Category Archives: History of the Library

The Faithful Shepherd and me: a personal Odyssey, Part II

The Faithful Shepherd and me: a personal Odyssey

The Taylor Institution Library’s editions of Il Pastor fido, by G.B. Guarini (1538-1612)
 Part II: The Once and Future Guarinian

Robert Finch, ‘antiquary and connoisseur of the arts’,1 died in 1830, leaving his large collection of books, manuscripts, coins, paintings and other artefacts to the University of Oxford, with a life interest to Henry (Enrico) Mayer, the son of friends of his in Italy, who became virtually Finch’s adopted son.  It was on Mayer’s death in 1877, therefore, that the collection became legally the property of the University, though Mayer had in fact made arrangements for its physical transfer to the University nearly 40 years previously.  In his will, Finch had stipulated that the collection was to be kept together but it was found that there was no building suitable to hold it all and eventually an appeal was made to the Court of Chancery which allowed for the collection to be dispersed and duplicates sold.  In 1975, the then Taylor Librarian, Giles Barber, bought back for the Library a volume from Finch’s original collection, William Gell’s The Itinerary of Greece (London, 1810), the bookplates inside the book’s front pastedown showing clearly the book’s journey, with Finch’s original bookplate, the Finch Collection bookplate with its ‘Sold by Authority’ overstamping, and the 1975 bookplate.2

Finch’s library was housed originally in Room 3 of the newly built Taylorian and a catalogue of the books and manuscripts was published in 1874.Of the items retained by the Taylorian when the collection was dispersed in 1921, those that stood out as a group were the 33 different editions of Battista Guarini’s famous pastoral tragicomedy, Il pastor fido.  One edition was held in duplicate as having belonged to Finch’s wife Maria and it was these volumes from the Finch Collection which formed the original nucleus of the present collection of well over 200 editions.

In Part I of this personal survey of my involvement in the growth of the collection during the 33 happy years that I spent in the Taylorian Library, I wrote of some of the joys and disappointments of collecting.  And make no mistake, looking out for ‘new’ editions of the Pastor fido, whether for purchase by the Library or to add to my checklist of published editions of Guarini,4 has been a time-consuming affair and, as any enthusiast will tell you, such an endeavour can become something of a compulsive disorder. Under my watch the Library acquired some 80 editions of the works of Guarini, mainly of the Pastor fido, and since my retirement in 2004 I have persuaded the Library to purchase the occasional volume (15 to date). I have even resorted latterly to buying the odd one myself in order to present it to the Library as a thank-you for affording me the real pleasure of helping to enrich the collection, as a member of staff and as a retiree, over a period of many years.

First, there was the curious case of a 1666 edition of the Abbé de Torche’s French translation of the Pastor fido, which turned out to be a curious hybrid, seemingly bringing together as it does the original sheets of the five individual parts, one for each Act, as issued from 1664 to 1666, but reconfigured in the form in which they appear in the reprinting of the whole translation from 1667 onwards, with the dedication of Act V, A Madame, acting as a general introduction to the whole work but minus the other dedications and the plates.  Odd indeed, but interesting.

G.B. Guarini. Il pastor fido (Cremona, 1828)

G.B. Guarini. Il pastor fido (Cremona, 1828)

Next up was a copy of the 1828 Cremona edition of the text as issued in its original publisher’s casing. (Too often in the past binders destroyed much that is interesting from the bibliographer’s point of view.) Both these items have now been donated to the Library but there are two more which I have acquired and which I shall deposit ere long.

The first is an untrimmed copy (volume 1 only, alas, of 2) of the 1819 Zwickau edition in its original printed paper wrappers.

G.B. Guarini. Il pastor fido (Zwickau, 1819)

G.B. Guarini. Il pastor fido (Zwickau, 1819)

And then, only in March of last year, I discovered an edition of the Pastor fido with the imprint ‘In Venezia, presso Gio. Battista Ciotti, 1664’, the first time in more than 45 years of investigation that I had come across such an edition. The seller was living in Modica in Sicily, a town more famous for its bitter chocolate and its occasional appearance in the Inspector Montalbano films on television than for its antiquarian books, but, if you like, this would be the chocolate on the icing on the cake of my quest for editions of Guarini’s play.  If all is as it seems.

G.B. Guarini. Il pastor fido (Venice: G.B. Ciotti, 1664)

 The binding, which appears to be contemporary, is a little careworn but, then, so would you be after 350 years. The imprint is obviously spurious, as Ciotti, who had been publishing works by Guarini since 1593 and of the Pastor fido since 1600, had died round about 1627 and, although works bearing the family name were published by his sons up to at least 1638,5 the date of 1664 would be a fascinating echo of his continuing prestige in the world of publishing.

There is another 1664 edition of the Pastor fido, that printed in Rome by Francesco Moneta and sold by Bartolomeo Lupardi in the Piazza Navona. It has the same number of pages as the ‘new’ Venice edition and an enquiry of the library of the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibnitz University in Hanover, which holds a copy, confirmed that the setting of the text is identical, so what we are dealing with here is, in theory, a reissue of the Rome edition with a cancel title printed for the Venice market. And yet, and yet… We show here a copy of this so far unique title-page. Is my Shepherd still faithful or has he, after all these years, become infido and false? Someone will perhaps recognize and identify that very prominent ornament.

Of the 470-odd verified editions of the Pastor fido recorded in all his guises, the Taylorian can account currently for nearly 220, with the Bodleian and college libraries chipping in a further 30 or so, a wholly satisfying total, even if, through the ravages of time, a small number of them are imperfect. But, then, ‘there is no real beauty without imperfection’ (James Salter).

And do I have a favourite, I hear you ask? Well, apart from my apparent unicum, I suppose it has to be the 1768 edition of the Pastor fido, published in Leipzig by Johann Georg Loewe and purchased by the Library in 1976. The frontispiece and the 42 vignettes in the text are here printed in blue, ‘stampate con inchiostro turchino’ the bookseller’s catalogue said. The Library also has the more usual issue where the engravings are printed with black ink but, if you want to see the other issue in all its glory, the Taylorian’s copy has been digitized and you can download PDFs of both editions here.

And me? I’m going to sit back and wait for an edition of the Pastor fido in dwarsligger format. Flipbacks, as they are dubbed by the publisher Dutton Books, are, so we are made to believe, the future.6

David Thomas
Assistant Librarian, Taylor Institution Library, 1971-2004


1 See the entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: OUP, 2004) (Published online 23 September 2004 [accessible within the University network only]). See also Elizabeth Nitchie, The Reverend Colonel Finch (New York: Columbia University Press, 1940) and E.R.P. Vincent, ‘Robert Finch and Enrico Mayer’, Modern Language Review, XXIX (1934), 150-155.

2 Intriguingly, the volume bears the signature of another of the Library’s benefactors, Marshall Montgomery (1880-1930), Reader in German in the University, who acquired the book in 1925.

3 George Parker, A catalogue of the books in the Finch Collection, Oxford. Oxford: E. Pickard Hall and J.H. Stacy, 1874.  The Bodleian copy of the catalogue (2590 e. Oxf. 10.3) is annotated and, although most of the Guarinis are marked as being not in Bodley, they were all destined to be kept in the Taylorian when the collection was dispersed.

4 David H. Thomas, An annotated checklist of editions of the works of Battista Guarini. Oxford: Taylor Institution Library.  A contemplated further revision of the checklist will reveal the most recent metamorphosis of my Faithful Shepherd as the Polish Wierny pasterz, in a translation by Marta Wojtkowska-Maksymik (Warszawa, 2018); this, too, will join the collection shortly.

5 Dennis E. Rhodes, Giovan Battista Ciotti (1562-1627?): publisher extraordinary at Venice. Venezia: Marcianum Press, 2013.

6 See an article by David Sanderson in The Times, 5 November 2018, ‘Mini book format swiped from phones,’ p.19.


Clare Hills-Nova

28 October 2018

The Faithful Shepherd and me: a personal Odyssey

The Taylor Institution Library’s editions of Il Pastor fido, by G.B. Guarini (1538-1612)
 Part I

Battista Guarini, Il pastor fido, scene from Act 1 (engraving, c. 1602; See Berthold Wiese, Erasmo Pèrcopo: Geschichte der Italienischen Litteratur, Leipzig und Wien 1910 [Wikimedia Commons])

We go back quite a long way, the Faithful Shepherd and me. He was born some time during the 1580s and has been reborn speaking many different languages other than his native Italian: French, English, Spanish, Dutch, German, Neapolitan, Cretan (and Greek), Polish, Swedish, and Portuguese, and even Croatian, Latin, and, in a parody, the dialect of Bergamo; but latterly he has had to content himself mainly with his native tongue. This is the story of our acquaintance, published in two parts, with Part II appearing later in the year.

I was appointed to the staff of the Taylor Institution Library in 1971 and it must have been very early on that the Librarian, Giles Barber, suggested that I build upon the Library’s collection of editions of Giovanni Battista Guarini’s famous Il Pastor fido, a pastoral tragi-comedy set in Arcadia, first published in Venice in 1589. In An annotated checklist of editions of the works of Battista Guarini, first published online by the Library in 20101, I wrote at length, in the introduction, of the history of the Taylorian’s Guarini collection.

In summary, its origin lies in the 33 editions amassed by Robert Finch (1783-1830), a Balliol man, who bequeathed his library and other artefacts to the University.2 Damned, in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, as a ‘pretentious ass’ and a ‘supposititious officer of dragoons’,3 it was impossible, said an earlier biographer, ‘to hold him in very high respect as a connoisseur of literature or of art’ and yet his library was ‘good enough to supply to Oxford University several thousand volumes which it did not own’.4 The 33 Guarinis ended up in the Taylorian and this nucleus was added to notably by the Library’s second Librarian, Dr Heinrich Krebs (in post 1871-1921) during the 1870s.

Indeed, it was Dr Krebs who acquired for the Library a copy of the first edition of the Pastor fido (dated 1590 but in fact December 1589) and by 1882 he was able to talk of the gathering together (originally on the upper shelves of the Taylorian’s Main Reading Room gallery) of ‘not less than 126 different editions and versions in various languages of this celebrated pastoral’.5

Il pastor fido (Venice: Gio. Battista Bonfadino, MDXC. [1590])

Il pastor fido (Venice: Gio. Battista Bonfadino, MDXC. [1590])

(He managed to include among all those Guarinis – and it is still there – La fida pastora, Sir Richard Fanshawe’s Latin translation of John Fletcher’s The faithful shepherdess (1658), an early example, maybe, of gender inclusivity!) My checklist, which attempts to list editions of all Guarini’s works apart from the more minor anthologized extracts, has, I hope, been of use (it has certainly been quoted by booksellers and even by the occasional librarian and academic). Although it could be used as a springboard for a more serious attempt at compiling a full-scale bibliography of Guarini’s works, much remains to be done. There are a great many editions listed that I have not seen, even in online digitized form, and, while I have built up a large collection of photocopies or downloads of title pages and illustrations, I am very conscious of the magnitude of the task. It is likely that a full listing and description of all Guarini editions would need to be a large-scale collaborative undertaking, probably best done online, but I personally shall have to content myself with a possible third version of my checklist in, I hope, the not too distant future.

My hope that more might be done by way of attaching images to the entries in the list (I was thinking simply of images of title pages) has been implemented in a way I did not initially envisage by the appearance of Laura Riccò’s masterful 2-volume work on illustrations of the pastoral genre, the second volume of which is devoted entirely to the illustrations, a considerable number of them taken from editions of Guarini.6 Professor Riccò graciously tweaks a few of the entries in my list and generously introduces me to a few editions that I did not know about. She quite legitimately replaces the Anglo-French bias of my listings by giving, wherever possible, locations in the penisola and speaks very kindly of the checklist as a ‘fondamentale soccorso’ and a ‘massiccia ricognizione’, seeing me perhaps as a scout reconnoitring a somewhat difficult and even unknown territory, no attempt having been made since that of Vittorio Rossi in his 1886 monograph on Guarini to list editions of Il Pastor fido.7 Relying heavily on earlier bibliographers, some of them not entirely reliable, Rossi listed about 180 editions, of which he had personally seen only just over 80. My own list brings the figure up to about 430, with a further 40 or so published since 1886.  If, as Professor Riccò suggests, my list ‘stupisce anche gli studiosi più avvertiti con la documentazione del successo davvero immenso del Pastor fido’, it is surely time for a proper descriptive bibliography of Guarini to be undertaken ‒ but not by me. It is nice to think that it might even be possible to construct a fully integrated database which would bring together texts, drawings, woodcuts, engravings, frescoes, paintings, porcelain and other examples of the fine arts, such as the fan in the Royal Collection depicting the game of Blind Man’s Buff from Act III of the play.8

Like all collectors, I have had my disappointments. Back in the day, before the advent of online bookselling databases like AbeBooks and Maremagnum, a lot would depend on the speed with which the post office could deliver booksellers’ catalogues to the Library. In Birmingham, the Professor of Italian, Humphrey Whitfield, a no mean Guarini scholar himself, was on the lookout for editions to add to the University Library’s collection and he could easily snap up a delicious morsel, even from a Blackwell’s catalogue, before the Taylorian had time to pick up the phone. (As I record in the introduction to my checklist, it was Humphrey who goaded me into producing the first preliminary draft of the list at the end of 1994, just a short time before his death in the February of the following year.) In December 1975, Birmingham beat us to a 1596 Venice edition of the Pastor fido. (I still have the card on which is pasted the entry from the catalogue with my annotation: ‘Too late!!’.) It is still the only copy of this edition in the UK. Sometimes we would have to pass over a desirable edition owing to its exorbitant price or because, although it had an interesting provenance, we already had a copy of the particular edition. So it was that we let an early edition of Sir Richard Fanshawe’s translation of the Pastor fido, which contained an autograph poem from the translator to a friend, Thomas Brooke, ‘before an extended voyage’, wing its way  across the Atlantic to a collector in Marblehead, Ohio. (I still rather regret this but I have a photographic copy of the poem which he very generously let me have.)

Il pastor fido ([S.l.]: [s.n.], [1727?])

Il pastor fido ([S.l.]: [s.n.], [1727?])

We also passed up the opportunity of acquiring an undated but late eighteenth-century edition of the Italian text which happened to have belonged to the poet Shelley, which naturally helped to push up the price astronomically. (The Taylorian already had a copy, as did the Bodleian.)

However, the Friends of the Bodleian were able to buy for that library a 1639 edition of the Pastor fido which had belonged to the poet Lucy Hutchinson (1620–1681) and which had been a present from her husband, the regicide John Hutchinson (1615–1664).9 And there was one infuriating occasion when, although successfully ordered, the book simply disappeared. This was a copy of the Pastor fido published in Ronciglione by Pompilio Totti in 1632 and it would have made a valuable addition to our collection. But for the most part we were able to obtain what we felt we could afford, with the result that, from 1971 to my retirement in 2004, the Library acquired some 80 editions of Guarini’s works, mainly of the Pastor fido, and, since 2004, it has continued to add to the collection from time to time. The Taylorian’s collection can thus, I think it can be said without fear of contradiction, be deemed the most comprehensive in the world and some of the Italian editions are not even recorded by the Catalogo del Servizio Bibliografico Nazionale, which maintains the Italian national catalogue.

Below: Some other Pastor fido editions held by the Taylorian. (See Part II, coming later this year.)

David Thomas
Assistant Librarian, Taylor Institution Library, 1971-2004


1 David H. Thomas, An annotated checklist of editions of the works of Battista Guarini. Oxford: Taylor Institution Library. For the latest version of the checklist please see the Special Collections page of the Italian Literature & Language LibGuide.

2 Finch’s books are listed in George Parker, A catalogue of the books in the Finch Collection, Oxford. Oxford: E. Pickard Hall and J.H. Stacy, 1874

3 Alan Bell, ‘Robert Finch (1783-1830)’ in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: OUP, 2004) (Published online 23 September 2004 [accessible within the University network only])

4 Elizabeth Nitchie, The Reverend Colonel Finch. New York: Columbia University Press, 1940

5 Heinrich Krebs, ‘The earliest French version of Guarini’s “Pastor fido”’, The Academy XXI (Jan.-June 1882; n.s. 507, 21 Jan. 1882), 46

6 Laura Riccò, L’arcadia “in mano”: illustrazioni editorali della favola pastorale (1583-1678). 2 vols. Roma: Bulzoni Editore, 2012

7 Vittorio Rossi, Battista Guarini ed il Pastor fido: studio biografico-critico con documenti inediti. Torino: Ermanno Loescher, 1886

8 Jane Roberts, Prudence Sutcliffe, Susan Mayor, Unfolding pictures: fans in the Royal Collection (London: Royal Collection Publications, 2005), pp. 42-43

9 See David Norbrook, ‘Lucy Hutchinson and Il pastor fido’, Bodleian Library Record 25/2 (October 2012), 269-273

Editions mentioned in the text

Battista Guarini. Il pastor fido, tragicomedia pastorale. Venetia: Gio. Battista Bonfadino, MDXC [1590]

Battista Guarini. Il pastor fido, tragicomedia pastorale. Venetia: Francesco de’ Franceschi Senese, 1596

Battista Guarini. Il pastor fido … Con le Rime. Ronciglione: Pompilio Totti, 1632

Battista Guarini. Il pastor fido: tragicomedia pastorale. Trevigi: Girolamo Righettini, MDCXXXIX [1639]

John Fletcher. La fida pastora: comœdia pastoralis. London: G. Bedell & T.Collins, 1658

Michael Angelo Taylor and the Taylor Institution: Legacies, Politics, Modern Languages

When the noted architect Sir Robert Taylor died on 27 September 1788, he left behind a codicil to his will which stipulated that, after specific allocations had gone to his wife and others, the residue of his considerable fortune (which at his death stood at some £180,000), be left in the first instance to his son and, in the event of his dying without issue, to the University of Oxford.[1] This bequest, the codicil stated, was to be used for buying freehold land in Oxford and constructing upon it an institution ‘for the teaching and improving the European languages’.

Fig. 1: Foundation stone, Taylor Institution (Photo: Thomas Roberts)

These words, engraved in stone, dominate the grand staircase which leads to the Main Reading Room of the Taylor Institution Library, the establishment ultimately founded as a result of Sir Robert’s generous donation. The phrase, therefore, is likely to have penetrated the consciousness of frequent visitors to the Taylorian. Readers are much less likely, however, to have heard of Sir Robert’s son, Michael Angelo Taylor. Little do they know that, had his position, following his father’s death, prevailed the Taylor Institution and its library might never have been realised – at least, not in the form that it exists today.

Fig. 2: Portrait of Michael Angelo Taylor by S. W. Reynolds. Published by and after J. Lonsdale. 1822 © National Portrait Gallery (NPG D15054). CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

Born in 1757, Michael Angelo Taylor was the only child of Sir Robert Taylor and his wife, Lady Taylor. After spending time at Westminster School, he received legal training at the Inner Temple and at Lincoln’s Inn, and in late 1774 he was admitted to Corpus Christi College, Oxford. Seemingly headed for a career in the law, he was called to the bar three weeks later. He completed his BA in 1778, and subsequently received his MA from St John’s College, leaving in 1781. By then, it seems, his interest in the legal profession had waned, and he had cultivated an ambition to make his way in politics. In 1784 he became MP for Poole, embarking on what would be a long, noteworthy, and quite successful career in Parliament.[2]

His life after leaving Oxford, however, was not to be without difficulty or controversy. Significantly, after Sir Robert died in 1788, Michael Angelo set himself on a collision course with the institution at which he had studied. Apparently not content with the £50,000 that his father had left to him specifically, he chose to contest the will, as well as the codicil to it which set out the bequest to the University. Thus, the University found itself embroiled in a drawn-out legal battle which was to rumble on until after Michael Angelo himself died in 1834. Papers deposited with the University Archives tell the story.

Despite the University’s vigorous assertion of the ‘force and validity’[3] of the crucial codicil, whilst Michael Angelo remained alive no settlement was reached between the two parties regarding Sir Robert’s bequest. Initially, a judge in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury pronounced against the validity of the codicil establishing Sir Robert’s intention to leave part of his fortune to the University. This was largely, it seems, due to the fact that Sir Robert had never actually attached his signature to the codicil.[4] (It appears that a considerable portion of the University’s case centred around attempting to prove that Sir Robert had intended to do so, and was prevented only by the failures of his solicitors.[5]) Although the High Court of Delegates reversed this decision following an appeal by the University, letters of administration with the will and codicil annexed were granted to Michael Angelo in 1795.[6] Michael Angelo thus ‘possessed himself of all the real and personal estate of his father’ and ‘intermixed’ it with his own monies and property.[7] In 1817 he offered to settle the University’s claim on his father’s estate for £50,000 Irish currency (the majority of the estate was in property in Ireland), but the University seems to have declined this proposal.[8]

Fig. 3: Extract from a University document headed ‘2nd Session of Michaelmas Term, to wit, Friday the 14th day of November 1788’. The author writes: ‘the party proponent prays […] that the Right Worshipful the Judge of this court would pronounce for the force and validity of the aforesaid papers’. One of the papers in question was the codicil establishing the bequest to the University. University of Oxford Archives, UD/23/1/2b

The fact that Michael Angelo could draw upon the entirety of his father’s estate granted him a considerable degree of financial security, and no doubt allowed him to focus his energies more completely on his political career – a career which was to gain him much public notoriety. Having begun his time in Parliament as a follower of Pitt, he later allied himself with the radical Whig Charles Fox and favoured parliamentary reform. Over time he repeatedly found himself the subject of controversy, and became one of the preferred subjects of the satirical printmakers of the day, the most notable of whom being James Gillray.[9] Often referred to as the ‘chicken of the law’ (a title he had inadvertently bestowed upon himself when, during a debate in February 1785, he described himself as ‘but a chicken’ in his profession,[10]) he was frequently depicted as a diminutive figure with treacherous tendencies. One print published in May 1797 (Fig. 3) – a satire on the decision of Charles Fox and several of his followers among the opposition Whigs (of whom Michael Angelo was one) to secede from Parliament in 1797 after calling for reform – provides a colourful example. Here he appears in the form of a small rat – one of several seen scampering from the Opposition benches and out through the doors of the House of Commons.

Fig. 4: James Gillray, Parliamentary-reform,-or-opposition-rats, leaving the house they had undermined. 1797 © Trustees of the British Museum. CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

In another print, published later that year (Fig. 4), he appears in a procession of ‘truants’ (that is, opposition Whigs who had seceded from the Commons) who are seen trudging reluctantly towards an angry-looking Pitt as they return to Parliament. Michael Angelo (second from the left) is here depicted as a miniscule figure, and one who has been humiliated – he is clearly embarrassed (he covers his face with his hand) – and a hen and her chicks can be seen at his feet. In depicting him in this way, the anonymous maker of this print perhaps sought to pierce through Taylor’s apparently pompous demeanour. Also noteworthy is the fact that all of the ‘truants’ wear bonnets-rouges, the implication being that they have revolutionary ambitions. Clearly, Michael Angelo was a divisive character whose behaviour inspired discussion and frustration in a number of different quarters, of which the University of Oxford was only one.

Fig. 5: Anon., Truant school-boys returning to their duty!! 1797 © Copyright the Trustees of the British Museum. CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

It was only after Michael Angelo’s long career in public life was brought to a close by his death in 1834 that the battle over his father’s fortune was finally concluded. Michael Angelo’s proposal of settling the University’s claim on Sir Robert’s estate for a sum of £50,000 appeared again in his will, and was again rejected by the University, which sought a greater amount. However, as Michael Angelo had intermixed his father’s estate with his own monies, it was now impossible to ascertain exactly how much of it had been left in residue after payment of his debts and legacies. In the end, an agreement between the University and John Vane (a relation of Michael Angelo’s late wife) was reached in November 1835, whereby the University of Oxford received the sum of £65,000.[11]

Several documents held in the University Archives shed some light on the lengths that senior figures within the University went to in order to finally obtain these funds. One particularly interesting document (UD/23/1/5), which lists monies paid by the University in 1837 to a solicitor named Baker Morrell,[12] reveals how legal proceedings relating to Michael Angelo and his father’s bequest in the years prior cost the University large sums of money in lawyers’ fees. The first page of this document alone lists £4 8s 8d paid to Morrell for, among other things, ‘Perusing and considering Mr M.A. Taylor’s codicil and the codicil to Sir R. Taylor’s will containing the bequest to the University and also the papers in the cause upon the establishment of Sir R. Taylor’s will and codicils in 1795’ (see Fig. 5).

Fig. 6: Extract from a University document headed ‘The University to Baker Morrell (Sir Robert Taylor’s Bequest)’. 1837. University of Oxford Archives, UD/23/1/5

The document runs to several pages in length, and on the final page the total sum paid is given as £342 3s 4d – a not inconsiderable amount, being equal to around £28,500 in today’s curren-cy.[13] The list is seemingly exhaustive, even including £3 3s for ‘Postages and carriage of parcels for 2 years’.

Fig. 7: A note, signed by Frederick Joseph Morrell (1811–1882), the son and partner of the solicitor Baker Morrell, attached to UD/23/1/5 (see Fig. 5), University of Oxford Archives. The note acknowledges receipt of payment from the University ‘for business relative to Sir Robert Taylor’s bequest’.

The foundation of the Taylor Institution, then, was a messy business. Thanks to Michael Angelo, the University had already expended a considerable amount of time and money before any meaningful plans for its construction could be made, let alone those for its character or constitution. When the necessary funds had finally been received, they were put towards a project whereby land was acquired from Worcester College, and a building which combined a modern languages institution and a University art gallery (later to become the Ashmolean Museum) was erected on the site, designed by C.R. Cockerell (son of Samuel Pepys Cockerell, who had been a pupil of Sir Robert).[14] The Taylor Institution Library opened, at long last, in early 1849, sixty-one years after the founder’s death.

Thomas Roberts
Graduate Library Trainee
Taylor Institution Library


Simon Bailey, Keeper of the University Archives, for permission to reproduce extracts relating to Sir Robert Taylor’s Last Will and Testament.

References and Further Reading

[1] Jill Hughes, ‘Taylor Institution Library’, in B. Fabian (ed.), Handbuch der historischen Buchbestände in Deutschland, Österreich und Europa, Hildesheim, 2003 [Online ed.,].

[2] Roland Thorne, “Taylor, Michael Angelo (bap. 1757–1834)”, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [online ed., Jan 2013,, accessed 22 Nov 2017].
‘TAYLOR, Michael Angelo (1757-1834), of Cantley Hall, nr. Doncaster, Yorks. and Whitehall Yard, Mdx.’ The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher (CUP, 2009) [Online ed.:, accessed 16 Mar 2018].

[3] ‘2nd Session of Michaelmas Term, to wit, Friday the 14th day of November 1788’. University of Oxford Archives, UD/23/1/2b – see Fig. 2.

[4] John Harris & Malcolm Baker, “Taylor, Sir Robert (1714–1788)” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [Online ed., Jan 2013,].

[5] In UD/23/1/2b it is stated, for example, that ‘it was his intention to sign [the codicil] […] and was accordingly by his own desire raised up in his bed in order to sign the same’.

[6] These and other details relating to the legal dispute are set out in a University document headed ‘Sir Robert Taylor’s Bequest to the University of Oxford’, University of Oxford Archives, UD/23/1/1-6.

[7] Ibid.

[8] This detail is noted by former Taylor librarian Giles Barber, who provides a succinct overview of the foundation of the library in his chapter entitled ‘The Taylor Institution’, in M.G. Brock & M.C. Curthoys (eds.), The History of the University of Oxford. Volume VI, Nineteenth-Century Oxford, Part 1 (OU), 1997), pp. 632-4.

[9] For an overview of Gillray’s work and significance, see, for example, Richard T. Godfrey & Mark Hallett (eds.), James Gillray: The Art of Caricature, Tate Publishing, 2001, and Draper Hill, Mr Gillray, the Caricaturist (London: Phaidon), 1965.

[10] Thorne, ‘Taylor, Michael Angelo’ (see note 2).

[11] This is recounted in the document entitled ‘Sir Robert Taylor’s Bequest to the University of Oxford’, University of Oxford Archives, UD/23/1/1-6.

[12] The Bodleian Library holds papers relating to Baker Morrell, as well as his father, James Morrell (also an Oxford solicitor). See

[13] See

[14] Barber, ‘The Taylor Institution’, p. 633 (see n. 8).

See also: Thomas Roberts Satirical prints and national identity in England, c.1760-c.1830 (B.A. Thesis, London School of Economics, 2017)

Unpacking Sir Robert Taylor’s Library

Most readers at the Taylor Institution Library, where the study of Modern European Literatures and Languages began in Oxford, are unaware that they owe the founding of their discipline at the University, as well as that discipline’s Library and the beginnings of its extensive research resources, to a prominent 18th century architect. Still less do they realise that this architect’s own library has survived, and that it is housed in the very building that bears his name: Sir Robert Taylor (1714-1788).

Left: Taylor Institution Library, Bookplate, Sir Robert Taylor’s Library Collection (after 1849)

Similarly, many an architectural historian – with the notable exception of Sir Howard Colvin (1919-2007), in A biographical dictionary of British architects, 1600-1840 – has been unaware of the survival of Sir Robert’s library in Oxford. Indeed, one recent viewer of the collection surmised that the collection’s generally good state of preservation might have been due to its negligible exposure. It seems likely that, up to 2014, the 300th anniversary of Taylor’s birth, his books had seldom been consulted since (and possibly before) their presumed arrival at the newly built Taylorian in the mid-19th century. Walter Benjamin described unpacking his books after two years of darkness; the darkness that befell Sir Robert Taylor’s books lasted around two centuries. Clearly, in 2014 it was time for the collection to receive greater attention. In Sir Robert’s anniversary year, therefore, a selection of works from his collection was shown in a temporary exhibition organised and discussed by architectural historian Dr. Matthew Walker. (For podcast, click here [takes several seconds to load].)

S(c) Taylor Institution; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundationir Robert Taylor (1714-1788), architect of the Bank of England as well as designer of many fine town and country houses, died a very rich man, leaving some £180,000 of which £65,000 was ultimately allocated to the University of Oxford “for erecting a proper Edifice … for establishing a Foundation for the teaching & improving the European Languages”.

Right: William Miller(?), Sir Robert Taylor (ca. 1782/1783) (Taylor Institution]

A legal dispute regarding this bequest delayed the foundation of the Taylor Institution and ensured that its building was completed, by C.R. Cockerell (born the year of Taylor’s death — 1788-1863), only in 1844. The Library opened early in 1849.

2014-09-TayBldg-C19thImateAbove: The Taylor Institution, University of Oxford (Architect C.R. Cockerell, 1841-45)

Sir Robert’s decision to bequeath such a large sum to establish a centre for the study and teaching of European languages has never been satisfactorily explained but it seems likely that he was influenced by his journey to Rome in 1742. There, and en route to that city, he would have needed to negotiate the various languages spoken and read by the many artists, architects, patrons and others he encountered. Certainly, the books Taylor owned were not just in English.

It is not known whether Taylor acquired his foreign language books (mostly in French or Italian, with a few in German or Latin) while travelling or, rather, acquired them after he had established his architectural practice in London. With some notable exceptions, his library (comprising some 70 volumes) is a typical example of a mid-18th century English architect’s library representing, like its owner, the transition from Palladianism to Neo-Classicism. The earliest work in the collection is an Italian Renaissance architectural treatise (Scamozzi 1615 [see image below]) by the architect who completed a number of Andrea Palladio’s unfinished projects.

Fairly standard works in Taylor’s collection include those on Classical architecture (Vitruvius, trans. Perrault 1673 [see image above]; Stuart & Revett 1762 [see images above and below); on Italian Renaissance architecture (e.g. Palladio, translated by Isaac Ware 1738 [not illustrated: Shelfmark ARCH.TAY.35]); and on 17th and 18th century English architecture (e.g. Isaac Ware, The Designs of Inigo Jones and Others (London, 1735) [not illustrated: Shelfmark ARCH.TAY.70]), including the only text to include a design of Taylor’s (Campbell 1715-1725 [see image below]).


Above: James Stuart and Nicholas Revett, The Antiquities of Athens, Measured and Delineated, Vol. 1 (London, 1762) [Shelfmark ARCH.TAY.68] (One of the large format, fold-out pages)

Yet the collection also contains some publications that would have been slightly less representative of the typical 18th century architect’s library. Most notable is the magnificent, large format 17 volume set, in remarkably good condition, of works by the Italian architect and printmaker, Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778). The set includes his Le Antichità Romane (1756 [see image below]) as well as the compelling Carceri d’invenzione (begun 1745, first published 1750 [see image below]).


Above: G.B. Piranesi, Le antichità romane (Rome, 1756) [Shelfmark ARCH.TAY.44-47]

Ostensibly antiquarian explorations of Rome’s classical remains, Piranesi’s images are not based on the faithful observation and precise measurements found in other such studies (e.g. Desgodetz 1682 [see image below]).
Left: Antoine Desgodets, Les edifices antiques de Rome (Paris, 1682) [Shelfmark ARCH.TAY.24]

Rather, they are almost an anticipation of the Romantic, Gothic or even Post-Modern imagination, showing dramatic, sometimes disturbing scenes comprising heavily overgrown ruins; or gigantic subterranean vaults dominating tiny human figures, with terrifying machines and staircases leading nowhere. While Piranesi was extensively collected by the English, including architects, Taylor’s library shows his predilection for this artist-architect.

The history of the collection between Sir Robert’s death and the opening of the Taylor Institution Library 61 years later remains unclear. One book in the collection – the 3rd edition of William Chambers’ A treatise on the decorative part of civil architecture (London, 1791 [not illustated: Shelfmark ARCH.TAY.14]) – was published three years after he died and it’s possible that his son, Michael Angelo (1757-1834), acquired it; certainly, its presence indicates that some attention continued to be paid to the collection. Sir Robert seems not to have had his own bookplate and the only evidence of the collection’s origin is an early Taylor Institution Library bookplate, “Ex legato Roberti Taylor, Militis, Fundatoris”, added to each volume.

It’s also clear that the architect’s entire collection did not survive 100% intact. In terms of his book collection, the library of his near contemporary, the architect Sir William Chambers (1723-1796), comprised 140 items, twice the size of Sir Robert’s collection as it arrived at the Taylorian. More indicative of the collections’ limited survival is the fact that very few of Taylor’s own designs survived, and none of the three volumes now at the Taylorian that do contain designs includes architectural plans or elevations in his hand.

2014-09-RobertTaylor-ChimneypieceThe Taylorian possesses one small volume comprising decorative designs, some hand coloured, of rococo chimney pieces (in rather poor condition); one very large volume of mounted drawings, most of them for funerary monuments and not necessarily in Taylor’s hand or of works by him; and one manuscript “textbook” on geometry, “mensuration” and perspective.

Left: Robert Taylor Chimneypiece n. 8, Sir R. Taylor’s Designs (bound ms., 1750s?) [Shelfmark ARCH.TAY.2]


Clare Hills-Nova, Italian Literature and Language Librarian, Taylor Institution Library, Bodleian Libraries

Further reading

Daniel M. Abramson, Building the Bank of England: money, architecture, society, 1694-1942 (London, 2005) [Sackler: Shelfmark NA6245.G72 L633 ABR 2005]

Walter Benjamin, “Unpacking my library” (first published in Die literarische Welt,1931) Illuminations, ed. Hannah Arendt (New York, 1969) [Sackler: Shelfmark PN75.B25 BEN 1992]

Marcus Binney, Sir Robert Taylor: from rococo to neoclassicism (London, 1984) [Taylorian: Shelfmark TAY.2.A.1]

“The European languages”: a selection of books from the Taylor Institution in commemoration of the death of Sir Robert Taylor, 27 September 1788 (Oxford, 1988) [Taylorian: Shelfmark TAY.3.D]

Howard Colvin, A biographical dictionary of British architects, 1600-1840 (London, 1978); 4th ed. (New Haven & London, 2008) [Sackler: Shelfmark NA996.C6 COL 2008]

D. J. Gilson, Books from the library of Sir Robert Taylor in the Library of the Taylor Institution, Oxford : a checklist by David Gilson (Oxford, 1973) [Taylorian: Shelfmark TAY.3.C]

John Harris & Malcolm Baker, “Taylor, Sir Robert (1714–1788)” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2004) [Bodleian: Shelfmarks B3.101 (LRR) and S.DNB (U. Cam.) Online ed., Jan 2013 [; Sir Robert Taylor (1714–1788): doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/27077]

Jill Hughes, “Taylor Institution Library” Handbuch der historischen Buchbestände in Deutschland, Österreich und Europa. Ed. by B. Fabian (Hildesheim, 2003) [Online ed.,]

J. Watkin, ed., Sale catalogues of libraries of eminent persons, v. 4: Architects (London, 1972) [Sackler: Shelfmark Z988 SAL 1971]


BBC-Your Paintings (Public Catalogue Foundation)
Vicky Brown, Visual Resources Curator, History of Art Department, University of Oxford
Nick Hearn, French & Russian Subject Consultant, Taylor Institution Library
James Legg, Taylor Librarian, Taylor Institution Library
Other Taylor Institution Library staff members

History of the Taylor Institution Library and its Collections

The Taylor Institution is the centre for the study of medieval and modern European languages, except English, and was Oxford’s first specialist centre to combine library, teaching and administration in one building.

2014-09-TayBldg-C19thImateAbove: The Taylor Institution, University of Oxford (Architect C.R. Cockerell, 1841-45)

It owes its name and its existence to the highly successful London architect Sir Robert Taylor (1714-1788), sometime Surveyor to the Bank of England, Architect of the King’s Works and Sheriff of London.

(c) Taylor Institution; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Left: William Miller(?) Sir Robert Taylor (ca. 1782/1783)

In a codicil to his will Sir Robert left the residue of his large fortune (£180,000), in the first instance to his son and, in the event of his dying without issue, to the Chancellor and Scholars of the University of Oxford for buying freehold land and ‘erecting a proper edifice thereon, and for establishing a foundation for the teaching and improving the European languages’. After various legal complications and the death of Sir Robert’s son, Michael Angelo, in 1834, the University inherited the sum of £65,000. It was then decided to combine this project with the plan to build a University art gallery, now the Ashmolean Museum. An architectural competition to design two buildings entirely distinct in their internal arrangements but to form ‘parts of an architectural design which is required to be of a Grecian character’ was announced in 1839. The winning design by C. R. Cockerell resulted in a handsome neoclassical building, completed in 1844.

The nature and constitution of the Taylorian were not decided without some controversy. The dominance of classical studies and the influence of High Church religion resulted in an environment hostile to the introduction of this new area of teaching. Regulations for the Institution were approved in part in April 1845, a board of nine curators from within the senior ranks of the University being then appointed. It was a further two years before full agreement was reached and the Taylorian statute finally passed on 4 March 1847. The aim was to teach those languages ‘essential to Diplomatic or commercial pursuits’ and possessing a ‘sufficient’ literature. French and German were first priority, followed later by Italian, Spanish, Slavonic languages, Byzantine and modern Greek and Portuguese and, briefly in the late 19th century, Scandinavian languages. In the first decades teaching was at an elementary level and it was not until 1903 that an Honour School of Modern Languages was at last established.

The purpose of the library has always been to provide a working collection to support the study of European languages rather than to be a rare books collection, although inevitably early publications were acquired by the library, often as gifts.

2014-09-TayRareBooksAbove: Taylor Institution Library: Rare Book Room volumes

In the 19th century the collecting policy was eclectic. Although philology and European belles-lettres were the main areas covered, other subjects such as history, theology and even jurisprudence are indicated in the locator lists. The focus of collecting in the 20th and 21st centuries has been increasingly restricted to the core subject matter, i.e. all the languages and literatures of continental Europe (plus the Celtic languages), especially those studied at Oxford.

During the early period of the library’s existence books for purchase were suggested by the teachers and decided on by the Library Committee of the Curators at their weekly meetings. The first librarian, John Macray (1796-1878), was appointed on 23 March 1847, the first books bought in May 1848, but from the Curators’ minutes it seems that the library did not open until early in 1849. Books were not on open shelves except to senior members of the University, and until 1856 no borrowing was allowed. The early years saw only a slow growth of the book stock since the Institution’s income was largely taken up with repayments of the building costs.


Two collections antedated the library and were moved there in the first year, namely the architectural books of the founder and the large collection of books and works of art bequeathed to the University by Robert Finch.

Left: James Northcote, Robert Poole Finch (1791)

The library also provided a temporary home for two other unrelated collections (the Hope Entomological from 1849 and the Strickland Ornithological from 1854) until they were moved to the newly built University Museum in 1860.

The library’s first published catalogue, in 1861, listed some 6,000 book titles, two thirds of which represented works in the Finch collection. From 1858 to the end of the 19th century about £250 per annum was spent on acquisitions with a further £80-£100 for bindings. From time to time special supplementary grants would be made.

(c) Taylor Institution; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
In 1874, at the suggestion of Friedrich Max Müller (1823-1900), the Taylorian’s second Professor of Modern European Languages and for many years a most active Curator and supporter of the library, the sum of £500 was provided for filling gaps in the collection particularly in the early period of literature. Consequently most of the library’s incunables and Reformation pamphlets were acquired in the 1870s and 1880s.

Left: George Sauter, Friedrich Max Müller (date unknown)

The last quarter of the 19th century was a period of particular activity and growth. On the retirement of the first Librarian in 1871 the Curators resolved to elect ‘a competent Librarian and not simply a Library Clerk’. Accordingly, Dr Heinrich Krebs (1844-1921), was appointed on 12 May 1871 and was to remain in post for the next 50 years. In the early 1870s the collections, then numbering c. 13,000 items, were entirely reorganised and recatalogued by an assistant librarian from the Bodleian Library, George Parker. In 1895 the library was augmented by more than 1,000 vols mainly of early Spanish and Portuguese works bequeathed by Miss Williamina Mary Martin (1819-1895). By the end of the century some 350 titles were being acquired annually and the library subscribed to 114 periodicals and newspapers. The collection was said to number 40,000 vols in 1900.

In the 20th century the library was greatly enhanced by bequests from teaching staff associated with the Institution such as Professor Hermann Georg Fiedler, (1862-1945) and by Oxford colleges depositing specialist collections, Oriel College being the first to do so in 1921.

Left: Hermann Georg Fiedler

Major events in the library’s history must include the opening of a substantial extension to the building in 1932, which facilitated wholesale reclassification of the modern stock in the 1960s and 1970s and provision of open shelf access for graduates.

Above: Taylor Institution: 1930s extension

From 1964, following the Parry report on Latin American studies, the library began to build up substantial Latin American collections.

In 1968, because of pressure on space, the Slavonic and Modern Greek collections were removed from the main building, and separately housed and organised at 67 St Giles’. In the late 1970s, these collections transferred to new quarters, at 41-47 Wellington Square, as did the Institution’s administrative and academic staff.

2014-09-TABSAbove: Taylor Institution Library, Wellington Square, housing Slavonic and Modern Greek collections

Left: Taylor Institution Library, Voltaire Room

1975 saw two far-reaching changes in the library, namely the opening of the Voltaire Room, established to promote study on the Enlightenment, and the creation of the University’s first out-of-town book repository in Nuneham Courtenay (now superseded by the Book Storage Facility (BSF) in Swindon, which opened in October 2010 and is capable of holding 8.4 million volumes on 153 miles of shelving).

In 1985 the library’s Germanic holdings took a new direction when the nearly 3,000 vols of Whitechapel Public Library’s Yiddish collection, containing many uncommon books from the first half of the 20th century, were acquired. In the present day the Taylorian continues to benefit from bequests such as the recent donation from the estate of distinguished medieval scholar Dr Olive Sayce, which contains rare books from the 16th to 19th centuries.

Jill Hughes, former German Subject Librarian and Librarian-in-Charge, Taylor Institution Library

Further reading
The above text has been adapted from a detailed description of the Library’s history and historic collections, published by Jill Hughes in the Handbuch der historischen Buchbestände in Deutschland. Hrsg. von Bernhard Fabian. Hildesheim: Olms Neue Medien, 2003.

Photo credits
BBC-Your Paintings (Public Catalogue Foundation)
James Legg, Taylor Librarian, and others, Taylor Institution Library