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Significant Scots
Edward Forbes

"The loss sustained by the death of [this great Naturalist] was aggravated to those who knew him, by the consideration of how much of his knowledge had perished with himself, and, notwithstanding all that he had written, how much of the light collected by a life of experience and observation was now completely extinguished. It is, indeed, melancholy to reflect, that with all who make proficiency in the sciences, founded on nice and delicate observation, something of this sort must invariably happen. The experienced eye, the power of perceiving
the minute differences and fine analogies which discriminate or unite the objects of science, and the readiness of comparing new phenomena with others already treasured up in the mind, these are accomplishments which no rules can teach, and no precepts can put us in possession of. This is a portion of knowledge which every man must acquire for himself, and which nobody can leave as an inheritance to his successor. It seems, indeed, as if Nature had in this instance admitted an exception to the rule, by which she has ordained the perpetual accumulation of knowledge among civilized men, and had destined a considerable portion of science continually to grow up and perish with the individual.”

This Memoir was begun by the late Dr. Wilson towards the close of 1854, very soon after Professor Forbes’s death. He made a considerable collection of materials, in the form of letters, note-books, and other papers. The weakness of his health, however, together with the constant demands upon his time and labour, greatly hindered his progress, so that he had only advanced to the close of the sixth chapter when, in November 1859, he was seized with the illness which rapidly carried him to the grave. These six chapters were never revised by him; nor has it been thought expedient to make any change upon them—they are printed as they came from his pen. He left no notes or outline of the work beyond the point where his manuscript ended, and thus the greater part of the Memoir remained still to be written.

Having for many years enjoyed the privilege—never to be forgotten—of Dr. Wilson’s intimate friendship, the task of continuing and completing his biography of the great naturalist was, in the spring of 1860, intrusted to me. The duties of a member of the Geological Survey are little favourable to continuous literary work. Hence the Memoir has proceeded slowly, at broken and uncertain intervals, amid many changes of abode, and at a distance from libraries and books of reference. A year has thus passed away, and only now, after the lapse of so long a period since the death of Professor Forbes, is this imperfect record of his life completed.

To the numerous friends who, in addition to the papers and information supplied by the family, have furnished the materials of the following pages, every acknowledgment is due: especially to Mr. Bobert Patterson of Belfast, who lent an ample collection of letters to the late Mr. William Thompson, Captain Graves, and himself; to Professor Ramsay, who supplied many incidents relating to Forbes’s connexion with the Geological Survey; and to Mr. J. Beete Jukes, whose assistance throughout has been of the most essential service. Sir Roderick Murchison, Principal Campbell of Aberdeen, Professors Bennett and Balfour of Edinburgh, Mr. Leonard Horner, Dr. Percy, Dr. Day, Mr. Trenham Peeks, Mr. Bowerbank, Mr. Bristow, Mr. Baily, and others, have kindly supplied letters and information.

The tail-pieces scattered through the volume have been selected from a large collection of the rough penandink sketches with which, in his leisure moments, Forbes’s pen was ever busy, some of the best having been furnished by Mr. Bowerbank. They are introduced, for the most part, without reference to the text—a mode of illustration to which Forbes himself was partial, and which was adopted by him in his History of British Starfishes.

Among his papers was found a small octavo notebook, in which he recorded his writings, literary and scientific, from 1831 up to the month before his death. This list—itself incomplete—has been used as the basis of that given in the Appendix to this volume. Of the numerous articles and critiques which he wrote for periodicals, a large number could with difficulty be recovered. With a few exceptions, only those are given in the Appendix which he regarded as worthy of being chronicled in his own list.


Memoir of Edward Forbes (1861)

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