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 wonTaylor.jpg 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