistant also, was rather startling.


CONCISE, November 16, 1830.

. . .You speak of Christmas as the moment of your arrival; let us
call it the New Year. You will naturally pass some days at
Neuchatel to be with your brother, to see the Messrs. Coulon, etc.;
from there to Cudrefin for a look at your collection; then to
Concise, then to Montagny, Orbe, Lausanne, Geneva, etc. M. le
Docteur will be claimed and feted by all in turn. And during all
these indispensable excursions, for which, to be within bounds, I
allow a month at least, it is as clear as daylight that regular
work must be set aside, if, indeed, the time be not wholly lost.
Now, for Heaven's sake, what will you do, or rather what shall WE
do, with your painter, in this interval employed by you elsewhere.
Neither is this all. Though the date of Cecile's marriage is not
fixed, it is more than likely to take place in January, so that you
will be here for the wedding. If you will recollect the overturning
of the paternal mansion when your outfit was preparing for Bienne,
Zurich, and other places, you can form an idea of the state of our
rooms above and below, large and small, when the work of the
trousseau begins. Where, in Heaven's name, will you stow away a
painter and an assistant in the midst of half a brigade of
dress-makers, seamstresses, lace-makers, and milliners, without
counting the accompanying train of friends? Where would you, or
where could you, put under shelter your possessions (I dare not
undertake to enumerate them), among all the taffetas and brocades,
linens, muslin, tulles, laces, etc.? But what am I saying? I doubt
if these names are still in existence, for quite other appellations
are sounding in my ears, each one of which, to the number of some
hundred, signifies at least twenty yards in width, to say nothing
of the length. For my part, I have already, notwithstanding the
approach of winter, put up a big nail in the garret, on which to
hang my bands and surplice. Listen, then, to the conclusion of your
father. Give all possible care to your affairs in Munich, put them
in perfect order, leave nothing to be done, and leave nothing
behind EXCEPT THE PAINTER. You can call him in from here, whenever
you think you can make use of him.


MUNICH, November 26, 1830.

. . .When you receive this I shall be no longer in Munich; by means
of a last draft on M. Eichthal I have settled with every one, and I
hope to leave the day after to-morrow. I fully recognize the
justice of your observations, my dear father, but as you start from
a mistaken point of view, they do not coincide altogether with
existing circumstances. I intend to stay with you until the
approach of summer, not only with the aim of working upon the text
of my book, but chiefly in order to take advantage of all the
fossil collections in Switzerland. For that purpose I positively
need a draughtsman, who, thanks to my publisher, is not in my pay,
and who must accompany me in future wherever I go. Since there is
no room at home, please see how he can be lodged in the
neighborhood. I have, at the utmost, to glance each day at what he
has done. I can even give him work for several weeks in which my
presence would be unnecessary. If there is a considerable
collection of fossils at Zurich, I shall leave him there till he
has finished his work, and then he will rejoin me; all that depends
upon circumstances. In any case he must not be a charge to you,
still less interfere with our family privacy. That I may spend all
my time with you, I shall at present bring with me nothing that is
not absolutely necessary. We shall see later where I shall place my
museum. As to visits, they are not to be thought of until the
spring. I could not bear the idea of interruption before the first
number of my "Fishes" is finished.

The artist in question was Mr. Dinkel. His relations with the
family became of a truly friendly character. The connection between
him and Agassiz, most honorable to both parties, lasted for sixteen
years, and was then only interrupted by the departure of Agassiz
for America. During this whole period Mr. Dinkel was occupied as
his draughtsman, living sometimes in Paris, sometimes in England,
sometimes in Switzerland, wherever, in short, there were specimens
to be drawn. In a private letter, written long afterward, he says,
in speaking of the break in their intercourse caused by Agassiz's
removal to America: "For a long time I felt unhappy at that
separation. . .He was a kind, noble-hearted friend; he was very
benevolent, and if he had possessed millions of money he would have
spent them for his researches in science, and have done good to his
fellow-creatures as much as possible."

Some passages from Braun's letters complete the chapter of these
years in Munich, so rich in purpose and in experience, the prelude,
as it were, to the intellectual life of the two friends who had
entered upon them together. These extracts show how seriously, not
without a certain sadness, they near the end.


MUNICH, November 7, 1830.

Were I to leave Munich now, I must separate myself from Agassiz and
Schimper, which would be neither agreeable nor advantageous for me,
nor would it be friendly toward them. We will not shorten the time,
already too scantly measured, which we may still spend so quietly,
so wholly by ourselves, but rather, as long as it lasts, make the
best use of it in a mutual exchange of what we have learned, trying
to encourage each other in the right path, and drawing more closely
together for our whole life to come. Agassiz is to stay till the
end of the month; during this time he will give us lectures in
anatomy, and I shall learn a good deal of zoology. Beside all this
one thing is certain; namely, that we can review our medical work
much more quietly and uninterruptedly here than in Carlsruhe. Add
to this, the advantage we enjoy here of visiting the hospitals. . .
The time passes delightfully with us of late, for Agassiz has
received several baskets of books from Cotta, among others,
Schiller's and Goethe's complete works, the Conversations-Lexicon,
medical works, and works on natural history. How many books a man
may receive in return for writing only one! They are, of course,
deducted from his share of the profits. Yesterday we did nothing
but read Goethe the whole day.

A brief account of Agassiz's university life, dictated by himself,
may fitly close the record of this period. He was often urged to
put together a few reminiscences of his life, but he lived so
intensely in the present, every day bringing its full task, that he
had little time for retrospect, and this sketch remained a
fragment. It includes some facts already told, but is given almost
verbatim, because it forms a sort of summary of his intellectual
development up to this date.

"I am conscious that at successive periods of my life I have
employed very different means and followed very different systems
of study. I may, therefore, be allowed to offer the result of my
experience as a contribution toward the building up of a sound
method for the promotion of the study of nature.

"At first, when a mere boy, twelve years of age, I did what most
beginners do. I picked up whatever I could lay my hands on, and
tried, by such books and authorities as I had at my command, to
find the names of these objects. My highest ambition, at that time,
was to be able to designate the plants and animals of my native
country correctly by a Latin name, and to extend gradually a
similar knowledge in its application to the productions of other
countries. This seemed to me, in those days, the legitimate aim and
proper work of a naturalist. I still possess manuscript volumes in
which I entered the names of all the animals and plants with which
I became acquainted, and I well remember that I then ardently hoped
to acquire the same superficial familiarity with the whole
creation. I did not then know how much more important it is to the
naturalist to understand the structure of a few animals, than to
command the whole field of scientific nomenclature. Since I have
become a teacher, and have watched the progress of students, I have
seen that they all begin in the same way; but how many have grown
old in the pursuit, without ever rising to any higher conception of
the study of nature, spending their life in the determination of
species, and in extending scientific terminology! Long before I
went to the university, and before I began to study natural history
under the guidance of men who were masters in the science during
the early part of this century, I perceived that while nomenclature
and classification, as then understood, formed an important part of
the study, being, in fact, its technical language, the study of
living beings in their natural element was of infinitely greater
value. At that age, namely, about fifteen, I spent most of the time
I could spare from classical and mathematical studies in hunting
the neighboring woods and meadows for birds, insects, and land and
fresh-water shells. My room became a little menagerie, while the
stone basin under the fountain in our yard was my reservoir for all
the fishes I could catch. Indeed, collecting, fishing, and raising
caterpillars, from which I reared fresh, beautiful butterflies,
were then my chief pastimes. What I know of the habits of the
fresh-water fishes of Central Europe I mostly learned at that time;
and I may add, that when afterward I obtained access to a large
library and could consult the works of Bloch and Lacepede, the only
extensive works on fishes then in existence, I wondered that they
contained so little about their habits, natural attitudes, and mode
of action with which I was so familiar.

"The first course of lectures on zoology I attended was given in
Lausanne in 1823. It consisted chiefly of extracts from Cuvier's
'Regne Animal,' and from Lamarck's 'Animaux sans Vertebres.' I now
became aware, for the first time, that the learned differ in their
classifications. With this discovery, an immense field of study
opened before me, and I longed for some knowledge of anatomy, that
I might see for myself where the truth was. During two years spent
in the Medical School of Zurich, I applied myself exclusively to
the study of anatomy, physiology, and zoology, under the guidance
of Professors Schinz and Hirzel. My inability to buy books was,
perhaps, not so great a misfortune as it seemed to me; at least, it
saved me from too great dependence on written authority. I spent
all my time in dissecting animals and in studying human anatomy,
not forgetting my favorite amusements of fishing and collecting. I
was always surrounded with pets, and had at this time some forty
birds flying about my study, with no other home than a large
pine-tree in the corner. I still remember my grief when a visitor,
entering suddenly, caught one of my little favorites between the
floor and the door, and he was killed before I could extricate him.
Professor Schinz's private collection of birds was my daily resort,
and I then described every bird it contained, as I could not afford
to buy even a text-book of ornithology. I also copied with my own
hand, having no means of purchasing the work, two volumes of
Lamarck's 'Animaux sans Vertebres,' and my dear brother copied
another half volume for me. I finally learned that the study of the
things themselves was far more attractive than the books I so much
coveted; and when, at last, large libraries became accessible to
me, I usually contented myself with turning over the leaves of the
volumes on natural history, looking at the illustrations, and
recording the titles of the works, that I might readily consult
them for identification of such objects as I should have an
opportunity of examining in nature.

"After spending in this way two years in Zurich, I was attracted to
Heidelberg by the great reputation of its celebrated teachers,
Tiedemann, Leuckart, Bronn, and others. It is true that I was still
obliged to give up a part of my time to the study of medicine, but
while advancing in my professional course by a steady application
to anatomy and physiology, I attended the lectures of Leuckart in
zoology, and those of Bronn in paleontology. The publication of
Goldfuss's great work on the fossils of Germany was just then
beginning, and it opened a new world to me. Familiar as I was with
Cuvier's 'Regne Animal,' I had not then seen his 'Researches on
Fossil Remains,' and the study of fossils seemed to me only an
extension of the field of zoology. I had no idea of its direct
connection with geology, or of its bearing on the problem of the
successive introduction of animals on the earth. I had never
thought of the larger and more philosophical view of nature as one
great world, but considered the study of animals only as it was
taught by descriptive zoology in those days. At about this time,
however, I made the acquaintance of two young botanists, Braun and
Schimper, both of whom have since become distinguished in the
annals of science. Botany had in those days received a new impulse
from the great conceptions of Goethe. The metamorphosis of plants
was the chief study of my friends, and I could not but feel that
descriptive zoology had not spoken the last word in our science,
and that grand generalizations, such as were opening upon
botanists, must be preparing for zoologists also. Intimate contact
with German students made me feel that I had neglected my
philosophical education; and when, in the year 1827, the new
University of Munich opened, with Schelling as professor of
philosophy, Oken, Schubert, and Wagler as professors of zoology,
Dollinger as professor of anatomy and physiology, Martius and
Zuccarini as professors of botany, Fuchs and Kobell as professors
of mineralogy, I determined to go there with my two friends and
drink new draughts of knowledge. During the years I passed at
Munich I devoted myself almost exclusively to the different
branches of natural science, neglecting more and more my medical
studies, because I began to feel an increasing confidence that I
could fight my way in the world as a naturalist, and that I was
therefore justified in following my strong bent in that direction.
My experience in Munich was very varied. With Dollinger I learned
to value accuracy of observation. As I was living in his house, he
gave me personal instruction in the use of the microscope, and
showed me his own methods of embryological investigation. He had
already been the teacher of Karl Ernst von Baer; and though the
pupil outran the master, and has become the pride of the scientific
world, it is but just to remember that he owed to him his first
initiation into the processes of embryological research. Dollinger
was a careful, minute, persevering observer, as well as a deep
thinker; but he was as indolent with his pen as he was industrious
with his brain. He gave his intellectual capital to his pupils
without stint or reserve, and nothing delighted him more than to
sit down for a quiet talk on scientific matters with a few
students, or to take a ramble with them into the fields outside the
city, and explain to them as he walked the result of any recent
investigation he had made. If he found himself understood by his
listeners he was satisfied, and cared for no farther publication of
his researches. I could enumerate many works of masters in our
science, which had no other foundation at the outset than these
inspiriting conversations. No one has borne warmer testimony to the
influence Dollinger has had in this indirect way on the progress of
our science than the investigator I have already mentioned as his
greatest pupil,--von Baer. In the introduction to his work on
embryology he gratefully acknowledges his debt to his old teacher.

"Among the most fascinating of our professors was Oken. A master in
the art of teaching, he exercised an almost irresistible influence
over his students. Constructing the universe out of his own brain,
deducing from a priori conceptions all the relations of the three
kingdoms into which he divided all living beings, classifying the
animals as if by magic, in accordance with an analogy based on the
dismembered body of man, it seemed to us who listened that the slow
laborious process of accumulating precise detailed knowledge could
only be the work of drones, while a generous, commanding spirit
might build the world out of its own powerful imagination. The
temptation to impose one's own ideas upon nature, to explain her
mysteries by brilliant theories rather than by patient study of the
facts as we find them, still leads us away. With the school of the
physio-philosophers began (at least in our day and generation) that
overbearing confidence in the abstract conceptions of the human
mind as applied to the study of nature, which still impairs the
fairness of our classifications and prevents them from interpreting
truly the natural relations binding together all living beings. And
yet, the young naturalist of that day who did not share, in some
degree, the intellectual stimulus given to scientific pursuits by
physio-philosophy would have missed a part of his training. There
is a great distance between the man who, like Oken, attempts to
construct the whole system of nature from general premises and the
one who, while subordinating his conceptions to the facts, is yet
capable of generalizing the facts, of recognizing their most
comprehensive relations. No thoughtful naturalist can silence the
suggestions, continually arising in the course of his
investigations, respecting the origin and deeper connection of all
living beings; but he is the truest student of nature who, while
seeking the solution of these great problems, admits that the only
true scientific system must be one in which the thought, the
intellectual structure, rises out of and is based upon facts. The
great merit of the physio-philosophers consisted in their
suggestiveness. They did much in freeing our age from the low
estimation of natural history as a science which prevailed in the
last century. They stimulated a spirit of independence among
observers; but they also instilled a spirit of daring, which, from
its extravagance, has been fatal to the whole school. He is lost,
as an observer, who believes that he can, with impunity, affirm
that for which he can adduce no evidence. It was a curious
intellectual experience to listen day after day to the lectures of
Oken, while following at the same time Schelling's courses, where
he was shifting the whole ground of his philosophy from its
negative foundation as an a priori doctrine to a positive basis, as
an historical science. He unfolded his views in a succession of
exquisite lectures, delivered during four consecutive years.

"Among my fellow-students were many young men who now rank among
the highest lights in the various departments of science, and
others, of equal promise, whose early death cut short their work in
this world. Some of us had already learned at this time to work for
ourselves; not merely to attend lectures and study from books. The
best spirit of emulation existed among us; we met often to discuss
our observations, undertook frequent excursions in the
neighborhood, delivered lectures to our fellow-students, and had,
not infrequently, the gratification of seeing our university
professors among the listeners. These exercises were of the highest
value to me as a preparation for speaking, in later years, before
larger audiences. My study was usually the lecture-room. It would
hold conveniently from fifteen to twenty persons, and both students
and professors used to call our quarters "The Little Academy." In
that room I made all the skeletons represented on the plates of
Wagler's "Natural System of Reptiles;" there I once received the
great anatomist, Meckel, sent to me by Dollinger, to examine my
anatomical preparations and especially the many fish-skeletons I
had made from fresh-water fishes. By my side were constantly at
work two artists; one engaged in drawing various objects of natural
history, the other in drawing fossil fishes. I kept always one and
sometimes two artists in my pay; it was not easy, with an allowance
of 250 dollars a year, but they were even poorer than I, and so we
managed to get along together. My microscope I had earned by

"I had hardly finished the publication of the Brazilian Fishes,
when I began to study the works of the older naturalists. Professor
Dollinger had presented me with a copy of Rondelet, which was my
delight for a long time. I was especially struck by the naivete of
his narrative and the minuteness of his descriptions as well as by
the fidelity of his woodcuts, some of which are to this day the
best figures we have of the species they represent. His learning
overwhelmed me; I would gladly have read, as he did, everything
that had been written before my time; but there were authors who
wearied me, and I confess that at that age Linnaeus was among the
number. I found him dry, pedantic, dogmatic, conceited; while I was
charmed with Aristotle, whose zoology I have read and re-read ever
since at intervals of two or three years. I must, however, do
myself the justice to add, that after I knew more of the history of
our science I learned also duly to reverence Linnaeus. But a
student, already familiar with the works of Cuvier, and but
indifferently acquainted with the earlier progress of zoology,
could hardly appreciate the merit of the great reformer of natural
history. His defects were easily perceived, and it required more
familiarity than mine then was with the gradual growth of the
science, from Aristotle onward, to understand how great and
beneficial an influence Linnaeus had exerted upon modern natural

"I cannot review my Munich life without deep gratitude. The city
teemed with resources for the student in arts, letters, philosophy,
and science. It was distinguished at that time for activity in
public as well as in academic life. The king seemed liberal; he was
the friend of poets and artists, and aimed at concentrating all the
glories of Germany in his new university. I thus enjoyed for a few
years the example of the most brilliant intellects, and that
stimulus which is given by competition between men equally eminent
in different spheres of human knowledge. Under such circumstances a
man either subsides into the position of a follower in the ranks
that gather around a master, or he aspires to be a master himself.

"The time had come when even the small allowance I received from
borrowed capital must cease. I was now twenty-four years of age. I
was Doctor of Philosophy and Medicine, and author of a quarto
volume on the fishes of Brazil. I had traveled on foot all over
Southern Germany, visited Vienna, and explored extensive tracts of
the Alps. I knew every animal, living and fossil, in the Museums of
Munich, Stuttgart, Tubingen, Erlangen, Wurzburg, Carlsruhe, and
Frankfort; but my prospects were as dark as ever, and I saw no hope
of making my way in the world, except by the practical pursuit of
my profession as physician. So, at the close of 1830, I left the
university and went home, with the intention of applying myself to
the practice of medicine, confident that my theoretical information
and my training in the art of observing would carry me through the
new ordeal I was about to meet."


1830-1832: AGE 23-25.

Year at Home.
Leaves Home for Paris.
Delays on the Road.
Arrival in Paris.
First Visit to Cuvier.
Cuvier's Kindness.
His Death.
Poverty in Paris.
Home Letters concerning Embarrassments and about his Work.
Singular Dream.

On the 4th of December, 1830, Agassiz left Munich, in company with
Mr. Dinkel, and after a short stay at St. Gallen and Zurich, spent
in looking up fossil fishes and making drawings of them, they
reached Concise on the 30th of the same month. Anxiously as his
return was awaited at home, we have seen that his father was not
without apprehension lest the presence of the naturalist, with
artist, specimens, and apparatus, should be an inconvenience in the
quiet parsonage. But every obstacle yielded to the joy of reunion,
and Agassiz was soon established with his "painter," his fossils,
and all his scientific outfit, under the paternal roof.

Thus quietly engaged in his ichthyological studies, carrying on his
work on the fossil fishes, together with that on the fresh-water
fishes of Central Europe, he passed nearly a year at home. He was
not without patients also in the village and its environs, but had,
as yet, no prospect of permanent professional employment. In the
mean time it seemed daily more and more necessary that he should
carry his work to Paris, to the great centre of scientific life,
where he could have the widest field for comparison and research.
There, also, he could continue and complete to the best advantage
his medical studies. His poverty was the greatest hindrance to any
such move. He was not, however, without some slight independent
means, especially since his publishing arrangements provided in
part for the carrying on of his work. His generous uncle added
something to this, and an old friend of his father's, M.
Christinat, a Swiss clergyman with whom he had been from boyhood a
great favorite, urged upon him his own contribution toward a work
in which he felt the liveliest interest. Still the prospect with
which he left for Paris in September, 1831, was dark enough,
financially speaking, though full of hope in another sense. On the
road he made several halts for purposes of study, combining, as
usual, professional with scientific objects, hospitals with
museums. He was, perhaps, a little inclined to believe that the
most favorable conditions for his medical studies were to be found
in conjunction with the best collections. He had, however, a
special medical purpose, being earnest to learn everything
regarding the treatment and the limitation of cholera, then for the
first time making its appearance in Western Europe with frightful
virulence. Believing himself likely to continue the practice of
medicine for some years at least, he thought his observations upon
this scourge would be of great importance to him. His letters of
this date to his father are full of the subject, and of his own
efforts to ascertain the best means of prevention and defense. The
following answer to an appeal from his mother shows, however, that
his delays caused anxiety at home, lest the small means he could
devote to his studies in Paris should be consumed on the road.


CARLSRUHE, November, 1831.

. . .I returned day before yesterday from my trip in Wurtemberg,
and though I already knew what precautions had been taken
everywhere in anticipation of cholera, I do not think my journey
was a useless one, and am convinced that my observations will not
be without interest,--chiefly for myself, of course, but of utility
to others also I hope. Your letter being so urgent, I will not,
however, delay my departure an instant. Between to-day and
to-morrow I shall put in order the specimens lent me by the Museum,
and then start at once. . .In proportion to my previous anxiety is
my pleasure in the prospect of going to Paris, now that I am better
fitted to present myself there as I could wish. I have collected
for my fossil fishes all the materials I still desired to obtain
from the museums of Carlsruhe, Heidelberg, and Strasbourg, and have
extended my knowledge of geology sufficiently to join, without
embarrassment at least, in conversation upon the more recent
researches in that department. Moreover, Braun has been kind enough
to give me a superb collection, selected by himself, to serve as
basis and guide in my researches. I leave it at Carlsruhe, since I
no longer need it. . .I have also been able to avail myself of the
Museum of Carlsruhe, and of the mineralogical collection of Braun's
father. Beside the drawings made by Dinkel, I have added to my work
one hundred and seventy-one pages of manuscript in French (I have
just counted them), written between my excursions and in the midst
of other occupations. . .I could not have foreseen so rich a

Thus prepared, he arrived in Paris with his artist on the 16th of
December, 1831. On the 18th he writes to his father. . ."Dinkel and
I had a very pleasant journey, though the day after our arrival I
was so fatigued that I could hardly move hand or foot,--that was
yesterday. Nevertheless, I passed the evening very agreeably at the
house of M. Cuvier, who sent to invite me, having heard of my
arrival. To my surprise, I found myself not quite a stranger,
--rather, as it were, among old acquaintances. I have already given
you my address, Rue Copeau (Hotel du Jardin du Roi, Numero 4). As
it happens, M. Perrotet, a traveling naturalist, lives here also,
and has at once put me on the right track about whatever I most
need to know. There are in the house other well-known persons
besides. I am accommodated very cheaply, and am at the same time
within easy reach of many things, the neighborhood of which I can
turn to good account. The medical school, for instance, is within
ten minutes' walk; the Jardin des Plantes not two hundred steps
away; while the Hospital (de la Pitie), where Messieurs Andral and
Lisfranc teach, is opposite, and nearer still. To-day or to-morrow
I shall deliver my letters, and then set to work in good earnest."

Pleased as he was from the beginning with all that concerned his
scientific life in Paris, the next letter shows that the young
Swiss did not at once find himself at home in the great French


PARIS, January 15, 1832.

. . .My expectations in coming here have been more than fulfilled.
In scientific matters I have found all that I knew must exist in
Paris (indeed, my anticipations were rather below than above the
mark), and beside that I have been met everywhere with courtesy,
and have received attentions of all sorts. M. Cuvier and von
Humboldt especially treat me on all occasions as an equal, and
facilitate for me the use of the scientific collections so that I
can work here as if I were at home. And yet it is not the same
thing; this extreme, but formal politeness chills you instead of
putting you at your ease; it lacks cordiality, and, to tell the
truth, I would gladly go away were I not held fast by the wealth of
material of which I can avail myself for instruction. In the
morning I follow the clinical courses at the Pitie. . .At ten
o'clock, or perhaps at eleven, I breakfast, and then go to the
Museum of Natural History, where I stay till dark. Between five and
six I dine, and after that turn to such medical studies as do not
require daylight. So pass my days, one like another, with great
regularity. I have made it a rule not to go out after dinner,--I
should lose too much time. . .On Saturday only I spend the evening
at M. Cuvier's. . .

The homesickness which is easily to be read between the lines of
this letter, due, perhaps, to the writer's want of familiarity with
society in its conventional aspect, yielded to the influence of an
intellectual life, which became daily more engrossing. Cuvier's
kind reception was but an earnest of the affectionate interest he
seems from the first to have felt in him. After a few days he gave
Agassiz and his artist a corner in one of his own laboratories, and
often came to encourage them by a glance at their work as it went

This relation continued until Cuvier's death, and Agassiz enjoyed
for several months the scientific sympathy and personal friendship
of the great master whom he had honored from childhood, and whose
name was ever on his lips till his own work in this world was
closed. The following letter, written two months later, to his
uncle in Lausanne tells the story in detail.


PARIS, February 16, 1832.

. . .I have also a piece of good news to communicate, which will, I
hope, lead to very favorable results for me. I think I told you
when I left for Paris that my chief anxiety was lest I might not be
allowed to examine, and still less to describe, the fossil fishes
and their skeletons in the Museum. Knowing that Cuvier intended to
write a work on this subject, I supposed that he would reserve
these specimens for himself. I half thought he might, on seeing my
work so far advanced, propose to me to finish it jointly with him,
--but even this I hardly dared to hope. It was on this account,
with the view of increasing my materials and having thereby a
better chance of success with M. Cuvier, that I desired so
earnestly to stop at Strasbourg and Carlsruhe, where I knew
specimens were to be seen which would have a direct bearing on my
aim. The result has far surpassed my expectation. I hastened to
show my material to M. Cuvier the very day after my arrival. He
received me with great politeness, though with a certain reserve,
and immediately gave me permission to see everything in the
galleries of the Museum. But as I knew that he had put together in
private collections all that could be of use to himself in writing
his book, and as he had never said a word to me of his plan of
publication, I remained in a painful state of doubt, since the
completion of his work would have destroyed all chance for the sale
of mine. Last Saturday I was passing the evening there, and we were
talking of science, when he desired his secretary to bring him a
certain portfolio of drawings. He showed me the contents; they were
drawings of fossil fishes and notes which he had taken in the
British Museum and elsewhere. After looking it through with me, he
said he had seen with satisfaction the manner in which I had
treated this subject; that I had indeed anticipated him, since he
had intended at some future time to do the same thing; but that as
I had given it so much attention, and had done my work so well, he
had decided to renounce his project, and to place at my disposition
all the materials he had collected and all the preliminary notes he
had taken.

You can imagine what new ardor this has given me for my work, the
more so because M. Cuvier, M. Humboldt, and several other persons
of mark who are interested in it have promised to speak in my
behalf to a publisher (to Levrault, who seems disposed to undertake
the publication should peace be continued), and to recommend me
strongly. To accomplish my end without neglecting other
occupations, I work regularly at least fifteen hours a day,
sometimes even an hour or two more; but I hope to reach my goal in
good time.

This trust from Cuvier proved to be a legacy. Less than three
months after the date of this letter Agassiz went, as often
happened, to work one morning with him in his study. It was Sunday,
and he was employed upon something which Cuvier had asked him to
do, saying, "You are young; you have time enough for it, and I have
none to spare." They worked together till eleven o'clock, when
Cuvier invited Agassiz to join him at breakfast. After a little
time spent over the breakfast table in talk with the ladies of the
family, while Cuvier opened his letters, papers, etc., they
returned to the working room, and were busily engaged in their
separate occupations when Agassiz was surprised to hear the clock
strike five, the hour for his dinner. He expressed his regret that
he had not quite finished his work, but said that as he belonged to
a student's table his dinner would not wait for him, and he would
return soon to complete his task. Cuvier answered that he was quite
right not to neglect his regular hours for meals, and commended his
devotion to study, but added, "Be careful, and remember that WORK
KILLS." They were the last words he heard from his beloved teacher.
The next day, as Cuvier was going up to the tribune in the Chamber
of Deputies, he fell, was taken up paralyzed, and carried home.
Agassiz never saw him again.* (* This warning of Cuvier, "Work
kills," strangely recalls Johannes Muller's "Blood clings to work;"
the one seems the echo of the other. See "Memoir of Johannes
Muller", by Rudolf Virchow, page 38.)

In order to keep intact these few data respecting his personal
relations with Cuvier, as told in later years by Agassiz himself,
the course of the narrative has been anticipated by a month or two.
Let us now return to the natural order. The letter to his uncle of
course gave great pleasure at home. Just after reading it his
father writes (February, 1832), "Now that you are intrusted with
the portfolio of M. Cuvier, I suppose your plan is considerably
enlarged, and that your work will be of double volume; tell me,
then, as much about it as you think I can understand, which will
not be a great deal after all." His mother's letter on the same
occasion is full of tender sympathy and gratitude.

Meanwhile one daily anxiety embittered his scientific happiness.
The small means at his command could hardly be made, even with the
strictest economy, to cover the necessary expenses of himself and
his artist, in which were included books, drawing materials, fees,
etc. He was in constant terror lest he should be obliged to leave
Paris, to give up his investigations on the fossil fishes, and to
stop work on the costly plates he had begun. The truth about his
affairs, which he would gladly have concealed from those at home as
long as possible, was drawn from him by an accidental occurrence.
His brother had written to him for a certain book, and, failing to
receive it, inquired with some surprise why his commission was
neglected. Agassiz's next letter, about a month later than the one
to his uncle, gives the explanation.


PARIS, March, 1832.

. . .Here is the book for which you asked me,--price, 18 francs. I
shall be very sorry if it comes too late, but I could not help it
. . .In the first place I had not money enough to pay for it
without being left actually penniless. You can imagine that after
the fuel bill for the winter is paid, little remains for other
expenses out of my 200 francs a month, five louis of which are
always due to my companion. Far from having anything in advance, my
month's supply is thus taken up at once. . .Beside this cause of
delay, you can have no idea what it is to hunt for anything in Paris
when you are a stranger there. As I go out only in two or three
directions leading to my work, and might not otherwise leave my own
street for a month at a time, I naturally find myself astray when
I am off this beaten track. . .You have asked me several times how
I have been received by those to whom I had introductions. Frankly,
after having delivered a few of my letters, I have never been
again, because I cannot, in my position, spare time for visits. . .
Another excellent reason for staying away now is that I have
no presentable coat. At M. Cuvier's only am I sufficiently at ease
to go in a frock coat. . .Saturday, a week ago, M. de Ferussac
offered me the editorship of the zoological section of the
"Bulletin;" it would be worth to me an additional thousand francs,
but would require two or three hours' work daily. Write me soon
what you think about it. In the midst of all the encouragements
which sustain me and renew my ardor, I am depressed by the reverse
side of my position.

This letter drew forth the following one.


CONCISE, March, 1832.

. . .Much as your letter to your uncle delighted us, that to your
brother has saddened us. It seems, my dear child, that you are
painfully straitened in means. I understand it by personal
experience, and in your case I have foreseen it; it is the cloud
which has always darkened your prospects to me. I want to talk to
you, my dear Louis, of your future, which has often made me
anxious. You know your mother's heart too well to misunderstand her
thought, even should its expression be unacceptable to you. With
much knowledge, acquired by assiduous industry, you are still at
twenty-five years of age living on brilliant hopes, in relation, it
is true, with great people, and known as having distinguished
talent. Now, all this would seem to me delightful if you had an
income of fifty thousand francs; but, in your position, you must
absolutely have an occupation which will enable you to live, and
free you from the insupportable weight of dependence on others.
From this day forward, my dear child, you must look to this end
alone if you would find it possible to pursue honorably the career
you have chosen. Otherwise constant embarrassments will so limit
your genius, that you will fall below your own capacity. If you
follow our advice you will perhaps reach the result of your work in
the natural sciences a little later, but all the more surely. Let
us see how you can combine the work to which you have already
consecrated so much time, with the possibility of self-support. It
appears from your letter to your brother that you see no one in
Paris; the reason seems to me a sad one, but it is unanswerable,
and since you cannot change it, you must change your place of abode
and return to your own country. You have already seen in Paris all
those persons whom you thought it essential to see; unless you are
strangely mistaken in their good-will, you will be no less sure of
it in Switzerland than in Paris, and since you cannot take part in
their society, your relations with them will be the same at the
distance of a hundred leagues as they are now. You must therefore
leave Paris for Geneva, Lausanne, or Neuchatel, or any city where
you can support yourself by teaching. . .This seems to me the most
advantageous course for you. If before fixing yourself permanently
you like to take your place at the parsonage again, you will always
find us ready to facilitate, as far as we can, any arrangements for
your convenience. Here you can live in perfect tranquillity and
without expense.

There are two other subjects which I want to discuss with you,
though perhaps I shall not make myself so easily understood. You

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