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Book in, now to glance at the organic history of the whole, after the Bistort primary Collections and the early additions to them came, by aggregation, to be combined into the existing national establishment. It may, at best, be only by glances that so wide a subject can (within the limits of this one volume) be looked over, in retrospect. That necessity of being brief suggests a connection of the successive epochs in the story of the Museum, for seventy years, with the lives of the three eminent men who have successively presided over the institution since the beginning of the present century. Those three official lives, I think, will be found to afford succinct divisions or breakings of the subject, as well as to possess a distinctive personal interest of their own. Our introductory chapters will therefore—in relation to the chapters which follow them—be, in part, retrospective, and, in part, prospective.
When Dr. Charles Morton died (10 February, 1799), Joseph Planta was, by the three principal Trustees, appointed to be his successor. The choice soon commended itself to the Public by the introduction of some important improvements into the internal economy of the institution. It is the first librarianship which is distinctively marked as a reforming one. In more than one of his personal qualities Mr. Planta was well fitted for such a post as that of Principal Officer of the British Museum. He had been for many years in the service of the Trustees. He had won the respect of Englishmen by his literary attainments. He was qualified, both by his knowledge of foreign languages and by his eminent courtesy of manners, for that salient part of the duties of librarianship which consists in the adequate reception and the genial treatment of strangers.
Joseph Planta was of Swiss parentage. He was of a race and family which had given to Switzerland several Bookiit, worthies who have left a mark in its national history. He Histom was born, on the twenty-first of February, 1744, at Casta- Hbtmuh segna, where his father was the pastor of a reformed church. TMD"
*- MR. It 1* ANT At
The boy left Switzerland before he had completed the second year of his age. He began his education at Utrecht, l"*or
•> D D . 'Joseph
and continued it, first at the University of Gottingen, and Plants afterwards by foreign travel—whilst yet open to the forma- Pbikcipal tive influences of youthful experience upon character—both LlBEAKIA*'in France and in Italy. It was thus his fortune to combine what there is of good in the characteristics of the cosmopolite with what is better in those of a patriotic son of the soil. It was Joseph Planta's fortune never to live in Switzerland, as a resident, after the days of early infancy, but, for all that, he remained a true Swiss. And one of the acts of his closing years in England was to make a most creditable contribution to Helvetic history.
Andrew Planta, father of Joseph, came to London in 1752. He was a man of good parts and of pleasing address. He established himself as pastor of a German congregation, and was also made an Assistant-Librarian in the British Museum. Afterwards, he was chosen to be a Fellow of the Royal Society and a 'reader' to Queen Charlotte. That appointment brought with it, in course of time, a measure of Court influence by which young Planta profited. His youthful ' Wanderjahre' had inspired the growing man with a keen desire to see more of foreign countries. When the father's favour at Court put him in a position to represent at head-quarters the youth's fancy to see life abroad, and to state (as he truthfully could) that neither talent nor industry were lacking in his character, the statement obtained for Joseph Planta the secretaryship of legation at Brussels. There, he felt himself
Booi Hi, to be in an element which suited him; but his filial affecHistoet tion brought him back to England in 1773, in order that M""k he might solace the last days, on earth, of his father. In that year the elder Planta died.
It was also in 1773 that Joseph Planta became an Assistant-Librarian. In the next year he was appointed to succeed Dr. Maty in both of his then offices. At the Royal Society he succeeded him as Secretary; at the Museum, he succeeded him as an Under-Librarian—when the Doctor was made head of the establishment. His new post at the Museum brought to Planta the special charge of the Department of MSS.
Joseph Planta had already made—immediately after his first appointment as Assistant-Librarian—his outset in authorship by the publication of his Account of the Eomansch 129160. Language. It is a scholarly production, though (it need hardly be said) not what would be expected, on such a subject, after the immense stride made in linguistical studies during the ninety-five years which have elapsed since it was given to literature, in pages in which nowadays such a treatise would hardly be looked for. Its first appearance was in the Philosophical Transactions. In 1776 it was translated into German and printed at Chamouni.
The subsequent years were devoted, almost exclusively, to the proper duties of his Museum office—on the days of service—and to those of the Paymastership of Exchequer Bills, a function to which Mr. Planta was appointed in 1788, and the duties of which he discharged, with efficiency and honour, for twenty-three years. Authorship had but little of his time until a much later period of life.
A little before his appointment in the administrative service of the country, Planta had married Miss Elizabeth Atwood. For him, marriage did just the opposite of what it has, now and then, been said to do for some other men. Book m,
It took off the edge of his liking for foreign travel. For Hi«o»t
it gave him a very happy home. Their union endured for Mdtm*m
twenty-four years. Planta was not a man of the gushing J,TM5eL
sort. But, to intimates, he would say—in the lonely years; Faikemtein,
there were to be but few of them—' She was an angel ^f^"TM'
in spirit and in heart.' Mrs. Planta died in 1821. Ecihe.Bd.ii,
pp. 8, aoqq.
On the death of Charles Morton, Mr. Planta, as we have seen already, was made Principal Librarian. He found the Museum still in its infancy, although no less than forty-six years had passed since the bequest of Sir Hans Sloane was made to the British Public, and more than forty years since that Public had entered upon its inheritance. The collections had kept pace with the growth of science only in one or two departments. In others the arrear was enormous. The accessibility was hampered with restrictions. The building was in pressing need of enlargement, gradual as had been the growth of some sections, and glaring as was the deficiency of other sections.
Planta put his shoulders to the wheel, and met with support and encouragement from several of the Trustees. But the feeling still ran strongly against any approach to indiscriminate publicity in any department of the Museum. Men did not carry that restrictive view quite so far in 1800, as it had been expressed by Dr. John Ward —an able and good man—in 1760, and earlier; but they still looked with apprehension upon the combined ideas of a crowd of visitors, and irreplaceable treasures of learning and of art. A good many of the men of 1800 possessed, it must in candour be remembered, living recollections of the sights and the deeds of 1780. Residents in Bloomsbury were likely, on that score, to have particularly good
Booiiii, memories. They had seen with their eyes precious manu
Histok scripts, which treasured up the lifelong lore of a Mansfield,
TM "V given by the populace to the flaiues. Undki Under the influence of such memories as these, Mr. Planta
Mb.plakta. . ..
had to propose abolition of restrictions, with a gentle and
very gradual hand. He began by improving the practice,
without at first greatly altering the rules. By and by he
brought, from time to time, before the Trust, suggestions
for relaxations in the rules themselves.
I«piotk- From the outset he administered the Reading Room
"bo^ctd, itself with much liberality. When he became Principal
Obeecom- Librarian the yearly admissions were much under two
HERDED, BT J J
Joseph hundred. In 1816, they had increased to two hundred
Planta, I!t _ •"
The and ninety-two. In 1820, to five hundred and fifteen. As
respects the Department of Antiquities, the students admitted to draw were in 1809 less than twenty; in 1818 two hundred and twenty-three were admitted. In 1814 he recommended the Trustees to make provision for the exhibition every Thursday, 'to persons applying to see them,'the Engravings and Prints;—the persons admitted not exceeding six at any one time, and others being admitted in due succession. He also recommended a somewhat similar system of exhibition for adoption in the Department of Coins and Medals. And the Trustees gave effect to both recommendations. Eventually Mr. Planta proposed, for the general show Collections of the Museum, a system of entirely free admission at the instant of application, abolishing all the hamper of preliminary forms.
Hisbecom- It was also, I believe, at Mr. Planta's instance, or partly so, that the Trustees applied to Parliament, in 1812, for special grants to enable them to improve the Collection
Vaeious 0f Printed Books, with reference more particularly to the
Tiom. endeavour to perfect the National Library in the National