Darwin-L Message Log 5:48 (January 1994)

Academic Discussion on the History and Theory of the Historical Sciences

This is one message from the Archives of Darwin-L (1993–1997), a professional discussion group on the history and theory of the historical sciences.

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<5:48>From DARWIN@iris.uncg.edu  Mon Jan 10 00:20:18 1994

Date: Mon, 10 Jan 1994 01:26:18 -0400 (EDT)
From: DARWIN@iris.uncg.edu
Subject: January 10 -- Today in the Historical Sciences (*Special Edition*)
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu
Organization: University of NC at Greensboro


1794 (200 years ago today): JOHANN GEORG ADAM FORSTER, Anglo-German natural
historian, geographer, anthropologist, and illustrator, dies at Paris, France.
This special edition of Today in the Historical Sciences commemorates the
bicentennial of Forster's death, and reproduces the complete sketch of his
career by Michael E. Hoare from the _Dictionary of Scientific Biography_.
Forster, who sailed around the world on the _Resolution_ with James Cook from
1772 to 1775, might be pleased to know that tonight he is making the circuit
again, this time through a network of wires at the speed of light.

  [Johann Georg Adam] Forster was the oldest son of Johann Reinhold Forster
  and Justina Elisabeth Forster.  A precocious child, he was first educated
  by his father and acquired from him a lively and practical interest in
  natural history, as well as a thorough grounding in the numerous
  philological disciplines and languages which Johann Reinhold had mastered.
  In 1765 he accompanied his father on the survey of the German colonies on
  the Volga steppes and, for a short period while in Russia, attended the
  Petrisschule founded by the eminent geographer A. F. Busching.  In 1766 he
  went to England with his father and in 1767 published his first work, a
  translation of M. V. Lomonosov's history of Russia.  By the age of thirteen
  he had a command of most of the major languages of Europe.

  While his father was in Warrington, Lancashire, Forster was apprenticed to
  a merchant in London.  In the autumn of 1767 he joined his father at the
  Dissenters' Academy, where he continued his own studies and assisted with
  the instruction.  He also aided his father in the translation of
  Bougainville's _Voyage autour du monde_.  When the elder Forster received
  the commission to sail on Cook's second voyage (1772-1775), he insisted
  that his son accompany him as assistant and artist.  Afterward the younger
  Forster published his first major work, _A Voyage Round the World_ (London,
  1777).  As a result of this work, issued without official sanction, Forster
  became engaged in a spirited polemic with William Wales, the astronomer on
  the voyage, over the ethics of publishing an independent narrative in
  defiance of the Admiralty.  The _Voyage_, although deliberately lacking the
  systematic and scholarly presentation of geographic and scientific material
  found in his father's _Observations_, started a new genre ably developed
  later by Alexander von Humboldt, whom Forster influenced greatly by his
  work and ideas.  In 1776 the Forsters issued _Characteres generum
  plantarum_, and in 1777 the younger Forster was elected a fellow of the
  Royal Society.

  Although his preference was to continue his studies in England, Forster
  was forced by his family's circumstances to seek positions for himself and
  his father in Germany, and in 1779 he was appointed professor of natural
  history at the Collegium Carolinium in Kassel.  He was soon in contact
  with the prominent men of science and letters in Germany, including J. F.
  Blumenbach, G. C. Lichtenberg, and S. T. Sommering.  Forster was
  particularly attracted by the intellectual climate of Gottingen.  In 1784
  he was appointed to the chair of natural history at Vilna, Poland, and the
  following year he married Therese Heyne, daughter of the eminent Gottingen
  philologist C. G. Heyne. Forster collaborated with Lichtenberg in editing
  and writing the _Gottingisches Magazin der Wissenschaften und Litteratur_,
  and he also published extensively in the _Gottingische Anzeigen von
  gelehrten Sachen_.

  In Vilna, although isolated from the mainstream of European thought,
  Forster strove to correspond with men of science throughout Europe.  In
  1786 he published his M.D. dissertation (conferred by Halle), _De plantis
  esculentis insularum Oceani Australis commentatio botanica_ (Berlin-Halle)
  and _Florulae insularum Australium prodromus_ (Gottingen).  The latter work
  was seen by Forster as the basis for a more comprehensive botanical work on
  the Pacific area, the "Icones plantarum in itinere ad insulas Maris
  Australis...."  He also intended to publish a major study of European
  exploration in the Pacific.  In 1787 Forster published at Gottingen
  _Fasciculas plantarum Magellanicarum_ and _Plantae Atlanticae_.  J. D.
  Hooker, in his later work on the botany of the _Erebus_ and _Terror_
  voyages, drew critically on the work of the Forsters, who in turn were
  indebted to Daniel Solander, Cook's _Endeavour_ botanist.  Apart from his
  botanical work Forster's main contributions to the natural history of
  Cook's second voyage were his drawings and, later, his philosophical and
  geographic essays.  In 1786 he engaged in a polemic with Kant over his
  theory of the origins of man.

  In 1787, prevented by war from taking up an appointment as naturalist to a
  Russian expedition, Forster returned to Gottingen; and in October 1788 he
  was appointed librarian at the University of Mainz.  Between March and July
  1790, accompanied by Humboldt, he traveled to England via the Rhineland and
  the Low Countries.  His most important prose work, _Ansichten vom
  Niederrhein_ (Berlin, 1791-1794), was a penetrating account of his journey
  with Humboldt.  During the Mainz period his interest and writing turned more
  to social history and politics.  He became absorbed in the French
  administration which governed Mainz from October 1792.  In March 1793,
  Forster went as a Rhineland deputy to the National Convention in Paris,
  where he died of illness aggravated by scurvy contracted during the
  _Resolution_ voyage.

  Forster wrote of himself in 1789: "Natural science in its broadest sense
  and particularly anthropology have been my occupation hitherto.  What I
  have written since my voyage is closely related to that."  Cook's voyages
  opened up new areas of investigation to men of science in Europe.  Forster,
  the universal scholar, was a remarkable apologist for the new era of
  scientific discovery.  Fully alive to all the great movements of his day
  and in contact with the most eminent men in Germany and abroad, Forster,
  who had been well schooled by his father, did much to convey to the
  parochial world of German science and letters the significance of the great
  contemporary advances in the geographic and biological sciences -- in some
  of which disciplines German-speaking scientists were destined to have a
  profound influence in the ensuing century.

Michael E. Hoare in the _Dictionary of Scientific Biography_ (New York).

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