[From Manx Note Book vol 3]
ORBES RECEIVED IN JANUARY, 1845, THE HONOUR OF SPECIAL ELECTION TO THE
ATHENEUM CLUB, WITHOUT REFERENCE
TO THE DATE OF HIS PROPOSAL. AT THE British Association meeting, which was held at Cambridge in July, he read a paper "On the Geographical Distribution of Local Plants," in which he showed that the present flora of Great Britain originated in at least four distinct geological epochs. This paper was afterwards expanded into an account which appeared in the first volume of the "Memoirs of the Geological Survey," published in the following spring. It formed an epoch in geological speculation, and is, unquestionably, one of the most masterly well as beautiful generalisations to be found in the whole range of British scientific literature. Later on, in the summer, he enjoyed some weeks of cruising and dredging in the Shetlands and Hebrides, and, in September, he joined the Geological Survey in Wexford. At the end of the year he had a severe illness, but in February, 1846, he had gained sufficient strength to lecture at the Royal Institution. On the 9th of March he wrote with regard to this : "The lecture was a brief abridgment of one of my survey reports On the relation of the existing fauna and flora of Britain to the later geological changes, nay, especially to the epoch of the northern drift. . . . Though the father of it myself, I will say that this paper will change, nay, revolutionize, the whole subject of the geography of botany and zoology, or rather, will be the herald of such a change."
In this important work his happy combination of great botanical and zoological knowledge is made to bear on some of the most intricate enquiries with regard to the age and relationship of the rocks of Great Britain. It is an admirable example of the light to be derived from other branches of natural history in the prosecution of geological enquiries; of the application of animal and vegetable physiology, and a knowledge of the habits and distributions of animals and plants to the elucidation of very difficult problems in geology. On the 28th of March he wrote :-"My report for the Survey still goes on, and will beacoup doeil of the history of the British flora and fauna of a very novel kind."
Somewhat later he gave a series of six lectures to the members of the London Institution "On the Geographical and Geological Distribution of Organized Beings." Part of the summer was spent in a dredging cruise on the Cornish coast. He read three papers at the meeting of the British Association at Southampton, and in October he joined the Survey in Wales. In November the account of his travels in Lycia was publisheda work in which we are at a loss to know whether most to admire the admirable details of archaeology and art, or the equally graphic description of the botany, geology, and zoology which it contains. In March, 1847, he went on a tour of inspection in Ireland. He had much to see there, not only for clearing up obscure points in the geology of that country, but as material to aid in the explanation of part of Wales. In May he lectured to the Royal Institution "On the Natural History Features of the North Atlantic." He read two papers at the British Association, and in August he made an expedition into Wales. During all this period he was preparing for the early publication of his great work"The History of British Mollusca"for which he had been amassing material since his boy hood. At the end of the year he began the preparation of a new Palaeontological Map of the British Islands, which was afterwards published in Keith Johnstons Physical Atlas. On the 25th of February, 1848, he lectured to the Royal Institution "On the Question in Natural History: Have Genera, like Species, Centres of Distribution?" In April he went for a geological tour in Hampshire and Dorsetshire. In this year he contributed "Notes on the Flora of the Isle of Man" to Cummings History, and he supplied Quiggins Guide to the Isle of Man with a chapter on its Natural History, in which the Zoology, Entomology, Conchology, Botany, and Geology are successively treated, but all with great brevity. In August he married Emily, daughter of General Sir C. Ashworth. During the next three years Forbes was much occupied in arranging and classifying the vast accumulation of fossils collected by the Ordnance Geological Survey, which is exhibited in the Jermyn Street Museum. On the 2nd of March, 1849, he lectured at the Royal Institution on the subject, " Have New Species appeared since Mans Creation?" During the summer he was employed on the Survey as usual. His lecture in the spring of 1850 at the Royal Institution was on "The Distribution of Fresh-water Animals and Plants." At the British Association meeting which took place at Edinburgh he read two papers, and from thence went on a cruise among the Western Islands of Scotland. The results of this cruise were of some value. A number of fossils, and nearly twenty living species were added to the British fauna. In the winter he commenced "The Natural History of the European Seas," which he did not live to complete. At this time Forbess pen was wonderfully prolific, but we have not space even to enumerate his contributions to literature. In the spring of 1851, he delivered a series of lectures before the Royal Institution on "The Geographical Distribution of Organized Beings," and showed the grouping of plants and animals into distinct centres and provinces. The Jermyn Street Museum was opened by Prince Albert on the 12th of May ; shortly afterwards a School of Mines was inaugurated in connection with this Institution. Forbes became one of the staff of teachers and took Natural History as applied to Geology and the Arts as his subject. He still retained his Professorship of Botany at Kings College. After the lectures of this summer were over he went with his wife to Paris, his chief object being to make enquiries among the scientific schools there for the purpose of guiding the lecturers at the new School of Mines. In the beginning of September they went to the Isle of Mann, whence he went alone, on Survey duty, to Ireland. The close of the year saw the completion of the third volume of the British Mollusca. During the early part of 1852 he contributed a number of scientific papers to various journals. At Easter, he took a short holiday in Belgium, and in September he read three papers at the meeting of the British Association in Belfast. For the rest of the year he made the Isle of Wight his head quarters, and the result of his labours there appeared in a paper "On the Fluvio-Marine Tertiaries" of that Island, which was published in the Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society, 1853. In this paper he established, on data, which cannot be questioned, the true order of superposition of the upper tertiary beds of that typical locality. At the end of the year he was appointed President of the Geological Society. Early in 1853 he completed "The History of British Mollusca," a work which will remain a monument to his scientific knowledge and his industry. In February he began his lectures at the School of Mines, and in addition to this he had his botanical lectures at Kings College, as well as the ordinary work of the Museum and the Survey. Exhausted by incessant work he abandoned the British Association and spent September in France. In October he returned to London and gave an introductory lecture at the School of Mines on the "Educational Uses of Museums." In May, 1854, on the death of Professor Jameson, he was appointed to the chair of Natural History in the University of Edinburgh, a position which, both as a naturalist and a geologist, he was of all men the most fitted to occupy. His opening address was marked by much thoughtfulness as well as dignity. He expounded his views of the true method of teaching natural history by the exposition of its principles, the value of this science as a means of intellectual training, and its inter-connection with the sciences that deal with extinct organisms. His work consisted of daily lectures with frequent geological excursions. One of the most memorable features of his lectures was the ease, grace, and rapidity with which he drew on the blackboard the outlines of the animals he described. His geological excursions were remarkably attractive and instructive. At the meeting of the British Association he was elected to fill the Presidents chair in the Geological Section, and thus took his seat as umpire among veterans in the science. The manifest bodily weakness which came upon him at this time gradually increased, and on Sunday, the 5th of December, he took to his bed, and on the 18th he passed away. On the 23rd of the same month he was buried in the beautiful Cemetery of the Dean, near Edinburgh. Shortly after his death a public meeting was held in Douglas to consider the question of erecting a permanent memorial of the illustrious Manx naturalist. At this meeting a circular, couched in the following terms, was drawn up: MEMORIAL OF PROFESSOR EDWARD FORBESA genuine son of science, a native of this Island, has been prematurely removed from the scene of his earthly labours and triumphs. . . . He was an ornament to the land that gave him birth, and his eminently successful career foreboded years of extensive influence and useful ness. His celebrity was European. London and Edinburgh have been forward to honour his memory. Shall they to whom he peculiarly belongs be found wanting? It is now proposed to establish some lasting Memorial of this distinguished individual in his native spot. The present idea isa Monumental Tablet in one of the Churchesprobably St. Georges, Douglas, with which he and his family for generations had been connected; and concurrently with this to found a Scholarship in connection with the Douglas Grammar School, to bear for ever his name. The one to be done now, immediately; the other, as soon as circumstances allow, in conjunction with the Committee now acting for the re-organization of the Grammar School at Douglas. . . . Douglas, Isle of Man, April 27th, 1855."
As the result of this a marble bust and tablet with medallion likeness were executed by Bonnard, of London. The bust is now in the vestibule of the Government Offices, and the tablet in St. Georges Church. The tablet bears the following inscription
PROFESSOR EDWARD FORBES, F.R.S., F.G.S.,
BORN IN THIS TOWN, FEBRUARY 12TH, 1815,
DIED AT EDINBURGH, NOVEMBER 18TH, 1854.
THIS DISTINGUISHED NATURALIST,
AS HE WAS HIGHLY ESTEEMED BY THOSE EMINENT MEN
AMONG WHOM HE LATTERLY LIVED
WILL LONG BE REMEMBERED, AND IT IS HOPED, IMITATED IN THIS HIS NATIVE ISLE.
A MARBLE BUST AND THIS TABLET
HAVE BEEN ERECTED BY PUBLIC SUBSCRIPTION
AS A TRIBUTE TO HIS MEMORY.
O LORD HOW MANIFOLD ARE THY WORKS!
IN WISDOM HAST THOU MADE THEM ALL:
THE EARTH IS FULL OF THY RICHES!
The money subscribed was not sufficient to found a scholarship. 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 reaching 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 any 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 palaeontology, 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 fellow-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.
A. W. MOORE.