Chapter 3: 1828-1829: Aet. 21-22.
- First important work in natural History. -- Spix's Brazilian fishes. -- second vacation trip. -- sketch of work during University year. -- extracts from the Journal of Mr. Dinkel. -- home letters. -- hope of joining Humboldt's Asiatic expedition. -- diploma of philosophy. -- completion of first part of the Spix fishes. -- letter concerning it from Cuvier.
It was not without a definite purpose that Agassiz had written to his father some weeks before, ‘Should I during the course of my studies succeed in making myself known by a distinguished work, would you not then consent that I should study for one year the natural sciences alone?’ Unknown to his parents, for whom he hoped to prepare a delightful surprise, Agassiz had actually been engaged for months on the first work which gave him distinction in the scientific world; namely, a description of the Brazilian fishes brought home by Martius and Spix from their celebrated journey in Brazil. This was the secret to which allusion is made in the next  letter. To his disappointment an accident brought his undertaking to the knowledge of his father and mother before it was completed. He always had a boyish regret that his little plot had been betrayed before the moment for the denouement arrived. The book was written in Latin and dedicated to Cuvier.1
To his father Agassiz only writes of his work at this time:
I have been very busy this summer, and I can tell you from a good source (I have it from one of the professors himself) that the professors whose lectures I have attended have mentioned me more than once, as one of the most assiduous and best informed students of the university; saying  also that I deserved distinction. I do not tell you this from ostentation, but only that you may not think I lose my time, even though I occupy myself chiefly with the natural sciences. I hope yet to prove to you that with a brevet of Doctor as a guarantee, Natural History may be a man's bread-winner as well as the delight of his life. . . .In September Agassiz allowed himself a short interruption of his work. The next letter gives some account of this second vacation trip.
 The letter concludes in haste for the mail, and if the story of the journey was finished the final chapter has not been preserved. Some extracts from the home letters of Agassiz's friend Braun, which are in place here, throw light on their university life for the coming year.3
Somewhat before this, early in 1828, Agassiz had made the acquaintance of Mr. Joseph Dinkel, an artist. A day spent together in the country, in order that Mr. Dinkel might draw a brilliantly colored trout from life, under the immediate direction of the young naturalist, led to a relation which continued uninterruptedly for many years. Mr. Dinkel afterward accompanied Agassiz, as his artist, on repeated journeys, being constantly employed in making illustrations for the ‘Possons Fossiles’ and the ‘Poissons d'eau Douce,’ as well as for his monographs and smaller papers. The two larger works, the latter of which remained unfinished, were even now in embryo. Not only was Mr. Dinkel at work upon the plates for the Fresh-Water Fishes, but Mr. J. C. Weber, who was then  engaged in making, under Agassiz's direction, the illustrations for the Spix Fishes, was also giving his spare hours to the same objects. Mr. Dinkel says of Agassiz's student life at this time:5— ‘I soon found myself engaged four or five hours almost daily in painting for him freshwater fishes from the life, while he was at my side, sometimes writing out his descriptions, sometimes directing me. . .. He never lost his temper, though often under great trial; he remained self-possessed and did everything calmly, having a friendly smile for every one and a helping hand for those who were in need. He was at that time scarcely twenty years old, and was already the most prominent among the students at Munich. They loved him, and had a high consideration for him. I had seen him at the Swiss students' club several times, and had observed him among the jolly students; he liked merry society, but he himself was in general reserved and never noisy. He picked out the gifted and highlylearned students, and would not waste his time  in ordinary conversation. Often, when he saw a number of students going off on some empty pleasure-trip, he said to me, “ There they go with the other fellows; their motto is, ‘Ich gehe mit den andern.’ I will go my own way, Mr. Dinkel,—and not alone: I will be a leader of others.” In all his doings there was an ease and calm which was remarkable. His studio was a perfect German student's room. It was large, with several wide windows; the furniture consisted of a couch and about half a dozen chairs, beside some tables for the use of his artists and himself. Dr. Alex. Braun and Dr. Schimper lodged in the same house, and seemed to me to share his studio. Being botanists, they, too, brought home what they collected in their excursions, and all this found a place in the atelier, on the couch, on the seats, on the floors. Books filled the chairs, one alone being left for the other artist, while I occupied a standing desk with my drawing. No visitor could sit down, and sometimes there was little room to stand or move about. The walls were white, and diagrams were drawn on them, to which, by and by, we artists added skeletons and caricatures. In short, it was quite original. I was some time there before I could discover  the real names of his friends: each had a nickname,—Molluscus, Cyprinus, Rhubarb, etc.’ From this glimpse into ‘The Little Academy’ we return to the thread of the home letters, learning from the next one that Agassiz's private collections were assuming rather formidable proportions when considered as part of the household furniture. Brought together in various ways, partly by himself, partly in exchange for duplicates, partly as pay for arranging specimens in the Munich Museum, they had already acquired, when compared with his small means, a considerable pecuniary value, and a far higher scientific importance. They included fishes, some rare mammalia, reptiles, shells, birds, an herbarium of some three thousand species of plants collected by himself, and a small cabinet of minerals. After enumerating them in a letter to his parents he continues: ‘You can imagine that all these things are in my way now that I cannot attend to them, and that for want of room and care they are piled up and in danger of spoiling. You see by my list that the whole collection is valued at two hundred louis; and this is so low an estimate that even those who sell objects of natural history  would not hesitate to take them at that price. You will therefore easily understand how anxious I am to keep them intact. Can you not find me a place where they might be spread out? I have thought that perhaps my uncle in Neuchatel would have the kindness to let some large shelves be put up in the little upper room of his house in Cudrefin, where, far from being an annoyance or causing any smell, my collection, if placed in a case under glass, or disposed in some other suitable manner, would be an ornament. Be so kind as to propose it to him, and if he consents I will then tell you what I shall need for its arrangement. Remember that on this depends, in great part, the preservation of my specimens, and answer as soon as possible.’ Agassiz was now hurrying forward both his preparation for his degree and the completion of his Brazilian Fishes, in the hope of at last fulfilling his longing for a journey of exploration. This hope is revealed in his next home letter. The letter is a long one, and the first half is omitted since it concerns only the arrangements for his collections, the care to be taken of them, etc. 
In spite of the earnest desire for travel  shown in this letter it will be seen later how the restless aspirations of childhood, boyhood, and youth, which were, after all, only a latent love of research, crystallize into the concentrated purpose of the man who could remain for months shut up in his study, leaving his microscope only to eat and sleep,—a life as sedentary as ever was lived by a closet student.
The subjoined letter of about the same date from Alexander Braun to his father tells us how the projects so ardently urged upon his parents by Agassiz, and so affectionately accepted by them, first took form in the minds of the friends.
With this hope the friends were obliged to content themselves, for after a few weeks of alternate encouragement and despondency their bright vision faded. Oken fulfilled his promise and wrote to Humboldt, recommending them most warmly. Humboldt answered that his plans were conclusively settled, and that he had chosen the only assistants who were to accompany him,—Ehrenberg and Rose. In connection with this frustrated plan is here given the rough draft of a letter from Agassiz to Cuvier, written evidently at a somewhat earlier date. Although a mere fragment, it is the outpouring of the same passionate desire for a purely scientific life, and shows that the opportunity suggested by Humboldt's journey had only given a definite aim to projects already full grown. From the contents it must have been written in 1828. After  some account of his early studies, which would be mere repetition here, he goes on:
Before finishing my letter, allow me to ask some advice from you, whom I revere as a father, and whose works have been till now my only guide. Five years ago I was sent to the medical school at Zurich. After the first few lectures there in anatomy and zoology I could think of nothing but skeletons. In a short time I had learned to dissect, and had made for myself a small collection of skulls of animals from different classes. I passed two years in Zurich, studying whatever I could find in the Museum, and dissecting all the animals I could procure. I even sent to Berlin at this time for a monkey in spirits of wine, that I might compare the nervous system with that of man. I spent all the little means I had in order to see and learn as much as possible. Then I persuaded my father to let me go to Heidelberg, where for a year I followed Tiedemann's courses in human anatomy. I passed almost the whole winter in the anatomical laboratory. The following summer I attended the lectures of Leuckart on zoology, and those of Bronn on fossils. When at Zurich, the longing to travel some day as a naturalist had taken possession of me, and at Heidelberg this desire  only increased. My frequent visits to the Museum at Frankfort, and what I heard there concerning M. Ruppell himself, strengthened my purpose even more than all I had previously read. I was, as it were, Ruppell's traveling companion: the activity, the difficulties to be overcome, all were present to me as I looked upon the treasures he had brought together from the deserts of Africa. The vision of difficulty thus vanquished, and of the inward satisfaction arising from it, tended to give all my studies a direction in keeping with my projects. I felt that to reach my aim more surely it was important to complete my medical studies, and for this I came to Munich eighteen months ago. Still I could not make up my mind to renounce the natural sciences. I attended some of the pathological lectures, but I soon found that I was neglecting them; and yielding once more to my inclination, I followed consecutively the lectures of Dollinger on comparative anatomy, those of Oken on natural history, those of Fuchs on mineralogy, as well as the courses of astronomy, physics, chemistry, and mathematics. I was confirmed in this withdrawal from medical studies by the proposition of M. de Martius  that I should describe the fishes brought back by Spix from Brazil, and to this I consented the more gladly because ichthyology has always been a favorite study with me. I have not, however, been able to give them all the care I could have wished, for M. de Martius, anxious to complete the publication of these works, has urged upon me a rapid execution. I hope, nevertheless, that I have made no gross errors, and I am the less likely to have done so, because I had as my guide the observations you had kindly made for him on the plates of Spix. Several of these plates were not very exact; they have been set aside and new drawings made. I beg that you will judge this work when it reaches you with indulgence, as the first literary essay of a young man. I hope to complete it in the course of the next summer. I would beg you, in advance, to give me a paternal word of advice as to the direction my studies should then take. Ought I to devote myself to the study of medicine? I have no fortune, it is true; but I would gladly sacrifice my life if, by so doing, I could serve the cause of science. Though I have not even a presentiment of any means with which I may one day travel in distant countries, I have, nevertheless, prepared  myself during the last three years as if I might be off at any minute. I have learned to skin all sorts of animals, even very large ones. I have made more than a hundred skeletons of quadrupeds, birds, reptiles, and fishes; I have tested all the various liquors for preserving such animals as should not be skinned, and have thought of the means of supplying the want in countries where the like preparations are not to be had, in case of need. Finally, I have trained as traveling companion a young friend,6 and awakened in him the same love of the natural sciences. He is an excellent hunter, and at my instigation has been taking lessons in drawing, so that he is now able to sketch from nature such objects as may be desirable. We often pass delightful moments in our imaginary travels through unknown countries, building thus our castles in Spain. Pardon me if I talk to you of projects which at first sight seem puerile; only a fixed aim is needed to give them reality, and to you I come for counsel. My longing is so great that I feel the need of expressing it to some one who will understand me, and your sympathy would make me the happiest of mortals. I am so pursued by this thought of a scientific  journey that it presents itself under a thousand forms, and all that I undertake looks toward one end. I have for six months frequented a blacksmith's and carpenter's shop, learning to handle hammer and axe, and I also practice arms, the bayonet and sabre exercise. I am strong and robust, know how to swim, and do not fear forced marches. I have, when botanizing and geologizing, walked my twelve or fifteen leagues a day for eight days in succession, carrying on my back a heavy bag loaded with plants or minerals. In one word, I seem to myself made to be a traveling naturalist. I only need to regulate the impetuosity which carries me away. I beg you, then, to be my guide.The unfinished letter closes abruptly, having neither signature nor address. Perhaps the writer's courage failed him and it never was sent. An old letter (date 1827) from Cuvier to Martius, found among Agassiz's papers of this time, and containing the very notes on the Spix Fishes to which allusion is here made, leaves no doubt, however, that this appeal was intended for the great master who exercised so powerful an influence upon Agassiz throughout his whole life. In the spring of 1829 Agassiz took his  diploma in the faculty of philosophy. He did this with no idea of making it a substitute for his medical degree, but partly in deference to Martius, who wished the name of his young colleague to appear on the title-page of the Brazilian Fishes with the dignity of Doctor, and partly because he believed it would strengthen his chance of a future professorship. Of his experience on this occasion he gives some account in the following letter:—
 A letter from his brother contains a few lines in reference to this. ‘Last evening, dear Louis, your two diplomas reached me. I congratulate you with all my heart on your success. I am going to send to grandpapa the one destined for him, and I see in advance all his pleasure, though it would be greater if the word medicine stood for that of philosophy.’ The first part of the work on the Brazilian Fishes was now completed, and he had the pleasure of sending it to his parents as his own forerunner. After joining a scientific meeting to be held at Heidelberg, in September, he was to pass a month at home before returning to Munich for the completion of his medical studies.
In those days of costly postage one sheet of writing paper was sometimes made to serve for several members of the family. The next  crowded letter contains chiefly domestic details, but closes with a postscript from Mme. Agassiz, filling, as she says, the only remaining corner, and expressing her delight in his diploma and in the completion of his book.
At last comes the moment, so long anticipated, when the young naturalist's first book is in the hands of his parents. The news of its reception is given in a short and hurried note.