Forbes, James (1749-1819) (DNB00)

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FORBES, JAMES (1749–1819), author of ‘Oriental Memoirs,’ born in London in 1749, claimed descent from the Earls of Granard. In 1765 he went out to Bombay as a writer to the East India Company. In 1775, as private secretary to Colonel Keating, he accompanied the expedition sent to assist Regoba, who was regarded by the Bombay authorities as the rightful peshwar of the Mahrattas. After a visit to England for his health he held an appointment at Baroche in Goojerat, and in 1780 became collector and resident at Dubhoy. Under the treaty of 1782 this district and other conquests were ceded to the Mahrattas, and in 1784 Forbes quitted India. He had not only acquired a competency, but, being a good draughtsman and keen observer, had filled a hundred and fifty folio volumes (fifty-two thousand pages) with sketches and notes on the fauna, flora, manners, religions, and archæology of India. He became an F.R.S. and F.S.A. He married in 1788 Rose, daughter of Joseph Gaylard of Stanmore, near Harrow, Middlesex, and resided alternately at London and Stanmore. Anxious to make himself acquainted with the continent, he visited Switzerland and Germany, and during the peace of Amiens went over to France. He reached Paris with his wife and daughter the very day, however, after the decree for the detention of all British subjects. Junot, on reading his letters of introduction, entered his age as sixty, in order that he might remain in Paris; but after seven or eight months of comparative liberty, during which he visited his brother at Tours, Forbes was relegated to Verdun, where all the English had to report themselves twice a day. Sir Joseph Banks, president of the Royal Society, applied to Carnot, president of the Institute, for his release, on the ground of his being an antiquary and artist. A letter which Forbes himself wrote to Carnot on the same subject is printed in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine’ for 1804 (ii. 734). In June 1804 he was allowed to return to England, and sailed from Morlaix to Dartmouth on 25 July. In 1806 he published ‘Letters from France,’ an account of his captivity. Three years later his only child Eliza married Marc René de Montalembert, a member of an old Poitou family, whom the revolution had driven to England, and who had joined the British army. In 1810 Charles de Montalembert, the future orator and historian, was born, and at the age of fifteen months was consigned to the grandfather's sole charge, as the mother accompanied her husband with his regiment. Thenceforth Forbes divided his time between his ‘Oriental Memoirs,’ which, profusely illustrated, appeared in four quarto volumes, 1813–15, and his grandson. He prepared for Charles's eventual use an enlarged manuscript edition of the ‘Memoirs,’ the four volumes expanded to forty-two by copies of his original sketches, letters, verses, and other additions. It may be doubted whether Montalembert, devoid of interest in the East, ever bestowed more than a cursory glance at these quartos, now preserved at Oscott College by the family. Yet Forbes, as Mrs. Oliphant remarks, was ‘the parent of Montalembert's soul;’ for the boy's parents were insignificant people, whereas the protestant grandfather's piety and thoroughness left a permanent impress on the catholic champion. After Waterloo Forbes accompanied his daughter and her family to France, where he remained nearly two years. Charles returned to England with him, and in 1819 both started for Stuttgart, where Count Montalembert was French ambassador, but at Aix-la-Chapelle Forbes was taken ill and died on 1 Aug. Mrs. Oliphant speaks of Charles and a servant as the sole witnesses of his end; but the contemporary account in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine’ states that he had a lingering illness, and that his daughter was by his deathbed. She returned to England a widow about 1831, published an abridgment of the ‘Memoirs’ in 1834, and died in 1839.

[Oriental Memoirs; Gent. Mag. 1819; Letters from France; Mrs. Oliphant's Memoir of Montalembert.]

J. G. A.