Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 71.djvu/15

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9
WHAT WE OWE TO AGASSIZ

Agassiz was born near Lake Neufchatel in the region known as the Seeland of Berne. His early home was literally surrounded by lakes, rivers and marshes. "Almost as soon as he was able to move alone he took to water like a young duck. All the fishermen became at once very fond of the little fellow, and there was a friendly rivalry among them to get him into their boats and show him how to catch fish."[1]

This friendly relation with the takers of fish was maintained throughout his life. Wherever he wont he visited the markets and ascertained who were the most enterprising and intelligent purveyors. From them he gained not merely specimens but information, and to them he imparted his own knowledge in appropriate terms. One of his closest friends was Captain N. E. Atwood, of Provincetown, Mass., whose personal knowledge of marine fish and fisheries was so highly estimated by Agassiz that, upon the latter's suggestion, he was invited to give a course of lectures before the Lowell Institute.

In 1853 he issued a circular asking for collections of fishes from various fresh-water systems of the United States. ... To this he had hundreds of answers, many of them very shrewd and observing. ... A great number and variety of collections ... were forwarded. As to the marine forms, "many a New England captain, when he started on a cruise, had on board collecting cans,[2] furnished by Agassiz, to be filled ... and returned." (Mrs. Agassiz, pp. 518-519.)

The participation of women in any memorial of Agassiz is most natural. His mother was his most intimate friend and his letters to her from America are simply delightful. At the museum his lectures were open to women as well as men. He had great sympathy with the desire of women for larger and more various fields of study and work, and a certain number, including the librarian, have always been employed as assistants. For eight years (1855-63) he lectured almost daily in a school conducted by his wife; and upon her intellectual companionship and cooperation he became so dependent that he once declared to me, with signs of deep emotion, "Without her I could not exist." Never from his lips did I hear a word that might not have been spoken in her presence.

In 1873, of the forty-four teachers admitted by him as pupils at the Penikese school, sixteen — more than one third — were women. Coeducation — then hotly debated and regarded by some as a bugbear — had not with him even the dignity of existence as a problem. He declared that he had "no hesitation from the start." His attitude was certainly consistent; among the theses defended at his graduation in 1830 one was entitled Femina humana mari superior. Are some male members of this university concerned lest that phrase become the appropriate motto for the College of Arts and Sciences?

  1. Marcou, I., pp. 7-8.
  2. One of these cans arrived at Penikese during the last summer of his life, and I well recall the interest, akin to that in a Christmas box, with which Agassiz and his assistants and pupils drew forth the contents.