Charles Alexandre Lesueur

Charles Alexandre Le Sueur

1778 (Le Havre, France) – 1846 (Sainte-Adresse)

Cuvier taught him — noted ichthyologists both. He acted as artist and naturalist on Baudin’s voyage to Australia, having signed up as a gunner: Péron was his colleague, and became a friend for life. Lesueur Met Maclure in Paris, and travelled extensively with him on scientific expeditions, joining his and Owen’s celebrated ‘Boatload of Knowledge’ from Pittsburgh to the utopian community of New Harmony (“more learning than ever was contained in a boat” was Owen’s description). Say, part of the same community, became a lifelong friend. Bodmer struck up a friendship with Lesueur and Say on a visit to New Harmony.

Charles Alexandre Lesueur knew…

Karl Friedrich Schimper

1803 (Mannheim, Germany) – 1867 (Schwetzingen)

Engelmann, Agassiz and Braun were student friends in Heidelberg. Schimper, with his close friend Agassiz and Braun, then studied further in Munich, spending regular evenings with their teachers Martius and Oken in congenial discussion; Schimper was also Schelling’s favourite student. The story of Schimper’s and Agassiz’s competing claims to primacy in the theory of glaciation is complex, but Schimper had already lectured on the subject before going to stay with Charpentier in the Alps, finding Agassiz already there, and sharing his ideas with him. Agassiz published, but Braun reasserted Schimper’s right to the real credit.

Henry David Thoreau

1817 (Concord, Mass.) – 1862 (Concord)

Thoreau, not as reclusive as reputed, was friends (often close) with many authors of mid-19th-century classics. He worked for his neighbour and mentor Emerson as tutor, handyman and gardener. Hawthorne was a fireside companion, described his ugliness as honest and agreeable, and took him to dine with Longfellow. Whitman gave him a personal copy of ‘Leaves of Grass’. Thoreau told Louisa May Alcott how frogs were more confiding in the spring (she said that his beard would deflect amorous advances). He built a fancy summerhouse for her father, and sent Agassiz specimens from Walden Pond at age 12.

Henry David Thoreau knew…

Spencer Fullerton Baird

1823 (Reading, Penn.) – 1887 (Woods Hole, Mass.)

The young Baird struck up a correspondence with Audubon, sending details of two previously unknown birds, and receiving a large part of Audubon’s collection of stuffed birds in return. Agassiz and Brewer were among those Baird wrote to in order to extend his contacts. Baird knew Leconte, and worked with Henry at the nascent Smithsonian Institution, following him as director.

Louis Agassiz

1807 (Môtiers, Switzerland) – 1873 (Cambridge, Mass.)

Agassiz studied glaciation in the Alps with Charpentier, falling out with his friend Schimper over which of them deserved credit for the theory of the Ice Age (Schimper working the main ideas out first, Agassiz – ever the self-promoter – omitting his name when he published). He classified Brazilian fish (in Latin) for Martius. He studied under Cuvier and Humboldt in Paris; Longfellow and Emerson were friends after his arrival in the U.S.; Edward Morse and James were among his students. Thoreau supplied him with freshwater turtles for his research, and Darwin admired his work on glaciation, despite Agassiz’ strong opposition to Darwinism.

John James Audubon

1785 (Les Cayes, Santo Domingo, now Haiti) – 1851 (?New York)

Audubon met Henslow, Sedgwick, Whewell, Buckland, Swainson, Lawrence and the aged Bewick on a visit to England; the last two helped him find subscribers for his folios of bird prints. Cuvier, met in Paris, described his work as magnificent. Humboldt had been met in America: they corresponded for over 60 years. The 17-year-old Baird wrote describing two birds new to science; Audubon gave him part of his collection of stuffed birds, assisting a hugely influential scientist’s development. D’Orbigny was a childhood friend in France. It is however a myth spread by Audubon that he studied with Jacques-Louis David.

Hans Sloane

1660 (Killyleagh, Ireland) – 1753 (London)

As a student in France, he met Magnol. Montagu was a friend, Linnaeus and Haller both met him when they visited London, while Boerhaave, Leibniz, Locke, Pepys, Jussieu and Walpole were all correspondents. Leeuwenhoek wrote describing blood cells, and Ray made use of his plant collection to help in his own research. Franklin sold him a purse made of asbestos; Handel apparently carelessly put a buttered muffin down on one of his priceless manuscripts. Boyle and Newton were both friends; he succeeded Newton as president of the Royal Society, where Aubrey, Halley and Flamsteed were colleagues.

Georg Forster

1754 (Nassenhuben, Prussia, now Mokry Dwór, Poland) – 1794 (Paris)

His father Johann Reinhold Forster was invited to join Cook’s second Pacific expedition, with the 18-year-old Georg accompanying as draughtsman. Banks, Goethe, Wieland, Lessing and Herder were all regular correspondents. Forster’s translation of a Sanskrit play influenced Herder and stimulated German indology. He and Lichtenberg edited a literary/scientific journal in Göttingen, where his wife’s father Heyne was an eminent professor. The young Humboldt accompanied him on a journey through the Low Countries and England. He attacked Kant over his views on race, but the two never met.

Charles Darwin

1809 (Shrewsbury, England) – 1882 (Downe)

Darwin’s brother introduced Babbage. Edmonstone, a freed slave, taught him taxidermy and talked of the tropics. Grant and Henslow were influential tutors. He worked with Sedgwick before joining FitzRoy on the Beagle, and visited Herschel in Cape Town; Owen and Gould helped establish the status of material he brought back from that voyage. Lyell, Haeckel and Gray championed Darwin’s ideas, and his close friend Huxley publicly defended him; Agassiz opposed Darwinism, but sent a crate of barnacles from America to aid his research. Though Humboldt respected him greatly, Darwin could hardly get a word in edgeways.