A secret library

7th June 2017

News, Alumni news

Copies of letters from Wadham Library’s Wiffen collection and Wadham’s film about the collection have gone on display in the National Library of Spain.

  • Letters to Benjamin Wiffen from Luis de Usoz

    Letters to Benjamin Wiffen from Luis de Usoz

The items form part of an exhibition of banned books collected by the 19th century Spanish and Hebrew scholar Luis de Usoz. The secret library of Luis de Usoz (1805-1865), which runs until 10 September 2017 in Madrid, features a collection of books that Usoz assembled with the help of Quaker and Hispanophile Benjamin Barron Wiffen (1794-1867). Wiffen’s own book collection and correspondence came to Wadham in 1867.

Luis de Usoz was a chaired professor of Hebrew at the University of Valladlid in Spain. Wiffen described him as a devout student of the Bible as well as a Spanish nobleman. Usoz’s belief in liberal ideas led him to dedicate his life to the recovery of popular literature which had been banned during the period of the Spanish Inquisition. Usoz met Wiffen in 1836, when Usoz was in London, and the two became lifelong friends, corresponding for many years. Wiffen was a Quaker and both men were abolitionists (anti-slavery) and bibliophiles.

In 1839 Wiffen visited Usoz in Sevilla and discussed the slave trade and lost books of the Spanish Reformation literature.  During a visit to England by Usoz in 1841, Wiffen and Usoz started  to recover and republish long lost and long prohibited works by sixteenth-century Spanish religious writers of a broadly Reformation character.

Wiffen went to Spain and collected books about religious reformers, helping Usoz produce his 20 volume work Reformistas antiguos espanoles, published between 1847 and 1865.

The books in Wadham’s Wiffen Collection were recently featured in a film created by Wadham Library, where research scholar Dr Christopher Matthews discusses a selection of books from the collection. Many of these books contain handwritten notes by Wiffen detailing where he found them, what purpose they have and how they cross reference with other works he knew about. “It is like having a conversation with a man from the nineteenth century,” commented Dr Matthews. This film will be on show (with Spanish sub-titles) as part of the National Library of Spain exhibition.

In addition to the film, excerpts from two letters by Usoz to Wiffen from Wadham’s collection will also be on display at the exhibition.

Play Chris Matthews in Wadham Library