Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 71.djvu/21

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15
WHAT WE OWE TO AGASSIZ

creatures needed were put to death, as were the mortally wounded soldiers by old Ambroise Paré, "doucement et sans cholère."

An even more impressive exemplification of the apparently paradoxical character of Agassiz was his attitude toward theology. His writings contain abundant evidence of his firm belief in the existence of a Creator, but he would not discuss dogmas and repelled as impertinent the too prevalent American fashion of asking what church a man attends. So while criticized as a bigot by some scientists he was denounced as an infidel by some theologians because he could not reconcile the facts of geology with the literal interpretations of Scripture. In this regard, with Lord John Russell in politics, Agassiz might have said he was "sure he was right because both parties found fault with him." To the "righteous overmuch" who may hesitate to unite in this commemoration of one who seemed to make light of Genesis and to pass over Adam as if he had never existed, is commended reflection upon the following incidents: On the eighth of August, 1873, commenting on the death of an assistant, he said, "My time will come soon, and I am ready." In four short months that time had come.

On the first of May, 1868, to my remark that I could not understand why Providence and the community had allowed him to lack the means for the complete development of his plans, he replied, "I suppose it is all right; had I obtained all I wished it might have gratified my ambition too much.

At the opening of the Penikese School, July 8, 1873, Agassiz said: "I think we have need of help; I ask you for a moment to pray for yourselves." The incident was commented upon as follows by Henry Ward Beecher:[1]

It seems to us that this scene of Agassiz and his pupils with heads bowed in silent prayer for the blessing of the God of Nature to be given to that school then opened for the study of nature, is a spectacle for some great artist to spread out worthily upon canvas, and to be kept alive in the memory of mankind. What are coronations, royal pageants, the parade of armies, to a scene like this? It heralds the coming of the new heavens and the new earth — the golden age when nature and man shall be reconciled, and the conquests of truth shall supersede the conquests of brute force.

As an American, as a student and teacher of science, and as a member of Cornell University,[2] I might, like hundreds of others, take some part in this commemoration. But there are special reasons why, when possible, I have complied with requests to speak or write of Agassiz, and why the invitation to give the present address was accepted with joy and with a sense of obligation, notwithstanding its preparation has seriously

  1. In the Christian Union, July 15, 1873, p. 51. See also "The Prayer of Agassiz," by Whittier.
  2. As delivered the address described what Agassiz did for Cornell University, directly and indirectly; see the Cornell Era for June, 1907, pp. 441-446.