Chapter 13: 1846: Aet. 39.
- Arrival at Boston. -- previous correspondence with Charles Lyell and Mr. John A. Lowell concerning lectures at the Lowell Institute. -- relations with Mr. Lowell. -- first course of lectures. -- character of audience. -- home letter giving an account of his first journey in the United States. -- impressions of scientific men, scientific institutions and collections.
Agassiz arrived in Boston during the first week of October, 1846. He had not come to America without some prospect of employment beside that comprised in his immediate scientific aims. In 1845, when his plans for a journey in the United States began to take definite shape, he had written to ask Lyell whether, notwithstanding his imperfect English, he might not have some chance as a public lecturer, hoping to make in that way additional provision for his scientific expenses  beyond the allowance he was to receive from the King of Prussia. Lyell's answer, written by his wife, was very encouraging.
Lyell and Mr. Lowell soon arranged all preliminaries, and it was understood that Agassiz should begin his tour in the United States by a course of lectures in Boston before the Lowell Institute. A month or two before sailing he writes as follows to Mr. Lowell.
Thus was Agassiz introduced to the institution under whose auspices he first made acquaintance with his American audiences. There he became a familiar presence during more than a quarter of a century. The enthusiastic greeting accorded to him, as a stranger whose reputation had preceded him, ripened with years into an affectionate welcome from friends and fellow-citizens, whenever he appeared on the platform. In the director of the institution, Mr. John A. Lowell, he found a friend upon whose sympathy and wise counsels he relied in all his after years. The cordial reception he met from him and his large family circle made him at once at home in a strange land. Never was Agassiz's power as a teacher, or the charm of his personal presence more evident than in his first course of Lowell Lectures. He was unfamiliar with the language, to the easy use of which his two or three visits in England, where most of his associates understood  and spoke French, had by no means accustomed him. He would often have been painfully embarrassed but for his own simplicity of character. Thinking only of his subject and never of himself, when a critical pause came, he patiently waited for the missing word, and rarely failed to find a phrase which was expressive if not technically correct. He often said afterward that his sole preparation for these lectures consisted in shutting himself up for hours and marshaling his vocabulary, passing in review, that is, all the English words he could recall. As the Lyells had prophesied, his foreign accent rather added a charm to his address, and the pauses in which he seemed to ask the forbearance of the audience, while he sought to translate his thought for them, enlisted their sympathy. Their courtesy never failed him. His skill in drawing with chalk on the blackboard was also a great help both to him and to them. When his English was at fault he could nevertheless explain his meaning by illustrations so graphic that the spoken word was hardly missed. He said of himself that he was no artist, and that his drawing was accurate simply because the object existed in his mind so clearly. However this may be,  it was always pleasant to watch the effect of his drawings on the audience. When showing, for instance, the correspondence of the articulate type, as a whole, with the metamorphoses of the higher insects, he would lead his listeners along the successive phases of insect development, talking as he drew and drawing as he talked, till suddenly the winged creature stood declared upon the blackboard, almost as if it had burst then and there from the chrysalis, and the growing interest of his hearers culminated in a burst of delighted applause. After the first lecture in Boston there was no doubt of his success. He carried his audience captive. His treatment of the animal kingdom on the broad basis of the comparative method, in which the great types were shown in their relation to each other and to the physical history of the world, was new to his hearers. Agassiz had also the rare gift of divesting his subject of technicalities and superfluous details. His special facts never obscured the comprehensive outline, which they were intended to fill in and illustrate. This simplicity of form and language was especially adapted to the audience he had now to address, little instructed in the facts or the  nomenclature of science, though characterized by an eager curiosity. A word respecting the quality of the Lowell Institute audience of those days, as new to the European professor as he to them, is in place here. The institution was intended by its founder to fertilize the general mind rather than to instruct the selected few. It was liberally endowed, the entrance was free, and the tickets were drawn by lot. Consequently the working men and women had as good an opportunity for places as their employers. As the remuneration, however, was generous, and the privilege of lecturing there was coveted by literary and scientific men of the first eminence, the instruction was of a high order, and the tickets, not to be had for money, were as much in demand with the more cultivated and even with the fashionable people of the community as with their poorer neighbors. This audience, composed of strongly contrasted elements and based upon purely democratic principles, had, from the first, a marked attraction for Agassiz. A teacher in the widest sense, he sought and found his pupils in every class. But in America for the first time did he come into contact with the general mass of the people on this common ground, and it influenced strongly  his final resolve to remain in this country. Indeed, the secret of his greatest power was to be found in the sympathetic, human side of his character. Out of his broad humanity grew the genial personal influence, by which he awakened the enthusiasm of his audiences for unwonted themes, inspired his students to disinterested services like his own, delighted children in the school-room, and won the cordial interest as well as the cooperation in the higher aims of science, of all classes whether rich or poor. His first course was to be given in December. Having, therefore, a few weeks to spare, he made a short journey, stopping at New Haven to see the elder Silliman, with whom he had long been in correspondence. Shortly before leaving Europe he had written him, ‘I can hardly tell you with what pleasure I look forward to seeing you, and making the personal acquaintance of the distinguished savans of your country, whose works I have lately been studying with especial care. There is something captivating in the prodigious activity of the Americans, and the thought of contact with the superior men of your young and glorious republic renews my own youth.’ Some account of this journey, including his  first impressions of the scientific men as well as the scientific societies and collections of the United States, is given in the following letter. It is addressed to his mother, and with her to a social club of intimate friends and neighbors in Neuchatel, at whose meetings he had been for years an honored guest.