Feeding the Mind/Note
THE history of this little sparkle from the pen of Lewis Carroll may soon be told. It was in October of the year 1884 that he came on a visit to a certain vicarage in Derbyshire, where he had promised, on the score of friendship, to do what was for him a most unusual favour—to give a lecture before a public audience.
The writer well remembers his nervous, highly-strung manner as he stood before the little room full of simple people, few of whom had any idea of the world-wide reputation of that shy, slight ﬁgure before them.
When the lecture was over, he handed the manuscript to me, saying: 'Do what you like with it.'
The one for whose sake he did this kindness was not long after called
'Into the Silent Land.'
So the beautifully-written MS., in his customary violet ink, has been treasured for more than twenty years, only now and then being read over at Christmas-time to a friend or two by the study fire, always to meet with the same welcome and glad acknowledgment that here was a genuine, though little flame that could not have belonged to any other source but that which all the world knew in Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass.
There may be, perhaps, many others who, gathering round a winter fire, will be glad to read words, however few, from that bright source, and whose memories will respond to the fresh touch of that cherished name.
It remains to add but one or two more associations that cling to it and make the remembrance more vivid still. While Lewis Carroll was staying in the house, there came to call a certain genial and by no means shy Dean, who, without realizing what he was doing, proceeded, in the presence of other callers, to make some remark identifying Mr. Dodgson as the author of his books.
There followed an immense explosion immediately on the visitor's departure, with a pathetic and serious request that, there were any risk of a repetition of the call, due warning might be given, and the retreat secured.
Probably not many readers of the immortal Alice have ever seen the curious little whimsical paper called
which their author had printed and used to send to his acquaintance, accompanied by a small case for postage-stamps.
It consists of forty pages, and is published by Emberlin and Son, Oxford; and these are the contents:
How to begin a Letter
How to go on with a Letter
How to end a Letter
On Registering Correspondence
In this little script, also, there are the same sparkles of wit which betoken that nimble pen, as, for example, under 'How to begin a Letter':
'"And never, never, dear madam" (N.B.—This remark is addressed to ladies only. No man would ever do such a thing), "put 'Wednesday' simply as the date! "That way madness lies!"'
From section 3: 'How to go on with a Letter.'—'A great deal of the bad writing in the world comes simply from writing too quickly. Of course you reply, "I do it to save time." A very good object, no doubt, but what right have you to do it at your friend's expense? Isn't his time as valuable as yours? Years ago I used to receive letters from a friend—and very interesting letters too written in one of the most atrocious hands ever invented. It generally took me about a week to read one of his letters! I used to carry it about in my pocket and take it out at leisure times, to puzzle over the riddles which composed it—holding it in different positions and at different distances, till at last the meaning of some hopeless scrawl would flash upon me, when I at once wrote down the English under it. And when several had been thus guessed the context would help one with the others, till at last the whole series of hieroglyphics was deciphered. If all one's friends wrote like that, life would be entirely spent in reading their letters!'
Rule for correspondence that has, unfortunately, become controversial.
'Don't repeat yourself.—When once you have had your say fully and clearly on a certain point, and have failed to convince your friend, drop that subject. To repeat your arguments all over again, will simply lead to his doing the same, and so you will go on like a circulating decimal. Did you ever know a circulating decimal come to an end?'
Rule 5.—'If your friend makes a severe remark, either leave it unnoticed, or make your reply distinctly less severe; and if he makes a friendly remark, tending towards making up the little difference that has arisen between you, let your reply be distinctly more friendly.
'If, in picking a quarrel, each party declined to go more than three-eighths of the way, and if in making friends, each was ready to go five-eighths of the way—why, there would be more reconciliations than quarrels! Which is like the Irishman's remonstrance to his gad-about daughter: "Shure, you're always goin' out! You go out three times for wanst that you come in!"'
Rule 6.—'Don't try to get the last word. . . . (N.B.—If you are a gentleman and your friend a lady, this rule is superfluous: You won't get the last word!)'
Let the last word to-day be part of another rule, which gives a glimpse into that gentle heart:
'When you have written a letter that you feel may possibly irritate your friend, however necessary you may have felt it to so express yourself, put it aside till the next day. Then read it over again, and fancy it addressed to yourself. This will often lead to your writing it all over again, taking out a lot of the vinegar and pepper and putting in honey instead, and thus making a much more palatable dish of it!'
'Quis desiderio sit pudor aut modus
Tam cari capitis?'
W. H. D.