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Sir William Musgrave and British biography

Antony Griffiths


THE Gentleman's Magazine carried for 3 January 1800 the following obituary: 'At his house in Park-place, St. James's, Sir W[illia]m Musgrave, bart. V.P.R.S. and F.A.S., a trustee of the British Museum, formerly a commissioner of his Majesty's customs, and afterwards an auditor of the public accompts; in both which situations he had exerted himself with ability and attention. Nor was he less conversant in the several branches of Hterature and science; and, though for many years suffering great infirmities of body, his mind continued unshaken; and, with the practice of the philosophy he had acquired, he united these talents and manners that rendered his society coveted, and will occasion his death to be generally lamented. His large collection of engraved portraits was advertised for sale by auction just before his death.' This obituary is unenthusiastic and fairly uninformative, as if the writer knew little about his subject. This was almost certainly the case, for Musgrave was far from a public figure. He never became the subject of an entry in the Dictionary of National Biography, and the few printed accounts of his life suggest that there was little more to it than that of a successful civil servant with scholarsinterests. William Betham, in his Baronetage of England, gives the information that his baronetage was inherited, and that he was 'baptised at Aspatria 8 October 1735, entered the Middle Temple 7 April 1753, called to the bar 1758 (and subsequently a bencher 25 May 1789, Reader, and in 1795 Treasurer of the Middle Temple); appointed a commissioner for customs 15 May 1763; FRS 1774; FAS 1777; vice-president of the Royal Society 1780; trustee of the British Museum 1783; vice-president of the Antiquarian Society January 1786; a commissioner for auditing the public accounts Julv 1785.'

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