Christies Valuable Books and Manuscripts 12 July 2023

Three letters available for auction at Christie's. All to Michael Bell.

Lot 92

Lot 93.jpg

TOLKIEN, John Ronald Reuel (1892-1973)
Autograph letter signed ('JRR Tolkien') to Michael Bell, [Oxford] 'c/o Messrs Allen and Unwin, 40 Museum Street', 14 January 1969.
Three pages, 177 x 135mm. Envelope. Provenance: by descent from the recipient.

'I am a hoarder far excelling the usual norm, almost in the dragon-class'; Tolkien returns a poem to a correspondent after many years, pausing to reflect on the grief of lost works, his love of verse and remaining sanguine in the face of literary criticism. Thirteen years ago, Tolkien begins, his correspondent wrote him a letter, enclosing a poem, but 'I was at that time (1956) not only immersed in correspondence about The Lord of the Rings, but also a busy college official, and university administrator (as well as a mere professor)' and committed 'the offence against gratitude and courtesy' of failing to reply; 'the trouble with "hoards"', he explains, 'is that they become quickly useless as one cannot find anything that one wants - without spending all one's time filing and cataloguing' and much of his correspondence before 1963 was never dealt with. Now, recently retired from Oxford and recuperating from an accident, 'I have unearthed from the lower layers much treasure and many neglects that now grieve me - too late'. Tolkien writes in the hope that Michael Bell's address remains the same, so that he might return the verses: 'If I had written it, I should grieve at its loss, even if I did not wish to publish it (I have lost a number of things in a similar way, and feel the loss)'. 'After some thirteen years in which I have been deluged with criticism - much of it contemptuous though I endeavour neither to resent, nor to be depressed, by it, as well as to remain 'unpuffed-up' by the opposite', kind words about his poetry elicit a sincere vote of thanks: 'My verse has been (even by admirers) usually the target of dispraise. I like it not so much because I wrote it, as because I like that kind (or those kinds) of verse and am amazed to find others that still do so too'.

The critical reception of Tolkien's literary work, including The Lord of the Rings, was often sharply divided, a fact to which he makes rueful reference here. In the wake of the enormous success of his most famous books, published between 1954 and 1955, his minor works of fiction, the translations, his early poems, and some academic essays were now eagerly published or republished, but he brought out no further major work. He retired as Merton chair of English language and literature at Oxford in 1959, but his admirers continued to seek him out: he cancels the printed Oxford address header here, noting 'I am in hiding from the Press etc.'.

Estimate £5,000-£8,000
Sold for GBP 5,292

Lot 93

TOLKIEN, John Ronald Reuel (1892-1973)
Autograph letter signed ('JRR Tolkien') to Michael Bell, [Poole], 25 January 1969.
Two pages, 227 x 177mm (left-hand margin a little cockled). Envelope, postmarked 'Bournemouth-Poole'. Provenance: by descent from the recipient.

'The Sea of Galilee is rough': on his Catholic faith, the conversion of his friend C.S. Lewis, and ownership of invented Elvish names. Tolkien is delighted and surprised that his letter [lot 92] found Michael Bell so quickly, in spite of the gap in years, 'or I should have missed one of the most comforting and charming letters I have received'. He returns his correspondent's poem - 'I seldom destroy anything (which now creates a great problem for me)' - but retains a copy of the 'charming and moving' verses written by Bell's wife. 'It give[s] me great pleasure to hear that you became a Catholic, though boarding the bark of Peter is not alas! nowadays a trip to a haven of peace. The Sea of Galilee is rough. I myself was as a small boy brought "out of the Land of Egypt" by a young, beautiful, and gifted mother. She died in a few years, largely owing to the poverty and griefs that followed her conversion: the spirit of Ian Paisley was then almost normal. One must take comfort in the calming of the storm (Matthew 8); but it seems plain that the promise that the powers of darkness (Gates of Hell) shall not prevail is given only to that recognized and ordered institution (ecclesia) loyal to the See of Peter. Not, of course, that the free grace of God is withheld from any individual as such. A notable case was that of my dear friend C.S. Lewis, who arrived by degrees at a completely "Catholic" position with regard to Our Lord [...] He was in fact Pope in his own individual Church, and I am sure God accepted him as that'. Turning to Bell's request to name his house after Tolkien's elven valley, he responds gladly: 'As for Rivendell of course you may use the name. I am pleased: though there is in fact no copyright in names (a defect in the law it may seem to we who take particular delight in inventing theirs)', adding that his grand-daughter has done likewise.

Tolkien remained a devout Catholic to the end of his life and was instrumental in the return of his Oxford colleague and close friend, C.S. Lewis, to the Christian fold. In a letter of 2 December 1953 to a Jesuit friend, he even went so far as to insist that although The Lord of the Rings contains no overt reference to Christianity at any point, and very little to religion, it nevertheless remains 'a fundamentally religious and Catholic work'.

[With:] a typed letter signed by an Allen and Unwin press officer to Michael Bell, 40 Museum Street, 23 January 1969, noting that there is 'no copyright in names and I am sure that Professor Tolkien will be delighted to know that you are naming your house "Rivendell"', adding that Tolkien hopes he will be forgiven for not replying personally. One page.

Estimate £3,000-£5,000
No sale price available ... id=DM494094&bid=358423913

Lot 94

TOLKIEN, John Ronald Reuel (1892-1973)
One page, 252 x 202mm. Provenance: by descent from the recipient.

'I congratulate you on managing the metre. C.S. Lewis tried and was totally defeated'. Sending thanks for remembering him again this year [at Christmas] and best wishes to his family.

Lots 92 and 93 show Tolkien engaging with Michael Bell on the subject of poetry, praising the work produced by Bell and his wife. Writing two years later, he mentions again C.S. Lewis; the composition of verse was among the many shared pursuits enjoyed by the two friends.

Estimate £1,000 to £1,500
Sold for GBP 3,276 ... intObjectID=6437971&lid=1