Essay on Classification

Essay on Classification

Essay on Classification

Essay on Classification

Excerpt

In 1855, Louis Agassiz wrote a Swiss friend regarding his present condition and future prospects:

I have now been eight years in America, have learned the advantages of my position here, and have begun undertakings which are not yet brought to a conclusion. I am also aware how wide an influence I already exert upon this land of the future, an influence which gains in extent and intensity every year.

It was precisely this appreciation of his stature in American society that prompted Agassiz to plan the publication of a series of monographs for the instruction of the public on the meaning of natural history. During the next few years Agassiz worked intensely, aided by the spiritual and monetary support that had always blessed his popular efforts. In 1857 his labors were rewarded when Little, Brown, and Company published the first two volumes of his Contributions to the Natural History of the United States. The oversized, heavy, lavishly illustrated, finely printed volumes were in themselves physical testimony to the dominance of their author in national and international science and culture. The greater portion of volume one was entitled Essay on Classification, in which Agassiz delineated the theoretical principles and philosophy of his craft that made comprehensible the subsequent special studies. The Essay was the intellectual core of Agassiz's monumental publication, and he was very proud of it. Its pages contained the fundamental truths that had guided his long and distinguished examination of nature's creations. At a time when naturalists were debating divergent conceptions of the meaning of natural history he confidently expected his treatise to be the full and final explanation of the organic world.

In 1859, at the behest of "friends in whose opinion I have the . . .

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