100 Years of Spanish at Oxford (1905-2005)



Although the teaching of Spanish at the University of Oxford can be traced back to the sixteenth century, the Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages is celebrating the centenary of the Final Honour School in Modern Languages. In order to commemorate this important milestone in the Faculty’s history, the constituent Sub-faculties in various languages have organised a number of academic and social events. The Sub-faculty of Spanish has further cause for celebration, since the year 2005 is also the fourth centenary of the publication of Don Quixote, Part One. To mark this double celebration, the Sub-faculty organised a Cervantes Day on Friday 4th November, comprising a public lecture at the Taylor Institution and a symposium with papers on Cervantes by four of its members, held at Exeter College.

As part of the series of events commemorating 100 Years of Modern Languages at Oxford, there is a small display to commemorate one hundred years of Spanish at Oxford and the quatercentenary of Don Quixote in the Taylor Institution (Mon.-Fri, 9 am-7 pm, Sat. 9 am-1 pm) until 17 December.

A Brief Historical Background

This year Oxford celebrates 100 years since the first students took their final examinations in Spanish (and other Modern Languages) in the Honour School of Modern Languages in 1905. This event was a major achievement, and itself the fruit of a long struggle.

There had been little in the way of the teaching of ‘modern’ languages (as opposed to ancient ones) in Oxford in the 18th century, though there was an initiative by George I to have French and German (only) taught under the direction of the Regius Professor (of Modern History) but this scheme was poorly organised and soon failed: ‘the experiment of trying to train civil servants at the University failed because there was not yet any Civil Service’, as Sir Charles Firth put it.[1]

The idea of the Grand Tour became established and support for language teaching and learning slowly grew, and, at last, in 1844, 120 years after George I’s experiment, the Hebdomadal Board proposed that Modern Languages should be taught within the University. Firth, who describes in detail the battles of the early years in his remarkable book (op.cit.), observes that ‘Once more the initiative came from without, not from within, and the money which made the attempt possible was derived from an external source’ – that external source being the will of the visionary architect Sir Robert Taylor.

In 1847, the first Taylorian Teachers (as they were then known) of languages (i.e., of French and German) were appointed. In December 1848, F.H. Trithen was nominated as the first (and, at first, only) Professor of Modern European Languages. He was followed by the much better-known F. Max Müller (1854-68), though the post itself was abolished in 1868, when Müller became Professor of Comparative Philology.

Student numbers in the early days were low: for example, in 1877, only four students were studying Spanish (though a handful or so more were studying French or German), and, for many years, Modern Languages continued to be taught at Oxford without being fully recognized as a subject in its own right. Cambridge beat Oxford to it, with the first Modern Languages Tripos examination taking place in 1886, and this naturally acted as something of an incentive. In the last quarter of the century, opinion in favour of the inclusion of Modern Languages in the Final Honour Examination steadily gathered force (Firth, op.cit.). Nevertheless, much opposition still remained in Oxford, mainly by those who feared that the teaching of the ancient languages would suffer if teaching of the ‘modern’ ones was encouraged, since they were worried that resources (financial and personnel) would be diverted from the ancient to the ‘modern’.

Over a number of years, several attempts were made to persuade the authorities that Modern Languages was truly a serious enough subject for University study, and it was not until 1903 that the Statute for Founding of the Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages was at last approved by Congregation. More years passed and it was 1914 before the Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages was fully established as a separate entity (before this, Modern Languages had come under the Faculty of Arts, together with, for example, History).

The First Teachers and Lecturers in Spanish

Spanish started a little later than French or German: Lorenzo Lucena (1806-81) was the first Teacher of Spanish. At the age of 21, he had been appointed professor of theology in Córdoba. His conversion to evangelical Protestantism caused a scandal (according to Michael, I.D.L.)[2] and, pursued by the Inquisition, he fled to Gibraltar, where he became an honorary canon (1842-60) (Firth, op.cit.). He then became head of the Anglican Mission for Spanish-speaking residents and visiting seamen in Liverpool, in which city he also taught Spanish language and literature, in the Royal Institute and Queen’s College. He took up his Oxford appointment in 1858. Created MA in 1877, he remained in post until his death. His publications included a translation of a work by the Bishop of Durham, John Cosin, Religión, disciplina y sagrados ritos de la Iglesia de Inglaterra […] (Liverpool, 1856); a revision of the translation of the New Testament by the Catholic bishop Félix Amat; and, for OUP, a revision of the famous Castilian translation of the Bible by Reina and Valera (Amsterdam, 1602), which was published in 1862 and distributed widely throughout the Spanish-speaking world.

Lucena was not replaced immediately; the Italian Teacher, Signor Coscia, took on the teaching of elementary Spanish, and this continued until Henry Butler Clarke was appointed Taylorian Teacher in 1890. Clarke had grown up in Spain, where his father had been a chaplain (in St Jean de Luz). Ill health prevented his matriculating at Wadham before the age of 22, and later also prevented him from sitting his Finals in Litterae Humaniores, where it was expected he would gain a First. He was examined in Spanish Studies in 1888, when he won a Taylorian Scholarship of £25. Though he stayed in post only four years, leaving in 1894 (when he became a Fereday Fellow at St John’s). Firth (op.cit.) describes him as ‘a very zealous teacher’ and he also published several books, including a Spanish grammar and a Spanish reader. He completed an annotated edition of T. Middleton’s The Spanish Gypsy (unpublished), and planned he would then do an extensive study of Spanish civilisation from the fall of the Roman Empire to the colonisation of America. This never came about; sadly, his mental health once again failed, and, while in the UK on holiday with his family, he committed suicide, at the age of 41. After his death, he left behind him A History of Modern Spain from 1815 to 1898 (published posthumously: Cambridge, 1906) which Firth (op.cit.) says was ‘remarkable at once for its vigour, its vivacity, and the sobriety of its judgement’. Clarke was nominated by Cánovas del Castillo as Corresponding Member of the Royal Spanish Academy of History, for his services to Spanish History.

By the time the Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages was founded in 1903, there were Teachers employed to teach French, German, Spanish and Italian. In 1905, the first undergraduates in the School of Modern Languages took their ‘2nd Public Examinations’ (or ‘Finals’). At last, Modern Languages was fully recognised as a subject worthy of study, and it was partly as a reflection of this that it was decided that the ‘Teachers’ were from now on to be called ‘Lecturers’.

The establishing of the School itself did much to encourage the study of Modern Languages, and student numbers rose to the point where additional lecturers had to be employed. Fernando de Arteaga y Pereira (1851-1934) was taken on in 1894 as a Spanish Teacher, as which he remained until 1907. He then became Lecturer and, in 1921, (also) titular Professor of Spanish, remaining until 1927 (Firth, op.cit.; and Michael, op.cit.). Arteaga was a poet and essayist, and had had several works published before leaving his native Catalonia. Further publications followed while in post in Oxford, including one which reflected how affected he was by the tragic loss of so many Oxford students in the 1st World War, A la memoria de los hijos de la Gran Bretaña muertos en defensa de la humanidad 1914-18 (Oxford, 1918). He prepared several Spanish text books on grammar and vocabulary, including Hossfeld’s A New English and Spanish Vocabulary (London 1902), Practical Spanish (London, 1902-12), and Hossfeld’s Spanish Grammar and Vocabulary (London, 1908). Later books included Tierras amigas: poesías (Oxford, 1922), Tierra y raza (Cuentos españoles) (Oxford, 1923); and Petrina and Other Stories (ed. E. Allison Peers, London, 1930).

Antonio Carlos Rodríguez Pastor was appointed Junior Lecturer in Spanish in 1920. He later became Cervantes Professor of Spanish at King’s College, London (until 1948).

George Alfred Kolkhorst (1897-1958) was appointed Lecturer in Spanish in 1921. Ten years later, he became Reader in Spanish, remaining in post until his death (after a long illness) in 1958.

Later on, further important impetus was given to the teaching of Spanish when the Sub-faculty of Spanish and Portuguese was created in 1969; these divided into two separate Sub-faculties in 1990 (Michael, op.cit.).

Gifts and Endowments

Benefactions especially to colleges for the encouragement of the study of Modern Languages were, as Firth notes, an important feature of the era: in 1916, Henry Laming at Queen’s gave £10,000 to establish an annual scholarship for either Spanish or Russian, and also left money on his death for Travelling Fellowships. A number of travelling scholarships were also established around the same time and, in 1920, E.J. de Osma founded the De Osma Studentship (Firth, op.cit.).

After the retirement of the Spanish Teacher and Lecturer Fernando de Arteaga y Pereira in 1927, friends and colleagues raised money to establish a fund in his name to support the study of Spanish at Oxford. The Arteaga Prize is still awarded annually for the best work in Spanish in the Final Honour school of Modern Languages, and is supplemented by the Arteaga Exhibitions for Spanish students from certain colleges. The Kolkhorst Exhibitions – founded thanks to a bequest by G.A. Kolkhorst – are also awarded annually to meritorious students.

By 1927, the School of Modern Languages was very well set up from the point of view of teaching staff and facilities, thanks particularly to all the new benefactions, which, as Firth notes, ‘all came from persons convinced of the importance of the study which Oxford had so long neglected’ (Firth, op.cit.).

King Alfonso XIII Professorship

The establishing of the King Alfonso XIII Professorship

The King Alfonso XIII Professorship of Spanish Literature was established in 1927. ‘A Mansion House Committee with the Lord Mayor of London as its chairman collected £25,000 and gave it to the University to establish [the Professorship]’, Firth tells us (though exactly why that should have happened at that particular time remains unclear). The gift was conditional on the University’s contributing £600 p.a. to cover the costs of a Lecturer as well as the running costs of a Spanish Departmental Library. Since the start, an associated non-stipendiary Fellowship at Exeter College has been linked to the Professorship.

The King Alfonso XIII Professors

Salvador de Madariaga (1886-1978), the distinguished writer and Spanish statesman, was appointed as the first King Alfonso XIII Professor in 1928, remaining until 1931. He had studied engineering in France and worked as an engineer for a French-run company in Spain, before being appointed as head of the British propaganda campaign for Spanish-speaking countries in 1916. He worked as London correspondent of several Spanish newspapers until 1921, when he transferred to the press office of the League of Nations (in Geneva, then New York).

Madariaga was accepted as Ambassador of the Spanish Republic in Washington in 1931 and became Spanish Ambassador in Paris in 1932, as well as member of the Spanish Delegation to the League of Nations in Geneva (of which he was later President). He became Minister of Education in Madrid in 1934. He returned to Oxford during the 2nd World War, and contined to exert much influence despite no longer holding a University post. On 30 July 1966, he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate. He returned to Spain after Franco’s death. In 1976, he was admitted to Seat M in the Royal Spanish Academy – an honour to which he had been elected in 1936. Madariaga’s many publications include Semblanzas literarias contemporáneas (= The Genius of Spain) (1923); Guía al lector del Quijote (1926) (pub. in English in 1934); and Englishmen, Frenchmen and Spaniards (1928), published in all 3 languages, which was his best-selling work.

William Entwistle (1895-1952) was born Cheng Yang Kwan in China, where his parents were both missionaries of Scottish origin. He was appointed in 1932, having previously been (the first) Lecturer in charge of Spanish Studies at the University of Manchester in 1921, and, from 1925, having held the Stevenson Professorship of Spanish at the University of Glasgow. He was Visiting Professor at the Universities of Pennsylvania and California. In Oxford, he was instrumental in getting Portuguese Studies recognised as a full Honour Subject. He remained in post until his death. He was awarded many honours, both British (FBA 1950) and foreign (Portugal, Spain including Catalonia, Brazil, the US and Norway). His numerous publications included The Arthurian Legend in the Literatures of the Spanish Peninsula (1925), The Spanish Language (1936), and European Balladry (1939).

Sir Peter Russell was a Fellow of Queen’s College and University Lecturer in Spanish Studies 1946-53, then Fellow of Exeter until 1981. >From 1982 to 1987, he was Visiting Professor at a number of American universities. Member of the UGC Committee on Latin-American Studies in British Universities, 1962-64, his honours include: Real Academia de Buenas Letras, Barcelona, 1972; Fellow of the Royal Historical Society; Premio Antonio de Nebrija, Univ. of Salamanca, 1989; Commander, Order of Isabel la Católica (Spain), 1989, and of the Order of the Infante Dom Henrique (Portugal), 1993. He was knighted in 1995. His numerous publications include (ed.) Spain: a Companion to Spanish Studies, 1973 (Spanish edn., 1982); Temas de la Celestina y otros estudios (del Cid al Quijote), 1978; Prince Henry the Navigator, 1984; Cervantes, 1985; La Celestina, 1991; and many articles and reviews in the Modern Language Review, Medium Aevum and the Bulletin of Hispanic Studies (etc.).

Ian D.L. Michael was appointed in 1982, and remained until his retirement in 2003. He previously held posts at Manchester and Southampton, where he was Professor of Spanish 1971-82. He was President of the Association of Hispanists of Great Britain and Ireland 1990-92. He became Commander of the Order of Isabel la Católica (Spain) in 1986 and Fellow of King’s College London in 2001. His publications include The Treatment of Classical Material in the ‘Libro de Alexandre’, 1970 and The Poem of the Cid (1975; 1984) and Poema de Mio Cid (1976;1979) as well as, under the name David Serafin, a series of detective novels set in Spain.

Edwin Williamson was appointed in 2003. Professor Williamson previously held the Forbes Chair of Hispanic Studies at Edinburgh University, and academic posts at Trinity College, Dublin, and Birkbeck College, University of London. He has been visiting professor at Stanford University, California, and at the Universidade de São Paulo, Brazil. He was appointed Commander of the Order of Isabel la Católica in 2002. His research and publications reflect his interests in both Latin America and the Golden Age of Spain. A literary scholar as well as a historian, his books include The Half-Way House of Fiction: “Don Quixote” and Arthurian Romance (1984), The Penguin History of Latin America (1992), and Borges: A Life (2004).

Spanish American Literature at Oxford

The study of Latin America at British universities was given an important impetus in the 1960s by the recommendations of the Parry Report, which led to the establishment at Oxford of the Latin American Centre. Several members of the Sub-faculty of Spanish at Oxford had for some time already been active in research into and teaching of the literatures of the sub-continent: R.D.F. Pring-Mill was to go on to become an internationally respected expert on the works of Pablo Neruda and the Nicaraguan Ernesto Cardenal, and C.A. Jones to publish on, among others, the Argentine essayist and politician Domingo Faustino Sarmiento.

Thanks to finance from the Parry Committee, in 1968 D.P. Gallagher became the first University Lecturer in Latin American Literature at Oxford, later to be succeeded by C.H. Griffin. Several other members of the present Sub-faculty are specialists in Spanish American Literature, namely Robin Fiddian, Dominic Moran and Edwin Williamson, and all permanent post-holders teach some Latin-American literature or language. Many leading writers and academics from Latin America have visited Oxford to lecture or to receive honours; some of the most distinguished of the former have been Jorge Luis Borges, Carlos Fuentes, Manuel Puig, Mario Vargas Llosa and the Nobel Prize winner, Octavio Paz. Honorary doctorates were conferred on Pablo Neruda (pictured) in 1965 and on Jorge Luis Borges in 1971.

Spanish at Oxford Today

Spanish and Spanish American Studies have grown enormously in British universities in recent decades, largely as a result of a general appreciation of the importance of Spanish as a world language and of the diversity of the cultures of Hispanic origin, including in the USA. The Sub-faculty of Spanish at Oxford is one of the largest teaching units of Hispanic studies in the United Kingdom, and its intake of both undergraduates and postgraduates has expanded in response to the general expansion of the subject at university level. The Sub-faculty is also dedicated to promoting Spain’s minority languages and is one of the very few universities in the UK to offer teaching and research opportunities in Galician studies, under the auspices of the Centre for Galician Studies. It also receives funding from the Catalan government for a Generalitat Teaching Fellowship in Catalan. The Sub-faculty enjoys a flourishing research culture in which its traditional strengths in medieval and Golden-Age literature, and also in the history of the language and linguistics, are complemented by its research strengths in the modern and contemporary literatures and cultures of the Spanish-speaking world. The vigorous growth of Spanish has been recognised by the University in recent years through the award of two new University Lecturerships in the Sub-faculty (one appointed in 2005 and associated with St Anne’s, and another to be appointed in 2006 and associated with Lady Margaret Hall and Somerville) as well as a 2-year Mellon Career Development Fellowship (appointed in 2005 and associated with St Catherine’s) to be followed by another in 2007.

The undergraduate course at Oxford reflects the diversity and richness of the languages and the cultures of Spain as well as of the South and Central American countries. Most undergraduates coming up to read Spanish at Oxford will also be studying another modern language. It is also possible to study Spanish on its own or in one of the various Joint Schools (with English, History, Philosophy, a classical language, or a Middle-Eastern language). The degree course normally lasts four years and includes a year abroad, which may be spent studying at a university (or teaching English) in Spain or another Spanish-speaking country.

Graduate work has been a major component of the Sub-faculty’s activities for many years. Graduate students have come from the UK, Europe and the Americas to do research on a whole range of topics; many of them go on to posts in other UK and foreign universities. There is a weekly seminar series attended by researchers, teachers and graduate students, with papers given by members or visiting speakers on work in progress and current research. The postgraduate MSt and MPhil degrees have recently been re-designed and from 2006 it will be possible for students to study programmes in Medieval and Early Modern Iberian Studies (including options in Portuguese), Latin American Literature (including Brazilian options) and Hispanic Literature (modern Peninsular and Spanish American options). These programmes will reflect the wide range of research interests and expertise available to students at Oxford. (See research and teaching interests of permanent post-holders and associated members of the Sub-Faculty of Spanish).

Queen Sofía Junior Research Fellowship

Founded in 1988 and associated with Exeter College, of which Queen Sofía is an Honorary Fellow, the JRF is elected every two or three years to pursue a full-time research project in Modern and Contemporary Spanish Literature.

The Queen Sofía Junior Research Fellows

Stephen Roberts, 1988-90
Miguel de Unamuno

John London, 1991-4
Reception and Renewal in Spanish and Catalan 20th century theatre

Andrew Ginger, 1994-6
The precursors of Spanish Romanticism

Alberto Mira-Nouselles, 1997-9
Hispanic gay culture

Nuria Capdevila-Argüelles, 1999-2002
Nuria Amat the Barcelona contemporary novelist (in Castilian)

Jacqueline Rattray, 2002-5
The experimental writings of Spanish avant-garde artists

Gareth Wood, 2005-
Javier Marías

Spanish Writers as Oxford Teachers

In addition to Salvador de Madariaga (mentioned above), several distinguished Spanish writers have taught in the Sub-faculty. These have included the following:

Jorge Guillén — one of the great 20th-century poets of Spain – was Lecturer 1929-31.

Dámaso Alonso poet, critic and scholar, like Guillén a major figure in the Generation of 1927, was Lecturer in Spanish 1931 to 1933.

The poets José Angel Valente and Francisco Brines were Lecturers in Spanish (1955 to 1958 and 1963 to 1965 respectively).

In the 1970s and 80s, there was a succession of young writers who were appointed as short-term lecturers: Vicente Molina Foix, poet and playwright, was Lecturer/ Lector in Spanish 1976-79; Félix de Azúa, poet and novelist, was Lecturer/Lector 1979-81; the novelist José Luis Giménez-Frontín was Lecturer/Lector 1981-83. Javier Marías, also a novelist, was Lecturer/Lector 1983-85 and went on to become one of Spain’s leading writers. His novel Todas las almas (1989; = All Souls, pub. 1992) has an Oxford setting and mentions the Taylorian, as well as alluding to several members of the Sub-faculty at that time.

Sir Robert Taylor’s Foundation

Sir Robert Taylor, born 1714, sculptor and architect (pupil of Sir Henry Cheere, whose statue of Christopher Codrington is in the Library of All Souls), Surveyor to the Admiralty and, eventually, Sheriff of London, died in 1788 and left a residuary interest in his large estate to the University for ‘establishing a foundation for the teaching and improving the European languages.’ Reasons for his fondness for languages are not known; however, he had in his own library many architectural books in different languages, so perhaps that in itself is sufficient. This fondness doubtless influenced his unusual choice of name for his son, Michael Angelo – the same son whose disputing of the will prevented the money, £65,000, being received by the University until 1835, a year after Michael Angelo’s own death. The money was at first invested and interest left to accrue to cover building costs.

Taylorian Building

In 1839, an architectural competition was held for the design of two contiguous buildings, one for lecture rooms and libraries for the study of European languages, the other for galleries for statues and paintings. The competition was won by C.R Cockerell, the Royal Academy’s first Professor of Architecture, who was the son of one of Sir Robert’s pupils (Samuel Pepys Cockerell). Construction started in 1841 and by 1844, the building was nearing completion. And what a splendid building it turned out to be: ‘The beauty and entire originality of the structure will some day gain it a place amongst the finest monuments of English nineteenth-century art’ (L. Fagan, Dictionary of National Biography, 1887, quoted in Firth, op.cit.). Building costs were £49,373: £18,381 for the Taylor Institution and £30,992 for the Randolph (or ‘University’) Galleries, which later became known as the Ashmolean. Over the front entrance to the Taylorian (pictured) were erected four large figures which were to be representative of the countries of each of the main languages taught, i.e.(from south to north), France, Italy, Germany, and Spain, and on the plinths below them were engraved the names of each country’s main authors (the Spanish ones being Cervantes, Calderón and Mariana).

The Taylor Institution Library and its Hispanic Collections

The Library


At the heart of the many activities in and around the Taylorian has always been its Library. This began modestly, the Curators (nine of whom, including Rev. H.G. Liddell – father of the Alice for whom Alice in Wonderland was written – had been appointed in 1845) providing £1,000 for spending on books, and then £100 p.a. for books and periodicals. Originally the post of Librarian was similarly a rather modest one: the lending of books was not permitted until 1856, somewhat simplifying the work of the Librarian, and the post involved being ‘a resident Superintendent’, who was to ‘relieve the Professor of all responsibility in connection with the Library and the Taylor Building’ (Simmons).[3] Until a resident porter was appointed in 1868, the Librarian had to check every evening to see that the fires were out.

The Taylor Institution Library has had just six librarians in its entire history. The first Librarian, John Macray, was appointed in 1847 and the Library grew rapidly during the latter part of his tenure. He remained until his retirement in 1871. Once the debt for the building had been paid off, more money was available for spending on books (amongst other things), and the abolition of the Professorship of Modern European Languages in 1868 also freed up more money for the Curators to spend on the Library. In that year, the Curators ‘resolved that they would elect “a competent librarian, not simply a library clerk” ’ (Firth, op.cit.) and the second Librarian, Dr Heinrich Krebs, was appointed. He was to remain in office for fifty years. Krebs lived above the shop, and his daughter, under a pseudonym, wrote an unpublished account of their (in some ways rather bleak) existence in the Library, a copy of which is held in the Bodleian.

In the 1890s, gas lights were installed in the Library, which must have been of huge benefit, certainly as far as Library opening hours were concerned, and in 1905, the Curators permitted £200 to be spent on the installation of electric lighting.

Throughout this period, the job grew in complexity, gradually evolving into one of rather higher status. Firth says of the development Taylor Institution’s Library in the nineteenth century that it was ‘the common object which united all interested in any form of modern literature or any language spoken in Europe. The selection of books … showed a remarkable continuity of policy. [The] aim was not so much to collect rare books, as to keep abreast with the progress of philological and literary learning in the various nations, so that a scholar might find on the shelves of the Library all the tools needed for his equipment. Their conception of his needs was not narrow or pedantic …’ (Firth, op.cit.).

The First World War held up the development of the Library for a time as the purchase of books was suspended for some years. After the war, however, ‘Owing to the high purchasing power of English money at the [time] the Curators were able to buy cheaply a large number of foreign books of permanent value …’ (Firth, op.cit.). The third Librarian, Mr L.F. Powell, arrived in 1921 and the Library by now contained 120,000 volumes and was used by many readers. In 1925, undergraduates were permitted to borrow novels (with written permission). Modern Languages continued to grow gradually, the space for books and people becoming ever more cramped, and, after considerable efforts, not to mention squabbling with the neighbours, the new wing of the Taylor Institution (which many had been feeling the need for for quite some time) was constructed, and was formally opened by HRH the Prince of Wales in 1932. Money, then as now, was an issue: the Prince’s speech extolled the virtues of the Institution and applauded its fine new extension, but also referred to the fact that about £15,000 was still needed to complete it. (Plus ça change!)

At the start of the Second World War in 1939, the English Faculty and Library moved to the Taylor Institution temporarily (from the Examination Schools, which was used as a military hospital during the war). Later on, in 1943, the iron railings outside the building were removed on the instruction of the Ministry of Works, to be melted down for use in the war effort. On the whole, as Firth notes, the effect of war on Modern Languages has been to encourage the study of them.

The fourth Librarian, Mr D.M. Sutherland, was appointed in 1949, following L.F. Powell’s retirement after 28 years’ service. By 1959, the post-war expansion of the undergraduate numbers throughout the University had put the Bodleian, Taylorian and Ashmolean libraries under such severe strain that a separate special provision had to be made, and so the faculty libraries were established as undergraduate lending libraries. The Modern Languages Faculty Library (MLFL) was formed by uniting the Spanish and other seminar libraries in temporary accommodation (1959-61). The MLFL extended into space in the 1930s extension to the building in 1989, two years after the administration and professors’ offices moved out to a house in Wellington Square. The fifth Librarian (1970 to 1996), Mr Giles Barber, was a notable scholar and lecturer in his own right and a specialist in continental bibliography; the sixth Librarian, Ms E.A. Chapman (1997-2003) was also published author. Nowadays, the post of Taylor Librarian is officially held by Mr James Legg, Head of Humanities Libraries and Sackler Librarian, while Ms Amanda Peters, the Librarian in Charge, has responsibility for day-to-day running of the Library.

The Hispanic collections

As the Library continued to grow in size and importance, it attracted a considerable number of gifts. In 1895, the Library received an important bequest: the Martin Collection of around 1,000 Spanish and Portuguese books, including editions of Cervantes, Calderón and Lope de Vega (Firth, op.cit.). This substantial collection formed the basis of what was to become the Spanish Departmental Library (though it was not until 1927 that this was formally established). Today the Taylorian’s Hispanic collections span all periods and several continents. Its holdings include Catalan, Galician and Basque, as well as extensive Latin American, collections. There are many early editions of works from the Spanish Golden Age and the 19th and 20th centuries, while the collection of Portuguese literature over all periods is scarcely rivalled in the UK. Editions of Cervantes, Calderón and Lope de Vega from the 17th- and 18th-centuries are as accessible as those of 20th-century writers such as Valle-Inclán, Juan Ramón Jimenez, Federico García Lorca and Javier Marías. The collections are supported by extensive holdings of linguistic atlases and dictionaries. The Latin American collection is particularly strong in its holdings of Mexican, Argentine, Chilean, Cuban and Brazilian literatures, with early editions of Borges, as well as early 20th-century Argentine literary journals. There are pre-eminent collections of Latin American committed poetry, many of which were donated by Robert Pring-Mill.

Mr John Wainwright, who has just retired, was Assistant Librarian for Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American languages and literatures for more than 36 years. With his extensive knowledge of Spanish (and Portuguese) bibliography, he played a crucial role in enabling the Library to build its collections of national and international importance in this area, and also delivered exemplary expert assistance to generations of researchers. John’s published works include ‘Fernando Pessoa: an introductory bibliography’, published on the centenary of the Portuguese poet’s birth in a collection of essays entitled Three persons on one: a centenary tribute to Fernando Pessoa (1988); and, in 1993, the substantial Bibliografía de la crítica sobre el modernismo hispánico.

EACB, 21 Dec. 2005


Works cited:

  1. Firth, Sir Charles, Modern Languages at Oxford 1724 – 1929, London, O.U.P., 1929.
  2. Michael, I.D.L., A paper ‘Spanish at Oxford: Notes for the Taylorian Catalogue of the Sesquicentennial Exhibition, Feb. 1998’.
  3. Simmons, J.S.G., ‘Slavonic Studies at Oxford’, in Oxford Slavonic Papers Vol. III, 1952.

Further Reading:

  • Barber, G.G., ‘The Taylor Institution’, in The History of the University of Oxford, Vol. IV, Part 1, ed. Brock and Curthoys, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1997.
  • Drew, G., Forty Years in the Taylorian (privately published and circulated, 2005).
  • Griffin, C.H., ‘Latin American Studies at the Taylorian’ (appended to I.D.L. Michael’s paper, above).


  • Neruda receiving his Honorary Doctorate, Oxford, 1965 (picture: R.D.F. Pring-Mill)
  • Picture of the Taylor Institution from an engraving for the Oxford Almanack, 1848. The Oxford Almanacks by Helen Mary Petter (O.U.P., 1973, out of print), describes the picture thus: ‘”South East View of the Taylor Building and University Galleries. Steel engraving, 230 x 361 mm; F. Mackenzie. del. W. Radclyffe. sculp.” The original sepia drawing, 277 x 488 mm, is deposited by the Delegates of the Press in the Ashmolean Museum. […] There are 2 pencil drawings in the Bodleian Library which are probably preliminary drawings for this almanack (MS. Top. Oxon. b.123, ff. 88,89). Both measure 125 x 197 mm.’


1724 1st attempt to establish study of Modern Languages at Oxford; 2 teachers appointed to serve Regius Professor of Modern History; this scheme languishes
1788 Sir Robert Taylor dies, leaving residue of his estate for ‘establishing a foundation for the teaching and improving the European languages’
1834 Sir Robert Taylor’s son, Michael Angelo, dies, and the University receives £65,000
1841 Work starts on Cockerell’s building – the Randolph Galleries (now the Ashmolean Museum) and the Taylor Institution
1844 Work on the building is completed
1845 Taylor Institution opens; 9 Curators appointed
1847 1st Librarian, John Macray, appointed; then Teachers of French and German
1848 Dr F.H. Trithen appointed 1st Professor of Modern Languages
1849 Library opens
1854 Curators had paid off building debt, more money available to spend on teaching staff
1856 Borrowing permitted for graduates
1858 1st Teacher of Spanish, Lorenzo Lucena, appointed
1861 1st catalogue of the Library’s holdings published.
Library holds 6,000 vols.
1865 Professorship of Modern European Languages abolished
1868 No. of language Teachers increased to 4; Professorship of Comparative Philology created (Dr Joseph Wright); 1st Porter appointed, relieving Librarian of checking lights and fires when closing
1871 2nd Librarian, Dr Heinrich Krebs, appointed.
Library holds 13,000 vols.
1879 Collection valued at and insured for £16,000 c.£820,000 in today’s money
1890 Gas lighting installed in the Main Library
1895 Martin Bequest: large collection of Spanish books comes to the Library
1903 Statute for Founding of the Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages approved by Congregation Library holds 50,000 vols.
1905 Curators permit £200 to be spent on intalling electric lights
1905 1st ‘2nd Public Exams’ in Honour School of Modern Languages; ‘Teachers’ now to be called ‘Lecturers’
1909 Purchase of 4 shops on St Giles’ adjacent to Taylor Institution; 1st Taylorian Professor of the Romance Languages appointed (Dr Oelsner)
1914 Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages created
1921 3rd Librarian, Mr L.F. Powell, appointed.
Library holds 120,000 vols.
1920 Women admitted to full membership of the University
1925 With written permission, undergraduates permitted to borrow novels
1927 £25,000 raised in London and given to the University for founding of King Alfonso XIII Professorship of Spanish; Spanish Departmental Library started
1928 Salvador de Madariaga appointed 1st King Alfonso XIII Professor
1932 New wing of Taylor Institution opened by HRH the Prince of Wales
1939 English Faculty and Library move to Taylor Institution temporarily from Exam Schools during wartime
1943 Iron railings outside removed on instruction of Ministry of Works (for use in war effort)
1949 4th Librarian, Mr D. Sutherland, appointed
1959-61 Spanish & other seminar libraries join to form the Modern Languages Faculty Library (MLFL) in the 1930s extension
1969 Sub-faculties (Spanish and others) founded
1970 5th Librarian, Mr G. Barber, appointed
1975 Voltaire Room opens; as does Nuneham Repository (the closed-access book store outside Oxford).
Library holds 250,000 vols.
1987-89 MLFL extended into space in the 1930s extension to the Taylor Institution after the administration and professors’ offices move to Wellington Square
1982 Library’s book hoist replaced with proper lift
1987 Oxford University’s online computerised catalogue (OLIS) introduced
1990 Spanish and Portuguese split into separate Sub-faculties
1996 Mr G. Barber retires as Librarian
1997 6th Librarian, Ms E.A. Chapman, appointed.
Library holds 471,408 vols.
2000 Oxford University Library Service (OULS) is formed, and the Library joins it; completion of transferral of books to OLIS
2003 New issue desk in Main Library; Mr G. Robson retires, MLF Librarian, retires and MLFL merges with Main Library; Ms E. A. Chapman leaves; title of Taylor Librarian goes to Mr J. Legg, Sackler Librarian & Head of Humanities Libraries; Ms A.J. Peters ‘Librarian in Charge’.
Library holds 528,228 vols. (86,963 in MLFL)


Grateful thanks are due to Liz Baird (who compiled this leaflet and co-ordinated the exhibition), and to a number of other people for their valuable contributions and kind assistance, including Amanda Peters (Taylor Librarian in Charge), John Wainwright, Giles Barber, Greg Drew, Matthew Haley, Mr J.S.G. Simmons, Dr R.D.F. Pring-Mill, Professor Ian Michael, Simon Bailey (OU Archives), and James Allen (OU Digital Imaging Service), as well as members of the Spanish Sub-Faculty, especially Dr Clive Griffin, Dr John Rutherford and Professor Edwin Williamson.

Thanks also to the Modern Languages Faculty Administration staff and to the portering team of the Taylor Institution for their friendly co-operation.

We would also like to express our gratitude to our neighbours at the Ashmolean Museum, especially Mark Norman (Head of Conservation) and Ray Ansty for their most helpful assistance.

Thanks also to Dr Jacqueline Rattray for the design of these web pages.

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