Agassiz is now remembered for his theories on ice ages and his staunch opposition to Darwin’s theory of evolution. He passed away in Cambridge, Massachusetts on December 14th, 1873 at the age of 66. He is buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery with his monument: a glacial erratic found not far from his hut on the Aars Glaciers.
An ancient glacial lake formed after the retreat of the last ice age is named in honor of him: Lake Agassiz. Also named after him are the following: Mount Agassiz in California’s Palisades, Mount Agassiz in the Uintas, and back home in the Bernese Alps, Agassizhorn.
Agassiz was also well known for his rigorous teaching style. Allegedly, Agassiz would lock a student up in room full of fossils without any sort of reference material and would not let them out until they could accurately explain their observations. His teaching style is referenced by Ezra Pound’s “Parable of a Sunfish”:
“A post-graduate student equipped with honors and diplomas went to Agassiz to receive the final and finishing touches. The great man offered him a small fish and told him to describe it.
Post-Graduate Student: “That’s only a sunfish.”
Agassiz: “I know that. Write a description of it.”
After a few minutes the student returned with the description of the Ichthus Heliodiplodokus, or whatever term is used to conceal the common sunfish from vulgar knowledge, family of Heliichtherinkus, etc., as found in textbooks of the subject.
Agassiz again told the student to describe the fish.
The student produced a four-page essay. Agassiz then told him to look at the fish. At the end of three weeks the fish was in an advanced state of decomposition, but the student knew something about it.”
As one can see, Louis Agassiz had a very extraordinary teaching style. This teaching style garnered him much attention even after his passing.
Although Louis Agassiz was often endured harsh criticism, it cannot be said that he was not beloved by some of his peers. In 1857, his good friend Longfellow wrote this poem in honor of his 50th birthday:
The Fiftieth Birthday of Agassiz
It was fifty years ago
In the pleasant month of May,
In the beautiful Pays de Vaud,
A child in its cradle lay.
And Nature, the old nurse, took
The child upon her knee,
Saying: “Here is a story-book
Thy Father has written for thee.”
“Come, wander with me,” she said,
“Into regions yet untrod;
And read what is still unread
In the manuscripts of God.”
And he wandered away and away
With Nature, the dear old nurse,
Who sang to him night and day
The rhymes of the universe.
And whenever the way seemed long,
Or his heart began to fail,
She would sing a more wonderful song,
Or tell a more marvellous tale.
So she keeps him still a child,
And will not let him go,
Though at times his heart beats wild
For the beautiful Pays de Vaud;
Though at times he hears in his dreams
The Ranz des Vaches of old,
And the rush of mountain streams
From glaciers clear and cold;
And the mother at home says, “Hark!
For his voice I listen and yearn;
It is growing late and dark,
And my boy does not return!”
May 28, 1857
With this it can be seen that amongst some, primarily those close to him, Louis Agassiz was quite revered for both his scientific mind and himself as a person. Although Agassiz held many backwards views on evolution and the origin of humans, his work with ichthyology and glaciology is unparalleled. For this, he deserves to go down in the annals of geology as a person of note.