Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 71.djvu/14

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8
POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

How clearly the situation was recognized by Agassiz himself is shown in the following paragraph from the preface to his "Contributions to the Natural History of the United States":

There is not here [as in Europe] a class of learned men, distinct from the other cultivated members of the community. On the contrary, so general is the desire for knowledge, that I expect to see my book read by operatives, by fishermen, by farmers, quite as extensively as by the students in our colleges or by the learned professions, and it is but proper that I should endeavor to make myself understood by all.

For the means of carrying on the regular work of the museum, and for such special projects as are referred to above, Agassiz depended largely upon grants from the state legislature as recommended by the board of education. Many of the legislators were farmers or from agricultural districts, so that his efforts to improve the quality of domesticated animals and to check the ravages of insects were both natural and politic.

But it may well be doubted whether even the weighty facts and arguments at his disposal would have sufficed without the extraordinary influence of his personality and eloquence. This was alluded to by Oliver Wendell Holmes[1] in the sentence, "The hard-featured country representatives flocked about him as the fishes gathered to hear Saint Antony, as the birds flocked to hear the sermons of Saint Francis." It has been more fully described by Thomas Wentworth Higginson and Charles Mellen Tyler.[2] With the latter's permission I will quote it in advance, nearly verbatim:

In 1861-2 I was in the Massachusetts Legislature and a member of the Committee on Education before which Professor Agassiz appeared to secure the annual appropriation for his museum. It was the year of the storming of Fort Sumter, of the attack upon a Massachusetts regiment passing through Baltimore, and of the first battle of Bull Run. Members of both houses of the Legislature foresaw a prolonged and bloody conflict, a great demand upon the Treasury, an increased and burdensome taxation to maintain the forces in the field. Our hearts were not high; we cut and slashed all bills of appropriation, and scrutinized with microscopic suspicion every bill of either house which looked to any increase of expenditure. Our committee anticipated the interview with Agassiz with some impatience and in a negative disposition of mind. We had, in fact, resolved beforehand not to recommend to the House and Senate the usual gift from the State. But when Agassiz appeared before us with his delightful accent and bland, persuasive, almost affectionate personal appeal to each of us, we wholly forgot the distress of the nation, the probable rejection of our recommendation by the two houses, and went over to Agassiz, horse, foot and dragoons, reported a bill for the usual outlay for his benefit, and to our surprise we carried it through.
  1. In the letter declining the invitation to attend the unveiling of the Agassiz tablet, p. 7 of the "Proceedings" mentioned above.
  2. The former in the Boston Transcript for April 23, 1907, and the latter in the Harvard Graduates' Magazine for June, 1907, p. 778.