Forster, John Reinhold

, an eminent naturalist, was the son of a burgomaster at Dirschaw, in Polish Prussia, where he was born Oct. 22, 1729. We learn nothing of his education until his fifteenth year, when he was admitted into the gymnasium of Joachimsthal at Berlin, where his application to the study of ancient and modern languages was incessant and successful. From 1748, when he went to the university of Halle, he studied theology, and continued his application to the learned languages, among which he comprehended the Oriental, and after three years he removed to Dantzic, and distinguished himself as a preacher, imitating the French rather than the Dutch manner; and in 1753 he obtained a settlement at Nassenhuben. In the following year he married his cousin, Elizabeth Nikolai. During his residence in this place he employed his leisure hours in the study of philosophy, geography, and the mathematics, still improving his acquaintance with the ancient and modern languages. With a small income, and increasing family, the difficulties he experienced induced him to accept the proposal of removing to Russia, in order to superintend the new colonies at Saratow, but not succeeding in this or any other scheme of a settlement in that country, he removed to London in | 1766, with strong recommendations, but with very little money. After his arrival, he received from the government of Russia a present of 100 guineas; and he also made an addition to his stock by the translation of Kalm’s Travels and Osbeck’s Voyage. At this time lord Baltimore proposed to him a settlement in America, as superintendant of his extensive property in that country; but he preferred the place of teacher of the French, German, and natural history in the dissenting academy at Warrington. For the first department he was by no means well qualified, his extraordinary knowledge of languages being unaccompanied by a particle of taste, and his use of them being barbarous, though fluent; and his knowledge of natural history was of little value in his academical department. This situation, however, for these or other reasons which we never heard assigned, he soon abandoned; and returning to London, he was engaged, in 1772, to accompany captain Cook, as a naturalist, in his second voyage round the world. At this time he was forty-three years of age, and his son George, who went with him, was seventeen. Upon his return to England in 1775, the university of Oxford conferred upon him the degree of LL. D. At this time he was projecting, with the assistance of his son, a botanical work in Latin, containing the characters of many new genera of plants, which they had discovered in the course of their voyage. An account of the voyage having been published by his son in English and German, the father was supposed to have had a considerable share in it; and as he had entered into an engagement not to publish any thing separately from the authorized narrative, he thus incurred the displeasure of government, and gave offence to his friends. Independently of the violation of his engagement, he was also chargeable with having introduced into his work several reflections on the government which appointed, and some falsehoods respecting the navigators who conducted the expedition.*


The conduct of Mr. Forsler has been thus related from authorities in “Wales’s Remarks on Forster’s Account,” published in 1788, and “Forster’s Letter to lord Sandwich,1778: When captain Cook’s second voyage round the world was projected, Dr. J. R. Forster was appointed, on the strongest recommendation, to accompany captain Cook, as a person eminently qualified as a naturalist and philosopher, whose observations on the newdiscovered countries could not fail to be of the greatest utility to science. Unhappily, his conduct and behaviour on board, during the whole of the voyage, was just the reverse of what it ought to have been. Proud, imperious, and opiniated he never passed a week without a dispute with one person or


other—and before the ship had reached New Zealand, he had quarrelled with almost every person on board. This created a very great shyness between him and the officers, and was the cause of his suffering the most mortifying neglects. The asperity of his temper displayed itself also in his connection with the natives of the South Sea Isles. He was fwice confined by captain Cook for wanton and unprovoked cruelty to them:—his deportment was, as might naturally be expected, the cause of much uneasiness on board, and gave men serious offence to captain Cook, that, on the return of the ship, he reported it to lord Sandwich (who then presided at the board of admiralty); in consequence of which he was effectually deprived of that emolument, which, otherwise, was as certain as magnificent.—The “Observations” he drew up, were at first intended to have bet-n printed along with captain Cook’s Narrative, but were afterwards rejected. During the voyage, Dr. Forster had collected a number of liv animals, and a large collection of dried skins of animals, part of which he presented to the public, by sending them to the British Museum, and part to the Queen, which, as he himself says in his “Letter to lord Sandwich,” was most graciously received—for which, he complains, he never received any return more substantial than thanks. He had also procured, at a very great expence, drawings of many curious objects in natural history, which he intended for the King, who refused even to see them; from which unfortunate circumstances, he pathetically complains in his Letter, that he and his family are ruined. He published, at his own risk, his “Observations,” in a large quarto volume and his Son, who accompanied him in the voyage, published a Narrative of it.—In both of these works there evidently appears a studied attempt to brand captain Cook, and the whole ship’s crew, with unprovoked barbarity to the mild, inoffensive, hospitable islanders of the South Sea.

The father and | son, finding that, in consequence of these circumstances, their situation in London was become unpleasant, determined to quit EnglaiYd. Before the execution of their purpose, their condition became embarrassed and distressing; but Mr. Forster was invited, in 1780, to be professor of natural history at Halle, and inspector of the botanical garden and in the following year he obtained the degree of M. D. His health, however, began to decline and the death of his son George so deeply impressed his mind as to aggravate his other complaints. Towards the commencement of 1798, his case became desperate; and before the close of this year, viz. on the 9th of December, he died. Mr. Forster’s disposition was most unamiable, and extremely irritable and litigious; and his want of prudence involved him in perpetual difficulties. Yet these seem to have all been virtues in the eyes of the celebrated Kurt Sprengel of Halle, who thus embellishes his character, which we should not copy if it did not mention some particulars of his studies and works: “To a knowledge of books in all branches of science, seldom to be met with, he joined an uncommon fund of practical observations, of which he well knew how to avail himself. In natural history, in geography, both physical and moral, and in universal history, he was acquainted with a vast number of | facts, of which he who draws his information from works only has not even a distant idea. This assertion is proved in the most striking manner by his ‘ Observations made in a Voyage round the World.’ Of this book it may be said, that no traveller ever gathered so rich a treasure on his tour. What person of any education can read and study this work, which is unparalleled in its kind, without discovering in it that species of instructive and pleasing information which most interests man, as such The uncommon pains which Forster took in his literary compositions, and his conscientious accuracy in historical disquisitions, are best evinced by his * History of Voyages and Discoveries in the North, 7 and likewise by his excellent archaeological dissertation ‘ On the Byssus of the Ancients.’ Researches such as these were his favourite employment, in which he was greatly assisted by his intimate acquaintance with the classics. Forster had a predilection for the sublime in natural history, and aimed at general views ratUer than detail. His favourite author, therefore, was Buffon, whom he used to recommend as a pattern of style, especially in his ‘ Epoques de la Nature,’ his description of the horse, camel, &c. He had enjoyed the friendship of that distinguished naturalist; and he likewise kept up an uninterrupted epistolary intercourse with Linna3us, till the death of the latter. Without being a stickler for the forms and ceremonies of any particular persuasion, he adored the eternal Author of all which exists in the great temple of nature, and venerated his wisdom and goodness with an ardour and a heart-felt conviction, that, in my opinion, alone constitute the criterion of true religion. He held in utter contempt aM those who, to gratify their passions, or imitate the prevailing fashion, made a jest of the most sacred and respectable feelings of mankind. His moral feelings were equally animated: he was attracted with irresistible force by whatever was true, good, or excellent. Great characters inspired him with an esteem which he sometimes expressed with incredible ardour.

His other works, besides those above mentioned, are chiefly compilations and translations. He also communicated several papers to the royal society, the academy of sciences at Stockholm, the imperial academy of sciences at Petersburgh, and other learned societies which appear in their respective Transactions and Memoirs. 1

1 Gleig’s Suppl. to the Encyelop. Britan. —Gent. Mag. 1799. Rees’s Cyclopaed.