Georg Forster Society

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Georg Forster 1754-1794

Circumnavigator - Naturalist - Essayist - Travel Writer - Democrat

His taboo in the 19th century has not been able to erase the memory of one of the most important German polymaths and writers of the late Enlightenment, whose political views remained mostly misunderstood in Germany in the late 18th and 19th centuries and beyond and, thanks to their modernity, only found their counterpart in the late 20th century. But in view of this buried heritage, it is more important than ever today to rediscover Georg Forster's intellectual legacy, whether starting from the natural sciences, ethnology or anthropology, or from history or German studies, as well as from linguistics and cultural studies in general, including art and politics.

Born on November 27, 1754 in Nassenhuben near Danzig as the son of the preacher Johann Reinhold Forster, Georg Forster accompanied his father in 1765 on an inspection trip on behalf of the Russian government to the Volga and from there in search of employment via St. Petersburg to London. After years of hard work and privation, he was allowed to accompany his father on James Cook's 2nd voyage around the world from 1772-75, which established his fame as a naturalist and travel writer. After a trip to Paris, where Georg Forster met Buffon and Franklin, among others, he came to Kassel in 1778, where he received a position as professor of natural history at the Collegium Carolinum, of which he became prorector in 1779. During his five years in Kassel, he was in close scientific exchange with the most important scholars in Göttingen, met with Goethe, Herder, Wieland, and other leading representatives of German intellectual life, and maintained intensive contact with Freemasons. In 1784 Forster accepted a call to the Polish University of Vilnius and the following year married Therese Heyne, the daughter of the important Göttingen classical philologist Christian Gottlob Heyne.

The plan of a scientific expedition to India lasting several years on behalf of Tsarina Katharina II fell through, whereupon Forster accepted the position of librarian at the University Library of Mainz offered to him at the end of 1788. From Mainz, he undertook a three-and-a-half-month journey with the young Alexander von Humboldt via Holland to England in 1790. On his way back via Paris, he made his first direct acquaintance with the French Revolution, which he immediately joined when French troops entered Mainz in October 1792. Forster joined the Mainz Jacobin Club and was soon its president. As vice president of the "Rhenish-German National Convention," he traveled to Paris on March 25, 1793, to present the convention's proposal for the annexation of the Mainz Republic to the French Republic. Due to the reconquest of Mainz by Prussian troops, Forster remained in Paris as a convinced democrat who was barred from returning to Germany, where he was threatened with imprisonment. He died here in association at the age of 39 on January 10, 1794, politically embattled in Germany, but admired and respected far beyond as the author of Reise um die Welt and Ansichten vom Niederrhein, as well as a wealth of smaller treatises and often masterful essays of scientific content or on art and literature, philosophy, contemporary history and politics, in addition to a wealth of translations, including Sakontala, and reviews.


New publication:
Georg-Forster-Studien XXIII: Briefkultur der Spätaufklärung, kassel university press 2022.