George Forster

GEORGE FORSTER, born some time about the year 1750, went out as a writer in the service of the East India Company to Madras, whence, in 1782, he set out on his return to England, by way of Persia and Russia. Embarking on the Ganges, towards the latter end of June, he proceeded through Rajmahal, Monghee, and Patna, to Benares, where he spent three months in familiarity with the Hindoos, and in endeavoring to discover the origin of the Brahmin theology. After making an excursion to the fort of Biggighur, and assuming, for safety, a Georgian name, he proceeded through the Delhi country to Najebabad, where he represented himself as a Turkish merchant, and joined a kafila going to Cashmere. On the 6th of March, he crossed the river Jumma; and, on the 20th, arrived at a frontier town of the Punjaub, or Five Rivers, whence, after a rest of three days, he left the caravan; and in company with his servants, and an other Cashmerian, passed through the respective armies of two rajahs at war with each other; and, about the middle of April, reached Jummoo. Leaving this wealthy and commercial city, he set out, on foot, towards Cashmere, which, after a fatiguing journey of ten days, he approached, on the 26th, at a time, he observes, when the trees, the apple, the pear, the peach, the apricot, the cherry, and mulberry, bore a variegated load of blossoms. 'The clusters also of red and white roses,' he continues, 'with an infinite class of flowering shrubs, presented a view so gaily decked, that an extraordinary warmth of imagination was required to fancy that I stood, at least, on a province of fairy land.'

Whilst residing at Cashmere, he was declared, by a Georgian who noticed the flatness of his head, to be a Christian, but threatening the detector with the confiscation of an estate he found him to possess at Benares, in the event of his discovering him, he escaped exposure, and, immediately afterwards, solicited his passport, and left the city. On the 10th of July, he crossed the Indus, about twenty miles above the town of Altack, and, on the following day, passed the Kabul river to Akorah; whence, after a journey in which he was nearly discovering his true religion, and a few transient dangers, he proceeded to Kabul, which he reached on the 2d of August. A few days after his arrival, he was attacked by a malignant fever, which appeared on his body in bright blue spots, and left him scarcely strength to move for some time after his recovery. Having hired one side of a camel, where he was placed in a pannier, he set out for Kandahar; in the course of his journey whither he was much annoyed by the insults and reviling of the whole kafila, in consequence of his no longer wearing the Mohammedan disguise, which, consequently, on his arrival at Herat, he thought it prudent again to assume. Here he joined another kafila, about to proceed to Tursheez, and obtained great respect the whole way, by representing himself as a pilgrim going to visit the shrine of Meshed. On the 28th of December, he left Tursheez, with a body of pilgrims proceeding to Mesanderan, whence he journeyed to Mushedsir on the Caspian sea; embarked at that city for Baku, shaved off his beard, which had grown to an enormous thickness, and sailed to Astrachan, where he arrived in the beginning of 1784, and, in the following July, landed in England.

Immediately on his arrival he began to put his manuscripts in form for the press, and in 1786, published, in London, his Sketches of the Mythology and Manners of the Hindoos. Returning some time after this to India, he published, at Calcutta, in 1790, the first volume of his travels, under the title of A Journey from Bengal to England, and was just about to print a second, when he died at Nagpoor, whither he had been sent on an embassy, some time in the year 1792. In 1798, a complete edition of his travels was published in two quarto volumes, but so negligently edited, that it has been doubted whether the second volume was compiled from the manuscripts of Forster, of whom no account was given, nor of the manner in which his papers were obtained. The work, though not gaining the reputation it deserved, received great commendation from the literary world, and was translated into German by Meineis, and into French, with the addition of notes and two maps, by Langles, who has written a short memoir of Forster, in the Biographie Universelle.

Few travels have been more adventurous and hazardous than those of Forster; yet the gay and spirited manner in which the account of them is written, gives no indication of any apprehension on the part of the author, who seems to have been as much at home in the deserts of Khorasan, as on the banks of the Thames. Indeed, had he not preserved, during his travels, the unreserved, unsuspicious, and familiar manner which his disguise as a Mohammedan rendered necessary, he would neither have had so good an opportunity of seeing the manners and dispositions of his infidel associates, nor have lived, perhaps, to relate them.