On 14 December 1873, Louis Agassiz (1807–1873) passed away at Cambridge, MA. He was a Swiss-American biologist known for his writings on taxonomy and geological history.
After studying at Paris under Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859) and Georges Cuvier (1769–1832), he emigrated to the United States in 1847 and became director of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University. His studies of ichthyological fossils (fish) brought him into connection with debates about Darwinian evolution, about which Agassiz expressed various reservations due to its possible polygenetic implications. These issues, he publicly debated with his colleague Asa Gray (1810–1888) at Harvard in the 1860s.
Earlier in his career, Agassiz had undertaken studies of glaciers, regarding the geological damage caused by glacial movements, working in collaboration with William Buckland (1784–1856). In the 1870s, Agassiz accompanied the United States Coastal Survey to Brazil on board the ship Hassler where he reported various findings on South American fish species, a scientific excursion which drew a commendation from Charles Darwin (1809–1882).
An excerpt from the introduction of Agassiz’s “Essay on Classification” (1857) reveals some of the theological considerations which animated his writings in the years prior to the publication of Origin of Species (1859):
“The divisions of animals according to branch, class, order, family, genus, and species… Are these divisions artificial or natural? Are they the devices of the human mind to classify and arrange our knowledge in such a manner as to bring it more readily without our grasp and facilitate further investigations, or have they been instituted by the Divine Intelligence as the categories of his mode of thinking? Have we, perhaps, thus far been only the unconscious interpreters of a Divine conception, in our attempts to expound nature? and when, in our pride of philosophy, we thought that we were inventing systems of science and classifying creation by the force of our own reason, have we followed only, and reproduced, in our imperfect expressions, the plan whose foundations were laid in the dawn of creation…?