Morton, Charles (1716-1799) (DNB00)

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MORTON, CHARLES (1716–1799), principal librarian of the British Museum, a native of Westmoreland, was born in 1716. He entered as a medical student at Leyden on 18 Sept. 1736, and graduated there as M.D. on 28 Aug. 1748 (Peacock, Index of English-speaking Students at Leyden, p. 71). He is said to have meanwhile practised at Kendal ‘with much reputation,’ and in September 1748 was admitted an extra-licentiate of the College of Physicians. He practised in London for several years, and on 19 April 1750 he was elected physician to the Middlesex Hospital. He was admitted licentiate of the College of Physicians on 1 April 1751, and in 1754 also became physician to the Foundling Hospital. On the establishment of the British Museum in 1756 Morton was appointed under-librarian or keeper of the manuscript and medal departments, and in that capacity continued the cataloguing of the Harleian MSS. He also acted for some time as secretary to the trustees. In 1768 he was appointed with Mr. Farley to superintend the publication of the ‘Domesday Book,’ but though he received a considerable sum the work was not carried out. On the death of Dr. Matthew Maty [q. v.] in 1776, Morton was appointed principal librarian and held the office till his death. His term of office was not marked by any striking improvements, but he is said to have always treated students and visitors with courtesy.

He was elected F.R.S. on 16 Jan. 1752, and was secretary of the Royal Society from 1760 to 1774 (Thomson, Hist. Roy. Soc. App. iv. and v.). He contributed to the ‘Transactions’ in 1751 ‘Observations and Experiments upon Animal Bodies … or Inquiry into the cause of voluntary Muscular Motion’ (Phil. Trans. xlvii. 305); and in 1768 a paper on the supposed connection between the hieroglyphic writing of Egypt and the Modern Chinese character (ib. lix. 489). He was a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, the Imperial Academy of St. Petersburg, and of the Royal Academy of Göttingen. He is said to have been ‘a person of great uprightness and integrity, and much admired as a scholar.’ He died at his residence in the British Museum on 10 Feb. 1799, aged 83, and was buried at Twickenham, in the cemetery near the London Road.

Morton was thrice married: first, in 1744, to Mary Berkeley, niece of Lady Elizabeth (Betty) Germaine, by whom he had an only daughter; secondly, in 1772, to Lady Savile, who died 10 Feb. 1791; and, lastly, at the end of 1791, to Elizabeth Pratt, a near relation of his second wife.

Morton published: 1. An improved edition of Dr. Bernard's ‘Engraved Table of Alphabets,’ 1759, fol. 2. Whitelocke's ‘Notes upon the King's Writ for choosing Members of Parliament,’ 13 Car. II, 1766, 4to. 3. Whitelocke's ‘Account of the Swedish Embassy in 1653–4,’ 2 vols., 1772, 4to, dedicated to Viscount Lumley. Dr. Burn, in the preface to his ‘Justice of the Peace,’ acknowledges obligations to Morton for assistance in the work; and in Nichols's ‘Literary Illustrations’ there are several letters concerning him. In one from E. M. Da Costa [q.v.] , of the Royal Society, dated 1 July 1751, he is asked to collect fossils and make observations on them in Westmoreland and Lancashire, and is given directions as to the localities where they are to be found and directions for cataloguing them. Daniel Wray wrote to John Nichols, 29 Sept. 1771, that Morton had imported the ‘League and Covenant of 1638, the original upon a giant skin of parchment, signed by a handsome number.’

[Munk's Coll. of Phys. 2nd edit. ii. 174–5; Edwards's Founders of the Brit. Mus., pp. 344, 516; Lysons's Environs of London, Suppl. vol. pp. 319, 322; Nichols's Lit. Illustr. i. 139, ii. 757–9; Allibone's Dict. of Engl. Lit. ii. 1375; Gent. Mag. 1799 pt. i. p. 250, and Europ. Mag. same year, p. 143; Chalmers's Biog. Dict.; authorities cited in text.]

G. Le G. N.