Today is the 50th anniversary of J.R.R Tolkien's Valedictory Address to the University of Oxford, given at the end of his last term as Merton Professor of English Language & Literature. There isn't really much I can say about it, save that it portrays Tolkien's characteristic humility, intelligence...and very dry sense of humour! The audience (the room was filled to capacity) to whom he spoke at 5:00pm in the Hall of Merton College was by no means purely academic or philological. Tolkien entered in full academic dress, shouting Hwæt! (''listen up'') the famous opening words of Beowulf and, as the Oxford Mail reported the next day, ''...the Professor re-fought, with gusto, some of the historic battles of the English Faculty. Even that warlike corner of the learned world has seen few more redoubtable guerrillas, and his resounding denunciation of old errors, alternating with deflating asides, or melodramatic declamation in Anglo-Saxon proved that he takes ample vigour to his retirement.'' (''Tolkien's Farewell,'' p.4).
Truly this was the end of an era for the University of Oxford, and despite what the Oxford Mail reported, Tolkien did not altogether relish the prospect of retirement. As I say, there isn't much to say on this subject, but I shall end this post with a humorous quote from the address. Tolkien began the address thus:
''It might be held characteristic that, though I have occupied two chairs (or sat uneasily on the edge of two chairs) in this university, I have not yet delivered an inaugural lecture: I am now about 34 years behind. At the time of my first election I was too astonished (a feeling that has never quite left me) to gather my wits, until I had already given many ordinary lectures as required by statute, and it seemed to me that an inaugural that would not inaugurate was a ceremony better omitted. On the second occasion, my ineffectiveness as a lecturer was already well known, and well-wishers had made sure (by letter or otherwise) that I should know it too; so I thought it unnecessary to give a special exhibition of this unfortunate defect.'' (J.R.R Tolkien, The Monsters and the Critics and other essays, p.224).
I wonder if Merton College has remembered? It must have been a great privilege to hear that address, and even I, so many years later, am enthralled by the words, but alas! I can only vaguely imagine what it was like.