Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Planta, Joseph (1744-1827)

PLANTA, JOSEPH (1744–1827), librarian, was born on 21 Feb. 1744, at Castegna in the Grisons, Switzerland. His father, the Rev. Andrew Planta, belonged to an old Swiss family, and was pastor of a reformed church at Castegna; he resided in England from 1752 as minister of the German reformed church in London, and from 1758 till his death in 1773 was an assistant-librarian at the British Museum. He was F.R.S. and a ‘reader’ to Queen Charlotte.

Joseph Planta was educated by his father, and afterwards studied at Utrecht and Göttingen. After visiting France and Italy he acted as secretary to the British minister at Brussels. In 1773 he returned to England, and was in that year appointed to succeed his father as an assistant-librarian at the British Museum. In 1776 he was promoted to the keepership of manuscripts. From 1799 till 1827 he was principal librarian of the museum. He granted additional facilities to the public, and during his administration there was a great increase in the number of visitors to the reading-room and the department of antiquities. He was a man of polished manners and catholic tastes, and did much to increase the collections and to stimulate the official publications. He wrote part of the published ‘Catalogue of the Printed Books,’ and much of the ‘Catalogue of the MSS. in the Cottonian Library’ (1802, fol.) From 1788 till 1811 he also held the post of paymaster of exchequer bills.

Planta died on 3 Dec. 1827, aged 83. He married, in June 1778, Elizabeth Atwood, by whom he had one child, Joseph [q. v.] A Miss Planta, probably a sister, who was teacher to George III's children, died on 2 Feb. 1778 (Gent. Mag. 1778, p. 94). Planta was elected F.R.S. in 1774, and secretary to the Royal Society in 1776. A portrait of him in oils, presented by his son to the British Museum, hangs in the board-room. There is also an engraving (1817), by W. Sharp, of a portrait medallion of Planta by Pistrucci. Another by Engleheart, and engraved by H. Hudson in 1791, is mentioned by Bromley.

Planta published: 1. ‘An Account of the Romansch Language,’ London, 1776, 4to (Phil. Trans. of Roy. Soc. lxvi. 129). 2. ‘The History of the Helvetic Confederacy,’ 2 vols. London, 1800, 4to; 2nd edit. 1807, 8vo (chiefly based on the work of J. Von Müller). 3. ‘A View of the Restoration of the Helvetic Confederacy,’ London, 1821, 8vo (a sequel to No. 2).

[Memoir by Archdeacon Nares in Gent. Mag. 1827, pt. ii. pp. 564–5; Edwards's Lives of the Founders of the Brit. Mus. pp. 516 ff.; Statutes and Rules of the Brit. Mus. 1871; Nichols's Lit. Illustr. vii. 677; Brit. Mus. Cat.]

W. W.