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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 70.djvu/309

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PIONEERS OF SCIENCE IN AMERICA

Louis Agassiz[1]

 

By the Rev. EDWARD EVERETT HALE

BOSTON, MASS.

I think that the first time when I ever saw Agassiz was at one of his own lectures early in his American life. This was a description of his ascent of the Jungfrau. I think it was wholly extempore and though he was new in his knowledge of English, it was idiomatic and thoroughly intelligible. At the end, as he described the last climb, hand and foot, by which as it seems, men come to the little triangular plane, only three feet across, which makes the summit, he quickened our enthusiasm by describing the physical struggle by which he lifted himself so that he could stand on this little three-foot table: He said, 'one by one we stood there, and looked down into Swisserland.' He bowed and retired.

I know I said at once that Mr. Lowell, of our Lowell Institute, who had 'imported Agassiz' (that is James Lowell's phrase), might have said before the audience left the hall, 'You will see, ladies and gentlemen, that we are able to present to you the finest specimen yet discovered of the genus homo of the species intelligens.'

And looking back half a century, on those very first years of his life in America, I think it is fair to say that wherever he went he awakened that sort of personal enthusiasm. And he went everywhere. He was made a professor in Harvard College in 1848. But he never thought of confining himself to any conventional theory of a college professor's work. He was not in the least afraid of making science popular. He flung himself into any or every enterprise by which he could quicken the life of the common schools, and in forty different ways he created a new class of men and women. Naturalists showed themselves on the right hand and on the left. I have seen him address an audience of five hundred people, not twenty of whom when they entered the hall thought they had anything to do with the study of nature. And when after his address they left the hall, all of the five hundred were determined to keep their eyes open and to study nature as she is. From that year 1848, you may trace a steady advance in nature study in the New England schools.

That is to say, that his distinction is that of an educator quite as much as it is that of a naturalist. In 1888, Lowell said, in his quartermillenial address at Harvard College, that the college trained no great educator, 'for we imported Agassiz.' A great educator he truly was.

When Agassiz was appointed professor he was forty-one years old. In my first personal conversation with him he told me a story, which

  1. A letter read by Professor A. E. Verrill, of Yale University. Interesting remarks were also made by Dr. Charles D. Walcott, Washington, D. C.