Costa, Emanuel Mendes da

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COSTA, EMANUEL MENDES DA (1717–1791), English scientist. Da Costa, who trained as a notary, became one of the eminent English scientists of his time. He was an omnivorous collector, wrote numerous papers on philosophical and scientific subjects, and belonged to several English and foreign learned societies, including the Royal Society and the Society of Antiquaries. His life was a continual struggle against adverse circumstances. In 1745–55 he was imprisoned for debt. In 1763 he was made clerk and librarian to the Royal Society, but was dismissed in 1767 for dishonesty. Subsequently, he was again imprisoned for debt in the King's Bench Prison, where much of the remainder of his life was passed. His remarkable collection of books, manuscripts, engravings, and specimens was seized and sold to pay his debts. Although his second wife was a Christian, he remained a member of the Jewish community. A large body of his correspondence with fellow savants is preserved in the British Museum (Add. Mss. 28534–44). His more important publications are Elements of Conchology (London, 1776), Historia Naturalis Testaceorum Britanniae, or, the British Conchology (1778), and an English edition of Cronstedt's Essay Towards a System of Mineralogy (London, 1770).


J. Nichols, Literary Anecdotes of the Eighteenth Century, 2 (1812), 292; 3 (1812), 233, 757; 5 (1812), 712; 6 (1812), 80–81; 8 (1814), 200; 9 (1815), 607, 799, 812–3, 816; dnb, 6 (1923), 791; J.E. Smith, Selection of the Correspondence of Linnaeus, 2 (1821), 482–3; C. Roth, Anglo-Jewish Letters (1938), 122–3, 133; Margoliouth, Cat, 4 (1935), 15.

[Cecil Roth]