Tolkien Quote “Touching your cap to the squire may be damn b

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TolkienJRR
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Tolkien Quote “Touching your cap to the squire may be damn b

Post by TolkienJRR »

"Touching your cap to the squire may be damn bad for the squire but it’s damn good for you"


Does anyone know what he meant by this?
Last edited by TolkienJRR on Fri Jan 15, 2021 2:02 am, edited 2 times in total.
“I am in fact a Hobbit (in all but size). I like gardens, trees and unmechanized farmlands; I smoke a pipe, and like good plain food (unrefrigerated), but detest French cooking; I like, and even dare to wear in these dull days, ornamental waistcoats. I am fond of mushrooms (out of a field); have a very simple sense of humour (which even my appreciative critics find tiresome); I go to bed late and get up late.”
-J.R.R Tolkien
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Re: Tolkien Quote “Touching your cap to the squire may be da

Post by elengil »

Not sure what the full quote is, but based on what's visible, I'd say you're asking what 'touching your cap' means? It was sort of a show of deference or respect, sort of like tipping your hat.

But it would help if you posted the full quote lol
The dumbest thing I've ever bought
was a 2020 planner.

"Does anyone ever think about Denethor, the guy driven to madness by staying up late into the night alone in the dark staring at a flickering device he believed revealed unvarnished truth about the outside word, but which in fact showed mostly manipulated media created by a hostile power committed to portraying nothing but bad news framed in the worst possible way in order to sap hope, courage, and the will to go on? Seems like he's someone we should think about." - Dave_LF
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Re: Tolkien Quote “Touching your cap to the squire may be da

Post by Jude »

If you want to hear the quote in context:



The quote is shortly after the nine minute mark.
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Re: Tolkien Quote “Touching your cap to the squire may be da

Post by TolkienJRR »

elengil wrote:Not sure what the full quote is, but based on what's visible, I'd say you're asking what 'touching your cap' means? It was sort of a show of deference or respect, sort of like tipping your hat.

But it would help if you posted the full quote lol

whoops, I did not realize it was cut off.


"Touching your cap to the squire may be damn bad for the squire but it’s damn good for you"
“I am in fact a Hobbit (in all but size). I like gardens, trees and unmechanized farmlands; I smoke a pipe, and like good plain food (unrefrigerated), but detest French cooking; I like, and even dare to wear in these dull days, ornamental waistcoats. I am fond of mushrooms (out of a field); have a very simple sense of humour (which even my appreciative critics find tiresome); I go to bed late and get up late.”
-J.R.R Tolkien
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Re: Tolkien Quote “Touching your cap to the squire may be da

Post by Frelga »

What's a squire, precious?
There should be a word for the microscopic spark of hope that you dare not entertain in case the mere act of acknowledging it will cause it to vanish, like trying to look at a photon. You can only sidle up to it, looking past it, walking past it, waiting for it to get big enough to face the world.
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Re: Tolkien Quote “Touching your cap to the squire may be da

Post by elengil »

Frelga wrote:What's a squire, precious?
In this context, a minor title - "a man of high social standing who owns and lives on an estate in a rural area, especially the chief landowner in such an area."

I'm thinking 'bad' has a different meaning in this context as well. Not negative or detrimental, just nothing that does anything for him. So I think - per Jude's helpful context - Tolkien is reinforcing the idea that being deferential to someone of higher social standing isn't done to help them but to benefit the spirit of the one showing such deference.
The dumbest thing I've ever bought
was a 2020 planner.

"Does anyone ever think about Denethor, the guy driven to madness by staying up late into the night alone in the dark staring at a flickering device he believed revealed unvarnished truth about the outside word, but which in fact showed mostly manipulated media created by a hostile power committed to portraying nothing but bad news framed in the worst possible way in order to sap hope, courage, and the will to go on? Seems like he's someone we should think about." - Dave_LF
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Re: Tolkien Quote “Touching your cap to the squire may be da

Post by Jude »

elengil wrote:So I think - per Jude's helpful context - Tolkien is reinforcing the idea that being deferential to someone of higher social standing isn't done to help them but to benefit the spirit of the one showing such deference.
That's the impression I got, too.
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Re: Tolkien Quote “Touching your cap to the squire may be da

Post by TolkienJRR »

Jude wrote:
elengil wrote:So I think - per Jude's helpful context - Tolkien is reinforcing the idea that being deferential to someone of higher social standing isn't done to help them but to benefit the spirit of the one showing such deference.
That's the impression I got, too.
That was also my thought, but I guess my real question is why is it good to the man who tips his hat?
“I am in fact a Hobbit (in all but size). I like gardens, trees and unmechanized farmlands; I smoke a pipe, and like good plain food (unrefrigerated), but detest French cooking; I like, and even dare to wear in these dull days, ornamental waistcoats. I am fond of mushrooms (out of a field); have a very simple sense of humour (which even my appreciative critics find tiresome); I go to bed late and get up late.”
-J.R.R Tolkien
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Re: Tolkien Quote “Touching your cap to the squire may be da

Post by elengil »

TolkienJRR wrote:
Jude wrote:
elengil wrote:So I think - per Jude's helpful context - Tolkien is reinforcing the idea that being deferential to someone of higher social standing isn't done to help them but to benefit the spirit of the one showing such deference.
That's the impression I got, too.
That was also my thought, but I guess my real question is why is it good to the man who tips his hat?
Perhaps it simply reinforces one's place in the universe. Perhaps to stay humble. To be the kind of person who shows such respect is arguably a better character trait than just to be a person to whom respect is shown. He sounded very much to embrace the principles of feudalism for himself personally, not just in his writing. In that sense, it would be a mark of virtue, no doubt, and to actually be uplifting to the person's spirit to be one who showed deference of that kind. Think of how much virtue he seems to bestow upon Sam for just that kind of personality.
The dumbest thing I've ever bought
was a 2020 planner.

"Does anyone ever think about Denethor, the guy driven to madness by staying up late into the night alone in the dark staring at a flickering device he believed revealed unvarnished truth about the outside word, but which in fact showed mostly manipulated media created by a hostile power committed to portraying nothing but bad news framed in the worst possible way in order to sap hope, courage, and the will to go on? Seems like he's someone we should think about." - Dave_LF
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Re: Tolkien Quote “Touching your cap to the squire may be da

Post by TolkienJRR »

elengil wrote:[

Perhaps it simply reinforces one's place in the universe. Perhaps to stay humble. To be the kind of person who shows such respect is arguably a better character trait than just to be a person to whom respect is shown. He sounded very much to embrace the principles of feudalism for himself personally, not just in his writing. In that sense, it would be a mark of virtue, no doubt, and to actually be uplifting to the person's spirit to be one who showed deference of that kind. Think of how much virtue he seems to bestow upon Sam for just that kind of personality.

thanks for your insight, i like it.
“I am in fact a Hobbit (in all but size). I like gardens, trees and unmechanized farmlands; I smoke a pipe, and like good plain food (unrefrigerated), but detest French cooking; I like, and even dare to wear in these dull days, ornamental waistcoats. I am fond of mushrooms (out of a field); have a very simple sense of humour (which even my appreciative critics find tiresome); I go to bed late and get up late.”
-J.R.R Tolkien
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Re: Tolkien Quote “Touching your cap to the squire may be da

Post by Inanna »

I really have problems with this kind of feudal thinking. I’m more in line with Pratchett’s view that humanity has a major design flaw of a tendency to bend at the knees.
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Re: Tolkien Quote “Touching your cap to the squire may be da

Post by Frelga »

Inanna wrote:I really have problems with this kind of feudal thinking. I’m more in line with Pratchett’s view that humanity has a major design flaw of a tendency to bend at the knees.
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Re: Tolkien Quote “Touching your cap to the squire may be da

Post by elengil »

Inanna wrote:I really have problems with this kind of feudal thinking. I’m more in line with Pratchett’s view that humanity has a major design flaw of a tendency to bend at the knees.
Agreed. Part of my life in the SCA was me reading up on medieval 'knightly' or chivalric virtues. I had major problems just trying to even wrap my head around a couple of them, such as it was literally considered a virtue to be born in the upper classes, or being a virtue to acknowledge and fulfill your role in society into which you were born.

That's why what Tolkien says sort of makes me think this is what he was referencing. It is a virtue - it is good for you - to acknowledge and own your born place in society, rather than necessarily to attempt to raise your status.
The dumbest thing I've ever bought
was a 2020 planner.

"Does anyone ever think about Denethor, the guy driven to madness by staying up late into the night alone in the dark staring at a flickering device he believed revealed unvarnished truth about the outside word, but which in fact showed mostly manipulated media created by a hostile power committed to portraying nothing but bad news framed in the worst possible way in order to sap hope, courage, and the will to go on? Seems like he's someone we should think about." - Dave_LF
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Re: Tolkien Quote “Touching your cap to the squire may be da

Post by Impenitent »

It is essentially God's Plan thinking: you are born into a specific social caste/role because that is god's intention for you; and accepting your role fully while expecting all others also to fulfil their roles and treating them in accordance with the divine pecking order is the fulfilment of God's Plan.

Eg The King is king by Divine right.

Of course, we have the godly gift of free will so we can choose (or not) to abide by God's Plan. Giving deference to those whom God has placed above you shows you have virtuously deferred to God's will by overcoming your own weak human willfulness - and deferring to God is good for you.

Ergo: deferring to your born betters is good for you.

For the record: I completely reject this.

Deference to wisdom: yes
Deference to experience, skill, compassion, kindness: yes
I defer to those who have earned my respect, no matter their status in the meaningless pecking order of inherited power and wealth.
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Re: Tolkien Quote “Touching your cap to the squire may be da

Post by N.E. Brigand »

I think we shouldn't overlook the first half of the quote. If Tolkien fully endorsed the idea that preexisting hierarchies were good, there wouldn't be anything harmful about those in a higher position having that eminence acknowledged. But he says it's "damn bad for the squire".

Tolkien certainly doesn't seem to oppose at least social mobility based on merit, to judge from how he portrays the fortunes of Sam's family.

Consider also the bit in one of Tolkien's letters where he says that Frodo in Eldamar will come to better understand his "bigness and littleness" (or something like that).

For some reason, I'm also reminded of a passing line in C.S. Lewis's That Hideous Strength, from a conversation between Jane and Ransom:
Jane said, “I always thought it was in their souls that people were equal.”

“You were mistaken,” he said gravely. “That is the last place where they are equal. Equality before the law, equality of incomes – that is very well. Equality guards life; it doesn’t make it. It is medicine, not food. You might as well try warming yourself with a blue-book.”
Have any of Lewis's conservative admirers written about his endorsement of "equality of incomes"?
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Re: Tolkien Quote “Touching your cap to the squire may be da

Post by elengil »

N.E. Brigand wrote:. But he says it's "damn bad for the squire".
Not being British I can't speak to whether this was some kind of well known idiom or not. I have heard it before, though, in a way. In the first (tv show) episode of Sharpe, there's a line "You've done me a damn good turn. Now I'm going to do you a damn bad one." He doesn't actually do anything bad per se, he gives the man a field commission promoting him to officer. Now, that did come with countless problems, but it wasn't a fundamentally bad thing he did.

That's what leads me to believe that 'bad' in this context may not mean what it seems to mean on the surface.
The dumbest thing I've ever bought
was a 2020 planner.

"Does anyone ever think about Denethor, the guy driven to madness by staying up late into the night alone in the dark staring at a flickering device he believed revealed unvarnished truth about the outside word, but which in fact showed mostly manipulated media created by a hostile power committed to portraying nothing but bad news framed in the worst possible way in order to sap hope, courage, and the will to go on? Seems like he's someone we should think about." - Dave_LF
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Re: Tolkien Quote “Touching your cap to the squire may be da

Post by N.E. Brigand »

elengil wrote:
N.E. Brigand wrote:. But he says it's "damn bad for the squire".
Not being British I can't speak to whether this was some kind of well known idiom or not. I have heard it before, though, in a way. In the first (tv show) episode of Sharpe, there's a line "You've done me a damn good turn. Now I'm going to do you a damn bad one." He doesn't actually do anything bad per se, he gives the man a field commission promoting him to officer. Now, that did come with countless problems, but it wasn't a fundamentally bad thing he did.

That's what leads me to believe that 'bad' in this context may not mean what it seems to mean on the surface.
Interesting. And yet Tolkien appears to be contrasting "damn bad" and "damn good."
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Re: Tolkien Quote “Touching your cap to the squire may be da

Post by elengil »

Oh to be sure, I could be completely out in left field. I just think the way he said it, and the fact I've heard at least once before a very similar construction, that it might be some kind of idiom rather than literal.
The dumbest thing I've ever bought
was a 2020 planner.

"Does anyone ever think about Denethor, the guy driven to madness by staying up late into the night alone in the dark staring at a flickering device he believed revealed unvarnished truth about the outside word, but which in fact showed mostly manipulated media created by a hostile power committed to portraying nothing but bad news framed in the worst possible way in order to sap hope, courage, and the will to go on? Seems like he's someone we should think about." - Dave_LF
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Re: Tolkien Quote “Touching your cap to the squire may be da

Post by Túrin Turambar »

Tolkien's point seems to be that humbling yourself before others is good, but having others humble themselves before you is bad. It fits in with his general views about political power, society, and his general ideology of 'Anarcho-conservatism'. He seemed to like the idea of a social order where the fortunate looked after the less-fortunate, and in turn, the less-fortunate deferred didn't seek to turn the whole thing over. His ideal society appeared to be one which ran itself so effectively according to its ancient traditions, mutual obligation, and common sense, that virtually no government was needed. The Shire, in other words. Government, and the exercise of political power, tended to lead to self-important and big-headed people who trashed systems which were working nicely, and so was best avoided. It's easy to see his nostalgia for Edwardian rural England, which in his memory would have seemed devoid of big problems compared to what came after.

ETA: In case it isn't clear from the quote, the 'Squire' was the term for the wealthiest and most prominent man in the village, who was entitled to put 'Esq' after his name and usually lived in the manor house. Bilbo Baggins, in other words, or the heads of the Took or Brandybuck families.
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Re: Tolkien Quote “Touching your cap to the squire may be da

Post by Voronwë the Faithful »

Thanks, Túrin. I have been meaning to say largely what you said, with a reference to his quote from letter 52:
My political opinions lean more and more to Anarchy (philosophically understood, meaning abolition of control not whiskered men with bombs) -- or to 'unconstitutional' Monarchy.
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