Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Forster, Thomas Ignatius Maria

FORSTER, THOMAS IGNATIUS MARIA, M.D. (1789–1860), naturalist and astronomer, eldest son of Thomas Furly Forster [q. v.], was born in London on 9 Nov. 1789. He was brought up mainly at Walthamstow, and, both his father and grandfather being followers of Rousseau, his literary education was neglected. During his life, however, he acquired familiarity with the Latin, Greek, French, German, Italian, Spanish, and Welsh languages, while from his uncle Benjamin Meggot [q. v.] he obtained his first notions of astronomy, mechanics, and aërostatics. In 1805 he compiled a ‘Journal of the Weather’ and a ‘Liber Rerum Naturalium,’ and in the following year, being attracted by the writings of Gall, he began to study that branch of psychology to which he afterwards gave the name of ‘phrenology.’ In 1808, under the signature ‘Philochelidon,’ he published ‘Observations on the Brumal Retreat of the Swallow,’ of which the sixth edition appeared, with a catalogue of British birds annexed, in 1817. In 1809 he took up for a time the study of the violin, to which he returned forty years later; and in 1810, having been ill, his attention was first directed to the influence of air upon health, upon which subject he wrote in the ‘Philosophical Magazine.’ The great comet of 1811 directed his attention to astronomy; and in 1812, having been, from his study of Pythagorean and Hindu philosophy and an inherited dislike of cruelty to animals, for some years a vegetarian, he published ‘Reflections on Spirituous Liquors,’ denying man to be by birth a carnivor. This work made him acquainted with Abernethy. In the same year appeared his ‘Researches about Atmospheric Phenomena,’ of which a third edition was published in 1823; and, having been already elected a fellow of the Linnean Society, his father permitted him to enter Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, to study law. This study, however, he soon abandoned, graduating as M.B. in 1819. In 1815 he issued an annotated edition of the ‘Diosemeia’ of Aratus, which he partially suppressed, and a volume of songs in German, ‘Lieder der Deutschen.’ Making the personal acquaintance of Spurzheim, he studied with him the anatomy and physiology of the brain, and accompanied him to Edinburgh, where he communicated a paper on the comparative anatomy of the brain to the Wernerian Society. On his return to London he published a sketch of Gall and Spurzheim's system, which, like many of his writings, appeared in the ‘Pamphleteer,’ together with an essay on the application of the organology of the brain to education. He became a frequenter of Sir Joseph Banks's Sunday gatherings in Soho Square. He declined the fellowship of the Royal Society from dislike of some of its rules. In 1817 he married Julia, daughter of Colonel Beaufoy, F.R.S., and settled at Spa Lodge, Tunbridge Wells, where in the same year he wrote his ‘Observations on the … Influence of … the Atmosphere on … Diseases, particularly Insanity.’ In the following year his only daughter, Selena, was born, and he moved to Hartwell in Sussex. This year he published an edition of Catullus, and on 3 July 1819 he discovered a comet. The next three years he spent mainly abroad, and in 1824 issued his ‘Perennial Calendar,’ containing numerous essays by himself, though variously signed, during the preparation of which work he seems to have been converted to Roman catholicism. Having become a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, he, in conjunction with Sir Richard Phillips, founded a short-lived Meteorological Society. After his father's death he took (1827) a house at Boreham, near Chelmsford, so as to be near New Hall Convent, where his daughter was at school, and while there published various essays on the atmospheric origin of diseases and especially of cholera, in connection with which subject he made a balloon ascent in April 1831, with Green, ascending six thousand feet. In 1830 he published the original letters of Locke, Shaftesbury, and Algernon Sydney, which he had inherited from his ancestor Benjamin Furly, with a metaphysical preface, partly inspired by his recent acquaintance with Lady Mary Shepherd. After 1833 he appears to have lived mainly abroad, finally settling at Bruges; but he reissued his father's ‘Flora Tonbrigensis,’ with a memoir of the author, at Tunbridge Wells in 1842, and his works were issued at Frankfort, Aix, or Brussels as often as at Bruges. Many of his later writings are poetical, and he composed various pieces for the violin, having formed a valuable collection of specimens of that instrument. In 1836 he was engaged in a controversy with Arago as to the influence of comets, and he also had some difficulty in demonstrating the orthodoxy of his Pythagorean doctrine of ‘Sati,’ or universal immortality, including that of animals. In conjunction with his friend Gompertz he founded the Animals' Friend Society. The autobiographical ‘Recueil de ma Vie’ (Frankfort-on-Main, 1835), and still more the two volumes, ‘Epistolarium Forsterianum,’ which he printed privately at Bruges in 1845 and 1850, contain much information about himself and other members of his family. Besides the works already mentioned and those enumerated below, he contributed largely to the ‘Gentleman's Magazine,’ and is credited with thirty-five scientific papers in the Royal Society's ‘Catalogue,’ several dealing with colours, their names, and classification. He died at Brussels on 2 Feb. 1860, though Hoefer had killed him (Biographie Universelle, vol. xviii.) ten years previously. Among his personal friends this remarkable man numbered, besides those already mentioned, Gray, Porson, Shelley, Peacock, Herschel, and Whewell.

He published: 1. ‘Observations sur la variété dans le pouvoir dispersif de l'Atmosphère,’ in ‘Phil. Mag.,’ 1824. 2. ‘On the Colours of the Stars’ (ib.) 3. ‘Pocket Encyclopædia of Natural Phenomena,’ 1826. 4. ‘Memoir of George Canning,’ 1827. 5. ‘The Circle of the Seasons,’ 1828. 6. ‘Medicina Simplex,’ 1829. 7. ‘Beobachtungen über den Einfluss des Luftdruckes auf das Gehör,’ 1835. 8. ‘Onthophilos,’ 1836. 9. ‘Florilegium, Poeticæ Aspirationes, or Cambridge Nugæ,’ 1836. 10. ‘Observations sur l'influence des Comètes,’ 1836. 11. ‘Philozoia,’ 1839. 12. ‘Elogio e Vita di Boecce,’ 1839. 13. ‘Pan, a Pastoral,’ 1840. 14. ‘Essay on Abnormal Affections of the Organs of Sense,’ 1842. 15. ‘Philosophia Musarum,’ 1842. 16. ‘Discours préliminaire à l'étude de l'Histoire Naturelle,’ 1843. 17. ‘Harmonia Musarum,’ 1843. 18. ‘Sati,’ 1843. 19. ‘Ἡ τῶν παιδῶν ἀγωγή,’ 1844. 20. ‘Piper's Wallet,’ 1845. 21. ‘Annales d'un Physicien Voyageur,’ 1848. 22. ‘L'Age d'Or,’ 1848.

[Hoefer, xviii. cols. 206–8; Annual Reg. cii. 440; Roy. Soc. Cat. ii. 670–1; Gillow's Bibl. Dict. of Engl. Catholics; Recueil de ma Vie, 1835; Epistolarium Forsterianum, 1845–50.]

G. S. B.