Agassiz, Louis John Rudolph

by Faye Huntington

Isn't that a pretty name? When he was a little Swiss boy roaming about his home, I wonder if his mother called him Louis or Rudolph, or plain John? How many years ago was that? Oh, not so very many. It was one May day, in 1807, that he opened his eyes on this world. I don't know very much about his boyhood that can be told here. He was always a good scholar. Everybody who has anything to say of him seems to be sure of that. And on questioning them, I find they mean by it that he worked hard at his lessons and learned them. No boy or girl must think that good scholars are born so. Every one of them has to work for their wisdom. Our boy studied at home. His father was a minister. When he was old enough he was sent away to the best schools within reach, where he studied medicine. He became a famous man, but not as a physician. The fact is he was an ichthyologist. Ah, now I've caught you! Who knows the meaning of that word? Boys, are there any ichthyologists among your friends? I asked a little girl what the word meant. She did not know and turned to her tall brother who was studying Latin. "Humph!" he said. "Of course I know. It is one who understands ichthyology."

"But what is ichthyology?" she persisted.

"Why, it is—it is ichthyology, of course," he said; and that is as much as he seemed to know about it.

Really, I think we can do better than that. An ichthyologist is one who understands all about fishes. Think of the little slippery, scaly things having such a long word as that belonging to them! Where did they get it? Oh, go back to the Greek language, and ask your father, or your brother, or somebody, to tell you the Greek word for fish, and you will be able to guess the rest out for yourselves.

Well, Louis John Rudolph, when he was quite a boy, was chosen by some scientific men to study out the story of some fishes that were brought from the Amazon River. You see he must have had a good name as a student, or this honor would never have come to him. It seems he did his work well, and became so interested that he went on studying fishes. When he was about twenty-one, he began to write papers about their curious and wonderful varieties, which showed so much knowledge that scholars began to get very much interested in the student, as well as in his fishes. As the years went by, and the boy became a man and was called Mr. Agassiz, he became known all over the world for his knowledge in this direction; he grew more and more interested. He found fishes everywhere. Fossil fishes next began to interest him. What are they? Why, fishes turned to stone. He found them among the rocks of Switzerland. Very little was known about them. Agassiz undertook to find out all he could. I have not time, nor room, to tell you the story of his long hard years of work. I can only tell you that he succeeded. His name is great, because he has been a great helper to students. It is great for another reason. The more he studied the wonderful works of God, the more he seemed to learn to love and trust God. The more he read of the rocks, and the bones, scattered over the earth, the more sure he was that the Bible was true. He came to our own country when he was not much over thirty years old, and lived there for the rest of his life; always studying, and teaching others. He became a professor in Cambridge University, where he helped to build a monument for himself in the Museum of Natural History which has helped and is helping so many students. He was not an old man when he died—only about sixty-six years; but he did more work in those years than most men accomplish who live to be eighty.