Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 71.djvu/22

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16
POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

interfered with prior plans for purely scientific work. I am one of the few survivors of those who were directly associated with Agassiz as pupils, assistants or colleagues. He inspired me with interest, with admiration, with respect, nay, almost veneration. No shadow ever came between us. Whatever benefits he may have conferred upon others, I have reason to believe that, outside his family circle, there is no one, living or dead, who has such cause for gratitude and affection in return for counsel, for encouragement, for opportunity, and even for material aid in the form of specimens or information.

The following statements are based not only upon my vivid recollections but upon my diaries and upon the letters of Agassiz, all of which have been preserved.

I am unwilling to speak of myself on this occasion, and yet I do not know how else I can do justice to one of the most beautiful sides of his character. His sympathy for all young students of nature was one of the noblest traits of his life. It may truly be said that toward the close of his career there was hardly one such in this country who was not under some obligation to him.[1]

As of yesterday I recall the first interview, now half a century ago. At the age of fifteen (in the middle of the last century a considerably less mature epoch than at present) some observations of mine upon spiders were brought to the notice of Agassiz by one of his assistants, James E. Mills, and led to an invitation to visit him. In my "Entomological Diary" he is described as a "very pleasant, fine-looking gentleman." Now I should write, "The most fascinating and magnificent of men."[2] At once I appreciated the saying current in Cambridge that in winter one needed an overcoat less while passing his house. His commendation of the spider essay led my parents to grant my request to prepare for the profession of naturalist.

That preparation comprised (1) Two more years of Latin and Greek to complete the Harvard entrance requirements in those languages; (2) additions to the collection of insects that formed the nucleus of the collection at Cornell; (3) reading the first two volumes, just issued, of Agassiz's "Contributions to the Natural History of the United States" (Turtles, and Essay on Classification). This was done before breakfast, and such was my conviction of its value that, although the text was largely unintelligible at that stage of my progress, I felt fortified for the ordinary tasks of the day somewhat as is the religious neophyte by his matutinal fasting and prayer. The experience is related as a warning rather than as an example, but it illustrates the influence unconsciously exerted by Agassiz upon those whom he had welcomed to the scientific fold.

That influence was similarly illustrated while attending his lectures

  1. Slightly altered from Agassiz's address on Humboldt, p. 44.
  2. "In a letter dated Charleston, S. C, March 12, 1853 (printed in the Century Magazine for December, 1903, p. 188), Thackeray describes Agassiz as a "delightful, bonhommious person, as frank and unpretending as he is learned and illustrious."