Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Forbes, Alexander Penrose
FORBES, ALEXANDER PENROSE (1817–1875), bishop of Brechin, second son of John Hay Forbes, lord Medwyn [q. v.], by his wife Louisa, daughter of Sir Alexander Cumming Gordon, bart., of Altyre, Elgin, was born at Edinburgh 6 June 1817. He was sent to the Edinburgh Academy, and to a school kept by Canon Dale at Beckenham, Kent. In 1833 he matriculated at Glasgow University. After studying for one session there he obtained a nomination to Haileybury, where he took prizes and medals for classics, mathematics, political economy, law, history, Arabic, and Sanskrit, showing special aptitude for oriental languages. In September 1836 Forbes sailed for Madras, and a year after his arrival was appointed assistant to the collector and magistrate of Rajahmundry. In 1839 he was acting head assistant to the Sudder and Foujdarry Adawlut, when his health broke down. After nine months' leave of absence at the Cape of Good Hope, he returned to India and resumed his post at Rajahmundry but was again attacked by fever, and sent back to England for two years. He never returned to India, though he had no idea of throwing up his appointment when he matriculated at Brasenose College, Oxford, 23 May 1840. During his residence, however, he came strongly under the influence of the prevailing ‘Oxford movement,’ and determined to take orders. As an undergraduate he won the Boden Sanskrit scholarship. He took the B.A. degree 29 Feb. 1844, and resigned his Indian appointment 5 June following. He proceeded M.A. 19 Nov. 1846, and received the honorary D.C.L. on his appointment as bishop of Brechin in May 1848. He was ordained at Trinity 1844, and was curate at Aston Rowant, a village near Oxford, till the following January, when he transferred his services to St. Thomas's, Oxford. A year later Forbes became incumbent of Stonehaven, Kincardine, having expressed to Moir, bishop of Brechin, his wish to serve the Scotch episcopal church. He remained there till May 1847, when, on the nomination of Dr. Pusey, who had become his intimate friend at Oxford, he was appointed to the vicarage of St. Saviour's, Leeds, a church built for the purpose of giving practical illustration to ‘Tractarian’ doctrine. In the following August Moir, bishop of Brechin, died. Mr. Gladstone, in conversation with Bishop Wilberforce, suggested that Forbes might fit the post. His name was presented to the electors at the diocesan synod, and he was elected by a large majority over the Rev. W. Henderson. The headquarters of the bishopric he changed from Brechin to Dundee, becoming vicar of St. Paul's, Dundee, and prosecuting parochial together with episcopal duties. On 5 Aug. 1857, at a meeting of the diocesan synod at Brechin, Forbes delivered his primary charge, which took the form of a manifesto on the Eucharist, inculcating the doctrine of the real presence, and vindicating the Scotch communion office. Great stir was made by the charge, which was published, and in the following December it was proposed at an episcopal synod that a declaration on the doctrine of the Eucharist should be issued on the authority of the college of bishops. The motion was lost, but a declaration of similar purport was issued by Terrot, Ewing, and Trower, bishops respectively of Edinburgh, Argyll, and Glasgow, and clearly directed against Forbes. Keble wrote a lengthy answer to the bishops, and published pamphlets on various aspects of the case. In May 1858 the college of bishops issued a pastoral letter, in spite of an elaborate protest by Forbes, announcing that they felt bound to resist the teaching of the Bishop of Brechin on the matter in dispute. A year and a half later Forbes was presented to the college for erroneous teaching in this primary charge by Mr. Henderson, his rival for the bishopric, and two vestrymen. He was formally tried, and the final finding of the court in March 1860 was a declaration of admonition and censure to the bishop to be more careful in future. Throughout the long period of suspense, as both before and after, Forbes continued his incessant labours in the service of the church. When he took up his residence in Dundee, the churchmen there were so few that their only place of worship was a room over a bank. He left behind him the pro-cathedral of St. Paul, and the churches of St. Salvador and St. Mary Magdalene. He founded schools in connection with the churches, was a visitor of the Royal Infirmary, on the committee of a Model Lodging-house Association and the Dundee Free Library, a member of the Dundee school board, and a director of the Prisoners' Aid Society. He took great interest in sisterhoods and their work, and founded that of St. Mary and Modwenna. His work was interfered with by frequent attacks of ill-health, and consequent journeys abroad. On the continent he became the intimate friend of Dr. von Döllinger, and sympathised with the Old Catholic movement. He constantly corresponded with Mr. Gladstone, who was a warm friend and adviser. On 8 Oct. 1875 Forbes died from a sharp gastric attack. He was buried beneath the chancel of St. Paul's, Dundee. His many admirers erected in his memory Forbes Court, Dundee, the existing episcopal see-house. As a theologian Forbes takes high rank. He was deeply versed in the whole range—patristic, mediæval, and modern—of his subject, and in his own treatment of it gave it an exact systematic and dogmatic form. This appears in his two chief works: (1) ‘A Short Explanation of the Nicene Creed,’ 1852 (2nd ed. considerably enlarged, 1866), which is a brief handbook of dogmatic theology, founded largely on the fathers and schoolmen, and more technical than is usual with English text-books; (2) ‘An Explanation of the Thirty-nine Articles,’ 2 vols. 1867 and 1868, which aims at elucidating the positive doctrine of the articles and defends the catholic as distinguished from the ultra-protestant or puritan interpretation; this book was written at the suggestion of Dr. E. B. Pusey, whose help ‘in each step of its progress to maturity’ is acknowledged by Forbes in the dedication. Many of Forbes's numerous publications are sermons (including a collected edition in four volumes), pastoral charges, and manuals of devotion. Of the others the more important are: ‘Commentary on the Seven Penitential Psalms,’ 1847; ‘The Prisoners of Craigmacaire; a Story of the '46,’ 1852; ‘Commentary on the Canticles,’ 1853; ‘The Pious Life and Death of Helen Inglis,’ 1854. Forbes also translated the first part of ‘Memoriale Vitæ Sacerdotalis,’ from the Latin of Arvisenet, 1853; edited with his brother, G. H. Forbes, the ‘Arbuthnot Missal,’ 1864; translated the Scotch communion office into Greek, 1865; edited ‘Meditations on the Passion by the Abbot of Monte Cassino,’ 1866; published with elaborate preface ‘Kalendars of Scottish Saints, with Personal Notices of those of Alba, Laudonia, and Strathclyde,’ 1872; wrote an introduction to Miss Kinloch's ‘History of Scotland,’ 1873; and edited Lady Eleanor Law's ‘Translation from Pinart,’ and from manuscript ‘Lives of St. Ninian, St. Kentigern, and St. Columba,’ 1875. At the time of his death he was engaged on a translation of the works of St. Columban. He contributed at various times to the ‘Ecclesiastic,’ the ‘Christian Remembrancer,’ the ‘North British,’ the ‘Edinburgh,’ and the ‘Quarterly Review.’ By Forbes's express wish the greater portion of his correspondence and journals has not been made public.
[Mackey's Bishop Forbes, a Memoir (with photogravure portrait); Memoir of Alexander, Bishop of Brechin, anon.; Prinsep's Madras Civil Servants, 1885, p. 54.]