James David Forbes

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James David Forbes (1809–1868) was a Scottish physicist and glaciologist who worked extensively on the conduction of heat and seismology. He invented the seismometer in 1842.


  • Most merciful and gracious God, who hast preserved me unto this hour, I most humbly acknowledge Thee as the guide and companion of my youth. Thou hast protected me through the dangers of infancy and childhood, and in my youth Thou didst bless me with the full enjoyment, the happy intimacy, of the best of fathers. Be as gracious and merciful then as Thou hast hitherto been, now that I am about to enter a new stage of existence. Teach me, I beseech Thee, to strengthen in my soul the cultivation of Thy truth, the recollection of the uncertainty of life, the greatness of the objects for which I was created. Revive those delightful religious impressions which in early days I felt more strongly than now ; and as Thou hast been pleased lately to permit me to look to a way of life to which formerly I dared not to do, let the leisure I shall enjoy enlarge my warmth of heart towards Thee. Make every branch of study which I may pursue strengthen my confidence in Thy ever-ruling providence, that, undeceived by views of false philosophy, I may ever in singleness of heart elevate my mind from Thy works unto Thy divine essence. Keep from me a vain and overbearing spirit ; let me- ever have a thorough sense of my own ignorance and weakness ; and keep me through all the trials and troubles of a transitory state in body and soul unto everlasting life, for Jesus Christ's sake. Amen.'
    • "Completing my Twenty-first Year" (1839), a prayer written by Forbes on April 20th, 1830. Life and letters of James David Forbes' p. 450.
  • I thank God humbly and sincerely. God, who has visited us with many trials, and led us like the Israelites of old from place to place without any certain abode, bless, we beseech Thee, our return home, and mercifully grant that the afflictions and anxieties of that long probation may bear fruit in a more self-denying and godly life ; and that we may have our hearts fixed on a yet more abiding resting-place, eternal in the heavens, for Jesus Christ's sake.'
    • Excerpt of Forbes' journal. September 1854. As quoted in Life and letters of James David Forbes' p. 369.

Quotes about Forbes[edit]

  • I have no scruple in expressing my convictions that you are destined to do something important in science, and under this conviction I am confident that there is no object of ambition worthy of your pursuit, but that of original discovery.
    • Sir David Brewster, in a letter to Forbes, as found in Life and letters of James David Forbes p. 39.
  • Of all the characters I have read of in history, no nature seems to me so like that of my friend, as that of Blaise Pascal, — with many important modifications be it said. There was the same sensitive organization ; the same intense love of truth for its own sake ; the same fearlessness in facing facts, however they might militate against preconceived notions, or established theories ; the same bright intelligence which to the end triumphed over the exhaustion of the bodily frame ; the same unquestioning submission of will and intellect to the Supreme Being; the same lowly acceptance of the super-natural truths of religion, how incomprehensible soever to man's weakness. . . his was a religion rather of hope than of fear. I never saw in any man such fearlessness in the path of duty. The one question with him was. Is it right ? No dread of consequences, and consequences often bitterly felt by him, and wounding his sensitive nature, ever prevented him from doing that to which conscience prompted.

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