Latin, Greek, Anglo-Saxon & Gothic... Welsh and Finnish

Yes, it's JRRT at the back holding on to the tree.  Exeter College, Oxford students in June 1914.  Within 4 years many of these young men would be dead.  I hope you will not mind a personal comment from me, "What a waste."

I am afraid this is becoming a dreadful bore, and going on too long, at any rate longer than 'this contemptible person before you' merits. But it is difficult to stop once roused on such an absorbing topic to oneself as oneself. As for the conditioning: I am chiefly aware of the linguistic conditioning. I went to King Edward's School and spent most of my time learning Latin and Greek; but I also learned English. Not English Literature! Except Shakespeare (which I disliked cordially), the chief contacts with poetry were when one was made to try and translate it into Latin. Not a bad mode of introduction, if a bit casual. I mean something of the English language and its history. I learned Anglo-Saxon at school (also Gothic, but that was an accident quite unconnected with the curriculum though decisive — I discovered in it not only modern historical philology, which appealed to the historical and scientific side, but for the first time the study of a language out of mere love: I mean for the acute aesthetic pleasure derived from a language for its own sake, not only free from being useful but free even from being the 'vehicle of a literature').

There are two strands, or three. A fascination that Welsh names had for me, even if only seen on coal-trucks, from childhood is another; though people only gave me books that were incomprehensible to a child when I asked for information. I did not learn any Welsh till I was an undergraduate, and found in it an abiding linguistic-aesthetic satisfaction. Spanish was another: my guardian was half Spanish, and in my early teens I used to pinch his books and try to learn it : the only Romance language that gives me the particular pleasure of which I am speaking - it is not quite the same as the mere perception of beauty: I feel the beauty of say Italian or for that matter of modern English (which is very remote from my personal taste): it is more like the appetite for a needed food. Most important, perhaps, after Gothic was the discovery in Exeter College library, when I was supposed to be reading for Honour Mods, of a Finnish Grammar. It was like discovering a complete wine-cellar filled with bottles of an amazing wine of a kind and flavour never tasted before. It quite intoxicated me; and I gave up the attempt to invent an 'unrecorded' Germanic language, and my 'own language' – or series of invented languages – became heavily Finnicized in phonetic pattern and structure.

The Letters of J.R.R. Tokien
7 June 1955 (To W.H. Auden)

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