- Historic Sites
Alexander Agassiz: A Reluctant Millionaire
April/may 1983 | Volume 34, Issue 3
In 1873 he wrote, “Everything seems so prosperous that I feel as if some of us would have to pay a heavy penalty, by and by, for all our happiness. …” That winter Louis Agassiz suffered a stroke and died a week later. Young Anna Agassiz caught pneumonia while caring for her stricken father-in-law and died eight days after that. “Few young men,” wrote Alexander, “have reached my age and have attained … all their ambition might desire, and yet the one thing which I crave for … is wanting. How gladly would I exchange all that I have for what I have lost.”
He never remarried. In time he made a comfortable widower’s life for himself, looked after by his beloved stepmother and giving dinner parties at Newport that were famous for their conviviality and good food. But until the end of his days he could never bear to make the briefest mention of Anna’s death. “I feel as if I were acting a lie,” he said once, “but it is a harmless one which I must make up my mind to keep up for many a long year.”
During those years he never ceased his researches, and they won him honor after honor: England awarded him the Victoria Research Medal; France made him an Officer of the Legion of Honor; and before his death in 1910 the house of Hohenzollern overlooked the insults he had offered it a lifetime before to make him a Knight of the Order of Merit of Prussia.