Professor Shaler – Healing horses
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
LOUIS AGASSIZ AS A TEACHER ILLUSTRATIVE EXTRACTS ON HIS METHOD OF INSTRUCTION WITH AN INTRODUCTORY NOTE BY LANE COOPER [PROFESSOR OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE IN CORNELL UNIVERSITY MARINE BIOLOGICAL LABORATORY LIBRARY WOODS HOLE, MASS. W. H. 0. I. 1917 ]
I will content myself with one of those stories, which will of itself show how easily he captivated men, even those of the ruder sort. Some years after we came together, when indeed I was formally his assistant, I believe it was in 1866, he became much interested in the task of comparing the skeletons of thoroughbred horses with those of common stock. I had at his request tried, but without success, to obtain the bones of certain famous stallions from my acquaintances among the racing men in Kentucky.
Early one morning there was a fire, supposed to be incendiary, in the stables in the Beacon Park track, a mile from the College, in which a number of horses had been killed, and many badly scorched. I had just returned from the place, where I had left a mob of irate owners and jockeys in a violent state of mind, intent on finding someone to hang. I had seen the chance of getting a valuable lot of stallions for the Museum, but it was evident that the time was most inopportune for suggesting such a disposition of the remains. Had I done so, the results would have been, to say the least, unpleasant.
As I came away from the profane lot of horsemen gathered about the ruins of their fortunes or their hopes, I met Agassiz almost running to seize the chance of specimens. I told him to come back with me, that we must wait until the mob had spent its rage; but he kept on.
I told him further that he risked spoiling his good chance, and finally that he would have his head punched; but he trotted on. I went with him, in the hope that I might protect him from the consequences of his curiosity.
When we reached the spot, there came about a marvel; in a moment he had all those raging men at his command. He went at once to work with the horses which had been hurt, but were saveable. His intense sympathy with the creatures, his knowledge of the remedies to be applied, his immediate appropriation of the whole situation, of which he was at once the master, made those rude folk at once his friends. Nobody asked who he was, for the good reason that he was heart and soul of them.
When the task of helping was done, then Agassiz skilfully came to the point of his business the skeletons and this so dexterously and sympathetically, that the men were, it seemed, ready to turn over the living as well as the dead beasts for his service. I have seen a lot of human doing, much of it critically as actor or near observer, but this was in many ways the greatest. The supreme art of it was in the use of a perfectly spontaneous and most actually sympathetic motive to gain an end.
With others, this state of mind would lead to affectation; with him, it in no wise diminished the quality of the emotion. He could measure the value of the motive, but do it without lessening its moral import.