Popular Science Monthly/Volume 77/November 1910/Alexander Agassiz, 1835-1910
|ALEXANDER AGASSIZ, 1835-1910|
By ALFRED GOLDSBOROUGH MAYER
MARINE LABORATORY OF THE CARNEGIE INSTITUTION, TORTUGAS, FLA.
ALEXANDER EMMANUEL RODOLPHE AGASSIZ, only son of Louis Agassiz, was born at Neuchâtel, Switzerland, on December 17, 1835.
The great English statistician Galton found that men who attain eminence in science are nearly always sons of remarkable women, and Alexander Agassiz was no exception to this rule. His mother was Cecile Braun, the daughter of the postmaster general of the Grand Duchy of Baden, who was a geologist of note and the possessor of the largest collection of minerals in Germany. Cecile Braun was a woman of culture and an artist of exceptional ability, and she was the first who labored to illustrate the early works of Louis Agassiz, some of the best plates in the "Poissons fossiles" being by her hand. Her brother, Alexander Braun, after whom her son was named, was a distinguished botanist and philosopher, and another brother, Max Braun, was an eminent mining engineer and geologist, and the director of the largest zinc mine in Europe. Thus we find that intellectual superiority was characteristic of both the paternal and maternal ancestors of Alexander Agassiz.
After the birth of her son, sorrow came upon the family, for the heavy expenses demanded by the publication of Louis Agassiz's numerous elaborate monographs with their hundreds of illustrations had exhausted not only their author's means, but had drained the resources of the entire community of Neuchâtel in so far as they could be enlisted for the cause of science. Thus in March, 1846, Louis Agassiz was forced to leave Neuchâtel, and to begin the long journey toward America, where he found a wider field for his great endeavors. Before his wife or children could follow him to his new home, she died in 1848 after a lingering illness.
I cite these events because they show that the early youth of Alexander Agassiz was passed in a period of domestic confusion and sorrow which may have left its mark upon him throughout life, for his great self-reliance was a characteristic rarely developed in those whose early years have been free from care. Life was a severe struggle for him, and though his victories were great they were won after hard-fought battles.
After the departure of his father from Neuchâtel Alexander remained with his mother throughout the period of her failing health, and after her death his father's cousin, Dr. Mayor, and the Reverend Marc Fivaz brought him to America, where he rejoined his father in America in June, 1849, and entered the Cambridge High School in the autumn of the same year.
The earliest published picture of Alexander Agassiz is by his father's artist Dinkel and appears upon the cover of the first livraison of the "Histoire naturelles des Poissons d Eau douce de l'Europe Centrale" published in 1839. It shows him as a little boy of four years fishing upon the shore of the Lake of Neuchâtel.
In early life Alexander exhibited his independence of character and incurred the Prussian governor's displeasure and his father's reproof through his willful neglect to salute this official when he passed upon the opposite side of the street. He must also have shown his characteristic pertinacity, for before he came to America he could play well upon the violin, an accomplishment which he allowed to fall into abeyance in later years.
In the spring of 1850, soon after the arrival of Alexander in America, his father took for his second wife Miss Elizabeth C. Cary, of Boston, in whom he found a new mother throughout life, and he took the most tender care of her until her death long years afterwards, when he himself was an old man. Doubtless many of the finer traits of his rugged character were developed through the refining influence due to the care and teaching he received from this superior woman. Nature and his father made him a naturalist, and his reverence for his father was almost a religion with him. He became the first student his father taught in America.
He entered Harvard College and graduated in 1855 with the degree of A.B., and then studied engineering, geology and chemistry in the Lawrence Scientific School, obtaining one B.S. in 1857, and another in natural history in 1862. During his college days he was much interested in rowing and was bow oar of the four-oared crew which won the race against Yale on the Connecticut River at Springfield on July 22, 1855, at which time he weighed only 145 pounds. He continued to row on the university crew until 1858, when the future President Eliot was one of his comrades in the boat.
After graduating from the Lawrence Scientific School he studied chemistry for a few months at Harvard, and then taught in his father's school for young ladies until 1859, when he was appointed an assistant on the U. S. Survey, and departed to take part in the task of charting the region of the mouth of the Columbia River, Oregon, and in establishing the northwest boundary. During this visit to the Pacific coast he found time in intervals of travel between official duties to study the fishes and medusae of San Francisco harbor and Puget Sound, and to collect specimens at Acapulco and Panama for his father's museum; but after a year's absence he acceded to his father's earnest request and came home to Cambridge to continue his zoological studies and to assist in the upbuilding of the great museum which was the dream of his father's life.
We now come to the period of the beginning of his scientific productivity, for in 1859 he published his first paper—a brief address before the Boston Society of Natural History upon the mechanism of the flight of Lepidoptera. It seems strange that this first paper of one who was destined to devote his life to the study of marine animals and to the sea should have been upon butterflies and moths. Moreover, it is his only paper save one upon a mechanical principle underlying animal activity, his later work in zoology being of a systematic, descriptive or embryological character.
These years when he worked by his father's side and assisted him from the time the museum was formally opened in 1860 until 1866 when he went to Michigan to develop the Calumet and Hecla copper mine were probably the happiest of his life. At first he had charge of the alcoholic specimens, of the exchanges and the business management of the museum—sufficient to swamp an ordinary man; but he was a hercules of energy and executive power, and his remarkable ability as an organizer probably saved the museum from many an embarrassment which his father's buoyant enthusiasm and simple faith in destiny might have brought upon it. He had much of that ardent love of the study of nature which was his father's own, but it was tempered and controlled by a more conservative judgment and a keener Insight into the motives of men, so that the two working in sympathy together made an ideal team for drawing the museum upward from obscurity to prominence; for these early days were critical ones in its history. In 1866, when his father was absent in Brazil, Alexander Agassiz had entire charge of the museum.
On November 15, 1860, he married Miss Anna Russell, daughter of George R. Russell, a leading merchant of Boston. The wedding took place at the home of the bride's brother-in-law, Dr. Theodore Lyman. Arduous as his official duties were from 1859 to 1866, when he studied in the museum at Cambridge, they did not prevent his accomplishing a remarkable amount of work in science, for he devoted his Bummers to study upon the seashore at a time when the waters of many a now polluted harbor were pure, so that he discovered many new and remarkable marine animals in the neighborhood of Boston, where now nearly all aquatic life has disappeared. He produced eighteen publications during this period, the most notable being his illustrated catalogue of the "North American Acalephæ," containing descriptions of many new and interesting forms of medusæ from the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, and illustrated by 360 figures drawn from life by his own hand. It is but a just tribute to his thoroughness as a collector and observer to say that some of these medusae have never again been seen since he discovered them off the New England coast fifty years ago.
Another interesting paper of this period is his "Embryology of the Starfish" of 66 pages illustrated by 8 plates containing 113 figures beautifully drawn from life by the author; and yet another paper is upon the young stages of annelid worms in which he shows that in past ages adult worms were often provided with very large bristles, and that the young of existing marine worms still have such structures. At this time also he wrote much upon echinoderms, and made substantial progress upon that great work of his early manhood, the "Revision of the Echini," which finally appeared in four parts between 1872-74 and consists of 762 quarto pages of text and 94 plates; composed of drawings and photographs made by the author. This work caused his father keen delight, for he foresaw that it portended a distinguished career in science to his gifted son. It won the Walker prize of $1,000 from the Boston Society of Natural History, and brought to its young author an international reputation.
In 1866 he was elected to membership in the National Academy of Sciences, which at that time recruited itself from the active young workers of the country. He was president of the academy from 1901 to 1907, and its foreign secretary from 1891 to 1901 and from 1908 until his death in 1910. He bequeathed $50,000 to the academy. He was also deeply interested in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and served as its president, gave large sums to it and left it $50,000 after his death. These two academies were the only scientific associations of America in which he took any active interest. Between 1860 and 1866 he laid the foundation for all that he was to achieve in science, with the exception of his elaborate explorations of coral reefs, and, with this exception, all of the subjects which were to engross his attention in future years were then engaging his active interest. He never departed from the thought and method of these early days, and he always spoke of them with loving remembrance as "the good old days"—their influence upon his scientific career was paramount. For example, he never adopted the methods of the histologist, which were not used by his father, and he confined himself to the study of living animals whenever this was possible. Thus it is that he ranks among the foremost of those systematists and embryologists who have devoted themselves to the observation of marine animals, but histology was wholly neglected by him. Nor did he ever take part in that stirring discussion of Darwinism which engrossed the attention of all of his contemporaries. It would be unfair to say that he did not believe in evolution, but the truth is that he was but little interested in the speculative side of science, excepting in so far as its deductions could be based upon observations of facts. In later life he came to regard the labors of the physiologist and of the laboratory experimenters upon the reactions of animals as beyond the scope of zoology.
But the walls of the museum and problems of zoology were too narrow a bound for such a genius of activity as Alexander Agassiz; moreover, he was poor and he required funds for the prosecution and publication of his work in science and thus in 1865 he engaged in coal mining in Pennsylvania, and in the following year he temporarily left the museum and became superintendent of the then unprofitable Calumet copper mine on the southern shore of Lake Superior, and in 1867 he united the Calumet with the adjacent Hecla mine, calling the combined property the Calumet and Hecla. It is due more to him than to any other man that this mine has produced the largest profits ever divided by any incorporated mining company, for the dividends up to December 31, 1907, amounted to $105,850,000. From the first days of his leadership in its affairs the company excelled all other mines in the introduction of heavy machinery and modern methods. Indeed its life depended upon the development of methods of mining upon a large scale, and so vastly has it grown that 83,863,116 pounds of fine copper were produced in 1907. As superintendent and director and afterwards as president of the company Alexander Agassiz steadily pursued the policy which led to this extraordinary industrial success, and out of the wealth it brought him he devoted upward of $1,000,000 to forwarding the aims of the museum which his father had founded, until he made it famous throughout the world for its excellent publications in science. He also expended large sums upon numerous scientific expeditions, the results of which he published in a manner that has never been excelled.
To have developed the greatest copper mine in the world would have taxed the entire energy of many an able man, but so extraordinary was Alexander Agassiz's capacity for productive labor that he became the sole author of 127 notable scientific works, many of them large books with numerous plates and illustrations drawn by himself, and he published many other minor papers. He was also the joint author of 18 and the patron or inspirer of more than 100 more which were written by specialists in America, Europe and Japan to whom he sent the collections he had gathered.
In his treatment of assistants and collaborators he displayed a most commendably unselfish spirit, and indeed the only differences I experienced during eight years in which I served as his assistant were occasioned in persuading him to permit his name to appear as the senior author of publications which were actually the result of our joint efforts.
Labor at the copper mines made enormous drains upon his seemingly inexhaustible energy, for during the early years of his connection with the company he worked upon an average of fourteen and a half hours each day. Yet arduous as these duties were between 1867 and 1874 they made but little difference in the output of his scientific work, for in this period he produced 19 papers, one of them being his famous "Revision of the Echini." Another announces the discovery that Tornaria is undoubtedly the larva of Balanoglossus, and in another he proves that the peculiar pincer-like organs found upon the echini are in reality only highly modified spines, and they serve to keep the animal clean by actually grasping and removing detritus from the surface of the creature. In another work of this period he presents a paper illustrated by 202 excellent figures and giving a complete account of the embryology of those most diaphanous of marine animals, the Ctenophoræ.
Indeed it may be said that while his later work was far more elaborate and widely known, it was not more brilliant than that of this period which closed with his fortieth year, and these older papers are of such fundamental importance that they are quoted in all general textbooks of zoology. We see then that these days of his early manhood between 1861 and 1873 were rich in achievement in science, and remarkable in other respects, for it was during this period that he raised himself from poverty to wealth more than sufficient to meet the demands of his expensive researches in zoology.
But the "happy old days" were soon to pass away forever from the life of Alexander Agassiz, for on December 14, 1873, his great father died, and to deepen his misery his wife to whom he was devotedly attached passed away only eight days after his father's death, and his own health, undermined by too strenuous labor, failed so seriously that throughout the remainder of his life he suffered from an impairment of the circulation which obliged him to seek a warm climate every winter.
Those who knew him in his happier years say that from this time onward a great change was observed in him. These irreparable losses came upon him at a time when youth was gone, but middle age had hardly come upon him and most things of life were yet in store for him. Henceforth he was to live alone with his sorrow, master always of himself, simple almost to austerity in his tastes, but deprived of that sympathy which only a wife could give, it is but little to be wondered at that he raised a wall between himself and the great unsympathetic world, which only those nearest to him and a few most intimate scientific associates could penetrate. In early life he had been buoyant in spirit, popular and beloved by all who knew him, but after the sorrows of 1873 he withdrew from broader contact with the world, and while he still remained cordially intimate with a few of the greatest leaders, from the rank and file of scientific men he held himself far and aloof. One must always bear the fact in mind that during the last thirty-seven years of his life he was a saddened and an ill man—one whose deepest love was buried and whose fondest hopes had been wrecked. We must also consider that a tendency toward this reserve probably came to him through inheritance from the German blood of his mother's side of the house, and it may in some measure be accounted for by the fact that English always remained a foreign tongue to him, for he thought in French, and in temperament he remained European rather than American. Yet among scientific men he became the greatest patron of zoology our country has known. In 1910, at the time of his death, the fifty-fourth volume of the "Bulletins" and the fortieth volume of the "Memoirs" of the Museum of Comparative Zoology were appearing. These publications had been started in 1863 and 1864, and in the number of important and beautifully illustrated papers they contain they have been excelled by only a few of the most active scientific societies of the world; yet the expense of producing them has largely been borne by one man—Alexander Agassiz.
In 1870-71 he visited many European museums to study specimens of echini for his great work upon this group and he was also especially interested in the results of the English deep-sea dredging expeditions in the Porcupine, little dreaming that he was himself to become a great leader in such work.
In 1873 when Mr. John Anderson, of New York, offered his father the Island of Penikese as the site for a marine biological laboratory, Alexander Agassiz used all his efforts to dissuade him from its acceptance, but failing in this he served for the first year as an instructor and the second as superintendent of the school. He gives a history of this experience in an article in 1892 in The Popular Science Monthly, volume 42, p. 123. Mr. Anderson's final loss of interest in the laboratory and his refusal to consent to its removal to Woods Hole led to its abandonment. Although Alexander Agassiz, prompted by his deep interest in marine zoology, did not give up the attempt to maintain the school until after an appeal for aid addressed to the superintendents of public institutions and presidents of state boards of education throughout the United States had met with inadequate response. Then he himself paid the expenses and the Penikese School passed out of existence.
The Agassiz Laboratory at Newport, Rhode Island. From the Annual Reort of the Curator of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard for 1891-92. Kindness of Dr. Samuel Henshaw.
His experience at Penikese was, however, by no means in vain, for it deeply impressed him with the advisability of establishing a summer school for research in marine zoology, so that in 1877 he built upon his place at Castle Hill at the mouth of Newport Harbor an ideal little research laboratory which afforded excellent accommodations for half a dozen students at a time. For eighteen years students and instructors from Harvard College visited this charming spot, and many are the papers which resulted from their labors there. Count Pourtalès, W. K. Brooks, Fewkes and Whitman were the first workers in the station, and each year about ten of the most promising of the research students in zoology at Harvard were privileged to study at the Newport Laboratory. Every day a stage bore them from the town, four miles away, to the laboratory and back again at five o'clock in the afternoon, after the daily swim in the ocean. The laboratory was excellently equipped with reagents, glassware and large tanks provided with running salt or fresh water. The microscope tables were set upon stone foundations to avoid vibration, and a good little steam launch lay at her moorings in a near cove ready to dredge in the service of science. I treasure the memory of those youthful days at Newport when the enthusiastic spirit of our great leader was an inspiration to each and every one of us, and I recall his delight over the rare "finds" we occasionally discovered in the surface tow which was made every night and lay awaiting our study in the morning. Gradually, however, a change came over the Newport Laboratory, the once pure water of the harbor became more and more polluted as population and shipping increased until finally in 1897 students were no longer invited to come to Newport, and the scientific existence of the laboratory ceased. An account of the laboratory together with a plan of the building will be found in Nature,volume 19, pp. 317-319, 1879, and in the Century Magazine for September, 1883, but these fail to give an idea of the attractive little vine-clad building nestled down on the slope of the shore overlooking its little cove with the beautiful bay to the northward and the ocean on the south.
Alexander Agassiz was the first to see that the southern shore of New England was most favorably placed for the site of such a station, for he discovered that here arctic forms are carried down during the winter and early spring, whereas late in summer the southerly winds bring drifting upward from the Gulf Stream animals whose true homes are in the warm waters of the tropical Atlantic, and thus one meets with an extraordinary seasonal variation of marine life on the southern coast of New England.
In 1874 Alexander Agassiz was elected curator of the museum to succeed his father in this responsible position, and indeed the prospects of the museum were at that time such as to inspire grave apprehension,
Interior of the Agassiz Laboratory at Newport. From the Annual report of the Curator of the Museum of Comparative Zoology for Harvard for 1891-92. Kindness of Dr. Samuel Henshaw.
for its annual income was but $10,000 while it had a debt of $40,000, and only four fifths of the north wing was completed. Fortunately, however, the devotion of the country to the memory of the great Louis Agassiz was such that the museum was not allowed to fail as had the school at Penikese. Over $310,000 were raised by popular subscription and through state grants for the support of the museum, and as a memorial to Louis Agassiz, $25,000 being contributed by Alexander Agassiz himself. It is interesting to see that $1,215 of the amount was subscribed by 1,233 workmen of the Calumet and Hecla, although there were at that time not more than 1,400 men at the mine.
From 1874 Alexander Agassiz remained the actual, although not constantly the nominal, head of the Museum of Comparative Zoology, and from 1902 until his death in 1910 he bore the title of director of the Harvard University Museum.
The growth of the museum building was slow but constant. Alexander Agassiz himself completed the construction of the zoological section in 1882 and other public-spirited men and women, including his two sisters, contributed to build other parts of the edifice, until at present only one hundred feet of the southern wing of the building planned so long ago by Louis Agassiz remains to be completed. The total cost of the building has been more than $1,200,000, and its invested capital amounts to somewhat more than $900,000. Thus while it is much hampered for funds it still remains the greatest university museum in the United States. The zoological section has been greatly enriched by collections gathered by Alexander and Louis Agassiz, and their gifts to the library have placed it in a position in which it is unsurpassed in America, more than 6,000 bound volumes having been presented by Alexander Agassiz himself.
In the classification of its zoological exhibits the museum is one of the clearest existing models of the system of Cuvier, for it must be remembered' that intellectually Louis Agassiz was Cuvier's son, and Alexander Agassiz steadfastly pursued his father's plan in so far as the museum's exhibits were concerned.
No family has striven more effectually for the intellectual uplifting of Harvard than that of the Agassiz, and it is to be regretted that the great museum which they founded and fostered does not officially bear their name, but instead is described by an almost meaningless phrase, "The Museum of Comparative Zoology."
Alexander Agassiz was a loyal son of his alma mater and he served as an overseer of Harvard from 1873 to 1878 and again in 1885; and he was a fellow from 1878 to 1884 and from 1886 to 1890. In 1885 the university conferred upon him the honorary degree of LL.D.
The year 1875 marks the beginning of Alexander Agassiz's career as a leader of expeditions, for with Dr. Samuel Garman as his assistant he explored Lake Titicaca and the coast region of Peru and Chile. Prom this time onward until the close of his life exploration was to engross more and more of his attention, to the final exclusion of the embryological studies that had given color to his earlier years. The last publication in which he records the results of the rearing of animals is his joint paper of 1889 with Professor Charles O. Whitman and is upon the development of fishes. After 1889 he gave up the raising of larvae in his aquaria at Newport, and became an explorer, geologist and systematic zoologist; although it should be said that the last paper published during his lifetime is a short one upon the temporary existence of a lantern and of teeth in the young Echinonëus. It is, however, based upon the study of museum material, and records an observation made by A. M. Westergren.
His remarkable energy and executive ability fitted him in an eminent degree to be the leader of scientific expeditions. Each exploring trip was planned to a day even to its minute details, every course charted, distances measured and every station decided upon, before he left his desk in the Harvard Museum, so that all of its achievements were actually prearranged. At times it was of vital import to his expeditions to have supplies of coal brought to some distant island in the tropics, but invariably when he arrived his colliers would have preceded him, and all went forward with clock-work regularity. In fact, before starting he read all that was to be found upon the regions he designed to visit so that he was enabled to begin the writings of his results the moment the voyage was over. It is due chiefly to his forethought that in more than 100,000 miles of wandering over tropical seas he never met with a serious accident; and this is the more remarkable when one considers that in order to land upon the coral reefs he was forced to cruise in the hottest season when the brooding calms were liable at any moment to break into a hurricane. Day after day I saw him remain upon the bridge of the steamer sketching salient features of many a lonely coast that he of all naturalists was the first to see. The rolling of the vessel caused him acute distress, yet though sea-sick he worked on undaunted for the keynote of his character was pertinacity.
As we have said his first expedition was to South America to explore Lake Titicaca and to visit the copper mines of Peru and Chile. He published a hydrographic chart of the lake, sounded its depths, determined its temperature, collected its animals and plants, and relics of the ancient Peruvians who once lived upon its islands. Among other results he found at Tilibiche, Peru, a reef of fossil corals elevated 2,900-3,000 feet above the sea and 20 miles inland from the ocean, thus showing that the recent elevation of some parts of the western coast of South America has been even greater than had been observed by Darwin.
Upon returning from South America, his embryological studies were resumed at Newport, and the development of flounders and other young fishes interested him especially. It was well known that in the young flounder the eyes are on both sides of the head and that after the fish falls over on one side, the eye of the lower side travels around and comes to lie beside its fellow on the upper side of the fish, but Alexander Agassiz discovered that in the transparent young of flounders allied to the Plagusiæ the lower eye actually penetrates through the tissues of the head and reappears on the surface of the upper side of the fish.
In the young of other bony fishes he discovered a caudal lobe showing that in an early stage the tails of the bony fishes resemble the adult tails of the more ancient ganoids.
He also found that under the skin of flounders there are yellow, red and black pigment cells and that changes of color are due to the independent expansion or contraction of these several cells; and in 1892 he made the interesting discovery that if young flounders be placed for six weeks in aquaria with white surroundings they lose nearly all color and do not regain their normal color, even if at the end of this time they be surrounded by black.
These studies of fishes, begun in 1875, were continued for many years in the intervals between expeditions, the last of the series being published in 1892. One of the most important papers of this series appeared in 1878 and is upon the development of that archæic fish the gar pike, Lepidosteus.
But of all animals the echinoderms interested him most deeply. Indeed of the 145 most important scientific papers of which he was sole or joint author 45 treat of echinoderms. Accordingly in 1874-77 we find him actively engaged in their study. In 1874 he announces the discovery that hybrid larvae may be produced by artificial means between the two common species of starfish of the New England coast. In 1876 he studied the structure of some viviparous echini from the Kerguelen Islands, and found that they habitually carried their young about with them until the young had acquired most of the characters of the adult. In 1877 his beautifully illustrated work upon North American starfishes was published.
In 1876 he was keenly interested when he visited Sir Wyville Thomson in Scotland and inspected the vast collections of deep-sea forms brought home from the three-years cruise of the Challenger; and it was a happy moment for him when in 1877 an arrangement was perfected with the United States government by virtue of the terms of which he was given the scientific direction of the U. S. Coast Survey steamer Blake during the entire time of her purposed explorations of the West Indian and Gulf Stream region. He joined the Blake at Havana, Cuba, in December, 1877, and remained on board until April, 1878, exploring the Gulf of Mexico, and adjacent regions. Admiral, then Lieutenant Commander C. D. Sigsbee, U.S.N., was in command, and his ingenious inventions of sounding apparatus, trawls, etc., enabled the expedition to accomplish unprecedented results.
The second cruise of the Blake started from Washington on November 27, 1878, with Captain J. R. Bartlett, U.S.N., in command, and throughout the winter of 1878-79 they cruised among the Windward Isles of the West Indies and over the Caribbean Sea, visiting Havana, Jamaica, Hayti, Porto Rico, St. Thomas, Santa Cruz, Montserrat, St. Kitts, Guadeloupe, Dominica, Martinique, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Granadines, Grenada and Barbados, and gathering an immense collection of animals from the depths of the ocean.
The third and last cruise of the Blake was for the purpose of sounding the depths of the Gulf Stream. They started from Newport in June and cruised until August, 1880, running seven lines of soundings off the coast between Charleston and George's Bank, which led to the discovery that a plateau covered by water not more than 600 fathoms deep extends from the Bahamas northward to Cape Hatteras, forming a vast triangular area of shallow water, the outer edge of which is from 300 to 350 miles out in the ocean from the coast of the Southern Atlantic States. The Gulf Stream flows across this area on its course between the Straits of Bernini to Cape Hatteras, and the outer edge of this shallow bank is » here the North American continent rises abruptly from the depths of the flat floor of the ocean. The name "Blake Plateau" was most appropriately given by Alexander Agassiz to this extensive area of shallow water.
During her three cruises the Blake made 355 soundings, deep-sea temperature observations, and trawl hauls yielding a phenomenally rich harvest of new and interesting marine animals. Among other things, the second cruise led to the discovery of a vast submarine valley, the "Bartlett Deep," extending for nearly 700 miles along the southern coast of Cuba toward Honduras. Twenty miles south of Grand Cayman this great depression is 3,400 fathoms deep, so that the summits of the mountains of Cuba only 50 miles away are 28,000 feet above its somber trough.
This experience upon the Blake was the most momentous event in Alexander Agassiz's scientific life, for it gave him a taste for marine exploration which was to dominate his future career. Without this he might have continued to be an embryologist and systematic zoologist, but he was destined to more conspicuous achievements as an explorer. Its effect upon the history of the Museum at Cambridge was also profound, for the output of museum publications had been so slow that at the end of 1877 only three volumes of the "Bulletins" and five volumes of the "Memoirs" had been completed, and yet these publications had been appearing in parts for fourteen and thirteen years, respectively. The reports upon the great collections gathered by Alexander Agassiz's expeditions gave these museum publications an enormous impetus, so that at the time of his death in 1910 the fifty-fourth volume of the "Bulletin" and the fortieth of the "Memoirs" were appearing.
Alexander Agassiz realized that the government had always failed to provide adequately for the publication of the results of its many explorations, and thus he himself assumed the direction, and defrayed the entire expense, of all of the publications resulting from expeditions under government auspices of which he was the scientific director. No results of explorations have been more appropriately published or better illustrated than those under the auspices of Alexander Agassiz.
Alexander Agassiz did most wisely also in sending the various collections not only to specialists in America but to the leading students in Europe and Japan, thus securing the cooperation of those best competent to pronounce upon them.
During the first cruise of the Blake he discovered that the prevailing winds blowing over the Gulf Stream caused a marked concentration of floating life upon its western edge, and that this aggregation was nowhere richer than at the Tortugas, Florida. Accordingly under government auspices he visited the Tortugas in March and April, 1881, with Dr. J. W. Fewkes as his assistant. Although greatly hindered by stormy weather, he succeeded in securing a large collection of marine animals, notably the Porpitidæ and Velellidæ, an elaborate and fully illustrated account of which he published in 1883; and in the same year in the "Memoirs" of the American Academy he presented the results of his studies of the fine coral reefs of the Tortugas.
His "Blake" Echini appeared in 1883; and in 1888 came his last "Blake" publication, a general account of her three notable cruises. This crowning work comes nearer to being a popular book than anything he, as sole author, ever published. It is a general review of the results of the Blake's voyages between 1877 and 1880, and it appears in volumes 14 and 15 of the "Bulletins" of the Museum of Comparative Zoology, being illustrated by 545 maps and figures of the highest artistic and scientific merit.
It is rarely indeed that the results of exploration have been thus summarized in a single work, and none gives a clearer idea of the strange forms of the creatures that live upon the cold dark floor of the deep-sea than does this one.
The results may be significantly summarized by stating that we now know more of the topography and of the animals of the depths of the Gulf Stream and West Indian region than of any submarine area of equal extent in the world, and that this knowledge, is due to the explorations of the Blake under Alexander Agassiz's scientific direction. It is but just to add that these notable achievements would have been impossible had it not been for the inventive genius and intelligent interest of Captain Sigsbee in devising sounding apparatus and trawls.
We now come to the closing period of Alexander Agassiz's scientific life—his long years of exploration of the coral reefs of the world, for during the winter of 1885 he visited the Hawaiian Islands, studying the reefs of Oahu, Maui and Hawaii.
For twenty-five years this study of the mode of formation of coral islands was to engage his rapt attention, and he was destined to wander farther and to see more coral reefs than has any man of science of the present or the past. His boyish joy upon the sight of some rare creature of the sea was something not altogether his own, for he inherited it from his father. The years of toil and care were all forgotten when he drifted in the mirrored waters above the reef and gazed downward into its world of subtle color where contrasts of olives, browns and greens were accentuated by a butterfly-like flash of brilliancy as some fish of the coral world glided outward from the depths of the shaded cavern.
He saw more coral reefs than has any living man and this very virtue of his exploration is its chief fault, for the study of coral reefs is a complex problem and it can not be solved by a superficial inspection such as he was forced to make. No one realized this more fully than he did himself, but he believed that the subject should be approached by a superficial survey of all of the reefs of the world, and thus he might hope to discover places where the problem might afterwards be studied with decisive results. He aimed to point out only the broad aspects of the problem, leaving the elucidation of details to those who might follow him.
I believe that science will come to see that he succeeded in showing that Darwin's simple explanation of the formation of atolls does not hold in any part of the world. Darwin, it will be remembered, assumed that wherever we find a volcanic mountain projecting above the sea in the tropical regions corals will grow upon its submerged slopes and form a ring around it. If then the mountain slowly sinks beneath the sea the corals will as constantly grow upward toward the surface, so that after the mountain has disappeared the atoll-ring of coral reefs will still remain.
Alexander Agassiz maintains, however, that atolls are formed in a variety of ways, and may develop where there has been neither marked elevation nor subsidence in modern times, as at the Great Barrier Reef of Australia, or under stationary conditions after a past period of elevation, as in the Fiji Islands, or by the dissolving away of the inner parts of an elevated limestone island as at Bermuda, or Fulangia in Fiji, or we may have a submerged crater the volcanic rim of which may erode away to beneath sea-level, thus giving a foundation for a ring-shaped coral reef.
Unfortunately the very multitude of Alexander Agassiz's observations, and the somewhat confused style of his writing, renders him difficult to follow. Had he enjoyed greater experience as a lecturer he might have become a clearer writer, for he constantly assumed that his readers were as familiar with the subject as himself, and that a few words would make his meaning as clear to them as to him.
It is to be regretted that of the three great writers upon coral reefs Darwin saw only one atoll, Dana sailed past many but was permitted to land upon few, for the islands were then inhabited by dangerous cannibals, and Agassiz was compelled to cover such a vast field that certain of his conclusions, as he states himself, are still tentative; for the solution of some of the questions presented by these problems demands a more intensive and prolonged study than he was able to devote to them.
While in the Hawaiian Islands in 1885 he found that the coral reefs have repeatedly been buried under lava floes, and that the corals have again grown over the submerged lava. The reefs have nowhere been elevated more than 25 feet above sea-level, but the coral sands and shell fragments have been blown upward along the mountain slopes and have formed limestone dunes which the rains have cemented into solid rock. These wind-blown limestone ledges may be found 700 feet or more above the level of the sea.
In 1890 he published a paper showing that reef corals may become two and one half inches thick in less than seven years, his observations being based upon a study of corals that had grown upon the Havana-Key West cable.
In 1887 Alexander Agassiz was invited by the U. S. Fish Commission to assume the scientific direction of an expedition of the steamship Albatross between Panama and the Galapagos Islands, but he was unable to accept until 1891, when from February until May he cruised with the Albatross from Panama to Point Mola, thence to Cocos, Malpelo and Galapagos Islands, and from Acapulco to the Gulf of California, making 84 deep-sea trawl hauls, soundings and temperature observations, and in five more stations using the surface and sub-marine nets.
A significant feature of this expedition was due to the invention by Lieutenant Commander Z. L. Tanner, U.S.N., of a self-closing net which enabled one to obtain marine animals at any stratum of depth, and thus to determine the range in depth of marine creatures. The use of this excellent net led Alexander Agassiz to conclude that the floating life of the surface of the sea does not sink to a depth greater than 200 fathoms, and that the bottom forms of the deep-sea do not rise more than 60 fathoms above the floor of the ocean, and that there is practically no life between 200 fathoms below the surface and 60 fathoms above the bottom. His later studies have, however, shown that these conclusions must be modified, for in the tropical Pacific surface forms are sometimes taken at a depth of about 300 fathoms beneath the surface, and although the surface animals do not commonly sink to depths greater than this, there is apparently a most interesting intermediate fauna of medusæ, etc., which are sometimes found at depths greater than 400 fathoms and which rarely or never rise to the surface. Agassiz clearly saw the complexities and difficulties of this problem, and realized that its solution can be reached only after many have labored upon it. Indeed, he himself was forced through lack of time to abandon its study to others.
A very rich collection of deep-sea forms then new to science was made by this expedition of the Albatross and have been described in numerous papers in the "Bulletins" and "Memoirs" of the museum at Harvard.
The most important general result was Alexander Agassiz's discovery that the deep-sea animals of the Gulf of Panama were more closely allied to those of the depths of the Caribbean Sea than the Caribbean forms were to those of the deep waters of the Atlantic. This leads him to conclude that the Gulf of Panama was once more intimately connected with the Caribbean than the latter is with the Atlantic, and thus the Caribbean Sea was at one time merely a bay of the Pacific, and has become shut off since Cretaceous times by the uplifting of the Isthmus of Panama.
In 1892 Alexander Agassiz published his general report upon this important exploration of the Panamic region, and he concludes that the Galapagos Islands have never been connected with the mainland of America, but that the ancestors of their peculiar animals and plants were drifted over the ocean by the prevailing winds and stranded upon the shores of these remote islands. He also observed that the animals of the deep sea are preponderatingly reddish or violet in color, and that blue-colored forms, such as are observed on the surface, are rare in the depths. This inclines him to suspect that the lingering remnant of sunlight which penetrates into the depths is red, but in view of the absence of observation he is cautious in advancing this suggestion.
Another paper of 1892 is his description of an interesting crinoid from the depths of the sea near the Galapagos Islands. This is a highly generalized form, and it is beautifully painted from life by Westergren, who accompanied him as artist upon the Albatross. In 1898 and 1904 he describes the deep-sea echini found off Panama, this being his last paper upon the results of the explorations of 1891. The final report is beautifully illustrated with drawings made by A. M. Westergren.
In the autumn of 1892 his friend Mr. John M. Forbes offered to place at his disposal his steam yacht Wild Duck, a sea-worthy little vessel 127 feet long upon the water line; and from January until April, 1892, he cruised in this yacht, wandering for more than 4,500 miles among the Bahamas and off the Cuban coast, engaging in the study of the part which corals have played in the formation of these islands. On this and all subsequent expeditions he was accompanied by his son Maximilian, who was his father's constant companion and friend, and who served as his photographer. The results of this voyage were published in 1894 in the "Bulletin" of the Museum of Comparative Zoology.
He concludes that the Bahama Islands are composed of æolian rock, being formed of wind-blown fragments of shells and other limestone particles of animal origin which, after being blown upward above sea-level, have been agglutinated into rock by the agency of rain water. After being thus built up the islands subsided about 300 feet, and are now much smaller than they originally were, for the sea and atmospheric agencies have eroded them greatly. The present-day corals form a mere veneer over this submerged æolian rock and do not play a prominent part in forming the islands. The so-called "lagoons" of the Bahamas are merely parts of the interior of the islands which have been dissolved out under atmospheric agencies, rain, etc., and have been deepened by the action of the sea after the ocean water entered them. Hogsty Atoll he would regard as a plateau of submerged aeolian rock surrounded by a rim which does not reach the surface and is protected from marine erosion by a coating of modern corals.
Five superimposed limestone terraces are seen at Cape Maysi and can be traced for a considerable distance along the Cuban coast. The lowermost of these terraces is raised only about twenty feet above sea level and is clearly an elevated coral reef, but the older and higher terraces he is inclined to regard as being of limestone covered only by a mere veneer of corals or containing only a few scattered coral heads and not true elevated coral reefs.
The peculiar flask-shaped harbors of Cuba with their narrow entrances and broad lagoons interested him greatly, and he decided that when the land was elevated these depressions had been leached out in the limestone by the action of streams in the drainage areas of the valleys, and when the land afterwards sank the broad valleys were submerged, with only a deep narrow entrance connecting them with the sea. Yumuri Valley would constitute just such a harbor were it submerged beneath the sea.
This study of the reefs of Cuba and the Bahamas naturally led him to renew his observations in Florida and to visit the Bermudas. He saw the Bermuda Islands in March, 1894, and in December of the same year he chartered a tug and steamed along the Barrier Reef of Florida.
He found that in common with the Bahamas the Bermudas consist of æolian limestone. In places the interior of these islands were dissolved away by the action of rain-water rendered acid by decomposing vegetable matter, and thus depressions were formed in the central parts of the islands. Then when the islands sank the sea broke through the rims and filled the lagoons, afterwards deepening them by its scouring action.
Thus the Bermudas have assumed an atoll-like shape, but their contour is not due to corals. Indeed, there are but few corals at Bermuda, and these form a mere veneer over the sunken æolian ledges. The so-called miniature atolls are mere pot-hole basins which have been scooped out by wave action in the æolian rock, and their rims are never more than eighteen inches high, and consist of a wall of æolian rock covered by a coating of serpulæ, algæ and corallines which enable them to withstand the wearing action of the sea. Thus Darwin's theory of coral reefs can not explain the conditions seen in the Bahamas and Bermudas.
The results of his study of the Florida Reef were finally published in 1896 in cooperation with Dr. Leon S. Griswold. Agassiz concludes that the Marquesas, of Florida, are not an atoll, but enclose a sound that has not been formed by subsidence, but by the solvent and mechanical action of the sea. Thus the Marquesas are similar in their geological history to other sounds back of the line of the Florida Keys.
He found an elevated reef extending along the seaward face of the Florida Keys from Lower Matacumbe to Soldier's Key. We now know, however, that the elevated reef actually extends from the southern end of Big Pine Key to Soldier's Key. Agassiz believed that the oolite limestone back of the elevated reef and along the mainland shore of Key Biscayne Bay was æolian rock; but Griswold decided that it was only a mud-flat which had been formed beneath the water, and afterwards elevated. Later studies have shown that Griswold was right.
In 1895 he instituted a study of the underground temperature of the rock walls of the Calumet and Hecla mine, and found that the increase is only 1° F. for every 223.7 feet as we descend. His deepest temperature observation was 4,580 feet beneath the surface of the ground.
He had now seen all of the coral reefs of the Atlantic and turned his attention to the exploration of the Pacific. In April and May, 1896, he cruised along the Great Barrier Reef of Australia in the little steamer Croydon, which he chartered from the Australian United Steam Navigation Company, Captain W. C. Thomson being in command. The voyage began at Brisbane in April, extended northward to the Hope Islands and ended at Cooktown in May. Unfortunately, he had come to Australia in the height of the trade-wind season, and the almost constant gale greatly hindered the work of his expedition. Indeed, during more than a month of cruising he could spend only three days on the outer reefs, and the dredging and study of marine life which he had hoped to carry out were practically abandoned.
He concluded that the many islands and submerged flats off the Queensland coast were once connected with the mainland, but have been separated from the continent by erosion and denudation. After the formation of these flats and islands corals grew upon them. The recent reefs have been elevated at least ten feet, and do not owe their contours to subsidence, yet they form true atolls. The inner channels of the Barrier Reef are maintained free of corals by the great amount of silt held in suspension in the water or deposited to form a blue mud over the bottom. Thus there appears to be nothing in the Great Barrier Reef region to lend support to Darwin's theory of coral reefs. A tangible result of this expedition was the enriching of the museum at Cambridge by a great collection of Barrier Reef corals gathered under Alexander Agassiz's auspices by H. A. Ward.
His experience in Australia taught him to avoid the trade-wind season and henceforth his expeditions to coral seas were timed so that he cruised among the reefs in the late spring and early summer months when the trades have died out into the long hot days of calm which precede the coming of the hurricanes. This interval when the torrid sea is sleeping gave him the opportunity to land on many a jagged shore that defied approach at other seasons. He then could wade through the still waters over the coral reefs, and unravel at his will the secrets of the atolls, composed as they are of wave-tossed fragments that once were shells of mollusks or skeletons of creatures of the reefs. His overmastering interest carried him to the shores of hundreds of these distant atolls where the cocoa-palm, the Pandanus and the fishes of the reef afford the only sustenance for man, where there are no hills or streams and the land is only a narrow strip across which one hears constantly the roar of heavy breakers.
These years of cruising accentuated his already predominant self-reliance, for the commander of a marine expedition must needs be an autocrat by profession. He was accustomed to command and to be obeyed and his relation to the Harvard Museum during these later years was in miniature similar to that of Bismarck to the German empire. Indeed, there was a strange physical and mental resemblance between Alexander Agassiz and Bismarck. Fearless, resolute, quick to anger, definitely purposeful and full of resource, they were closely akin in character, and indeed there seemed much in common between the two, for during the course of his long and honored life Alexander Agassiz had been granted many interviews with exalted personages, but his meeting with Bismarck was the only one to which he delighted to refer. Alexander Agassiz was a colossal leader of great enterprises, fully as much as he was a man of science.
The cold winters of Cambridge were intolerable to him, and each year from 1875 until the close of his life he sought a more genial climate. Upon these pleasure excursions he visited Mexico, Central America, the West Indies, India, Ceylon, Japan, the readily accessible parts of Africa, and every country in Europe. He never went far into the arctic regions, although he saw the midnight sun at North Cape and visited the Aleutian Islands. Upon all excursions of the last twenty years of his life his constant companion and friend was his son Maximilian.
In 1896 in collaboration with Dr. W. McM. Woodworth he published a paper upon the variations of 3,917 specimens of the medusa Obelia (Eucope), in which the authors show that aberrant specimens of Obelia are very common. This paper is illustrated by interesting photographs made from life by Dr. Woodworth. This is one of the last of the studies published by him from his Newport laboratory, the latest one being in 1898 upon the scyphomedusa Dactylometra.
Prom November, 1897, to January, 1898, he cruised among the Fiji Islands in the little steamer Yaralla, chartered from the Australian United Steam Navigation Company and under the command of Captain W. C. Thomson.
Dana had stated that the coral reefs of the Fiji Islands were typical examples of the theory of Darwin, and Agassiz was greatly surprised therefore to find the clearest evidence of elevation, for in some places, as at Vatu Vara Island, the late Tertiary limestones are lifted more than 1,000 feet above the sea. This great elevation, which is so evident in numerous places among the Fiji Islands, probably took place in later Tertiary times and since then the islands have been greatly eroded and reduced in size, deep valleys being cut into their mountain slopes and many of the islands having been washed away by the tropical rains, leaving only a submerged flat. The coral reefs that grew around the shore line of the islands still remain after the islands have washed away, and thus the living reefs now mark the contours of the islands as they were. The currents flowing in and out of openings in the reef-rim have deepened the lagoons, but nevertheless there are many coral heads growing in the lagoon of every coral atoll.
He saw that the coral reefs which grew around a volcanic mountain remain after the mountain has washed away, and thus an atoll is formed without the agency of subsidence. In other cases, as at Fulangia, there was once an elevated coral limestone island lifted above sea-level. Then rain water and atmospheric erosion leached out depressions in its central parts and finally the sea entered, forming a lagoon surrounded by a ring of detached islets of elevated limestone. In other cases the crater rims have washed away and a ring of coral reefs now marks the site of the old volcanic ridge.
According to Agassiz the coral reefs of to-day, in the Fiji Islands, form only a crust of moderate thickness upon a base of old limestone or volcanic rock. The present corals form only fringing reefs along the shores, and the contours of the atolls and barrier reefs are thus due to causes which acted at the time when the islands were elevated late in the Tertiary period.
In so great an archipelago as that of the Fijis with more than 270 islands there must be many details of reef formation the elucidation of which requires more prolonged study than Agassiz was enabled to devote to them in his visit of less than three months; for example, he was puzzled to explain the great thickness—1,000 feet and more—of the elevated limestones; for reef-corals do not grow at depths greater than about 120 feet. Could these enormous accumulations have been formed by coral reefs during a period of slow subsidence, as Darwin had assumed, or were they merely the talus of broken fragments which had rolled down the sea-ward sides from the outer edges of the reef, or were they formed by a slow accumulation of limestone fragments and shells of marine creatures other than corals which had lived upon the bottom more than a thousand feet beneath the surface and gradually built up a vast mass of limestone, as was the case with the great submerged Pourtalès Plateau off the Florida coast? He had in mind the fact that even in the richest coral reef regions the masses of broken shells and fragments of calcareous plants are commonly vastly greater than the bulk of the corals, for the corals grow only here and there over the limestone flats, and flourish luxuriantly only on their seaward slopes. Were such a reef to form during a long period of slow subsidence, and then become elevated above the sea we should find only an occasional coral here and there imbedded in a great mass of limestone. This is the appearance presented by some of these elevated limestone cliffs of the Pacific islands, while others appear to be walls of non-coral-bearing limestone capped above with a crust of corals. In many cases, however, the corals they once contained have disappeared and been replaced by calcite or dolomite. These elevated limestones soon become very hard when exposed to the atmosphere, for they become coated by a dense veneer which rings with a clinker-like sound when struck with a hammer. One sometimes finds shells of the giant clam, Tridacna, imbedded in this hard limestone and elevated above the sea, and yet the nacre of the shell is still white and polished, thus proving that the rock was elevated only recently, and certainly not longer ago than in late Tertiary times.
Altogether the most interesting problem raised by Alexander Agassiz's researches in the Pacific is the question of the relation between these elevated tertiary reefs and the growing coral reefs of to-day, and it still remains unsolved, despite the careful studies made by Mr. E. C. Andrews, whom Alexander Agassiz sent to the Fiji Islands especially to study this problem, for Andrews's investigation has merely served to show that the subject is very complex and can not be solved until prolonged study of certain favorable localities has been completed.
From August, 1899, until March, 1900, Alexander Agassiz had for the second time the scientific direction of the Albatross. Commander Jefferson F. Moser, U.S.N., was in command and the cruise began at San Francisco and extended across the tropical regions of the Pacific to the Ladrone Islands and thence northward to Japan. On this great cruise the Albatross visited the Marquesas, Paumotos, Society, Cook, Nieue, Tonga, Fiji, Ellice, Gilbert, Marshall, Caroline and Ladrone Islands, steaming many thousands of miles in and out among the atolls. From San Francisco the vessel steamed 4,000 miles straight to the Marquesas, making many soundings and trawl hauls which led to the discovery that there is here a great basin between 2,500 and 3,000 fathoms deep, the bottom of which is covered with manganese nodules and the teeth of extinct sharks. It was an impressive sight to see the great trawl bring up tons of the manganese nodules looking like gritty brown potatoes, and all nearly as cold as ice, for the temperature of the deep floor of the ocean here was less than 3° F. above freezing. Despite the heat of the tropic sun beating upon our deck our hands stung with the cold as we felt among the mass of nodules and cracked them open to discover the enclosed nucleus of pumice, the encrusted ear-bone of an extinct whale or a shark's tooth imbedded in the soft brown rock. Some of these shark's teeth were so large that the shark itself was probably more than a hundred feet long. A deep submarine area far greater than that of the United States is covered thickly by these manganese nodules and sharks' teeth, and Alexander Agassiz named it the "Moser Deep," in honor of the commander of the Albatross.
Very little animal life was found, either floating in the sea or on the bottom, over this vast desert of manganese nodules.
The chief result of this expedition was the discovery that a widespread elevation of the Pacific islands occurred in late Tertiary times. The Hawaiian, Paumotos, Society, Cook, Nieue, Tonga, Fiji, Ladrone and Caroline Islands all show elevated coral or limestone reefs, but there are no visible indications of elevation in the Marshall or Gilbert Islands where the underlying rock is not lifted above the sea. Makatea in the Paumotos may have been an atoll which was elevated about 230 feet above the sea and with a lagoon-basin in the center sunken about 70 feet below the encircling ridge. It is possible, however, that this central concavity may have been formed by solution after the island was raised above the sea, and that the island was not originally an atoll.
The lagoons of the Pacific atolls were found to be usually from 13 to 20 fathoms deep, and to be quite thickly studded with submerged rocks consisting of Tertiary limestone encrusted with modern corals.
The atoll contours are due to a coordination of complex conditions, erosion, currents, silt, etc., which determine the place and rates of growth of the corals; and not to subsidence, as was postulated by Darwin.
The modern coral reefs are, according to Agassiz, distinct from the tertiary limestones, and form a mere crust upon a base of lava or of old limestone.
A notable act of the expedition was the bringing up of the deepest trawl haul ever made, this being from a depth of 4,173 fathoms, seventyfive miles east of Tonga Tabu. Siliceous sponges were found here under an ocean almost as deep as the crests of the Himalayas are high.
In Bora Bora, of the Society group, he found a broken ring of sandy coral islets covered with cocoa palms, and encircling the shallow waters of the lagoon, out of the center of which there arises the towering mass of the basaltic cliffs of the island. The sight of this old volcano, now sleeping and encircled by its palm-crowned atoll ring, so impressed Alexander Agassiz that he employed Mr. G. W. Curtis to make a survey, and to construct a detailed model of the island for the museum at Harvard.
As one goes westward over the tropical Pacific the coral heads upon the reefs become larger and larger, those of the Paumotos being small and stunted, while those of the Great Barrier reef of Australia are the largest in the world.
Alexander Agassiz had now seen nearly all of the coral islands of the Pacific, and he at once turned his attention to the Indian Ocean, cruising among the atolls of the Maldive Islands from December, 1901, to January, 1902. For this purpose he chartered the steamer Amra from the British India Steam Navigation Company, William Pigott, B.N.R., in command. He steamed more than 1,600 miles among the islands, making more than eighty soundings. Mr. J. Stanley Gardiner, M.A., had only recently explored the Maldives, and his account of their mode of formation was published before that of Agassiz. Both Gardiner and Agassiz agree that there is evidence of recent elevation in the Maldives, and that conditions which are operating at the present day are determining the shape of the atolls. Shifting sand-bars play a considerable rôle in determining the contours of the atolls, some of them being mainly rings of sand-bars enclosing a lagoon, as in the Gilbert Islands. No elevated tertiary limestones were seen, but the modern coral reef is in places now above the sea. In essential respects Gardiner and Agassiz are in accord and both decide that Darwin's theory is not applicable to the Maldives. They differ, however, in the conception of a "perfect atoll," and in their opinions of some of the causes which have led to the deepening of the lagoons, but the discussion of these matters would be unprofitable in this place.
Dr. Henry B. Bigelow was an assistant upon this expedition and wrote a report upon the Medusæ.
After his return from this expedition Alexander Agassiz was not suffered to remain long at rest, for once again, for the third and last time, he was given charge of the Albatross. The Albatross left San Francisco on October 6, 1904, and steamed to Panama. Thence to the Galapagos Islands, then to Aguja Point and Callao on the Peruvian coast, and then to Easter Island, from which she returned to the Galapagos, only to again venture out over the Pacific to Manga Eeva, then back to Acapulco, and home to San Diego, where she arrived in March, 1905. Lieutenant Commander L. M. Garrett, U.S.N., was in command, and they crossed and recrossed the Humboldt current four times, cruising more than 13,000 miles, making 160 deep-sea soundings and 280 pelagic hauls. The expedition ranged over the largest uninterrupted area of ocean in the world. Professor C. A. Kofoid collected the protozoa and Dr. Henry B. Bigelow the medusae, while the coral reefs, oceanography and echinoderms were studied by Alexander Agassiz. Interesting photographs of the great stone images of Easter Island were obtained, and it was found that Manga Reva is a barrier reef island with an eroded volcanic center.
A remarkable result of the expedition is the discovery that the cold Humboldt current, which flows northward along the western coast of South America from the Antarctic to the equator, is a great bearer of pelagic life teeming with medusæ, salpæ and all manner of floating creatures both on the surface and in its depths; but in the outer Pacific beyond the western edge of this great current we find a vast area almost barren of life. Also the bottom under the Humboldt current is crowded with organisms, whereas there is a sparsely inhabited submarine desert to the westward of the western edge of the current. The effect of this current upon the distribution of pelagic life is most clearly described by Henry B. Bigelow in his account of the medusæ of this expedition.
This was Alexander Agassiz's last great scientific expedition, although in 1908 he made a brief visit to the Florida Reef, and from February until March, 1907, he cruised through the West Indies from Porto Rico to Grenada in the chartered yacht Virginia. Dr. Henry B. Bigelow was his scientific assistant, and many pelagic hauls were made, but the region was found to be almost barren of floating life. This is an extraordinary fact, and it applies at present to the whole vast region of the West Indies, thus from 1877 until 1898 the region of the Tortugas, Florida, was noted for the variety and richness of its floating life, but since that time the pelagic animals have become rarer year by year until at present the region is almost a desert sea.
In August, 1907, he presided over the meeting of the seventh International Zoological Congress at Boston, and his presidential address is an account of the publications which had resulted from his many expeditions, and the reports of those to whom he had sent collections. These include the most noted specialists in all of the highly civilized countries of the world.
In the winter and early spring of 1908 he visited the equatorial lake regions of Central Africa, the expedition being mainly a pleasure trip.
Between 1907 and 1909 he published five papers upon Pacific echini with Dr. Hubert Lyman Clark as joint author, and other papers of this series are still to appear.
In common with all students of pure science in our country, Alexander Agassiz was far more highly appreciated abroad than he was at home, for in our country practical applications and the invention of mechanical devices compass nearly all that the general public cares for science, and indeed our republic is without means to confer honors upon its scientific men. Thus while he was an honorary member of all of the great scientific societies of Europe and had been recognized officially by the republic of France and the German emperor, only one American university (his alma mater) conferred upon him an honorary degree. In 1898 he was made an Officer of the Legion of Honor of France and in 1902 a Knight of the Order of Merit of Prussia. He was a foreign associate of the Academy of Science of the Institute of France, the only American associates of that time being Agassiz and Newcomb. He was foreign honorary fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, foreign member of the Royal, Linnean and Zoological societies of London, honorary member of the Eoyal Microscopical Society of London, and honorary member of the academies of Berlin, Prague, Göttingen, Leipzig, Munich, Manchester, Vienna, Upsala, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Liège, Moscow, Rome, Bologna, Geneva, Mexico, etc.
He received the honorary degree of LL.D. from Harvard in 1885 and from St. Andrews, Scotland, in 1901, Ph.D. from Bologna in 1888 and honorary Sc.D. from Cambridge in 1887.
In 1878 he was awarded the Prix Serres by the Paris Academy, being the first foreigner to be thus honored, and in 1909 he received the Victoria research medal of the Royal Society of London.
After the publication of the results of the Maldive and eastern Pacific expeditions, one great and final task lay before him. This was to present a summary of the results of his twenty-five years of study of the coral reefs of the world. Five years would have been required for the preparation of this crowning work which would have borne the same relation to his coral-reef studies what his "Three Cruises of the Blake" did to his early deep-sea work—an epitome of the whole subject. For eighty-two years the Agassiz father and son had been active leaders in science, and he hoped for five more years of productivity. But this was not to be. He had for several years been suffering from an impairment of the circulation, and had retreated for rest and recreation to the genial climate of Egypt and southern Europe.
He was returning from England in the steamship Adriatic and never did he appear to be in happier mood than upon the night of the twenty-sixth of March, 1910, but on the morning of the twenty-seventh he failed to appear, and when his son Maximilian entered his father's cabin it was seen that he had fallen into his last long sleep. Many a guarded secret had the ocean revealed to him, and it was fitting that far from the sight of land with only the waves around there came to him the mystery of death.
When I was young and struggling, his hand befriended me, and his great mind gave direction to the thought of the life I have led, and I think upon his spirit with gratitude and reverence, for he was my master in science.