środa, 17 kwietnia 2019

Previously unknown letter by J. R. R. Tolkien
on his ancestor from Poland! (1951)

© The Tolkien Estate Limited 2019

[I may leave the text of the letter on my website as long as I add the copyright notice “© The Tolkien Estate Limited 2019” – according to a letter from Mrs Cathleen Blackburn from 25 Apr 2019]



I am not a German, though my surname is German
(anglicized like Cerdic) – my other names are Hebrew,
Norse, Greek, and French. I have inherited with
my surname nothing that originally belonged to it
in language or culture, and after 200 years the 'blood'
of Saxony and Poland is probably a negligible physical ingredient.


Tolkien in his essay "English and Welsh" (1955)
in The Monsters and the Critics

 
An original document naming James Tolkien as a surgeon for a Canadian regiment
(sent to me by Mrs Charlaine E. Tolkien). About James Tolkien I wrote here

Yesterday I received this message on Ancestry.co.uk from Mrs Charlaine Evelyn Tolkien from Minnesota, USA:
Daniel Gottlieb Tolkien is my 3rd G Grandfather [great-great-great-grandfather] and I see that you are doing research on the Tolkien family. His son, James, came to Canada with the Royal Navy in 1835, married there and my ancestors eventually migrated to South Dakota where my father, Cuthbert Embury Tolkien, grew up.

I am always asked about my relationship to JRR Tolkien – and there are so few Tolkiens that there must be a connection.

I did visit Priscilla many years ago in Oxford and she greeted me "Welcome cousin!"

Do you have any insight into this question? Also I will be in London in September so I would like to visit the "Tolkien sites" that I see referenced in your tree.

Thank you for any help you can provide. Sincerely,

Charlaine Tolkien
I answered explaining that I have reconstructed the history of the male ancestors of J. R. R. Tolkien up to the 17th century and that I have many clues who were his (and Mrs Tolkien's) ancestors even in the 13th-16th c. I also provided my friend with my text on the genealogy of American Tolkiens (see here). Mrs Charlaine Tolkien wrote to me quickly:
I do have one document you would enjoy: my grandmother Florence wrote to J.R.R.T. after finding The Hobbit in a library. My grandfather (Charles Embury Tolkien) was born in Canada and his father died when he was an infant. His mother moved with her children to South Dakota to live near her sister. I suspect that Florence was curious about her husband's family in England. J.R.R.T. had a lot to say about the family's history as he knew it. The original letter is believed to be lost, but I have a transcription. I can email it.

The only "heirloom" is an original document naming James Tolkien as the Surgeon for a Canadian regiment. My cousin has it and I have a photo. That was a key to my getting my Tolkien ancestry back to England.

May I ask if you live in Poland. I have been there just once on a tour of east Europe. I was so struck by the spirit and optimism of the people I meant. And that was before I knew I had an ancestral connection there!

Again, thank you. I also hope and intend to keep in contact.
And imagine that my new pen friend has sent the text of Tolkien's unpublished letter to me with the permission of the publication on my Tolknięty blog! So here it is. Charlaine Tolkien, thank you so much for this exciting information!

[Transcription of a letter from J.R.R. Tolkien to Florence Tolkien; the original is believed to be lost. Florence had hand-written a copy of the letter which survives. This was typed by Charlaine Tolkien.]



Merton College
Tele. 2259 – Oxford
Friday,
March 30, 1951


Dear Mrs. Tolkien,

Thank you for your most interesting letter postmarked March 20, and received by me on Wednesday last.

I should say that it is practically certain that we are related (probably third cousins) for reasons that will appear later. I should be most grateful for any more information that you could supply about your husband’s branch (with, if possible – dates – or approximate dates of birth). My son, Michael, is specially interested in the family’s history; but we have alas! taken it up too late when most of the tradition has perished, and only the expenditure of more time and money than we can afford would discover much more – and two catastrophes of war have no doubt made much undiscoverable forever. (Leipzig [for instance] was badly smashed; it is now inaccessible.) Owing to my father’s death in Africa when I was 4 (1896) I was brought up by my mother’s family, and the chief repositories of tradition and history (my father’s sisters) were allowed to die without setting down what they knew.

The for certainty of our relationship is based on the following points: (1) Your tradition that your branch derives from a man of English nationality; (2) the spelling (as you note) (3) the fact that I had heard that there was a noval branch settled in Plymouth, and of an emigration to America from that source. (1) As far as we know the only German of the name that emigrated to England is our own; while (3) the spelling Tolkien was adopted only by our family (probably by my great grandfather,) a measure of anglicization – the former German spelling being TOL(l)KIEhN. (As such it is only a form of the German adjective tollkiehn “rash”; but very many German surnames are uncomplimentary.)

The family, according to tradition, was one of minor nobility from Saxony (Leipzig). The name also passed into Poland, (probably at the time of the union of the crowns of Poland and Saxony) and suffered under Prussian aggression. After the Prussian invasion (of 1746 or thereabouts) our immediate ancestors escaped (though one at least of his family had been executed for resistance) and losing all his property fled to England, with a son, then a young child. The émigré’s appear very quickly to have become very ‘British’ to have abandoned German, retaining only a dislike of Prussia (which indeed endured long in Saxony!)

The emigrant family seems originally to have resided in London, but my grandfather moved to Birmingham. In German manner, music and craftsmanship have been their chief works – though there is a ‘sea-strain’ (probably coming in from English marriages). My oldest uncle was a sailor. But they turned their hands to clocks and pianos. One still sees Tolkien (Henry Tolkien) on old grandfather clocks and Tolkien pianos were once renowned, especially J.B. Tolkien pianos made by my grandfather. He was once a wealthy man, but not one of business and a rigidly religious Baptist and would not deal with music halls or theatres. He was a dear old and poor man in the nineties when I knew him.

The accompanying table will show what little else I at present know, and the manner of our relationship as I guess it. Though I may add two additional points: The tradition that the eldest son was always called Johann or John which returned to me because my eldest uncle John Tolkien the sailor had no sons; and he had tradition of the family arms. The latter was said to be or have been – a blue shield with two gold chevrons and 5 gold stars three above and 2 below. The crest a half-griffin. I do not describe them in technical heraldic language as they are uncertain (and German in any case). The crest is given from an impression of my father’s seal; The motto is said to have been ‘Fest und Treu.’

Though the family has thus been English for 200 years it does not seem to have become widespread. The name is never to be met with – or hardly ever in directories or telephone books! and when I have come across it on occasion the owner has always turned out to be a fairly close relative.

As for myself, I was born in Bloemfontein Orange Free State, 1892; but as a sickly child wilting in the heat was sent back with my mother and infant brother to Birmingham in 1895, and my father died of a neglected fever in my mother’s absence, in 1896. He thus at any rate escaped the horrible Boer War which broke out soon after. I myself lived in Birmingham until 1911, and after serving through the 1914 war till 1918. I have lived most of the time here in Oxford; as an undergraduate 1911-1914 and as a ‘don’ 1919-20 – and in 1925 to the present. (I was 5 years in the University of Leeds.) I have been since 1945 the Merton Professor of English Language and Literature in Oxford, after being for 19 years the Professor of Anglo-Saxon. I have been a very unprolific author as I have spent most of my time in reading and organizing. I will not trouble you with technical matters (mediaeval and philological). The Hobbit, written 20 years ago and published in 1937, has brought in a little fame. It is published by Houghton-Mifflin of 2 Park Street, Boston, who also deal with a smaller story called Farmer Giles of Ham. I have to write to them soon, and I will take the liberty of asking them to send you copies.

I hope that you will not find these details tedious. I will send your letter to my son, Michael, who will be interested. On our side we shall not be bored by any amount of family data. We have other relatives in the States; a cousin of my wife called Herdman, who emigrated to Texas. His son called on us when he was over here with the U. S. forces.

With every good wish to you and your husband and children.
Yours sincerely,

J. R. R. Tolkien

P.S. My oldest and closest friend is far more prolific – He is C. S. Lewis, whose fame appears to be widespread.
© The Tolkien Estate Limited 2019 

_____________________________
 
My commentary: It is the longest known description of J. R. R. Tolkien's knowledge about his paternal roots. Unfortunately the Professor's data are mainly false:

(1) "while (...) the spelling Tolkien was adopted only by our family (probably by my great grandfather,) a measure of anglicization – the former German spelling being TOL(l)KIEhN. (As such it is only a form of the German adjective tollkiehn “rash”; but very many German surnames are uncomplimentary.)" – the form Tolkien was used earlier, before the imigration from Gdańsk/Danzig in Polish Prussia to England. We find it in Gdańsk, we find it even in Kingdom of Prussia where J. R. R. Tolkien's ancestors lived before they moved to Gdańsk before 1740. This form was used paralelly with the forms Tolckien, Tolkiehn, Tollkühn and Tollkien. The oldest form of this family name was Tolkyn and Tolkin (13th-15th centuries). In spite it was associated with the meaning 'rash-bold' even in Middle Ages (first Tolkien in Prussia, an interpreter Heinrich from Warmia in the 13th-14th c. was called Tolkin and in the same time Lutmod – both words can be interpreted as 'rashbold') it was in fact a variant of the family name Tolk of Old Prussian (Baltic language) etymology: 'translator, interpreter' (tolk), 'descendant of a tolk' (tolkin). 

(2) "The family, according to tradition, was one of minor nobility from Saxony (Leipzig). The name also passed into Poland, (probably at the time of the union of the crowns of Poland and Saxony) and suffered under Prussian aggression. After the Prussian invasion (of 1746 or thereabouts) our immediate ancestors escaped (though one at least of his family had been executed for resistance) and losing all his property fled to England, with a son, then a young child. The émigré’s appear very quickly to have become very ‘British’ to have abandoned German, retaining only a dislike of Prussia (which indeed endured long in Saxony!)"according to my research Tolkiens were minor nobility from Teutonic Prussia and earlier (in the 13th century) from Wernigerode in Saxony. No Leipzig Tolkiens in the sources (between Wernigerode in Saxony and Leipzig there is about 150 km)! The ancestor of J. R. R. Tolkien, Christian Tolkien (1706, Kreuzburg – 1791, Gdańsk), came from Kingdom of Prussia to Poland (in fact to Gdańsk/Danzig in Polish Prussia) after 1724 and before 1740, in fact "at the time of the union of the crowns of Poland and Saxony" and he really "suffered under Prussian aggression" (1770-1773). His son, Daniel Gottlieb Tolkien (1746–1813) escaped to England with his younger brother (not with a son!), Johann Benjamin Tolkien (1752–1819) in the years 1766–1770. I don't know any member of the family who was executed by the Prussians (in fact the Tolkiens were Prussians!). From this letter we may assume that Professor Tolkien knew that his ancestor came to London from Poland suffering under Prussian aggression. Why Leipzig in Saxony? Maybe Professor Tolkien thought his ancestors were called Tolkiehn and came from Saxon Leipzig because he knew books by Prof. Johannes Tolkiehn, a Classical pholologist, which were published in Leipzig? German Prof. Johannes Tolkiehn was in fact distant cousin of Prof. J. R. R. Tolkien - they had common ancestors in East Prussian town Kreuzburg.

Dr. Johannes Tolkiehn from Koenigsberg, East Prussia. Book published in Leipzig.
Tolkiehn and Leipzig – maybe this is why Prof. Tolkien wrote about Leipzig Tolkiens?
And remember this fragment from Tolkien in his essay "English and Welsh" (1955) in The Monsters and the Critics:
I am not a German, though my surname is German (anglicized like Cerdic) – my other names are Hebrew, Norse, Greek, and French. I have inherited with my surname nothing that originally belonged to it in language or culture, and after 200 years the 'blood' of Saxony and Poland is probably a negligible physical ingredient.

(3) "The emigrant family seems originally to have resided in London, but my grandfather moved to Birmingham. In German manner, music and craftsmanship have been their chief works – though there is a ‘sea-strain’ (probably coming in from English marriages). My oldest uncle was a sailor. But they turned their hands to clocks and pianos. One still sees Tolkien (Henry Tolkien) on old grandfather clocks and Tolkien pianos were once renowned, especially J.B. Tolkien pianos made by my grandfather. He was once a wealthy man, but not one of business and a rigidly religious Baptist and would not deal with music halls or theatres. He was a dear old and poor man in the nineties when I knew him." – it seems J. R. R. Tolkien didn't know about his great-great-grandfather Johann (John) Benjamin Tolkien who was born in Gdańsk and who in London was a clock- and watchmaker. This early John Benjamin Tolkien is buried at Bunhill Fields cemetery in London (he was a Calvinistic Methodist). The Professor probably didn't know about this grave. The Tolkiens in England were probably not Baptist but Independents. Charlaine Tolkien's ancestors were Wesleyan Methodist. The Professor's great-grandfather, George Tolkien (1784–1840) was a bass singer in Drury Lane Company and took part in some London music halls! One of the Tolkiens from the Professor's branch was even a clown!

(4) "The accompanying table will show what little else I at present know, and the manner of our relationship as I guess it. Though I may add two additional points: The tradition that the eldest son was always called Johann or John which returned to me because my eldest uncle John Tolkien the sailor had no sons; and he had tradition of the family arms. The latter was said to be or have been – a blue shield with two gold chevrons and 5 gold stars three above and 2 below. The crest a half-griffin. I do not describe them in technical heraldic language as they are uncertain (and German in any case). The crest is given from an impression of my father’s seal; The motto is said to have been ‘Fest und Treu.’" – the Johann/John tradition belonged only to the descendants of the younger brother from Gdańsk, to Johann Benjamin Tolkien's (1752–1819) branch. J. R. R. Tolkien's uncle, John Benjamin Tolkien (IV, 1845–1883) had only one daughter, Beatrice Emily Louise Tolkien (1868–1935). The Tolkien family arms were different from these described by the Professor (we know it from the documents from the 13th-16th century documents, and probably even from one from 1761 in Gdańsk (see here). They were as follows (Fest und Treu sounds great but is probably a false motto):

The Tolk/Tolkien coat-of-arms from Prussia
(this is my shield made by Robert Wenta in 2019)


"Two white vertical and standing opposite jaws of a pike on a red background.
Helmet with two red wings of a vupture and with the charge"

Our graphic designer, Nimwen haa tried to make a drawing of the arms depicted by Tolkien:



The topic of this symbol very interesting and I believe there is a lot to discover in the matter of the Ring belonging to the Tolkiens!

(5) "Though the family has thus been English for 200 years it does not seem to have become widespread. The name is never to be met with – or hardly ever in directories or telephone books! and when I have come across it on occasion the owner has always turned out to be a fairly close relative." The family has been English but its relatives (the Tolkiens, Tollkiehns and Tollkühns) still lived in East Prussia up to 1945. They even took part in the Great War as German soldiers. Luckily the family is not very widespread and the family name is unique – thanks to this I could find the links between all main branches of the Tolkien family in Prussia, Poland, Germany, England, Canada and the USA.

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