Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 71.djvu/23

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been validated.

at Cambridge in my first year. No topic was so vital as the general problem of animal life, and no expositor could compare with Agassiz. As an outlet for my enthusiasm each discourse was repeated, to the best of my ability, for the benefit of my companion[1] on the daily four-mile walk between Cambridge and our Brookline home. So sure was I that all the statements were correct and all the conclusions sound that any doubts or criticisms upon the part of my acute and unprejudiced friend shocked me as a reprehensible compound of heresy and lèse majesté.

From the fall of 1866 until, mainly upon his recommendation, my connection with Cornell University, I was employed in making preparations to illustrate the structure of sharks and rays for his projected volume upon those fishes.[2] This work brought me into relations with him, more and more close, instructive and delightful. From my diaries and letters are selected a few incidents exemplifying phases of his nature not generally appreciated.

Speaking of Darwin, whose doctrines he vehemently opposed, he remarked: "Much as we disagree, we are truly friends."

With some earlier assistants there had been a serious disagreement ending in temporary estrangement;[3] yet when their names were mentioned before him he made no adverse comment. He once showed me a letter from one of them asking permission to examine certain specimens at the museum. Upon my remarking that the presence of that man might not be very pleasant for him he replied, almost with reproof, "It is true that I have built up this museum, but I am only its trustee, and if the devil himself wished to study here he should be welcome."

His tenderness is shown in the following incident. The artist who was drawing the plates for the volume upon sharks and rays above mentioned was an elderly German who, uncertain of the term of his employment, had left his family in St. Louis. At last, in his loneliness, he sent for one of his children, a lad of ten. Supplied with credentials of various kinds, the boy reached Cambridge and inquired for "Herr Professor." It was after dark and Agassiz sorely needed rest after a long day at the museum. Yet, instead of summoning a servant, he took the child by the hand, walked with him several squares, and delivered him safe to the anxious father.

The summer of 1867 I spent literally at his side in the laboratory adjoining his summer home at Nahant. Together we dissected the sharks and rays that were brought in by the fishermen. To the paraphrase, "No naturalist is a hero to his laboratory assistant," he was

  1. James Herbert Morse, Harvard, '63.
  2. See his report as director of the Museum of Comparative Zoology for 1867, p. 10.
  3. The full merits of the case may never be understood, and this is not the place for its discussion; but in the light of my own experience with him, on the one hand, and with my pupils and assistants, on the other, I incline toward his view of it.