Senior quidam

Archive Home > The Books
Kirinki54 28/Dec/2006 at 02:01 PM
Librarian of Imladris Points: 2897 Posts: 1354 Joined: 17/Nov/2005

In “The Transactions of the Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion.Session 1923-24”, there is an essay by W. Rhys Roberts called ‘Gerald of Wales on the Survival of Welsh’. This contains a translation by Tolkien of a portion of a Latin text into late twelfth century English of the South West Midlands, and it also notes a suggestion by him on the significance of ‘senior quidam’. (Source: An Illustrated Tolkien Bibliography


As this page is run by a friend of geordie, perhaps he – or someone else – can explain what a ‘senior quidam’ is?

geordie 28/Dec/2006 at 03:04 PM
Hugo Bracegirdle Points: 20570 Posts: 14087 Joined: 06/Mar/2005
Glad to!      [though I don’t know a thing about it myself; I’ll be happy to quote from someone who does know - Douglas A. Anderson].

The Latin text concerns Gerald’s view of the survival of Wales and the Welsh language - a subject of great interest to Tolkien - and contains a prophecy of sorts, made ’during a military expedtion into Wales by the English king, Henry II in 1163. An old man living in Pendacar... who had joined the King’s forces against his own people, because of their evil way of life, was asked what he thought of the royal army... and what he thought the outcome of the war would be. ’My Lord King’ he replied, ’this nation may now be harassed, weakened and decimated by your soldiery, as it often has by others in former times; but it will never be totally destroyed by the wrath of man, unless at the same time it is punished by the wrath of God. Whatever else may come to pass, I do not think that on the Day of Direst Judgement any race other than Welsh, or any other language, will give answer to the Supreme Judge of all for this small corner of the earth’
[Gerald of Wales, trans. Lewis Thorpe]

[from JRR Tolkien and W.Rhys Roberts by Douglas A. Anderson in Tolkien Studies: An Annual Scholarly Review Vol.II, 2005 ed. Douglas Anderson; Michael Drout; Verlyn Flieger, West Virginia University Press .

Doug’s article concerns the recent discovery of a previously unknown piece of Tolkien’s academic work; being as Kirinki says, a translation into the West Midland Middle English dialect of that prophecy, originally in Latin.

It’s a very interesting article, in which Doug points out: ’Roberts added a footnote to Tolkien’s version as follows: Professor Tolkien suggests that ’senior quidam’ may be the Welsh henddyn, the typical wise old man; and, following MorrisJones’ _Welsh Grammar_... he would identify with _henddyn_ the _Hending_ who is represented as the author of a collection of traditional proverbial wisdom in South-West Midland Middle English, each proverb ending with ’quoth Hending’.

So there you go. To Tolkien, the Latin term ’senior quidam’ in this context may have meant ’henddyn’ in Welsh - that is, a wise old man.    
Boromir88 28/Dec/2006 at 03:04 PM
Merchant of Minas Tirith Points: 3627 Posts: 2473 Joined: 24/Mar/2005

From 1920-25 Tolkien taught at the University at Leeds and one of his colleagues was William Rhys Roberts who was the Professor of Classics at the University until from 1904 until his retirement in 1923.  Before he retired Roberts read this paper, and tried to present it to the ’Transactions of the Honourable Society Cymmrodorion.  Session 1923-24.  He never got to present the paper to the Society, however it still does appear in thransactions you noted.  That’s just perhaps a little background info you might find interesting.

Anyway, a ’senior quidam’ is simply an older person...senior meaning older (perhaps wise you could use to), and quidam is a certain person.  So, an older person.  Tolkien suggests that senior quidam were the welsh heddyn...or an old/wise man.  Perhaps some more knowledgeable person on the Welsh can explain more, that’s just the basic stuff.  Hope it helps.

Boromir88 28/Dec/2006 at 03:07 PM
Merchant of Minas Tirith Points: 3627 Posts: 2473 Joined: 24/Mar/2005
simul geordie.  Much better explaining it than me. 
halfir 28/Dec/2006 at 03:26 PM
Emeritus Points: 46547 Posts: 43664 Joined: 10/Mar/2002

An excellent and informative series of posts- a delight to read.X( We need more of this on the Plaza, particularly as it establishes the little known fact that Tolkien was involved in so much more than the Legendarium we all know and love.

I would only add one word of caution to those using the site in question. I have found its sponsor -Daeron’s Books- worse than useless in responding to email orders- in fact-they don’t. Not a bookseller I would recommend although their lists often make one salivate- but in vain as they no no longer seem capable of responding to email orders, a sorry change from their earlier capabilites of a year or so ago.

geordie 28/Dec/2006 at 04:47 PM
Hugo Bracegirdle Points: 20570 Posts: 14087 Joined: 06/Mar/2005
A follow-up, if I may - I’ve just scanned through a copy of the original article by Rhys Roberts, and it contains some interesting stuff [to me. ]

The main thrust of the paper is philological; and naturally, this would have been in itself enough to whet Tolkien’s appetite. Another reason would be one of the major questions in Rhys Roberts’ eyes - that is, the meaning of the words ’senior quidam’. Rhys Roberts, himself a Welshman; and former Professor of Classics at Leeds University, was intrigued, it seems. Hence the paper.

The original Latin has its ’doubtful points’ as Rhys Roberts points out; and several clauses are ambiguous. In a footnote, the professor states that ’though trained in Latin rhetoric at the University of Paris, Gerald cannot be said to attain that unambiguous clearness which Aristotle, in his _Rhetoric_, enjoins as the foremost virtue of style.’

mind you, who does? - Rhys Roberts goes on to say:

’Nor is Aristotle himself, in the form in which he has come down to us, always lucid’.

So there!

I said at the beginning of this ramble that the main thrust of Rhys Roberts’ paper was philological - and there’s one other reason why Tolkien would have been interested in this article. For Gerald of Wales; or Giraldus Cambrensis, has been described as ’the father of Comparative Philology’. Here’s something from another of Tolkien’s friends; Professor R.W. Chambers: a report by an unnamed correspondent in _Transactions of the Philological Society 1934_ on Prof. Chambers’ paper ’Some Great Philologists of the Past’. [[read before the Society, 4th May 1934].

’Professor Chambers, in his Presidential Address, began with Giraldus Cambrensis, who had been declared by Edward Freeman to be the father of Comparative Philology... Giraldus was led to his researches by learning of the similarity of Greek to the languages of the fairies, and went on to discover a number of striking parallels between Welsh and the Classical languages... ’

Of course, Tolkien had something to say himself on Welsh, or, The Language of the fairies [or the Language of Heaven, as some would have it . ]

In his [magnificent]lecture _English and Welsh_, delivered as the first of a series of O’Donnell lectures in the Examinations Schools in Oxford [5.00pm, 21st October 1955] - Tolkien begins with an apology for his dilatoriness, but pleads in mitigation that

’...the years 1953 to 1955 have for me been filled with a great many tasks, and their burden has not been decreased by the long-delayed appearance of a large ’work’, if it can be called that, which contains, in the way of presentation that I find most natural, much of what I personally have received from the study of things Celtic’.
[Angles and Britons; University of Wales Press 1963, p.1]

[The Return of the King had just been published the day before; on 20th October, thus concluding the publication of The Lord of the Rings, after keeping its loyal readership on tenterhooks for _thirteen Months_ after the pub. of TT. ’Frodo was alive, but taken by the Enemy’. Remember?   

Anyway - this lecture contains much to delight; eg it’s where this lovely quote comes from: ’Most English-speaking people... will admit that _cellar door_ is beautiful, especially if dissociated from its sense [and from its spelling]. More beautiful than, say, _sky_, and certainly more beautiful than _beautiful_. Well then, in Welsh for me _cellar doors_ are extraordinarily frequent’.
[Ibid, p.36.]

And this - ’The fluidity of Greek, punctuated by hardness, and with its surface glitter, captivated me... I tried to invent a language that would embody the Greekness of Greek’.
[Ibid: p.37]

Not to mention Joe Wright’s gruff Yorkshire advice to Tolkien: ’Go in for Celtic, lad; there’s money in it!’

But here’s one I had’nt seen before, in biographies of Tolkien:

’Languages are the chief distinguishing marks of peoples. No people in fact comes into being until it speaks a language of its own; let the languages perish and the peoples perish too, or become different peoples...’

Here, Tolkien is quoting a little-known Icelander of the 19th century, Sjera Tomas Saemundasson. Tolkien goes on: ’He had, of course, primarily in mind the the part played by the cultivated Iclandic language... in keeping the Icelanders in being in desperate times. But the words might as well apply to the Welsh of Wales...’
[Ibid, p.6]

And if I might add - the same might as well apply to the denizens of Tolkien’s Middle-earth.

geordie 28/Dec/2006 at 04:56 PM
Hugo Bracegirdle Points: 20570 Posts: 14087 Joined: 06/Mar/2005
Coo - several other esteemed posters have answered while I was reading up [from me collection ] - and then writing the above. Thanks, Boromir

Thanks for your kind words too, halfir - I fear that to some extent I must agree with you about the site sponsors [also friends of mine]. But in fairness, I must say I’ve never had too much trouble, and they’ve let me have some damn fine stuff over the years, at very reasonable prices. As for the site itself; I find it impeccable. Really. It’s run by a mate of mine in the TS. You know I keep saying my knowledge of things Tolkienian is average? well, this is one of the guys I look up to!

[his collection makes me green with envy too, as it happens, but that’s another matter!]

Kirinki54 29/Dec/2006 at 03:14 AM
Librarian of Imladris Points: 2897 Posts: 1354 Joined: 17/Nov/2005

Thank you very much for your contributions! Very elucidating...

Funny with Freeman (above via Chambers) naming Gerald the "father of comparative philology" so many hundred years before Sir William Jones. I never knew that. Funny also how the smallest threads reveal great webs - in the right hands...

geordie 29/Dec/2006 at 04:50 AM
Hugo Bracegirdle Points: 20570 Posts: 14087 Joined: 06/Mar/2005
Funny with Freeman (above via Chambers) naming Gerald the "father of comparative philology" so many hundred years before Sir William Jones.

Ah! yes. I get the feeling [and bear in mind that I am am ignoramus when it comes to languages and their study] that Prof. Chambers might, like Tolkien in his lecture, have had his tongue in cheek. Though it is apprently a fact that Freeman did say this of Giraldus Cambrensis].

Immediately after saying, Giraldus was led to his researches by learning of the similarity of Greek to the languages of the fairies, and went on to discover a number of striking parallels between Welsh and the Classical languages... ’   Chambers goes on to say ’.. even noticing that one word ’salt’ [sal, sel, hal etc] was found in seven languages - or eight, if we include the fairy tongue’.

Well maybe, like Tolkien, Chambers knew his audience!

Of course, Chambers went on to discuss other philologists of the past [hence the title] and naturally, Sir William Jones is there. Achieved a lot in his brief 49 years, did Sir William.

But it is to Alexander Hamilton that Chambers gave most attention, and the most credit, it seems. Hamilton, a former official of the East India Company, came to the attention of the philological world with an article in The Edinburgh Review of Jan. 1809. An article which was, says Chambers, ’remarkable for its common-sense, its author admitted that he was no philologer, and was working solely from the knowledg he possessed of "Sanscrit, Latin, German, and the modern language of Persia".’

Now Hamilton, says Chambers, taught Sanskrit to Friedrich Schlegel in Paris [where Hamilton was interned] during the years 1803-4, and is likely to have inspired a good deal of Schelegel’s Uber de Sprache und Wiesheit der Indier, the instantaneous and lasting effect of which is well known. Shlegel began with the statement that the Sanskrit, Persian, Latin, Greek and Germanic languages all belong to the same family. It is extremely unlikely that Schlegel first suggested the linguistic relationships to Hamilton, but there is every reason for believing that Hamilton, familiar as he was with the work of Sir William Jones and the other English scholars, pointed out the relationship to Schlegel... Had it not been for Hamilton’s presence in Paris, Shlegel’s progress in Eastern languages and his realization of their intimate connection with the Western group would have been much more difficult, perhaps impossible. Hamilton therefore might therefore claim his modest and legitimate share among the originators of the modern science of comparitive philology’.

Chambers went on to speak ’very briely of the work of Rask, Grimm, and Bopp’     

There you are - one man’s opinion of the comparative worth of the works of three philologists of the past. And it’s an opinion worth noting; as well as being President of the Philological Society at the time [that is, the body which inaugurated and saw through to publication of the Oxford English Dictionary over a period of 75 years (!) - Chambers was also an old mate of Tolkien’s; he’d been offered the Chair of Anglo-Saxon in Oxford in 1925 but turned it down, leaving the field clear for Sisam and Tolkien. As we all know, Tolkien won.

Kirinki54 31/Dec/2006 at 03:13 AM
Librarian of Imladris Points: 2897 Posts: 1354 Joined: 17/Nov/2005

OK, another interesting post!

Sorry for being obtuse but was the senior quidam in question just a one-time occurrance (suggested by Tolkien to be this hendyn) or was it some sort of literary device, used in other texts as well?

BTW it would really be interesting to see any of these proverbs "quoth Hending" - anyone seen them?

geordie 01/Jan/2007 at 01:24 PM
Hugo Bracegirdle Points: 20570 Posts: 14087 Joined: 06/Mar/2005
was the senior quidam in question just a one-time occurrance (suggested by Tolkien to be this hendyn) or was it some sort of literary device, used in other texts as well?

I don’t know - Rhys Roberts spends some time in his essay looking at the meaning of the word ’senior’ - for example, he decides it does not imply ’seignur’ - and says that if it were originally in Welsh, for example, it would mean ’lord’. But this is a complex philological argument; too long and to complex for me.

As for the ’quoth Hending’ - Anderson, being a consummate scholar, has this to say:

The Proverbs of Hending... survive in three main versions, found in one 13th c. and two 14th c. manuscripts, though they were probably first written in the mid-13th c. Hending’s proverbs are notably more worldly and bitter than those in other Middle English collections. As ’The Proverbs of Hending’ they were first printed in volume one of Thomas Wright and James Orchard Halliwell’s ’Reliquae Antiquae: Scraps from Ancient Manuscripts Illustrating Chiefly Early English Literature and the English Language’ [1841]... A translation into modern English by Jessie L.Weston appeared in her anthology ’The Chief Middle English Poets: Selected Poems -1914]

[Tolkien Studies Vol.II 2005, p.234]