Thursday, 27 October 2011


''Life is rather above the measure of us all (save for a very few perhaps). We all need literature that is above our measure - though we may not have sufficient energy for it all the time. But the energy of youth is usually greater. Youth needs then less than adulthood or Age what is down to its (supposed) measure. But even in Age I think we only are really moved by what is at least in some point or aspect above us, above our measure, at any rate before we have read it and 'taken it in.' Therefore do not write down to Children or to anybody. Not even in language. Though it would be a good thing if that great reverence which is due to children took the form of eschewing the tired and flabby cliches of adult life. But an honest word is an honest word, and its acquaintance can only be made by meeting it in a right context. A good vocabulary is not acquired by reading books written according to some notion of the vocabulary of one's age-group. It comes from reading books above one.'' (The Letters of J.R.R Tolkien, April of A.D 1959).

Quid plura dicam?


  1. Tolkien's punctuation is obsolete, strangely. The only Germanic language to retain noun capitalization is German. Dutch and all the Scandinavian languages did away with noun capitalization in successive language reforms. English, especially North American English, de facto ended noun capitalization and 'long s' by the first half of the 19th century. Is Tolkien's punctuation an affectation, or a genuine quirk of his writing?

    Tolkien: A good vocabulary is not acquired by reading books written according to some notion of the vocabulary of one's age-group. It comes from reading books above one.

    Tolkien the Aspie? I taught myself how to read well before starting school. I was reading the New York Times almost daily in the third or fourth grade. You'll be surprised how many American adults cannot read the Times fluently, even though it's written for someone with an average high school education.

    In any event, Tolkien is right that the cultivation of literary intelligence begins at a young age and extends throughout life. However, a well developed reading ability, vocabulary, and current events acumen at an early age can be a grave social handicap for a child. I remember once going to an informal party with my parents, only to be pulled aside by Mom for trying to engage an adult in a conversation about Tiananmen. Nine at the time, do the math. I was absolutely unable to socialize with the other kids at the party. Not surprisingly, Mom and Dad left me home most of the time after this incident. Privately they fed me all the books and papers I desired.

    Maybe in Tolkien's day advanced intellectual maturation was not stigmatized. The knowledge which would've gotten me a slam-dunk on the Eleven-Plus did me absolutely no good in the late 1980s.

  2. JM, you said ''is Tolkien's punctuation an affectation, or a genuine quirk of his writing?''

    Probably both. While I never cease to be amazed at Tolkien's mastery of language and diction, I fear that it is all very much above me. At the end of his life Tolkien had mastered around 14 languages, and knew about 14 others to varying degrees of fluency. An incredibly gifted man.

    I do not believe that Tolkien had Asperger Syndrome. Nothing that I have ever read of his life suggests that at all, though his short story Leaf by Niggle is interesting in that respect (I read it just once, many years ago). Tolkien's mother taught him the rudiments of Latin, German and French as a boy, and he went to a very good school (King Edward's) where he achieved the mastery of Latin and Greek by 12 years of age. It was as a schoolboy that he first encountered Welsh and Old and Middle English. As an undergraduate he learned Gothic and Finnish, and specialised in Greek Philology in Classical Moderations before moving to the English School. After the War he worked for the Oxford English Dictionary, on words of Germanic derivation beginning with the letter ''w.'' He said years later that he learned more about language in 1919 than at any other time in the course of his life. You only have to read his entries, where he cites comparable forms of words in Old and Middle High German, Gothic, Old English, Old Icelandic, Latin, etc, to get a measure of the man who is, I may say, dishonoured in these latter days by the film trilogy, and so many hippy Frodo societies...

    I think that what you say about maturation in linguistic skill, or general intelligence, is only too true - a mark of the Anti-Christ, I think; where wisdom is scoffed at, sobriety and chastity are mocked, and all manner of vices are held aloft as the new virtues of the age. ''God boy'' I was at a (Roman) Catholic school because I went to church every Sunday - that is when I wasn't a ''batty boy.''

  3. Well, I "pass", so people generally don't know unless I tell them. Anyway, at my Catholic school the boys were generally tolerant about sexual orientation. I'm sorry that you had to experience bullying. Relish the awesome schadenfreude when passing through your former tormentor's checkout aisle at the supermarket.

    Those who are very intelligent and have social deficits experience "aloneness" in a much more acute manner. My colleague-friends are intelligent scholars. In most respects, I am quite intellectually deficient in comparison. I'm certainly the cognitive laggard of the department, sad to say. Incomprehensibly, my friends are able to engage in friendships and even relationships with varying levels of intellectual intensity. My relationships of any degree are either intellectually intense or not worth it. If you are unable to share fully in the mutual life of minds, I will not reveal the world behind my retinas. I had an awesome decade-long non-genital intimate relationship (WDTPRS readers: you can put the nitroglycerine down now) with a man who shared an exciting intellectual life with me. He grew tired of having to compensate for my social deficits. I can't blame him. The enjoyment of intellectual probity must include compromise and social grace. On these points I am clueless. My "aloneness" will remain a self-created prison unless I attempt to reach pass a comfortable hatred of "small talk" that is so very necessary in all facets of life.

    Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman and Fr. Ambrose St. John, chaste companions through the joy of mutual intellect, pray for us.

  4. You know, I've long suspected that Anglo-Catholics should be called Gaynglicans and that most men who dress up and get all exercised about liturgy aren't exactly the most butch, but you sir, take the cake.
    Why not just canonize Quentin Crisp and be done with it?

  5. Nixon is Lord, thank you for your comment.

    Since the subject of this 'blog endeavour is Liturgy I try to keep my private life hidden from view - a public forum is hardly the place to discuss that. I have alluded to the mos Graeciae on few occasions but then only to back up an argument - in the case of the comment (I guess) to which you allude, occasions of teasing at school, for both the life that I have chosen, and the life that was haply thrust upon me.

    I don't know what your intention was in writing your comment but pray don't bring this matter up again.