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Chapter 20: 1863-1864: Aet. 56-57.

  • Correspondence with Dr. S. G. Howe.
  • -- bearing of the war on the position of the Negro race. -- affection for Harvard College. -- interest in her general progress. -- correspondence with Emerson concerning Harvard. -- glacial phenomena in Maine.

Agassiz's letters give little idea of the deep interest he felt in the war between North and South, and its probable issue with reference to the general policy of the nation, and especially to the relation between the black and white races. Although any judgment upon the accuracy of its conclusions would now be premature, the following correspondence between Agassiz and Dr. S. G. Howe is nevertheless worth considering, as showing how the problem presented itself to the philanthropist and the naturalist from their different stand-points.

From Dr. S. G. Howe.

Portsmouth, August 3, 1863.
my dear Agassiz,—You will learn by a glance at the inclosed circular the object of the commission of which I am a member. [592]

The more I consider the subject to be examined and reported upon, the more I am impressed by its vastness; the more I see that its proper treatment requires a consideration of political, physiological, and ethnological principles. Before deciding upon any political policy, it is necessary to decide several important questions, which require more knowledge for their solution than I possess.

Among these questions, this one occupies me most now. Is it probable that the African race, represented by less than two million blacks and a little more than two million mulattoes, unrecruited by immigration, will be a persistent race in this country? or will it be absorbed, diluted, and finally effaced by the white race, numbering twenty-four millions, and continually increased by immigration, beside natural causes.

Will not the general practical amalgamation fostered by slavery become more general after its abolition? If so, will not the proportion of mulattoes become greater and that of the pure blacks less? With an increase and final numerical prevalence of mulattoes the question of the fertility of the latter becomes a very important element in the calculation. Can it be a persistent race here where [593] pure blacks are represented by 2, and the whites by 20-24?

Is it not true that in the Northern States at least the mulatto is unfertile, leaving but few children, and those mainly lymphatic and scrofulous?

In those sections where the blacks and mulattoes together make from seventy to eighty and even ninety per cent. of the whole population will there be, after the abolition of slavery, a sufficiently large influx of whites to counteract the present numerical preponderance of blacks?

It looks now as if the whites would exploiter the labors of the blacks, and that social servitude will continue long in spite of political equality.

You will see the importance of considering carefully the natural laws of increase and their modification by existing causes before deciding upon any line of policy.

If there be irresistible natural tendencies to the growth of a persistent black race in the Gulf and river States, we must not make bad worse by futile attempts to resist it. If, on the other hand, the natural tendencies are to the diffusion and final disappearance of the black (and colored) race, then our policy should be modified accordingly. [594]

I should be very glad, my dear sir, if you could give me your views upon this and cognate matters. If, however, your occupations will not permit you to give time to this matter, perhaps you will assist me by pointing to works calculated to throw light upon the subject of my inquiry, or by putting me in correspondence with persons who have the ability and the leisure to write about it.

I remain, dear sir, faithfully,

To Dr. S. G. Howe.

Nahant, August 9, 1863.
my dear Doctor,—When I acknowledged a few days ago the receipt of your invitation to put in writing my views upon the management of the negro race as part of the free population of the United States, I stated to you that there was a preliminary question of the utmost importance to be examined first, since whatever convictions may be formed upon that point must necessarily influence everything else relating to the subject. The question is simply this: Is there to be a permanent black population upon the continent after slavery is everywhere abolished and no inducement remains to foster its increase? [595] Should this question be answered in the negative, it is evident that a wise policy would look to the best mode of removing that race from these States, by the encouragement and acceleration of emigration. Should the question be answered, on the contrary, in the affirmative, then it is plain that we have before us one of the most difficult problems, upon the solution of which the welfare of our own race may in a measure depend, namely, the combination in one social organization of two races more widely different from one another than all the other races. In effecting this combination it becomes our duty to avoid the recurrence of great evils, one of which is already foreshadowed in the advantage which unscrupulous managers are taking of the freedmen, whenever the latter are brought into contact with new social relations.

I will, for the present, consider only the case of the unmixed negroes of the Southern States, the number of which I suppose to be about two millions. It is certainly not less,—it may be a little more. From whatever point of view you look upon these people you must come to the conclusion that, left to themselves, they will perpetuate their race ad infinitum where they are. According to the prevalent [596] theory of the unity of mankind it is assumed that the different races have become what they are in consequence of their settlement in different parts of the world, and that the whole globe is everywhere a fit abode for human beings who adapt themselves to the conditions under which they live. According to the theory of a multiple origin of mankind the different races have first appeared in various parts of the globe, each with the peculiarities best suited to their primitive home. Aside from these theoretical views the fact is, that some races inhabit very extensive tracts of the earth's surface, and are now found upon separate continents, while others are very limited in their range. This distribution is such that there is no reason for supposing that the negro is less fitted permanently to occupy at least the warmer parts of North and South America, than is the white race to retain possession of their more temperate portions. Assuming our pure black race to be only two millions, it is yet larger than the whole number of several races that have held uninterrupted possession of different parts of the globe ever since they have been known to the white race. Thus the Hottentots and the Abyssinians have maintained themselves in [597] their respective homes without change ever since their existence has been known to us, even though their number is less than that of our pure black population. The same, also, is the case with the population of Australia and of the Pacific islands. The Papuan race, the Negrillo race, the Australian race proper, distinct from one another, as well as from all other inhabitants of the earth, number each fewer inhabitants than already exist of the negro race in the United States alone, not to speak of Central and South America.

This being the case there is, it seems to me, no more reason to expect a disappearance of the negro race from the continent of America without violent interference, than to expect a disappearance of the races inhabiting respectively the South Sea Islands, Australia, the Cape of Good Hope, or any other part of the globe tenanted by the less populous races. The case of the American Indians, who gradually disappear before the white race, should not mislead us, as it is readily accounted for by the peculiar character of that race. The negro exhibits by nature a pliability, a readiness to accommodate himself to circumstances, a proneness to imitate those among whom he lives,—characteristics which are entirely foreign [598] to the Indian, while they facilitate in every way the increase of the negro. I infer, therefore, from all these circumstances that the negro race must be considered as permanently settled upon this continent, no less firmly than the white race, and that it is our duty to look upon them as co-tenants in the possession of this part of the world.

Remember that I have thus far presented the case only with reference to the Southern States, where the climate is particularly favorable to the maintenance and multiplication of the negro race. Before drawing any inference, however, from my first assertion that the negro will easily and without foreign assistance maintain himself and multiply in the warmer parts of this continent, let us consider a few other features of this momentous question of race. Whites and blacks may multiply together, but their offspring is never either white or black; it is always mulatto. It is a half-breed, and shares all the peculiarities of half-breeds, among whose most important characteristics is their sterility, or at least their reduced fecundity. This shows the connection to be contrary to the normal state of the races, as it is contrary to the preservation of species in the animal kingdom. . . . Far [599] from presenting to me a natural solution of our difficulties, the idea of amalgamation is most repugnant to my feelings. It is now the foundation of some of the most illadvised schemes. But wherever it is practiced, amalgamation among different races produces shades of population, the social position of which can never be regular and settled. From a physiological point of view, it is sound policy to put every possible obstacle to the crossing of the races, and the increase of half-breeds. It is unnatural, as shown by their very constitution, their sickly physique, and their impaired fecundity. It is immoral and destructive of social equality as it creates unnatural relations and multiplies the differences among members of the same community in a wrong direction.

From all this it is plain that the policy to be adopted toward the miscellaneous colored population with reference to a more or less distant future should be totally different from that which applies to the pure black; for while I believe that a wise social economy will foster the progress of every pure race, according to its natural dispositions and abilities, and aim at securing for it a proper field for the fullest development of all its capabilities, [600] I am convinced also that no efforts should be spared to check that which is inconsistent with the progress of a higher civilization and a purer morality. I hope and trust that as soon as the condition of the negro in the warmer parts of our States has been regulated according to the laws of freedom, the colored population in the more northern parts of the country will diminish. By a natural consequence of unconquerable affinities, the colored people in whom the negro nature prevails will tend toward the South, while the weaker and lighter ones will remain and die out among us.

Entertaining these views upon the fundamental questions concerning the races, the next point for consideration is the policy to be adopted under present circumstances, in order to increase the amount of good which is within our grasp and lessen the evil which we may avert. This will be for another letter.

Very truly yours,

From the same to the same.

August 10, 1863.
my dear Doctor,—I am so deeply impressed with the dangers awaiting the progress [601] of civilization, should the ideas now generally prevalent about amalgamation gain sufficient ascendency to exert a practical influence upon the management of the affairs of the nation, that I beg leave to urge a few more considerations upon that point.

In the first place let me insist upon the fact that the population arising from the amalgamation of two races is always degenerate, that it loses the excellences of both primitive stocks to retain the vices or defects of both, and never to enjoy the physical vigor of either. In order clearly to appreciate the tendencies of amalgamation, it is indispensable to discriminate correctly between the differences distinguishing one race from another and those existing between different nationalities of the same race. For while the mixture of nationalities of the same race has always proved beneficial as far as we are taught by history, the mixture of races has produced a very different result. We need only look at the inhabitants of Central America, where the white, the negro, and the Indian races are more or less blended, to see the baneful effects of such an amalgamation. The condition of the Indians on the borders of civilization in the United States and in Canada, [602] in their contact with the Anglo-Saxons as well as with the French, testifies equally to the pernicious influence of amalgamation of races. The experience of the Old World points in the same direction at the Cape of Good Hope, in Australia; everywhere, in fact, history speaks as loudly in favor of the mixture of clearly related nations as she does in condemnation of the amalgamation of re. mote races. We need only think of the origin of the English nation, of that of the United States, etc. The question of breeding inand-in, that of marriage among close relations, is again quite distinct. In fact, there is hardly a more complicated subject in physiology, or one requiring nicer discriminations, than that of the multiplication of man, and yet it is constantly acted upon as if it needed no special knowledge. I beseech you, therefore, while you are in a position to exert a leading influence in the councils of the nation upon this most important subject to allow no preconceived view, no favorite schemes, no immediate object, to bias your judgment and mislead you. I do not pretend to be in possession of absolute truth. I only urge upon you the consideration of unquestionable facts before you form a final opinion and decide [603] upon a fixed policy. Conceive for a moment the difference it would make in future ages for the prospects of republican institutions, and our civilization generally, if instead of the manly population descended from cognate nations the United States should be inhabited by the effeminate progeny of mixed races, half Indian, half negro, sprinkled with white blood. Can you devise a scheme to rescue the Spaniards of Mexico from their degradation? Beware, then, of any policy which may bring our own race to their level.

These considerations lead me naturally to the inquiry into the peculiarities of the two races, in order to find out what may be most beneficial for each. I rejoice in the prospect of universal emancipation, not only from a philanthropic point of view, but also because hereafter the physiologist and ethnographer may discuss the question of the races and advocate a discriminating policy regarding them, without seeming to support legal inequality. There is no more one-sided doctrine concerning human nature than the idea that all men are equal, in the sense of being equally capable of fostering human progress and advancing civilization, especially in the various spheres of intellectual and moral activity. If this be [604] so, then it is one of our primary obligations to remove every obstacle that may retard the highest development, while it is equally our duty to promote the humblest aspirations that may contribute to raise the lowest individual to a better condition in life.

The question is, then, what kind of common treatment is likely to be the best for all men, and what do the different races, taken singly, require for themselves? That legal equality should be the common boon of humanity can hardly be matter for doubt nowadays, but it does not follow that social equality is a necessary complement of legal equality. I say purposely legal equality, and not political equality, because political equality involves an equal right to every public station in life, and I trust we shall be wise enough not to complicate at once our whole system with new conflicting interests, before we have ascertained what may be the practical working of universal freedom and legal equality for two races, so different as the whites and negroes, living under one government. We ought to remember that what we know of the negro, from the experience we have had of the colored population of the North, affords but a very inadequate standard by which to judge [605] of the capabilities of the pure blacks as they exist in the South. We ought, further, to remember that the black-population is likely at all times to outnumber the white in the Southern States. We should therefore beware how we give to the blacks rights, by virtue of which they may endanger the progress of the whites before their temper has been tested by a prolonged experience. Social equality I deem at all times impracticable,— a natural impossibility, from the very character of the negro race. Let us consider for a moment the natural endowments of the negro race as they are manifested in history on their native continent, as far as we can trace them back, and compare the result with what we know of our own destinies, in order to ascertain, within the limits of probability, whether social equality with the negro is really an impossibility.

We know of the existence of the negro race, with all its physical peculiarities, from the Egyptian monuments, several thousand years before the Christian era. Upon these monuments the negroes are so represented as to show that in natural propensities and mental abilities they were pretty much what we find them at the present day,—indolent, [606] playful, sensual, imitative, subservient, good-natured, versatile, unsteady in their purpose, devoted and affectionate. From this picture I exclude the character of the half-breeds, who have, more or less, the character of their white parents. Originally found in Africa, the negroes seem at all times to have presented the same characteristics wherever they have been brought into contact with the white race; as in Upper Egypt, along the borders of the Carthaginian and Roman settlements in Africa, in Senegal in juxtaposition with the French, in Congo in juxtaposition with the Portuguese, about the Cape and on the eastern coast of Africa in juxtaposition with the Dutch and the English. While Egypt and Carthage grew into powerful empires and attained a high degree of civilization; while in Babylon, Syria, and Greece were developed the highest culture of antiquity, the negro race groped in barbarism and never originated a regular organization among themselves. This is important to keep in mind, and to urge upon the attention of those who ascribe the condition of the modern negro wholly to the influence of slavery. I do not mean to say that slavery is a necessary condition for the organization of the negro [607] race. Far from it. They are entitled to their freedom, to the regulation of their own destiny, to the enjoyment of their life, of their earnings, of their family circle. But with all this nowhere do they appear to have been capable of rising, by themselves, to the level of the civilized communities of the whites, and therefore I hold that they are incapable of living on a footing of social equality with the whites in one and the same community without becoming an element of social disorder.1

I am not prepared to state what political privileges they are fit to enjoy now; though I have no hesitation in saying that they should be equal to other men before the law. The right of owning property, of bearing witness, of entering into contracts, of buying and selling, of choosing their own domicile, would give them ample opportunity of showing in a comparatively short time what political rights might properly and safely be granted to them in successive installments. No man has a right [608] to what he is unfit to use. Our own best rights have been acquired successively. I cannot, therefore, think it just or safe to grant at once to the negro all the privileges which we ourselves have acquired by long struggles. History teaches us what terrible reactions have followed too extensive and too rapid changes. Let us beware of granting too much to the negro race in the beginning, lest it become necessary hereafter to deprive them of some of the privileges which they may use to their own and our detriment. All this I urge with reference to the pure blacks of the South. As to the half-breeds, especially in the Northern States, I have already stated it to be my opinion that their very existence is likely to be only transient, and that all legislation with reference to them should be regulated with this view, and so ordained as to accelerate their disappearance from the Northern States.

Let me now sum up my answer to some of your direct questions.

1st. Is it probable that the African race will be a persistent race in this country, or will it be absorbed, diluted, and finally effaced by the white race?

I believe it will continue in the Southern States, and I hope it may gradually die out at [609] the North, where it has only an artificial foothold, being chiefly represented by half-breeds, who do not constitute a race by themselves.

2d. Will not the practical amalgamation fostered by slavery become more general after its abolition?

Being the result of the vices engendered by slavery, it is to be hoped that the emancipation of the blacks, by securing to them a legal recognition of their natural ties, will tend to diminish this unnatural amalgamation and lessen everywhere the number of these unfortunate half-breeds. My reason for believing that the colored population of the North will gradually vanish is founded in great degree upon the fact that that population does not increase where it exists now, but is constantly recruited by an influx from the South. The southern half-breeds feel their false position at the South more keenly than the blacks, and are more inclined to escape to the North than the individuals of purer black blood. Remove the oppression under which the colored population now suffers, and the current will at once be reversed; blacks and mulattoes of the North will seek the sunny South. But I see no cause which should check the increase of the black population in the Southern [610] States. The climate is genial to them; the soil rewards the slightest labor with a rich harvest. The country cannot well be cultivated without real or fancied danger to the white man, who, therefore, will not probably compete with the black in the labors of the field, thus leaving to him an opportunity for easy and desirable support.

3d. In those sections where the blacks and mulattoes together make from seventy to eighty and even ninety per cent. of the population will there be, after the abolition of slavery, a sufficiently large influx of whites to counteract the present numerical preponderance of blacks?

To answer this question correctly we must take into consideration the mode of distribution of the white and of the colored population in the more Southern States. The whites inhabit invariably the sea-shores and the more elevated grounds, while the blacks are scattered over the lowlands. This peculiar localization is rendered necessary by the physical constitution of the country. The lowlands are not habitable in summer by the whites between sunset and sunrise. All the wealthy whites, and in the less healthy regions even the overseers, repair in the evening to the sea. [611] shore or to the woodlands, and return only in the morning to the plantation, except during the winter months, after the first hard frost, when the country is everywhere habitable by all. This necessarily limits the area which can be tenanted by the whites, and in some States that area is very small as compared with that habitable by the blacks. It is therefore clear that with a free black population, enjoying identical rights with the whites, these States will sooner or later become negro States, with a comparatively small white population. This is inevitable; we might as soon expect to change the laws of nature as to avert this result. I believe it may in a certain sense work well in the end. But any policy based upon different expectations is doomed to disappointment.

4th. How to prevent the whites from securing the lion's share of the labor of the blacks?

This is a question which my want of familiarity with the operations of the laboring classes prevents me from answering in a manner satisfactory to myself. Is it not possible to apply to the superintendence of the working negroes something like the system which regulates the duties of the foreman in all our manufacturing establishments? [612]

I should like to go on and attempt to devise some scheme in conformity with the convictions I have expressed in these letters. But I have little ability in the way of organizing, and then the subject is so novel that I am not prepared to propose anything very definite.

Ever truly yours,

From Dr. S. G. Howe.

New York, August 18, 1863.
my dear Agassiz,—I cannot refrain from expressing my thanks for your prompt compliance with my request, and for your two valuable letters.

Be assured I shall try to keep my mind open to conviction and to forbear forming any theory before observing a wide circle of facts. I do not know how you got the idea that I had decided in favor of anything about the future of the colored population. I have corresponded with the founders of ‘La Societe Cosmopolite pour la fusion des races humaines’ in France,—an amalgamation society, founded upon the theory that the perfect man is to be the result of the fusion of all the races upon earth. I have not, however, the honor of being a member thereof. Indeed, [613] I think it hardly exists. I hear, too, that several of our prominent anti-slavery gentlemen, worthy of respect for their zeal and ability, have publicly advocated the doctrines of amalgamation; but I do not know upon what grounds.

I do, indeed, hold that in this, as in other matters, we are to do the manifest right, regardless of consequences. If you ask me who is to decide what is the manifest right, I answer, that in morals, as well as in mathematics, there are certain truths so simple as to be admitted at sight as axioms by every one of common intelligence and honesty. The right to life is as clear as that two and two make four, and none dispute it. The right to liberty and to ownership of property fairly earned is just as clear to the enlightened mind as that 5 X 6 = 30; but the less enlightened may require to reflect about it, just as they may want concrete signs to show that five times six do really make thirty. As we ascend in numbers and in morals, the intuitive perceptions become less and less; and though the truths are there, and ought to be admitted as axiomatic, they are not at once seen and felt by ordinary minds.

Now so far as the rights of blacks and the [614] duties of whites are manifest to common and honest minds, so far would I admit the first and perform the second, though the heavens fall. I would not only advocate entire freedom, equal rights and privileges, and open competition for social distinction, but what now seems to me the shocking and downward policy of amalgamation. But the heavens are not going to fall, and we are not going to be called upon to favor any policy discordant with natural instincts and cultivated tastes.

A case may be supposed in which the higher race ought to submit to the sad fate of dilution and debasement of its blood,—as on an island, and where long continued wrong and suffering had to be atoned for. But this is hardly conceivable, because, even in what seems punishment and atonement, the law of harmonious development still rules. God does not punish wrong and violence done to one part of our nature, by requiring us to do wrong and violence to another part. Even Nemesis wields rather a guiding-rod than a scourge. We need take no step backward, but only aside, to get sooner into the right path.

Slavery has acted as a disturbing force in the development of our national character and [615] produced monstrous deformities of a bodily as well as moral nature, for it has impaired the purity and lowered the quality of the national blood. It imported Africans, and, to prevent their extinction by competition with a more vigorous race, it set a high premium on colored blood. It has fostered and multiplied a vigorous black race, and engendered a feeble mulatto breed. Many of each of these classes have drifted northward, right in the teeth of thermal laws, to find homes where they would never live by natural election. Now, by utterly rooting out slavery, and by that means alone, shall we remove these disturbing forces and allow fair play to natural laws, by the operation of which, it seems to me, the colored population will disappear from the Northern and Middle States, if not from the continent, before the more vigorous and prolific white race. It will be the duty of the statesman to favor, by wise measures, the operation of these laws and the purification and elevation of the national blood.

In the way of this is the existence of the colored population of the Northern and Middle States. Now, while we should grant to every human being all the rights we claim for ourselves, and bear in mind the cases of individual [616] excellence of colored people, we must, I think, admit that mulattoism is hybridism, and that it is unnatural and undesirable. It has been brought to its present formidable proportions by several causes,—mainly by slavery. Its evils are to be met and lessened as far as may be, by wise statesmanship and by enlightenment of public opinion. These may do much.

Some proclaim amalgamation as the remedy, upon the theory that by diluting black blood with white blood in larger and larger proportions, it will finally be so far diluted as to be imperceptible and will disappear. They forget that we may not do the wrong that right may come of it. They forget that no amount of diffusion will exterminate whatever exists; that a pint of ink diffused in a lake is still there, and the water is only the less pure.

Others persist that mulattoism is not and cannot be persistent beyond four generations. In other words, that like some other abnormal and diseased conditions it is selflimit-ing, and that the body social will be purged of it.

In the face of these and other theories, it is our duty to gather as many facts and as much knowledge as is possible, in order to throw [617] light upon every part of the subject; nobody can furnish more than you can. Faithfully yours,

The Museum and his own more immediate scientific work must naturally take precedence in any biography of Agassiz, and perhaps, for this reason, too little prominence has been given in these pages to his interest in general education, and especially in the general welfare and progress of Harvard College. He was deeply attached to the University with which he had identified himself in America. While he strained every nerve to develop his own scientific department, which had no existence at Harvard until his advent there, no one of her professors was more concerned than himself for the organization of the college as a whole. A lover of letters as well as a devotee of nature, he valued every provision for a well proportioned intellectual training. He welcomed the creation of an Academic Council for the promotion of free and [618] frequent interchange of opinion between the different heads of departments, and, when in Cambridge, he was never absent from the meetings. He urged, also, the introduction of university lectures, to the establishment of which he largely contributed, and which he would fain have opened to all the students. He advocated the extension of the elective system, believing that while it might perhaps give a pretext for easy evasion of duty to the more inefficient and lazy students, it gave larger opportunities to the better class, and that the University should adapt itself to the latter rather than the former. ‘The bright students,’ he writes to a friend, ‘are now deprived of the best advantages to be had here, because the dull or the indifferent must still be treated as children.’

The two following letters, from their bearing on general university questions, are not out of place here. Though occasioned by a slight misconception, they are so characteristic of the writers, and of their relation to each other, that it would be a pity to omit them. [619]

To Ralph Waldo Emerson.

December 12, 1864.
my dear Emerson,—If your lecture on universities, the first of your course, has been correctly reported to me, I am almost inclined to quarrel with you for having missed an excellent chance to help me, and advance the true interests of the college. You say that Natural History is getting too great an ascendency among us, that it is out of proportion to other departments, and hint that a check-rein would not be amiss on the enthusiastic professor who is responsible for this.

Do you not see that the way to bring about a well-proportioned development of all the resources of the University is not to check the natural history department, but to stimulate all the others? not that the zoological school grows too fast, but that the others do not grow fast enough? This sounds invidious and perhaps somewhat boastful; but it is you and not I who have instituted the comparison. It strikes me you have not hit upon the best remedy for this want of balance. If symmetry is to be obtained by cutting down the most vigorous growth, it seems to me it would be better to have a little irregularity here and [620] there. In stimulating, by every means in my power, the growth of the Museum and the means of education connected with it, I am far from having a selfish wish to see my own department tower above the others. I wish that every one of my colleagues would make it hard for me to keep up with him, and there are some among them, I am happy to say, who are ready to run a race with me. Perhaps, after all, I am taking up the cudgels against you rather prematurely. If I had not been called to New Haven, Sunday before last, by Professor Silliman's funeral, I should have been present at your lecture myself. Having missed it, I may have heard this passage inaccurately repeated. If so, you must forgive me, and believe me always, whatever you did or did not say,

Ever truly your friend,

From Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Concord, December 13, 1864.
dear Agassiz,—I pray you have no fear that I did, or can, say any word unfriendly to you or to the Museum, for both of which blessings—the cause and the effect—I daily thank Heaven! May you both increase and multiply for ages! [621]

I cannot defend my lectures,—they are prone to be clumsy and hurried botches,— still less answer for any report,—which I never dare read; but I can tell you the amount of my chiding. I vented some of the old grudge I owe the college now for forty-five years, for the cruel waste of two years of college time on mathematics without any attempt to adapt, by skillful tutors, or by private instruction, these tasks to the capacity of slow learners. I still remember the useless pains I took, and my serious recourse to my tutor for aid which he did not know how to give me. And now I see to-day the same indiscriminate imposing of mathematics on all students during two years,—ear or no ear, you shall all learn music,—to the waste of time and health of a large part of every class. It is both natural and laudable in each professor to magnify his department, and to seek to make it the first in the world if he can. But of course this tendency must be corrected by securing in the constitution of the college a power in the head (whether singular or plural) of coordinating all the parts. Else, important departments will be overlaid, as in Oxford and in Harvard, natural history was until now. Now, it looks as if natural history would obtain [622] in time to come the like predominance as mathematics have here, or Greek at Oxford. It will not grieve me if it should, for we are all curious of nature, but not of algebra. But the necessity of check on the instructors in the head of the college, I am sure you will agree with me, is indispensable. You will see that my allusion to naturalists is only incidental to my statement of my grievance.

But I have made my letter ridiculously long, and pray you to remember that you have brought it on your own head. I do not know that I ever attempted before an explanation of any speech.

Always with entire regard yours,

At about this time, in September, 1864, Agassiz made an excursion into Maine, partly to examine the drift phenomena on the islands and coast of that State, and partly to study the so—called ‘horse — backs.’ The journey proved to be one of the most interesting he had made in this country with reference to local glacial phenomena. Compass in hand, he followed the extraordinary ridges of morainic material lying between Bangor and Katahdin, to the Ebeene Mountains, at the foot [623] of which are the Katahdin Iron Works. Returning to Bangor, he pursued, with the same minute investigation, the glacial tracks and erratic material from that place to the seacoast and to Mount Desert. The details of this journey and its results are given in one of the papers contained in the second volume of his ‘Geological Sketches.’ In conclusion, he says; ‘I suppose these facts must be far less expressive to the general observer than to one who has seen this whole set of phenomena in active operation. To me they have been for many years so familiar in the Alpine valleys, and their aspect in those regions is so identical with the facts above described, that paradoxical as the statement may seem, the presence of the ice is now an unimportant element to me in the study of glacial phenomena; no more essential than is the flesh to the anatomist who studies the skeleton of a fossil animal.’

This journey in Maine, undertaken in the most beautiful season of the American year, when the autumn glow lined the forest roads with red and gold, was a great refreshment to Agassiz. He had been far from well, but he returned to his winter's work invigorated and with a new sense of hope and courage.

1 I fear the expression ‘social equality’ may be misunderstood in this connection. It means here only the relations which would arise from the mixture of the two races, and thus affect the organization of society as a whole. It does not refer to any superficial or local social rules, such as sharing on common ground public conveyances, public accommodations and the like.—Ed.

2 In this correspondence with Dr. Howe, one or two phrases in Agassiz's letters are interpolated from a third unfinished letter, which was never forwarded to Dr. Howe. These sentences connect themselves so directly with the sense of the previous letters that it seemed worth while to add them.—Ed.

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