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Chapter 21: 1865-1868: Aet. 58-61.

  • Letter to his mother announcing journey to Brazil.
  • -- sketch of journey. -- kindness of the Emperor. -- liberality of the Brazilian government. -- correspondence with Charles Sumner. -- letter to his mother at close of Brazil journey. -- letter from Martius concerning journey in Brazil.--return to Cambridge. -- lectures in Boston and New York. -- summer at Nahant. -- letter to Professor Peirce on the Survey of Boston Harbor. -- death of his mother. -- illness. -- correspondence with Oswald Heer. -- summer journey in the West. -- Cornell University. -- letter from Longfellow.

The next important event in the life of Agassiz, due in the first instance to his failing health, which made some change of scene and climate necessary, is best announced by himself in the following letter.

To his mother.

Cambridge, March 22, 1865.
dear mother,—You will shed tears of joy when you read this, but such tears are harmless. Listen, then, to what has happened. A few weeks ago I was thinking how I should [625] employ my summer. I foresaw that in going to Nahant I should not find the rest I need after all the fatigue of the two last years, or, at least, not enough of change and relaxation. I felt that I must have new scenes to give me new life. But where to go and what to do?

Perhaps I wrote you last year of the many marks of kindness I have received from the Emperor of Brazil, and you remember that at the time of my debut as an author, my attention was turned to the natural history of that country. Lately, also, in a course of lectures at the Lowell Institute, I have been led to compare the Alps, where I have passed so many happy years, with the Andes, which I have never seen. In short, the idea came to me gradually, that I might spend the summer at Rio de Janeiro, and that, with the present facilities for travel, the journey would not be too fatiguing for my wife. . . . Upon this, then, I had decided, when most unexpectedly, and as the consummation of all my wishes, my pleasure trip was transformed into an important scientific expedition for the benefit of the Museum, by the intervention of one of my friends, Mr. Nathaniel Thayer. By chance I met him a week ago in Boston. He laughed at me a little about my roving disposition, [626] and then asked me what plans I had formed for the Museum, in connection with my journey. I answered that, thinking especially of my health, I had provided only for the needs of myself and my wife during an absence of six or eight months. Then ensued the following conversation.

‘But, Agassiz, that is hardly like you; you have never been away from Cambridge without thinking of your Museum.’

‘True enough; but I am tired,—I need rest. I am going to loaf a little in Brazil.’

‘When you have had a fortnight of that kind of thing you will be as ready for work as ever, and you will be sorry that you have not made some preparation to utilize the occasion and the localities in the interest of the Museum.’

‘Yes, I have some such misgiving; but I have no means for anything beyond my personal expenses, and it is no time to ask sacrifices from any one in behalf of science. The country claims all our resources.’

‘But suppose some one offered you a scientific assistant, all expenses paid, what would you say?’

‘Of that I had never thought.’

‘How many assistants could you employ?’ [627]

‘Half a dozen.’

‘And what would be the expense of each one?’

‘I suppose about twenty-five hundred dollars; at least, that is what I have counted upon for myself.’

After a moment's reflection he resumed:—

‘If it suits you then, Agassiz, and interferes in no way with the plans for your health, choose your assistants among the employees of your Museum or elsewhere, and I will be responsible for all the scientific expenses of the expedition.’ . . .

My preparations are made. I leave probably next week, from New York, with a staff of assistants more numerous, and, I think, as well chosen, as those of any previous undertaking of the kind.1

. . . All those who know me seem to have combined to heighten the attraction of the journey, and facilitate it in every respect. The Pacific Mail Steamship Company has invited me to take passage with my whole party on their fine steamer, the Colorado. They will take us, free of all expense, as far as Rio [628] de Janeiro,—an economy of fifteen thousand francs at the start. Yesterday evening I received a letter from the Secretary of the Navy, at Washington, desiring the officers of all vessels of war stationed along the coasts I am to visit, to give me aid and support in everything concerning my expedition. The letter was written in the kindest terms, and gratified me the more because it was quite unsolicited. I am really touched by the marks of sympathy I receive, not only from near friends, but even from strangers. ... I seem like the spoiled child of the country, and I hope God will give me strength to repay in devotion to her institutions and to her scientific and intellectual development, all that her citizens have done for me.

I am forgetting that you will be anxious to know what special work I propose to do in the interest of science in Brazil. First, I hope to make large collections of all such objects as properly belong in a Museum of Natural History, and to this end I have chosen from among the employees of our Museum one representative from each department. My only regret is that I must leave Alex. in Cambridge to take care of the Museum itself. He will have an immense amount of work to do, for [629] I leave him only six out of our usual staff of assistants. In the second place, I intend to make a special study of the habits, metamorphoses, anatomy, etc., of the Amazonian fishes. Finally, I dream sometimes of an ascension of the Andes, if I do not find myself too old and too heavy for climbing. I should like to see if there were not also large glaciers in this chain of mountains, at the period when the glaciers of the Alps extended to the Jura .... But this latter part of my plan is quite uncertain, and must depend in great degree upon our success on the Amazons. Accompanied as I am with a number of aides naturalistes, we ought to be able among us to bring together large collections, and even to add duplicates, which I can then, on my return, distribute to the European Museums, in exchange for valuable specimens.

We leave next week, and I hope to write you from Rio a letter which will reach you about the date of my birthday. A steamer leaves Brazil once a month for England. If my arrival coincides with her departure you shall not be disappointed in this.

With all my heart,

Your Louis.


The story of this expedition has been told in the partly scientific, partly personal diary published after Agassiz's return, under the title of ‘A Journey in Brazil,’ and therefore a full account of it here would be mere repetition. He was absent sixteen months. The first three were spent in Rio de Janeiro, and in excursions about the neighborhood of her beautiful bay and the surrounding mountains. For greater efficiency and promptness he divided his party into companies, each working separately, some in collecting, others in geological surveys, but all under one combined plan of action.

The next ten months were passed in the Amazonian region. This part of the journey had the charm of purely tropical scenery, and Agassiz, who was no less a lover of nature than a naturalist, enjoyed to the utmost its beauty and picturesqueness. Much of the time he and his companions were living on the great river itself, and the deck of the steamer was by turns laboratory, dining-room, and dormitory. Often, as they passed close under the banks of the river, or between the many islands which break its broad expanse into narrow channels, their improvised working room was overshadowed by the lofty wall [631] of vegetation, which lifted its dense mass of trees and soft drapery of vines on either side. Still more beautiful was it when they left the track of the main river for the water-paths hidden in the forest. Here they were rowed by Indians in ‘montarias,’ a peculiar kind of boat used by the natives. It has a thatched hood at one end for shelter from rain or sun. Little sun penetrates, however, to the shaded ‘igarape’ (boat-path), along which the montaria winds its way under a vault of green. When traveling in this manner, they stopped for the night, and indeed sometimes lingered for days, in Indian settlements, or in the more secluded single Indian lodges, which are to be found on the shores of almost every lake or channel. In this net-work of fresh waters, threading the otherwise impenetrable woods, the humblest habitation has its boat and landing-place. With his montaria and his hammock, his little plantation of bananas and mandioca, and the dwelling, for which the forest about him supplies the material, the Amazonian Indian is supplied with all the necessities of life.

Sometimes the party were settled, for weeks at a time, in more civilized fashion, in the towns or villages on the banks of the main [632] river, or its immediate neighborhood, at Manaos, Ega, Obydos, and elsewhere. Wherever they sojourned, whether for a longer or a shorter time, the scientific work went on uninterruptedly. There was not an idle member in the company.

From the time he left Rio de Janeiro, Agassiz had the companionship of a young Brazilian officer of the engineer corps, Major Coutinho. Thoroughly familiar with the Amazons and its affluents, at home with the Indians, among whom he had often lived, he was the pearl of traveling companions as well as a valuable addition to the scientific force. Agassiz left the Amazonian valley in April, and the two remaining months of his stay in Brazil were devoted to excursions along the coast, especially in the mountains back of Ceara, and in the Organ mountains near Rio de Janeiro.

From beginning to end this journey fulfilled Agassiz's brightest anticipations. Mr. Thayer, whose generosity first placed the expedition on so broad a scientific basis, continued to give it his cordial support till the last specimen was stored in the Museum. The interest taken in it by the Emperor of Brazil, and the liberality of the government toward it, also facilitated all Agassiz's aims [633] and smoothed every difficulty in the path. On starting he had set before himself two subjects of inquiry. These were, first, the freshwater fauna of Brazil, of the greater interest to him, because of the work on the Brazilian Fishes, with which his scientific career had opened; and second, her glacial history, for he believed that even these latitudes must have been, to a greater or less degree, included in the ice-period. The first three months spent in Rio de Janeiro and its environs gave him the key to phenomena connected with both these subjects, and he followed them from there to the head-waters of the Amazons, as an Indian follows a trail. The distribution of life in the rivers and lakes of Brazil, the immense number of species and their local circumscription, as distinct faunae in definite areas of the same water-basin, amazed him; while the character of the soil and other geological features confirmed him in his preconceived belief that the glacial period could not have been less than cosmic in its influence. He was satisfied that the tropical, as well as the temperate and arctic regions, had been, although in a less degree, fashioned by ice.

Just before leaving the United States he received a letter of friendly farewell from [634] Charles Sumner, and his answer, written on the Rio Negro, gives some idea of the conditions under which he traveled, and of the results he had obtained. As the letters explain each other, both are given here.

From Charles Sumner.

Washington, March 20, 1865.
my dear Agassiz,—It is a beautiful expedition that you are about to commence,— in contrast with the deeds of war. And yet you are going forth to conquer new realms, and bring them under a sway they have not yet known. But science is peaceful and bloodless in her conquests. May you return victorious! I am sure you will. Of course you will see the Emperor of Brazil, whose enlightened character is one of the happy accidents of government. . .. You are a naturalist; but you are a patriot also. If you can take advantage of the opportunities which you will surely enjoy, and plead for our country, to the end that its rights may be understood, and the hardships it has been obliged to endure may be appreciated, you will render a service to the cause of international peace and good-will.

You are to have great enjoyment. I imagine you already very happy in the scenes before [635] you. I, too, should like to see Nature in her most splendid robes; but I must stay at home and help keep the peace. Good-by— Bon voyage!

Ever sincerely yours,

To Charles Sumner.

Rio Negro; on board the Brazilian war steamer Iricuhy, December 26, 1865.
my dear Sumner,—The heading of these lines tells a long and interesting story. Here I am, sailing on the Rio Negro, with my wife and a young Brazilian friend, provided with all the facilities which modern improvements, the extraordinary liberality of the Brazilian government, and the kindness of our commander can bestow, and pursuing my scientific investigations with as much ease as if I were in my study, or in the Museum at Cambridge,—with this enormous difference, that I am writing on deck, protected by an awning from the hot sun, and surrounded by all the luxuriance of the richest tropical vegetation.

The kind reception I met at the hands of the emperor on my arrival at Rio has been followed by every possible attention and mark of good — will toward me personally, but usually [636] tendered in such a way as to show that an expression of cordiality toward the United States was intended also in the friendly feeling with which everything was done to facilitate my researches. In the first place, the emperor gave me as a traveling companion an extremely intelligent and well-educated Brazilian, the man of all others whom I should have chosen had I been consulted beforehand; and for the six months during which we have been on our journey here, I have not been able to spend a dollar except for my personal comfort, and for my collections. All charges for transportation of persons and baggage in public conveyances, as well as for specimens, have everywhere been remitted by order of the government. This is not all; when we reached Para the Brazilian Steamship Company placed a steamer at my disposal, that I might stop where I pleased on the way, and tarry as long as I liked instead of following the ordinary line of travel. In this way I ascended the Amazons to Manaos, and from there, by the ordinary steamer, reached the borders of Peru, making prolonged stays at Manaos and at Ega, and sending out exploring parties up the Javary, the Jutay, the Ica, etc. On my return to Manaos, at the junction of the Rio Negro and the [637] Amazons, I found the Ibicuhy awaiting me with an order from the Minister of Public Works, placing her at my disposal for the remainder of my stay in the waters of the Amazons.

The Ibicuhy is a pretty little war steamer of 120 horse power, carrying six thirty-two pound guns. On board of her, and in company with the President of the Province, I have already visited that extraordinary network of river anastomoses and lakes, stretching between the river Madeira and the Amazons to the river Tapajos, and now I am ascending the Rio Negro, with the intention of going up as far as the junction of the Rio Branco with the Rio Negro. That the Brazilian government should be able and willing to offer such facilities for the benefit of science, during a time of war, when all the resources of the nation are called upon in order to put an end to the barbarism of Paraguay, is a most significant sign of the tendencies prevailing in the administration. There can be no doubt that the emperor is the soul of the whole. This liberality has enabled me to devote all my resources to the making of collections, and the result of my researches has, of course, been proportionate to the facilities I [638] have enjoyed. Thus far, the whole number of fishes known from the Amazons has amounted to a little over one hundred, counting everything that may exist from these waters, in the Jardin des Plantes, the British Museum, the museums of Munich, Berlin, Vienna, etc.; while I have collected and now hold, in good state of preservation, fourteen hundred and forty-two species, and may get a few hundred more before returning to Para. I have so many duplicates that I may make every other museum tributary to ours, so far as the fresh-water animals of Brazil are concerned. This may seem very unimportant to a statesman. But I am satisfied that it affords a standard by which to estimate the resources of Brazil, as they may be hereafter developed. The basin of the Amazons is another Mississippi, having a tropical climate, tempered by moisture. Here is room for a hundred million happy human beings.

Ever truly your friend,

The repose of the return voyage, after sixteen months of such uninterrupted work, and of fresh impressions daily crowding upon each other, was most grateful to Agassiz. The [639] summary of this delightful journey may close as it began with a letter to his mother.

at sea, July 7, 1866.
dear mother,—When you receive this letter we shall be, I hope, at Nahant, where our children and grandchildren are waiting for us. To-morrow we shall stop at Pernambuco, where I shall mail my letter to you by a French steamer.

I leave Brazil with great regret. I have passed nearly sixteen months in the uninterrupted enjoyment of this incomparable tropical nature, and I have learned many things which have enlarged my range of thought, both concerning organized beings and concerning the structure of the earth. I have found traces of glaciers under this burning sky; a proof that our earth has undergone changes of temperature more considerable than even our most advanced glacialists have dared to suggest. Imagine, if you can, floating ice under the equator, such as now exists on the coasts of Greenland, and you will probably have an approximate idea of the aspect of the Atlantic Ocean at that epoch.

It is, however, in the basin of the Amazons especially, that my researches have been crowned [640] with an unexpected success. Spix and Martius, for whose journey I wrote, as you doubtless remember, my first work on fishes, brought back from there some fifty species, and the sum total known now, taking the results of all the travelers who have followed up the inquiry, does not amount to two hundred. I had hoped, in making fishes the special object of my researches, to add perhaps a hundred more. You will understand my surprise when I rapidly obtained five or six hundred, and finally, on leaving Para, brought away nearly two thousand,—that is to say, ten times more than were known when I began my journey.2 A great part of this success is due to the unusual facilities granted me by the Brazilian government. ... To the Emperor of Brazil I owe the warmest gratitude. His kindness to me has been beyond all bounds. ... He even made for me, while he was with the army last summer, a collection of fishes from the [641] province of Rio Grande du Sud. This collection would do honor to a professional naturalist. . . .

Good-by, dear mother.

With all my heart,

Your Louis.

The following letter from old Professor Martius in Munich, of uncertain date, but probably in answer to one of March, 1866, is interesting, as connecting this journey with his own Brazilian expedition almost half a century before.

From Professor Martius.

February 26, 1867.
my dear friend,—Your letter of March 20th last year was most gratifying to me as a token of your affectionate remembrance. You will easily believe that I followed your journey on the Amazons with the greatest interest, and without any alloy of envy, though your expedition was undertaken forty years later than mine, and under circumstances so much more favorable. Bates, who lived for years in that country, has borne me witness that I was not wanting in courage and industry during an exploration which lasted eleven months; and I therefore believe that you also, in reviewing [642] on the spot my description of the journey, will not have passed an unfavorable judgment. Our greatest difficulty was the small size of our boat which was so weak as to make the crossing of the river always dangerous. I shall look forward with great pleasure to the more detailed account of your journey, and also the plan of your route, which I hope you will send me. Can you tell me anything about the human skeletons at the Rio St. Antonio in St. Paul? I am very glad to know that you have paid especial attention to the palms, and I entreat you to send me the essential parts of every species which you hold to be new, because I wish to work out the palms for the Flora Brasiliensis this year. I wish I might find among them some new genus or species, which then should bear your name.

Do you intend to publish an account of your journey, or shall you confine yourself entirely to a report on your observations on Natural History? With a desire to explain the numerous names of animals, plants, and places, which are derived from the Tupee language, I have studied it for years that I might be able to use it fluently. Perhaps you have seen my ‘Glossaria lignareus brasiliensium.’ It contains also 1150 names of animals. To this work belong, likewise, my ethnographical [643] contributions, of which forty-five sheets are already printed, to be published I hope next year. I am curious to hear your geological conclusions. I am myself inclined to the belief that men existed in South America previous to the latest geological catastrophes. As you have seen so many North American Indians, you will be able to give interesting explanations of their somatic relations to the South American Indians. Why could you not send me, as secretary of the mathematical and physical section, a short report of your principal results? It would then be printed in the report of our meetings, which, as the forerunner of other publications, could hardly fail to be agreeable to you. You no doubt see our friend Asa Gray occasionally. Remember me cordially to him, and tell him I look eagerly for an answer to my last letter. The year ‘sixty-six has taken from us many eminent botanists, Gusone, Mettenius, Von Schlechtendal, and Fresenius. I hear but rarely from our excellent friend Alexander Braun. He does not resist the approach of old age so well as you, my dear friend. You are still the active naturalist, fresh and well preserved, to judge by your photograph. Thank you for it; I send mine in return. My wife still holds in warm remembrance the days when you, a bright, [644] pleasant young fellow, used to come and see us,—what a long stretch of time lies between. Much is changed about me. Of former friends only Kobell and Vogel remain; Zuccarini, Wagner, Oken, Schelling, Sieber, Fuchs, Walther,—all these have gone home. All the pleasanter is it that you, on the other side of the ocean, think sometimes of your old friend, to whom a letter from you will be always welcome. Remember me to your family, though I am not known to them. May the present year bring you health, cheerfulness, and the full enjoyment of your great and glorious success.

With warm esteem and friendship, always yours,

Agassiz arrived in Cambridge toward the end of August, 1866. After the first excitement of meeting family and friends was over, he took up his college and museum work again. He had left for Brazil at the close of a course before the Lowell Institute, and his first public appearance after his return was on the same platform. The rush for tickets was far in excess of the supply, and he was welcomed with the most ardent enthusiasm. It continued unabated to the close, although the [645] lectures borrowed no interest from personal adventure or incidents of travel, but dealt almost wholly with the intellectual results and larger scientific generalizations growing out of the expedition. Later in the winter he gave a course also at the Cooper Institute, in New York, which awakened the same interest and drew crowds of listeners. The resolution offered by Bancroft, the historian, at the close of the course, gives an idea of its character, and coming from such a source, may not unfitly be transcribed here.

Resolved, That the thanks of this great assembly of delighted hearers be given to the illustrious Professor Agassiz, for the fullness of his instruction, for the clearness of his method of illustration, for his exposition of the idea as antecedent to form; of the superiority of the undying, original, and eternal force over its transient manifestations; for happy hours which passed too rapidly away; for genial influences of which the memory will last through our lives.

All his leisure hours during the winter of 1867 were given to the review and arrangement of the great collections he had brought home. [646]

To Sir Philip de Grey Egerton.

Museum of Comparative zoology, Cambridge, Mass., March 26, 1867.
. . . I know you will be pleased to hear that I have returned to the study of fishes, and that I am not likely to give it up again for years to come. My success in collecting in the Amazons has been so unexpected that it will take me years to give an account of what I have found, and I am bound to show that the strange statements that have gone abroad are strictly correct. Yes, I have about eighteen hundred new species of fishes from the basin of the Amazons! The collection is now in Cambridge, for the most part in good preservation. It suggests at once the idea that either the other rivers of the world have been very indifferently explored, or that tropical America nourishes a variety of animals unknown to other regions. In this dilemma it would be worth while to send some naturalist to investigate the Ganges or the Bramaputra, or some of the great Chinese rivers. Can it not be done by order of the British government?

Please send me whatever you may publish upon the fossil fishes in your possession. 1 [647] frequently sigh for another session in your museum, and it is not improbable that I shall solicit an invitation from you in a few years, in order to revise my views of the whole subject in connection with what I am now learning of the living fishes. By the way, I have eleven hundred colored drawings of the species of Brazil made from life by my old friend Burkhardt, who accompanied me on this journey.

My recent studies have made me more adverse than ever to the new scientific doctrines which are flourishing now in England. This sensational zeal reminds me of what I experienced as a young man in Germany, when the physio-philosophy of Oken had invaded every centre of scientific activity; and yet, what is there left of it? I trust to outlive this mania also. As usual, I do not ask beforehand what you think of it, and I may have put my hand into a hornet's nest; but you know your old friend Agass., and will forgive him if he hits a tender spot. . . .

The summer of 1867 was passed very tranquilly at his Nahant laboratory, in that quiet work with his specimens and his microscope which pleased him best. The following letter [648] to Professor Benjamin Peirce, who was then Superintendent of the Coast Survey, shows, however, his unfailing interest in the bearing of scientific researches on questions of public utility.

To Professor Peirce, Superintendent of the Coast Survey.

Nahant, September 11, 1867.
dear Sir,—Far from considering your request a tax upon my time, it gives me the greatest pleasure to have an opportunity of laying before you some statements and reflections, which I trust may satisfy you that geology and natural history can be made subservient to the great interests of a civilized community, to a far greater extent than is generally admitted.

The question of the harbor of Boston, for instance, has a geological and zoological side, thus far only indirectly considered. In order to ascertain whence the materials are derived which accumulate in the harbor, the shores ought to be studied geologically with a kind of accuracy and minuteness, never required by geological surveys made for economical purposes. The banks of the harbor, wherever it is not rock-bound, consist of drift, which itself [649] rests upon the various rock formations of the district. Now this drift, as I have ascertained, formerly extended many miles beyond our present shores, and is still slowly washed away by the action of tides, winds, and currents. Until you know with precision the mineralogical composition of the drift of the immediate vicinity, so accurately indeed as to be able to recognize it in any new combination into which it may be brought when carried off by the sea, all your examination of soundings may be of little use. Should it, however, be ascertained that the larger amount of loose material spreading over the harbor is derived from some one or other of the drift islands in the bay, the building of sea-walls to stop the denudation may be of greater and more immediate use than any other operation. Again, it is geologically certain that all the drift islands of the harbor have been formed by the encroachment of the sea upon a sheet of drift, which once extended in unbroken continuity from Cape Ann to Cape Cod and farther south. This sheet of drift is constantly diminishing, and in centuries to come, which, notwithstanding the immeasurable duration of geological periods, may be reached, I trust, while the United States still remains a flourishing [650] empire, it will be removed still further; so far indeed, that I foresee the time when the whole peninsula of Cape Cod shall disappear. Under these circumstances, it is the duty of a wise administration to establish with precision the rate and the extent of this destruction, that the coming generations may be forewarned. In connection with this I would advise the making of a thorough survey of the harbor, to ascertain the extent of rock surface and of drift, and the relative position of the two, with maps to show their relations to the different levels of the sea, whereby the unequal action of the tides upon the various beaches may be estimated.

The zoological side of the question relates to the amount of loose materials accumulating in consequence of the increase of animal and vegetable life, especially of those microscopic beings which, notwithstanding their extraordinary minuteness, form in course of time vast deposits of solid materials. Ehrenberg has shown that the harbor of Wismar, on the Prussian coast of the Baltic, is filling, not in consequence of the accumulation of inorganic sediments, but by the rapid increase and decay of innumerable animalcules. To what extent such deposits may accumulate has also been shown [651] by Ehrenberg, who ascertained, many years ago, that the city of Berlin rests upon a deposit of about eighteen feet in thickness, consisting almost exclusively of the solid parts of such microscopic beings. These two cases may suffice to show how important may be a zoological investigation of the harbor deposits.

I need hardly add that the deposits floated into the harbor, by the numerous rivers and creeks which empty into it, ought to be investigated with the same care and minuteness as the drift materials. This investigation should also include the drainage of the city.

But this is only a small part of the application I would recommend to be made of geological and zoological knowledge, to the purposes of the Coast Survey. The reefs of Florida are of the deepest interest, and the mere geodetic and hydrographic surveys of their whole range would be far from exhausting the subject. It is my deliberate opinion that the great reefs of Florida should be explored with as much minuteness and fullness as the Gulf Stream, and that the investigation will require as much labor as has thus far been bestowed on the Gulf Stream. Here again geological and zoological knowledge is [652] indispensable to the completion of the work. The reef is formed mainly by the accumulation of solid materials from a variety of animals and a few plants. The relations of these animals and plants to one another while alive, in and upon the reef, ought to be studied more fully than has been the case heretofore, in order to determine with certainty the share they have in the formation of these immense submarine walls so dangerous to navigation. The surveys, as they have been made thus far, furnish only the necessary information concerning the present form and extent of the reef. But we know that it is constantly changing, increasing, enlarging, spreading, rising in such a way and at such a rate, that the surveys of one century become insufficient for the next. A knowledge of these changes can only be obtained by a naturalist, familiar with the structure and mode of growth of the animals. The survey I made about fifteen years ago, at the request of your lamented predecessor, could only be considered as a reconnaissance, in view of the extent and importance of the work. I would, therefore, recommend you to organize a party specially detailed to carry on these investigations in connection with, and by the side of, [653] the regular geodetic and hydrographic survey. Here, also, would geological knowledge be of great advantage to the explorer. In confirmation of my recommendation I need only remind you of a striking fact in the history of our science. More than thirty years ago, before Dana and Darwin had published their beautiful investigations upon the coral reefs, a pupil of mine, the late Armand Gressly, had traced the structure and mode of growth of coral reefs and atolls in the Jura mountains, thus anticipating, by a geological investigation, results afterward obtained by dredging in the ocean. The structure of the reefs of our shores is, therefore, more likely to be fully understood by one who is entirely familiar with zoology and geology than by a surveyor who has no familiarity with either of these sciences.

There is another reason why I would urge upon you the application of natural sciences to the work of the survey. The depth of the ocean is a great obstacle to a satisfactory exploration of its bottom. But we know now that nearly all dry land has been sea bottom before it was raised above the level of the water. This is at least the case with all the stratified rocks and aqueous deposits forming [654] part of the earth's crust. Now it would greatly facilitate the study of the bottom of the sea if, after ascertaining by soundings the general character of the bottom in any particular region, corresponding bottoms on dry land were examined, so that by a comparison of the one with the other, both might be better understood. The shoals of the southern coast of Massachusetts have been surveyed, and their position is now known with great accuracy; but their internal structure, their mode of formation, is only imperfectly ascertained, owing to the difficulty of cutting into them and examining in situ the materials of which they are composed. Nothing, on the contrary, is easier than to explore the structure or composition of drift hills which are cut through by all our railroad tracks. Now the shoals and rips of Nantucket have their counterparts on the main-land; and even along the shores of Boston Harbor, in the direction of Dorchester and Milton, such shoals may be examined, far away from the waters to which they owe their deposits. Here, then, is the place to complete the exploration, for which soundings and dredgings give only imperfect information.

I need not extend these remarks further in [655] order to satisfy you of the importance of geological and zoological researches in connection with the regular operations of the Coast Survey. Permit me, however, to add a few words upon some points which, as it seems to me, belong legitimately to the Coast Survey, and to which sufficient attention has not yet been paid. I allude, first, to the salt marshes of our shores, their formation and uses, as well as their gradual disappearance under the advance of the sea; second, to the extended low islands in the form of reefs along the coast of the Southern States, the bases of which may be old coral reefs; third, the form of all our estuaries, which has resulted from the conflict of the sea with the drift formation, and is therefore, in a measure, a geological problem; fourth, the extensive deposits of foraminifera along the coast, which ought to be compared with the deposits of tripoli found in many tertiary formations; fifth, the general form and outline of our continent, with all its indentations, which are due to their geological structure. Indeed, the shore everywhere is the result of the conflict of the ocean with the rock formation of the land, and therefore as much a question for geology as geodesy to answer. [656]

Should the preceding remarks induce you to carry my suggestions into practical operation, be assured that it will at all times give me the greatest pleasure to contribute to the success of your administration, not only by advice, but by actual participation in your work whenever that is wanted. The scientific men of America look to you for the publication of the great results already secured by the Coast Survey, well knowing that this national enterprise can only be benefited by the high-minded course which has at all times marked your intellectual career.

Ever truly your friend,

This year closed for Agassiz with a heavy sorrow. His mother's health had been failing of late, and November brought the news of her death. Separated though they were, there had never been any break in their intercourse. As far as he could, he kept her advised of all his projects and undertakings, and his work was no less interesting to her when the ocean lay between them than when he could daily share it with her. She had an unbounded sympathy with him in the new ties he had formed in this country, and seemed indeed as [657] intimately allied with his later life here as with its earlier European portion.

His own health, which had seemed for a time to have regained the vigor of youth, broke down again in the following spring, and an attack about the region of the heart disabled him for a number of weeks. To this date belongs a short correspondence between Agassiz and Oswald Heer. Heer's work on the Fossil Flora of the Arctics had recently appeared, and a presentation copy from him reached Agassiz as he was slowly regaining strength after his illness, although still confined to the house. It could not have come at a happier moment, for it engrossed him completely, and turned his thoughts away from the occupations which he was not yet allowed to resume. The book had a twofold interest for him: although in another branch of science, it was akin to his own earlier investigations, inasmuch as it reconstructed the once rich flora of the polar regions as he himself had reconstructed the fauna of past geological times; it clothed their frozen fields with forests as he had sheeted now fertile lands with ice. In short, it appealed powerfully to the imagination, and no child in the tedious hours of convalescence was ever more beguiled by a [658] story-book than he by the pictures which this erudite work called up.

Agassiz to Oswald Heer.

Cambridge, May 12, 1868.
my honored colleague,—Your beautiful book on the Fossil Arctic Flora reached me, just as I was recovering from a tedious and painful illness. I could, therefore, take it in hand at once, and have been delighted with it. You give a captivating picture of the successive changes which the Arctic regions have undergone. No work could be more valuable, either as a means of opening recent investigations in Paleontology to the larger public, or of advancing science itself. If I can find the time I mean to prepare an abridgment in popular form for one of our reviews. Meantime I have written to Professor Henry, Superintendent of the Smithsonian Institution at Washington, that he should subscribe for a number of copies to be distributed among less wealthy establishments. I hope he will do this, and I shall continue to urge it, since my friendly relations with him give me a right so to do. I have, moreover, written to the directors of various prominent institutions, in order that your work, so far as is possible for works [659] come to light tending to confirm my results. The Whymper Expedition brought to England a number of fossil plants, which have been sent to me for examination. I found eighty species, of which thirty-two from North Greenland are new, so that we now know 137 species of Miocene plants from North Greenland (70° N. lat). It was a real delight to me to find the fruit cup of the Castanea [chestnut] inclosing three seeds (three Kastanica) and covered with prickles like the Castanea vesca; and, furthermore, I was able to prove by the flowers, which were preserved with the fruit, that the supposition given in the Arctic Flora (p. 106) was correct; namely, that the leaves of the Fagus castaneafolia Ung. truly belong to a Castanea. As several fruits are contained in one fruit cup, this Miocene Castanea must have been nearer to the European species (C. vesca) than to the American Castanea (the C. pumila Micha). The leaves have been drawn in the Flora Arctica, and are also preserved in the Whymper collection.

I have received very beautiful and large leaves of the Castanea which I have called C. Ungeri, from Alaska. I am now occupied in working up this fossil Alaskan flora; the plants are in great part drawn, and contain [660] come to light tending to confirm my results. The Whymper Expedition brought to England a number of fossil plants, which have been sent to me for examination. I found eighty species, of which thirty-two from North Greenland are new, so that we now know 137 species of Miocene plants from North Greenland (70° N. lat). It was a real delight to me to find the fruit cup of the Castanea [chestnut] inclosing three seeds (three Kastanica) and covered with prickles like the Castanea vesca; and, furthermore, I was able to prove by the flowers, which were preserved with the fruit, that the supposition given in the Arctic Flora (p. 106) was correct; namely, that the leaves of the Fagus castaneafolia Ung. truly belong to a Castanea. As several fruits are contained in one fruit cup, this Miocene Castanea must have been nearer to the European species (C. vesca) than to the American Castanea (the C. pumila Micha). The leaves have been drawn in the Flora Arctica, and are also preserved in the Whymper collection.

I have received very beautiful and large leaves of the Castanea which I have called C. Ungeri, from Alaska. I am now occupied in working up this fossil Alaskan flora; the plants are in great part drawn, and contain [661] magnificent leaves. The treatise will be published by the Swedish Academy in Stockholm; I hope to send you a copy a few months hence. This flora is remarkable for its resemblance to the European Miocene flora. The liquidambar, as well as several poplars and willows, cannot be distinguished from those of Oeningen; the same is true of an Elm, a Carpinus, and others. As Alaska now belongs to the United States, it is to be hoped that these collecting stations, which have already furnished such magnificent plants, will be farther ransacked. . .. Hoping that you have returned safely from your journey, and that these lines may find you well, I remain, with cordial greeting, Sincerely yours,

Shortly after Agassiz's recovery, in July, 1868, he was invited by Mr. Samuel Hooper to join a party of friends, tired members of Congress and business men, on an excursion to the West, under conditions which promised not only rest and change, but an opportunity for studying glacial phenomena over a broad region of prairie and mountain which Agassiz had never visited. They were to meet at Chicago, keep on from there to St. Paul, and [662] down the Mississippi, turning off through Kansas to the eastern branch of the Pacific Railroad, at the terminus of which they were to meet General Sherman with ambulances and an escort for conveyance across the country to the Union Pacific Railroad, returning then by Denver, Utah, and Omaha, and across the State of Iowa to the Mississippi once more. This journey was of great interest to Agassiz, and its scientific value was heightened by a subsequent stay of nearly two months at Ithaca, N. Y., on his return. Cornell University was then just opened at Ithaca, and he had accepted an appointment as non-resident professor, with the responsibility of delivering annually a course of lectures on various subjects of natural history. New efforts in behalf of education always attracted him, and this drew him with an even stronger magnet than usual, involving as it did an untried experiment—the attempt, namely, to combine the artisan with the student, manual labor with intellectual work. The plan was a generous one, and stimulated both pupils and teachers. Among the latter none had greater sympathy with the high ideal and broad humanity of the undertaking than Agassiz.3 [663]

Beside the enthusiasm which he brought to his special work, he found an added pleasure at Cornell in the fact that the region in which the new university was situated contained another chapter in the book of glacial records he had so long been reading, and made also, as the following letter tells us, a natural sequence to his recent observations in the West.

To M. De la Rive.

Ithaca, October 26, 1868.
. . . I am passing some weeks here, and am studying the erratic phenomena, and especially the formation of the many small lakes which literally swarm in this region, and are connected in various ways with the glacial epoch. The journey which I have just completed has furnished me with a multitude of new facts concerning the glacial period, the long continuance of which, and its importance with reference to the physical history of the globe, become daily more clear to me. The origin and mode of formation of the vast system of our American rivers have especially occupied me, and I think I have found the solution of [664] the problem which they present. This system reproduces the lines followed by the water over the surface of the ground moraines, which covered the whole continent, when the great sheet of ice which modeled the drift broke up and melted away. This conclusion will, no doubt, be as slow of acceptance as was the theory of the ancient extension of glaciers. But that does not trouble me. For my own part I am confident of its truth, and after having seen the idea of a glacial epoch finally adopted by all except those who are interested in opposing it on account of certain old and artificial theories, I can wait a little till the changes which succeeded that epoch are also understood. I have obtained direct proof that the prairies of the West rest upon polished rock. It has happened in the course of recent building on the prairie, that the native rock has been laid bare here and there, and this rock is as distinctly furrowed by the action of the glacier and by its engraving process, as the Handeck, or the slopes of the Jura. I have seen magnificent slabs in Nebraska in the basin of the river Platte. Do not the physicists begin to think of explaining to us the probable cause of changes so remarkable and so well established? [665] We can no longer evade the question by supposing these phenomena to be due to the action of great currents. We have to do first with sheets of ice, five or six thousand feet in thickness (an estimate which can be tested by indirect measurements in the Northern States), covering the whole continent, and then with the great currents which ensued upon the breaking up of that mass of ice. He who does not distinguish between these two series of facts, and perceive their connection, does not understand the geology of the Quaternary epoch. . .

Of about this date is the following pleasant letter from Longfellow to Agassiz. Although it has no special bearing upon what precedes, it is inserted here, because their near neighborhood and constant personal intercourse, both at Cambridge and Nahant, made letters rare between them. Friends who see each other so often are infrequent correspondents.

Rome, December 31, 1868.
my dear Agassiz,—I fully intended to write you from Switzerland, that my letter might come to you like a waft of cool air from a glacier in the heat of summer. But [666] alas! I did not find cool air enough for myself, much less to send across the sea. Switzerland was as hot as Cambridge, and all life was taken out of me; and the letter remained in the inkstand. I draw it forth as follows.

One of the things I most wished to say, and which I say first, is the delight with which I found your memory so beloved in England. At Cambridge, Professor Sedgwick said, ‘Give my love to Agassiz. Give him the blessing of an old man.’ In London, Sir Roderick Murchison said, ‘I have known a great many men that I liked; but I love Agassiz.’ In the Isle of Wight, Darwin said, ‘What a set of men you have in Cambridge! Both our universities put together cannot furnish the like. Why, there is Agassiz,—he counts for three.’

One of my pleasantest days in Switzerland was that passed at Yverdon. In the morning I drove out to see the Gasparins. In their abundant hospitality they insisted upon my staying to dinner, and proposed a drive up the valley of the Orbe. I could not resist; so up the lovely valley we drove, and passed the old chateau of the Reine Berthe, one of my favorite heroines, but, what was far more to me, passed the little town of Orbe. There it [667] stands, with its old church tower and the trees on the terrace, just as when you played under them as a boy. It was very, very pleasant to behold. . . . Thanks for your letter from the far West. I see by the papers that you have been lecturing at the Cornell University.

With kindest greetings and remembrances, always affectionately yours,

H. W. L.

1 Beside the six assistants provided for by Mr. Thayer, there were a number of young volunteer aids who did excellent work on the expedition.

2 This estimate was made in the field when close comparison of specimens from distant localities was out of the question. The whole collection has never been worked up, and it is possible that the number of new species it contains, though undoubtedly greatly in excess of those previously known from the Amazons, may prove to be less than was at first supposed.—Ed.

3 Very recently a memorial tablet has been placed in the Chapel at Cornell University by the trustees, recording their gratitude for the share he took in the initiation of the institution.

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