Home > On the Continent

On the Continent


Among the English academics who hailed Reinhold's scientific work, apparently it had not dawned on anyone that the Forsters had to eat. Not one of the academics seems to have lifted a finger to help Reinhold find a job. That summer (1778) the family moved back to their cheaper lodgings in Paddington Green. Somehow they would have to extricate themselves from London and start all over again on the continent. It was up to George to find a way. Maybe he could find work in Germany translating Buffon's Histoire Naturelle des Animaux. On October 23, 1778 he took ship to run the French blockade to Holland, taking with him numerous curiosities, drawings, manuscripts, and plant specimens. A separate ship, containing an unknown quantity of his collections, went to the bottom of the North Sea in a storm.35 Then began sixteen months of wandering and begging all over Germany to find jobs for himself and his father, and a way to pay off the rising debts.

Once out from under his father's thumb, George began to display a little independence of action. He established separate bridges with London, even with Banks, made a decision or two on his own behalf, and obliged his father to react to what he thought was best for him. During this search for the best course of action, the French men-of-war were rather inefficient, since the exchange of letters proceeded without undue interruption. Before long we see in George further signs of a scholarly reputation in his own right. He moved at ease among the intelligentsia. Above all, he was anxious to find a suitable place for his father as soon as possible so that they could get on with their priority--publishing their Cook manuscripts. In this work, their relationship would become more collaborative than before, although George always seemed to end up playing second fiddle.


Before long the various Dukes, Electors, and Princes of Germany and even the Emperor himself knew--in a way that was never understood in London--that the Forster family was in desperate straits. Having proceeded directly to Kassel, George landed a job almost at once teaching natural history at the Collegium Carolinum through the influence of the sympathetic Landgrave Elector, who gave him £20 walking-around money. This particular Landgrave had been selling the services of Hessian mercenaries to the British government for use in the colonies, a procedure that reduced Reinhold to a fury. George had initially sought the teaching post for his father, although the annual pay of £100 (300 Taler) clearly would never have supported Reinhold's book buying habits; he kept the job for himself, and since the teaching term had not yet begun, he pushed on. At Brunswick, he waited on Duke Ferdinand, who soon began to take an active interest in the cause.36

By that time George was not altogether happy with the British government: "that brook of vipers at the helm of England," he wrote his father in December. Nor, forsooth, was Reinhold: if only Lord North would fall from favor, Lord Shelburne would rise to settle his just claims. But George durst not lean on that reed. He told his story in Göttingen, receiving a warm and supportive hearing because his father had sent a copy of the Letter to Sandwich. Late in January 1779 he was in Berlin, cultivating Reinhold's numerous friends and contacts. This circle included none other than the Emperor Frederick the Great who admired Reinhold and was corresponding with him. Reinhold, anxiously waiting for George to come through, thought he might help things along by dwelling on "the sweat of my brow" in first one letter, then another, and several more to Sandwich, who finally replied: "there is no business depending at this time between You & Me." George was candid in his letters to Banks about the £800 his father owed around town: "imprudence and want of Oeconomy." Banks also was candid: "utterly improbable that he should be assisted." George would have to get a move on.

Late in February he received a major break when the Emperor directed the Minister of Education to appoint Reinhold to a professorship at the University of Halle. The annual pay of 500 Taler, or about £167, was hardly enough to keep Reinhold in books and also food on the table for his family, but it would have to do; George took the offer. Reinhold even agreed. So George had a job for himself and another for his father. That left only the debts and travel money by which to drag his father and family from London to Halle. The Prince of Anhalt-Dessau pitched in with 100 Louis d'Or.37

What to do? He returned to Kassel and his waiting teaching job. George spent the spring of 1779 grasping at straws. In April he even suggested to Banks that Reinhold might simply up and leave his debts behind. Apparently George did not visualize the resulting parade led by Reinhold and his wife and four children, trailed by a multitude of crates containing manuscripts, specimens, and books, stealing out of London under the very noses of the bailiffs and creditors, perhaps in the dark of night. And this innovative scheme would still require some travel money, maybe about £300, presumably to be supplied by Banks.38

Sandwich, meanwhile, had big trouble of his own--the sudden news that Martha Ray, his mistress of sixteen years, had been murdered.39 Reinhold importuned Banks for a job on an East India Ship to the Far East--to improve natural philosophy. About this time the Prussian ambassador in London, at George's instigation, seems to have placed the Forster residence under some sort of discreet surveillance, apparently with an eye to fend off any of those bailiffs and creditors who might become over-zealous.

Then in October Duke Ferdinand of Brunswick promised to raise the funds from the Masonic lodges for paying all the debts, at that time standing at £1,000, and for travel expenses; and he asked for a list of creditors. The Freemasons of all Germany began sending money to the Duke, of blessed memory, but Reinhold refused to prepare the list. "Never has any human being been so treated by his father as I have," wrote George, with rare exasperation to his publisher friend Spener. A London bailiff unwittingly gave Reinhold the needed encouragement, however, by forcing him to sell some of his books. By February of 1780 Reinhold's list was in the Duke's hands, except for one rather notable item--that £250 owed to Banks, who sighed and let the matter go for the time being. The Duke's London agent began paying off the debts, and George relaxed.40 The humiliation was over.

Germany gave George a warm and encouraging welcome. His story was taken seriously, and everywhere he went the conversations inevitably turned to the second Cook voyage, concerning which he was looked upon as an expert. As George settled into his new job in Kassel, his accounts of travel in the South Seas were far more fascinating than anything he could say about natural history. The poet von Goethe sought him out: "Young Forster has dined with us and has been asked a great many questions about what things are like in the South Seas."41 Through meetings such as this, images and themes from the second voyage entered the literature of the day.

With the pressure lifted, George turned again to the urgency of publishing the Cook manuscripts lest others, meaning Banks and Solander, should preempt the work that he and his father had done. As a start, he inquired about a suitable publisher for the Descriptiones Animalium. His father was even then making the final corrections on the huge manuscript, five years after it was almost finished aboard Resolution; he would bring it with him from London. The treatise would be published without further ado. While traveling, George had not neglected scholarly exchanges with London. He kept Banks informed about the latest happenings on the natural history front and drew his attention to Buffon's Epoques de la Nature; father and son published separate reviews of this important work. When in January of 1780 the news came of Cook's death, Banks and the two Forsters began to consult among themselves on how best to make known the results of the third voyage.

Even while creditors were breathing at the door in London, which was most of the time, Reinhold had kept up his scholarly output: giving the Linnaean treatment to the zoology of India and to the mammals of the Cape; moving easily first to the topic of the Temple of Ephesus, then to a paper on Coptic, and a travel work on Iceland; even trying his hand at explaining how plants restore air, a problem much discussed at the time; and publishing the lot, often with engraved plates and usually with a shower of dense footnotes displaying vast learning. He worked at his manuscript on the albatrosses, which he had promised to the Académie des Sciences in Paris; and in 1780, sent his paper on penguins to Göttingen where it was read in March, and brought out his translation from the German of Karl Scheele's important Chemical Observations and Experiments on Air and Fire.42 Of course, he put a few more final touches on the massive Descriptiones Animalium. Throughout his life he was the consummate editor and translator, presenting to general and specialized readers important works on travel and natural history that he deliberately sought out for publication. At the time that the Forsters were hounded out of London--for that is in effect what happened--Reinhold was a member of the learned societies in Berlin, Danzig, Göttingen, London, Madrid, St. Petersburg, and Uppsala.43 A separate Cook industry was about to be established on the continent.

In June of 1780 Reinhold was running around London settling his affairs at about the time that crowds of people, instigated by the demagogue Lord George Gordon, were rioting in the streets. On July 18 the Forster family, carrying the valuable herbarium and the South Seas artifacts, took ship for Hamburg en route to Halle by way of Berlin. Sandwich, who five years before had told Reinhold that his "observations" belonged to the British public, said not a word about the treasure that was leaving England; he was glad to be done with Reinhold and all his works. "May God Almighty preserve your father from other Lord Sandwiches," wrote Sparrman, wearily, to George; "he will, I hope, also learn to avoid squandering his money." In November, Reinhold's paper on the tiger cat, based on skins he had brought with him from Cape Town, was read before the Royal Society of London.44

During the stop-over in Berlin, Justina waited with her customary patience while Reinhold had an audience with the Emperor Frederick, who wanted to hear directly from the famous traveler about the wonders of the South Seas. Speaking in French, Reinhold was his garrulous best as he described all he had accomplished on the voyage, not without taking pains to air his views on British politics. Late in August when the family drew up before Number 9 Kleine Steinstrasse in Halle, Justina began to unpack her husband's books for what was to be the last time, although she certainly had little reason to think so; they would never move again.45

The university where George had found his father a job was well-established and distinctive. It was once a center of Pietism, and it was Reinhold's alma mater as well because he had been a theology student there thirty-two years before. Halle had achieved a certain notoriety in 1759 when Caspar Friedrich Wolff proposed his controversial theory of epigenesis for his medical degree.46 The Berlin authorities expected Reinhold to enhance the prestige of Halle by keeping up his scholarly publications. That he intended to do by means of the Cook manuscripts. In December, requiring a little something to tide him over, he sold thirty-five drawings, no doubt made by George, to a German Duke for 80 Louis d'or. So continued the dissipation of the priceless Forster collections from the South Seas. When George visited in January of 1781, father and son decided they had better devise a plan of collaboration if they were to publish their Cook work as expeditiously as possible; they would bring out monographs regularly, and George would deal primarily with botany. Reinhold had already made a head start on this ambitious plan with his memoirs on the Cape Jerboa (now Dipus capensis), published in Stockholm; the penguins, in Göttingen; and the Cape tiger, in London.47 He would have to keep an eye on George who would be by himself over at Kassel.


Reinhold seemed to get along better with his Dukes and Princes than he had with the London political establishment. With his powerful backing in Berlin he was able to cope with his jealous colleagues. At first they resented him as an intruder without proper academic experience, foisted on them only because of his Masonic connections. They could do nothing when he was granted a medical doctorate, which was his third doctorate, and even a raise in pay. What they really resented was that the Berlin opportunists had recognized superior scholarship. Justina watched tearfully as two more children left the nest--Virginia, to marry a pastor in London, where she would prepare illustrations for her father's publications; and Wilhelmina, to marry a local boy who became a librarian.48

When a London contact sent Reinhold a copy of Journal of Captain Cook's Last Voyage to the Pacific Ocean, which was published anonymously probably by John Rickman early in 1781, he quickly turned out a German translation in time for the Leipzig book fair in the late summer. Although this Tagebuch was only a brief account, for which he apologized, the German reading public still had early news of the third voyage, and in the Preface, a taste of the Reinhold personality. He delivered an unflattering character sketch of Cook, who was presented as "a cross-grained fellow who sometimes showed a mean disposition and was carried away by a hasty temper." Early on, Reinhold began corresponding with the Göttingen anatomist Johann F. Blumenbach, who would later identify five human races; the anatomist sat up and took notice when he read Reinhold's description of the islanders. Reinhold's friend Thomas Pennant was grateful to him for bringing out that summer his Zoologische Indische, for which Virginia did the drawings of antelopes; Reinhold had edited parallel German and Latin texts before leaving London.49 He was in full swing.

Suddenly in 1781 a polite letter came from Banks asking for his money back--only if Reinhold's improved circumstances made that convenient, of course, or at least he might be so good as to sign an agreement to pay 2 1/2 percent interest, which, Banks remarked, was only half the legal rate. It seems that Reinhold was not the only one who neglected signed contracts. But with the aid of a clever lawyer he escaped again. It is a little curious to find Banks concerned about a sum of money that in former years would have seemed paltry in his eyes. After all, he certainly had spent freely on equipment for Endeavour; Solander once said that the voyage cost him £10,000. Banks did drop at least £2,000 in equipping himself for the second voyage; possibly £5,000 in paying off ex-fiancé Harriet Blosset in 1775; another five hundred to the Parkinson family in the dispute with the first voyage artist Stanfield; maybe a thousand or so to John Hawkesworth to edit his and Cook's journals; and he had already poured thousands of pounds into his herbarium project, for which the publication date was nowhere in sight.50 What was a paltry £250-loan? But times had changed. Joseph Banks was discovering that his resources had limits. The war with France and the recent unpleasantness with the colonies had reduced the cash flow on his Lincolnshire estate. That sum was no longer paltry. Banks remained on good terms during this episode; he still did not see the budding German enterprise as a threat to his own hegemony on the Cook front.

A singular and far-reaching act of devotion by George was the publication in 1783 of his German translation of his father's Observations. On reading the Bermerkungen the Lutheran theologian Johann G. Herder delivered a splendid accolade:51

The Ulysses of these regions (the South Pacific), Reinhold Forster, has given us a learned and intelligent account of the species and varieties of the human race in them, that we cannot but wish we had similar materials for a philosoph- ico-physical geography of other parts of the world, as foundations for a history of man.

As the Bemerkungen made their way in Europe, so did Reinhold Forster's prestige as a geographer and as a pioneer of what became known as anthropology. When the new word "ethnographie" entered the language later in the decade its meaning was enriched because of his observations in the South Seas.

George, meanwhile, was courting Therese Heyne, who was the daughter of a philologist at the University of Göttingen. In due course she would manifest elastic ideas about the marriage vows. Although for Reinhold financial crisis was endemic, it was a novel experience for George; about the time his translation of the Bermerkungen came out, he received a notice from the Royal Society of London that his election fee of twenty-six guineas had not been paid. That was strange, he thought; he remembered the circumstances quite well; he had been so busy writing his Voyage at the time that he had given his father the fee to take over to Crane Court for payment.52

The old Forster wanderlust seized George when the Polish authorities in Wilna (now Vilnius, in Lithuania) gave notice of an opening in natural history, at the Higher School, that was established in 1780. Reinhold urged caution, but in the summer of 1784 George at age thirty set out in spite of his father. Quite possibly he was glad for some added distance between himself and Halle, although his father still managed to give him advice.53 En route to Wilna, George brought news of the second voyage to Vienna where in August and September he became known as "the celebrated traveller." He was promptly introduced to the Viennese Freemasons by their leader, Ignasz von Born, who would be the model for Sarastro in Mozart's Magic Flute; and the Countess Thun, who had introduced Mozart to the Viennese aristocracy, quickly made young George part of her circle that included Mozart's friends and patrons. George was impressed by all the sophistication when he wrote to his betrothed:54

You cannot imagine how condescending and friendly every one is. One can scarcely remember that one is among persons of high rank, and one feels quite on the footing of an intimate friend.... Almost every evening between nine and ten, these people assemble at the Countess Thun's, and enjoy brilliant conversation or music, either clavier-playing, or German or Italian singing.

In 1785 Reinhold published the long monograph he had promised the Académie des Science in Paris nine years before; this was his "Mémoire sur les Albatros," a major work that needed no recommendation for his skill in taxonomy. From time to time, however, he did need a little extra cash for his various publishing projects and the yearly book fair in nearby Leipzig, where the friendly book sellers were always glad to see him. When his London friend of long standing, the eminent zoologist Thomas Pennant, asked for some information on Resolution fish and molluscs, Reinhold wrote back that, yes, he did have some Latin diagnoses in his Descriptiones Animalium, which he intended to publish "in a year or so." But if Pennant wanted this information earlier, Reinhold would need twice the money they originally had settled on for his labor "which Yr Government but ill rewarded."55

George matured as a Cook expert during his Wilna years. In 1784 he brought out the German edition of the book written in Sweden by his friend Anders Sparrman, and in 1785 the English edition in London, Voyage to the Cape of Good Hope. A trio of botanical works likely resulted from George's labors in Kassel when he had access to his father's herbarium. On a brief return home in 1785 to marry Therese, he submitted his monograph, De Plantis Esculentia Insularum Oceania Australis, for his doctorate in medicine at Halle; his father was to do the editing before publication. But when the treatise appeared in Halle in 1786, George was alarmed to see a diatribe in his name against one of Reinhold's colleagues, who it appeared had not troubled himself to secure permission before appropriating and sending some of Reinhold's herbarium specimens to Linnaeus's son. George, when he wrote to his publisher Spener, was upset at his father's method of redress: "Never has anything so disgraceful been seen before and my annoyance about the affair is inexpressible." Feelings cooled for a time between Halle and Wilna. In 1786 his Florulae Insularum Australium Prodromus came out in Göttingen; dedicated to his friend Sparrman, it was a catalogue of botanical discoveries with short Linnaean diagnoses. Later in the year father and son were elected foreign members of the Berlin Academy. George's Fasciculus Plantarum Magellanicarum et Atlanticae, published both in London in 1786 and in Göttingen in 1787, summarized the findings he and his father had made in 1774 at Christmas Sound in Tierra del Fuego and the following year in the South Atlantic.56

By far George's most influential work on the continent was his German translation in 1787-1788 of the official Admiralty account, published in 1784, of Cook's third voyage. The Preface he wrote for the first volume of the Dritte Reise was a thoughtful and formative essay entitled, "Cook der Entdecker"; it summarized his sympathetic views of the Cook character and achievements as he had witnessed them, and moreover the essay presented Cook as a hero-figure worthy of emulation. "Cook the Discoverer" reached the European public one year before the appearance of Cook's first biography that was written by Andrew Kippis.57 On the whole, this publishing record was worthy of the thirty-three year-old traveler who had received no formal schooling save that given him by his father.

"I am overwhelmed with Work," wrote father to son, "am poor, get nothing & look for God's mercy." That was the song George always heard in Wilna. But Reinhold was not so overwhelmed that he had no time to offer unsolicited advice to George, who, with his work in press, was growing restless again. George had connections all over Europe. A change of location, he felt, would without doubt improve his prospects. Early in 1787 he first tried for a post at the Berlin Academy, but word leaked back to Halle. "They want cringing Toadeaters," wrote Reinhold, out of sorts again; the only way to get on in Berlin was by way of the Emperor's mistresses, he advised, and the best way for George to accomplish that would be to give them a copy of his translation of Cook's third voyage. Better yet, Spain might offer financial salvation; how about the two of them offering their services on a voyage to the Philippines?

Strapped for cash as usual, Reinhold put the touch on his son Carl and apparently drained him of 300 Taler (about £99). Carl had to go job hunting when his London firm went bankrupt later in the year. "It is a sorry time for everything going by the name of Forster," wrote George to Spener. In August he began to look into a Russian voyage to the South Seas. Reinhold intruded again; he would be glad to go along to assist George but first he had a list of requirements beginning with the subject of rubles--"2000 for me & Yr Mother will make shift with 200."58

Some good news did reach Wilna. Reinhold had hired someone to copy the Descriptiones Animalium for the printer. That was good news indeed. The happy prospect of seeing the much-delayed work in print took away George's disappointment when all of his job schemes went awry--because of war between Russia and Turkey, and in the case of Berlin, possibly because of his scruples. At least his brother William was getting some education and would have employment; he would soon receive his M.D. degree and would practice near Halle. Family affairs brought George and his wife and child back to Germany in the fall of 1787, and to Göttingen, where he sought a publisher. But Reinhold insisted on Halle because the printer was allowing him to submit bills for out of pocket expenses. By the end of the year the Latin text of the Descriptiones needed only indexing, and some of the pages and reproductions of the engravings were actually being printed. The huge zoological treatise that father and son had all but completed aboard Resolution eleven years before was actually beginning to see the light of day.

Having accepted a post as a librarian at the University of Mainz in April of 1788, George would frequently call at Halle to watch over the printing. It did seem that this time no slip-up could possibly occur. Those bills, meanwhile, were beginning to multiply, and frequently they would arrive with items, such as hats and shirts, that had nothing to do with Latin. The printer refused to pay. In another furious tirade Reinhold called him a "Cheat & a Swindler." The printer then decided on a German translation instead, and he insisted. The presses stopped. George grew frantic. He tried desperately to sort out the wretched fiasco, but to no avail. The manuscript was dolefully carried back to the house on Kleine Steinstrasse to wait for another day.59

In 1788 Reinhold did publish his Enchiridion Historiae Naturali Inserviens, which he dedicated to George and which he also had begun aboard ship. Consisting of Linnaean diagnoses of fishes, insects, plants, and eighty-two bird genera, it went through several editions and a French translation. With the family finances in bad shape again, George tried to help his father sell the herbarium of 3,000 specimens, but Reinhold became intransigent over the price. George, disgusted, returned to Mainz resolved to press forward on a project of his own, his Icones Plantarum, which would be a large work summarizing the botanical discoveries he and his father had made in the South Seas, and it would rival the much-delayed Descriptiones Animalium.60

No comments

Unsolicited e-mail warning

It has come to our attention that spam mailers (senders of bulk unsolicited e-mail) have been forging their mail with this domain as the point of origin. As a matter of policy, we do not send out e-mail from our domain name. If you have received an email that appears to be from "@CaptainCookSociety.com" it was forged and sent without our consent, knowledge, or the use of our servers.