[taken from Chapter 6 Manx Worthies, A.W.Moore, 1901]
son of Edward Forbes, of Oakhill and Cronkbane, near Douglas, banker, and Jane, eldest daughter and heiress of William Teare, of Corvalla and Ballabeg, Ballaugh, was born at Douglas, where he received his early education. He very early displayed marked and widespread tastes for natural history, literature, and drawing. When at school he was described as tall and thin, with limbs loosely hung, and wearing his hair very long. His schoolbooks were covered with caricatures and grotesque figures, which so impressed his parents with his artistic talent that they sent him to London to study art at the age of sixteen. However, since he was refused admittance to the Royal Academy School, and had not been found sufficiently promising by his teacher, Mr. Sass, FORBES entered Edinburgh University, in 1831, as a medical student. While in London, he wrote a paper " On Some Manx Traditions," which was published in the Mirror newspaper in 1831. In his first year at Edinburgh, he attended Knox's lectures on anatomy and Graham's on botany, and became a devoted student of natural history. At this early period his powers of generalization were as noticeable as his perfect familiarity with natural objects and his varied experimental studies. His peculiar vein of humour showed itself in sketches of the most grotesque kind and in equally broad comic verses. During the vacation of 1832 he investigated the natural history of the Isle of Man. He returned to Edinburgh with a bias against medicine, and he was far more congenially employed in writing and drawing for the "University Maga," which he and a few other students brought out for some weeks. The death, in 1836, of his mother, who had particularly wished him to become a physician, left him free to resign medical studies.
Meanwhile his vacations had been utilized for much natural history work. In the summer of 1833 he went to Norway, sailing from the Isle of Man to Arendal in a brig. Both the voyage and the land trip were occupied with the keenest observation of natural history. The return journey was through Christiana and Copenhagen, and at these places FORBES made several botanical friends. In the summer of 1834, he dredged in the Irish Sea and continued to explore the natural history of the Isle of Man. In the summer of 1835, he visited France, Switzerland, and Germany, and was so much attracted by the Jardin des Plantes that he resolved to spend the winter of 1836-7 in Paris, studying it the Jardin. When there he attended the lectures of De Blainville and Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, which impressed him with the necessity of studying the geographical distribution of animals. After this winter he travelled in the South of France and in Algeria, collecting many natural history specimens.
In 1837-8, FORBES was back in Edinburgh, working at natural history, and bringing out his little volume on " Manx Mollusca." In the summer of 1838, after a fruitful tour through Austria, during which he collected about three thousand plant specimens, FORBES attended the British Association at Newcastle, read before it a paper " On the Distribution of Terrestrial Pulmonifera in Europe," and was asked to prepare another on the distribution of pulmonary mollusca in the British Isles, which he presented at the succeeding meeting.
After studying the starfishes of the Irish Sea he published a paper on them. The winter of 1838-9 found him delivering a course of lectures before the Edinburgh Philosophical Association on " The Natural History of the Animals in the British Seas." At this period he describes himself as studying " with a view to the development of the laws of species, of the laws of their distribution, and of the connexion between the physical and mental development of creatures."
At the British Association meeting of 1839, held at Birmingham, FORBES obtained a grant for dredging researches in the British seas, with a view to illustrating the geographical distribution of marine animals, and he started the famous club of " Red Lions," named from the inn where the first dinner took place. Throughout his life FORBES's humorous songs, the subject of which was often taken from some branch of science, were among the most conspicuous after-dinner features. About this time he undertook to publish a " History of British Starfishes," many of which had been first observed by himself. This work was completed in 1841. In 1839-40 he lectured on natural history both at Cupar and St. Andrew's with great success, having much original material, and aiding his lectures by excellent chalk drawings. Towards the end of 1839, he founded a " University Club," under whose auspices an "Academic Annual " (the only one which appeared) was published, containing, FORBES's paper " On the Association of Mollusca on the British coast, considered with reference to Pleistocene Geology," in which he established his notable division of the coast into four zones, and pointed out the effects on the fauna of subsidence and elevation. He gave a series of lectures at Liverpool in the spring of 1840, visited London, where he made the acquaintance of many leading men of science, and travelled and dredged extensively.
In 1841, he was appointed naturalist to H. M. S. Beacon, engaged in surveying work in the Levant. Gaining the interest of all on board in his studies, he made extensive collections of marine animals, and learned many facts of importance in the natural history of the Aegean Sea. He also studied the relations of animals and plants on the islands of the Archipelago. In the autumn FORBES dredged on the south and west coast of Asia Minor, and went on antiquarian and natural history excursions into the uplands of Lycii. In the spring of 1842, he made an extended journey in Lycia, discovering the ruins of Termessus, and exploring many other interesting sites. Besides making antiquarian discoveries, FORBES made collections of land and fresh water mollusca, and of plants, and ascertained the main features of the geology of Lycia.
During his absence he had been elected to the Professorship of Botany at King's College, but it was worth less than £100 a year. He consequently applied for the curatorship of the museum of the Geological Society at £150 a year, and was elected. The work of the new appointment absorbed nearly all his time, and necessitated the postponement of full publication of his researches in the Aegean ; but he presented a valuable "Report on the Mollusca and R..i(liata of the Aegean Sea" to the British Association in 1843, which raised his reputation greatly. His botanical lectures opened well, and became popular from their philosophical tone and practical illustrations, which were based on a wide knowledge of plants in their native habitats. He had frequent returns of intermittent fever, and his labour at the Geological Society was incessant. The want of a skilled paleontologist on the Geological Survey became evident in 1844, and at, Mr. (now Sir A. C.) Ramsay's suggestion FORBES received the appointment in October. Meanwhile he delivered ail important lecture before the Royal Institution on "The Light thrown on Geology by Submarine Researches," in which he expounded his discoveries about littoral zones, the character of deposits formed at various depths in the ocean, and the migration of mollusca,,i. The Government now granted £500 towards the publication of his Aegean researches, which unfortunately he never had time to complete for the press. The Fullerian professorship was then offered to him but he declined it. The success with which his fertile mind was still grappling with important zoological questions is shown by his ingenious paper " On the Morphology of the Reproductive System of the Sertularian Zoophyte, and its Analogy with the Reproductive System of the Flowering Plant."
His work in connexion with the Geological Survey, which was not only to) discriminate, describe, name, and arrange the fossils collected by the survey, but also to visit the districts where the surveyors ware working and examine the rocks with the fossils in them, gave a new and important development to FORBES'S ideas. Relieved by his improved income, he now became a Fellow of the Geological Society in 1844, and of the Royal Society in 1845, and, in the same year, he was elected a member of the Athenaeum Club by special vote, on the strong recommendation of Professor Owen. It was at this time that he gave a course of lectures at the Royal Institution on " The Natural history and Geological Distribution of Fossil Marine Animals," and he contributed a remarkable paper on the geographical distribution of local plants, at the meeting of the British Association. After the meeting, he went on a dredging expedition from the Shetlands round the west coast of Scotland, and found many new inedusx and several living molluscs which had previously only been known in a fossil state. Wearied by routine work at the survey, and by the attempt to complete his book on Lycia, he had a severe illness in the winter of 1845-6, but, in the spring of 1846, he gave a course of lectures at the London Institution on " The Geographical and Geological Distribution of Organised Beings." The King's College lectures on botany followed immediately~, but FORBES's was able to finish his important paper " On the Connection between the Distribution of the existing Fauna and Flora of the British Isles and the Geological Changes which have affected their Area," published in the first volume of the memoirs of the Geological Survey, and to complete his "Lycia," which appeared in the autumn and became a standard work. Early in 1847, a remark of FORBES's led to the formation of the Palaeontographical Society, which has done so much for British paleontology. In a lecture at the Royal Institution in May on " The Natural History Features of the North Atlantic, " FORBES referred to the bearing of scientific research on deep sea fisheries, and censured the Government and the public for their neglect of the subject, which has only lately received much attention. He continued his preparation for his great work on the " History of British Mollusca " (in conjunction with Mr Sylvanus Hanley) which appeared in four volumes (1848-52). It was a work of vast research, for which many summer dredging excursions and visits to the museums of well-knownn collectors were made. During the autumn of this year, as throughout his remaining years in London, geological excursions were made on survey work. Of FORBES on these excursions Mr. (afterwards Sir A. C.) Ramsay writes : " There never was a more delightful companion. It was on such occasions that his inner life best revealed itself ; his knowledge was so varied, his conversation often so brilliant and instructive." The winter of 1849-50 found him busy until the arrangement of the new geological museum of the Survey at Jermyn Street, but literary and lecturing work absorbed most of his time. In the summer a dredging expedition among the Western Hebrides added many species to the British fauna and many valuable facts to geology. In the spring of 1850, he gave twelve lectures at the Royal Institution on the " Geographical Distribution of Organised Beings." The Jermyn Street museum was opened by Prince Albert in May, 1851, and during the summer a scheme for establishing a school of mines was matured. FORBES was. appointed lecturer on natural history as applied to geology and the arts. We may note that at this time he wrote a delightful article on " Shellfish, their Ways and Works " for the first number of the new series of the " Westminster Review " (January, 1852). During the winter of 1852-3 he worked out important new views on the classification of the tertiary formations, which he did not live to complete in memoir form, but they were published by his colleagues in 1857. In 1853. he was elected President of the Geological Society, an office never before held by so young a man, and, in 1854, he became Professor of Geology at Edinburgh.
He entered on his work there with an eager zeal which proved far too exhausting for his strength. Crowded audiences stimulated the lecturer's powers to the highest degree. He set vigorously to work to remodel the museum, and geological excursions with large numbers of students filled up each week. Early in August he returned to London to complete unfinished work, but illness overtook him. He was, however, present at the Liverpool meeting of the British Association, and presided over the Geological section. His last writing was a review of Murchison's " Siluria," which appeared in the " Quarterly Review " of October, 1854. He lectured through the first week of the winter session in manifest ill-health, but in the second week had to desist, owing to disease of the kidneys, of which he died. He was buried in the Dean Cemetery, Edinburgh.
FORBES lived an unusually full life, occupied in promoting science and arousing enthusiasm and awakening intelligence in others. To almost every department of biology he rendered much service, especially by connecting various branches together and illustrating one by the other. He played an important part in elevating paleontology to a high position in practical geology, and in elucidating ancient British zoology. He had a remarkable talent for discovering the relttioris of detached phenomena to the general scheme of nature and making broad generalizations ; and he looked on the world not as mere piece of mechanism, but as a visible manifestation of the ideas of God. Many who knew him testified that "the old mourned him as a son, the young as a brother. " An eminent naturalist, writing in the " Literary Gazette," of the 25th of November' 1854, said Pare as was the genius of Edward Forbes, his character was rarer still. . . A thorough spirit of charity seemed to hide from him all but the good and worthy points in his fellow-men. Worked to death, his time and knowledge were at the disposal of all comers; and though his published works have been comparatively few, his ideas have been as the grain of mustard-seed in the parable." FORBES 's love of social life, and his vigorous and genial humour are apparent throughout his career. His humorous verses have not been collected, but several of them have been published. One on the Red Tape Worm " contains the following lines :-
In Downing Street the tape worms thrive;
In Somerset House they are all alive;
And slimy tracks mark where they crawl
In and out along Whitehall.
When I'm dead and yield my ghost,
Mark not my grave by a government post,
Let mild earth worms with me Play,
But keep vile tape worms far away.
And if I deserve to rise
To a good place in Paradise,
May my soul good angels guide,
And keep it from the official side
A marble bust, now in the vestibule of the Government Buildings, and a tablet in St. George's Church, have been erected to FORBES 's memory by his countrymen.
An impartial estimate of what FORBES actually did will not enable us to place his name quite in the first rank of naturalists, as his published works are rather suggestive than demonstrative. But it must be remembered that he passed away ere i.eaeliin, his prime, and he must be tried, not merely by what in his short lifetime he did himself, but by the ideas which, scattered by him broadcast over the world, have sprung up and are bearing, fruit in many lands. He did more, perhaps, than any other man of his day to spread abroad a love for natural history ; more, undoubtedly, than many one of his contemporaries, to indicate how natural history and geology must be woven together. The name of EDWARD FORBES will go down to posterity inseparably linked with the history of palaecoiltology, as one of the greatest naturalists that ever strove to bring his knowledge of the living world to elucidate the physical and organic changes in the past history of the world. He attained this high eminence not as a solitary worker. In nothing was his career more marked than in the power he possessed of interesting others in his field of labour. His broad philosophical spirit enabled him to appreciate the researches of the chemist and the physicist, and in return he drew their sympathy with him into his own domain. in bearing down all jealousy and envy among his follow-naturalists, and enlisting their active co-operation in the common cause, he stood forth conspicuous among the scientific men of his time. And this he accomplished not so much by the weight of his authority in matters of science, as by the influence of his manly, true-hearted nature. His wit and humour too, which made him the life and soul of every circle in which he moved, were, doubtless, not without their effect in attracting many to him. Our affections cling to character, and not to intellect, and rare as was the genius of EDWARD FORBES, his character was rarer still. The petty vanities and heart-burnings, which are the besetting sins of men of science and of men of letters, had no hold upon his large and generous nature. It was not his mental powers, great though these were, nor his vast knowledge of those branches of science which he made his especial study, that gained him the love and respect of all men, but a simple kindly heart that knew no selfishness, and embraced in its wide and generous sympathy all that was honourable and good.
(From the Dictionary of National Biography, and the Memoir of Edward Forbes by Dr. Wilson and Prof. Archibald Geikie; Edinburgh, 1861).
[slightly amended from Manx Note Book no 11p125 et seq.