Thursday 21 August 2014

Tolkien - the 'most unfortunate' man (According to Warren Lewis, 1936)

Diaries of Warren H (Warnie) Lewis: 21 January 1936

News today that Tolkien, playing squash and stretching for a high ball, said sharply t his partner "Don't do that again: it hurts" - thinking that the partner had playfully kicked him in the leg. 

He was then taken off to a doctor and it was found that he had broken a ligament in his leg and will be in bed for the next ten weeks. 

J [standing for Jack - i.e. Warnie's brother, C.S. Lewis] went to see him after tea, but found Madame there, so could not have much conversation with him. 

Of all the men I have ever met, poor Tolkien is the most unfortunate.

From Brothers and Friends: The diaries of Major Warren Hamilton Lewis. Edited by Clyde S Kilby and Majorie Lamp Mead. Harper and Row: San Fransico, 1982.



1. "broken a ligament in his leg" - this refers to a ruptured Achilles tendon.

2. "Madame" seems to refer to Tolkien's wife, Edith. Warnie makes several other references to Edith in his journals, and apparently regarded her negatively as someone who tried to keep Tolkien to herself and away from his friends and colleagues. I also get the impression, indirectly but strongly, that Warnie also regarded Edith as a demanding and 'neurotic' personality in her own right.For instance, on 24 March 1934, he juxtaposes a discussion of Mrs Moore with Edith in such a way as to imply a similarity of character; and Warnie certainly found Mrs Moore a very difficult person to live-with (even before her neurotic and demanding aspects were exacerbated by some kind of dementia).

Tolkien's squash partner has been identified:

McIntosh, Angus (1914–2005). Angus McIntosh read English at Oriel College, Oxford, taking first-class honours in 1934, and stayed on to earn his diploma in Comparative Philology at Merton in 1936. He became a friend of Tolkien, and together they played regular games of squash; one of these, at the end of January 1936, ended abruptly when Tolkien tore his Achilles Tendon. In later years, it is said, McIntosh sometimes claimed that he was entitled to a share of Tolkien’s royalties for The Hobbit andThe Lord of the Rings, given that his friend only began to write those works while laid up with his squash injury. This was surely tongue-in-check, though some have taken the story at face value: The Hobbit was substantially in existence already by 1936, while The Lord of the Ringswould not be conceived until late in 1937.
From 1936 to 1938, McIntosh was a Commonwealth Fellow at Harvard University, then took up a lectureship in English at University College Swansea. During the Second World War, he served in the Tank Corps but transferred to Intelligence and worked in cryptography at Bletchley Park. After briefly returning to Swansea, he became a Lecturer in English at Christ Church, Oxford (1946–47) and an Oxford University Lecturer in Medieval English (1946–48). He and Tolkien jointly conducted a seminar on Middle English during Hilary Term 1948. Later that year, McIntosh moved to Edinburgh University as the first Forbes Professor of English Language and General Linguistics. Later he became a principal founder of the Edinburgh schools of epistemics (informatics) and Scottish studies. He retired from his chair in 1979.
Among many works in which McIntosh was involved were the Linguistic Survey of Scotland, the Middle English Dialect Project, A Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue, the Scottish National Dictionary, the Linguistic Atlas of Late MediƦval English, and the Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics. He was also active with the Scottish Text Society and the Early English Text Society.
Tolkien and McIntosh continued to see each other from time to time, in Oxford and Edinburgh. In 1962, McIntosh contributed an essay, ‘The Textual Transmission of the Alliterative Morte Arthure’, to the festschrift*English and Medieval Studies Presented to J.R.R. Tolkien on the Occasion of His Seventieth Birthday.


Comment: Why does Warnie, a most sensitive and kind man, refer to Tolkien as 'most unfortunate'? From his other journal references, I think it refers partly to Tolkien's marriage and domestic situation - as understood and evaluated from Warnie's perspective (who loved nothing better than a life of calmness and quietness, preferably with his brother); and partly to Tolkien seeming to have have a lot of misfortunes and unpleasant duties in his life.


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