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Rough Diagram, showing Ground Plan of the original
British Museum of 1759.
Воок II, Chap. I. EARLY HISTORY THE BRITISH MUSEUM
When the combined Museum and Libraries, thus arranged, were first opened to the inspection of the curious Public
Book II, in 1759, the collections enumerated in the Foundation Act
of 1753 had, it is seen, already received some notable THE British increase by gifts. The first donor was the House of Lords,
by whose order the historical collections of Thomas RYMER, HELPERS IN royal historiographer, and editor of the Fædera, were given
4 to the Trustees, immediately after their incorporation. Then Hvor followed, in 1757, the gift of the Royal Library and that
of the Lethieullier Antiquities from Egypt. [See Chapter II.]
The next donor, in order of time, was a Jewish merchant, and stock-broker, of humble origin, but of princely disposition. Solomon da Costa was one of the many men
THE FOUNDATION AND GROWTH OF THE BRITISH MUSEUM.
-HISTORY” cessful prosecution, but by the conspicuous union of mer
cantile astuteness with noble tastes and true beneficence. Correspond His talents for business enabled him to make a hundred
ence of Thomas Hollis.
than the equivalent of four hundred thousand in ours. He had made it, says a keen observer, who knew the man well,
without scandal or meanness.' When wealth made him independent, he spent his new leisure, not in luxury but in hard labour for the poor.
Da Costa had come, from Amsterdam, into England, in the year 1704. His struggling Hebrew compatriots were among the earliest sharers in his bounty. But his heart was too large to suffer that bounty to be limited by considerations either of race or of local neighbourhood. To him, as to the Samaritan of old, distress made kinship. He was wont to journey, from time to time, through thirty or forty parishes of Surrey and of Kent, with the punctual diligence of a commercial traveller, simply to succour the distressed by that best of all succour, the provision of means through which, in time, self-help would be developed and ensured. Provident loans, clothing-funds, the educa
HISTORY OF THE BRITISH MUSEUM.
tion and apprenticeship of necessitous children, were the Book II,
Chap. I. forms in which Da Costa's benevolence delighted to in- EARLY vest not only his money, but his personal exertion and his m cordial sympathy. He devoted more than a thousand Mu pounds a year to the benefit of Christian Englishmen, besides all that he gave to the poor of his own faith and race. And to both he gave, without noise or ostentation.
He bad, too, the breadth of view which enabled him to put, on their true foot of equality, the claims of the necessitous mind, as well as those of the necessitous body. Unlike many other men of genuine beneficence, popular estimates of giving did not mislead him into one-sidedness of aim.
Within a few years of Da Costa's arrival in England, probably about the year 1720, and when, with youthful ardour, he was seeking to acquire knowledge as well as to make money, he met, at a bookseller's, with a remarkable collection of Hebrew books, of choice editions and in rich and uniform bindings. The collection had that sumptuousness of aspect which invited inquiry into its origin. All that he could learn on that score was the probability that some statesman or other of the Commonwealth period, had collected them for a public but unfulfilled purpose, and that they had fallen—with so much other spoil—into the hands of CHARLES THE SECOND. By that King's order they had received, if not their rich binding, at least his crown and cypher as marks of the royal appropriation, and then (in a truly Carolinian fashion) were left in the hands of the King's stationer for lack of payment of the charge of what—whether binding or mere decoration—had been done to the books by the royal command. DA COSTA prized them as among his chief treasures, but directly he heard of the foundation of a great repository of learning,
Chap. I. EARLY HISTORY OF THE BRITISH MUSEUM.
Book II, the emotions of the Jewish broker were such as might
have been felt by 'broad-browed VERULAM,' could he Tu have lived to see that day ; save only that Bacon would
first have scanned the evidence about the origin of the institution, and would have discriminated the praise.
Da Costa wrote a letter to the Trustees. The generous heart is facile in ascribing generosity. A most stately monument,' said Da Costa, 'hath been lately erected and endowed, by the wisdom and munificence of the British Legislature,' and he accompanied his eulogy with a prayer that the Almighty would 'render unto them a recompense, according to the work of their hands.' He brought his
mite of contribution, he added, not only as proof of symDa Costa to pathy with the work in progress, but as a thanksgiving
offering, in part, for the generous protection and number*5th of Sivan, less blessings which I have enjoyed under the British 5519' [1759).
The gift embraced several Biblical Manuscripts of value, and a still choicer series of early printed books, one hundred and eighty in number. The giver has a merited place in the roll of our public benefactors; and his devout prayer for the new Museum, ‘May it increase and multiply ... to the benefit of the people of these nations and of the whole earth,' has had a more conspicuous fulfilinent than could, in 1759, have been imagined by the most sanguine of bystanders.
Da Costa to the Trustees of the Brit. Museum,
Gurr Of The Three years afterwards, and soon after his accession to Collection the throne, King GEORGE THE THIRD gave to the Nation Books or that most curious assemblage of nearly the whole English 1611-1662, BY1
II. literature of two and twenty eventful years of Civil War,
--open or furtive,—which is known to the Public as the • Thomason Collection,' though its technical name within
the Museum walls continues, as of old, to be the King's Book II,
Chap. I. Tracts.'
That name is the less appropriate from its tendency to give an inaccurate idea of the contents of the King's gift, as well as from its disregard of the origin of the Collection. The 'tracts' include the most ponderous theological quartos that ever came from an English press as well as the tiniest handbill, or the fugitive circular which called together a Committee of Sequestrators' at Wallingford House.
George THOMASON, its collector, was an eminent London GEORGE bookseller, of royalist sympathies, who watched intensely AND HIS the progress of the great struggle between King and Parliament, Cavalier and Roundhead, and who had noted with professional keenness how strikingly the printing press was made to mirror, almost from day to day, the strife of senators in council, as well as that of soldiers in the field. He had seized, in 1641, the idea of helping posterity the better to realize every phase of the great conflict, the oncoming of which many men had long foreseen, by gathering everything which came out in print-as far as vigilant industry could do so—whether belonging to literature, and to the obvious materials of history, or merely subserving the most trivial need of the passing moment. He failed, of course, to secure everything ; but his endeavour was wonderfully successful, on the whole. He also gathered many manuscripts which no printer in England dared to put into type. And he obtained a large number of political and historical pieces, bearing on English affairs, which had issued from foreign presses ; their authors being sometimes foreign observers of the struggle, but more frequently British refugees.
CHARLES THE FIRST congratulated THOMASON on the utility of his idea. More than once the King was able to