Chapter 2: 1827-1828: Aet. 20-21.
- Arrival in Munich.
-- relations with the professors.
-- Schelling, Martius, Oken, Dollinger.
-- relations with fellow-students.
-- the little Academy.
-- plans for traveling.
-- advice from his parents.
-- vacation journey.
-- Tri-Centennial Durer festival at Nuremberg.
accepted with delight his friend's proposition, and toward the end of October, 1827, he and Braun
together for the University of Munich
His first letter to his brother is given in full, for though it contains crudities at which the writer himself would have smiled in after life, it is interesting as showing what was the knowledge possessed in those days by a clever, well-informed student of natural history.
To his brother Auguste.
. . . At last I am in Munich
I have so much to tell you that I hardly know where to begin.
To be sure that I forget nothing,
however, I will give things in their regular sequence.
First, then, the story of my journey; after that, I will tell you what I am doing here.
As papa has, of course, shown you my last letter, I will continue where I left off . . . .
we traveled post to Stuttgart
, where we passed the greater part of the day in the Museum, in which I saw many things quite new to me; a llama, for instance, almost as large as an ass. You know that this animal, which is of the genus Camelus
, lives in South America
, where it is to the natives what the camel is to the Arab; that is to say, it provides them with milk, wool, and meat, and is used by them, moreover, for driving and riding.
There was a North American buffalo of immense size; also an elephant from Africa
, and one from Asia
; beside these, a prodigious number of gazelles, deer, cats, and dogs; skeletons of a hippopotamus and an elephant; and lastly the fossil bones of a mammoth.
You know that the mammoth is no longer found living, and that the remains hitherto discovered lead to the belief that it was a species of carnivorous elephant.
It is a singular fact that some fishermen, digging recently on the borders of the Obi, in Siberia
, found one of these animals
frozen in a mass of ice, at a depth of sixty feet, so well preserved that it was still covered with hair, as in life.
They melted the ice to remove the animal, but the skeleton alone remained complete; the hide was spoiled by contact with the air, and only a few pieces have been kept, one of which is in the Museum at Stuttgart
The hairs upon it are as coarse as fine twine, and nearly a foot long.
The entire skeleton is at St. Petersburg
in the Museum, and is larger than the largest elephant.
One may judge by that what havoc such an animal must have made, if it was, as its teeth show it to have been, carnivorous.
But what I would like to know is how this animal could wander so far north, and then in what manner it died, to be frozen thus, and remain intact, without decomposing, perhaps for countless ages.
For it must have belonged to a former creation, since it is nowhere to be found living, and we have no instance of the disappearance of any kind of animal within the historic period.
There were, besides, many other kinds of fossil animals.
The collection of birds is very beautiful, but it is a pity that many of them are wrongly named.
I corrected a number myself. . . . From Stuttgart
we went to Esslingen, where we
were to visit two famous botanists.
One was Herr Steudel
; a sombre face, with long overhanging black hair, almost hiding the eyes, —a very Jewish
He knows every book on botany that appears, has read them all, but cares little to see the plants themselves; in short, he is a true closet student.
He has a large herbarium, composed in great part of plants purchased or received as gifts.
The other, Professor Hochstetter
, is an odd little man, stepping briskly about in his high boots, and having always a half suppressed smile on his lips whenever he takes the pipe from between his teeth.
A very good man, however, and extremely obliging; he offered us every civility.
As we desired not only to make their acquaintance, but to win from these botanists at least a few grasses, we presented ourselves like true commis voyageurs
, with dried herbs to sell, each of us having a package of plants under his arm,—mine being Swiss, gathered last summer, Braun
's from the Palatinate.
We gave specimens to each, and received in exchange from Steudel some American plants; from Hochstetter
some from Bohemia, and others from Moravia
, his native country.
From Esslingen we were driven to Goeppingen, in the most frightful weather
possible; it rained, snowed, froze, blew, all at once.
It was a pity, since our road lay through one of the prettiest valleys I have ever seen, watered by the Neckar, and bordered on both sides by mountains of singular form and of considerable height.
They are what the Wurtembergers call the Suabian Alps
, but I think that Chaumont is higher than the loftiest peak of their Alps
Here we found an old Heidelberg
acquaintance, whose father owns a superb collection of fossils, especially of shells and zoophytes.
He has also quite a large collection of shells from the Adriatic Sea
, but among these last not one was named.
As we knew them, we made it our duty to arrange them, and in three hours his whole collection was labeled.
Since he has duplicates of almost everything, he promised, as soon as he should have time, to make a selection from these and send them to us. Could we have stayed longer we might have picked out what we pleased, for he placed his collection at our disposal.
But we were in haste to arrive here, so we begged him to send us, at his leisure, whatever he could give us.
Thence we continued our journey by post, because it still rained, and the roads were so detestable that with the best will in the world
we could not have made our way on foot.
In the evening we reached Ulm
, where, owing to the late hour, we saw almost nothing except the famous belfry of the cathedral, which was distinctly visible as we entered the city.
After supper we continued our journey, still by post, wishing to be in Munich
the next day. I have never seen anything more beautiful than the view as we left Ulm
. The moon had risen and shone upon the belfry like broad daylight.
On all sides extended a wide plain, unbroken by a single inequality, so far as the eye could distinguish, and cut by the Danube
, glittering in the moonbeams.
We crossed the plain during the night, and reached Augsburg
It is a beautiful city, but we merely stopped there for breakfast, and saw the streets only as we passed through them.
On leaving Augsburg
, the Tyrolean Alps
, though nearly forty leagues away, were in sight.
About eighteen leagues off was also discernible an immense forest; of this we had a nearer view as we advanced, for it encircles Munich
at some distance from the town.
We arrived here on Sunday, the 4th, in the afternoon. . . . My address is opposite the Sendlinger Thor No. 37
I have a very pretty chamber on the lower floor with an alcove
for my bed. The house is situated outside the town, on a promenade, which makes it very pleasant.
Moreover, by walking less than a hundred yards, I reach the Hospital
and the Anatomical School
,—a great convenience for me when the winter weather begins.
One thing gives me great pleasure: from one of my windows the whole chain of the Tyrolean Alps
is visible as far as Appenzell
; and as the country is flat to their very base, I see them better than we see our Alps
from the plain.
It is a great pleasure to have at least a part of our Swiss mountains always in sight.
To enjoy it the more, I have placed my table opposite the window, so that every time I lift my head my eyes rest on our dear country.
This does not prevent me from feeling dull sometimes, especially when I am alone, but I hope this will pass off when my occupations become more regular . . . .
A far more stimulating intellectual life than that of Heidelberg
awaited our students at Munich
Among their professors were some of the most original men of the day,—men whose influence was felt all over Europe
lectured on comparative anatomy and kindred subjects; Martius
gave, besides, his socalled ‘Reise
-Colleg,’ in which he instructed the students how to observe while on their travels.
taught philosophy, the titles of his courses in the first term being, ‘Introduction to Philosophy’ and ‘The Ages of the World’; in the second, ‘The Philosophy of Mythology’ and ‘The Philosophy of Revelation.’
made a strong impression upon the friends.
His manner was as persuasive as his style was clear, and his mode of developing his subject led his hearers along with a subtle power which did not permit fatigue.
lectured on general natural history, physiology, and zoology, including his famous views on the philosophy of nature (Natur-philosophie). His lectures gave occasion for much scientific discussion, the more so as he brought very startling hypotheses into his physiology, and drew from them conclusions which even upon his own showing were not always in accordance with experience.
‘On philosophical grounds,’ he was wont to say, when facts and theory thus confronted each other, ‘we must so accept it.’
was extremely friendly with the students, and Agassiz
, and Schimper
(who joined them at Munich
) passed an evening
once a week at his house, where they listened to scientific papers or discussed scientific matters, over a pipe and a glass of beer.
They also met once a week to drink tea at the house of Professor von Martius
, where, in like manner, the conversation turned upon scientific subjects, unless something interesting in general events gave it a different turn.
Still more beloved was Dollinger
, whose character they greatly esteemed and admired while they delighted in his instruction.
Not only did they go to him daily, but he also came often to see them, bringing botanical specimens to Braun
, or looking in upon Agassiz
's breeding experiments, in which he took the liveliest interest, being always ready with advice or practical aid. The fact that Agassiz
had their room in his house made intercourse with him especially easy.
This room became the rendezvous of all the aspiring, active spirits among the young naturalists at Munich
, and was known by the name of ‘The Little Academy.’
, no less than the other two, contributed to the vivid, enthusiastic intellectual life, which characterized their meetings.
Not so happy as Agassiz
in his later experience, the promise of his youth was equally brilliant;
and those who knew him in those early days remember his charm of mind and manner with delight.
The friends gave lectures in turn on various subjects, especially on modes of development in plants and animals.
These lectures were attended not only by students, but often by the professors.
's intimate friends in Munich
, beside those already mentioned, was Michahelles, the distinguished young zoologist and physician, whose early death in Greece
, where he went to practice medicine, was so much regretted.
, he was wont to turn his room into a menagerie, where he kept turtles and other animals, brought home, for the most part, from his journeys in Italy
Mahir, whose name occurs often in the letters of this period, was another college friend and fellow-student, though seemingly Agassiz
's senior in standing, if not in years, for he gave him private instruction in mathematics, and also assisted him in his medical studies.
To his sister Cecile.
. . . I will tell you in detail how my time is spent, so that when you think of me you
may know where I am and what I am doing.
In the morning from seven to nine I am at the Hospital
From nine to eleven I go to the Library, where I usually work at that time instead of going home.
From eleven till one o'clock I have lectures, after which I dine, sometimes at one place, sometimes at another, for here every one, that is, every foreigner, takes his meals in the cafes, paying for the dinner on the spot, so that he is not obliged to go always to the same place.
In the afternoon I have other lectures on various subjects, according to the days, from two or three till five o'clock. These ended, I take a walk although it is then dark.
The environs of Munich
are covered with snow, and the people have been going about in sleighs these three weeks. When I am frozen through I come home, and set to work to review my lectures of the day, or I write and read till eight or nine o'clock. Then I go to my cafe for supper.
After supper I am glad to return to the house and go to bed.
This is the course of my daily life, with the single exception that sometimes Braun
and I pass an evening with some professor, discussing with all our might and main subjects of which we often know nothing; this
does not, however, lessen the animation of the talk.
More often, these gentlemen tell us of their travels, etc. I enjoy especially our visits to M. Martius
, because he talks to us of his journey to Brazil
, from which he returned some years ago, bringing magnificent collections, which he shows us whenever we call upon him. Friday is market day here, and I never miss going to see the fishes to increase my collection.
I have already obtained several not to be found in Switzerland
; and even in my short stay here I have had the good fortune to discover a new species, of which I have made a very exact description, to be printed in some journal of natural history.
Were my dear Cecile here, I should have begged her to draw it nicely for me. That would have been pleasant indeed.
Now I must ask a stranger to do it, and it will have by no means the same value in my eyes. . . .
To his brother Auguste.
. . . After my long fast from news of you, your letter made me very happy.
I was dull besides, and needed something to cheer me. . . . Since my talk about natural history does not bore you, I want to tell you various
other things about it, and also to ask you to do me a favor.
I have stuffed a superb otter lately; next week I shall receive a beaver, and I have exchanged all my little toads from Neuchatel
for reptiles from Brazil
. One of our professors here, who is publishing a natural history of reptiles, will introduce in his work my description of that species, and my observations upon it. He has already had lithographed those drawings of eggs that Cecile made for me, as well as the colored drawings made for me by Braun
's sister when I was at Carlsruhe
My collection of fishes is also much increased, but I have no duplicates left of the species I brought with me. I have exchanged them all. I should therefore be greatly obliged if you would get me some more of the same.
I will tell you what kinds I want, and how you are to forward them.
I have still at Cudrefin several jars of thick green glass.
When you go there take them away with you, fill them with alcohol, and put into them as many of these fishes as you can find for me. Put something between every two specimens, to prevent them from rubbing against each other; pack them in a little box wrapped in hay, and send them either by a good opportunity or in the least
expensive way. The kinds I want are [here follows the list]. . . . It will interest you to know that I am working with a young Dr. Born
upon an anatomy and natural history of the fresh-water fishes of Europe
We have already gathered a great deal of material, and I think by the spring, or in the course of the summer, we shall be able to publish the first number.
This will bring in a little ready.
money for a short journey in the vacation.
I earnestly advise you to while away your leisure hours with study.
Read much, but only good and useful books.
I promised to send you something; do not think, because I have not done so yet, that I have forgotten it. On the contrary, the difficulty of choosing is the cause of the delay; but I will make farther inquiry as to what will suit you best and you shall have my list.
Meantime remember to read Say, and if you have not already begun it, do not put it off. Remember that statistical and political knowledge alone distinguishes the true merchant from the mere tradesman, and guides him in his undertakings. . . . . A merchant familiar with the products of a country, its resources, its commercial and political relations with other countries, is much less likely to enter
into speculations based on false ideas, and therefore of doubtful issue.
Write me about what you are reading and about your plans and projects, for I can hardly believe that any one could exist without forming them: I, at least, could not . . . .
The last line of this letter betrays the restless spirit of adventure growing out of the desire for larger fields of activity and research.
Tranquilized for a while in the new and more satisfying intellectual life of Munich
, it stirred afresh from time to time, not without arousing anxiety in friends at home, as we shall see. The letter to which the following is an answer has not been found.
From his mother.
. . . Your letter reached me at Cudrefin, where I have been passing ten days. With what pleasure I received it,—and yet I read it with a certain sadness too, for there was something of ennui, I might say of discontent, in the tone. . . . Believe me, my dear Louis, your attitude is a wrong one; you see everything in shadow.
Consider that you are exactly in the position you have chosen for
yourself; we have in no way opposed your plans.
We have, on the contrary, entered into them with readiness, saying amen to your proposals, only insisting upon a profession that would make us easy about your future, persuaded as we are that you have too much energy and uprightness not to wish to fill honorably your place in society.
You left us a few months ago with the assurance that two years would more than suffice to complete your medical studies.
You chose the university which offered, as you thought, the most ample means to reach your end; and now, how is it that you look forward only with distaste to the practice of medicine?
Have you reflected seriously before setting aside this profession?
Indeed, we cannot consent to such a step.
You would lose ground in our opinion, in that of your family, and in that of the public.
You would pass for an inconsiderate, fickle young fellow, and the slightest stain on your reputation would be a mortal blow to us. There is one way of reconciling all difficulties,—the only one in my opinion.
Complete your studies with all the zeal of which you are capable, and then, if you have still the same inclination, go on with your natural history; give yourself wholly up to it
should that be your wish.
Having two strings to your bow, you will have the greater facility for establishing yourself.
Such is your father's way of thinking as well as mine. . . . Nor are you made to live alone, my child.
In a home only is true happiness to be found; there you can settle yourself to your liking.
The sooner you have finished your studies, the sooner you can put up your tent, catch your blue butterfly, and metamorphose her into a loving housewife.
Of course you will not gather roses without thorns; life consists of pains and pleasures everywhere.
To do all the good you can to your fellow-beings, to have a pure conscience, to gain an honorable livelihood, to procure for yourself by work a little ease, to make those around you happy, —that is true happiness; all the rest but mere accessories and chimeras. . . .
To his mother.
. . . You know well to whom you speak, dear mother, and how you must bait your hook in order that the fish may rise.
When you paint it, I see nothing above domestic happiness, and am convinced that the height of felicity is to be found in the bosom of your
family, surrounded by little marmots to love and caress you. I hope, too, to enjoy this happiness in time. . . . But the man of letters should seek repose only when he has deserved it by his toil, for if once he anchor himself, farewell to energy and liberty, by which alone great minds are fostered.
Therefore I have said to myself, that I would remain unmarried till my work should assure me a peaceful and happy future.
A young man has too much vigor to bear confinement so soon; he gives up many pleasures which he might have had, and does not appreciate at their just value those which he has. As it is said that the vaurien
must precede the bon sujet
, so I believe that for the full enjoyment of sedentary life one must have played the vagabond for a while.
This brings me to the subject of my last letter.
It seems that you have misunderstood me, for your answer grants me after all just what I ask. You think that I wish to renounce entirely the study of medicine?
On the contrary, the idea has never occurred to me, and, according to my promise, you shall have one of these days a doctor of medicine as a son. What repels me is the thought of practicing medicine for a livelihood, and here
you give me free rein just where I wanted it. That is, you consent that I should devote myself wholly to the natural sciences should this career offer me, as I hope it may, a more favorable prospect.
It requires, for instance, but two or three years to go around the world at government expense.
I will levy contributions on all my senses that not a single chance may escape me for making interesting observations and fine collections, so that I also may be ranked among those who have enlarged the boundaries of science.
With that my future is secured, and I shall return content and disposed to do all that you wish.
Even then, if medicine had gained greater attraction for me, there would still be time to begin the practice of it. It seems to me there is nothing impracticable in this plan.
I beg you to think of it, and to talk it over with papa and with my uncle at Lausanne
. . . . I am perfectly well and as happy as possible, for I feed in clover here on my favorite studies, with every facility at my command.
If you thought my New Year's letter depressed, it was only a momentary gloom due to the memories awakened by the day. . . .
From his father.
Your mother's last letter, my dear Louis, was in answer to one from you which crossed it on the way, and gave us, so far as your health and contentment are concerned, great satisfaction.
Yet our gratification lacks something; it would be more complete had you not a mania for rushing full gallop into the future.
I have often reproved you for this, and you would fare better did you pay more attention to my reproof.
If it be an incurable malady with you, at all events do not force your parents to share it. If it be absolutely essential to your happiness that you should break the ice of the two poles in order to find the hairs of a mammoth, or that you should dry your shirt in the sun of the tropics, at least wait till your trunk is packed and your passports are signed before you talk with us about it. Begin by reaching your first aim, a physician's and surgeon's diploma.
I will not for the present hear of anything else, and that is more than enough.
Talk to us, then in your letters, of your friends, of your personal life, of your wants (which I am always ready to satisfy), of your pleasures, of
your feeling for us, but do not put yourself out of our reach with your philosophical syllogisms.
My own philosophy is to fulfill my duties in my sphere, and even that gives me more than I can do. . . .
The Vaudois ‘Society of Public Utility’ has just announced an altogether new project, that of establishing popular libraries.
A committee consisting of eight members, of whom I have the honor to be one, is nominated under the presidency of M. Delessert
for the execution of this scheme.
What do you think of the idea?
To me it seems a delicate matter.
I should say that before we insist upon making people read we must begin by preparing them to read usefully? . . .
To his father.
. . . What you tell me of the ‘Society of Public Utility’ has aroused in me a throng of ideas, about which I will write you when they are a little more mature.
Meanwhile, please tell me: 1.
What is this Society?
2. Of what persons is it composed?
3. What is its principal aim?
4. What are the popular libraries to contain, and for what class are they intended?
I believe this project may be of
the greatest service to our people, and it is on this account that I desire farther details that I may think it over carefully.
Tell me, also, in what way you propose to distribute your libraries at small expense, and how large they are to be . . .
I could not be more satisfied than I am with my stay here.
I lead a monotonous but an exceedingly pleasant life, withdrawn from the crowd of students and seeing them but little.
When our lectures are over we meet in the evening at Braun
's room or mine, with three or four intimate acquaintances, and talk of scientific matters, each one in his turn presenting a subject which is first developed by him, and then discussed by all. These exercises are very instructive.
As my share, I have begun to give a course of natural history, or rather of pure zoology.
talks to us of botany, and another of our company, Mahir, who is an excellent fellow, teaches us mathematics and physics in his turn.
In two months our friend Schimper
, whom we left at Heidelberg
, will join us, and he will then be our professor of philosophy.
Thus we shall form a little university, instructing each other and at the same time learning what we teach more thoroughly, because we shall be obliged
to demonstrate it. Each session lasts two or three hours, during which the professor in charge retails his merchandise without aid of notes or book.
You can imagine how useful this must be in preparing us to speak in public and with coherence; the experience is the more important, since we all desire nothing so much as sooner or later to become professors in very truth, after having played at professor in the university.
This brings me naturally to my projects again.
Your letter made me feel so keenly the anxiety I had caused you by my passion for travel, that I will not recur to it; but as my object was to make in that way a name that would win for me a professorship, I venture upon another proposition.
If during the course of my studies I succeed in making myself known by a work of distinction, will you not then consent that I shall study, at least during one year, the natural sciences alone, and then accept a professorship of natural history, with the understanding that in the first place, and in the time agreed upon, I shall take my Doctor
This is, indeed, essential to my obtaining what I wish, at least in Germany
You will object that, before thinking of anything beyond, I ought first to
fulfill the condition.
But let me say that the more clearly a man sees the road before him, the less likely he is to lose his way or take the wrong turn,—the better he can divide his stages and his resting-places . . .
From his father.
. . . I have had a long talk about you with your uncle.
He does not at all disapprove of your letters, of which I told him the contents.
He only insists, as we do, on the necessity of a settled profession as absolutely essential to your financial position.
Indeed, the natural sciences, however sublime and attractive, offer nothing certain in the future.
They may, no doubt, be your golden bridge, or you may, thanks to them, soar very high, but—modern Icarus
—may not also some adverse fortune, an unexpected loss of popularity, or, perhaps, some revolution fatal to your philosophy, bring you down with a somersault, and then you would not be sorry to find in your quiver the means of gaining your bread.
Agreed that you have now an invincible repugnance to the practice of medicine, it is evident from your last two letters that you would have no less objection to any
other profession by which money is to be made, and, besides, it is too late to make another selection.
This being so, we will come to an understanding in one word: Let the sciences be the balloon in which you prepare to travel through higher regions, but let medicine and surgery be your parachutes.
I think, my dear Louis, you cannot object to this way of looking at the question and deciding it. In making my respects to the professor of zoology, I have the pleasure to tell him that his uncle was delighted with his way of passing his evenings, and congratulates him with all his heart on his choice of a recreation.
Enough of this chapter.
I close it here, wishing you most heartily courage, health, success, and, above all, contentment . . . .
Upon this follows the answer to Louis's request for details about the ‘Society of Public Utility.’
It shows the intimate exchange of thought between father and son on educational subjects, but it is of too local an interest for reproduction here.
vacation was devoted to a short journey, some account of which will be found in the next letter.
The traveling party consisted of Agassiz
, and Schimper
two other students, who did not, however, remain with them during the whole trip.
To his father.
. . . Pleasant as my Easter
journey was, I will give you but a brief account of it, for my enjoyment was so connected with my special studies that the details would only be tiresome to you. You know who were my traveling companions, so I have only to tell you of our adventures, assuredly not those of knights errant or troubadours.
Could these gentry have been resuscitated, and have seen us starting forth in blouses, with bags or botanical boxes at our backs and butterfly-nets in our hands, instead of lance and buckler, they could hardly have failed to look down upon us with pity from the height of their grandeur.
The first day brought us to Landshut
, where was formerly the university till it was transferred, ten years ago, to Munich
We had the pleasure of finding along our road most of the early spring plants.
The weather was magnificent, and nature seemed to smile upon her votaries. . . . We stopped on the way but one day, at Ratisbon
, to visit some
relations of Braun
's, with whom we promised to spend several days on our return.
Learning on our arrival at Nuremberg
that the Durer festival, which had been our chief inducement for this journey, would not take place under eight or ten days, we decided to pass the intervening time at Erlangen
, the seat, as you know, of a university.
I do not know if I have already told you that among German students the exercise of hospitality toward those who exchange visits from one university to another is a sacred custom.
It gives offense, or is at least looked upon as a mark of pride and disdain, if you do not avail yourself of this.
We therefore went to one of the cafes de reunion
, and received at once our tickets for lodgings.
We passed six days at Erlangen
most agreeably, making a botanical excursion every day. We also called upon the professors of botany and zoology, whom we had already seen at Munich
, and by whom we were most cordially received.
The professor of botany, M. Koch
, invited us to a very excellent dinner, and gave us many rare plants not in our possession before, while M. Wagner
was kind enough to show us in detail the Museum and the Library.
At last came the day appointed for the
third centennial festival of Durer.
Every. thing was so arranged as to make it very brilliant, and the weather was most favorable.
I doubt if ever before were collected so many painters in the same place.
They gathered, as if to vie with each other, from all nations, Russians, Italians, French
, Germans, etc. Beside the pupils of the Academy of Fine Arts at Munich
, I think that every soul who could paint, were it only the smallest sketch, was there to pay homage to the great master.
All went in procession to the place where the monument is to be raised, and the magistrates of the city laid the first stones of the pedestal.
To my amusement they cemented these first stones with a mortar which was served in great silver platters, and made of fine pounded porcelain mixed with champagne.
In the evening all the streets were illuminated; there were balls, concerts, and plays, so that we must have been doubled or quadrupled to see everything.
We stayed some days longer at Nuremberg
to visit the other curiosities of the city, especially its beautiful churches, its manufactories, etc., and then started on our return to Ratisbon
. . . .