Maty, Matthew (DNB00)

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MATY, MATTHEW (1718–1776), physician, writer, and principal librarian of the British Museum, son of Paul Maty, was born at Montfort, near Utrecht, on 17 May 1718. His father was a protestant refugee from Beaufort in Provence, who settled in Holland and became minister of the Walloon church at Montfort, and subsequently catechist at the Hague, but was dismissed from his benefices and excommunicated by synods at Campen and the Hague in 1730 for maintaining, in a letter on ‘The Mystery of the Trinity’ to De la Chappelle, that the Son and Holy Spirit are two finite beings created by God, and at a certain time united to him (Mosheim, Institutes of Eccles. Hist. 1863, iii. 484, and Dissert. ad Hist. Eccles. pert., ii. 390, 582). After ineffectual protest against the decision of the synods, the elder Maty sought refuge in England, but was unable to find patronage there, and had to return to the Hague, whence his enemies drove him to Leyden. He was living in Leyden with his brother Charles Maty, compiler of a greatly esteemed ‘Dictionnaire géographique universel’ (1701 and 1723, 4to, Amsterdam), in 1751, being then seventy years of age (Bruys, Mémoires, 1751, i. 171–204). He subsequently returned to England, and lived with his son in London, where he died on 21 March 1773 (Gent. Mag. 1773, p. 155, s.v. Matty).

Matthew was entered at Leyden university on 31 March 1732, and graduated Ph.D. in 1740, the subject for his inaugural dissertation (which shows Montesquieu's influence) being ‘Custom.’ A French version of the Latin original, greatly modified and improved, appeared at Utrecht in 1741 under the title ‘Essai sur l'Usage,’ and attracted some attention. He also graduated M.D. at Leyden, 11 Feb. 1740, with a parallel dissertation, ‘De Consuetudinis Efficacia in Corpus Humanum.’ In 1741 he came over to London and set up in practice as a physician. He frequented a club which numbered Drs. Parsons, Templeman, Watson, and Fothergill among its members, and met every fortnight in St. Paul's Churchyard, but soon began to devote his best energies to literature. He commenced in 1750 the publication of the bi-monthly ‘Journal Britannique,’ which was printed at the Hague, and gave an account in French of the chief productions of the English press. The ‘Journal,’ which had a considerable circulation in the Low Countries, on the Rhine, and at Paris, Geneva, Venice, and Rome, as well as in England, became in Maty's hands an instrument of ingenious eulogy; and it continued to illustrate, in Gibbon's words, ‘the taste, the knowledge, and the judgment of Maty’ until December 1755, by which time it had introduced him to a very wide circle of literary friends. He had been elected F.R.S. on 19 Dec. 1751, and in 1753, upon the establishment of the British Museum, he was nominated, together with James Empson, an under-librarian, the appointment being confirmed in June 1756. On 1 March 1760 he unsuccessfully applied to the Duke of Newcastle for the post of secretary to the Society of Arts; but he was in March 1762 elected foreign secretary of the Royal Society, in succession to Dr. James Parsons, whose éloge was written by him (it is printed in Lit. Anecd. v. 474–89). He was at this time member of a literary society which included Jortin, Wetstein, Ralph Heathcote, De Missy, and Dr. Thomas Birch. On the resignation of the post by Birch (who died a few months later and left him his executor), Maty was, 30 Nov. 1765, appointed secretary of the Royal Society. He was in the same year admitted a licentiate of the College of Physicians.

Finally, in 1772, on the death of Dr. Gowin Knight [q. v.], Maty was nominated his successor as principal librarian of the British Museum. The courtesy with which Maty had hitherto discharged the duties of a cicerone is praised by Grosley (1765), but in his capacity as chief librarian he placed, like his predecessor, every difficulty in the way of visitors, who, after obtaining tickets, were hurried silently through Montagu House in a regulation period of thirty minutes (Hutton, Journey to England, pp. 187–96). He bought a number of valuable books for the Museum at Anthony Askew's sale in 1775.

Maty died on 2 July 1776. The trying disease to which he succumbed had troubled him for nearly ten years; it was primarily due to an ulcerated intestine. A short account of his illness and of the appearance of his dead body, examined on 3 July 1776, was contributed by Drs. Hunter and Henry Watson to vol. lxvii. pt. ii. pp. 608–13 of the ‘Philosophical Transactions.’ He was twice married: first to Elizabeth Boisragon, by whom he had a son Paul Henry [q. v.], who is separately noticed, and three daughters, of whom Louisa (d. 1809) married Rogers (1732–1795), only son of John Jortin [q. v.], and Elizabeth married Obadiah Justamond, F.R.S., surgeon of Westminster Hospital, and translator of Abbé Raynal's ‘History of the East and West Indies,’ and secondly to Mary Deners. His books were sold in 1777 by Benjamin White.

Without striking talent, Maty was a man of ability, who was always on good terms with those best able to contribute to his advancement. Gibbon, looking about in 1760 for a discriminating critic and judge of his first performance, ‘The Essay on the Study of Literature,’ pitched upon Maty, whom he knew as the ‘candid and pleasing’ reviewer of the ‘Journal Britannique,’ and described as ‘one of the last disciples of the school of Fontenelle.’ Gibbon subsequently revised the ‘Essay’ in accordance with his correspondent's friendly advice. Maty corrected the proof-sheets of the work previous to its appearance in the following year, and inserted ‘an elegant and flattering epistle to the author, composed with so much art, that in case of defeat his favourable report might have been ascribed to the indulgence of a friend for the rash attempt of a young English gentleman.’ Though generally of so conciliatory a disposition, Maty was one of the few persons against whom Dr. Johnson harboured resentment. When his name was mentioned in 1756 by Dr. William Adams [q. v.] as a suitable assistant in the projected review of literature, Johnson's sole comment was, ‘The little black dog! I'd throw him into the Thames first.’ Maty had earned the doctor's dislike by a very disingenuous allusion in his ‘Journal’ to Johnson's relations with Chesterfield (a patron of his own); he had also commented on Johnson's ‘foiblesse de faire connoître ses principes de politique et religion’ in his ‘Dictionary,’ and was a strong partisan of the unacceptable De Moivre (De Morgan in Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. iv. 341). He was in frequent intercourse with Sloane and other scientific men, was an earnest advocate of inoculation, and when doubts of its complete efficacy were entertained experimented on himself. A portrait of Maty was by his own order engraved after his death by Bartolozzi to be given to his friends. Of these a hundred copies were struck off and the plate destroyed. An oil portrait by Bartholomew Dupan in the board room at the British Museum depicts a young man with a refined and amiable face.

Maty's chief works are:

  1. ‘Ode sur la Rebellion en Écosse,’ 8vo, Amsterdam, 1746.
  2. ‘Essai sur le Caractère du Grand Medecin, ou Eloge Critique de Mr. Herman Boerhaave,’ 8vo, Cologne, 1747.
  3. ‘Authentic Memoirs of the Life of Richard Mead, M.D.,’ 12mo, London, 1755. Expanded from the memoir in the ‘Journal Britannique.’

At the time of his death Maty had nearly finished the ‘Memoirs of the Earl of Chesterfield,’ which were completed by his son-in-law Justamond, and prefixed to the earl's ‘Miscellaneous Works,’ 2 vols. 4to, 1777. Maty had been one of Chesterfield's executors. He completed for the press Thomas Birch's ‘Life of John Ward,’ published in 1766, and translated from the French ‘A Discourse on Inoculation, read before the Royal Academy of Sciences at Paris, 24 April 1754, by Mr. La Condamine,’ with a preface, postscript, and notes, 1765, 8vo, and ‘New Observations on Inoculation, by Dr. Garth, Professor of Medicine at Paris,’ 1768. Maty's contributions to the ‘Philosophical Transactions’ are enumerated in Watt's ‘Bibl. Britannica.’ Some French verses by him on the death of the Comte de Gisors are given in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine,’ 1758, p. 435.

[Chalmers's Biog. Dict.; Munk's Coll. of Phys. ii. 265–7; Nichols's Anecdotes of Bowyer, p. 607; Lit. Anecd. iii. 257–8, and vols. ii. iv. and v. passim; Edwards's Founders of the British Museum, pp. 337, 342–4; Hume's Letters, ed. Birkbeck Hill, pp. 94–5; Hutchinson's Biog. Medica, ii. 133; Éloy's Dict. Hist. de la Medecine, 1778, iii. 194; Thomson's Hist. of the Royal Society, App. xlvi; De Morgan's Budget of Paradoxes, 1872, p. 17; London Magazine, xxv. 302; Gent. Mag. 1776 p. 191, 1778 p. 319; Rees's Cyclopædia, vol. xxiii.; English Cyclopædia, iv. 153; Gibbon's Memoirs, 1827, i. 105–7, 202; Philosophical Trans. vol. lxvii.; Boswell's Johnson, ed. G. B. Hill, i. 384; Apologie de la Conduite et de la Doctrine de Sr Paul Maty, Utrecht, 1730; Add. MS. 28539, f. 259, and 32903, f. 29.]

T. S.