The section of the Wikipedia article about J. R. R. Tolkien that discusses the author's youth contains the following paragraph (emphasis mine):

In 1911, while they were at King Edward's School, Tolkien and three friends, Rob Gilson, Geoffrey Bache Smith, and Christopher Wiseman, formed a semi-secret society they called the T.C.B.S. The initials stood for Tea Club and Barrovian Society, alluding to their fondness for drinking tea in Barrow's Stores near the school and, secretly, in the school library.[26][27] After leaving school, the members stayed in touch and, in December 1914, they held a council in London at Wiseman's home. For Tolkien, the result of this meeting was a strong dedication to writing poetry.[citation needed]

Is there any evidence for this claim? Wikipedia mentions a poem that Tolkien wrote during World War 1, i.e. "The Lonely Isle", but I assume that the aforementioned "strong dedication" would have led to the composition of poetry before the war.

1 Answer 1


The sentence from Wikipedia is a fair summary of the following passage from Carpenter:

At the beginning of the Christmas vacation of 1914 he [Tolkien] travelled to London to attend a gathering of the T.C.B.S. Christopher Wiseman’s family had moved south, and at their Wandsworth house there assembled all four members of the ‘club’: Tolkien, Wiseman, R[obert] Q[uilter] Gilson, and G[eoffrey] B[ache] Smith. They spent the weekend chiefly in sitting around the gas fire in the little upstairs room, smoking their pipes and talking. As Wiseman said, they felt ‘four times the intellectual size’ when they were together.

It was curious how they had gone on meeting and writing to each other, this little group of school-friends. But they had begun to hope that together they might achieve something of value. Tolkien once compared them to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, but the others scoffed at the idea. Yet they did feel that in some way they were destined to kindle a new light. Perhaps it was no more than the last spark of childhood ambition before it was snuffed out by experience of the world, but for Tolkien at least it had an important and practical result. He decided that he was a poet.

Afterwards he explained that this T.C.B.S. meeting late in 1914 had helped him to find ‘a voice for all kind of pent up things’, adding: ‘I have always laid that to the credit of the inspiration that even a few hours with the four brought to us.’

Immediately following the weekend in London he began to write poems. They were in general not very remarkable, and certainly they were not always economical in their use of words.

Humphrey Carpenter (1977). Tolkien: A Biography, p. 73. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Note that the meeting was in December 1914, and so could not have led to the composition of poetry before the war, which had started in August.

Carpenter quotes some lines from ‘Sea Chant of an Elder Day’, written on 4th December 1914, and from a few other early poems. From this period comes ‘Goblin Feet’, published in Oxford Poetry, 1915, ‘The Man in the Moon Came Down Too Soon’, later included in The Adventures of Tom Bombadil (1962), and love poetry addressed to Edith Bratt.

  • The lines Carpenter quotes from ‘Sea Chant of an Elder Day’ do seem to combine "the lesser virtues of an Old Father Goose and a pale and chaste Algernon Charles Swinburne" as Catharine Stimpson rather unkindly put it (J. R. R. Tolkien, 1969, p. 41). Commented Dec 20, 2022 at 14:48

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