Sir John Murray delivered a memorial address on "Alexander Agassiz: His Life and Scientific Works" in Sanders Theatre last evening. He was introduced by President Lowell.
Sir John Murray said:
When we attempt to survey the lifework of Alexander Agassiz, we are astonished at its amount, variety, and quality. He was largely engaged in commercial undertakings; he carried on detailed researches on the group of the Echinoderms; he added scientific knowledge of the great oceans by his deep-sea researches; he travelled more extensively than any other man of his time in studying coral-reefs; and he assisted Harvard, his alma mater, by his generous donations to her museums and other interests.
Agassiz came to America from Germany in 1849, when thirteen years old, and received his later education at Harvard, where he was graduated in 1855, and at the Lawrence Scientific School, where he received the degree of S.B. in 1857. Ten years later he turned his attention to the Calumet and Hecla copper mines on Lake Superior, and in consequence of his ability, attention, devotion, and business habits made them a great financial success. Yet even at this busy period we find the dominant note of Alexander Agassiz's life continuously sounded,--the desire to add to the sum of natural knowledge.
Throughout his active scientific life, he was a constant student of the recent Echini and examined and described a large part of the collections of the "Challenger," "Blake," and "Albatross" expeditions. He met the "Challenger" when it reached Halifax in May, 1873; and it was here that the scientists of that expedition prophesied that he would have a brilliant future. In the winter of that same year he passed through a terrible ordeal in the death of both his father and wife. Yet, though a changed man, he clung to his desire for new knowledge and, in accordance with a promise expressed at Halifax, went in 1876 to Scotland, where he assisted in sorting the collections of the "Challenger" expedition, and selecting the Echini, on which he later prepared a report.
Alexander Agassiz directed three expeditions of the U. S. S. "Blake" in the Atlantic and three of the U. S. S. "Albatross" in the Pacific. At his personal expense he also fitted out no less than four vessels for research work in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. It would be difficult to overestimate the value of the zoological and other collections which he amassed during these explorations. This researches take us a long way toward the solution of exceedingly interesting and important oceanic problems, and his work on coral-reefs, carried on almost entirely at his own expense, related in a complete dissent from the views of Darwin and Dana. It is to be regretted that Alexander Agassiz was not spared to give the summary of his coral-reef work to science.
"It has been truly said than man does not live by bread alone. History is crowded with instances illustrating the fact that men have cast off this mortal coil as so much worthless dross when impelled by the demands of some spiritual truth. Other men have endured the greatest hardships and privations in their endeavors to create the beautiful in form, in sound, or in color. As it has been with the religious and artistic spirit in the past, so is it with the modern scientific spirit. The desire to find out the secrets of nature impels men to trudge over Arctic and Antarctic ice-fields with the satisfaction of all bodily requirements reduced to a minimum and burdened with a load of scientific instruments. Other men expose their bodies to the attacks of pestilential microbes for the advance of knowledge and the betterment of man's estate, while Alexander Agassiz rises with difficulty, when over-whelmed with sickness, and has his mattress laid on the deck of the tossing steamer in order that he may the better record the message which the dredge or trawl has brought to light from the dark abysses of the Atlantic or Pacific Ocean. In such men the body has truly become merely the vehicle of the soul.
"Great he unquestionably was. Great in his power for work, great in his conception of duty, great in his desire to add to natural knowledge, great in the height of his love, great in the depth of his sorrow, great in his elevated personality, great in his admiration for his University, great in his patriotism, great in his ideas as to the destiny of our race, great in his influence for good, like the genial and vivifying rain from heaven. We know that 'Nature might stand up and say to all the world: This was a man!"