Darwin met Agassiz at the end of 1869, and in a letter from September 1871, Darwin reported to F. E. Abbot that he’d suffered six weeks of giddiness and other head-symptoms. Alexander was the son of Louis Agassiz, a biologist and geologist, regarded as a prolific scholar of natural history. Unfortunately, Louis Agassiz chose the wrong side in what turned out to be the 19th century’s greatest scientific controversy—that over Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, and deemed On the Origin of Species (1859) “a scientific mistake, untrue in its facts, unscientific in its methods, and mischievous in its tendency.”
The present letter suggests that Agassiz was very much a supporter of Darwin and his theories, and actively sought to share his work with the geologist and biologist. "I cannot thank you enough for your letter of Aug 9th, which, even if I had not wished much to learn something about the pediculariæ, would at any time have interested me beyond measure," Darwin warmly begins. "It is a splendid case of gradation of structure... Over & over again I have come across some structures, & thought that here was an instance in which I shd. utterly fail to find any intermediate or graduated structure; but almost always by keeping a look out I have found more or less plain traces of the lines through which development has proceeded by short & easy & serviceable steps. Rarely, however, have I learnt so fine an instance as this of yours." Darwin's done is not only highly complementary, but in its address of structural geology seems to be exploring the sorts of theories Louis Agassiz would have railed against.
Darwin goes on to mention his "giddiness & horrid head feelings," claiming that he has done nothing for five weeks. He also thanks Alexander "the beautiful book, 'Sea-side Studies'," which he promises to read as soon as his "odious head" allows. Seaside Studies in Natural History (1865) was a collaboration between Alexander Agassiz and his stepmother, Elizabeth.
Sotheby's would like to thank Dr. Sam Evans and the Darwin Correspondence Project for their assistance with the cataloguing of this lot.
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