Chapter 4: 1829-1830: Aet. 22-23.
- Scientific meeting at Heidelberg. -- visit at home. -- illness and death of his grandfather. -- return to Munich. -- plans for future scientific publications. -- takes his degree of medicine. -- visit to Vienna. -- return to Munich. -- home letters. -- last days at Munich. -- Autobiographical review of school and University life.
The following month we find him once more at home in the parsonage of Orbe. After the first pleasure and excitement of return, his time was chiefly spent in arranging his collections at Cudrefin, where his grandfather had given him house-room for them. In this work he had the help of the family in general, who made a sort of scientific Fete of the occasion. But it ended sadly with the illness and death of the kind old grandfather, under whose roof children and grandchildren had been wont to assemble.
Agassiz now returned to Munich to add the title of Doctor of Medicine to that of Doctor  of Philosophy. A case of somnambulism, which fell under his observation and showed him disease, or, at least, abnormal action of the brain, under an aspect which was new to him, seems to have given a fresh impulse to his medical studies, and, for a time, he was inclined to believe that the vocation which had thus far been to him one of necessity, might become one of preference. But the naturalist was stronger than the physician. During this very winter, when he was preparing himself with new earnestness for his profession, a collection of fossil fishes was put into his hands by the Director of the Museum of Munich. It will be seen with what ardor he threw himself into this new investigation. His work on the ‘Poissons Fossiles,’ which placed him in a few years in the front rank of European scientific men, took form at once in his fertile brain.
This letter evidently made a favorable impression on the business heads of the family at Neuchatel, for it is forwarded to his parents,  with these words from his brother on the last sheet: ‘I hasten, dear father, to send you this excellent letter from my brother, which has just reached me. They have read it here with interest, and Uncle Francois Mayor, especially, sees both stability and a sound basis in his projects and enterprises.’ There is something touching and almost amusing in Agassiz's efforts to give a prudential aspect to his large scientific schemes. He was perfectly sincere in this, but to the end of his life he skirted the edge of the precipice, daring all, and finding in himself the power to justify his risks by his successes. He was of frugal personal habits; at this very time, when he was keeping two or three artists on his slender means, he made his own breakfast in his room, and dined for a few cents a day at the cheapest eating houses. But where science was concerned the only economy he recognized, either in youth or old age, was that of an expenditure as bold as it was carefully considered. In the above letter to his brother we have the story of his work during the whole winter of 1830. That his medical studies did not suffer from the fact that, in conjunction with them, he was carrying on his two great works  on the living and the dead world of fishes may be inferred from the following account of his medical theses. It was written after his death, to his son Alexander Agassiz, by Professor von Siebold, now Director of the Museum in the University of Munich. ‘How earnestly Agassiz devoted himself to the study of medicine is shown by the theses (seventy-four in number), a list of which was printed, according to the prescribed rule and custom, with his “Einladung.” I am astonished at the great number of these. The subjects are anatomical, pathological, surgical, obstetrical; they are inquiries into materia medica, medicina forensis, and the relation of botany to these topics. One of them interested me especially. It read as follows. “Foemina humana superior mare.” I would gladly have known how your father interpreted that sentence. Last fall (1873) I wrote him a letter, the last I ever addressed to him, questioning him about this very subject. That letter, alas! remained unanswered.’ In a letter to his brother just before taking his degree, Agassiz says: ‘I am now determined to pursue medicine and natural history side by side. Thank you, with all my heart, for your disinterested offer, but I shall not  need it, for I am going on well with my publisher, M. Cotta, of Stuttgart. I have great hope that he will accept my works, since he has desired that they should be forwarded to him for examination. I have sent him the whole, and I feel very sure he will swallow the pill. My conditions would be the only cause of delay, but I hope he will agree to them. For the fresh-water fishes and the fossils together I have asked twenty thousand Swiss francs. Should he not consent to this, I shall apply to another publisher.’ On the 3d of April he received his degree of Doctor of Medicine. A day or two later he writes to his mother that her great desire for him is accomplished.
Agassiz was recalled from Vienna in less  than two months by the arrival in Munich of his publisher, M. Cotta, a personal interview with whom seemed to him important. The only letter preserved from the Vienna visit shows that his short stay there was full of interest and instruction.
A letter to his brother, of the 29th of May, just after his return to Munich, gives a retrospect of the Viennese visit, including the personal details which he had hesitated to write to his father. They are important as showing  the position he already, at twenty-three years of age, held among scientific men. ‘Everything,’ he says, ‘was open to me as a foreigner, and to my great surprise I was received as an associate already known. Was it not gratifying to go to Vienna with no recommendation whatever, and to be welcomed and sought by all the scientific men, and afterwards presented and introduced everywhere? In the Museum, not only were the rooms opened for me when I pleased, but also the cases, and even the jars, so that I could take out whatever I needed for examination. At the hospital several professors carried their kindness so far, as to invite me to accompany them in their private visits. You may fancy whether I profited by all this, and how many things I saw.’ After some account of his business arrangements with Cotta, he adds: ‘Meantime, be at ease about me. I have strings enough to my bow, and need not feel anxious about the future. What troubles me is that the thing I most desire seems to me, at least for the present, farthest from my reach,—namely, the direction of a great Museum. When I have finished with Cotta I shall begin to pack my effects, and shall hope to turn my face homeward somewhere about the end of August. I can  hardly leave earlier, because, for the sake of practice, I have begun to deliver zoological lectures, open to all who like to attend, and I want to complete the course before my departure. I lecture without even an outline or headings before me, but this requires preparation. You see I do not lose my time.’ The next home letter announces an important change in the family affairs. His father had been called from his parish at Orbe to that of Concise, a small town situated on the southwestern shore of the Lake of Nechatel.
To this quiet pretty parsonage Madame Agassiz became much attached. Her tranquil life is well described in a letter written many years afterward by one of her daughters. ‘Here mama returned to her spinning-wheel with new ardor. It was a work she much liked, and in which she was very skillful. In  former times at grandpapa's every woman in the house, whether mistress or maid, had her wheel, and the young ladies were accustomed to spin and make up their own trousseaus. Later, mama continued her spinning for her children, and even for her grandchildren. We all preserve as a precious souvenir, table linen of her making. We delighted to see her at her wheel, she was so graceful, and the thread of her thought seemed to follow, so to speak, the fine and delicate thread of her work as it unwound itself under her touch from the distaff.’ Agassiz was detained by his publishing arrangements and his work longer than he had expected, and November was already advanced before his preparations for leaving Munich were completed.
His father's answer, full of fun as it is, shows, nevertheless, that the prospect of domesticating not only the naturalist and his collections, but artist and assistant also, was rather startling.
The artist in question was Mr. Dinkel. His relations with the family became of a truly friendly character. The connection between him and Agassiz, most honorable to both parties,  lasted for sixteen years, and was then only interrupted by the departure of Agassiz for America. During this whole period Mr. Dinkel was occupied as his draughtsman, living sometimes in Paris, sometimes in England, sometimes in Switzerland, wherever, in short, there were specimens to be drawn. In a private letter, written long afterward, he says, in speaking of the break in their intercourse caused by Agassiz's removal to America: ‘For a long time I felt unhappy at that separation. . . . He was a kind, noble-hearted friend; he was very benevolent, and if he had possessed millions of money he would have spent them for his researches in science, and have done good to his fellow-creatures as much as possible.’ Some passages from Braun's letters complete the chapter of these years in Munich, so rich in purpose and in experience, the prelude, as it were, to the intellectual life of the two friends who had entered upon them together. These extracts show how seriously, not without a certain sadness, they near the end. 
A brief account of Agassiz's university life, dictated by himself, may fitly close the record of this period. He was often urged to put together a few reminiscences of his life, but he lived so intensely in the present, every day bringing its full task, that he had little time for retrospect, and this sketch remained a fragment. It includes some facts already told, but is given almost verbatim, because it forms a sort of summary of his intellectual development up to this date.
I am conscious that at successive periods of my life I have employed very different means and followed very different systems of study. I may, therefore, be allowed to offer the result of my experience as a contribution toward the building up of a sound method for the promotion of the study of nature. A first, when a mere boy, twelve years of age, I did what most beginners do. I picked up whatever I could lay my hands on, and tried, by such books and authorities as I had at my command, to find the names of these  objects. My highest ambition, at that time, was to be able to designate the plants and animals of my native country correctly by a Latin name, and to extend gradually a similar knowledge in its application to the productions of other countries. This seemed to me, in those days, the legitimate aim and proper work of a naturalist. I still possess manuscript volumes in which I entered the names of all the animals and plants with which I became acquainted, and I well remember that I then ardently hoped to acquire the same superficial familiarity with the whole creation. I did not then know how much more important it is to the naturalist to understand the structure of a few animals, than to command the whole field of scientific nomenclature. Since I have become a teacher, and have watched the progress of students, I have seen that they all begin in the same way; but how many have grown old in the pursuit, without ever rising to any higher conception of the study of nature, spending their life in the determination of species, and in extending scientific terminology! Long before I went to the university, and before I began to study natural history under the guidance of men who were masters in the science during the early part of  this century, I perceived that while nomenclature and classification, as then understood, formed an important part of the study, being, in fact, its technical language, the study of living beings in their natural element was of infinitely greater value. At that age, namely, about fifteen, I spent most of the time I could spare from classical and mathematical studies in hunting the neighboring woods and meadows for birds, insects, and land and freshwater shells. My room became a little menagerie, while the stone basin under the fountain in our yard was my reservoir for all the fishes I could catch. Indeed, collecting, fishing, and raising caterpillars, from which I reared fresh, beautiful butterflies, were then my chief pastimes. What I know of the habits of the fresh-water fishes of Central Europe I mostly learned at that time; and I may add, that when afterward I obtained access to a large library and could consult the works of Bloch and Lacedpede, the only extensive works on fishes then in existence, I wondered that they contained so little about their habits, natural attitudes, and mode of action with which I was so familiar. The first course of lectures on zoology I attended was given in Lausanne in 1823. It  consisted chiefly of extracts from Cuvier's “Regne animal,” and from Lamarck's “Animaux sans Vertebres.” I now became aware, for the first time, that the learned differ in their classifications. With this discovery, an immense field of study opened before me, and I longed for some knowledge of anatomy, that I might see for myself where the truth was. During two years spent in the Medical School of Zurich, I applied myself exclusively to the study of anatomy, physiology, and zoology, under the guidance of Professors Schinz and Hirzel. My inability to buy books was, perhaps, not so great a misfortune as it seemed to me; at least, it saved me from too great dependence on written authority. I spent all my time in dissecting animals and in studying human anatomy, not forgetting my favorite amusements of fishing and collecting. I was always surrounded with pets, and had at this time some forty birds flying about my study, with no other home than a large pine-tree in the corner. I still remember my grief when a visitor, entering suddenly, caught one of my little favorites between the floor and the door, and he was killed before I could extricate him. Professor Schinz's private collection of birds was my daily resort, and I then described every  bird it contained, as I could not afford to buy even a text-book of ornithology. I also copied with my own hand, having no means of purchasing the work, two volumes of Lamarck's “Animaux sans Vertebres,” and my dear brother copied another half volume for me. I finally learned that the study of the things themselves was far more attractive than the books I so much coveted; and when, at last, large libraries became accessible to me, I usually contented myself with turning over the leaves of the volumes on natural history, looking at the illustrations, and recording the titles of the works, that I might readily consult them for identification of such objects as I should have an opportunity of examining in nature. After spending in this way two years in Zurich, I was attracted to Heidelberg by the great reputation of its celebrated teachers, Tiedemann, Leuckart, Bronn, and others. It is true that I was still obliged to give up a part of my time to the study of medicine, but while advancing in my professional course by a steady application to anatomy and physiology, I attended the lectures of Leuckart in zoology, and those of Bronn in paleontology. The publication of Goldfuss's great work on the fossils  of Germany was just then beginning, and it opened a new world to me. Familiar as I was with Cuvier's “Regne animal,” I had not then seen his “Researches on fossil remains,” and the study of fossils seemed to me only an extension of the field of zoology. I had no idea of its direct connection with geology, or of its bearing on the problem of the successive introduction of animals on the earth. I had never thought of the larger and more philosophical view of nature as one great world, but considered the study of animals only as it was taught by descriptive zoology in those days. At about this time, however, I made the acquaintance of two young botanists, Braun and Schimper, both of whom have since become distinguished in the annals of science. Botany had in those days received a new impulse from the great conceptions of Goethe. The metamorphosis of plants was the chief study of my friends, and I could not but feel that descriptive zoology had not spoken the last word in our science, and that grand generalizations, such as were opening upon botanists, must be preparing for zoologists also. Intimate contact with German students made me feel that I had neglected my philosophical education; and when, in the  year 1827, the new University of Munich opened, with Schelling as professor of philosophy, Oken, Schubert, and Wagler as professors of zoology, Dollinger as professor of anatomy and physiology, Martius and Zuccarini as professors of botany, Fuchs and Kobell as professors of mineralogy, I determined to go there with my two friends and drink new draughts of knowledge. During the years I passed at Munich I devoted myself almost exclusively to the different branches of natural science, neglecting more and more my medical studies, because I began to feel an increasing confidence that I could fight my way in the world as a naturalist, and that I was therefore justified in following my strong bent in that direction. My experience in Munich was very varied. With Dollinger I learned to value accuracy of observation. As I was living in his house, he gave me personal instruction in the use of the microscope, and showed me his own methods of embryological investigation. He had already been the teacher of Karl Ernst von Baer; and though the pupil outran the master, and has become the pride of the scientific world, it is but just to remember that he owed to him his first initiation into the processes of embryological research. Dollinger  was a careful, minute, persevering observer, as well as a deep thinker; but he was as indolent with his pen as he was industrious with his brain. He gave his intellectual capital to his pupils without stint or reserve, and nothing delighted him more than to sit down for a quiet talk on scientific matters with a few students, or to take a ramble with them into the fields outside the city, and explain to them as he walked the result of any recent investigation he had made. If he found himself understood by his listeners he was satisfied, and cared for no farther publication of his researches. I could enumerate many works of masters in our science, which had no other foundation at the outset than these inspiriting conversations. No one has borne warmer testimony to the influence Dollinger has had in this indirect way on the progress of our science than the investigator I have already mentioned as his greatest pupil,—von Baer. In the introduction to his work on embryology he gratefully acknowledges his debt to his old teacher. Among the most fascinating of our professors was Oken. A master in the art of teaching, he exercised an almost irresistible influence over his students. Constructing the  universe out of his own brain, deducing from a priori conceptions all the relations of the three kingdoms into which he divided all living beings, classifying the animals as if by magic, in accordance with an analogy based on the dismembered body of man, it seemed to us who listened that the slow laborious process of accumulating precise detailed knowledge could only be the work of drones, while a generous, commanding spirit might build the world out of its own powerful imagination. The temptation to impose one's own ideas upon nature, to explain her mysteries by brilliant theories rather than by patient study of the facts as we find them, still leads us away. With the school of the physiophilosophers began (at least in our day and generation) that overbearing confidence in the abstract conceptions of the human mind as applied to the study of nature, which still impairs the fairness of our classifications and prevents them from interpreting truly the natural relations binding together all living beings. And yet, the young naturalist of that day who did not share, in some degree, the intellectual stimulus given to scientific pursuits by physio-philosophy would have missed a part of his training. There is a great distance  between the man who, like Oken, attempts to construct the whole system of nature from general premises and the one who, while subordinating his conceptions to the facts, is yet capable of generalizing the facts, of recognizing their most comprehensive relations. No thoughtful naturalist can silence the suggestions, continually arising in the course of his investigations, respecting the origin and deeper connection of all living beings; but he is the truest student of nature who, while seeking the solution of these great problems, admits that the only true scientific system must be one in which the thought, the intellectual structure, rises out of and is based upon facts. The great merit of the physio-philosophers consisted in their suggestiveness. They did much in freeing our age from the low estimation of natural history as a science which prevailed in the last century. They stimulated a spirit of independence among observers; but they also instilled a spirit of daring, which, from its extravagance, has been fatal to the whole school. He is lost, as an observer, who believes that he can, with impunity, affirm that for which he can adduce no evidence. It was a curious intellectual experience to listen day after day to the lectures  of Oken, while following at the same time Schelling's courses, where he was shifting the whole ground of his philosophy from its negative foundation as an a priori doctrine to a positive basis, as an historical science. He unfolded his views in a succession of exquisite lectures, delivered during four consecutive years. Among my fellow-students were many young men who now rank among the highest lights in the various departments of science, and others, of equal promise, whose early death cut short their work in this world. Some of us had already learned at this time to work for ourselves; not merely to attend lectures and study from books. The best spirit of emulation existed among us; we met often to discuss our observations, undertook frequent excursions in the neighborhood, delivered lectures to our fellow-students, and had, not infrequently, the gratification of seeing our university professors among the listeners. These exercises were of the highest value to me as a preparation for speaking, in later years, before larger audiences. My study was usually the lecture-room. It would hold conveniently from fifteen to twenty persons, and both students and professors used to call  our quarters ‘The Little Academy.’ In that room I made all the skeletons represented on the plates of Wagler's ‘Natural System of Reptiles;’ there I once received the great anatomist, Meckel, sent to me by Dollinger, to examine my anatomical preparations and especially the many fish-skeletons I had made from fresh-water fishes. By my side were constantly at work two artists; one engaged in drawing various objects of natural history, the other in drawing fossil fishes. I kept always one and sometimes two artists in my pay; it was not easy, with an allowance of $250 a year, but they were even poorer than I, and so we managed to get along together. My microscope I had earned by writing. I had hardly finished the publication of the Brazilian Fishes, when I began to study the works of the older naturalists. Professor Dollinger had presented me with a copy of Rondelet, which was my delight for a long time. I was especially struck by the naivete of his narrative and the minuteness of his descriptions as well as by the fidelity of his woodcuts, some of which are to this day the best figures we have of the species they represent. His learning overwhelmed me; I would gladly have read, as he did, everything that had been written before my time; but there were authors  who wearied me, and I confess that at that age Linnaeus was among the number. I found him dry, pedantic, dogmatic, conceited; while I was charmed with Aristotle, whose zoology I have read and re-read ever since at intervals of two or three years. I must, however, do myself the justice to add, that after I knew more of the history of our science I learned also duly to reverence Linnaeus. But a student, already familiar with the works of Cuvier, and but indifferently acquainted with the earlier progress of zoology, could hardly appreciate the merit of the great reformer of natural history. His defects were easily perceived, and it required more familiarity than mine then was with the gradual growth of the science, from Aristotle onward, to understand how great and beneficial an influence Linnaeus had exerted upon modern natural history. I cannot review my Munich life without deep gratitude. The city teemed with resources for the student in arts, letters, philosophy, and science. It was distinguished at that time for activity in public as well as in academic life. The king seemed liberal; he was the friend of poets and artists, and aimed at concentrating all the glories of Germany in his new university. I thus enjoyed for a  few years the example of the most brilliant intellects, and that stimulus which is given by competition between men equally eminent in different spheres of human knowledge. Under such circumstances a man either subsides into the position of a follower in the ranks that gather around a master, or he aspires to be a master himself. The time had come when even the small allowance I received from borrowed capital must cease. I was now twenty-four years of age. I was Doctor of Philosophy and Medicine, and author of a quarto volume on the fishes of Brazil. I had traveled on foot all over Southern Germany, visited Vienna, and explored extensive tracts of the Alps. I knew every animal, living and fossil, in the Museums of Munich, Stuttgart, Tubingen, Erlangen, Wurzburg, Carlsruhe, and Frankfort; but my prospects were as dark as ever, and I saw no hope of making my way in the world, except by the practical pursuit of my profession as physician. So, at the close of 1830, I left the university and went home, with the intention of applying myself to the practice of medicine, confident that my theoretical information and my training in the art of observing would carry me through the new ordeal I was about to meet.