JAMES D. FORBES.* IT has seldom been our good fortune
to peruse a biography so- entirely satisfactory as that contained in the present volume. There were a wonderful simplicity and unity in the character and career of Principal James Forbes, of St. Andrew's ; and in this delightful memoir the living man is BO faithfully repre- sented, that those who had only known him as the indefatigable physicist, the demonstrator, if not the actual discoverer of the phenomena of glacier structure and motion, or those whom his name had never reached, will here find themselves introduced, to a personal acquaintance ; while his many friends and loyal students—and who among these were not loyal?—will grate- fully acknowledge that Principal Shairp and his able coadjutor& have done their work wisely and well. The world at large may rest assured that the portrait of one of the most methodic, per- sistent, and conscientious of natural observers is given to it life- size, with all its genuine lights and shadows ; and we cannot but believe that the impression left upon the mind of every candid reader will be,—this is a book which has added to the stock of human worth and goodness. James Forbes was not & mathematician of the highest order. Speculation, in the pro- founder sense of the word, he had none. His "prayer-book an& his conscience," to use the language of his own journal, when he- found himself one Sunday alone on the edge of a glacier, indicate. with singular accuracy the religious habit of his mind. For, like' Faraday, while his scientific instinct would take nothing for' granted, but dominated his intellect with a quite inexorable tyranny, always requiring and always receiving from Lim the- most thorough-going analysis and patient experimentation in the sphere of the phenomenal, be had no questions to ask respecting the dogmas which Romanist, Sandemanian, and Scotch Episcopa- lian have alike elected to accept as ultimate findings or gene- ralisations of spiritual law. If Macaulay is right in his well- known affirmation that on the highest of all subjects of humam inquiry the peasant stands on equal terms of advantage or of impotence with the philosopher, Principal Forbes will not supply an exception to his statement. Only it is very remarkable that he should exhibit from childhood until the end came such a pro- found sense of the reign of law, such an intuition of the necessity 1. Life and Letters of James David Forbes, F.R.S., D.C.L., LL.D. By John Campbell Shairp, LL.D.; Peter Guthrie Tait, MA.; and A. Adams Rflilly,F.B.G.S. London: Macmillan and Co. 1873.
2. Principal Forbes and his Biographers. By John Tyndall. London: Longman". 1873.
of proving all things, such an inborn receptivity for the surprises of order and harmony which await throughout nature the inquirer who is willing to forsake all prepossessions for the truth's sake, but should never, so far as we can gather from his biography, have been haunted by a single interrogation as to the alleged in- ductions of previous generations touching the method and secret of the Divine government of the world. However, we must take men as we find them, and if the theology of Principal Forbes is of a kind to make scientific men just a trifle condescending and com- passionate, and Broad Churchmen regretful that the revelation was not vouchsafed to 'him of a law in the spiritual sphere as universal as that of gravitation in the natural, still his social and domestic life was full of sweetness and light, and his scientific career was one of incessant progress and victory.
Any day during the months from November till April, some five and thirty years ago, three very noticeable figures might have been seen walking at a rapid pace along the North Bridge of Edinburgh in the direction of the University. Of two of them, representing respectively Christopher North and Sir William Hamilton, we have given fall-length portraits in this journal, while we endeavoured at once to present the main facts of their lives, and also to supply an estimate of their work, both in rela- tion to their students and to the world at large ; and now conies a third Edinburgh professor, with very special claims of his own, to occupy an honoured place in our columns.
Of James Forbes it was conspicuously true that the boy was father of the_ man. Clive, Napoleon I., Mozart, Walter Scott, James Watt, and George Stephenson did not more strikingly give token in their Carly childhood or boyhood of the work which in later years they were to accomplish in the world, than did the subject of this memoir. We read that while quite a child the variations of the thermometer and barometer were watched by him with the keenest interest, and he took such rare delight in the stud3r of the almanack, that in the family it went by the name of " James's red brother." In his ninth year, the " wright's shop" at Colinton, the village under the shadow of the Pentlands, close to which stood the house in which he lived his early years,* was a great haunt of his, and there the boy philosopher, by aid of lead castings, succeeded in making trains of toothed wheels, velocipedes with the attribute of marking the distance travelled over, a pasteboard semicircle for measuring vertical angles, and at a little later period, "at elaborate metal quadrant for astronomical purposes." Entirely: n harmony with these precocious indications of the future graceful and fascinating experimenter in the Natural Philosophy Class in the Edinburgh University, is the following story, out of the Colinton House nursery, which we heard long ago from Forbes's first tutor, the village schoolmaster of Colinton, quite a Dominic, Sampson in his way, Robert Hunter, one of the humblest and best of men .we ever knew, and who could send lads from his school to take very high places either at the High School of Edinburgh or at the Univer- sity :—Sir William Forbes, on the eve of his starting for London, a formidable journey in those days, asked all his children what he should bring them from the great city. The youngest, James, immediately answered, "Bring me a telescope, papa." " Ala ! Jemmy," was the father's reply, "it will never be salt to your hail." But Jemmy was right. The little household all voted him right on the spot ; and it was not long before Sir David Brewster was inserting in his journal papers from an unknown correspondent, signed" A," who turned out at last to be James D. Forbes, and who showed to what good purpose a mere youth could direct his observational faculty.
Principal Forbes was born in Edinburgh in 1809. His father, Sir William, was one of Scott's earliest and dearest friends ; but, as the readers of Lockhart's Life of Scott will remember, his mother was Scott's "first love,"—his first, his one great passion, we believe. He never forgot her, never could forget her. It was not Sir 'Walter's way to carry his heart on his sleeve. Once only, so far as we know, or as Principal Shairp knows, does Scott make mention of her. But in that book of pathetic revealings, his Diary—is it the one always kept under lock and key ?—he speaks of a visit to St. Andrew's in 1827, of a name he had carved thirty years before in Runic characters beside the Castle Gate, and he asks "why that name should still agitate his heart."
James Forbes was left motherless when little more than a year old. His father never quite rallied from the stroke of this
* The present writer very distinctly recalls the face, and form, and " wallet" of one of the mendicant Scotch poets who came to the door of the house in which he was staying at the time, in Colinton, and who recited the following lines as those which had secured him a "hansom awmos," satisfactory alms, at the "big Douse," which belonged to Forbes's father. The Charity Organisation Society had better not ask what we boys did on the occasion :— " Behold the home of Sir William Forbis,
Surrounded with trees a' covered with corbies Etc., crows],
From which the Pentland Hills arc seen,
Pastured wt. sheep, for ever green." bereavement. Lady Forbes died at, Lympstone, near Exeter, whither she had been accompanied by Sir William and her infant son. The return to Colinton House, without the presence which had shed within it such serene radiance, was melancholy in the extreme. The three brothers and two sisters of the baby James were, however, too young to share fully in the sorrow of the hour, and the fair face of the little boy "seemed sent to brighten the nursery like a sunbeam." Little Jamie was the dar- ling of all the household, and as years sped on in the secluded family mansion, within which the outside world of acquaintances and visitors was rarely found, the child grew up in wonderful gentleness, truthfulness, and goodness. He had a considerable fund of spright- liness and humour, but nevertheless, and this was specially charac- teristic, his ingenuousness was never questioned, his word was never doubted. In order to beguile the tedium of the long winter even- ings, Sir William had fitted up a room with chemical apparatus, an air pump and electrical machine, very providential playthings for the future Professor, but very perilous withal, seeing that from a quite early period his father had destined him for the legal pro- fession, as the certain means by which both " salt" and " kail " were to be realised. For living schoolmaster, in addition to these mecha- nical ones, young Forbes had none other than the village dominie already mentioned ; but he was so sound a scholar and so good a mathematician, that his pupil could go straight from his instruc- tions to the University. And it was not only while residing in Colinton House that Forbes went regularly for his ._" lessons " to this parish schoolmaster, but when in the winter, .months, the family had removed to Edinburgh, the eager boy rode daily out for one or two seasons to secure the benefit of Mr. Hunter's instructions. And as a curious omen of his _ future career, Forbes himself tells us how on the road he would deliver aloud on horseback to an entirely imaginary audience a regular, prearranged course of lectures. This, he writes, must have been in 1824, or earlier, and he adds, "This habit, no doubt, contributed to give me some facility of expression and composition." But he could little anticipate, then, though, like Walter Scott, "he was making himsel' when he did na ken," that within less than ten years he should be delivering lectures in sober earnest to a crowded class in the University of Edinburgh. Another scarcely less significant habit was that of organising and conducting societies, mainly composed of imaginary members—as imaginary as the sub- jects of the kingdom of the young De Quinceys—while he and his brother Charles sustained the parts alternately of president, critic, or reader of papers. This instinct found its fulfilment when he became Secretary of the Royal Society, Edinburgh.
But though we might well fill the remainder of this review with the almost unique details of the concurrent aims and circum- stances which predicted in Forbes's boyhood the future professor, we must pass over much that is tempting, and to us is suggestive of the disposition of a higher Will, to indicate what it was that he achieved for the world as a man of science. We must first, how- ever, in order to sketch out the dramatic unity of Forbes's life, make special note of his visit to Italy in his seventeenth year, a pilgrimage which led him to Vesuvius, and in the course of which, thus early, the conception of the unity of the forces at work in the phenomenal universe first flashed upon his imagination. Again, in this journey he first beheld Chamounix, and was no doubt touched with the inspiration which never forsook him until he had demonstrated both the vertically veined structure of the glacier, and also its river-like motion, with the momentum of rapidity in the centre of the descending mass. It must also be recorded that in his eighteenth year he joined the Moral Philosophy class, then
presided over by Christopher North. Forbes was Wilson's gold medallist, his essay on the Advantages of the Study of Astronomy having specially attracted the admiration of the Professor. But 1Principal Shairp is not quite justified in Baying that perhaps the novelty of the subject discussed in the essay—the novelty, he 1 means, to the Professor himself—was one main reason for Wilson's award. The present writer had frequent opportunities of convers- ing with Wilson on the character of Forbes. He knows on what grounds he assigned to Forbes the first place in the class of his year, and he also is enabled to testify that the dash, the rapidity, the brilliancy, and sometimes the carelessness of Wilson's writing, prejudiced the general reader against the extent and accuracy—the minute accuracy—of his information. Excepting Professor Maurice, we have, perhaps, not known any one whose acquaintance with subjects supposed to lie beyond the main region of his habitual studies was so unsuspected and familiar as that of John Wilson. But it is not our calling now to vindicate the claims of Professor Wilson.
'Forbes himself became Professor in his twenty-fourth year, and his first lecture was a great success. He had carried the votes of the town council against Brewster himself. Of course, there were many sage doubts expressed as to the wisdom of the appointment. Forbes, especially, it was said, was so young,—as if a man who has anything in him was not prepared to hold his own at twenty- five,—and still more, by the very fact of his youth and energy, and developing quality, was not by far the most likely person to attract the intellects and enthusiasm of a class of students, them- selves scarcely yet men. Those who were present can never forget the occasion when Forbes delivered to an immense audience his first professorial address. Tall, graceful, exceedingly youthful in appearance, with clear-cut, almost feminine features, which always reminded us of those of Sir Isaac Newton ; with an elocution singularly ringing, and in which every word told, while, wand in hand, he made demonstration on the chalk-board with an ease which might be coveted in vain after years of practice, Forbes carried his hearers as by storm. Forbes's election was, we believe, the last act of the unreformed Edinburgh town council. If it was, certainly no deed of their previous existence became them more than this one of their expiring authority. Year by year the Natural Philosophy class became a gymnasium of severest study to the few, of general attraction to the many who could only appreciate the happy rhetoric of the lecturer, could admire his experiments, and dimly follow his exquisite physico-mathematical demonstrations. Slightly cold he was reckoned by some students, but others, as this volume amply witnesses, found in him not only the ever-advancing and luminously expository teacher, but the most cordial and loyal of friends. Beyond his class, his influence was specially felt in the University in his eliciting quite a new interest among the students in the matter of graduation in Arts, which before his time had come to be regarded with supreme indifference, even by men who had carried off honours in the Arts curriculum. After an honoured and unwearying professorship, Forbes became Principal of St. Andrew's in his fiftieth year, be and Brewster by a curious coincidence exchanging Universities, Sir David migrating to Edinburgh as Principal, while Forbes, his former successful competitor, filled the place he had vacated.
Forbes's life at St. Andrew's is full of interest. He had schemes of restorations in harmony with the traditions of the old seat of learning. But ere long his health began to fail, though not before he had accomplished some very important reforms in the economy of the University. He had to wander hither and thither, in hopes of warding off the final blow of the disease which, perhaps, was partly inherited, and partly induced by his severe exposure on the Glaciers. At last,but full of calmness, resignation, and hope, holding the hand of his eldest son, while the wife who had been the companion and consoler of his life for twenty-five years, sat near him, his mortal days closed at Clifton, on the 31st December, 1868.
Forbes's voluminous contributions to science are carefully enumerated at the end of this volume, and there are few subjects of physical inquiry on which he had not thought exhaustively, and observed with noble industry. But the two themes with which his name will for all time be associated are those of the polarisation of heat and the laws of glacier motion. In regard to the latter question, Forbes was most careful to show what had been observed by others—especially by Rendu—before himself. But he has succeeded in making the answer to it quite his own, as much as Harvey did the theory of the circulation of the blood. And in the hands of Professor Tait, his successor in Edinburgh, we have no doubt whatever that Forbes's reputation is altogether safe. As was perhaps to be expected, Professor Tyndall takes somewhat vehement exception, partly in the interests of Rendu and partly in those of Agassiz, to certain statements in this biography. Bat his pamphlet has not in the least affected our previous estimate of the supremacy of the claims of Forbes in the field of glacial ex- ploration, and there remains not a shadow of hesitation in our own minds either as to the truthfulness of his affirmations or the originality of his observations and inductions. James Forbes is the author to whom we owe the first complete announcement of the main phenomena both of glacier structure and of glacier motion. The volume edited by Principal Shairp is at once a graceful literary monument to the memory of a good man, and an exhaustive scientific manual on the special subjects to which Forbes's life was consecrated.