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Thomas Forster

(1789—1860) writer on science and phrenologist


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Thomas Forster was born in London on 9 November 1789 and died in Brussels on 2 February 1860. His father (a botanist, also Thomas) was an admirer of Rousseau who kept his son away from school on principle. This lack of early formal education, although it imparted a curious shape to his biography, did not prevent the younger Thomas from becoming an accomplished naturalist and astronomer who would deliver some thirty-five papers to the Royal Society. In his youth Forster developed interests in meteorology, ornithology and vegetarianism, and published work in all these fields. He was elected Fellow of the Linnean Society in 1811. Then, in an apparent change of course, Forster went to Corpus Christi College, Cambridge to study law; he switched again to medicine, and by the time he finally graduated MB in 1819 he was a married man of thirty with a growing scientific reputation. His discovery of a comet in July of the same year led eventually to a Fellowship of the Royal Astronomical Society. In the early 1820s Forster spent three years travelling in Europe; he mastered several languages, and was received into the Roman Catholic Church. On his return to England he resumed his scientific researches, making a particular study of the atmospheric origin of diseases, in the course of which he ascended 6,000 feet (1,800 metres) in a balloon. After 1833 Forster lived mainly in the Low Countries, settling finally at Bruges. He remained productive into old age, writing poetry as well as articles for the Gentleman's Magazine, and composing music for the violin, which he played on one of his valuable old instruments. Forster's diversity of interest and achievement is reflected in his circle of friends which included Gray, Herschel, Peacock, Porson, Shelley and Whewell.

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From The Continuum Encyclopedia of British Philosophy in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Philosophy.


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