Humfrey Wanley (1672-1726) is April’s hottie of the month.

Originally apprenticed to a draper, Wanley developed an interest in old books and handwriting after a visit to Oxford. He then taught himself the fundamentals of paleography. His talents in this field soon attracted the attention of the right people, and he was able to matriculate at St. Edmund Hall, Oxford, in 1694. During his second year, Wanley moved to University College and became an assistant librarian at the Bodleian Library.

Wanley left Oxford in 1699, taking a post as assistant to the secretary of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. He was soon promoted to secretary, nearly doubling him income, but he craved work as a librarian. When he was unsuccessful in his attempt to become the curator of the Cottonian Collection in 1702, he got on as a member of a commission hired to study the collection.

By this time, Wanley was becoming an expert on Anglo Saxon. He had become friends with George Hickes, a vicar who had written a study of Anglo-Saxon grammar in 1689. The two men took up a correspondence that Clare A. Simmons describes in her essay on Wanley for the Dictionary of Literary Biography (Vol. 33) like this:

his early letters to Hickes are written in florid Latin but include interesting discussions of Anglo-Saxon studies, while others show indications of a genuine warmth between the two men. In 1699 Wanley confided in Hickes, for example, a plan for gaining financial independence by marrying his cousin Elizabeth Phillipps, who had inherited some property: he describes her as “young, well-bred, vertuous, honest, good-humor’d, & not very ugly.” The scheme suggests a certain lack of romantic feeling on Wanley’s part, and scarcely surprisingly, his cousin seems to have refused him.

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