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Louis Agassiz: His Life and Correspondence by Louis Agassiz

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to the United States.
Change of Plan owing to the Interest of the King of Prussia
in the Expedition.
Correspondence between Professor Sedgwick and Agassiz on
Development Theory.
Final Scientific Work in Neuchatel and Paris.
Publication of "Systeme Glaciaire."
Short Stay in England.
Farewell Letter from Humboldt.
Sails for United States.

In 1843 the "Recherches sur les Poissons Fossiles" was completed,
and fast upon its footsteps, in 1844, followed the author's
"Monograph on the Fossil Fishes of the Old Red Sandstone, or the
Devonian System of Great Britain and Russia," a large quarto volume
of text, accompanied by forty-one plates. Nothing in his
paleontological studies ever interested Agassiz more than this
curious fauna of the Old Red, so strange in its combinations that
even well-informed naturalists had attributed its fossil remains to
various classes of the animal kingdom in turn, and, indeed, long
remained in doubt as to their true nature. Agassiz says himself in
his Preface: "I can never forget the impression produced upon me by
the sight of these creatures, furnished with appendages resembling
wings, yet belonging, as I had satisfied myself, to the class of
fishes. Here was a type entirely new to us, about to reenter (for
the first time since it had ceased to exist) the series of beings;
nor could anything, thus far revealed from extinct creations, have
led us to anticipate its existence. So true is it that observation
alone is a safe guide to the laws of development of organized
beings, and that we must be on our guard against all those systems
of transformation of species so lightly invented by the

The author goes on to state that the discovery of these fossils was
mainly due to Hugh Miller, and that his own work had been confined
to the identification of their character and the determination of
their relations to the already known fossil fishes. This work, upon
a type so extraordinary, implied, however, innumerable and
reiterated comparisons, and a minute study of the least fragments
of the remains which could be procured. The materials were chiefly
obtained in Scotland; but Sir Roderick Murchison also contributed
his own collection from the Old Red of Russia, and various other
specimens from the same locality. Not only on account of their
peculiar structure were the fishes of the Old Red interesting to
Agassiz, but also because, with this fauna, the vertebrate type
took its place for the first time in what were then supposed to be
the most ancient fossiliferous beds. When Agassiz first began his
researches on fossil fishes, no vertebrate form had been discovered
below the coal. The occurrence of fishes in the Devonian and
Silurian beds threw the vertebrate type back, as he believed, into
line with all the invertebrate classes, and seemed to him to show
that the four great types of the animal kingdom, Radiates,
Mollusks, Articulates, and Vertebrates, had appeared together.* (*
Introduction to the "Poissons Fossiles de Vieux Gres Rouge" page
22.) "It is henceforth demonstrated," says Agassiz, "that the
fishes were included in the plan of the first organic combinations
which made the point of departure for all the living inhabitants of
our globe in the series of time."

In his opinion this simultaneity of appearance, as well as the
richness and variety displayed by invertebrate classes from the
beginning, made it* (* Introduction to the "Poissons Fossiles du
Vieux Gres Rouge" page 21.) "impossible to refer the first
inhabitants of the earth to a few stocks, subsequently
differentiated under the influence of external conditions of
existence.". . .He adds:* (* Introduction to the "Poissons Fossiles
de Vieux Gres Rouge" page 24.) "I have elsewhere presented my views
upon the development through which the successive creations have
passed during the history of our planet. But what I wish to prove
here, by a careful discussion of the facts reported in the
following pages, is the truth of the law now so clearly
demonstrated in the series of vertebrates, that the successive
creations have undergone phases of development analogous to those
of the embryo in its growth and similar to the gradations shown by
the present creation in the ascending series, which it presents as
a whole. One may consider it as henceforth proved that the embryo
of the fish during its development, the class of fishes as it at
present exists in its numerous families, and the type of fish in
its planetary history, exhibit analogous phases through which one
may follow the same creative thought like a guiding thread in the
study of the connection between organized beings." Following this
comparison closely, he shows how the early embryonic condition of
the present fishes is recalled by the general disposition of the
fins in the fishes of the Old Red Sandstone, and especially by the
caudal fin, making the unevenly lobed tail, so characteristic of
these ancient forms. This so called heterocercal tail is only known
to exist, as a permanent adult feature, in the sturgeons of to-day.
The form of the head and the position of the mouth and eyes in the
fishes of the Old Red were also shown to be analogous with
embryonic phases of our present fishes. From these analogies, and
also from the ascendancy of fishes as the only known vertebrate,
and therefore as the highest type in those ancient deposits,
Agassiz considered this fauna as representing "the embryonic age of
the reign of fishes;" and he sums up his results in conclusion in
the following words: "The facts, taken as a whole, seem to me to
show, not only that the fishes of the Old Red constitute an
independent fauna, distinct from those of other deposits, but that
they also represent in their organization the most remarkable
analogy with the first phases of embryonic development in the bony
fishes of our epoch, and a no less marked parallelism with the
lower degrees of certain types of the class as it now exists on the
surface of the earth."

It has been said by one of the biographers of Agassiz,* (* "Louis
Agassiz: Notice biographique" par Ernest Favre.) in reference to
this work upon the fishes of the Old Red Sandstone: "It is
difficult to understand why the results of these admirable
researches, and of later ones made by him, did not in themselves
lead him to support the theory of transformation, of which they
seem the natural consequence." It is true that except for the
frequent allusion to a creative thought or plan, this introduction
to the Fishes of the Old Red might seem to be written by an
advocate of the development theory rather than by its most
determined opponent, so much does it deal with laws of the organic
world, now used in support of evolution. These comprehensive laws,
announced by Agassiz in his "Poissons Fossiles," and afterward
constantly reiterated by him, have indeed been adopted by the
writers on evolution, though with a wholly different
interpretation. No one saw more clearly than Agassiz the relation
which he first pointed out, between the succession of animals of
the same type in time and the phases of their embryonic growth
to-day, and he often said, in his lectures, "the history of the
individual is the history of the type." But the coincidence between
the geological succession, the embryonic development, the
zoological gradation, and the geographical distribution of animals
in the past and the present, rested, according to his belief, upon
an intellectual coherence and not upon a material connection. So,
also, the variability, as well as the constancy, of organized
beings, at once so plastic and so inflexible, seemed to him
controlled by something more than the mechanism of self-adjusting
forces. In this conviction he remained unshaken all his life,
although the development theory came up for discussion under so
many various aspects during that time. His views are now in the
descending scale; but to give them less than their real prominence
here would be to deprive his scientific career of its true basis.
Belief in a Creator was the keynote of his study of nature.

In summing up the comprehensive results of Agassiz's
paleontological researches, and especially of his "Fossil Fishes,"
Arnold Guyot says:* (* See "Biographical Memoir of Louis Agassiz"
page 28.)--"Whatever be the opinions which many may entertain as to
the interpretation of some of these generalizations, the vast
importance of these results of Agassiz's studies may be appreciated
by the incontestable fact, that nearly all the questions which
modern paleontology has treated are here raised and in great
measure solved. They already form a code of general laws which has
become a foundation for the geological history of the life-system,
and which the subsequent investigations of science have only
modified and extended, not destroyed. Nowhere did the mind of
Agassiz show more power of generalization, more vigor, or more
originality. The discovery of these great truths is truly his work;
he derived them immediately from nature by his own observations.
Hence it is that all his later zoological investigations tend to a
common aim, namely, to give by farther studies, equally
conscientious but more extensive, a broader and more solid basis to
those laws which he had read in nature and which he had proclaimed
at that early date in his immortal work, 'Poissons Fossiles.' Let
us not be astonished that he should have remained faithful to these
views to the end of his life. It is because he had SEEN that he
BELIEVED, and such a faith is not easily shaken by new hypotheses."


NEUCHATEL, September 7, 1844.

. . .I write in all haste to ask for any address to which I can
safely forward my report on the Sheppy fishes, so that they may
arrive without fail in time for the meeting at York. Since my last
letter I have made progress in this kind of research. I have
sacrificed all my duplicates of our present fishes to furnish
skeletons. I have prepared more than a hundred since I last wrote
you, and I can now determine the family, and even the genus, simply
by seeing the skull. There remains nothing impossible now in the
determination of fishes, and if I can obtain certain exotic genera,
which I have not as yet, I can make an osteology of fishes as
complete as that which we possess for the other classes of
vertebrates. Every family has its special type of skull. All this
is extremely interesting. I have already corrected a mass of
inaccurate identifications established upon external characters;
and as for fossils, I have recognized and characterized seventeen
new genera among the less perfect undetermined specimens you have
sent me. Several families appear now for the first time among the
fossils. I have been able to determine to what family all the
doubtful genera belong; indeed Sheppy will prove as rich in species
as Mont Bolca. When you see your specimens again you will hardly
recognize them, they are so changed; I have chiseled and cleaned
them, until they are almost like anatomical preparations. Try to
procure as many more specimens as possible and send them to me. I
cannot stir from Neuchatel, now that I am so fully in the spirit of
work, and besides it would be a useless expense. . .You will
receive with my report the three numbers which complete my
monograph of the Fishes of the Old Red. I feel sure, in advance,
that you will be satisfied with them. . .


TOLLY HOUSE, ALNESS, ROSS-SHIRE. September 15, 1844.

. . .I have only this day received your letter of the 6th, and I
fear much you will scarcely receive this in time to make it
available. I shall not be able to reach York for the commencement
of the meeting, but hope to be there on Saturday, September 28th. A
parcel will reach me in the shortest possible time addressed Sir P.
Egerton, Donnington Rectory, York. I am delighted with the bright
results of your comparison of the Sheppy fossils with recent forms.
You appear to have opened out an entirely new field of
investigation, likely to be productive of most brilliant results.
Should any accident delay the arrival of your monograph for the
York meeting, I shall make a point of communicating to our
scientific friends the contents of your letter, as I know they will
rejoice to hear of the progress of fossil ichthyology in your
masterly hands. When next you come, I wish you could spend a few
days here. We are surrounded on all sides by the debris of the
moraines of the ancient glaciers that descended the flank of Ben
Wyvis, and I think you would find much to interest you in tracing
their relations. We have also the Cromarty Fish-beds within a few
miles, and many other objects of geological interest. . .I shall
see Lord Enniskillen at York, and will tell him of your success. We
shall, of course, procure all the Sheppy fish we can either by
purchase or exchange. . .

The pressure of work upon his various publications detained Agassiz
at home during the summer of 1844. For the first time he was unable
to make one of the glacial party this year, but the work was
carried on uninterruptedly, and the results reported to him.
Meantime his contemplated journey to the United States flitted
constantly before him.


NEUCHATEL, November 19, 1844.

. . .Your idea of an illustrated American ichthyology is admirable.
But for that we ought to have with us an artist clever enough to
paint fishes rapidly from the life. Work but half done is no longer
permissible in our days. . .In this matter I think there is a
justice due to Rafinesque. However poor his descriptions, he
nevertheless first recognized the necessity of multiplying genera
in ichthyology, and that at a time when the thing was far more
difficult than now. Several of his genera have even the priority
over those now accepted, and I think in the United States it would
be easier than elsewhere to find again a part of the materials on
which he worked. We must not neglect from this time forth to ask
Americans to put us in the way of extending this work throughout
North America. If you accept me for your collaborator, I will at
once do all that I can on my side to bring together notes and
specimens. I will write to several naturalists in the United
States, and tell them that as I am to accompany you on your voyage
I should be glad to know in advance what they have done in
ichthyology, so that we may be the better prepared to profit by our
short sojourn in their country. However, I will do nothing before
having your directions, which, for the sake of the matter in hand,
I should be glad to receive as early as possible. . .

The next letter announces a new aspect of the projected journey. In
explanation, it should be said that finding Agassiz might be
prevented by his poverty from going, the prince had invited him to
be his guest for a summer in the United States.


NEUCHATEL, January 7, 1845.

. . .I have received an excellent piece of news from Humboldt,
which I hasten to share with you. I venture to believe that it will
please you also. . .I had written to Humboldt of our plans, and of
your kind offer to take me with you to the United States, telling
him at the same time how much I regretted that I should be unable
to visit the regions which attracted me the most from a geological
point of view, and asking him if it would be possible to interest
the king in this journey and obtain means from his majesty for a
longer stay on the other side of the Atlantic. I have just received
a delightful and most unexpected reply. The king will grant me 15,
000 francs for this object, so that I shall, in any event, be able
to make the journey. All the more do I desire to make it in your
society, and I think by combining our forces we shall obtain more
important results; but I am glad that I can do it without being a
burden to you. Before answering Humboldt, I am anxious to know
whether your plans are definitely decided upon for this summer, and
whether this arrangement suits you. . .

The pleasant plan so long meditated was not to be fulfilled. The
prince was obliged to defer the journey and never accomplished it.
This was a great disappointment to Agassiz.

"Am I then to go without you," he writes; "is this irrevocable? If
I were to defer my departure till September would it then be
possible for you to leave Rome? It would be too delightful if we
could make this journey together. I wish also, before starting, to
review everything that has been done of late in paleontology,
zoology, and comparative anatomy, that I may, in behalf of all
these sciences, take advantage of the circumstances in which I
shall be placed. . .Whatever befalls me, I feel that I shall never
cease to consecrate my whole energy to the study of nature; its all
powerful charm has taken such possession of me that I shall always
sacrifice everything to it; even the things which men usually value

Agassiz had determined, before starting on his journey, to complete
all his unfinished works, and to put in order his correspondence
and collections, including the vast amount of specimens sent him
for identification or for his own researches. The task of "setting
his house in order" for a change which, perhaps, he dimly felt to
be more momentous than it seemed, proved long and laborious. From
all accounts, he performed prodigies of work, but the winter and
spring passed, and the summer of 1845 found him still at his post.

Humboldt writes him not without anxiety lest his determination to
complete all the tasks he had undertaken, including the
Nomenclator, should involve him in endless delays and perplexities.


BERLIN, September 16, 1845.

. . .Your Nomenclator frightens me with its double entries. The
Milky Way must have crossed your path, for you seem to be dealing
with nebulae which you are trying to resolve into stars. For pity's
sake husband your strength. You treat this journey as if it were
for life. As to finishing,--alas! my friend, one does not finish.
Considering all that you have in your well-furnished brain beside
your accumulated papers, half the contents of which you do not
yourself know, your expression "aufraumen,"--to put in final order,
is singularly inappropriate. There will always remain some
burdensome residue,--last things not yet accounted for. I beg you,
then, not to abuse your strength. Be content to finish only what
seems to you nearest completion,--the most advanced of your work.

Your letter reached me, unaccompanied, however, by the books it
announces. They are to come, no doubt, in some other way. Spite of
the demands made upon me by the continuation of my "Cosmos," I
shall find time to read and profit by your introduction to the Old
Red. I am inclined to sing hymns of praise to the Hyperboreans who
have helped you in this admirable work. What you say of the
specific difference in vertical line and of the increased number of
biological epochs is full of interest and wisdom. No wonder you
rebel against the idea that the Baltic contains microscopic animals
identical with those of the chalk! I foresee, however, a new battle
of Waterloo between you and my friend Ehrenberg, who accompanied me
lately, just after the Victoria festivals, to the volcanoes of the
Eifel with Dechen. Not an inch of ground without infusoria in those
regions! For Heaven's sake do not meddle with the infusoria before
you have seen the Canada Lakes and completed your journey. Defer
them till some more tranquil period of your life. . .I must close
my letter with the hope that you will never doubt my warm
affection. Assuredly I shall find no fault with any course of
lectures you may give in the new world, nor do I see the least
objection to giving them for money. You can thus propagate your
favorite views and spread useful knowledge, while at the same time
you will, by most honorable and praiseworthy means, provide
additional funds for your traveling expenses. . .

The following correspondence with Professor Adam Sedgwick is of
interest, as showing his attitude and that of Agassiz toward
questions which have since acquired a still greater scientific




The British Association is to meet here about the middle of June,
and I trust that the occasion will again bring you to England and
give me the great happiness of entertaining you in Trinity College.
Indeed, I wish very much to see you; for many years have now
elapsed since I last had that pleasure. May God long preserve your
life, which has been spent in promoting the great ends of truth and
knowledge! Your great work on fossil fishes is now before me, and I
also possess the first number of your monograph upon the fishes of
the Old Red Sandstone. I trust the new numbers will follow the
first in rapid succession. I love now and then to find a
resting-place; and your works always give me one. The opinions of
Geoffroy St. Hilaire and his dark school seem to be gaining some
ground in England. I detest them, because I think them untrue. They
shut out all argument from DESIGN and all notion of a Creative
Providence, and in so doing they appear to me to deprive physiology
of its life and strength, and language of its beauty and meaning. I
am as much offended in taste by the turgid mystical bombast of
Geoffroy as I am disgusted by his cold and irrational materialism.
When men of his school talk of the elective affinity of organic
types, I hear a jargon I cannot comprehend, and I turn from it in
disgust; and when they talk of spontaneous generation and
transmutation of species, they seem to me to try nature by an
hypothesis, and not to try their hypothesis by nature. Where are
their facts on which to form an inductive truth? I deny their
starting condition. "Oh! but" they reply, "we have progressive
development in geology." Now, I allow (as all geologists must do) a
KIND OF PROGRESSIVE DEVELOPMENT. For example, the first fish are
below the reptiles; and the first reptiles older than man. I say,
we have successive forms of animal life adapted to successive
conditions (so far, proving design), and not derived in natural
succession in the ordinary way of generation. But if no single fact
in actual nature allows us to suppose that the new species and
orders were produced successively in the natural way, how did they
begin? I reply, by a way out of and above common known, material
nature, and this way I call CREATION. Generation and creation are
two distinct ideas, and must be described by two distinct words,
unless we wish to introduce utter confusion of thought and
language. In this view I think you agree with me; for I spoke to
you on the subject when we met (alas, TEN years since!) at Dublin.
Would you have the great kindness to give me your most valuable
opinion on one or two points?

(1.) Is it possible, according to the known laws of actual nature,
or is it probable, on any analogies of nature, that the vast series
of fish, from those of the Ludlow rock and the Old Red Sandstone to
those of our actual seas, lakes, and rivers, are derived from one
common original low type, in the way of development and by
propagation or natural breeding? I should say, NO. But my knowledge
is feeble and at second-hand. Yours is strong and from the

(2.) Is the organic type of fish higher now than it was during the
carboniferous period, when the Sauroids so much abounded? If the
progressive theory of Geoffroy be true, in his sense, each class of
animals ought to be progressive in its organic type. It appears to
me that this is not true. Pray tell me your own views on this

(3.) There are "ODD FISH" (as we say in jest) in the Old Red
Sandstone. Do these so graduate into crustaceans as to form
anything like such an organic link that one could, by generation,
come naturally from the other? I should say, NO, being instructed
by your labors. Again, allowing this, for the sake of argument, are
there not much higher types of fish which are contemporaneous with
the lower types (if, indeed, they be lower), and do not these
nobler fish of the Old Red Sandstone stultify the hypothesis of
natural generative development?

(4.) Will you give me, in a few general words, your views of the
scale occupied by the fish of the Old Red, considered as a natural
group? Are they so rudimentary as to look like abortions or
creatures derived from some inferior class, which have not yet by
development reached the higher type of fish? Again, I should say,
NO; but I long for an answer from a great authority like yours. I
am most anxious for a good general conception of the fish of the
Old Red, with reference to some intelligible scale.

(5.) Lastly, is there the shadow of ground for supposing that by
any natural generative development the Ichthyosaurians and other
kindred forms of reptile have come from Sauroid, or any other type
of fish? I believe you will say, NO. At any rate, the facts of
geology lend no support to such a view, for the nobler forms of
Reptile appear in strata below those in which the Ichthyosaurians,
etc., are first seen. But I must not trouble you with more
questions. Professor Whewell is now Master of Trinity College. We
shall all rejoice to see you.

Ever, my dear Professor, your most faithful and most grateful



NEUCHATEL, June, 1845.

. . .I reproach myself for not acknowledging at once your most
interesting letter of April 10th. But you will easily understand
that in the midst of the rush of work consequent upon my
preparation for a journey of several years' duration I have not
noticed the flight of time since I received it, until to-day, when
the sight of the date fills me with confusion. And yet, for years,
I have not received a letter which has given me greater pleasure or
moved me more deeply. I have felt in it and have received from it
that vigor of conviction which gives to all you say or write a
virile energy, captivating alike to the listener or the reader.
Like you, I am pained by the progress of certain tendencies in the
domain of the natural sciences; it is not only the arid character
of this philosophy of nature (and by this I mean, not NATURAL
PHILOSOPHY, but the "Natur-philosophie" of the Germans and French)
which alarms me. I dread quite as much the exaggeration of
religious fanaticism, borrowing fragments from science, imperfectly
or not at all understood, and then making use of them to prescribe
to scientific men what they are allowed to see or to find in
Nature. Between these two extremes it is difficult to follow a safe
road. The reason is, perhaps, that the domain of facts has not yet
received a sufficiently general recognition, while traditional
beliefs still have too much influence upon the study of the

Wishing to review such ideas as I had formed upon these questions,
I gave a public course this winter upon the plan of creation as
shown in the development of the animal kingdom. I wish I could send
it to you, for I think it might please you. Unhappily, I had no
time to write it out, and have not even an outline of it. But I
intend to work further upon this subject and make a book upon it
one of these days. If I speak of it to-day it is because in this
course I have treated all the questions upon which you ask my
opinion. Let me answer them here after a somewhat aphoristic

I find it impossible to attribute the biological phenomena, which
have been and still are going on upon the surface of our globe, to
the simple action of physical forces. I believe they are due, in
their entirety, as well as individually, to the direct intervention
of a creative power, acting freely and in an autonomic way. . .I
have tried to make this intentional plan in the organization of the
animal kingdom evident, by showing that the differences between
animals do not constitute a material chain, analogous to a series
of physical phenomena, bound together by the same law, but present
themselves rather as the phases of a thought, formulated according
to a definite aim. I think we know enough of comparative anatomy to
abandon forever the idea of the transformation of the organs of one
type into those of another. The metamorphoses of certain animals,
and especially of insects, so often cited in support of this idea,
prove, by the fixity with which they repeat themselves in
innumerable species, exactly the contrary. In the persistency of
these metamorphoses, distinct for each species and known to repeat
themselves annually in a hundred thousand species, and to have done
so ever since the present order of things was established on the
earth, have we not the most direct proof that the diversity of
types is not due to external natural influences? I have followed
this idea in all the types of the animal kingdom. I have also tried
to show the direct intervention of a creative power in the
geographical distribution of organized beings on the surface of the
globe when the species are definitely circumscribed. As evidence of
the fixity of generic types and the existence of a higher and free
causal power, I have made use of a method which appears to me new
as a process of reasoning. The series of reptiles, for instance, in
the family of lizards, shows apodal forms, forms with rudimentary
feet, then with a successively larger number of fingers until we
reach, by seemingly insensible gradations, the genera Anguis,
Ophisaurus, and Pseudopus, the Chamosauria, Chirotes, Bipes, Sepo,
Scincus, and at last the true lizards. It would seem to any
reasonable man that these types are the transformations of a single
primitive type, so closely do the modifications approach each
other; and yet I now reject any such supposition, and after having
studied the facts most thoroughly, I find in them a direct proof of
the creation of all these species. It must not be forgotten that
the genus Anguis belongs to Europe, the Ophisaurus to North
America, the Pseudopus to Dalmatia and the Caspian steppe, the Sepo
to Italy, etc. Now, I ask how portions of the earth so absolutely
distinct could have combined to form a continuous zoological
series, now so strikingly distributed, and whether the idea of this
development could have started from any other source than a
creative purpose manifested in space? These same purposes, this
same constancy in the employment of means toward a final end, may
be read still more clearly in the study of the fossils of the
different creations. The species of all the creations are
materially and genealogically as distinct from each other as those
of the different points on the surface of the globe. I have
compared hundreds of species reputed identical in various
successive deposits,--species which are always quoted in favor of a
transition, however indirect, from one group of species to another,
--and I have always found marked specific differences between them.
In a few weeks I will send you a paper which I have just printed on
this subject, where it seems to me this view is very satisfactorily
proved. The idea of a procreation of new species by preceding ones
is a gratuitous supposition opposed to all sound physiological
notions. And yet it is true that, taken as a whole, there is a
gradation in the organized beings of successive geological
formations, and that the end and aim of this development is the
appearance of man. But this serial connection of all successive
creatures is not material; taken singly these groups of species
show no relation through intermediate forms genetically derived one
from the other. The connection between them becomes evident only
when they are considered as a whole emanating from a creative
power, the author of them all. To your special questions I may now
very briefly reply.

Have fishes descended from a primitive type? So far am I from
thinking this possible, that I do not believe there is a single
specimen of fossil or living fish, whether marine or fresh-water,
that has not been created with reference to a special intention and
a definite aim, even though we may be able to detect but a portion
of these numerous relations and of the essential purpose.

Are the present fishes superior to the older ones? As a general
proposition, I would say, NO; it seems to me even that the fishes
which preceded the appearance of reptiles in the plan of creation
were higher in certain characters than those which succeeded them;
and it is a strange fact that these ancient fishes have something
analogous with reptiles, which had not then made their appearance.
One would say that they already existed in the creative thought,
and that their coming, not far removed, was actually anticipated.

Can the fishes of the Old Red be considered the embryos of those of
later epochs? Of course they are the first types of the vertebrate
series, including the most ancient of the Silurian system; but they
each constitute an independent fauna, as numerous in the places
where these earlier fishes are found, as the present fishes in any
area of similar extent on our sea-shore to-day. I now know one
hundred and four species of fossil fish from the Old Red, belonging
to forty-four genera, comprised under seven families, between
several of which there is but little analogy as to organization. It
is therefore impossible to look upon them as coming from one
primitive stock. The primitive diversity of these types is quite as
remarkable as that of those belonging to later epochs. It is
nevertheless true that, regarded as part of the general plan of
creation, this fauna presents itself as an inferior type of the
vertebrate series, connecting itself directly in the creative
thought with the realization of later forms, the last of which (and
this seems to me to have been the general end of creation) was to
place man at the head of organized beings as the key-stone and term
of the whole series, the final point in the premeditated intention
of the primitive plan which has been carried out progressively in
the course of time. I would even say that I believe the creation of
man has closed creation on this earth, and I draw this conclusion
from the fact that the human genus is the first cosmopolite type in
Nature. One may even affirm that man is clearly announced in the
phases of organic development of the animal kingdom as the final
term of this series.

Lastly: Is there any reason to believe that the Ichthyosaurians are
descendants of the Sauroid fishes which preceded the appearance of
these reptiles? Not the least. I should consider any naturalist who
would seriously present the question in this light as incapable of
discussing it or judging it. He would place himself outside of the
facts and would reason from a basis of his own creating. . .

In the "Revue Suisse" of April, 1845, there is a notice of the
course of lectures to which reference is made in the above letter.

"A numerous audience assembled on the 26th of March for the opening
of a course by Professor Agassiz on the 'Plan of Creation.' It is
with an ever new pleasure that our public come together to listen
to this savant, still so young and already so celebrated. Not
content with pursuing in seclusion his laborious scientific
investigations, he makes a habit of communicating, almost annually,
to an audience less restricted than that of the Academy the general
result of some of his researches. All the qualities to which Mr.
Agassiz has accustomed his listeners were found in the opening
prelude; the fullness and freedom of expression which give to his
lectures the character of a scientific causerie; the dignified ease
of bearing, joined with the simplicity and candor of a savant who
teaches neither by aphorisms nor oracles, but who frankly admits
the public to the results of his researches; the power of
generalization always based upon a patient study of facts, which he
knows how to present with remarkable clearness in a language that
all can understand. We will not follow the professor in tracing the
outlines of his course. Suffice it to say that he intends to show
in the general development of the animal kingdom the existence of a
definite preconceived plan, successively carried out; in other
words, the manifestation of a higher thought,--the thought of God.
This creative thought may be studied under three points of view: as
shown in the relations which, spite of their manifold diversity,
connect all the species now living on the surface of the globe; in
their geographical distribution; and in the succession of beings
from primitive epochs until the present condition of things."

The summer of 1845 was the last which Agassiz passed at home. It
was broken by a short and hurried visit to the glacier of the Aar,
respecting which no details have been preserved. He did not then
know that he was taking a final leave of his cabin among the rocks
and ice. Affairs connected with the welfare of the institution in
Neuchatel, with which he had been so long connected, still detained
him for a part of the winter, and he did not leave for Paris until
the first week in March, 1846. His wife and daughters had already
preceded him to Germany, where he was to join them again on his way
to Paris, and where they were to pass the period of his absence,
under the care of his brother-in-law, Mr. Alexander Braun, then
living at Carlsruhe. His son was to remain at school at Neuchatel.

It was two o'clock at night when he left his home of so many years.
There had been a general sadness at the thought of his departure,
and every testimony of affection and respect accompanied him. The
students came in procession with torch-lights to give him a parting
serenade, and many of his friends and colleagues were also present
to bid him farewell. M. Louis Favre says in his Memoir, "Great was
the emotion at Neuchatel when the report was spread abroad that
Agassiz was about to leave for a long journey. It is true he
promised to come back, but the New World might shower upon him such
marvels that his return could hardly be counted upon. The young
people, the students, regretted their beloved professor not only
for his scientific attainments, but for his kindly disposition, the
charm of his eloquence, the inspiration of his teaching; they
regretted also the gay, animated, untiring companion of their
excursions, who made them acquainted with nature, and knew so well
how to encourage and interest them in their studies."

Pausing at Carlsruhe on his journey, he proceeded thence to Paris,
where he was welcomed with the greatest cordiality by scientific
men. In recognition of his work on the "Fossil Fishes" the Monthyon
Prize of Physiology was awarded him by the Academy. He felt this
distinction the more because the bearing of such investigations
upon experimental physiology had never before been pointed out, and
it showed that he had succeeded in giving a new direction and a
more comprehensive character to paleontological research. He passed
some months in Paris, busily occupied with the publication of the
"Systeme Glaciaire," his second work on the glacial phenomena. The
"Etudes sur les Glaciers" had simply contained a resume of all the
researches undertaken upon the Alpine fields of ice and the results
obtained up to 1840, inclusive of the author's own work and his
wider interpretation of the facts. The "Systeme Glaciaire" was, on
the contrary, an account of a connected plan of investigation
during a succession of years, upon a single glacier, with its
geodetic and topographic features, its hydrography, its internal
structure, its atmospheric conditions, its rate of annual and
diurnal progress, and its relations to surrounding glaciers. All
the local phenomena, so far as they could be observed, were
subjected to a strict scrutiny, and the results corrected by
careful comparison, during five seasons. As we have seen, and as
Agassiz himself says in his Preface, this band of workers had
"lived in the intimacy of the glacier, striving to draw from it the
secret of its formation and its annual advance." The work was
accompanied by three maps and nine plates. In such a volume of
detail there is no room for picturesque description, and little is
told of the wonderful scenes they witnessed by day and night,
nothing of personal peril and adventure.

This task concluded, he went to England, where he was to spend the
few remaining days previous to his departure. Among the last words
of farewell which reached him just as he was leaving the Old World,
little thinking then that he was to make a permanent home in
America, were these lines from Humboldt, written at Sans Souci: "Be
happy in this new undertaking, and preserve for me the first place
under the head of friendship in your heart. When you return I shall
be here no more, but the king and queen will receive you on this
'historic hill' with the affection which, for so many reasons, you
merit. . ."

"Your illegible but much attached friend,


So closed this period of Agassiz's life. The next was to open in
new scenes, under wholly different conditions. He sailed for
America in September, 1846.




1846: AGE 39.

Arrival at Boston.
Previous Correspondence with Charles Lyell and Mr. John A. Lowell
concerning Lectures at the Lowell Institute.
Relations with Mr. Lowell.
First Course of Lectures.
Character of Audience.
Home Letter giving an Account of his first Journey
in the United States.
Impressions of Scientific Men, Scientific Institutions
and Collections.

AGASSIZ arrived in Boston during the first week of October, 1846.
He had not come to America without some prospect of employment
beside that comprised in his immediate scientific aims. In 1845,
when his plans for a journey in the United States began to take
definite shape, he had written to ask Lyell whether,
notwithstanding his imperfect English, he might not have some
chance as a public lecturer, hoping to make in that way additional
provision for his scientific expenses beyond the allowance he was
to receive from the King of Prussia. Lyell's answer, written by his
wife, was very encouraging.

LONDON, February 28, 1845.

. . .My husband thinks your plan of lecturing a very good one, and
sure to succeed, for the Americans are fond of that kind of
instruction. We remember your English was pleasant, and if you have
been practicing since, you have probably gained facility in
expression, and a little foreign accent would be no drawback. You
might give your lectures in several cities, but he would like very
much if you could give a course at the Lowell Institute at Boston,
an establishment which pays very highly. . .In six weeks you might
earn enough to pay for a twelve months' tour, besides passing an
agreeable time at Boston, where there are several eminent
naturalists. . .As my husband is writing to Mr. Lowell to-morrow
upon other matters, he will ask him whether there is any course still
open, for he feels sure in that case they would be glad to have
you. . .Mr. Lowell is sole trustee of the Institute, and can nominate
whom he pleases. It was very richly endowed for the purpose of
lectures by a merchant of Boston, who died a few years ago. You
will get nothing like the same remuneration anywhere else. . .

Lyell and Mr. Lowell soon arranged all preliminaries, and it was
understood that Agassiz should begin his tour in the United States
by a course of lectures in Boston before the Lowell Institute. A
month or two before sailing he writes as follows to Mr. Lowell.

PARIS, July 6, 1846.

. . .Time is pressing, summer is running away, and I feel it a duty
to write to you about the contemplated lectures, that you may not
be uncertain about them. So far as the subject is concerned, I am
quite ready; all the necessary illustrations are also completed,
and if I am not mistaken they must by this time be in your hands
. . .I understand from Mr. Lyell that you wish me to lecture in
October. For this also I am quite prepared, as I shall, immediately
after my arrival in Boston, devote all my time to the consideration
of my course. If a later date should suit your plans better, I have
no objection to conform to any of your arrangements, as I shall at
all events pass the whole winter on the shores of the Atlantic, and
be everywhere in reach of Boston in a very short time. . .With your
approbation, I would give to my course the title of "Lectures on
the Plan of the Creation, especially in the Animal Kingdom."

Thus was Agassiz introduced to the institution under whose auspices
he first made acquaintance with his American audiences. There he
became a familiar presence during more than a quarter of a century.
The enthusiastic greeting accorded to him, as a stranger whose
reputation had preceded him, ripened with years into an
affectionate welcome from friends and fellow-citizens, whenever he
appeared on the platform. In the director of the institution, Mr.
John A. Lowell, he found a friend upon whose sympathy and wise
counsels he relied in all his after years. The cordial reception he
met from him and his large family circle made him at once at home
in a strange land.

Never was Agassiz's power as a teacher, or the charm of his
personal presence more evident than in his first course of Lowell
Lectures. He was unfamiliar with the language, to the easy use of
which his two or three visits in England, where most of his
associates understood and spoke French, had by no means accustomed
him. He would often have been painfully embarrassed but for his own
simplicity of character. Thinking only of his subject and never of
himself, when a critical pause came, he patiently waited for the
missing word, and rarely failed to find a phrase which was
expressive if not technically correct. He often said afterward that
his sole preparation for these lectures consisted in shutting
himself up for hours and marshaling his vocabulary, passing in
review, that is, all the English words he could recall. As the
Lyells had prophesied, his foreign accent rather added a charm to
his address, and the pauses in which he seemed to ask the
forbearance of the audience, while he sought to translate his
thought for them, enlisted their sympathy. Their courtesy never
failed him. His skill in drawing with chalk on the blackboard was
also a great help both to him and to them. When his English was at
fault he could nevertheless explain his meaning by illustrations so
graphic that the spoken word was hardly missed. He said of himself
that he was no artist, and that his drawing was accurate simply
because the object existed in his mind so clearly. However this may
be, it was always pleasant to watch the effect of his drawings on
the audience. When showing, for instance, the correspondence of the
articulate type, as a whole, with the metamorphoses of the higher
insects, he would lead his listeners along the successive phases of
insect development, talking as he drew and drawing as he talked,
till suddenly the winged creature stood declared upon the
blackboard, almost as if it had burst then and there from the
chrysalis, and the growing interest of his hearers culminated in a
burst of delighted applause.

After the first lecture in Boston there was no doubt of his
success. He carried his audience captive. His treatment of the
animal kingdom on the broad basis of the comparative method, in
which the great types were shown in their relation to each other
and to the physical history of the world, was new to his hearers.
Agassiz had also the rare gift of divesting his subject of
technicalities and superfluous details. His special facts never
obscured the comprehensive outline, which they were intended to
fill in and illustrate.

This simplicity of form and language was especially adapted to the
audience he had now to address, little instructed in the facts or
the nomenclature of science, though characterized by an eager
curiosity. A word respecting the quality of the Lowell Institute
audience of those days, as new to the European professor as he to
them, is in place here. The institution was intended by its founder
to fertilize the general mind rather than to instruct the selected
few. It was liberally endowed, the entrance was free, and the
tickets were drawn by lot. Consequently the working men and women
had as good an opportunity for places as their employers. As the
remuneration, however, was generous, and the privilege of lecturing
there was coveted by literary and scientific men of the first
eminence, the instruction was of a high order, and the tickets, not
to be had for money, were as much in demand with the more
cultivated and even with the fashionable people of the community as
with their poorer neighbors. This audience, composed of strongly
contrasted elements and based upon purely democratic principles,
had, from the first, a marked attraction for Agassiz. A teacher in
the widest sense, he sought and found his pupils in every class.
But in America for the first time did he come into contact with the
general mass of the people on this common ground, and it influenced
strongly his final resolve to remain in this country. Indeed, the
secret of his greatest power was to be found in the sympathetic,
human side of his character. Out of his broad humanity grew the
genial personal influence, by which he awakened the enthusiasm of
his audiences for unwonted themes, inspired his students to
disinterested services like his own, delighted children in the
school-room, and won the cordial interest as well as the
cooperation in the higher aims of science, of all classes whether
rich or poor.

His first course was to be given in December. Having, therefore, a
few weeks to spare, he made a short journey, stopping at New Haven
to see the elder Silliman, with whom he had long been in
correspondence. Shortly before leaving Europe he had written him,
"I can hardly tell you with what pleasure I look forward to seeing
you, and making the personal acquaintance of the distinguished
savans of your country, whose works I have lately been studying
with especial care. There is something captivating in the
prodigious activity of the Americans, and the thought of contact
with the superior men of your young and glorious republic renews my
own youth." Some account of this journey, including his first
impressions of the scientific men as well as the scientific
societies and collections of the United States, is given in the
following letter. It is addressed to his mother, and with her to a
social club of intimate friends and neighbors in Neuchatel, at
whose meetings he had been for years an honored guest.

BOSTON, December, 1846.

. . .Having no time to write out a complete account of my journey
of last month, I will only transcribe for you some fugitive notes
scribbled along the road in stages or railroad carriages. They bear
the stamp of hurry and constant interruption.

Leaving Boston the 16th of October, I went by railroad to New
Haven, passing through Springfield. The rapidity of the locomotion
is frightful to those who are unused to it, but you adapt yourself
to the speed, and soon become, like all the rest of the world,
impatient of the slightest delay. I well understand that an
antipathy for this mode of travel is possible. There is something
infernal in the irresistible power of steam, carrying such heavy
masses along with the swiftness of lightning. The habits growing
out of continued contact with railroads, and the influence they
exert on a portion of the community, are far from agreeable until
one is familiar with them. You would cry out in dismay did you see
your baggage flung about pell-mell like logs of wood, trunks,
chests, traveling-bags, hat-boxes, all in the same mill, and if
here and there something goes to pieces no one is astonished; never
mind! we go fast,--we gain time,--that is the essential thing.

The manners of the country differ so greatly from ours that it
seems to me impossible to form a just estimate regarding them, or,
indeed, to pronounce judgment at all upon a population so active
and mobile as that of the Northern States of the Union, without
having lived among them for a long time. I do not therefore attempt
any such estimate. I can only say that the educated Americans are
very accessible and very pleasant. They are obliging to the utmost
degree; indeed, their cordiality toward strangers exceeds any that
I have met elsewhere. I might even add that if I could complain of
anything it would be of an excess, rather than a lack, of
attention. I have often found it difficult to make it understood
that the hotel, where I can work at my ease, suits me better than
the proffered hospitality. . .

But what a country is this! all along the road between Boston and
Springfield are ancient moraines and polished rocks. No one who had
seen them upon the track of our present glaciers could hesitate as
to the real agency by which all these erratic masses, literally
covering the country, have been transported. I have had the
pleasure of converting already several of the most distinguished
American geologists to my way of thinking; among others, Professor
Rogers, who will deliver a public lecture upon the subject next
Tuesday before a large audience.

A characteristic feature of American life is to be found in the
frequent public meetings where addresses are delivered. Shortly
after my arrival in Boston I was present at a meeting of some three
thousand workmen, foremen of workshops, clerks, and the like. No
meeting could have been more respectable and well-conducted. All
were neatly dressed; even the simplest laborer had a clean shirt.
It was a strange sight to see such an assemblage, brought together
for the purpose of forming a library, and listening attentively in
perfect quiet for two hours to an address on the advantages of
education, of reading, and the means of employing usefully the
leisure moments of a workman's life. The most eminent men vie with
each other in instructing and forming the education of the
population at large. I have not yet seen a man out of employment or
a beggar, except in New York, which is a sink for the emptyings of
Europe. Yet do not think that I forget the advantages of our old
civilization. Far from it. I feel more than ever the value of a
past which belongs to you and in which you have grown up.
Generations must pass before America will have the collections of
art and science which adorn our cities, or the establishments for
public instruction, sanctuaries as it were, consecrated by the
devotion of those who give themselves wholly to study. Here all the
world works to gain a livelihood or to make a fortune. Few
establishments (of learning) are old enough, or have taken
sufficiently deep root in the habits of the people, to be safe from
innovation; very few institutions offer a combination of studies
such as, in its ensemble, meets the demands of modern civilization.
All is done by the single efforts of individuals or of
corporations, too often guided by the needs of the moment. Thus
American science lacks the scope which is characteristic of higher
instruction in our old Europe. Objects of art are curiosities but
little appreciated and usually still less understood. On the other
hand, the whole population shares in the advanced education
provided for all. . .From Springfield the railroad follows the
course of the Connecticut as far as Hartford, turning then directly
toward the sea-coast. The valley strikingly resembles that of the
Rhine between Carlsruhe and Heidelberg. The same rock, the same
aspect of country, and gres bigarre* (* Trias.) everywhere. The
forest reminds one of Odenwald and of Baden-Baden. Nearer the coast
are cones of basalt like those of Brissac and the Kaiserstuhl. The
erratic phenomena are also very marked in this region; polished
rocks everywhere, magnificent furrows on the sandstone and on the
basalt, and parallel moraines defining themselves like ramparts
upon the plain.

At New Haven I passed several days at the house of Professor
Silliman, with whom I have been in correspondence for several
years. The University (Yale) owes to the efforts of the Professor a
fine collection of minerals and extensive physical and chemical
apparatus. Silliman is the patriarch of science in America. For
thirty years he has edited an important scientific journal, the
channel through which, ever since its foundation, European
scientific researches have reached America. . .One of his
sons-in-law, Mr. Shepard,* (* An error: Mr. Shepard was not the
son-in-law of Professor Silliman.--ED.) is also chemical professor
in the University of South Carolina. Another, Mr. Dana, still a
very young man, strikes me as likely to be the most distinguished
naturalist of the United States. He was a member of the expedition
around the world under the command of Captain Wilkes, and has just
published a magnificent volume containing monographs of all the
species of polyps and corals, with curious observations on their
mode of growth and on the coral islands. I was surprised to find in
the collection at New Haven a fine specimen of the great fossil
salamander of Oeningen, the "Homo diluvii testis" of Scheuchzer.

From New Haven I went to New York by steamboat. The Sound, between
Long Island and the coast of Connecticut, presents a succession of
cheerful towns and villages, with single houses scattered over the
country, while magnificent trees overhang the sea; we constantly
disturbed numbers of aquatic birds which, at our approach,
fluttered up around the steamer, only to alight farther on. I have
never seen such flocks of ducks and gulls.

At New York I hastened to see Auguste Mayor, of whom my uncle will
no doubt have given you news, since I wrote to him. Obliged to
continue my road in order to join Mr. Gray at Princeton I stopped
but one day in New York, the greater part of which I passed with
Mr. Redfield, author of a paper on the fossil fishes of
Connecticut. His collection, which he has placed at my disposal,
has great interest for me; it contains a large number of fossil
fishes of different kinds, from a formation in which but one
species has been found in Europe. The new red sandstone of
Connecticut will also fill a gap in the history of fossil fishes,
and this acquisition is so much the more important, because, at the
epoch of the gres bigarre, a marked change took place in the
anatomical character of fishes. It presents an intermediate type
between the primitive fishes of the ancient deposits and the more
regular forms of the jurassic deposits.

Mr. Asa Gray, professor of botany at Cambridge, near Boston, had
offered to accompany me on my journey to Washington. We were to
meet at the house of Professor Torrey, at Princeton, a small town
half a day's journey from New York, and the seat of a considerable
university, one of the oldest in the United States. The physical
department, under the direction of Professor Henry, is remarkably
rich in models of machinery and in electrical apparatus, to which
the professor especially devotes himself. The museum contains a
collection of animals and fossil remains. In the environs of the
town, in the ditches, is found a rare kind of turtle, remarkable
for the form of the jaws and the length of the tail. I wish very
much to procure one, were it only to oblige Professor Johannes
Muller, of Berlin, who especially desires one for investigation.
But I have failed thus far; the turtles are already withdrawn into
their winter quarters. Mr. Torrey promises me some, however, in the
spring. It is not easy to get them because their bite is dreaded.

After this I passed four days in Philadelphia. Here,
notwithstanding my great desire to see the beautiful country along
the shores of the rich bay of Delaware and the banks of the
Schuylkill, between which the city lies, I was entirely occupied
with the magnificent collections of the Academy of Science and of
the Philosophical Society. The zoological collections of the
Academy of Science are the oldest in the United States, the only
ones, except those of the Wilkes Expedition, which can equal in
interest those of Europe. There are the collections of Say, the
earliest naturalist of distinction in the United States; there are
also the fossil remains and the animals described by Harlan, by
Godman, and by Hayes, and the fossils described by Conrad and
Morton. Dr. Morton's unique collection of human skulls is also to
be found in Philadelphia. Imagine a series of six hundred skulls,
mostly Indian, of all the tribes who now inhabit or formerly
inhabited America. Nothing like it exists elsewhere. This
collection alone is worth a journey to America. Dr. Morton has had
the kindness to give me a copy of his great illustrated work
representing all the types of his collection. Quite recently a
generous citizen of Philadelphia has enriched this museum with the
fine collection of birds belonging to the Duke of Rivoli. He bought
it for 37,000 francs, and presented it to his native city.

The number of fossil remains comprised in these collections is very
considerable; mastodons especially, and fossils of the cretaceous
and jurassic deposits. . .Imagine that all this is at my full
disposal for description and illustration, and you will understand
my pleasure. The liberality of the American naturalists toward me
is unparalleled.

I must not omit to mention Mr. Lea's collection of fresh-water
shells,--a series of the magnificent Unios of the rivers and lakes
of America, comprising four hundred species, represented by some
thirty specimens of each. Mr. Lea has promised me specimens of all
the species. Had I not been bound by an engagement at Washington,
and could I have remained three or four days longer in order to
label and pack them, I might have taken at once these valuable
objects, which will be of great importance in verifying and
rectifying the synonyms of European conchologists. After having
seen the astonishing variations undergone by these shells in their
growth, I am satisfied that all which European naturalists have
written on this subject must be revised. Only with the help of a
very full series of individuals can one fully understand these
animals, and we have only single specimens in our collections. If I
had time and means to have drawings made of all these forms, the
collection of Mr. Lea would be at my command for the purpose, and
the work would be a very useful one for science.

There are several other private and public collections at
Philadelphia, which I have only seen cursorily; that of the Medical
School, for instance, and that of the older Peale, who discovered
the first mastodon found in the United States, now mounted in his
museum. Beside these, there is the collection of Dr. Griffith, rich
in skulls from the Gulf of Mexico; that of Mr. Ord, and others.
During my stay in Philadelphia, there was also an exhibition of
industrial products at the Franklin Institute, where I especially
remarked the chemical department. There are no less than three
professors of chemistry in Philadelphia,--Mr. Hare, Mr. Booth, and
Mr. Frazer. The first is, I think, the best known in Europe.

How a nearer view changes the aspect of things! I thought myself
tolerably familiar with all that is doing in science in the United
States, but I was far from anticipating so much that is interesting
and important. What is wanting to all these men is neither zeal nor
knowledge. In both, they seem to compete with us, and in ardor and
activity they even surpass most of our savans. What they need is
leisure. I have never felt more forcibly what I owe to the king for
enabling me to live for science alone, undisturbed by anxieties and
distractions. Here, I do not lose a moment, and when I receive
invitations outside the circle of men whom I care particularly to
know, I decline, on the ground that I am not free to dispose for my
pleasure of time which does not belong to me. For this no one can
quarrel with me, and so far as I myself am concerned, it is much

I stopped at Baltimore only long enough to see the city. It was
Sunday, and as I could make no visits, and was anxious to arrive in
good time at Washington, I took advantage of the first train. The
capital of the United States is laid out upon a gigantic scale,
and, consequently, portions of the different quarters are often to
be traced only by isolated houses here and there,--a condition
which has caused it to be called the "City of Magnificent
Distances." Some of the streets are very handsome, and the capitol
itself is really imposing. Their profound veneration for the
founder of their liberty and their republic is a noble trait of the
American people. The evidences of this are to be seen everywhere.
No less than two hundred towns, villages, and counties bear his
name, rather to the inconvenience of the postal administration.

After having visited the capitol and the presidential mansion, and
delivered my letters for the Prussian Minister, I went to the
Museum of the National Institute. I was impatient to satisfy myself
as to the scientific value of the results obtained in the field of
my own studies by the voyage of Captain Wilkes around the world,
--this voyage having been the object of equally exaggerated praise
and criticism. I confess that I was agreeably surprised by the
richness of the zoological and geological collections; I do not
think any European expedition has done more or better; and in some
departments, in that of the Crustacea, for example, the collection
at Washington surpasses in beauty and number of specimens all that
I have seen. It is especially to Dr. Pickering and Mr. Dana that
these collections are due. As the expedition did not penetrate to
the interior of the continents in tropical regions, the collections
of birds and mammals, which fell to the charge of Mr. Peale, are
less considerable. Mr. Gray tells me, however, that the botanical
collections are very large. More precious, perhaps, than all the
collections are the magnificent drawings of mollusks, zoophytes,
fishes, and reptiles, painted from life by Mr. Drayton. All these
plates, to the number of about six hundred, are to be engraved, and
indeed are already, in part, executed. I can only compare them to
those of the Astrolabe, although they are very superior in variety
of position and naturalness of attitude to those of the French
Expedition. This is particularly true of the mollusks and fishes.
The zoophytes are to be published; they are admirable in detail.
The hydrographic portion and the account of the voyage, edited by
Captain Wilkes (unhappily he was absent and I did not see him), has
been published for some time, and comprises an enormous mass of
information, its chief feature being charts to the number of two
hundred. It is amazing; the number of soundings extraordinarily
large.* (* Agassiz subsequently took some part in working up the
fish collections from this expedition, but the publication was
stopped for want of means to carry it on.)

At Washington are also to be seen the headquarters of the Coast
Survey, where the fine charts of the coasts and harbors now making
under direction of Dr. Bache are executed. These charts are
admirably finished. Dr. Bache, the superintendent, was in camp, so
that I could not deliver my letters for him. I saw, however,
Colonel Abert, the head of the topographic office, who gave me
important information about the West for the very season when I am
likely to be there. I am indebted to him also for a series of
documents concerning the upper Missouri and Mississippi, California
and Oregon, printed by order of the government, and for a
collection of fresh-water shells from those regions. I should like
to offer him, in return, such sheets of the Federal Map as have
appeared. I beg Guyot to send them to me by the first occasion.

As I was due in Boston on an appointed day I was obliged to defer
my visit to Richmond, Charleston, and other places in the South. I
had, beside, gathered so much material that I had need of a few
quiet weeks to consider and digest it all. Returning therefore to
Philadelphia, I made there the acquaintance of Mr. Haldeman, author
of a monograph on the fresh-water shells of the United States. I
had made an appointment to meet him at Philadelphia, being unable
to make a detour of fifty leagues in order to visit him at his own
home, which is situated beyond the lines of rapid transit. He is a
distinguished naturalist, equally well versed in several branches
of our science. He has made me acquainted, also, with a young
naturalist from the interior of Pennsylvania, Mr. Baird, professor
at Dickinson College, in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, who offered me
duplicates from his collections of birds and other animals. In
order to avail myself more promptly of this and like acquisitions,
I wish that M. Coulon would send me at the close of the winter all
that he can procure of the common European birds, of our small
mammalia, and some chamois skins, adding also the fish that Charles
put aside for me before his departure. It would be safest to send
them to the care of Auguste Mayor.

At Philadelphia I separated from my traveling companion, Mr. Gray,
who was obliged to return to his home. From Philadelphia, Mr.
Haldeman and Mr. Lea accompanied me to Bristol, where Mr. Vanuxem
possesses an important collection of fossils from ancient deposits,
duplicates of which he promises me. Mr. Vanuxem is one of the
official geologists of the State of New York, and author of one of
a series of volumes upon the geology of the State, about which I
shall presently have something to say. To gain time I took the
night train from Bristol to New York, and arrived at Mayor's at
midnight, having written him to expect me.

The next day I visited the market, and in five days I had filled a
great barrel with different kinds of fish and fresh-water turtles,
beside making several skeletons and various dissections of
mollusks. Wishing to employ my time as usefully as possible, I
postponed my visits to the savans of the city, and the delivery of
my letters, till I was on the eve of departure, that I might avoid
all invitations. I had especial pleasure in making the acquaintance
of the two Le Contes, father and son, who own the finest collection
of insects in the United States. I can easily make some thousand
exchanges with them when I receive those that M. Coulon has put
aside for me, with a view to exchange. . .Every morning Auguste
Mayor went with me to the market before going to his office and
helped me to carry my basket when it was too heavy. One day I
brought back no less than twenty-four turtles, taken in one draught
of the net. I made four skeletons, and dissected several others.
Under such conditions the day ought to have thirty-six working

Were I an artist, instead of describing my voyage from New York to
Albany, I would draw you a panorama of the shores of the Hudson. I
know nothing except the banks of the Rhine to compare with those of
this magnificent river. The resemblance between them is striking;
the sites, the nature of the rocks, the appearance of the towns and
villages, the form of the Albany bridges, even the look of the
inhabitants, of whom the greater number are of Dutch or German
origin,--all are similar.

I stopped at West Point to make the acquaintance of Professor
Bailey of the Military School there. I already knew him by
reputation. He is the author of very detailed and interesting
researches upon the microscopic animalcules of America. I had a
pamphlet to deliver to him from Ehrenberg, who has received from
him a great deal of material for his large work on fossil
Infusoria. I spent three most delightful days with him, passed
chiefly in examining his collections, from which he gave me many
specimens. We also made several excursions in the neighborhood, in
order to study the erratic phenomena and the traces of glaciers,
which everywhere cover the surface of the country. Polished rocks,
as distinct as possible; moraines continuous over large spaces;
stratified drift, as on the borders of the glacier of Grindelwald;
in short, all the usual accompaniments of the glaciers are there,
and one may follow the "roches moutonnees" with the eye to a great

Albany is the seat of government of the State of New York. It has a
medical school, an agricultural society, a geological museum, an
anatomical museum, and a museum of natural history. The government
has just completed the publication of a work, unique of its kind, a
natural history of the State in sixteen volumes, quarto, with
plates; twenty-five hundred copies have been printed, only five
hundred of which are for sale, the rest being distributed
throughout the State. Four volumes are devoted to geology and
mining alone, the others to zoology, botany, and agriculture. Yes,
twenty-five hundred copies of a work in sixteen volumes, quarto,
scattered throughout the State of New York alone! When I think that
I began my studies in natural history by copying hundreds of pages
from a Lamarck which some one had lent me, and that to-day there is
a State in which the smallest farmer may have access to a costly
work, worth a library to him in itself, I bless the efforts of
those who devote themselves to public instruction. . .I have not
neglected the opportunity offered by the North River (the Hudson)
for the study of the fresh-water fishes of this country. I have
filled a barrel with them. The species differ greatly from ours,
with the exception of the perch, the eel, the pike, and the sucker,
in which only a practiced eye could detect the difference; all the
rest belong to genera unknown in Europe, or, at least, in
Switzerland. . .

I was fortunate enough to procure also, in the few days of my stay,
all the species taken in the lakes and rivers around Albany.
Several others have been given me from Lake Superior. Since my
return to Boston I have been collecting birds and comparing them
with those of Europe. If M. Coulon could obtain for me a collection
of European eggs, even the most common, I could exchange them for
an admirable series of the native species here. I have also
procured several interesting mammals; among others, two species of
hares different from those I brought from Halifax, striped
squirrels, etc.

I will tell you another time something of the collections of Boston
and Cambridge, the only ones in the United States which can rival
those of Philadelphia. To-day I have made my first attempt at
lecturing. Of that, also, I will tell you more in my next letter,
when I know how it has been liked. It is no small matter to satisfy
an audience of three thousand people in a language with which you
are but little familiar. . .


1846-1847: AGE 39-40.

Course of Lectures in Boston on Glaciers.
Correspondence with Scientific Friends in Europe.
House in East Boston.
Household and Housekeeping.
Letter to Elie de Beaumont.
Letter to James D. Dana.

THE course at the Lowell Institute was immediately followed by one
upon glaciers, the success of which was guaranteed by private
subscription,--an unnecessary security, since the audience,
attracted by the novelty and picturesqueness of the subject, as
well as by the charm of presentation and fullness of illustration,
was large and enthusiastic.

Agassiz was evidently encouraged himself by his success, for toward
the close of his Lowell Lectures he writes as follows:--


BOSTON, December 31, 1846.

. . .Beside my lecture course, now within a few days of its
conclusion, and the ever-increasing work which grows on my hands in
proportion as I become familiar with the environs of Boston, where
I shall still remain a few weeks longer, I have so much to do in
keeping up my journals, notes, and observations that I have not
found a moment to write you since the last steamer. . .Never did
the future look brighter to me than now. If I could for a moment
forget that I have a scientific mission to fulfill, to which I will
never prove recreant, I could easily make more than enough by
lectures which would be admirably paid and are urged upon me, to
put me completely at my ease hereafter. But I will limit myself to
what I need in order to repay those who have helped me through a
difficult crisis, and that I can do without even turning aside from
my researches. Beyond that all must go again to science,--there
lies my true mission. I rejoice in what I have been able to do thus
far, and I hope that at Berlin they will be satisfied with the
results which I shall submit to competent judges on my return. If I
only have time to finish what I have begun! You know my plans are
not wont to be too closely restricted.

Why do you not write to me? Am I then wholly forgotten in your
pleasant circle while my thoughts are every day constantly with my
Neuchatel friends?. . .

Midnight, January 1st. A happy new year to you and to all members
of the Tuesday Club. Bonjour et bon an. . .

Some portions of Agassiz's correspondence with his European friends
and colleagues during the winter and summer of 1847 give a clew to
the occupations and interests of his new life, and keep up the
thread of the old one.


February, 1847.

. . .I write only to thank you for the pleasure your note gave me.
When one is far away, as I am, from everything belonging to one's
past life, the merest sign of friendly remembrance is a boon. Do
not infer from this that America does not please me. On the
contrary, I am delighted with my stay here, although I do not quite
understand all that surrounds me; or I should perhaps rather say
that many principles which, theoretically, we have been wont to
think perfect in themselves, seem in their application to involve
results quite contrary to our expectations. I am constantly asking
myself which is better,--our old Europe, where the man of
exceptional gifts can give himself absolutely to study, opening
thus a wider horizon for the human mind, while at his side
thousands barely vegetate in degradation or at least in
destitution; or this new world, where the institutions tend to keep
all on one level as part of the general mass,--but a mass, be it
said, which has no noxious elements. Yes, the mass here is
decidedly good. All the world lives well, is decently clad, learns
something, is awake and interested. Instruction does not, as in some
parts of Germany for instance, furnish a man with an intellectual
tool and then deny him the free use of it. The strength of America
lies in the prodigious number of individuals who think and work at
the same time. It is a severe test of pretentious mediocrity, but
I fear it may also efface originality . . .You are right in
believing that one works, or at least that one CAN work, better
in Paris than elsewhere, and I should esteem myself happy if I had
my nest there, but who will make it for me? I am myself incapable
of making efforts for anything but my work. . .


May 31, 1847.

. . .After six weeks of an illness which has rendered me unfit for
serious work I long to be transported into the circle of my Paris
friends, to find myself again among the men whose devotion to
science gives them a clear understanding of its tendency and
influence. Therefore I take my way quite naturally to the Rue
Cuvier and mount your stairs, confident that there I shall find
this chosen society. Question upon question greets me regarding
this new world, on the shore of which I have but just landed, and
yet about which I have so much to say that I fear to tire my

Naturalist as I am, I cannot but put the people first,--the people
who have opened this part of the American continent to European
civilization. What a people! But to understand them you must live
among them. Our education, the principles of our society, the
motives of our actions, differ so greatly from what I see here,
that I should try in vain to give you an idea of this great nation,
passing from childhood to maturity with the faults of spoiled
children, and yet with the nobility of character and the enthusiasm
of youth. Their look is wholly turned toward the future; their
social life is not yet irrevocably bound to exacting antecedents,
and thus nothing holds them back, unless, perhaps, a consideration
for the opinion in which they may be held in Europe. This deference
toward England (unhappily, to them, Europe means almost exclusively
England) is a curious fact in the life of the American people. They
know us but little, even after having made a tour in France, or
Italy, or Germany. From England they receive their literature, and
the scientific work of central Europe reaches them through English
channels. . .Notwithstanding this kind of dependence upon England,
in which American savans have voluntarily placed themselves, I have
formed a high opinion of their acquirements, since I have learned
to know them better, and I think we should render a real service to
them and to science, by freeing them from this tutelage, raising
them in their own eyes, and drawing them also a little more toward
ourselves. Do not think that these remarks are prompted by the
least antagonism toward English savans, whom no one more than
myself has reason to regard with affection and esteem. But since
these men are so worthy to soar on their own wings, why not help
them to take flight? They need only confidence, and some special
recognition from Europe would tend to give them this. . .

Among the zoologists of this country I would place Mr. Dana at the
head. He is still very young, fertile in ideas, rich in facts,
equally able as geologist and mineralogist. When his work on corals
is completed, you can better judge of him. One of these days you
will make him a correspondent of the Institute, unless he kills
himself with work too early, or is led away by his tendency to
generalization. Then there is Gould, author of the malacologic
fauna of Massachusetts, and who is now working up the mollusks of
the Wilkes Expedition. De Kay and Lea, whose works have long been
known, are rather specialists, I should say. I do not yet know
Holbrook personally. Pickering, of the Wilkes Expedition, is a well
of science, perhaps the most erudite naturalist here. Haldeman
knows the fresh-water gasteropods of this country admirably well,
and has published a work upon them. Le Conte is a critical
entomologist who seems to me thoroughly familiar with what is doing
in Europe. In connection with Haldeman he is working up the
articulates of the Wilkes Expedition. Wyman, recently made
professor at Cambridge, is an excellent comparative anatomist, and
the author of several papers on the organization of fishes. . .The
botanists are less numerous, but Asa Gray and Dr. Torrey are known
wherever the study of botany is pursued. Gray, with his
indefatigable zeal, will gain upon his competitors. . .The
geologists and mineralogists form the most numerous class among the
savans of the country. The fact that every state has its corps of
official geologists has tended to develop study in this direction
to the detriment of other branches, and will later, I fear, tend to
the detriment of science itself; for the utilitarian tendency thus
impressed on the work of American geologists will retard their
progress. With us, on the contrary, researches of this kind
constantly tend to assume a more and more scientific character.
Still, the body of American geologists forms, as a whole, a most
respectable contingent. The names of Charles T. Jackson, James
Hall, Hitchcock, Henry and William Rogers (two brothers), have long
been familiar to European science. After the geologists, I would
mention Dr. Morton, of Philadelphia, well known as the author of
several papers upon fossils, and still better by his great work
upon the indigenous races of America. He is a man of science in the
best sense; admirable both as regards his knowledge and his
activity. He is the pillar of the Philadelphia Academy.

The chemists and physicists, again, form another utilitarian class
of men in this country. As with many of them purely scientific work
is not their sole object, it is difficult for an outsider to
distinguish between the clever manipulators and those who have
higher aims. . .

The mathematicians have also their culte, dating back to Bowditch,
the translator of the "Mecanique celeste," and the author of a work
on practical navigation. He died in Boston, where they are now
erecting a magnificent monument to his memory. Mr. Peirce,
professor at Cambridge, is considered here the equal of our great
mathematicians. It is not for me, who cannot do a sum in addition,
to pretend to a judgment in the matter.* (* Though Agassiz was no
mathematician, and Peirce no naturalist, they soon found that their
intellectual aims were the same, and they became very close

You are familiar, no doubt, with the works of Captain Wilkes and
the report of his journey around the world. His charts are much
praised. The charts of the coasts and harbors of the United States,
made under the direction of Dr. Bache and published at government
expense, are admirable. The reports of Captain Fremont concerning
his travels are also most interesting and instructive; to botanists
especially so, on account of the scientific notes accompanying

I will not speak at length of my own work,--my letter is already
too long. During the winter I have been chiefly occupied in making
collections of fishes and birds, and also of the various woods. The
forests here differ greatly from ours in the same latitude. I have
even observed that they resemble astonishingly the forests of the
Molasse epoch, and the analogy is heightened by that between the
animals of this country and those of the eastern coasts of Asia as
compared with those of the Molasse, such as the chelydras, andreas,
etc. I will send a report upon this to M. Brongniart as soon as I
have the time to prepare it. On the erratic phenomena, also, I have
made numerous observations, which I am anxious to send to M. de
Beaumont. These phenomena, so difficult of explanation with us,
become still more complicated here, both on account of their
contact with the sea and of the vast stretches of flat country over
which they extend.

For the last few days I have been especially occupied with the
development of the medusae. In studying the actiniae I have made a
striking discovery, and I should be glad if you would communicate
it to the Academy in advance of the illustrated paper on the same
subject, which I hope soon to send you. Notwithstanding their
star-like appearance, the star-fishes have, like the sea-urchins,
indications by no means doubtful, of a symmetrical disposition of
their organs in pairs, and an anterior and posterior extremity
easily recognized by the special form of their oral opening. I have
now satisfied myself that the madrepores have something analogous
to this in the arrangement of their partitions, so that I am
tempted to believe that this tendency to a symmetrical arrangement
of parts in pairs, is a general character of polyps, disguised by
their radiating form. Among the medusae something similar exists in
the disposition of the marginal appendages and the ocelli. I attach
the more importance to these observations, because they may lead to
a clearer perception than we have yet reached of the natural
relations between the radiates and the other great types of the
animal kingdom.

This summer I hope to explore the lower lakes of Canada, and also
the regions lying to the eastward as far as Nova Scotia; in the
autumn I shall resume my excursions on the coast and in the
Alleghenies, and shall pass a part of the winter in the Carolinas.
I will soon write to Monsieur Brongniart concerning my plans for
next year. If the Museum were desirous to aid me in my
undertakings, I should like to make a journey of exploration next
summer in a zone thus far completely neglected by naturalists, the
region, namely, of the small lakes to the west of Lake Superior,
where the Mississippi takes its rise, and also of that lying
between this great basin of fresh water and the southern arm of
Hudson Bay. I would employ the autumn in exploring the great valley
of the Mississippi, and would pass the winter on the borders of the
Gulf of Mexico.

To carry out such projects, however, I have need of larger
resources than I can create by my own efforts, and I shall soon be
at the end of the subsidy granted me by the King of Prussia. I
shall, however, subordinate all these projects to the possibilities
of which you kindly tell me. Notwithstanding the interest offered
by the exploration of a country so rich as this, notwithstanding
the gratifying welcome I have received here, I feel, after all,
that nowhere can one work better than in our old Europe, and the
friendship you have shown me is a more than sufficient motive,
impelling me to return as soon as possible to Paris. Remember me
to our common friends. I have made some sufficiently interesting
collections which I shall forward to the Museum; they will show
you that I have done my best to fulfill my promises, forgetting
no one. . .

In the summer of 1847 Agassiz established himself in a small house
at East Boston, sufficiently near the sea to be a convenient
station for marine collections. Here certain members of his old
working corps assembled about him, and it soon became, like every
place he had ever inhabited, a hive of industry. Chief among his
companions were Count Francois de Pourtales, who had accompanied
him to this country; Mr. E. Desor, who soon followed him to
America; and Mr. Jacques Burkhardt, who had preceded them all, and
was now draughtsman in chief to the whole party. To his labors were
soon added those of Mr. A. Sonrel, the able lithographic artist,
who illustrated the most important works subsequently published by
Agassiz. To an exquisite skill in his art he added a quick,
intelligent perception of structural features from the naturalist's
point of view, which made his work doubly valuable. Besides those
above-mentioned, there were several assistants who shared the
scientific work in one department or another.

It must be confessed that this rather original establishment had
the aspect of a laboratory rather than a home, domestic comfort
being subordinate to scientific convenience. Every room served in
some sort the purposes of an aquarium or a studio, while garret and
cellar were devoted to collections. The rules of the household were
sufficiently elastic to suit the most erratic student. A sliding
scale for meals allowed the greatest freedom for excursions along
the neighboring shores and beaches, and punctuality in work was the
only punctuality demanded.

Agassiz himself was necessarily often absent, for the maintenance
of the little colonydepended in great degree upon his exertions.
During the winter of 1847, while continuing his lectures in Boston
and its vicinity, he lectured in other places also. It is difficult
to track his course at this time; but during the winters of 1847
and 1848 he lectured in all the large eastern cities, New York,
Albany, Philadelphia, and Charleston, S.C. Everywhere he drew large
crowds, and in those days his courses of lectures were rarely
allowed to close without some public expression of gratitude and
appreciation from the listeners. Among his papers are preserved
several sets of resolutions from medical and scientific societies,
from classes of students, and from miscellaneous audiences,
attesting the enthusiasm awakened by his instruction. What he
earned in this way enabled him to carry on his work and support his
assistants. Still, the strain upon his strength, combined with all
that he was doing beside in purely scientific work, was severe, and
before the twelvemonth was out he was seriously ill. At this time
Dr. B.E. Cotting, a physician whose position as curator of the
Lowell Institute had brought him into contact with Agassiz, took
him home to his house in the country, where he tended him through
some weeks of tedious illness, hastening his convalescence by
excursions in all the neighboring country, from which they returned
laden with specimens,--plants, birds, etc. In this hospitable home
he passed his fortieth birthday, the first in this country. His
host found him standing thoughtful and abstracted by the window.
"Why so sad?" he asked. "That I am so old, and have done so
little," was the answer.

After a few weeks he was able to return to his work, and the next
letter gives some idea of his observations, especially upon the
traces of glacial action in the immediate vicinity of Boston and
upon the shores of Massachusetts Bay. Indeed, he never lost sight
of these features, which had caught his attention the moment he
landed on the continent. In one of his later lectures he gives a
striking account of this first impression.

"In the autumn of 1846," he says, "six years after my visit to
Great Britain in search of glaciers, I sailed for America. When the
steamer stopped at Halifax, eager to set foot on the new continent
so full of promise for me, I sprang on shore and started at a brisk
pace for the heights above the landing. On the first undisturbed
ground, after leaving the town, I was met by the familiar signs,
the polished surfaces, the furrows and scratches, the LINE
ENGRAVING, so well known in the Old World; and I became convinced
of what I had already anticipated as the logical sequence of my
previous investigations, that here also this great agent had been
at work." The incident seems a very natural introduction to the
following letter, written a few months later:--


BOSTON, August 31, 1847.

. . .I have waited to write until I should have some facts
sufficiently important to claim your attention. In truth, the study
of the marine animals, which I am, for the first time, able to
observe in their natural conditions of existence, has engrossed me
almost exclusively since I came to the United States, and only
incidentally, as it were, I have turned my attention to
paleontology and geology. I must, however, except the glacial
phenomena, a problem, the solution of which always interests me
deeply. This great question, far from presenting itself more simply
here, is complicated by peculiarities never brought to my notice in
Europe. Happily for me, Mr. Desor, who had been in Scandinavia
before joining me here, called my attention at once to certain
points of resemblance between the phenomena there and those which I
had seen in the neighborhood of Boston. Since then, we have made
several excursions together, have visited Niagara, and, in short,
have tried to collect all the special facts of glacial phenomena in
America. . .You are, no doubt, aware that the whole rocky surface
of the ground here is polished. I do not think that anywhere in the
world there exist polished and rounded rocks in better preservation
or on a larger scale. Here, as elsewhere, erratic debris are
scattered over these surfaces, scratched pebbles impacted in mud,
forming unstratified masses mixed with and covered by large erratic
boulders, more or less furrowed or scratched, the upper ones being
usually angular and without marks. The absence of moraines,
properly so-called, in a country so little broken, is not
surprising; I have, however, seen very distinct ones in some
valleys of the White Mountains and in Vermont. Up to this time
there had been nothing very new in the aspect of the phenomena as a
whole; but on examining attentively the internal arrangement of all
these materials, especially in the neighborhood of the sea, one
soon becomes convinced that the ocean has partially covered and
more or less remodeled them. In certain places there are patches of
stratified sand interposed between masses of glacial drift-deposit;
elsewhere, banks of sand and pebbles crown the irregularities of
the glacial deposit, or fill in its depressions; in other
localities the glacial pebbles may be washed and completely cleared
of mud, retaining, however, their markings; or again, these
markings may have disappeared, and the material is arranged in
lines or ramparts, as it were, of diverse conformation, in which
Mr. Desor recognized all the modifications of the "oesars" of
Scandinavia. The disposition of the oesars, as seen here, is
evidently due entirely to the action of the waves, and their
frequency along the coast is a proof of this. In a late excursion
with Captain Davis on board a government vessel I learned to
understand the mode of formation of the submarine dikes bordering
the coast at various distances, which would be oesars were they
elevated; with the aid of the dredge I satisfied myself of their
identity. With these facts before me I cannot doubt that the oesars
of the United States consist essentially of glacial material
remodeled by the sea; while farther inland, though here and there
reaching the sea-coast, we have unchanged glacial drift deposit. At
some points the alteration is so slight as to denote only a
momentary rise of the sea. Under these circumstances one would
naturally look for fossils in the drift, and M. Desor, in company
with M. de Pourtales, was the first to find them, at Brooklyn, in
Long Island, which lies to the south of New York. They were
imbedded in a glacial clay deposit, having all the ordinary
character of such deposits, with only slight traces of stratified
sand. It is true that the greater number of these fossils (all
belonging to species now living on the coast) were broken into
angular fragments, not excepting even the thick tests of the Venus
mercenaria. . .

The suburb of Boston where I am living (East Boston) is built on an
island, one kilometer and a half long, extending from north to
southeast, and varying in width at different points from two to six
or seven hundred metres. Its height above the sea-level is about
sixty feet. This little island is composed entirely of glacial
muddy deposit, containing scratched pebbles mixed with larger
boulders or blocks, and covered also with a considerable number of
boulders of divers forms and dimensions. At East Boston you cannot
see what underlies this deposit; but no doubt it rests upon a
rounded mass of granite, polished and grooved like several others
in Boston harbor. . .

In our journey to Niagara, Mr. Desor and I assured ourselves that
the river deposits, in which, among other things, the mastodon is
found with the fresh-water shells of Goat Island, are posterior to
the drift. It is a fact worth consideration that the mastodons
found in Europe are buried in true tertiary formations, while the
great mastodon of the United States is certainly posterior to the
drift. . .In another letter I will tell you something of my
observations upon the geographical distribution of marine animals
at different depths and on different bottoms, and also upon the
relations between this distribution and that of the fossils in the
tertiary deposits. . .* (* I have left out a portion of this letter
which appeared in the first edition of the book, because I learned
that the facts there given concerning the deposit of Zostera marina
were not substantiated, and that Agassiz consequently did not
forward the letter in its first form. The remainder of this chapter
appears in this edition for the first time.--E.C.A.)

Although so deeply interested by the geological features of the
country, Agassiz was nevertheless drawn even more strongly to the
study of the marine animals for which his position on the sea-coast
gave him such opportunities as he had never before had. The next
letter shows how fully his time was occupied, and how fascinating
this new field of observation was to him. The English is still a
little foreign. He was not yet quite at home in the language which
he afterward wrote and spoke with such fluency.


EAST BOSTON, September, 1847.

. . .What have you thought of me all this time, not having written
a single line neither to you nor to Professor Silliman after the
kind reception I have met with by your whole family? Pray excuse me
and consider, if you please, the difficulty under which I labor,
having every day to look after hundreds of new things which always
carry me beyond usual hours of working, when I am then so much
tired that I can think of nothing. Nevertheless, it is a delightful
life to be allowed to examine in a fresh state so many things of
which I had but an imperfect knowledge from books. The Boston
market supplies me with more than I can examine.

Since I had the pleasure of seeing you I have been very successful
in collecting specimens, especially in New York and Albany. In
Washington I have been delighted to see the collections of the
Exploring Expedition. They entitle you to the highest thanks from
all scientific naturalists, and I hope it will be also felt in the
same manner by your countrymen at large. . .I long for the
opportunity of studying your fossil shells. As soon as I have gone
over my Lowell lectures I hope to be able to move. I shall only
pack up what I have already collected; but I cannot yet tell you
precisely the time.

I began studying your "Zoophytes," but it is so rich a book that I
proceed slowly. For years I have not learned so much from a book as
from yours. As I soon saw I would not be able to go through in a
short time, I sent a short preliminary report to one of our most
widely diffused papers, "Preussische Staats Zeitung," giving only
the general impression of your work, and I shall send to Erichson a
fuller scientific report after I have done with the whole volume.

As I happen to have a lithograph of the original specimen of the
Homo deluvii testis of Scheuchzer, I will forward it to Professor
Silliman with this letter. I expect you will find it the
counterpart of the specimen in your museum; or very nearly in the
same state of preservation.

Having just lately received my books, I also inclose a pamphlet
from Ehrenberg, which he desired me to leave with you, and also
the books Professor Silliman has had the kindness to lend me. . .
I have made many observations which I wish to publish, but I can
find no time to write them for you now. I must wait till the
weather is so dull as to bring nothing into the hands of gunners
and fishermen. . .

So closed his first year in America. The second unfolded events
both in the home he had left and in the one to which he had
unconsciously come, which were to shape his future career, and
exert the most powerful influence upon his whole life.


1847-1850: AGE 40-43.

Excursions on Coast Survey Steamer.
Relations with Dr. Bache, the Superintendent of the Coast Survey.
Political Disturbances in Switzerland.
Change of Relations with Prussia.
Scientific School established in Cambridge.
Chair of Natural History offered to Agassiz.
Removal to Cambridge.
Literary and Scientific Associations there and in Boston.
Household in Cambridge.
Beginning of Museum.
Journey to Lake Superior.
"Report, with Narration."
"Principles of Zoology," by Agassiz and Gould.
Letters from European Friends respecting these Publications.
Letter from Hugh Miller.
Second Marriage.
Arrival of his Children in America.

One of Agassiz's great pleasures in the summer of 1847 consisted in
excursions on board the Coast Survey steamer Bibb, then employed in
the survey of the harbor and bay of Boston, under command of
Captain (afterward Admiral) Charles Henry Davis. Under no more
kindly auspices could Agassiz's relations with this department of
government work have been begun. "My cabin," writes Captain Davis,
after their first trip together, "seems lonely without you."

Hitherto the sea-shore had been a closed book to the Swiss
naturalist, and now it opened to him a field of research almost as
stimulating as his own glaciers. Born and bred among the mountains,
he knew marine animals only as they can be known in dried and
alcoholic specimens, or in a fossil state. From the Bibb he writes
to a friend on shore: "I learn more here in a day than in months
from books or dried specimens. Captain Davis is kindness itself.
Everything I can wish for is at my disposal so far as it is

Dr. Bache was at this time Superintendent of the Coast Survey, and
he saw at once how the work of the naturalist might ally itself
with the professional work of the Survey to the greater usefulness
of both. From the beginning to the end of his American life,
therefore, the hospitalities of the United States Coast Survey were
open to Agassiz. As a guest on board her vessels he studied the
reefs of Florida and the Bahama Banks, as well as the formations of
our New England shores. From the deck of the Bibb, in connection
with Count de Pourtales, his first dredging experiments were
undertaken; and his last long voyage around the continent, from
Boston to San Francisco, was made on board the Hassler, a Coast
Survey vessel fitted out for the Pacific shore. Here was another
determining motive for his stay in this country. Under no other
government, perhaps, could he have had opportunities so invaluable
to a naturalist.

But events were now passing in Europe which made his former
position there, as well as that of many of his old friends, wholly
unstable. In February, 1848, the proclamation of the French
republic broke upon Europe like a clap of thunder from a clear sky.
The news created great disturbances in Switzerland, and especially
in the canton of Neuchatel, where a military force was immediately
organized by the republican party in opposition to the
conservatives, who would fain have continued loyal to the Prussian
king. For the moment all was chaos, and the prospects of
institutions of learning were seriously endangered. The republican
party carried the day; the canton of Neuchatel ceased to be a
dependence of the Prussian monarchy, and became merged in the
general confederation of Switzerland.

At about the same time that Agassiz, in consequence of this change
of conditions, was honorably discharged from the service of the
Prussian king, a scientific school was organized at Cambridge,
Massachusetts, in direct connection with Harvard University. This
school, known as the Lawrence Scientific School, owed its existence
to the generosity of Abbott Lawrence, formerly United States
Minister at the Court of St. James. He immediately offered the
chair of Natural History (Zoology and Geology) to Agassiz, with a
salary of fifteen hundred dollars, guaranteed by Mr. Lawrence
himself, until such time as the fees of the students should be
worth three thousand dollars to their professor. This time never
came. Agassiz's lectures, with the exception of the more technical
ones addressed to small classes, were always fully attended, but
special students were naturally very few in a department of pure
science, and their fees never raised the salary of the professor
perceptibly. This was, however, counterbalanced in some degree by
the clause in his contract which allowed him entire freedom for
lectures elsewhere, so that he could supplement his restricted
income from other sources.

In accordance with this new position Agassiz now removed his
bachelor household to Cambridge, where he opened his first course
in April, 1848. He could hardly have come to Harvard at a more
auspicious moment, so far as his social and personal relations were
concerned. The college was then on a smaller scale than now, but
upon its list of professors were names which would have given
distinction to any university. In letters, there were Longfellow
and Lowell, and Felton, the genial Greek scholar, of whom
Longfellow himself wrote, "In Attica thy birthplace should have
been." In science, there were Peirce, the mathematician, and Dr.
Asa Gray, then just installed at the Botanical Garden, and Jeffries
Wyman, the comparative anatomist, appointed at about the same time
with Agassiz himself. To these we might almost add, as influencing
the scientific character of Harvard, Dr. Bache, the Superintendent
of the Coast Survey, and Charles Henry Davis, the head of the
Nautical Almanac, since the kindly presence of the former was
constantly invoked as friend and counselor in the scientific
departments, while the latter had his residence in Cambridge, and
was as intimately associated with the interests of Harvard as if he
had been officially connected with the university.

A more agreeable set of men, or one more united by personal
relations and intellectual aims, it would have been difficult to
find. In connection with these names, those of Prescott, Ticknor,
Motley, and Holmes also arise most naturally, for the literary men
and scholars of Cambridge and Boston were closely united; and if
Emerson, in his country home at Concord, was a little more
withdrawn, his influence was powerful in the intellectual life of
the whole community, and acquaintance readily grew to friendship
between him and Agassiz. Such was the pleasant and cultivated
circle into which Agassiz was welcomed in the two cities, which
became almost equally his home, and where the friendships he made
gradually transformed exile into household life and ties.

In Cambridge he soon took his share in giving as well as receiving
hospitalities, and his Saturday evenings were not the less
attractive because of the foreign character and somewhat unwonted
combination of the household. Over its domestic comforts now
presided an old Swiss clergyman, Monsieur Christinat. He had been
attached to Agassiz from childhood, had taken the deepest interest
in his whole career, and, as we have seen, had assisted him to
complete his earlier studies. Now, under the disturbed condition of
things at home, he had thrown in his lot with him in America. "If
your old friend," he writes, "can live with his son Louis, it will
be the height of his happiness." To Agassiz his presence in the
house was a benediction. He looked after the expenses, and acted as
commissary in chief to the colony. Obliged, as Agassiz was,
frequently to be absent on lecturing tours, he could, with perfect
security, intrust the charge of everything connected with the
household to his old friend, from whom he was always sure of an
affectionate welcome on his return. In short, so far as an old man
could, "papa Christinat," as he was universally called in this
miscellaneous family, strove to make good to him the absence of
wife and children.

The make-up of the settlement was somewhat anomalous. The house,
though not large, was sufficiently roomy, and soon after Agassiz
was established there he had the pleasure of receiving under his
roof certain friends and former colleagues, driven from their
moorings in Europe by the same disturbances which had prevented him
from returning there. The arrival among them of Mr. Guyot, with
whom his personal and scientific intimacy was of such long
standing, was a great happiness. It was especially a blessing at
this time, for troubles at home weighed upon Agassiz and depressed
him. His wife, always delicate in health, had died, and although
his children were most affectionately provided for in her family
and his own, they were separated from each other, as well as from
him; nor did he think it wise to bring them while so young, to
America. The presence, therefore, of one who was almost like a
brother in sympathy and companionship, was now more than welcome.
His original staff of co-workers and assistants still continued
with him, and there were frequent guests besides, chiefly
foreigners, who, on arriving in a new country, found their first
anchorage and point of departure in this little European

The house stood in a small plot of ground, the cultivation of which
was the delight of papa Christinat. It soon became a miniature
zoological garden, where all sorts of experiments in breeding and
observations on the habits of animals, were carried on. A tank for
turtles and a small alligator in one corner, a large hutch for
rabbits in another, a cage for eagles against the wall, a tame bear
and a family of opossums, made up the menagerie, varied from time
to time by new arrivals.

But Agassiz could not be long in any place without beginning to
form a museum. When he accepted the chair offered him at Cambridge,
there were neither collections nor laboratories belonging to his
department. The specimens indispensable to his lectures were
gathered almost by the day, and his outfit, with the exception of
the illustrations he had brought from Europe, consisted of a
blackboard and a lecture-room. There was no money for the necessary
objects, and the want of it had to be supplied by the professor's
own industry and resources. On the banks of the Charles River, just
where it is crossed by Brighton Bridge, was an old wooden shanty
set on piles; it might have served perhaps, at some time, as a
bathing or a boat house. The use of this was allowed Agassiz for
the storing of such collections as he had brought together. Pine
shelves nailed against the walls served for cases, and with a table
or two for dissection this rough shelter was made to do duty as a
kind of laboratory. The fact is worth noting, for here was the
beginning of the Museum of Comparative Zoology in Cambridge, now
admitted to a place among the great institutions of its kind in the

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