Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 71.djvu/19

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13
WHAT WE OWE TO AGASSIZ

and upon occasion he could be merry as a child. But for his merriment time and place must be fitting; Dulce est desipere in loco. He upheld the dignity of scholarship, and regarded university property and university time as consecrated to the loftiest functions.

Agassiz has not generally been thought of as a disciplinarian; yet a single incident would justify the celebration of this day by those who regard the saying, "Boys will be boys," as inapplicable beyond the secondary school. Early in the summer at Penikese three young men committed a breach of decorum which some might consider amusing. The next morning Agassiz simply announced that they had shown themselves undeserving and would leave the island before noon.

To the public Agassiz was best known through his lectures before the Lowell Institute and elsewhere, and by the "Methods of Study in Natural History." But an enormous amount of technical work is represented by his European publications, by the four volumes of the "Contributions to the Natural History of the United States," and by his papers of greater or less length upon many zoologic topics. Marcou enumerates 425 titles. Coues thinks[1]

the greatest practical boon he ever conferred upon working naturalists was his "Nomenclator Zoologicus," with its accompanying index — the veriest drudgery imaginable for an author, yet drudgery of a kind that no hack or mere compiler could have performed; and only those who have to keep it at their elbows can be sufficiently grateful for this instrument.

But working zoologists, anatomists and chemists are indebted to Agassiz for another practical service which probably could not have been rendered so efficiently by any other human being, viz., the remission, by act of congress, of the tax upon alcohol used for scientific purposes. Alcohol is consumed largely in chemical laboratories, and it was nearly the only museum preservative in use before the comparatively recent introduction of formal. Representations to congress were made by Spencer F. Baird and others concerned, but it is doubtful if they would have succeeded without the exercise of Agassiz's commingled powers of conviction and persuasion.

No native scientist did more than Agassiz to establish and maintain the intellectual independence of his adopted country.[2] Aside from his published works, his training of young men, his founding of the museum and his provision of means for employment and research that might otherwise have been sought abroad, upon at least two occasions he urged such cultivation of science in this country as should free American naturalists from the necessity of looking up to Europeans as their leaders and guides.

At the annual meeting of the Boston Society of Natural History,

  1. Review of "Marcou" in The Nation, May 7, 1896.
  2. Unconsciously I have used here nearly the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes in his letter referred to above.