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Home > Dictionary of Science Quotations > Scientist Names Index A > Louis Agassiz Quotes

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Louis Agassiz
(28 May 1807 - 14 Dec 1873)

Swiss-American naturalist and geologist who published several volumes describing and classifying fossil fish. He is also known for significant work on glacier activity.


Science Quotes by Louis Agassiz (39 quotes)

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Branches or types are characterized by the plan of their structure,
Classes, by the manner in which that plan is executed, as far as ways and means are concerned,
Orders, by the degrees of complication of that structure,
Families, by their form, as far as determined by structure,
Genera, by the details of the execution in special parts, and
Species, by the relations of individuals to one another and to the world in which they live, as well as by the proportions of their parts, their ornamentation, etc.
— Louis Agassiz
Essay on Classification (1857). Contributions to the Natural History of the United States of America (1857), Vol. I, 170.
Science quotes on:  |  Classification (79)

A laboratory of natural history is a sanctuary where nothing profane should be tolerated. I feel less agony at improprieties in churches than in a scientific laboratory.
— Louis Agassiz
Lecture at a teaching laboratory on Penikese Island, Buzzard's Bay. Quoted from the lecture notes by David Starr Jordan, Science Sketches (1911), 147.
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Louis Agassiz quote: A man cannot be professor of zoölogy on one day and of chemistry on the next, and do good work in both. As
A man cannot be professor of zoölogy on one day and of chemistry on the next, and do good work in both. As in a concert all are musicians,—one plays one instrument, and one another, but none all in perfection.
— Louis Agassiz
Lecture at a teaching laboratory on Penikese Island, Buzzard's Bay. Quoted from the lecture notes by David Starr Jordan, Science Sketches (1911), 146.
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A smattering of everything is worth little. It is a fallacy to suppose that an encyclopaedic knowledge is desirable. The mind is made strong, not through much learning, but by the thorough possession of something.
— Louis Agassiz
Lecture at a teaching laboratory on Penikese Island, Buzzard's Bay. Quoted from the lecture notes by David Starr Jordan, Science Sketches (1911), 145.
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Absorbed in the special investigation, I paid no heed to the edifice which was meanwhile unconsciously building itself up. Having however completed the comparison of the fossil species in Paris, I wanted, for the sake of an easy revision of the same, to make a list according to their succession in geological formations, with a view of determining the characteristics more exactly and bringing them by their enumeration into bolder relief. What was my joy and surprise to find that the simplest enumeration of the fossil fishes according to their geological succession was also a complete statement of the natural relations of the families among themselves; that one might therefore read the genetic development of the whole class in the history of creation, the representation of the genera and species in the several families being therein determined; in one word, that the genetic succession of the fishes corresponds perfectly with their zoological classification, and with just that classification proposed by me.
— Louis Agassiz
Quoted in Elizabeth Cary Agassiz (ed.), Louis Agassiz: His Life and Correspondence (1885), Vol. I, 203-4.
Science quotes on:  |  Classification (79)  |  Evolution (482)  |  Fossil (107)

America, so far as her physical history is concerned, has been falsely denominated the New World. Hers was the first dry land lifted out of the waters, hers the first shore washed by the ocean that enveloped all the earth beside; and while Europe was represented only by islands rising here and there above the sea, America already stretched an unbroken line of land from Nova Scotia to the Far West.
— Louis Agassiz
Geological Sketches (1866), I.
Science quotes on:  |  America (74)  |  Earth (487)

Embryology furnishes … the best measure of the true affinities existing between animals.
— Louis Agassiz
In 'Essay on Classification', Contributions to the Natural History of the United States of America (1857), Pt. 1, 85.
Science quotes on:  |  Affinity (11)  |  Animal (309)  |  Embryology (16)  |  Furnish (18)  |  Measure (70)

Embryology furnishes, also, the best measure of true affinities existing between animals.
— Louis Agassiz
Essay on Classification (1857). Contributions to the Natural History of the United States of America (1857), Vol. I, 85.
Science quotes on:  |  Classification (79)  |  Embryology (16)

Every great scientific truth goes through three states: first, people say it conflicts with the Bible; next, they say it has been discovered before; lastly, they say they always believed it.
— Louis Agassiz
Attributed; it does not appear directly in this form in any writings by Agassiz. This version of the quote comes from the Saturday Evening Post (1890), as cited in Ralph Keyes, The Quote Verifier (2006), 226. Since the quote was not printed within quotation marks, it is unlikely that this is a verbatim statement. Keyes discusses variations of the “three stages of truth” that have been attributed to a various other authors, but provides some substantiation with examples of similar quotes linked to Agassiz as related in second-person accounts.
Science quotes on:  |  Truth (750)

I cannot afford to waste my time making money.
A reply to an offer of a lecture tour.
— Louis Agassiz
Attributed.
Science quotes on:  |  Money (125)

I have devoted my whole life to the study of Nature, and yet a single sentence may express all that I have done. I have shown that there is a correspondence between the succession of Fishes in geological times and the different stages of their growth in the egg,—this is all. It chanced to be a result that was found to apply to other groups and has led to other conclusions of a like nature.
— Louis Agassiz
In Methods of Study in Natural History (1863), 23.
Science quotes on:  |  Evolution (482)  |  Fossil (107)  |  Geology (187)  |  Nature (1029)

I now never make the preparations for penetrating into some small province of nature hitherto undiscovered without breathing a prayer to the Being who hides His secrets from me only to allure me graciously on to the unfolding of them.
— Louis Agassiz
As quoted in E.P. Whipple, 'Recollections of Agassiz', in Henry Mills Alden (ed.), Harper's New Monthly Magazine (June 1879), 59, 103.
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I sometimes hear preachers speak of the sad condition of men who live without God in the world, but a scientist who lives without God in the world seems to me worse off than ordinary men.
— Louis Agassiz
As quoted in E.P. Whipple, 'Recollections of Agassiz', in Henry Mills Alden (ed.), Harper's New Monthly Magazine (June 1879), 59, 103.
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I will frankly tell you that my experience in prolonged scientific investigations convinces me that a belief in God—a God who is behind and within the chaos of vanishing points of human knowledge—adds a wonderful stimulus to the man who attempts to penetrate into the regions of the unknown.
— Louis Agassiz
As quoted in E.P. Whipple, 'Recollections of Agassiz', in Henry Mills Alden (ed.), Harper's New Monthly Magazine (June 1879), 59, 103.
Science quotes on:  |  Biography (227)  |  God (454)  |  Knowledge (1128)  |  Research (517)

In 1847 I gave an address at Newton, Mass., before a Teachers’ Institute conducted by Horace Mann. My subject was grasshoppers. I passed around a large jar of these insects, and made every teacher take one and hold it while I was speaking. If any one dropped the insect, I stopped till he picked it up. This was at that time a great innovation, and excited much laughter and derision. There can be no true progress in the teaching of natural science until such methods become general.
— Louis Agassiz
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In Europe I have been accused of taking my scientific ideas from the Church. In America I have been called a heretic, because I will not let my church-going friends pat me on the head.
— Louis Agassiz
Lecture at a teaching laboratory on Penikese Island, Buzzard's Bay. Quoted from the lecture notes by David Starr Jordan, Science Sketches (1911), 147.
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In the real changes which animals undergo during their embryonic growth, in those external transformations as well as in those structural modifications within the body, we have a natural scale to measure the degree or the gradation of those full grown animals which corresponds in their external form and in their structure, to those various degrees in the metamorphoses of animals, as illustrated by embryonic changes, a real foundation for zoological classification.
— Louis Agassiz
From Lecture 4, collected in Twelve Lectures on Comparative Embryology: Delivered Before the Lowell Institute in Boston: December and January 1848-9 (1849), 29.
Science quotes on:  |  Animal (309)  |  Change (291)  |  Classification (79)  |  Degree (48)  |  Embryo (22)  |  Foundation (75)  |  Gradation (4)  |  Growth (111)  |  Illustrate (5)  |  Measure (70)  |  Modification (31)  |  Nomenclature (129)  |  Scale (49)  |  Structure (191)  |  Taxonomy (16)  |  Transformation (47)  |  Zoological (5)

Louis Agassiz quote: In-depth studies have an influence on general ideas, whereas theories, in turn, in order to maintain themse
In-depth studies have an influence on general ideas, whereas theories, in turn, in order to maintain themselves, push their spectators to search for new evidence. The mind's activity that is maintained by the debates about these works, is probably the source of the greatest joys given to man to experience on Earth.
— Louis Agassiz
La théorie des glaciers et ses progrès les plus récents. Bibl. universelle de Geneve, (3), Vol. 41, p. 139. Trans. Karin Verrecchia.
Science quotes on:  |  Geology (187)  |  Theory (582)

It is better to have a few forms well known than to teach a little about many hundred species. Better a dozen specimens thoroughly studied as the result of the first year’s work, than to have two thousand dollars’ worth of shells and corals bought from a curiosity-shop. The dozen animals would be your own.
— Louis Agassiz
Lecture at a teaching laboratory on Penikese Island, Buzzard's Bay. Quoted from the lecture notes by David Starr Jordan, Science Sketches (1911), 147.
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It must be for truth's sake, and not for the sake of its usefulness to humanity, that the scientific man studies Nature. The application of science to the useful arts requires other abilities, other qualities, other tools than his; and therefore I say that the man of science who follows his studies into their practical application is false to his calling. The practical man stands ever ready to take up the work where the scientific man leaves it, and adapt it to the material wants and uses of daily life.
— Louis Agassiz
Methods of Study in Natural History (1863),24.
Science quotes on:  |  Men Of Science (97)  |  Nature (1029)

Louis Agassiz quote: Lay aside all conceit Learn to read the book of Nature for yourself. Those who have succeeded best have fol
Lay aside all conceit. Learn to read the book of Nature for yourself. Those who have succeeded best have followed for years some slim thread which once in a while has broadened out and disclosed some treasure worth a life-long search.
— Louis Agassiz
Lecture at a teaching laboratory on Penikese Island, Buzzard's Bay. Quoted from the lecture notes by David Starr Jordan, Science Sketches (1911), 145.
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One naturally asks, what was the use of this great engine set at work ages ago to grind, furrow, and knead over, as it were, the surface of the earth? We have our answer in the fertile soil which spreads over the temperate regions of the globe. The glacier was God's great plough.
— Louis Agassiz
In 'Ice-Period in America', Geological Sketches (1875), 99.
Science quotes on:  |  Earth (487)  |  Erosion (18)  |  Glacier (13)  |  God (454)

Philosophers and theologians have yet to learn that a physical fact is as sacred as a moral principle. Our own nature demands from us this double allegiance.
— Louis Agassiz
Contributions to the Natural History of the United States of America (1857).
Science quotes on:  |  Fact (609)  |  Philosopher (132)  |  Theologian (14)

Louis Agassiz quote: Select such subjects that your pupils cannot walk out without seeing them. Train your pupils to be observer
Select such subjects that your pupils cannot walk out without seeing them. Train your pupils to be observers, and have them provided with the specimens about which you speak. If you can find nothing better, take a house-fly or a cricket, and let each one hold a specimen and examine it as you talk.
— Louis Agassiz
Lecture at a teaching laboratory on Penikese Island, Buzzard's Bay. Quoted from the lecture notes by David Starr Jordan, Science Sketches (1911), 146.
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The combination in time and space of all these thoughtful conceptions [of Nature] exhibits not only thought, it shows also premeditation, power, wisdom, greatness, prescience, omniscience, providence. In one word, all these facts in their natural connection proclaim aloud the One God, whom man may know, adore, and love; and Natural History must in good time become the analysis of the thoughts of the Creator of the Universe….
— Louis Agassiz
In Essay on Classification (1851), 205.
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The earth was covered by a huge ice sheet which buried the Siberian mammoths, and reached just as far south as did the phenomenon of erratic boulders. This ice sheet filled all the irregularities of the surface of Europe before the uplift of the Alps, the Baltic Sea, all the lakes of Northern Germany and Switzerland. It extended beyond the shorelines of the Mediterranean and of the Atlantic Ocean, and even covered completely North America and Asiatic Russia. When the Alps were uplifted, the ice sheet was pushed upwards like the other rocks, and the debris, broken loose from all the cracks generated by the uplift, fell over its surface and, without becoming rounded (since they underwent no friction), moved down the slope of the ice sheet.
— Louis Agassiz
From Études sur Les Glaciers (1840), as translated by Albert V. Carozzi in Studies on Glaciers: Preceded by the Discourse of Neuchâtel (1967), 166.
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The epoch of intense cold which preceded the present creation has been only a temporary oscillation of the earth's temperature, more important than the century-long phases of cooling undergone by the Alpine valleys. It was associated with the disappearance of the animals of the diluvial epoch of the geologists, as still demonstrated by the Siberian mammoths; it preceded the uplifting of the Alps and the appearance of the present-day living organisms, as demonstrated by the moraines and the existence of fishes in our lakes. Consequently, there is complete separation between the present creation and the preceding ones, and if living species are sometimes almost identical to those buried inside the earth, we nevertheless cannot assume that the former are direct descendants of the latter or, in other words, that they represent identical species.
— Louis Agassiz
From Discours de Neuchâtel (1837), as translated by Albert V. Carozzi in Studies on Glaciers: Preceded by the Discourse of Neuchâtel (1967), lviii.
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The long summer was over. For ages a tropical climate had prevailed over a great part of the earth, and animals whose home is now beneath the Equator roamed over the world from the far South to the very borders of the Arctics ... But their reign was over. A sudden intense winter, that was also to last for ages, fell upon our globe.
— Louis Agassiz
Geological Sketches (1866), 208.
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The office of science is not to record possibilities; but to ascertain what nature does ... As far as Darwinism deals with mere arguments of possibilities or even probabilities, without a basis of fact, it departs from the true scientific method and injures science, as most of the devotees of the new ism have already done.
— Louis Agassiz
'Professor Agassiz on the Darwinian Theory ... Interesting Facsimile Letter from the Great Naturalist', Scientific American, 1874, 30, 85.
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The resources of the Deity cannot be so meagre, that, in order to create a human being endowed with reason, he must change a monkey into a man.
— Louis Agassiz
Methods of Study in Natural History (1863), Preface, iv.
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The study of Nature is intercourse with the highest mind. You should never trifle with Nature. At her lowest her works are the works of the highest powers, the highest something in the universe, in whichever way we look at it… This is the charm of Study from Nature itself; she brings us back to absolute truth wherever we wander.
— Louis Agassiz
Lecture at a teaching laboratory on Penikese Island, Buzzard's Bay. Quoted from the lecture notes by David Starr Jordan, Science Sketches (1911), 147. Last sentence included with the quote in Peter Haring Judd (ed.), Affection: Ninety Years of Family Letters, 1850s-1930s: Haring, White, Griggs, Judd Families of New York and Waterbury, Connecticut (206), 102, where it is also noted that this comes from what must have been one of his last lectures since Agassiz died shortly thereafter.
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The surface of the earth is not simply a stage on which the thousands of present and past inhabitants played their parts in turn. There are much more intimate relations between the earth and the living organisms which populated it, and it may even be demonstrated that the earth was developed because of them.
— Louis Agassiz
From Études sur Les Glaciers (1840), as translated by Albert V. Carozzi in Studies on Glaciers: Preceded by the Discourse of Neuchâtel (1967), 175.
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The world has arisen in some way or another. How it originated is the great question, and Darwin's theory, like all other attempts, to explain the origin of life, is thus far merely conjectural. I believe he has not even made the best conjecture possible in the present state of our knowledge.
— Louis Agassiz
In Evolution and Permanence of Type (1874), 12.
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The world is the geologist’s great puzzle-box; he stands before it like the child to whom the separate pieces of his puzzle remain a mystery till he detects their relation and sees where they fit, and then his fragments grow at once into a connected picture beneath his hand.
— Louis Agassiz
Geological Sketches (1866), II.
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There is no part of the country where in the summer you cannot get a sufficient supply of the best specimens. Teach your children to bring them in for themselves. Take your text from the brooks, not from the booksellers.
— Louis Agassiz
Lecture at a teaching laboratory on Penikese Island, Buzzard's Bay. Quoted from the lecture notes by David Starr Jordan, Science Sketches (1911), 146-147.
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When chemists have brought their knowledge out of their special laboratories into the laboratory of the world, where chemical combinations are and have been through all time going on in such vast proportions,—when physicists study the laws of moisture, of clouds and storms, in past periods as well as in the present,—when, in short, geologists and zoologists are chemists and physicists, and vice versa,—then we shall learn more of the changes the world has undergone than is possible now that they are separately studied.
— Louis Agassiz
Geological Sketches (1866), 73.
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While a glacier is moving, it rubs and wears down the bottom on which it moves, scrapes its surface (now smooth), triturates the broken-off material that is found between the ice and the rock, pulverizes or reduces it to a clayey paste, rounds angular blocks that resist its pressure, and polishes those having a larger surface. At the surface of the glacier, other processes occur. Fragments of rocks that are broken-off from the neighbouring walls and fall on the ice, remain there or can be transported to the sides; they advance in this way on the top of the glacier, without moving or rubbing against each other … and arrive at the extremity of the glacier with their angles, sharp edges, and their uneven surfaces intact.
— Louis Agassiz
La théorie des glaciers et ses progrès les plus récents. Bibl. universelle de Genève, (3), Vol. 41, p.127. Trans. Karin Verrecchia.
Science quotes on:  |  Earth (487)  |  Erosion (18)  |  Geology (187)  |  Glacier (13)

You cannot do without one specialty. You must have some base-line to measure the work and attainments of others. For a general view of the subject, study the history of the sciences. Broad knowledge of all Nature has been the possession of no naturalist except Humboldt, and general relations constituted his specialty.
— Louis Agassiz
Lecture at a teaching laboratory on Penikese Island, Buzzard's Bay. Quoted from the lecture notes by David Starr Jordan, Science Sketches (1911), 146.
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[T]he phenomena of animal life correspond to one another, whether we compare their rank as determined by structural complication with the phases of their growth, or with their succession in past geological ages; whether we compare this succession with their relative growth, or all these different relations with each other and with the geographical distribution of animals upon the earth. The same series everywhere!
— Louis Agassiz
In Essay on Classification (1851), 196.
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Quotes by others about Louis Agassiz (3)

The beauty of his better self lives on
In minds he touched with fire, in many an eye
He trained to Truth's exact severity;
He was a teacher: why be grieved for him
Whose living word still stimulates the air?
[On Jean Louis Rodolphe Agassiz.] 'Ode on the Death of Agassiz' (1888). In The Poetical Works of James Russell Lowell (1978),381.
Science quotes on:  |  In Memoriam (2)

I may conclude this chapter by quoting a saying of Professor Agassiz, that whenever a new and startling fact is brought to light in science, people first say, 'it is not true,' then that 'it is contrary to religion,' and lastly, 'that everybody knew it before.'
The Antiquity of Man (1863), 105.
Science quotes on:  |  Religion (210)  |  Truth (750)

[Concerning the former belief that there were no genetic connections among species:] This view, as a rounded whole and in all its essential elements, has very recently disappeared from science. It died a royal death with Agassiz.
Asa Gray
From lecture 'Scientific Beliefs', as published in Natural Science and Religion: Two Lectures delivered to the Theological School of Yale College (1880), Vol. 3, Lecture 1, 35.
Science quotes on:  |  Death (270)  |  Disappearance (21)  |  Evolution (482)  |  Royal (10)  |  Species (181)


See also:
  • 28 May - short biography, births, deaths and events on date of Agassiz's birth.
  • Louis Agassiz: A Life in Science, by Edward Lurie. - book suggestion.

Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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