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The Forsters at Home


August began a busy month in Paddington Green when the two Forsters suddenly appeared with their baggage. For Justina and the six younger children, who had been living unobtrusively on the outskirts of London, another family reunion meant the usual upheaval and adjustments. Carl, aged nineteen, had to give way to George, aged twenty-one, who represented all he could never be. Then came Virginia and Antonia, ages eighteen and seventeen; Wilhelmina and Wilhelm, ages fifteen and twelve; following by little Justina, or Justy, as she was called, aged ten, with a lifetime of devotion ahead of her. As the children helped to unpack the books, the parcels containing thousands of plant specimens, the smelly storage jars, and those strange-looking "curiosities" from faraway places with the strange-sounding names, naturally they searched for affection from their father and big brother, who were strangers to them. The mainstay in the household, of course, was the silent Justina, aged forty-nine, who always scrimped and did without to keep the children fed so that her husband could do great things.


It was plain to Reinhold that he needed a proper address. Scarcely was the family reunited when he announced a move to a more central location at No. 16 Percy Street off Tottenham Court Road. There he would meet on an equal footing with men of power and substance. The annual rent of £60 itself did represent a step up; in the Warrington days his pay for an entire year was also £60. All the commotion at the old place attracted some local thieves who broke in and made off with possessions worth almost £200, together with books and manuscripts, which they discarded in the road. Soon after, Reinhold was set upon and robbed by a covey of London footpads; he did not, alas, have 'street smarts.'

But these untoward happenings were only minor shadows in the light of the good news that Reinhold gave his family. He was to write the official account of the voyage, and all the profits would of course come to him--his lawyer friend Daines Barrington said so--and the Admiralty had promised him a pension. True, he had neglected to add that he had embarked on the voyage without a written contract, but in his view, this was of no consequence since oral understandings were just as binding. After all, he had the backing of King George, with whom he was granted an audience on August 16. In addition, young George wrote a friend that both the Descriptiones Animalium and the Characteres Generum Plantarum were almost ready for the press.19 These would bring prestige and even a little something for the family coffers. Meanwhile, the few hundred pounds remaining from the £4,000 grant would tide them over until the money began to roll in.

Reinhold had good reason for this rosy outlook. Early in September Lord Sandwich invited him to submit a draft of the doings in Dusky Bay, and Reinhold could even use a copy of Cook's journal for reference; if his version were acceptable he would indeed write the official account, he would have some of the choice engravings for illustrations, and he would have a large share of the expected profits. Solander, the self-appointed Forster-watcher, made known this turn of events in another of his letters to Banks, adding: "Mr. Forster overwhelms me with civilities on your account. He is of all men I know either the most open or the greatest fool." With typical gusto, Reinhold fell to work on English, French, and German translations, and before long he was bragging to one and all about his coming publications. A German visitor remarked: "He is a man in his prime, full of ardor and courage. He would, I believe, circumnavigate Jupiter."

But Reinhold Forster had enemies; news of his shortcomings had preceded him from the Cape. Naturally it did not occur to him that the ill will others began to direct toward him might have had something to do with himself. With all the wagging tongues in London, inevitably Sandwich began to have second thoughts about this foreigner he had planted on Resolution, and when gossips urged him not to hire that "translator of Bougainville's journal" he was inclined to think, in a letter to Barrington, that Forster was "an impracticable man." Late in October he reminded Forster that, since the government had paid him a handsome fee, the public after all had a perfect right to the observations he had made; he ordered him to stop making all those translations and stick to English. At the same time, not liking the Dusky Bay squib and deciding he had better be on the safe side, Sandwich abruptly decreed that Cook's journal should also come out as a separate publication; Cook would take care of the "nautical" observations, Forster the "philosophical"; and the Admiralty would allocate the costly copper engravings of Hodges' paintings between the two productions. Barrington, uncomplaining and unwary, was delegated to handle all further traffic between Forster and Sandwich. Forster did not seem to complain about these new arrangements, since he would still receive half the profits.20 It appeared therefore that the second voyage would have two official accounts. It also appeared that Lord Sandwich was putting a little distance between the Admiralty and No. 16 Percy Street.

At home in Mile End, Cook happily fell to work in earnest on what he thought would be one of the two books on the voyage. His public was waiting. Before meeting his public, however, he agreed that he needed a little help with his punctuation and spelling. This he received from the kindly Dr. John Douglas, Canon of Windsor, who became a competent and tactful editor for the literary sea captain. Manuscripts and correspondence flowed back and forth between Mile End and the palace at Windsor forming a collaboration that proved to be amiable and successful.

"The remarks you have made on Bits of loose Paper, I find are very just," wrote Cook. Douglas smoothed out the rambling prose, removed the excess of capital letters that Cook sprinkled across his pages, gave his pupil some paragraphs and periods, and politely corrected the errant grammar. The result in substance and style, as shown by comparison with the journal on which it was based, nonetheless remained entirely Cook's. The seafaring author was grateful: "I beg your exceptance of 3 Dozn Pints of Constantia Wine." But he still remained in charge. "I will bring the whole manuscript with me, to let you see how I have divided it into Books and Chapters." He even gave directions for the printer: "Leave about 4 Inches between Book 1 & Chap. 1 for the title."21 It was a remarkable feat, this collaboration, especially when Cook became deeply involved in the preparations for the third voyage: in only eight months he finished his part of the project, sending the last of his huge manuscript to Douglas just before embarkation on the third voyage in July of 1776.

Slings and arrows could not touch Reinhold Forster during this period. He was in good humor when Cook showed up on his doorstep one day in the fall of 1775 to find out whether Characteres Generum Plantarum were in press. Why, yes, replied Forster brightly, and he showed him some of the proofs; whereupon Cook peremptorily ordered him to cancel the run! It seems that the great navigator, in a burst of pettiness, could not abide the thought of any publication preceding his own, even if the intruder were in Latin. Forster protested that, oh, it was only a small Latin thing about plants and could not possibly interfere with Cook's nautical narrative; in fact, he hadn't given it any thought since finishing it aboard ship, "especially as I had a Son who had nothing better to do, than to superintend the Execution of the plates & the press." Barrington having transmitted an appeal, Sandwich replied that Forster might go on writing his Latin paragraphs. Cook wanted to take some of the profits, growled Forster. But meager sales and the printer's bill added up to a financial loss instead.22

This hastily written work of 152 pages, brought out jointly by George and Reinhold in 1776, contains seventy-six descriptions of new genera and ninety-five related species with seventy-eight plates.23 The naming of the plants takes precedence over Solander's work, of course, because he had not published; and since Banks had refused access to his herbarium and manuscripts, the Forsters could hardly have done any pilfering. This work was the first of the Forster publications concerning the second voyage, the first in print by anyone on the botany of the South Seas.

The months passed as pleasantly as could be expected for the Forster family. Reinhold was at the height of his literary fame. Six antiquarian, natural history, and travel works, written in previous years and published during the voyage, added to his celebrity and prestige. On November 22, 1775, the University of Oxford awarded him the degree of Doctor of Civil Laws. On good terms with the academic community, he contributed some of his ethnographic artifacts to the Ashmolean Museum; thus began the dispersal of the priceless Forster collections. The house on Percy Street gave competition to the mansion on New Burlington Street by becoming a center of attraction for those who wished to see the artifacts and plant specimens brought back by the famous naturalist. Orientalists, members of royal houses, ministers of state, and rising men of science and medicine came to admire and consult. Lasting friendships were formed. In keeping with his lustrous state, Reinhold bought new clothes, books, entire volumes of journals, and complained that the house was "already too small for me."

A visitor who waxed curious about the Forster household was Gilbert White, whose correspondence with two of Reinhold's friends, Daines Barrington and the zoologist Thomas Pennant, became the basis for his notable work, The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne. White noticed the extravagance: "He and his son dress like noblemen." How Justina and the six other children dressed was not noticed. In January Reinhold sent Linnaeus a full description of the alpine plant Forsteria sedifolia that the Swedish botanist Anders Sparrman had named in New Zealand; the overjoyed Linnaeus finally had something palpable from the South Seas, albeit something short of an actual botanical specimen. Throughout that winter Reinhold continued to work confidently on his "philosophical" narrative of the voyage. He would postpone his massive Descriptiones Animalium a bit. England, he felt, had become his home. "How could I disown a country that has been so charitable to me," he wrote in February of 1776, "and where I have been received by the monarch."24


After twenty-two years of marriage to Reinhold, however, Justina knew that bad news could come at any time. The contract that Sandwich had Cook and Forster sign on April 13 (1776) was reasonable enough; it set forth what was already in effect, and that Forster was not to publish within three months before Cook. But then early in May Sandwich set a new condition. Barrington brought word that Sandwich was irritated with Forster's opening chapter--"ought to be struck out, having been said hundred times over & over"--and that henceforth he must submit his work for correction and editing by someone that Sandwich would choose. Since Sandwich had chosen Canon Douglas to be Cook's editor, he saw no reason why he should not choose Forster's. Naturally Forster, with twenty-four scholarly publications to his credit by that time, stubbornly refused to agree. In this new contest of wills between the Admiralty and Percy Street, it was inevitable that the latter should lose. The threads of Justina's life, bound up so neatly for only a few months, began at once to unravel into calamity for her family.

The unseemly quarrel went on and on, Forster always refusing to have his writing corrected "like a theme of a School-boy," Lord Sandwich, with the support of King George, adamantly demanding that he submit his work for correction. When Forster angrily threatened to publish independently, Barrington washed his hands of his friend and sided with Sandwich: "I shall inform him that he must never see me again." Imprisoned by his self-centered ambition, having forsaken the faith of his youth and unable to transcend his pride, Forster would not give way on his question of principle, even when food for his children was at stake. He chose to ignore the elemental fact that Sandwich, who had been ruthless with his own friend Banks, would scarcely hesitate to be ruthless with him, and that in the end he would side with Cook.

Sandwich, unable to understand the scholarly and literary temperament, could not understand that he had put forward a condition that Forster could never accept. With academic honor beyond his experience, even the election of Forster on May 24 to the Paris Académie des Sciences did not weigh on the scale of decision. Still, he intended that Forster should be reimbursed for his efforts, provided the terms were his own.25

Yet, behind the acrimony, these bullheaded men were directing their abundant energies to a common goal--the widest possible dissemination of the results of Cook's second voyage. Though Forster and Sandwich were destined by temperament not to collaborate, nevertheless, each for his own purpose--Forster for pure scholarship, Sandwich for British pre-eminence--was determined that no obstacle whatever should thwart the achievement of that goal. And the final rupture between them opened the way to an even wider dissemination in the years to come than either could have supposed.

Meanwhile, Sandwich was occupied with the final stages of launching the third voyage, and he was receiving alarming reports from the Royal Navy in American waters. He must end the literary dispute--and quickly. He must decide whether to let Forster have his way, meaning that both Cook and Forster would publish separately, or to go with Cook alone. Should he sanction two official accounts, or one? He would consult Barrington. "I am truly concerned that Dr. Forster does not know his real friends," he wrote on June 11, "and that he is not a judge of his own interests as an English writer." The letter indicates that Sandwich was making one last effort to be fair. He knew that Forster could write scholarly articles and books; but the issue, as he saw the matter, was whether Forster could write for the general public. He would let Barrington act the literary critic. Sandwich continued:26

It is impossible for me to act a more impartial part than to leave it to the decision of yourself, who are his chief friend, and who recommended him to me, whether the work is according to the agreement and fit for publication in point of style and composition...and Dr. Forster must allow me to say that although his reputation as a writer is materially concerned in this publication, mine also as a judge of good and bad writing, is concerned, if the performance is to appear before the public. I will therefore not give any sanction to it till you tell me that you think it such as ought to appear under the approbation of the Admiralty.

Sandwich had passed the buck. How poor Barrington wriggled out of the dilemma is not clear, in view of the remark he wrote the next day: "What your Lordship very kindly threw into his lap, would have amounted (I am persuaded) to £1500." Whether Barrington thought that Forster would lend prestige to the English crown, he could scarcely pretend that Forster lacked prestige as an English writer. At any rate, Sandwich settled on one official account. Forster had cast his family adrift. On June 23, 1776, the day before leaving Mile End to embark on the third voyage, Cook wrote to Douglas: "I am to publish without Mr. Forster."27.

In July of 1776, with the family finances in a shambles and food in short supply, the twenty-two year-old George Forster began writing what became his most lucid and accessible work, A Voyage Round the World. With its breadth of conception this far-sighted narrative even surpasses in many respects Cook's official accounts of all three voyages. We find a serious yet witty young man, reflective beyond his years, pondering the meaning of all he had seen and worrying about the coming European experience in the Pacific. In masterful English prose, the two large volumes remain one of the finest travel documents of that or of any age. It was his first major writing project.

Spurred on by his family's sore need, George wrote the manuscript in the incredible span of only seven months.28 Douglas was rapidly finishing the Cook narrative, and it would soon reach a public impatiently waiting to snatch up any account of the famous voyage. While Reinhold continued to work on what would become his "philosophical" Observations, which summarized his scientific conclusions, he was enjoined from publishing anything ahead of Cook. But this proscription did not apply to George. If the Forsters could only manage to be first in the bookstalls, they would surely capture the market, and after many tribulations, of which in their opinion Sandwich's shabby treatment was only the latest, they would yet enter a sunny future. Cook would be left holding the bag. It was up to George to save the family.

Troubles multiplied. Secretary Philip Stephens of the Admiralty showed up one day to collect the engravings still in Reinhold's hands, some of them of illustrations made by George. Creditors made noises and the pressures mounted. "My mind has been strangely affected & even my body has suffered," Reinhold wrote to Sandwich, who was unmoved. Reinhold sold some of George's paintings to Banks for 400 guineas. George began to nurse a grudge: "Messrs. B and S. seem friendly toward us but behind our backs are spiteful and dangerous enemies because we share with them the honour of having collected plants in the South Seas." At least Justina had fewer mouths to feed when two of the children left home--Carl, aged twenty, to become a store clerk in Berlin, beginning a life of wandering in search of bread and of himself, and Antonia at age eighteen to fend for herself as a governess in Vienna. But Justina dutifully made a place at the dinner table for a family friend, the Berlin publisher Johann Karl Phillip Spener, who came for a leisurely visit.

In the fall Reinhold departed for Paris in what proved to be a vain search for a French publisher for George's Voyage; while there he met the famous navigator Louis Antôine de Bougainville and the well connected and influential naturalist Comte de Georges Louis LeClerc Buffon, and he promised the Académie des Sciences his new memoir on the albatross. He returned to a bleak London winter. A job at the British Museum went to another candidate. But the Forsters did have some encouragement. For George, a signal honor was conferred on him on January 6, 1777 when he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London in recognition of the Characteres Generum Plantarum; Banks and Solander were among those who nominated him. Reinhold had been a member since 1772.

Although the Percy Street household was in utter turmoil much of the time, with creditors and gossips at the door and the family living in abject want, George at his writing table escaped from the encroaching despair and confusion into his memories of the South Seas; the sentences poured forth in feverish haste. Using his father's journal, he toiled on, for week after week guiding Resolution around the world. As fast as he finished his pages, Reinhold made translations and mailed them off to Berlin for a German edition (Reise um die Welt, 1778-1780; 1965-1966). Suddenly Reinhold had a bright idea. Since the manuscript of his Observations was almost finished, would his Lordship care to agree on a printer? Sandwich deigned not to reply. Debtor's prison loomed. Reinhold had to borrow £250 from Banks, a sum that henceforth would remain an incubus on the family. Money was needed to print the Voyage. Unless help came soon the Forsters had no future in England.29

The exhausted George saw his Voyage Round the World go on sale on March 17, 1777 for two guineas. But without any illustrations the sales were weak and did not cover the cost of printing. Six weeks later the eminent publisher William Strahan brought out the official account, A Voyage Toward the South Pole. With eighteen valuable maps and fifty-two copper engraved illustrations, comprising the best of Hodges's artistry, and carrying the name of the famous navigator, the two volumes were grabbed out of the bookstalls at the same price so that another edition was necessary by the fall of the year. In September 570 copies of George's Voyage lay unsold in the bookstalls. Not to fret, wrote Sparrman the same month, trying from the Swedish sidelines to be sanguine: "I know you have worked briskly at the pumps, that in the mean while there can be no fear but that such industrious Gentlemen as you and your Father can keep the bark above the water."30


But the Forster bark continued to flounder and the nightmare grew worse. Reinhold tried to sell the copyright to George's Voyage. That failed. In order to pay off a few of his debts, he had to sell some of his precious books, according to a letter of his to Banks, for only £350. London was rife with talk, and his enemies circled about like vultures. What had he done with the £4,000 the Parliament had granted him? In October George left for Paris in an unsuccessful bid to sell a few curiosities. But as a newly-published author with the initials F.R.S. after his name, he could at least hold his head high when he called on the famous Buffon.31 Even more impressive to young George was his meeting at the village of Passy outside Paris with the American plenipotentiary, the seventy-one year-old Benjamin Franklin, whom he might have met in London in 1772 and whom he fairly idolized in years to come. By that time the Forsters were becoming disenchanted with Lord North's policies toward the colonies. Finding a kindred spirit in the revered American was a lift to George before returning to London where he found more trouble brewing.32

Time and again through the years George was called upon to bail out the family's leaking bark and to defend his father's interests. Far from being crushed by adversity, he always rose to the challenge, even when the task required that he swallow his pride and go hat in hand to Banks, as his father so often did. When teaching jobs in Germany for himself and his father offered a flickering hope of saving the family from final ruin, he promptly went to the town house at Number 32 Soho Square, whither the Banks enterprise had settled in the fall of 1777, to present this new scheme--which meant that Banks would have to settle the debts and hand over travel money.

Hardly was this abortive rescue operation abandoned when George had to contend with William Wales, who had been rummaging through his Voyage looking for trouble. When the talented astronomer lighted on a passage in which he fancied that Reinhold had criticized his handling of the Arnold watches, which had not performed too well on the voyage, he demanded a retraction. Father and son were both surprised, George especially since he had gotten along with Wales aboard ship; they promptly assured him they meant no reflection on his professional integrity. The sounds of appeasement suddenly issuing from Percy Street only emboldened Wales to make a public attack on Reinhold. The respectable Wales, who had found a secure income as a mathematics teacher at Christ's Hospital, had a mean and vindictive streak in him. Early in 1778 he published his Remarks on Mr. Forster's Account of Captain Cook's Last Voyage Round the World, in which he emptied out before the public all the pent-up malice and spite he had accumulated aboard ship. Along with baseless attacks on Reinhold's competence and linguistic abilities, all his failings, his profanity and drinking habits, and all the incidents of pig-headedness aboard ship were strung out with slanderous epithets in caricature for all London to devour. The 110 pages are a model of pure animosity.

Aroused to hot anger in defense of his father, George quickly dashed off by late February of 1778 his Reply to Mr. Wales's Remarks, which is the less entertaining read, of course, since his bitterness is garbed in rather more elegant prose. Quite capable of responding in kind, however, he noticed that if his father were no expert in astronomy, Wales surely knew nothing of "botany, logik, physic, language, and civility."

While the Forsters were on the subject, they decided they might as well take on the chief source of their misfortunes. If any remote chance still survived that the Admiralty might help Reinhold find employment in England, it surely vanished with the publication of his Letter to the Right Honourable the Earl of Sandwich, which was probably also penned by George. He summarized the many difficulties placed in the way of his father, whose conduct had been without reproach, and who had been the guiltless victim of jealousy and malice. Martha Ray was really the cause of it all, George wrote; she had turned Sandwich against his poor father because he had refused to give her one of his birds. And furthermore, George went on, Sandwich ought to pay up because of the broken contract. For his part, Sandwich, immune to personal attack, was of all public figures in eighteenth century London the least likely to be upset by what he might have regarded by that time as the mere effusions of a German buffoon; the first Lord was in fact unruffled.33

In the midst of this public scandal in 1778, Reinhold published his massive Observations Made During a Voyage Round the World. The "List of Subscribers," who contributed to the cost of printing, and the dedication to the Royal Society indicate that despite the troubles swirling about his head, many influential people in the academic community were following his scientific work with a good deal of interest and approval, and that he was on reasonably good terms with them. Included are his friends at Oxford, associates from the Warrington days, and even Banks.34

As a synthesis of all he had learned on the voyage, this treatise became widely influential in the development of ethnology, geography, and natural history. The scholarly discussion carried no hint of the acrimonious atmosphere in which the work was written. On the contrary, in the final section of the book, the author's perceptive treatment of the far off islanders of the South Seas, whose engaging customs evoked his human reflection placed at the head of this chapter, invited the literati of eighteenth century Europe to reach out in sympathy of to all mankind.

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Thank you
By Jane on 9/10/2015 10:32:18 AM Like:0 DisLike:0
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Jane, this page is taken from the final chapter of an article written for the Society in 1999 by Richard P Aulie. Here is a link to the entire chapter so that you can put this page into context, as well as having a link to the author's footnotes.
By Cliff Thornton on 9/7/2015 8:18:53 AM Like:0 DisLike:0
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I am very excited about this. The connections seen between Barrington, Douglas and the Reinholds are what I suspected (in connection with my own work on Douglas and his other controversial writings and contacts). More information? Footnotes, references? There is not even an author's name, or proper title or date. I got here via ref in Wikipedia article on JRF.
By Jane Reeve on 9/2/2015 3:56:36 PM Like:0 DisLike:0

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