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Louis Agassiz: His Life and Correspondence by Louis Agassiz

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ensemble of geological phenomena seems to prove, not the prevalence
of this glacial surface on which you would carry along your
boulders, but a very high temperature spreading almost to the
poles, a temperature favorable to organizations resembling those
now living in the tropics. Your ice frightens me, and gladly as I
would welcome you here, my dear friend, I think, perhaps, for the
sake of your health, and also that you may not see this country,
always so hideous, under a sheet of snow and ice (in February), you
would do better to come two months later, with the first verdure.
This is suggested by a letter received yesterday by M. d'O--, which
alarmed me a little, because the state of your eyes obliged you to
write by another hand. Pray do not think of traveling before you
are quite well. I close this letter, feeling sure that it does not
contain a line which is not an expression of friendship and of the
high esteem I bear you. The magnificence of your last numbers,
eight and nine, cannot be told. How admirably executed are your
Macropoma, the Ophiopris procerus, Mantell's great beast, the
minute details of the Dercetis, Psammodus,. . .the skeletons. . .
There is nothing like it in all that we possess upon vertebrates. I
have also begun to study your text, so rich in well arranged facts;
the monograph of the Lepidostei, the passage upon the bony rays,
and, dear Agassiz, I could hardly believe my eyes, sixty-five
continuous pages of the third volume, without interruption! You
will spoil the public. But, my good friend, you have already
information upon a thousand species; "claudite jam rivos!" You say
your work can go on if you have two hundred subscribers; but if you
continue to support two traveling draughtsmen, I predict, as a
practical man, that it cannot go on. You cannot even publish what
you have gathered in the last five years. Consider that in
attempting to give a review of all the fossil fishes which now
exist in collections, you pursue a phantom which ever flies before
you. Such a work would not be finished in less than fifteen years,
and besides, this NOW is an uncertain element. Cannot you conquer
yourself so far as to finish what you have in your possession at
present? Recall your artists. With the reputation you enjoy in
Europe, whatever might essentially change your opinion on certain
organisms would willingly be sent to you. If you continue to keep
two ambassadors in foreign lands, the means you destine for the
engraving and printing will soon be absorbed. You will struggle
with domestic difficulties, and at sixty years of age (tremble at
the sight of this number!) you will be as uncertain as you are
to-day, whether you possess, even in your collection of drawings,
all that is to be found among amateurs. How exhaust an ocean in
which the species are indefinitely increasing? Finish, first, what
you have this December, 1837, and then, if the subject does not
weary you, publish the supplements in 1847. You must not forget
that these supplements will be of two kinds: 1st. Ideas which
modify some of your old views. 2nd. New species. Only the first
kind of supplement would be really desirable. Furthermore, you must
regain your intellectual independence and not let yourself be
scolded any more by M. de Humboldt. Little will it avail you should
I vanish from the scene of this world with your fourteenth number!
When I am a fossil in my turn I shall still appear to you as a
ghost, having under my arm the pages you have failed to interpolate
and the volume of that eternal America which I owe to the public. I
close with a touch of fun, in order that my letter may seem a
little less like preaching. A thousand affectionate remembrances.
No more ice, not much of echinoderms, plenty of fish, recall of
ambassadors in partibus, and great severity toward the
book-sellers, an infernal race, two or three of whom have been
killed under me.


I sigh to think of the trouble my horrible writing will give you.

A letter of about the same date from Von Buch shows that, however
he might storm at Agassiz's heterodox geology, he was in full
sympathy with his work in general.


December 22, 1837.

. . .Pray reinstate me in the good graces of my unknown benefactor
among you. By a great mistake the reports of the Society forwarded
to me from Neuchatel have been sent back. As it is well known at
the post-office that I do not keep the piles of educational
journals sent to me from France, the postage on them being much too
heavy for my means, they took it for granted that this journal, the
charges on which amounted to several crowns, was of the number. I
am very sorry. I do not even know the contents of the journal, but
I suppose it contained papers of yours, full of genius and ardor. I
like your way of looking at nature, and I think you render great
service to science by your observations. A right spirit will
readily lead you to see that this is the true road to glory, far
preferable to the one which leads to vain analogies and
speculations, the time for which is long past. I am grieved to hear
that you are not well, and that your eyes refuse their service. M.
de Humboldt tells me that you are seeking a better climate here, in
the month of February. You may find it, perhaps, thanks to our
stoves. But as we shall still have plenty of ice in the streets,
your glacial opinions will not find a market at that season. I
should like to present you with a memoir or monograph of mine, just
published, on Spirifer and Orthis, but I will take good care to let
no one pay postage on a work which, by its nature, can have but a
very limited interest. . .I will await your arrival to give you
these descriptions. I am expecting the numbers of your Fossil
Fishes, which have not yet come. Humboldt often speaks of them to
me. Ah! how much I prefer you in a field which is wholly your own
than in one where you break in upon the measured and cautious
tread, introduced by Saussure in geology. You, too, will reconsider
all this, and will yet treat the views of Saussure and Escher with
more respect. Everything here turns to infusoria. Ehrenberg has
just discovered that an apparently sandy deposit, twenty feet in
thickness, under the "Luneburgerheyde," is composed entirely of
infusoria of a kind still living in the neighborhood of Berlin.
This layer rests upon a brown deposit known to be ten feet in
thickness. The latter consists, for one fifth of the depth, of pine
pollen, which burns. The rest is of infusoria. Thus these animals,
which the naked eye has not power to discern, have themselves the
power to build up mountain chains. . .


1837-1839: AGE 30-32.

Invitation to Professorships at Geneva and Lausanne.
Death of his Father.
Establishment of Lithographic Press at Neuchatel.
Researches upon Structure of Mollusks.
Internal Casts of Shells.
Glacial Explorations.
Views of Buckland.
Relations with Arnold Guyot.
Their Work together in the Alps.
Letter to Sir Philip Egerton concerning Glacial Work.
Summer of 1839.
Publication of "Etudes sur les Glaciers."

Although Agassiz's daring treatment of the glacial phenomena had
excited much opposition and angry comment, it had also made a
powerful impression by its eloquence and originality. To this may
be partly due the fact that about this time he was strongly urged
from various quarters to leave Neuchatel for some larger field. One
of the most seductive of these invitations, owing to the
affectionate spirit in which it was offered, came through Monsieur
de la Rive, in Geneva.


GENEVA, May 12, 1836.

. . .I have not yet received your address. I hope you will send it
to me without delay, for I am anxious to bring it before our
readers. I hope also that you will not forget what you have
promised me for the "Bibliotheque Universelle." I am exceedingly
anxious to have your cooperation; the more so that it will
reinforce that of several distinguished savants whose assistance I
have recently secured.

If I weary you with a second letter, however, it is not only to
remind you of your promise about the "Bibliotheque Universelle,"
but for another object still more important and urgent. The matter
stands thus. Our academic courses have just opened under favorable
auspices. The number of students is much increased, and,
especially, we have a good many from Germany and England. This
circumstance makes us feel more strongly the importance of
completing our organization, and of doing this wisely and quickly.
I will not play the diplomat with you, but will frankly say,
without circumlocution, that you seem to me the one essential, the
one indispensable man. After having talked with some influential
persons here, I feel sure that if you say to me, "I will come," I
can obtain for you the following conditions: 1st. A regular salary
of three thousand francs, beside the student fees, which, in view
of the character of your instruction, your reputation, and the
novelty of your course, I place too low at a thousand francs; of
this I am convinced. 2nd. The vacant professorship is one of
geology and mineralogy, but should you wish it De la Planche will
continue to teach the mineralogy, and you will replace it by
paleontology, or any other subject which may suit you. . .Add to
this resource that of a popular course for the world outside,
ladies and others, which you might give in the winter, as at
Neuchatel. The custom here is to pay fifty francs for the course of
from twenty-five to thirty lectures. You will easily see that for
such a course you would have at least as large an audience here as
at Neuchatel. This is the more likely because there is a demand for
these courses, Pictet being dead, and M. Rossi and M. de Castella
having ceased to give them. No one has come forward as their heir,
fine as the inheritance is; some are too busy, others have not the
kind of talent needed, and none have attempted to replace these
gentlemen in this especial line, one in which you excel, both by
your gifts and your fortunate choice of a subject more in vogue
just now than any other. Come then, to work in this rich vein
before others present themselves for the same purpose. Finally,
since I must make up your budget, the "Bibliotheque Universelle,"
which pays fifty francs a sheet, would be always open to you; there
you could bring the fruits of your productive leisure. Certainly it
would be easy for you to make in this way an additional thousand

Here, then, is a statement, precise and full, of the condition of
things, and of what you may hope to find here. The moment is
propitious; there is a movement among us just now in favor of the
sciences, and this winter the plan of a large building for our
museum and library will be presented to our common council. The
work should begin next summer; you well know how much we should
value your ideas and your advice on this subject. There may also be
question of a director for the museum, and of an apartment for him
in the new edifice; you will not doubt to whom such a place would
be offered. But let us not draw upon the future; let us limit
ourselves to the present, and see whether what I propose suits you
. . .Come! let yourself be persuaded. Sacrifice the capital to a
provincial town. At Berlin, no doubt, you would be happy and
honored; at Geneva, you would be the happiest, the most honored.
Look at--, who shone as a star of the first magnitude at Geneva,
and who is but a star of second or third rank in Paris. This, to be
sure, would not be your case; nevertheless, I am satisfied that at
Geneva, where you would be a second de Saussure, your position
would be still more brilliant. I know that these motives of
scientific self-love have little weight with you; nevertheless,
wishing to omit nothing, I give them for what they are worth. But
my hope rests far more on the arguments I have first presented;
they come from the heart, and with you the heart responds as
readily as the genius. But enough! I will not fatigue you with
farther considerations. I think I have given you all the points
necessary for your decision. Be so kind as to let me know as soon
as possible what you intend to do. Have the kindness also not to
speak of the contents of this letter, and remember that it is not
the Rector of the Academy of Geneva, but the Professor Auguste de
la Rive, who writes in his own private person. Promptitude and
silence, then, are the two recommendations which I make to you
while we await the Yes we so greatly desire. . .

More tempting still must have been the official invitation received
a few months later to a professorship at Lausanne, strengthened as
it was by the affectionate entreaties of relations and friends,
urging him for the sake of family ties and patriotism to return to
the canton where he had passed his earlier years. But he had cast
in his lot with the Neuchatelois and was proof against all
arguments. He remained faithful to the post he had chosen until he
left it, temporarily as he then believed, to come to America. The
citizens of his adopted town expressed their appreciation of his
loyalty to them in a warm letter of thanks, begging, at the same
time, his acceptance of the sum of six thousand francs, payable by
installments during three years.

The summer of 1837 was a sad one to Agassiz and to his whole
family; his father died at Concise, carried off by a fever while
still a comparatively young man. The pretty parsonage, to which
they were so much attached, passed into other hands, and
thenceforward the home of Madame Agassiz was with her children,
among whom she divided her time.

In 1838 Agassiz founded a lithographic printing establishment in
Neuchatel, which was carried on for many years under his direction.
Thus far his plates had been lithographed in Munich. Their
execution at such a distance involved constant annoyance, and
sometimes great waste of time and money, in sending the proofs to
and fro for correction. The scheme of establishing a lithographic
press, to be in a great degree at his charge, was certainly an
imprudent one for a poor man; but Agassiz hoped not only to
facilitate his own publications by this means, but also to raise
the standard of execution in works of a purely scientific
character. Supported partly by his own exertions, partly by the
generosity of others, the establishment was almost exclusively
dependent upon him for its unceasing activity. He was fortunate in
securing for its head M. Hercule Nicolet, a very able lithographic
artist, who had had much experience in engraving objects of natural
history, and was specially versed in the recently invented art of
chromatic lithography.

Agassiz was now driving all his steeds abreast. Beside his duties
as professor, he was printing at the same time his "Fossil Fishes,"
his "Fresh-Water Fishes," and his investigations on fossil
Echinoderms and Mollusks,--the illustrations for all these various
works being under his daily supervision. The execution of these
plates, under M. Nicolet's care, was admirable for the period.
Professor Arnold Guyot, in his memoir of Agassiz, says of the
plates for the "Fresh-Water Fishes": "We wonder at their beauty,
and at their perfection of color and outline, when we remember that
they were almost the first essays of the newly-invented art of
lithochromy, produced at a time when France and Belgium were
showering rewards on very inferior work of the kind, as the
foremost specimens of progress in the art."

All this work could hardly be carried on single handed. In 1837 M.
Edouard Desor joined Agassiz in Neuchatel, and became for many
years his intimate associate in scientific labors. A year or two
later M. Charles Vogt also united himself to the band of
investigators and artists who had clustered about Agassiz as their
central force. M. Ernest Favre says of this period of his life: "He
displayed during these years an incredible energy, of which the
history of science offers, perhaps, no other example."

Among his most important zoological researches at this time were
those upon mollusks. His method of studying this class was too
original and too characteristic to be passed by without notice. The
science of conchology had heretofore been based almost wholly upon
the study of the empty shells. To Agassiz this seemed superficial.
Longing to know more of the relation between the animal and its
outer covering, he bethought himself that the inner moulding of the
shell would give at least the form of its old inhabitant. For the
practical work he engaged an admirable moulder, M. Stahl, who
continued to be one of his staff at the lithographic establishment
until he became permanently employed at the Jardin des Plantes.
With his help and that of M. Henri Ladame, professor of physics and
chemistry at Neuchatel, who prepared the delicate metal alloys in
which the first mould was taken, Agassiz obtained casts in which
the form of the animals belonging to the shells was perfectly
reproduced. This method has since passed into universal use. By its
aid he obtained a new means of ascertaining the relations between
fossil and living mollusks. It was of vast service to him in
preparing his "Etudes critiques sur les Mollusques fossiles,"--a
quarto volume with nearly one hundred plates.

The following letter to Sir Philip Egerton gives some account of
his undertakings at this time, and of the difficulties entailed
upon him by their number and variety.


NEUCHATEL, August 10, 1838.

. . .These last months have been a time of trial to me, and I have
been forced to give up my correspondence completely in order to
meet the ever-increasing demands of my work. You know how difficult
it is to find a quiet moment and an easy mind for writing, when one
is pursued by printing or lithographic proofs, and forced besides
to prepare unceasing occupation for numerous employees. Add to this
the close research required by the work of editing, and you surely
will find an excuse for my delay. I think I have already written
you that in order to have everything under my own eye, I had
founded a lithographic establishment at Neuchatel in the hope of
avoiding in future the procrastinations to which my proofs were
liable when the work was done at Munich. . .I hope that my new
publications will be sufficiently well received to justify me in
supporting an establishment unique of its kind, which I have
founded solely in the interest of science and at the risk of my
peace and my health. If I give you all these details, it is simply
to explain my silence, which was caused not by pure negligence, but
by the demands of an undertaking in the success of which my very
existence is involved. . .This week I shall forward to the
Secretary of the British Association for the Advancement of Science
all that I have been able to do thus far, being unable to bring it
myself, as I had hoped. You would oblige me greatly if you would
give a look at these different works, which may, I hope, have
various claims on your interest. First, there is the tenth number
of the "Fossil Fishes," though the whole supply of publisher's
copies will only be sent a few weeks later. Then there are the
seven first plates of my sea-urchins, engraved with much care and
with many details. A third series of plates relates to critical
studies on fossil mollusks, little or erroneously known, and on
their internal casts. This is a quite novel side of the study of
shells, and will throw light on the organization of animals known
hitherto only by the shell. I have made a plaster collection of
them for the Geological Society. They have been packed some time,
but my late journey to Paris has prevented me from forwarding them
till now. As soon as I have a moment, I shall make out the
catalogue and send it on. When you go to London, do not fail to
examine them; the result is curious enough. Finally, the plates for
the first number of my "Fresh-Water Fishes" are in great part
finished, and also included in my package for Newcastle. . .The
plates are executed by a new process, and printed in various tints
on different stones, resulting in a remarkable uniformity of
coloring in all the impressions. . .

Such are the new credentials with which I present myself, as I
bring my thanks for the honor paid to me by my nomination for the
vacancy in the Royal Society of London. If unbounded devotion to
the interests of science constituted a sufficient title to such a
distinction, I should be the less surprised at the announcement
contained in your last letter. The action of the Royal Society, so
flattering to the candidate of your choice, has satisfied a desire
which I should hardly have dared to form for many a year,--that of
becoming a member of a body so illustrious as the Royal Society of
London. . .

Each time I write I wish I could close with the hope of seeing you
soon; but I must work incessantly; that is my lot, and the
happiness I find in it gives a charm to my occupations however
numerous they may be. . .

While Agassiz's various zoological works were thus pressed with
unceasing activity, the glaciers and their attendant phenomena,
which had so captivated his imagination, were ever present to his
thought. In August of the year 1838, a year after he had announced
at the meeting of the Helvetic Society his comprehensive theory
respecting the action of ice over the whole northern hemisphere, he
made two important excursions in the Alps. The first was to the
valley of Hassli, the second to the glaciers of Mont Blanc. In both
he was accompanied by his scientific collaborator, M. Desor, whose
intrepidity and ardor hardly fell short of his own; by Mr. Dinkel
as artist, and by one or two students and friends. These excursions
were a kind of prelude to his more prolonged sojourns on the Alps,
and to the series of observations carried on by him and his
companions, which attracted so much attention in later years. But
though Agassiz carried with him, on these first explorations, only
the simplest means of investigation and experiment, they were no
amateur excursions. On these first Alpine journeys he had in his
mind the sketch he meant to fill out. The significance of the
phenomena was already clear to him. What he sought was the
connection. Following the same comparative method, he intended to
track the footsteps of the ice as he had gathered and put together
the fragments of his fossil fishes, till the scattered facts should
fall into their natural order once more and tell their story from
beginning to end.

In his explorations of 1838 he found everywhere the same phenomena;
the grooved and polished and graven surfaces and the rounded and
modeled rocks, often lying far above and beyond the present limits
of the glaciers; the old moraines, long deserted by the ice, but
defining its ancient frontiers; the erratic blocks, transported far
from their place of origin and disposed in an order and position
unexplained by the agency of water.

These excursions, though not without their dangers and fatigues,
were full of charm for men who, however serious their aims, were
still young enough to enter like boys into the spirit of adventure.
Agassiz himself was but thirty-one; an ardent pedestrian, he
delighted in feats of walking and climbing. His friend Dinkel
relates that one day, while pausing at Grindelwald for refreshment,
they met an elderly traveler who asked him, after listening awhile
to their gay talk, in which appeals were constantly made to
"Agassiz," if that was perhaps the son of the celebrated professor
of Neuchatel. The answer amazed him; he could hardly believe that
the young man before him was the naturalist of European reputation.
In connection with this journey occurs the first attempt at an
English letter found among Agassiz's papers. It is addressed to
Buckland, and contains this passage: "Since I saw the glaciers I am
quite of a snowy humor, and will have the whole surface of the
earth covered with ice, and the whole prior creation dead by cold.
In fact, I am quite satisfied that ice must be taken [included] in
every complete explanation of the last changes which occurred at
the surface of Europe." Considered in connection with their
subsequent work together in the ancient ice-beds and moraines of
England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales, it is curious to find
Buckland answering: "I am sorry that I cannot entirely adopt the
new theory you advocate to explain transported blocks by moraines;
for supposing it adequate to explain the phenomena of Switzerland,
it would not apply to the granite blocks and transported gravel of
England, which I can only explain by referring to currents of
water." During the same summer Mrs. Buckland writes from
Interlaken, in the course of a journey in Switzerland with her
husband. . ."We have made a good tour of the Oberland and have seen
glaciers, etc., but Dr. Buckland is as far as ever from agreeing
with you." We shall see hereafter how completely he became a
convert to Agassiz's glacial theory in its widest acceptation.

One friend, scarcely mentioned thus far in this biography, was yet,
from the beginning, the close associate of Agassiz's glacier work.
Arnold Guyot and he had been friends from boyhood. Their university
life separated them for a time, Guyot being at Berlin while Agassiz
was at Munich, and they became colleagues at Neuchatel only after
Agassiz had been for some years established there. From that time
forward there was hardly any break in their intercourse; they came
to America at about the same time, and finally settled as
professors, the one at Harvard College, in Cambridge,
Massachusetts, and the other at the College of New Jersey, in
Princeton. They shared all their scientific interests; and when
they were both old men, Guyot brought to Agassiz's final
undertaking, the establishment of a summer school at Penikese, a
cooperation as active and affectionate as that he had given in his
youth to his friend's scheme for establishing a permanent
scientific summer station in the high Alps.

In a short visit made by Agassiz to Paris in the spring of 1838 he
unfolded his whole plan to Guyot, then residing there, and
persuaded him to undertake a certain part of the investigation.
During this very summer of 1838, therefore, while Agassiz was
tracing the ancient limits of the ice in the Bernese Oberland and
the Haut Valais, and later, in the valley of Chamounix, Guyot was
studying the structure and movement of the ice during a six weeks'
tour in the central Alps. At the conclusion of their respective
journeys they met to compare notes, at the session of the
Geological Society of France, at Porrentruy, where Agassiz made a
report upon the general results of his summer's work; while Guyot
read a paper, the contents of which have never been fully
published, upon the movement of glaciers and upon their internal
features, including the laminated structure of the ice, the
so-called blue bands, deep down in the mass of the glacier.* (* See
"Memoir of Louis Agassiz" by Arnold Guyot, written for the United
States National Academy of Sciences, page 38.) In the succeeding
years of their glacial researches together, Guyot took for his
share the more special geological problems, the distribution of
erratic boulders and of the glacial drift, as connected with the
ancient extension of the glaciers. This led him away from the
central station of observation to remoter valleys on the northern
and southern slopes of the Alps, where he followed the descent of
the glacial phenomena to the plains of central Europe on the one
side and to those of northern Italy on the other. We therefore
seldom hear of him with the band of workers who finally settled on
the glacier of the Aar, because his share of the undertaking became
a more isolated one. It was nevertheless an integral part of the
original scheme, which was carried on connectedly to the end, the
results of the work in the different departments being constantly
reported and compared. So much was this the case, that the
intention of Agassiz had been to embody the whole in a publication,
the first part of which should contain the glacial system of
Agassiz; the second the Alpine erratics, by Guyot; while the third
and final portion, by E. Desor, should treat of the erratic
phenomena outside of Switzerland. The first volume alone was
completed. Unlooked for circumstances made the continuation of the
work impossible, and the five thousand specimens of the erratic
rocks of Switzerland collected by Professor Guyot, in preparation
for his part of the publication, are now deposited in the College
of New Jersey, at Princeton.

In the following summer of 1839 Agassiz took the chain of Monte
Rosa and Matterhorn as the field of a larger and more systematic
observation. On this occasion, the usual party consisting of
Agassiz, Desor, M. Bettanier, an artist, and two or three other
friends, was joined by the geologist Studer. Up to this time he had
been a powerful opponent of Agassiz's views, and his conversion to
the glacial theory during this excursion was looked upon by them
all as a victory greater than any gained over the regions of ice
and snow. Some account of this journey occurs in the following


NEUCHATEL, September 10, 1839.

. . .Under these circumstances, I thought I could not do better
than to pass some weeks in the solitude of the high Alps; I lived
about a fortnight in the region of the glaciers, ascending some new
field of ice every day, and trying to scale the sides of our
highest peaks. I thus examined in succession all the glaciers
descending from the majestic summits of Monte Rosa and the
Matterhorn, whose numerous crests form a most gigantic
amphitheatre, which lifts itself above the everlasting snow.
Afterward I visited the sea of ice which, under the name of the
glacier of Aletsch, flows from the Jungfrau, the Monch, and the
Eiger toward Brieg; thence I went to the glacier of the Rhone, and
from there, establishing my headquarters at the Hospice of the
Grimsel, I followed the glacier of the Aar to the foot of the
Finsteraarhorn. There I ascertained the most important fact that I
now know concerning the advance of glaciers, namely, that the cabin
constructed by Hugi in 1827, at the foot of the Abschwung, is now
four thousand feet lower down. Slight as is the inclination of the
glacier, this cabin has been carried on by the ice with astonishing
rapidity, and still more important is it that this rapidity has
been on the increase; for in 1830 the cabin was only some hundred
feet from the rock, in 1836 it had already passed over a distance
from [word torn away] of two thousand feet, and in the last three
years it has again doubled that distance. Not only have I confirmed
my views upon glaciers and their attendant phenomena, on this new
ground, but I have completed my examination of a number of details,
and have had besides the satisfaction of convincing one of my most
severe opponents of the exactness of my observations, namely, M.
Studer, who accompanied me on a part of these excursions. . .

The winter of 1840 was fully occupied by the preparation for the
publication of the "Etudes sur les Glaciers," which appeared before
the year was out, accompanied by an atlas of thirty-two plates. The
volume of text consisted of an historical resume of all that had
previously been done in the study of glaciers, followed by an
account of the observations of Agassiz and his companions during
the last three or four years upon the glaciers of the Alps. Their
structure, external aspect, needles, tables, perched blocks, gravel
cones, rifts, and crevasses, as well as their movements, mode of
formation, and internal temperature, were treated in succession.
But the most interesting chapters, from the author's own point of
view, and those which were most novel for his readers, were the
concluding ones upon the ancient extension of the Swiss glaciers,
and upon the former existence of an immense, unbroken sheet of ice,
which had once covered the whole northern hemisphere. No one before
had drawn such vast conclusions from the local phenomena of the
Alpine valleys. "The surface of Europe," says Agassiz, "adorned
before by a tropical vegetation and inhabited by troops of large
elephants, enormous hippopotami, and gigantic carnivora, was
suddenly buried under a vast mantle of ice, covering alike plains,
lakes, seas and plateaus. Upon the life and movement of a powerful
creation fell the silence of death. Springs paused, rivers ceased
to flow, the rays of the sun, rising upon this frozen shore (if,
indeed, it was reached by them), were met only by the breath of the
winter from the north and the thunders of the crevasses as they
opened across the surface of this icy sea."* (* "Etudes sur les
Glaciers" Chapter 8 page 35.) The author goes on to state that on
the breaking up of this universal shroud the ice must have lingered
longest in mountainous strongholds, and that all these fastnesses
of retreat became, as the Alps are now, centres of distribution for
the broken debris and rocky fragments which are found scattered
with a kind of regularity along certain lines, and over given areas
in northern and central Europe. How he followed out this idea in
his subsequent investigations will be seen hereafter.


1840-1842: AGE 33-35.

Summer Station on the Glacier of the Aar.
Hotel des Neuchatelois.
Members of the Party.
Work on the Glacier.
Ascent of the Strahleck and the Siedelhorn.
Visit to England.
Search for Glacial Remains in Great Britain.
Roads of Glen Roy.
Views of English Naturalists concerning Agassiz's Glacial Theory.
Letter from Humboldt.
Winter Visit to Glacier.
Summer of 1841 on the Glacier.
Descent into the Glacier.
Ascent of the Jungfrau.

In the summer of 1840 Agassiz made his first permanent station on
the Alps. Hitherto the external phenomena, the relation of the ice
to its surroundings, and its influence upon them, had been the
chief study. Now the glacier itself was to be the main subject of
investigation, and he took with him a variety of instruments for
testing temperatures: barometers, thermometers, hygrometers, and
psychometers; beside a boring apparatus, by means of which
self-registering thermometers might be lowered into the heart of
the glacier. To these were added microscopes for the study of such
insects and plants as might be found in these ice-bound regions.
The Hospice of the Grimsel was selected as his base of supplies,
and as guides Jacob Leuthold and Johann Wahren were chosen. Both of
these had accompanied Hugi in his ascension of the Finsteraarhorn
in 1828, and both were therefore thoroughly familiar with all the
dangers of Alpine climbing. The lower Aar glacier was to be the
scene of their continuous work, and the centre from which their
ascents of the neighboring summits would be made. Here, on the
great median moraine, stood a huge boulder of micaceous schist. Its
upper surface projected so as to form a roof, and by closing it in
on one side with a stone wall, leveling the floor by a judicious
arrangement of flat slabs, and rigging a blanket in front to serve
as a curtain across the entrance, the whole was presently
transformed into a rude hut, where six persons could find
sleeping-room. A recess, sheltered by the rock outside, served as
kitchen and dining-room; while an empty space under another large
boulder was utilized as a cellar for the keeping of provisions.
This was the abode so well known afterward as the Hotel des
Neuchatelois. Its first occupants were Louis Agassiz, Edouard
Desor, Charles Vogt, Francois de Pourtales, Celestin Nicolet, and
Henri Coulon. It afforded, perhaps, as good a shelter as they could
have found in the old cabin of Hugi, where they had hoped to make
their temporary home. In this they were disappointed, for the cabin
had crumbled on its last glacial journey. The wreck was lying two
hundred feet below the spot where they had seen the walls still
standing the year before.

The work was at once distributed among the different members of the
party,--Agassiz himself, assisted by his young friend and favorite
pupil, Francois de Pourtales, retaining for his own share the
meteorological observations, and especially those upon the internal
temperature of the glaciers.* (* See "Tables of Temperature,
Measurements" etc., in Agassiz's "Systeme Glaciaire". These results
are also recorded in a volume entitled "Sejours dans les Glaciers",
by Edouard Desor, a collection of very bright and entertaining
articles upon the excursions and sojourns made in the Alps, during
successive summers, by Agassiz and his scientific staff.) To M.
Vogt fell the microscopic study of the red snow and the organic
life contained in it; to M. Nicolet, the flora of the glaciers and
the surrounding rocks; to M. Desor, the glacial phenomena proper,
including those of the moraines. He had the companionship and
assistance of M. Henri Coulon in the long and laborious excursions
required for this part of the work.

This is not the place for scientific details. For the results of
Agassiz's researches on the Alpine glaciers, to which he devoted
much of his time and energy during ten years, from 1836 to 1846,
the reader is referred to his two larger works on this subject, the
"Etudes sur les Glaciers," and the "Systeme Glaciaire." Of the work
accomplished by him and his companions during these years this
slight summary is given by his friend Guyot.* (* See Biographical
Sketch, published by Professor A. Guyot, under the auspices of the
United States National Academy.) "The position of eighteen of the
most prominent rocks on the glacier was determined by careful
triangulation by a skillful engineer, and measured year after year
to establish the rate of motion of every part. The differences in
the rate of motion in the upper and lower part of the glacier, as
well as in different seasons of the year, was ascertained; the
amount of the annual melting was computed, and all the phenomena
connected with it studied. All the surrounding peaks,--the
Jungfrau, the Schreckhorn, the Finsteraarhorn, most of them until
then reputed unscalable,--were ascended, and the limit of glacial
action discovered; in short all the physical laws of the glacier
were brought to light."

We now return to the personal narrative. After a number of days
spent in the study of the local phenomena, the band of workers
turned their attention to the second part of their programme,
namely, the ascent of the Strahleck, by crossing which and
descending on the other side, they intended to reach Grindelwald.
One morning, then, toward the end of August, their guides,
according to agreement, aroused them at three o'clock,--an hour
earlier than their usual roll-call. The first glance outside spread
a general chill of disappointment over the party, for they found
themselves beleaguered by a wall of fog on every side. But
Leuthold, as he lighted the fire and prepared breakfast, bade them
not despair,--the sun might make all right. In a few moments, one
by one, the summits of the Schreckhorn, the Finsteraarhorn, the
Oberaarhorn, the Altmaner, the Scheuchzerhorn, lighted by the first
rays of the sun, came out like islands above the ocean of mist,
which softly broke away and vanished with the advancing light. In
about three hours they reached the base of the Strahleck. Their two
guides, Leuthold and Wahren, had engaged three additional men for
this excursion, so that they now had five guides, none of whom were
superfluous, since they carried with them various barometric
instruments which required careful handling. They began the ascent
in single file, but the slopes soon became so steep and the light
snow (in which they floundered to the knees at every step) so deep,
that the guides resorted to the usual method in such cases of tying
them all together. The two head guides alone, Leuthold and Wahren,
remained detached, clearing the snow in front of them, cutting
steps in the ice, and giving warning, by cry and gesture, of any
hidden danger in the path. At nine o'clock, after an hour's
climbing, they stepped upon the small plateau, evenly covered with
unbroken snow, formed by the summit of the Strahleck.

The day had proved magnificent. With a clear sky above them, they
looked down upon the valley of Grindelwald at their feet, while
around and below them gathered the Scheideck and the Faulhorn, the
pyramidal outline of the Niesen, and the chain of the Stockhorn. In
front lay the great masses of the Eiger and the Monch, while to the
southwest the Jungfrau rose above the long chain of the
Viescherhorner. The first pause of silent wonder and delight, while
they released themselves from their cords and arranged their
instruments, seems to have been succeeded by an outburst of
spirits; for in the journal of the youngest of the party, Francois
de Pourtales, then a lad of seventeen, we read: "The guides began
to wrestle and we to dance, when suddenly we saw a female chamois,
followed by her young, ascending a neighboring slope, and presently
four or five more stretched their necks over a rock, as if to see
what was going on. Breathless the wrestlers and the dancers paused,
fearing to disturb by the slightest movement creatures so shy of
human approach. They drew nearer until within easy gunshot
distance, and then galloping along the opposite ridge disappeared
over the summit."

The party passed more than an hour on the top of the Strahleck,
making observations and taking measurements. Then having rested and
broken their fast with such provisions as they had brought, they
prepared for a descent, which proved the more rapid, since much of
it was a long slide. Tied together once more, they slid, wherever
they found it possible to exchange the painful and difficult
walking for this simpler process. "Once below these slopes of
snow," says the journal of young de Pourtales again, "rocks almost
vertical, or narrow ledges covered with grass, served us as a road
and brought us to the glacier of the Grindelwald. To reach the
glacier itself we traversed a crevasse of great depth, and some
twenty feet wide; on a bridge of ice, one or two feet in width, and
broken toward the end, where we were obliged to spring across. Once
on the glacier the rest was nothing. The race was to the fastest,
and we were soon on the path of the tourists." Reaching the village
of Grindelwald at three o'clock in the afternoon, they found it
difficult to persuade the people at the inn that they had left the
glacier of the Aar that morning. From Grindelwald they returned by
the Scheideck to the Grimsel, visiting on their way the upper
glacier of Grindelwald, the glacier of Schwartzwald, and that of
Rosenlaui, in order to see how far these had advanced since their
last visit to them. After a short rest at the Hospice of the
Grimsel, Agassiz returned with two or three of his companions to
their hut on the Aar glacier for the purpose of driving stakes into
the holes previously bored in the ice. He hoped by means of these
stakes to learn the following year what had been the rate of
movement of the glacier. The summer's work closed with the ascent
of the Siedelhorn. In all these ascents, the utmost pains was taken
to ascertain how far the action of the ice might be traced upon
these mountain peaks and the limits determined at which the
polished surfaces ceased, giving place to the rough, angular rock
which had never been modeled by the ice.

Agassiz had hardly returned from the Alps when he started for
England. He had long believed that the Highlands of Scotland, the
hilly Lake Country of England, and the mountains of Wales and
Ireland, would present the same phenomena as the valleys of the
Alps. Dr. Buckland had offered to be his guide in this search after
glacier tracks, as he had formerly been in the hunt after fossil
fishes in Great Britain. When, therefore, the meeting of the
British Association at Glasgow, at which they were both present,
was over, they started together for the Highlands. In a lecture
delivered by Agassiz, at his summer school at Penikese, a few
months before his death, he recurred to this journey with the
enthusiasm of a young man. Recalling the scientific isolation in
which he then stood, opposed as he was to all the prominent
geologists of the day, he said: "Among the older naturalists, only
one stood by me. Dr. Buckland, Dean of Westminster, who had come to
Switzerland at my urgent request for the express purpose of seeing
my evidence, and who had been fully convinced of the ancient
extension of ice there, consented to accompany me on my glacier
hunt in Great Britain. We went first to the Highlands of Scotland,
and it is one of the delightful recollections of my life that as we
approached the castle of the Duke of Argyll, standing in a valley
not unlike some of the Swiss valleys, I said to Buckland: 'Here we
shall find our first traces of glaciers;' and, as the stage entered
the valley, we actually drove over an ancient terminal moraine,
which spanned the opening of the valley." In short, Agassiz found,
as he had anticipated, that in the mountains of Scotland, Wales,
and the north of England, the valleys were in many instances
traversed by terminal moraines and bordered by lateral ones, as in
Switzerland. Nor were any of the accompanying phenomena wanting.
The characteristic traces left by the ice, as well known to him now
as the track of the game to the hunter; the peculiar lines,
furrows, and grooves; the polished surfaces, the roches moutonnees;
the rocks, whether hard or soft, cut to one level, as by a rigid
instrument; the unstratified drift and the distribution of loose
material in relation to the ancient glacier beds,--all agreed with
what he already knew of glacial action. He visited the famous
"roads of Glen Roy" in the Grampian Hills, where so many geologists
had broken a lance in defense of their theories of subsidence and
upheaval, of ancient ocean-levels and sea-beaches, formed at a time
when they believed Glen Roy and the adjoining valleys to have been
so many fiords and estuaries. To Agassiz, these parallel terraces
explained themselves as the shores of a glacial lake, held back in
its bed for a time by neighboring glaciers descending from more
sheltered valleys. The terraces marked the successively lower
levels at which the water stood, as these barriers yielded, and
allowed its gradual escape.* (* For details, see a paper by Agassiz
on "The Glacial Theory and its Recent Progress" in the "Edinburgh
New Philosophical Journal" October 1842, accompanied by a map of
the Glen Roy region, and also an article entitled "Parallel Roads
of Glen Roy, in Scotland," in the second volume of Agassiz's
"Geological Sketches".) The glacial action in the whole
neighborhood was such as to leave no doubt in the mind of Agassiz
that Glen Roy and the adjoining glens, or valleys, had been the
drainage-bed for the many glaciers formerly occupying the western
ranges of the Grampian Hills. He returned from his tour satisfied
that the mountainous districts of Great Britain had all been
centres of glacial distribution, and that the drift material and
the erratic boulders, scattered over the whole country, were due to
exactly the same causes as the like phenomena in Switzerland. On
the 4th of November, 1840, he read a paper before the Geological
Society of London, giving a summary of the scientific results of
their excursion, followed by one from Dr. Buckland, who had become
an ardent convert to his views. Apropos of this meeting, Dr.
Buckland writes in advance as follows:--

TAYMOUTH CASTLE, October 15, 1840.

. . .Lyell has adopted your theory in toto!!! On my showing him a
beautiful cluster of moraines, within two miles of his father's
house, he instantly accepted it, as solving a host of difficulties
that have all his life embarrassed him. And not these only, but
similar moraines and detritus of moraines, that cover half of the
adjoining counties are explicable on your theory, and he has
consented to my proposal that he should immediately lay them all
down on a map of the county and describe them in a paper to be read
the day after yours at the Geological Society. I propose to give in
my adhesion by reading, the same day with yours, as a sequel to
your paper, a list of localities where I have observed similar
glacial detritus in Scotland, since I left you, and in various
parts of England.

There are great reefs of gravel in the limestone valleys of the
central bog district of Ireland. They have a distinct name, which I
forget. No doubt they are moraines; if you have not, ere you get
this, seen one of them, pray do so.* (* Agassiz was then staying at
Florence Court, the seat of the Earl of Enniskillen, in County
Fermanagh, Ireland. While there he had an opportunity of studying
most interesting glacial phenomena. ) But it will not be worth
while to go out of your way to see more than one; all the rest must
follow as a corollary. I trust you will not fail to be at Edinboro'
on the 20th, and at Sir W. Trevelyan's on the 24th. . .

A letter of later date in the same month shows that Agassiz felt
his views to be slowly gaining ground among his English friends.


LONDON, November 24, 1840.

. . .Our meeting on Wednesday passed off very well; none of my
facts were disturbed, though Whewell and Murchison attempted an
opposition; but as their objections were far-fetched, they did not
produce much effect. I was, however, delighted to have some
appearance of serious opposition, because it gave me a chance to
insist upon the exactness of my observations, and upon the want of
solidity in the objections brought against them. Dr. Buckland was
truly eloquent. He has now full possession of this subject; is,
indeed, completely master of it.

I am happy to tell you that everything is definitely arranged with
Lord Francis,* (* Apropos of the sale of his original drawings of
fossil fishes to Lord Francis Egerton.) and that I now feel within
myself a courage which doubles my strength. I have just written to
thank him. To-morrow I shall devote to the fossils sent me by Lord
Enniskillen, a list of which I will forward to you. . .

We append here, a little out of the regular course, a letter from
Humboldt, which shows that he too was beginning to look more
leniently upon Agassiz's glacial conclusions.


BERLIN, August 15, 1840.

I am the most guilty of mortals, my dear friend. There are not
three persons in the world whose remembrance and affection I value
more than yours, or for whom I have a warmer love and admiration,
and yet I allow half the year to pass without giving you a sign of
life, without any expression of my warm gratitude for the
magnificent gifts I owe to you.* (* Probably the plates of the
"Fresh-Water Fishes" and other illustrated publications.)

I am a little like my republican friend who no longer answers any
letters because he does not know where to begin. I receive on an
average fifteen hundred letters a year. I never dictate. I hold
that resort in horror. How dictate a letter to a scholar for whom
one has a real regard? I allow myself to be drawn into answering
the persons I know least, whose wrath is the most menacing. My
nearer friends (and none are more dear to me than yourself) suffer
from my silence. I count with reason upon their indulgence. The
tone of your excellent letters shows that I am right. You spoil me.
Your letters continue to be always warm and affectionate. I receive
few like them. Since two thirds of the letters addressed to me
(partly copies of letters written to the king or the ministers)
remain unanswered, I am blamed, charged with being a parvenu
courtier, an apostate from science. This bitterness of individual
claims does not diminish my ardent desire to be useful. I act
oftener than I answer. I know that I like to do good, and this
consciousness gives me tranquillity in spite of my over burdened
life. You are happy, my dear Agassiz, in the more simple and yet
truly proud position which you have created for yourself. You ought
to take satisfaction in it as the father of a family, as an
illustrious savant, as the originator and source of so many new
ideas, of so many great and noble conceptions.

Your admirable work on the fossil fishes draws to a close. The last
number, so rich in discoveries, and the prospectus, explaining the
true state of this vast publication, have soothed all irritation
regarding it. It is because I am so attached to you that I rejoice
in the calmer atmosphere you have thus established about you. The
approaching completion of the fossil fishes delivers me also from
the fear that a too great ardor might cause you irreparable losses.
You have shown not only what a talent like yours can accomplish,
but also how a noble courage can triumph over seemingly
insurmountable obstacles.

In what words shall I tell you how greatly our admiration is
increased by this new work of yours on the Fresh-Water Fishes?
Nothing has appeared more admirable, more perfect in drawing and
color. This chromatic lithography resembles nothing we have had
thus far. What taste has directed the publication! Then the short
descriptions accompanying each plate add singularly to the charm
and the enjoyment of this kind of study. Accept my warm thanks, my
dear friend. I not only delivered your letter and the copy with it
to the king, but I added a short note on the merit of such an
undertaking. The counselor of the Royal Cabinet writes me
officially that the king has ordered the same number of copies of
the Fresh-Water Fishes as of the Fossil Fishes; that is to say, ten
copies. M. de Werther has already received the order. This is, to
be sure, but a slight help; still, it is all that I have been able
to obtain, and these few copies, with the king's name as
subscriber, will always be useful to you.

I cannot close this letter without asking your pardon for some
expressions, too sharp, perhaps, in my former letters, about your
vast geological conceptions. The very exaggeration of my
expressions must have shown you how little weight I attached to my
objections. . .My desire is always to listen and to learn. Taught
from my youth to believe that the organization of past times was
somewhat tropical in character, and startled therefore at these
glacial interruptions, I cried "Heresy!" at first. But should we
not always listen to a friendly voice like yours? I am interested
in whatever is printed on these topics; so, if you have published
anything at all complete lately on the ensemble of your geological
ideas, have the great kindness to send it to me through a
book-seller. . .

Shall I tell you anything of my own poor and superannuated works?
The sixth volume is wanting to my "Geography of the Fifteenth
Century" (Examen Critique). It will appear this summer. I am also
printing the second volume of a new work to be entitled "Central
Asia." It is not a second edition of "Asiatic Fragments," but a new
and wholly different work. The thirty-five sheets of the last
volume are printed, but the two volumes will only be issued
together. You can judge of the difficulty of printing at Paris and
correcting proofs here,--at Poretz or at Toplitz. I am just now
beginning to print the first number of my physics of the world,
under the title of "Cosmos:" in German, "Ideen zur erner physischen
Weltbeschreibung." It is in no sense a reproduction of the lectures
I gave here. The subject is the same, but the presentation does not
at all recall the form of a popular course. As a book, it has a
somewhat graver and more elevated style. A "spoken book" is always
a poor book, just as lectures read are poor however well prepared.
Published courses of lectures are my detestation. Cotta is also
printing a volume of mine in German, "Physikalische geographische
Erinnerungen." Many unpublished things concerning the volcanoes of
the Andes, about currents, etc. And all this at the age when one
begins to petrify! It is very rash! May this letter prove to you
and to Madame Agassiz that I am petrifying only at the extremities,
--the heart is still warm. Retain for me the affection which I hold
so dear.


In the following winter, or, rather, in the early days of March,
1841, Agassiz visited, in company with M. Desor, the glacier of the
Aar and that of Rosenlaui. He wished to examine the stakes planted
the summer before on the glacier of the Aar, and to compare the
winter and summer temperature within as well as without the mass of
ice. But his chief object was to ascertain whether water still
flowed from beneath the glaciers during the frosts of winter. This
fact would have a direct bearing upon the theory which referred the
melting and movement of the glaciers chiefly to their lower
surface, explaining them by the central heat of the earth as their
main cause. Satisfied as he was of the fallacy of this notion,
Agassiz still wished to have the evidence of the glacier itself.
The journey was, of course, a difficult one at such a season, but
the weather was beautiful, and they accomplished it in safety,
though not without much suffering. They found no water except the
pure and limpid water from springs that never freeze. The glacier
lay dead in the grasp of winter. The results of this journey,
tables of temperature, etc., are recorded in the "Systeme

In E. Desor's "Sejours dans les Glaciers" is found an interesting
description of the incidents of this excursion and the appearance
of the glaciers in winter. In ascending the course of the Aar they
frequently crossed the shrunken river on natural snow bridges, and
approaching the Handeck over fearfully steep slopes of snow they
had some difficulty in finding the thread of water which was all
that remained of the beautiful summer cascade. On the glacier of
the Aar they found the Hotel des Neuchatelois buried in snow, while
the whole surface of the glacier as well as the surrounding peaks,
from base to summit, wore the same spotless mantle. The
Finsteraarhorn alone stood out in bold relief, black against a
white world, its abrupt slopes affording no foothold for the snow.
The scene was far more monotonous than in summer. Crevasses, with
their blue depths of ice, were closed; the many-voiced streams were
still; the moraines and boulders were only here and there visible
through the universal shroud. The sky was without a cloud, the air
transparent, but the glitter of the uniform white surface was
exquisitely painful to the eyes and skin, and the travelers were
obliged to wrap their heads in double veils. They found the glacier
of Rosenlaui less enveloped in snow than that of the Aar; and
though the magnificent ice-cave, so well known to travelers for its
azure tints, was inaccessible, they could look into the vault and
see that the habitual bed of the torrent was dry. The journey was
accomplished in a week without any untoward accident.

In the summer of 1841 Agassiz made a longer Alpine sojourn than
ever before. The special objects of the season's work were the
internal structure of these vast moving fields of ice, the
essential conditions of their origin and continued existence, the
action of water within them as influencing their movement, and
their own agency in direct contact with the beds and walls of the
valleys they occupied. The fact of their former extension and their
present oscillations might be considered as established. It
remained to explain these facts with reference to the conditions
prevailing within the mass itself. In short, the investigation was
passing from the domain of geology to that of physics. Agassiz, who
was as he often said of himself no physicist, was the more anxious
to have the cooperation of the ablest men in that department, and
to share with them such facilities for observation and such results
as he had thus far accumulated. In addition to his usual
collaborators, M. Desor and M. Vogt, he had, therefore, invited as
his guest, during part of the season, the distinguished physicist,
Professor James D. Forbes, of Edinburgh, who brought with him his
friend, Mr. Heath, of Cambridge.* (* As the impressions of Mr.
Forbes were only made known in connection with his own later and
independent researches it is unnecessary to refer to them here.) M.
Escher de la Linth took also an active part in the work of the
later summer. To his working corps Agassiz had added the foreman of
M. Kahli, an engineer at Bienne, to whom he had confided his plans
for the summer, and who furnished him with a skilled workman to
direct the boring operations, assist in measurements, etc. The
artist of this year was M. Jacques Burkhardt, a personal friend of
Agassiz, and his fellow-student at Munich, where he had spent some
time at the school of art. As a draughtsman he was subsequently
associated with Agassiz in his work at various times, and when they
both settled in America Mr. Burkhardt became a permanent member of
Agassiz's household, accompanied him on his journeys, and remained
with him in relations of uninterrupted and affectionate regard till
his own death in 1867. He was a loyal friend and a warm-hearted
man, with a thread of humor running through his dry good sense,
which made him a very amusing and attractive companion.

As it was necessary, in view of his special programme of work, to
penetrate below the surface of the glacier, and reach, if possible,
its point of contact with the valley bottom, Agassiz had caused a
larger boring apparatus than had been used before, to be
transported to the old site on the Aar glacier. The results of
these experiments are incorporated in the "Systeme Glaciaire,"
published in 1846, with twenty-four folio plates and two maps. They
were of the highest interest with reference to the internal
structure and temperature of the ice and the penetrability of its
mass, pervious throughout, as it proved, to air and water. On one
occasion the boring-rod, having been driven to a depth of one
hundred and ten feet, dropped suddenly two feet lower, showing that
it had passed through an open space hidden in the depth of the ice.
The release of air-bubbles at the same time gave evidence that this
glacial cave, so suddenly broken in upon, was not hermetically
sealed to atmospheric influences from without.

Agassiz was not satisfied with the report of his instruments from
these unknown regions. He determined to be lowered into one of the
so-called wells in the glacier, and thus to visit its interior in
person. For this purpose he was obliged to turn aside the stream
which flowed into the well into a new bed which he caused to be dug
for it. This done, he had a strong tripod erected over the opening,
and, seated upon a board firmly attached by ropes, he was then let
down into the well, his friend Escher lying flat on the edge of the
precipice, to direct the descent and listen for any warning cry.
Agassiz especially desired to ascertain how far the laminated or
ribboned structure of the ice (the so-called blue bands) penetrated
the mass of the glacier. This feature of the glacier had been
observed and described by M. Guyot (see page 292), but Mr. Forbes
had called especial attention to it, as in his belief connected
with the internal conditions of the glacier. It was agreed, as
Agassiz bade farewell to his friends on this curious voyage of
discovery, that he should be allowed to descend until he called out
that they were to lift him. He was lowered successfully and without
accident to a depth of eighty feet. There he encountered an
unforeseen difficulty in a wall of ice which divided the well into
two compartments. He tried first the larger one, but finding it
split again into several narrow tunnels, he caused himself to be
raised sufficiently to enter the smaller, and again proceeded on
his downward course without meeting any obstacle. Wholly engrossed
in watching the blue bands, still visible in the glittering walls
of ice, he was only aroused to the presence of approaching danger
by the sudden plunge of his feet into water. His first shout of
distress was misunderstood, and his friends lowered him into the
ice-cold gulf instead of raising him. The second cry was effectual,
and he was drawn up, though not without great difficulty, from a
depth of one hundred and twenty-five feet. The most serious peril
of the ascent was caused by the huge stalactites of ice, between
the points of which he had to steer his way. Any one of them, if
detached by the friction of the rope, might have caused his death.
He afterward said: "Had I known all its dangers, perhaps I should
not have started on such an adventure. Certainly, unless induced by
some powerful scientific motive, I should not advise any one to
follow my example." On this perilous journey he traced the
laminated structure to a depth of eighty feet, and even beyond,
though with less distinctness.

The summer closed with their famous ascent of the Jungfrau. The
party consisted of twelve persons Agassiz, Desor, Forbes, Heath,
and two travelers who had begged to join them,--M. de Chatelier, of
Nantes, and M. de Pury, of Neuchatel, a former pupil of Agassiz.
The other six were guides; four beside their old and tried friends,
Jacob Leuthold and Johann Wahren. They left the hospice of the
Grimsel on the 27th of August, at four o'clock in the morning.
Crossing the Col of the Oberaar they descended to the snowy plateau
which feeds the Viescher glacier. In this grand amphitheatre,
walled in by the peaks of the Viescherhorner, they rested for their
midday meal. In crossing these fields of snow, while walking with
perfect security upon what seemed a solid mass, they observed
certain window-like openings in the snow. Stooping to examine one
of them, they looked into an immense open space, filled with soft
blue light. They were, in fact, walking on a hollow crust, and the
small window was, as they afterward found, opposite a large
crevasse on the other side of this ice-cavern, through which the
light entered, flooding the whole vault and receiving from its icy
walls its exquisite reflected color.* (* The effect is admirably
described by M. Desor in his account of this excursion, "Sejours
dans les Glaciers" page 367.)

Once across the fields of snow and neve, a fatiguing walk of five
hours brought them to the chalets of Meril,* (* Sometimes Moril,
but I have retained the spelling of M. Desor.--E.C.A.) where they
expected to sleep. The night which should have prepared them for
the fatigue of the next day was, however, disturbed by an untoward
accident. The ladder left by Jacob Leuthold when last here with
Hugi in 1832, nine years before, and upon which he depended, had
been taken away by a peasant of Viesch. Two messengers were sent in
the course of the night to the village to demand its restoration.
The first returned unsuccessful; the second was the bearer of such
threats of summary punishment from the whole party that he carried
his point, and appeared at last with the recovered treasure on his
back. They had, in the mean while, lost two hours. They should have
been on their road at three o'clock; it was now five. Jacob warned
them therefore that they must make all speed, and that any one who
felt himself unequal to a forced march should stay behind. No one
responded to his suggestion, and they were presently on the road.

Passing Lake Meril, with its miniature icebergs, they reached the
glacier of the Aletsch and its snow-fields, where the real
difficulties and dangers of the ascent were to begin. In this great
semicircular space, inclosed by the Jungfrau, the Monch, and the
lesser peaks of this mountain group, lies the Aletsch reservoir of
snow or neve. As this spot presented a natural pause between the
laborious ascent already accomplished and the immense declivities
which lay before them yet to be climbed, they named it Le Repos,
and halted there for a short rest. Here they left also every
needless incumbrance, taking only a little bread and wine, in case
of exhaustion, some meteorological instruments, and the inevitable
ladder, axe, and ropes of the Alpine climber. On their left, to the
west of the amphitheatre, a vast passage opened between the
Jungfrau and the Kranzberg, and in this could be distinguished a
series of terraces, one above the other. The story is the usual
one, of more or less steep slopes, where they sank in the softer
snow or cut their steps in the icy surfaces; of open crevasses,
crossed by the ladder, or the more dangerous ones, masked by snow,
over which they trod cautiously, tied together by the rope. But
there was nothing to appall the experienced mountaineer with firm
foot and a steady head, until they reached a height where the
summit of the Jungfrau detached itself in apparently inaccessible
isolation from all beneath or around it. To all but the guides
their farther advance seemed blocked by a chaos of precipices,
either of snow and ice or of rock. Leuthold remained however
quietly confident, telling them he clearly saw the course he meant
to follow. It began by an open gulf of unknown depth, though not
too wide to be spanned by their ladder twenty-three feet in length.
On the other side of this crevasse, and immediately above it, rose
an abrupt wall of icy snow. Up this wall Leuthold and another guide
led the way, cutting steps as they went. When half way up they
lowered the rope, holding one end, while their companions fastened
the other to the ladder, so that it served them as a kind of
hand-rail, by which to follow. At the top they found themselves on
a terrace, beyond which a far more moderate slope led to the Col of
Roththal, overlooking the Aletsch valley on one side, the Roththal
on the other. From this point the ascent was more and more steep
and very slow, as every step had to be cut. Their difficulties were
increased, also, by a mist which gathered around them, and by the
intense cold. Leuthold kept the party near the border of the ridge,
because there the ice yielded more readily to the stroke of the
axe; but it put their steadiness of nerve to the greatest test, by
keeping the precipice constantly in view, except when hidden by the
fog. Indeed, they could drive their alpenstocks through the
overhanging rim of frozen snow, and look sheer down through the
hole thus made to the amphitheatre below. One of the guides left
them, unable longer to endure the sight of these precipices so
close at hand. As they neared their goal they feared lest the mist
might, at the last, deprive them of the culminating moment for
which they had braved such dangers. But suddenly, as if touched by
their perseverance, says M. Desor, the veil of fog lifted, and the
summit of the Jungfrau, in its final solitude, rose before them.
There was still a certain distance to be passed before they
actually reached the base of the extreme peak. Here they paused,
not without a certain hesitation, for though the summit lay but a
few feet above them, they were separated from it by a sharp and
seemingly inaccessible ridge. Even Agassiz, who was not easily
discouraged, said, as he looked up at this highest point of the
fortress they had scaled "We can never reach it." For all answer,
Jacob Leuthold, their intrepid guide, flinging down everything
which could embarrass his movements, stretched his alpenstock over
the ridge as a grappling pole, and, trampling the snow as he went,
so as to flatten his giddy path for those who were to follow, was
in a moment on the top. To so steep an apex does this famous peak
narrow, that but one person can stand on the summit at a time, nor
was even this possible till the snow was beaten down. Returning on
his steps, Leuthold, whose quiet, unflinching audacity of success
was contagious, assisted each one to stand for a few moments where
he had stood. The fog, the effect of which they had so much feared,
now lent something to the beauty of the view from this sublime
foothold. Masses of vapor rolled up from the Roththal on the
southwest, but, instead of advancing to envelop them, paused at a
little distance arrested by some current from the plain. The
temperature being below freezing point, the drops of moisture in
this wall of vapor were congealed into ice-crystals, which
glittered like gold in the sunlight and gave back all the colors of
the rainbow.

When all the party were once more assembled at the base of the
peak, Jacob, whose resources never failed, served to each one a
little wine, and they rested on the snow before beginning their
perilous descent. Of living things they saw only a hawk, poised in
the air above their heads; of plants, a few lichens, where the
surface of the rock was exposed. It was four o'clock in the
afternoon before they started on their downward path, turning their
faces to the icy slope, and feeling for the steps behind them, some
seven hundred in all, which had been cut in ascending. In about an
hour they reached the Col of the Roththal, where the greatest
difficulties of the ascent had begun and the greatest dangers of
the descent were over. So elated were they by the success of the
day, and so regardless of lesser perils after those they had passed
through, that they were now inclined to hurry forward incautiously.
Jacob, prudent when others were rash, as he was bold when others
were intimidated, constantly called them to order with his:
"Hubschle! nur immer hubschle!" ("Gently! always gently!")

At six o'clock they were once more at Le Repos, having retraced
their steps in two hours over a distance which had cost them six in
going. Evening was now falling, but daylight was replaced by
moonlight, and when they reached the glacier its whole surface
shone with a soft silvery lustre, broken here and there by the
gigantic shadow of some neighboring mountain thrown black across
it. At about nine o'clock, just as they had passed that part of the
glacier which was, on account of the frequent crevasses, the most
dangerous, they were cheered by the sound of a distant yodel. It
was the call of a peasant who had been charged to meet them with
provisions, at a certain distance above Lake Meril, in case they
should be overcome by hunger and fatigue. The most acceptable thing
he brought was his great wooden bucket, filled with fresh milk. The
picture of the party, as they stood around him in the moonlight,
dipping eagerly into his bucket, and drinking in turn until they
had exhausted the supply, is so vivid, that one shares their good
spirits and their enjoyment. Thus refreshed, they started on the
last stage of their journey, three leagues of which yet lay before
them, and at half-past eleven arrived at the chalets of Meril,
which they had left at dawn.

On the morrow the party broke up, and Agassiz and Desor,
accompanied by their friend, M. Escher de la Linth, returned to the
Grimsel, and after a day's rest there repaired once more to the
Hotel des Neuchatelois. They remained on the glacier until the 5th
of September, spending these few last days in completing their
measurements, and in planting the lines of stakes across the
glacier, to serve as a means of determining its rate of movement
during the year, and the comparative rapidity of that movement at
certain fixed points. Thus concluded one of the most eventful
seasons Agassiz and his companions had yet passed upon the Alps.*
(* Though quoting his exact language only in certain instances, the
account of this and other Alpine ascensions described above has
been based upon M. E. Desor's "Sejours dans les Glaciers". His very
spirited narratives, added to my own recollections of what I had
heard from Mr. Agassiz himself on the same subject, have given me
my material.--E.C.A.)


1842-1843: AGE 35-36.

Zoological Work uninterrupted by Glacial Researches.
Various Publications.
"Nomenclator Zoologicus."
"Bibliographia Zoologiae et Geologiae."
Correspondence with English Naturalists.
Correspondence with Humboldt.
Glacial Campaign of 1842.
Correspondence with Prince de Canino concerning Journey to United States.
Fossil Fishes from the Old Red Sandstone.
Glacial Campaign of 1843.
Death of Leuthold, the Guide.

Although his glacier work was now so prominent a feature of
Agassiz's scientific life, his zoological studies, especially his
ichthyological researches, and more especially his work on fossil
fishes, went on with little interruption. His publications upon
Fossil Mollusks,* (* "Etudes Critiques sur les Mollusques Fossiles"
4 numbers quarto with 100 plates.) upon Tertiary Shells,* (*
"Iconographie des Coquilles Tertiaires reputees identiques sur les
vivans" 1 number quarto 14 plates.) upon Living and Fossil
Echinoderms,* (* "Monographie d'Echinodermes vivans et fossiles" 4
numbers quarto with 37 plates.) with many smaller monographs on
special subjects, were undertaken and completed during the most
active period of his glacial investigations. More surprising is it
to find him, while pursuing new lines of investigation with
passionate enthusiasm, engaged at the same time upon works
seemingly so dry and tedious as his "Nomenclator Zoologicus," and
his "Bibliographia Zoologiae et Geologiae."

The former work, a large quarto volume with an Index,* (* The Index
was also published separately as an octavo.) comprised an
enumeration of all the genera of the animal kingdom, with the
etymology of their names, the names of those who had first proposed
them, and the date of their publication. He obtained the
cooperation of other naturalists, submitting each class as far as
possible for revision to the leaders in their respective

In his letter of presentation to the library of the Neuchatel
Academy, addressed to M. le Baron de Chambrier, President of the
Academic Council, Agassiz thus describes the Nomenclator.

. . ."Have the kindness to accept for the library of the Academy
the fifth number of a work upon the sources of zoological
criticism, the publication of which I have just begun. It is a work
of patience, demanding long and laborious researches. I had
conceived the plan in the first years of my studies, and since then
have never lost sight of it. I venture to believe it will be a
barrier against the Babel of confusion which tends to overwhelm the
domain of zoological synonymy. My book will be called 'Nomenclator
Zoologicus.'". . .

The Bibliographia (4 volumes, octavo) was in some measure a
complement of the Nomenclator, and contained a list of all the
authors named in the latter, with notices of their works. It
appeared somewhat later, and was published by the Ray Society in
England, in 1848, after Agassiz had left Europe for the United
States. The material for this work also had been growing upon his
hands for years. Feeling more and more the importance of such a
register as a guide for students, he appealed to naturalists in all
parts of Europe for information upon the scientific bibliography of
their respective countries, and at last succeeded in cataloguing,
with such completeness as was possible, all known works and all
scattered memoirs on zoology and geology. Unable to publish this
costly but unremunerative material, he was delighted to give it up
to the Ray Society. The first three volumes were edited with
corrections and additions by Mr. H.E. Strickland, who died before
the appearance of the fourth volume, which was finally completed
under the care of his father-in-law, Sir William Jardine.

The ability, so eminently possessed by Agassiz of dealing with a
number of subjects at once, was due to no superficial versatility.
To him his work had but one meaning. It was never disconnected in
his thought, and therefore he turned from his glaciers to his
fossils, and from the fossil to the living world, with the feeling
that he was always dealing with kindred problems, bound together by
the same laws. Nowhere is this better seen than in the records of
the scientific society of Neuchatel, the society he helped to found
in the first months of his professorship, and to which he always
remained strongly attached, being a constant attendant at its
sessions from 1833 to 1846. Here we find him from month to month,
with philosophic breadth of thought, treating of animals in their
widest relations, or describing minute structural details with the
skill of a specialist. He presents organized beings in their
geological succession, in their geographical distribution, in their
embryonic development. He reviews and remodels laws of
classification. Sometimes he illustrates the fossil by the living
world, sometimes he finds the key to present phenomena in the
remote past. He reconstructs the history of the glacial period, and
points to its final chapter in the nearest Alpine valleys,
connecting these facts again with like phenomena in distant parts
of the globe. But however wide his range and however various his
topics, under his touch they are all akin, all coordinate parts of
a whole which he strives to understand in its entirety. A few
extracts from his correspondence will show him in his different
lines of research at this time.

The following letter is from Edward Forbes, one of the earliest
explorers of the deep-sea fauna. Agassiz had asked him for some
help in his work upon echinoderms.


21 LOTHIAN ST., EDINBURGH, February 13, 1841.

. . .A letter from you was to me one of the greatest of pleasures,
and with great delight (though, I fear, imperfectly) I have
executed the commission you gave me. It should have been done much
sooner had not the storms been so bad in the sea near this that,
until three days ago, I was not able to procure a living sea-urchin
from which to make the drawings required. . .You have made all the
geologists glacier-mad here, and they are turning Great Britain
into an ice-house. Some amusing and very absurd attempts at
opposition to your views have been made by one or two
pseudo-geologists; among others, poor--, who has read a paper at
the Royal Society here, maintaining that all the appearances you
refer to glaciers were caused by blocks of ice which floated this
way in the Deluge! and that the fossils of the pleistocene strata
were mollusks, etc., which, climbing upon the ice-blocks, were
carried to warmer seas against their will!! To my mind, one of the
best proofs of the truth of your views lies in the decidedly arctic
character of the pleistocene fauna, which must be referred to the
glacier time, and by such reference is easily understood. I mean
during the summer to collect data on that point, in order to
present a mass of geological proofs of your theory.

Dr. Traill tells me you are proposing to visit England again during
the coming summer. If you do, I hope we shall meet, when I shall
have many things to show you, which time did not permit when you
were here. I look anxiously for the forth-coming number of your
history of the Echinodermata. . .


June 13, 1842.

. . .Your letters have given me great pleasure: first, in assuring
me that your zeal in ichthyology is undiminished, and that you are
about to give such striking proofs of it to the British
Association; and next that you still pursue with enthusiasm your
admirable researches upon the glaciers. I should be charmed to put
myself under your guidance for a walk on the glaciers of the Aar,
but I hardly dare promise it yet. . .Even were I to make every
haste, I doubt if it be possible to reach your Swiss meeting in
time. It is just possible that I may find you in your glacial
cantonment after your return, but even this will depend upon
circumstances over which I have no control.

I send this letter to you by my friend, Admiral Sir Charles
Malcolm, who passes through Neuchatel on his way to Geneva.
Accompanying it is a copy of my last discourse, which I request you
to accept and to read all parts of it. You will see that I have
grappled honestly and according to my own faith with your ice, but
have never lost sight of your great merit. My concluding paragraph
will convince you and all your friends that if I am wrong it is not
from any preconceived notions, but only because I judge from what
you will call incomplete evidence. Your "Venez voir!" still sounds
in my ears. . .

Murchison remained for many years an opponent of the glacial theory
in its larger application. In the discourse to which the above
letter makes allusion (Address at the Anniversary Meeting of the
Geological Society of London, 1842.* (* Extract from Report in
volume 33 of the "Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal".)) is this
passage: "Once grant to Agassiz that his deepest valleys of
Switzerland, such as the enormous Lake of Geneva, were formerly
filled with snow and ice, and I see no stopping place. From that
hypothesis you may proceed to fill the Baltic and the northern
seas, cover southern England and half of Germany and Russia with
similar icy sheets, on the surfaces of which all the northern
boulders might have been shot off. So long as the greater number of
the practical geologists of Europe are opposed to the wide
extension of a terrestrial glacial theory, there can be little risk
that such a doctrine should take too deep a hold of the mind. . .
The existence of glaciers in Scotland and England (I mean in the
Alpine sense) is not, at all events, established to the
satisfaction of what I believe to be by far the greater number of
British geologists."

Twenty years later, with rare candor, Murchison wrote to Agassiz as
follows; by its connection, though not by its date, the extract is
in place here: "I send you my last anniversary address, which I
wrote entirely myself; and I beg you to believe that in the part of
it that refers to the glacial period, and to Europe as it was
geographically, I have had the sincerest pleasure in avowing that I
was wrong in opposing as I did your grand and original idea of my
native mountains. Yes! I am now convinced that glaciers did descend
from the mountains to the plains as they do now in Greenland."

During the summer of 1842, at about the same date with Murchison's
letter disclaiming the glacial theory, Agassiz received, on the
other hand, a new evidence, and one which must have given him
especial pleasure, of the favorable impression his views were
making in some quarters in England.


OXFORD, July 22, 1842.

You will, I am sure, rejoice with me at the adhesion of C. Darwin
to the doctrine of ancient glaciers in North Wales, of which I send
you a copy, and which was communicated to me by Dr. Tritten, during
the late meeting at Manchester, in time to be quoted by me versus
Murchison, when he was proclaiming the exclusive agency of floating
icebergs in drifting erratic blocks and making scratched and
polished surfaces. It has raised the glacial theory fifty per cent,
as far as relates to glaciers descending inclined valleys; but
Hopkins and the Cantabrigians are still as obstinate as ever
against allowing the power of expansion to move ice along great
distances on horizontal surfaces. . .

The following is the letter referred to above.


Yesterday (and the previous days) I had some most interesting work
in examining the marks left by EXTINCT glaciers. I assure you, an
extinct volcano could hardly leave more evident traces of its
activity and vast powers. I found one with the lateral moraine
quite perfect, which Dr. Buckland did not see. Pray if you have any
communication with Dr. Buckland give him my warmest thanks for
having guided me, through the published abstract of his memoir, to
scenes, and made me understand them, which have given me more
delight than I almost remember to have experienced since I first
saw an extinct crater. The valley about here and the site of the
inn at which I am now writing must once have been covered by at
least 800 or 1,000 feet in thickness of solid ice! Eleven years ago
I spent a whole day in the valley where yesterday everything but
the ice of the glaciers was palpably clear to me, and I then saw
nothing but plain water and bare rock. These glaciers have been
grand agencies. I am the more pleased with what I have seen in
North Wales, as it convinces me that my view of the distribution of
the boulders on the South American plains, as effected by floating
ice, is correct. I am also more convinced that the valleys of Glen
Roy and the neighboring parts of Scotland have been occupied by
arms of the sea, and very likely (for in that point I cannot, of
course, doubt Agassiz and Buckland) by glaciers also.

It continued to be a grief to Agassiz that Humboldt, the oldest of
all his scientific friends, and the one whose opinion he most
reverenced, still remained incredulous. Humboldt's letters show
that Agassiz did not willingly renounce the hope of making him a
convert. Agassiz's own letters to Humboldt are missing from this
time onward. Overwhelmed with occupation, and more at his ease in
his relations with the older scientific men, he had ceased to make
the rough drafts in which his earlier correspondence is recorded.


BERLIN, March 2, 1842.

. . .When one has been so long separated, even accidentally, from a
friend as I have been from you, my dear Agassiz, it is difficult to
find beginning or end to a letter. The kindly remembrance which you
send me is evidence that my long silence has not seemed strange to
you. . .It would be wasting words to tell you how I have been
prevented, by the distractions of my life, always increasing with
old age, from acknowledging the admirable things received from you,
--upon living and fossil fishes, echinoderms, and glaciers. My
admiration of your boundless activity, of your beautiful
intellectual life, increases with every year. This admiration for
your work and your bold excursions is based upon the most careful
reading of all the views and investigations, for which I have to
thank you. This very week I have read with great satisfaction your
truly philosophical address, and your long treatise in Cotta's
fourth "Jahresschrift." Even L. von Buch confessed that the first
half of your treatise, the living presentation of the succession of
organized beings, was full of truth, sagacity, and novelty.

I in no way reproach you, my dear friend, for the urgent desire
expressed in all your letters, that your oldest friends should
accept your comprehensive geological view of your ice-period. It is
very noble and natural to wish that what has impressed us as true
should also be recognized by those we love. . .I believe I have
read and compared all that has been written for and against the
ice-period, and also upon the transportation of boulders, whether
pushed along or carried by floods or gliding over slopes. My own
opinion, as you know, can have no weight or authority, since I have
not myself seen the most decisive points. Indeed I am, perhaps
wrongly, inclined to look upon all geological theories as having
their being in a mythical region, in which, with the progress of
physics, the phantasms are modified century by century. But the
"elephants caught in the ice," and Cuvier's "instantaneous change
of climate," seem to me no more intelligible today than when I
wrote my Asiatic fragments. According to all that we know of the
decrease of heat in the earth, I cannot understand such a change of
temperature in a space of time which does not also allow for the
decaying of flesh. I understand much better how wolves, hares, and
dogs, should they fall to-day into clefts of the frozen regions of
Northern Siberia (and the so-called "elephant-ice" is in plain
prose only porphyritic drift mixed with ice-crystals, true drift
material), might retain their flesh and muscles. . .But I am only a
grumbling rebellious subject in your kingdom. . .Do not be vexed
with a friend who is more than ever impressed with your services to
geology, your philosophical views of nature, your profound
knowledge of organized beings. . .

With old attachment and the warmest friendship, your


In the same strain is this extract from another letter of
Humboldt's, written two or three months later.

. . ."'Grace from on high,' says Madame de Sevigne, 'comes slowly.'
I especially desire it for the glacial period and for that fatal
cap of ice which frightens me, child of the equator that I am. My
heresy, of little importance, since I have seen nothing, does not,
I assure you, my dear Agassiz, diminish my ardent desire that all
your observations should be published. . .I rejoice in the good
news you give me of the fishes. I should pain you did I add that
this work of yours, by the light it has shed on the organic
development of animals, makes the true foundation of your glory.".
. .


NEUCHATEL, June, 1842.

. . .I am hard at work on the fishes of the "Old Red," and will
send you at Manchester a part at least of the plates, with a
general summary of the species of that formation. I aim to finish
the work with such care that it shall mark a sensible advance in
ichthyology. I hope it will satisfy you. . .You ask me how I intend
to finish my Fossil Fishes? As follows: As soon as the number on
the species of the "Old Red" is finished, I shall complete the
general outline of the work as I did with volume 4, in order that
the arrangement and character of all the families in the four
orders may be studied in their zoological affinities, with their
genera and principal species. But as this outline can no longer
contain the innumerable species now known to me, I take up
monographically the species from the different geological
formations in the order of the deposits, and publish as many
supplements as there are great formations rich in fossil fishes. I
shall limit myself to the species described in the body of the
work, merely adding the description of the new species in each
deposit, and such additions as I may have to make for those already
known. In this way, those who wish to study fossil fishes from the
zoological stand-point can turn to the work in the original form,
while those who wish to study them in their geological relations
can confine themselves to the supplements. By means of double
registers at the end of each volume, these two distinct parts of
the work will be again united as a complete whole. This is the only
plan I have been able to devise by which I could publish in
succession all my materials without burdening my first subscribers,
who will thus be free to accept the supplements or not, as they
prefer. Should you have occasion to mention this arrangement to the
friends of fossil ichthyology, pray do so; it seems to me for the
interest of the matter that it should be known. . .I propose to
resume with new zeal my researches upon the fossil fishes as soon
as I return from an excursion I wish to make in July and August to
the glacier of the Aar, where I hope, by a last visit this year, to
conclude my labors on this subject. You will be glad to learn that
the beautiful barometer you gave me has been my faithful companion
in the Alps. . .I have the pleasure to tell you that the King of
Prussia has made me a handsome gift of nearly 200 pounds for the
continuance of my glacial work. I feel, therefore, the greater
certainty of completing what remains for me to do. . .

The campaign of 1842 opened on the 4th of July. The boulder had
ceased to be a safe shelter, and was replaced by a rough frame
cabin covered with canvas. If the party had some regrets in leaving
their picturesque hut beneath the rock, the greater comfort of the
new abode consoled them. It had several divisions. A sleeping-place
for the guides and workmen was partitioned off from a middle room
occupied by Agassiz and his friends, while the front space served
as dining-room, sitting-room, and laboratory. This outer apartment
boasted a table and one or two benches; even a couple of chairs
were kept as seats of honor for occasional guests. A shelf against
the wall and a few pegs accommodated books, instruments, coats,
etc., and a plank floor, on which to spread their blankets at
night, was a good exchange for the frozen surface of the glacier.*
(* In bidding farewell to the boulder which had been the first
"Hotel des Neuchatelois" we may add a word of its farther fortunes.
It had begun to split in 1841, and was completely rent asunder in
1844, after which frost and rain completed its dismemberment.
Strange to say, during the last summer (1884) certain fragments of
the mass have been found, inscribed with the names of some of the
party; one of the blocks bearing beside names, the mark "Number 2".
The account says "The middle stone, the one numbered 2, was at the
intersecting point of two lines drawn from the Pavilion Dollfuss to
the Scheuchzerhorn on the one part, and from the Rothhorn to the
Thierberg on the other." According to the measurements taken by
Agassiz, the Hotel des Neuchatelois in 1840 stood at 797 metres
from the promontory of Abschwung. We are thus enabled, by referring
to the large glacier map of Wild and Stengel, to compare the
present with the then position of the stone, and thereby ascertain
the progress of the glacier since the time in question. Thus the
boulder still contributes something toward the sequel of the work
begun by those who once found shelter beneath it.--E.C.A.)

Mr. Wild, an engineer of known ability, was now a member of their
party, as a topographical survey was to be one of the chief objects
of the summer's work. The results of this survey, which was
continued during two summers, are embodied in the map accompanying
Agassiz's "Systeme Glaciaire." Experiments upon the extent and
connection of the net-work of capillary fissures that admitted
water into the interior of the glaciers, occupied Agassiz's own
attention during a great part of the summer. In order to ascertain
this, colored liquids were introduced into the glacier by means of
boring, and it was found that they threaded their way through the
mass of the ice and reappeared at lower points with astonishing
rapidity. A gallery was cut at a depth of ten metres below the
surface, through a wall of ice intervening between two crevasses.
The colored liquid poured into a hole above soon appeared on the
ceiling of the gallery. The experimenters were surprised to find
that at night the same result was obtained, and that the liquid
penetrated from the surface to the roof of the gallery even more
quickly than during the day. This was explained by the fact that
the fissures were then free from any moisture arising from surface
melting, so that the passage through them was unimpeded.* (*
Distrust has been thrown upon these results by the failure of more
recent attempts to repeat the same experiments. In reference to
this, Agassiz himself says "The infiltration has been denied in
consequence of the failure of some experiments in which an attempt
was made to introduce colored fluids into the glacier. To this I
can only answer that I succeeded completely myself in the self-same
experiment which a later investigator found impracticable, and that
I see no reason why the failure of the latter attempt should cast a
doubt upon the success of the former. The explanation of the
difference in the result may perhaps be found in the fact that as a
sponge gorged with water can admit no more fluid than it already
contains, so the glacier, under certain circumstances, and
especially at noonday in summer, may be so soaked with water that
all attempts to pour colored fluids into it would necessarily
fail."--See "Geological Sketches" by L. Agassiz, page 236.)

The comparative rate of advance in the different parts of the
glacier was ascertained this summer with greater precision than
before. The rows of stakes planted in a straight line across the
glacier by Agassiz and Escher de la Linth, in the previous
September, now described a crescent with the curve turned toward
the terminus of the glacier, showing, contrary to the expectation
of Agassiz, that the centre moved faster than the sides. The
correspondence of the curve in the stratification with that of the
line of stakes confirmed this result. The study of the
stratification of the snow was a marked feature of the season's
work, and Agassiz believed, as will be seen by a later letter, that
he had established this fact of glacial structure beyond a doubt.

The origin and mode of formation of the crevasses also especially
occupied the observers. On the 7th of August, Agassiz had an
opportunity of watching this phenomenon in its initiation.
Attracted to a certain spot on the glacier by a commotion among his
workmen, he found them alarmed at the singular noises and movements
in the ice. "I heard," he says, "at a little distance a sound like
the simultaneous discharge of fire-arms; hurrying in the direction
of the noise, it was repeated under my feet with a movement like
that of a slight earthquake; the ground seemed to shift and give
way under me, but now the sound differed from the preceding, and
resembled a crumbling of rocks, without, however, any perceptible
sinking of the surface. The glacier actually trembled,
nevertheless; for a block of granite three feet in diameter,
perched on a pedestal two feet high, suddenly fell down. At the
same instant a crack opened between my feet and ran rapidly across
the glacier in a straight line."* (* Extract from a letter of Louis
Agassiz to M. Arago dated from the Hotel des Neuchatelois, Glacier
of the Aar, August 7, 1842.) On this occasion Agassiz saw three
crevasses formed in an hour and a half, and heard others opening at
a greater distance from him. He counted eight new fissures in a
space of one hundred and twenty-five feet. The phenomenon continued
throughout the evening, and recurred, though with less frequency,
during the night. The cracks were narrow, the largest an inch and a
half in width, and their great depth was proved by the rapidity
with which they drained any standing water in their immediate
vicinity. "A boring-hole," says Agassiz, "one hundred and thirty
feet deep and six inches in diameter, full of water, was completely
emptied in a few minutes, showing that these narrow cracks
penetrated to great depths."

The summer's work included observations also on the comparative
movement of the glacier during the day and night, on the surface
waste of the mass, its reparation, on the neve and snow of the
upper regions, on the meridian holes, the sun-dials of the
glaciers, as they have been called.* (* "Here and there on the
glacier there are patches of loose material, dust, sand, or gravel,
accumulated by diminutive water-rills and small enough to become
heated during the day. They will, of course, be warmed first on
their eastern side, then still more powerfully on their southern
side, and, in the afternoon, with less force again, on their
western side, while the northern side will remain comparatively
cool. Thus around more than half of their circumference they melt
the ice in a semicircle, and the glacier is covered with little
crescent-shaped troughs of this description, with a steep wall on
one side and a shallow one on the other, and a little heap of loose
materials in the bottom. They are the sun-dials of the glacier,
recording the hour by the advance of the sun's rays upon them."--"
Geological Sketches" by L. Agassiz page 293.) On the whole, the
most important result of the campaign was the topographical survey
of the glacier, recorded in the map published in Agassiz's second
work on the glacier.

At about this time there begin to be occasional references in his
correspondence to a journey of exploration in the United States.
Especially was this plan in frequent discussion between him and
Charles Bonaparte, Prince of Canino, a naturalist almost as ardent
as himself, with whom he had long been in intimate scientific
correspondence. In April, 1842, the prince writes him: "I indulge
myself in dreaming of the journey to America in which you have
promised to accompany me. What a relaxation! and at the same time
what an amount of useful work!" Again, a few months later, "You
must keep me well advised of your plans, and I, in my turn, will
try so to arrange my affairs as to find myself free in the spring
of 1844 for a voyage, the chief object of which will be to show my
oldest son the country where he was born, and where man may develop
free of shackles. The mere anticipation of this journey is
delightful to me, since I shall have you at my side, and may thus
feel sure that it will make an epoch in science." This letter is
answered from the glacier; the first part refers to the
Nomenclator, in regard to which he often consulted the prince.


GLACIER OF THE AAR, September 1, 1842.

. . .I thank you most sincerely for the pains you have so kindly
taken with my proof, and for pointing out the faults and omissions
you have noticed in my register of birds. I made the corrections at
once, and have taken the liberty of mentioning on the cover of this
number the share you have consented to take in my Nomenclator. I
shall try to do better and better in the successive classes, but
you well know the impossibility of avoiding grave errors in such a
work, and that they can be wholly weeded out only in a second and
third edition. I should have written sooner in answer to your last,
had not your letter reached me on the Glacier of the Aar, where I
have been since the beginning of July, following up observations,
the results of which become every day more important and more
convincing. The most striking fact, one which I think I have placed
beyond the reach of doubt, is the primitive stratification of the
neve, or fields of snow,--stratified from the higher regions across
the whole course of the glacier to its lower extremity. I have
prepared a general map, with transverse sections, showing how the
layers lift themselves on the borders of the glacier and also at
their junction, where two glaciers meet at the outlet of adjoining
valleys; and how, also, the waving lines formed by the layers on
the surface change to sharper concentric curves with a marked axis,
as the glacier descends to lower levels. For a full demonstration
of the matter, I ought to send you my map and plans, of which I
have, as yet, no duplicates; but the fact is incontestable, and you
will oblige me by announcing it in the geological section at Padua.
M. Charpentier, who is going to your meeting, will contest it, but
you can tell him from me that it is as evident as the
stratification of the Neptunic rocks. To see and understand it
fully, however, one must stand well above the glacier, so as to
command the surface as a whole in one view. I would add that I am
not now alluding to the blue and white bands in the ice of which I
spoke to you last year; this is a quite distinct phenomenon.

I wish I could accept your kind invitation, but until I have gone
to the bottom of the glacier question and terminated my "Fossil
Fishes," I do not venture to move. It is no light task to finish
all this before our long journey, to which I look forward, as it
draws nearer, with a constantly increasing interest. I am very
sorry not to join you at Florence. It would have been a great
pleasure for me to visit the collections of northern Italy in your
company. . .I write you on a snowy day, which keeps me a prisoner
in my tent; it is so cold that I can hardly hold my pen, and the
water froze at my bedside last night. The greatest privation is,
however, the lack of fruit and vegetables. Hardly a potato once a
fortnight, but always and every day, morning and night, mutton,
everlasting mutton, and rice soup. As early as the end of July we
were caught for three days by the snow; I fear I shall be forced to
break up our encampment next week without having finished my work.
What a contrast between this life and that of the plain! I am
afraid my letter may be long on the road before reaching the mail,
and I pause here that I may not miss the chance of forwarding it by
a man who has just arrived with provisions and is about to return
to the hospice of the Grimsel, where some trustworthy guide will
undertake to deliver it at the first post-office.

No sooner is Agassiz returned from the glacier than we meet him
again in the domain of his fossil fishes.


NEUCHATEL, December 15, 1842.

. . .In the last few months I have made an important step in the
identification of fossil fishes. The happy idea occurred to me of
applying the microscope to the study of fragments of their bones,
especially those of the head, and I have found in their structure
modifications as remarkable and as numerous as those which Mr. Owen
discovered in the structure of teeth. Here there is a vast new
field to explore. I have already applied it to the identification
of the fossil fishes in the Old Red of Russia sent me for that
purpose by Mr. Murchison. You will find more ample details about it
in my report to him. I congratulate myself doubly on the results;
first, because of their great importance in paleontology, and also
because they will draw more closely my relations with Mr. Owen,
whom I always rejoice to meet on the same path with myself, and
whom I believe incapable of jealousy in such matters. . .The only
point indeed, on which I think I may have a little friendly
difference with him, is concerning the genus Labyrinthodon, which I
am firmly resolved, on proofs that seem to me conclusive, to claim
for the class of fishes.* (* On seeing Owen's evidence some years
later, Agassiz at once acknowledged himself mistaken on this point.
) As soon as I have time I will write to Mr. Owen, but this need
not prevent you from speaking to him on the subject if you have an
early opportunity to do so. I am now exclusively occupied with the
fossil fishes, which at any cost I wish to finish this winter. . .
Before even returning to my glacier work, I will finish my
monograph of the Old Red, so that you may present it at the Cork
meeting, which it will be impossible for me to attend. . .I am
infinitely grateful to you and Lord Enniskillen for your
willingness to trust your Sheppy fishes to me; I shall thus be
prepared in advance for a strict determination of these fossils.
Having them for some time before my eyes, I shall become familiar
with all the details. When I know them thoroughly, and have
compared them with the collections of skeletons in the Museums of
Paris, of Leyden, of Berlin, and of Halle, I will then come to
England to see what there may be in other collections which I
cannot have at my disposal here.

The winter of 1843, apart from his duties as professor, was devoted
to the completion of the various zoological works on which he was
engaged, and to the revision of materials he had brought back from
the glacier. His habits with reference to physical exercise were
very irregular. He passed at once from the life of the mountaineer
to that of the closet student. After weeks spent on the snow and
ice of the glacier, constantly on foot and in the open air, he
would shut himself up for a still longer time in his laboratory,
motionless for hours at his microscope by day, and writing far into
the night, rarely leaving his work till long after midnight. He was
also forced at this time to press forward his publications in the
hope that he might have some return for the sums he had expended
upon them. This was indeed a very anxious period of his life. He
could never be brought to believe that purely intellectual aims
were not also financially sound, and his lithographic
establishment, his glacier work, and his costly researches in
zoology had proved far beyond his means. The prophecies of his old
friend Humboldt were coming true. He was entangled in obligations,
and crushed under the weight of his own undertakings. He began to
doubt the possibility of carrying out his plan of a scientific
journey to the United States.


NEUCHATEL, April, 1843.

. . .I have worked like a slave all winter to finish my fossil
fishes; you will presently receive my fifteenth and sixteenth
numbers, forwarded two days since, with more than forty pages of
text, containing many new observations. I shall allow myself no
interruption until this work is finished, hoping thereby to obtain
a little freedom, for if my position here is not changed I shall be
forced to seek the means of existence elsewhere. Meantime,
extravagant projects present themselves, as is apt to be the case
when one is in difficulties. That of accompanying you to the United
States was so tempting, that I am bitterly disappointed to think
that its execution becomes impossible in my present circumstances.
All my projects for further publications must also be adjourned, or
perhaps renounced. . .Possibly, when my work on the fossil fishes
is completed, the sale of some additional copies may help me to
rise again. And yet I have not much hope of this, since all the
attempts of my friends to obtain subscriptions for me in France and
Russia have failed: because the French government takes no interest
in what is done out of Paris; and in Russia such researches, having
little direct utility, are looked upon with indifference. Do you
think any position would be open to me in the United States, where
I might earn enough to enable me to continue the publication of my
unhappy books; which never pay their way because they do not meet
the wants of the world?. . .

In the following July we find him again upon the glacier. But the
campaign of 1843 opened sadly for the glacial party. Arriving at
Meiringen they heard that Jacob Leuthold was ill and would probably
be unable to accompany them. They went to his house, and found him,
indeed, the ghost of his former self, apparently in a rapid
decline. Nevertheless, he welcomed them gladly to his humble home,
and would have kept them for some refreshment. Fearing to fatigue
him, however, they stayed but a few moments. As they left, one of
the party pointed to the mountains, adding a hope that he might
soon join them. His eyes filled with tears; it was his only answer,
and he died three days later. He was but thirty-seven years of age,
and at that time the most intrepid and the most intelligent of the
Oberland guides. His death was felt as a personal grief by the band
of workers whose steps he had for years guided over the most
difficult Alpine passes.

The summer's work continued and completed that of the last season.
On leaving the glacier the year before they had marked a network of
loose boulders, such as travel with the ice, and also a number of
fixed points in the valley walls, comparing and registering their
distance from each other. They had also sunk a line of stakes
across the glacier. The change in the relative position of the two
sets of signals and the curve in their line of stakes gave them,
self-recorded, as it were, the rate of advance of the glacier as a
whole, and also the comparative rate of progression in its
different parts. Great pains was also taken during the summer to
measure the advance in every twenty-four hours, as well as to
compare the diurnal with the nocturnal movement, and to ascertain
the amount of surface waste. The season was an unfavorable one,
beginning so late and continuing so cold that the period of work
was shortened.


1843-1846: AGE 36-39.

Completion of Fossil Fishes.
Followed by Fossil Fishes of the Old Red Sandstone.
Review of the Later Work.
Identification of Fishes by the Skull.
Renewed Correspondence with Prince Canino about Journey

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