The Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll/Chapter I

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Lewis Carroll's forebears—The Bishop of Elphin—Murder of Captain Dodgson—Daresbury—Living in "Wonderland"—Croft—Boyish amusements—His first school—Latin verses—A good report—He goes to Rugby—The Rectory Umbrella—"A Lay of Sorrow."

THE Dodgsons appear to have been for a long time connected with the north of England, and until quite recently a branch of the family resided at Stubb Hall, near Barnard Castle.

In the early part of the last century a certain Rev. Christopher Dodgson held a living in Yorkshire. His son, Charles, also took Holy Orders, and was for some time tutor to a son of the then Duke of Northumberland. In 1762 his patron presented him to the living of Elsdon, in Northumberland, by no means a desirable cure, as Mr. Dodgson discovered. The following extracts from his letters to various members of the Percy family are interesting as giving some idea of the life of a rural clergyman a hundred years ago:—

I am obliged to you for promising to write to me, but don't give yourself the trouble of writing to this place, for 'tis almost impossible to receive 'em, without sending a messenger 16 miles to fetch 'em.

'Tis impossible to describe the oddity of my situation at present, which, however, is not void of some pleasant circumstances.

A clogmaker combs out my wig upon my curate's head, by way of a block, and his wife powders it with a dredging-box.

The vestibule of the castle (used as a temporary parsonage) is a low stable; above it the kitchen, in which are two little beds joining to each other. The curate and his wife lay in one, and Margery the maid in the other. I lay in the parlour between two beds to keep me from being frozen to death, for as we keep open house the winds enter from every quarter, and are apt to sweep into bed to me.

Elsdon was once a market town as some say, and a city according to others; but as the annals of the parish were lost several centuries ago, it is impossible to determine what age it was either the one or the other.

There are not the least traces of the former grandeur to be found, whence some antiquaries are apt to believe that it lost both its trade and charter at the Deluge.

. . . There is a very good understanding between the parties [he is speaking of the Churchmen and Presbyterians who lived in the parish], for they not only intermarry with one another, but frequently do penance together in a white sheet, with a white wand, barefoot, and in the coldest season of the year. I have not finished the description for fear of bringing on a fit of the ague. Indeed, the ideas of sensation are sufficient to starve a man to death, without having recourse to those of reflection.

If I was not assured by the best authority on earth that the world is to be destroyed by fire, I should conclude that the day of destruction is at hand, but brought on by means of an agent very opposite to that of heat.

I have lost the use of everything but my reason, though my head is entrenched in three night-caps, and my throat, which is very bad, is fortified by a pair of stockings twisted in the form of a cravat.

As washing is very cheap, I wear two shirts at a time, and, for want of a wardrobe, I hang my great coat upon my own back, and generally keep on my boots in imitation of my namesake of Sweden. Indeed, since the snow became two feet deep (as I wanted a 'chaappin of Yale' from the public-house), I made an offer of them to Margery the maid, but her legs are too thick to make use of them, and I am told that the greater part of my parishioners are not less substantial, and notwithstanding this they are remarkable for agility.

In course of time this Mr. Dodgson became Bishop of Ossory and Ferns, and he was subsequently translated to the see of Elphin. He was warmly congratulated on this change in his fortunes by George III., who said that he ought indeed to be thankful to have got away from a palace where the stabling was so bad.

The Bishop had four children, the eldest of whom, Elizabeth Anne, married Charles Lutwidge, of Holmrook, in Cumberland. Two of the others died almost before they had attained manhood. Charles, the eldest son, entered the army, and rose to the rank of captain in the 4th Dragoon Guards. He met with a sad fate while serving his king and country in Ireland. One of the Irish rebels who were supposed to have been concerned in the murder of Lord Kilwarden offered to give himself up to justice if Captain Dodgson would come alone and at night to take him. Though he fully realised the risk, the brave captain decided to trust himself to the honour of this outlaw, as he felt that no chance should be missed of effecting so important a capture. Having first written a letter of farewell to his wife, he set out on the night of December 16, 1803, accompanied by a few troopers, for the meeting-place—an old hut that stood a mile or so from Phillipstown, in King's County. In accordance with the terms of the agreement, he left his men a few hundred yards from the hut to await his return, and advanced alone through the night. A cowardly shot from one of the windows of the cottage ended his noble life, and alarmed the troopers, who, coming up in haste, were confronted with the dead body of their leader. The story is told that on the same night his wife heard two shots fired, and made inquiry about it, but could find out nothing. Shortly afterwards the news came that her husband had been killed just at that time.

Captain Dodgson left two sons behind him—Hassard, who, after a brilliant career as a special pleader, became a Master of the Court of Common Pleas, and Charles, the father of the subject of this Memoir.

Charles, who was the elder of the two, was born in the year 1800, at Hamilton, in Lanarkshire. He adopted the clerical profession, in which he rose to high honours. He was a distinguished scholar, and took a double first at Christ Church, Oxford. Although in after life mathematics were his favourite pursuit, yet the fact that he translated Tertullian for the "Library of the Fathers" is sufficient evidence that he made good use of his classical education. In the controversy about Baptismal Regeneration he took a prominent part, siding on the question with the Tractarians, though his views on some other points of Church doctrine were less advanced than those of the leaders of the Oxford movement. He was a man of deep piety and of a somewhat reserved and grave disposition, which, however, was tempered by the most generous charity, so that he was universally loved by the poor. In moments of relaxation his wit and humour were the delight of his clerical friends, for he had the rare power of telling anecdotes effectively. His reverence for sacred things was so great that he was never known to relate a story which included a jest upon words from the Bible.

In 1830 he married his cousin, Frances Jane Lutwidge, by whom he had eleven children, all of whom, except Lewis Carroll, survive. His wife, in the words of one who had the best possible opportunities for observing her character, was "one of the sweetest and gentlest women that ever lived, whom to know was to love. The earnestness of her simple faith and love shone forth in all she did and said; she seemed to live always in the conscious presence of God. It has been said by her children that they never in all their lives remember to have heard an impatient or harsh word from her lips." It is easy to trace in Lewis Carroll's character the influence of that most gentle of mothers; though dead she still speaks to us in some of the most beautiful and touching passages of his works. Not so long ago I had a conversation with an old friend of his; one of the first things she said to me was, "Tell me about his mother." I complied with her request as well as I was able, and, when I had finished my account of Mrs. Dodgson's beautiful character, she said, "Ah, I knew it must have been so; I felt sure he must have had a good mother."

On January 27, 1832, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson was born at Daresbury, of which parish his father was then incumbent. The village of Daresbury is about seven miles from Warrington; its name is supposed to be derived from a word meaning oak, and certainly oaks are very plentiful in the neighbourhood. A canal passes through an outlying part of the parish. The bargemen who frequented this canal were a special object of Mr. Dodgson's pastoral care. Once, when walking with Lord Francis Egerton, who was a large landowner in the district, he spoke of his desire to provide some sort of religious privileges for them. "If I only had £100," he said, "I would turn one of those barges into a chapel," and, at his companion's request, he described exactly how he would have the chapel constructed


and furnished. A few weeks later he received a letter from Lord Francis to tell him that his wish was fulfilled, and that the chapel was ready. In this strange church, which is believed to have been the first of its kind, Mr. Dodgson conducted service and preached every Sunday evening!

The parsonage is situated a mile and a half from the village, on the glebe-farm, having been erected by a former incumbent, who, it was said, cared more for the glebe than the parish. Here it was that Charles spent the first eleven years of his life—years of complete seclusion from the world, for even the passing of a cart was a matter of great interest to the children.

In this quiet home the boy invented the strangest diversions for himself; he made pets of the most odd and unlikely animals, and numbered certain snails and toads among his intimate friends. He tried also to encourage civilised warfare among earthworms, by supplying them with small pieces of pipe, with which they might fight if so disposed. His notions of charity at this early age were 12 THE LIFE AND LETTERS OF somewhat rudimentary ; he used to peel rushes with the idea that the pith would afterwards "be given to the poor," though what possible use they could put it to he never attempted to explain. Indeed he seems at this time to have actually lived in that charming Wonder- land " which he afterwards described so vividly ; but for all that he was a thorough boy, and loved to climb the trees and to scramble about in the old marl-pits. One of the few breaks in this very uneventful life was a holiday spent with the other members of his family in Beaumaris. The journey took three days each way, for railroads were then almost unknown ; and whatever advantages coaching may have had over travelling in trains, speed was certainly not one of them. Mr. Dodgson from the first used to take an active part in his son's education, and the following anecdote will show that he had at least a pupil who was anxious to learn. One day, when Charles was a very small boy, he came up to his father and showed him a book of logarithms, with the request, *' Please explain." Mr. Dodgson told him that he was much too young to understand anything about such a difficult subject. The LEWIS CARROLL 13 child listened to what his father said, and appeared to think it irrelevant, for he still insisted, " Bu^, please, explain ! " On one occasion Mr. and Mrs. Dodgson went to Hull, to pay a visit to the latter's father, who had been seriously ill. From Hull Mrs. Dodgson wrote to Charles, and he set much store by this letter, which was probably one of the first he had received. He was afraid that some of his little sisters would mess it, or tear it up, so he wrote upon the back, " No one is to touch this note, for it belongs to C. L. D. " ; but, this warning appear- ing insufficient, he added, " Covered with slimy pitch, so that they will wet their fingers." The precious letter ran as follows : — My Dearest Charlie, — I have used you rather ill in not having written to you sooner, but I know you will forgive me. MRS. DODGSON. 14 THE LIFE AND LETTERS OF as your Grandpapa has liked to have me with him so much, and I could not write and talk to him comfortably. All your notes have delighted me, my precious children, and show me that you have not quite forgotten me. I am always thinking of you, and longing to have you all round me again more than words can tell. God grant that we may find you all well and happy on Friday evening. I am happy to say your dearest Papa is quite well — his cough is rather tickling, but is of no consequence. It delights me, my darling Charlie, to hear that you are getting on so well with your Latin, and that you make so few mistakes in your Exercises. You will be happy to hear that your dearest Grandpapa is going on nicely — indeed I hope he will soon be quite well again. He talks a great deal and most kindly about you all. I hope my sweetest Will says " Mama " sometimes, and that precious Tish has not forgotten. Give them and all my other treasures, including yourself, 1,000,000,000 kisses from me, with my most affectionate love. I am sending you a shabby note, but I cannot help it. Give my kindest love to Aunt Dar, and believe me, my own dearest Charlie, to be your sincerely affectionate Mama. Among the few visitors who disturbed the repose of Daresbury Parsonage was Mr. Durn- ford, afterwards Bishop of Chichester, with whom Mr. Dodgson had formed a close friendship. Another was Mr. Bayne, at that time head-master of Warrinofton Grammar School, who used occa- sionally to assist in the services at Daresbury. His son, Vere, was Charles's playfellow ; he is now a student of Christ Church, and the friend- ship between him and Lewis Carroll lasted LEWIS CARROLL 15 without interruption till the death of the latter. The memory ot his birthplace did not soon fade from Charles's mind ; long afterwards he retained pleasant recollections of its rustic beauty. For instance, his poem of The Three Sunsets," which first appeared in i860 in A// the Year Round, begins with the following stanzas, which have been slightly altered in later editions : — I watch the drowsy night expire, And Fancy paints at my desire Her magic pictures in the fire. An island farm, 'mid seas of corn, Swayed by the wandering breath of morn, The happy spot where I was born. Though nearly all Mr. Dodgson's parishioners at Daresbury have passed away, yet there are still some few left who speak with loving reverence of him whose lips, now long silenced, used to speak so kindly to them ; whose hands, long folded in sleep, were once so ready to alleviate their wants and sorrows. In 1843 Sir Robert Peel presented him to the Crown living of Croft, a Yorkshire village about three miles south of Darlington. This preferi6 THE LIFE AND LETTERS OF ment made a great change in the life of the family ; it opened for them many more social opportunities, and put an end to that life of seclusion which, however beneficial it may be for a short time, is apt, if continued too long, to have a cramping and narrowing influence. The river Tees is at Croft the dividing line between Yorkshire and Durham, and on the middle of the bridoe which there crosses it is a stone which shows where the one county ends and the other begins. " Certain lands are held in this place," says Lewis in his *' Topographical Dictionary," " by the owner presenting on the bridge, at the coming of every new Bishop of Durham, an old sword, pronouncing a legendary address, and delivering the sword to the Bishop, who returns it immediately." The Tees is subject to extraordinary floods, and though Croft Church stands many feet above the ordinary level of the river, and is separated from it by the churchyard and a field, yet on one occasion the church itself was flooded, as was attested by water-marks on the old woodwork several feet from the floor, still to be seen when Mr. Dodgson was incumbent. This church, which is dedicated to St. Peter, is a quaint old building with a Norman porch. the rest of it being of more modern construction. It contains a raised pew, which is approached by a winding flight of stairs, and is covered in, so that it resembles nothing so much as a four-post bedstead. This pew used to belong to the Milbanke family, with which Lord Byron was connected. Mr. Dodgson found the chancel-roof in so bad a state of repair that he was obliged to take it down, and replace it by an entirely new one. The only village school that existed when he came to the place was a sort of barn, which stood in a corner of the churchyard. During his incumbency a fine school-house was erected. Several members of his family used regularly to help in teaching the children, and excellent reports were obtained.

The Rectory is close to the church, and stands in the middle of a beautiful garden. The former incumbent had been an enthusiastic horticulturist, and the walls of the kitchen garden were covered with luxuriant fruit-trees, while the greenhouses were well stocked with rare and beautiful exotics. Among these was a specimen of that fantastic cactus, the night-blowing Cereus, whose flowers, after an existence of but a few hours, fade with the waning sun. On the day when this occurred


THE LIFE AND LETTERS OF LEWIS CARROLL 19 large numbers of people used to obtain Mr. Dodgson's leave to see the curiosity. Near the Rectory is a fine hotel, built when Croft was an important posting-station for the coaches between London and Edinburgh, but in Mr. Dodgson's time chiefly used by gentlemen who stayed there during the hunting season. The village is renowned for its baths and medi- cinal waters. The parish of Croft includes the outlying hamlets of Halnaby, Dalton, and Staple- ton, so that the Rector's position is by no means a sinecure. Within the village is Croft Hall, the old seat of the Chaytors ; but during Mr. Dodgson's incumbency the then Sir William Chaytor built and lived at Clervaux Castle, calling it by an old family name. Shortly after accepting the living of Croft, Mr. Dodgson was appointed examining chaplain to the Bishop of Ripon ; subsequently he was made Archdeacon of Richmond and one of the Canons of Ripon Cathedral. Charles was at this time very fond of inventing games for the amusement of his brothers and sisters ; he constructed a rude train out of a wheelbarrow, a barrel and a small truck, which used to convey passengers from one "station" in the Rectory garden to another. At each of these stations there was a refreshment-room, and the passengers had to purchase tickets from him before they could enjoy their ride. The boy was also a clever conjuror, and, arrayed in a brown wig and a long white robe, used to cause no little


wonder to his audience by his sleight-of-hand. With the assistance of various members of the family and the village carpenter, he made a troupe of marionettes and a small theatre for them to act in. He wrote all the plays himself—the most popular being "The Tragedy of King John"—and he was very clever at manipulating the innumerable strings by which the movements of his puppets were regulated. One winter, when the snow lay thick upon the lawn, he traced upon it a maze of such hopeless intricacy as almost to put its famous rival at Hampton Court in the shade.

When he was twelve years old his father sent him to school at Richmond, under Mr. Tate, a worthy son of that well-known Dr. Tate who had made Richmond School so famous.

I am able to give his earliest impressions of school-life in his own words, for one of his first letters home has been fortunately preserved. It is dated August 5th, and is addressed to his two eldest sisters. A boy who has ten brothers and sisters can scarcely be expected to write separate letters to each of them.

My dear Fanny and Memy,—I hope you are all getting on well, as also the sweet twins, the boys I think that I like the best, are Harry Austin, and all the Tates of which there are 7 besides a little girl who came down to dinner the first day, but not since, and I also like Edmund Tremlet, and William and Edward Swire, Tremlet is a sharp little fellow about 7 years old, the youngest in the school, I also like Kemp and Mawley. The rest of the boys that I know are Bertram, Harry and Dick Wilson, and two Robinsons, I will tell you all about them when I return. The boys have played two tricks upon me which were these—they first proposed to play at "King of the Cobblers" and asked if I would be king, to which I agreed. Then they made me sit down and sat (on the ground) in a circle round me, and told me to say "Go to work" which I said, and they immediately began kicking me and knocking me on all sides. The next game they proposed was "Peter, the red lion," and they made a mark on a tombstone (for we were playing in the church-yard) and one of the boys walked with his eyes shut, holding out his finger, trying to touch the mark; then a little boy came forward to lead the rest and led a good many very near the mark; at last it was my turn; they told me to shut my eyes well, and the next minute I had my finger in the mouth of one of the boys, who had stood (I believe) before the tombstone with his mouth open. For 2 nights I slept alone, and for the rest of the time with Ned Swire. The boys play me no tricks now. The only fault (tell Mama) that there has been was coming in one day to dinner just after grace. On Sunday we went to church in the morning, and sat in a large pew with Mr. Fielding, the church we went to is close by Mr. Tate's house, we did not go in the afternoon but Mr. Tate read a discourse to the boys on the 5th commandment. We went to church again in the evening. Papa wished me to tell him all the texts I had heard preached upon, please to tell him that I could not hear it in the morning nor hardly one sentence of the sermon, but the one in the evening was I Cor. i. 23. I believe it was a farewell sermon, but I am not sure. Mrs. Tate has looked through my clothes and left in the trunk a great many that will not be wanted. I have had 3 misfortunes in my clothes etc. Ist I cannot find my tooth-brush, so that I have not brushed my teeth for 3 or 4 days, 2nd I cannot find my blotting paper, and 3rd I have no shoe-horn. The chief games are, football, wrestling, leap frog, and fighting. Excuse bad writing.

Yr affect brother Charles.

To SKEFF [a younger brother, aged six].

Roar not lest thou be abolished.

Yours, etc., —.

The discomforts which he, as a "new boy,"
had to put up with from his school-mates affected
him as they do not, unfortunately, affect most
boys, for in later school days he was famous as
a champion of the weak and small, while every
bully had good reason to fear him. Though it
is hard for those who have only known him as
the gentle and retiring don to believe it, it is
nevertheless true that long after he left school
his name was remembered as that of a boy who
knew well how to use his fists in defence of a
righteous cause.

As was the custom at that time, Charles began
to compose Latin verses at a very early age, his
first copy being dated November 25, 1844.
The subject was evening, and this is how he
treated it :—

Phœbus aqua splendet descendens, æquora tingens
Splendore aurato. Pervenit umbra solo.
Mortales lectos quærunt, et membra relaxant.
Fessa labore dies ; cuncta per orbe silet.
Imperium placidum nunc sumit Phœbe corusca.
Antris procedunt sanguine ore feræ.

These lines the boy solemnly copied into his
Diary, apparently in the most blissful ignorance
of the numerous mistakes they contained.

The next year he wrote a story which appeared
in the school magazine. It was called "The
Unknown One," so it was probably of the sensa-
tional type in which small boys usually revel.

Though Richmond School, as it was in 1844,
may not compare favourably in every respect
with a modern preparatory school, where super-
vision has been so far "reduced to the absurd"
that the unfortunate masters hardly get a minute
to themselves from sunrise till long after sunset,
yet no better or wiser men than those of the
school of Mr. Tate are now to be found. Nor,
I venture to think, are the results of the modern
system more successful than those of the old one.
Charles loved his "kind old schoolmaster," as he
affectionately calls him, and surely to gain the
love of the boys is the main battle in school-

The impression he made upon his instructors
may be gathered from the following extracts from
Mr. Tate's first report upon him :—

Sufficient opportunities having been allowed me to draw
from actual observation an estimate of your son's character
and abilities, I do not hesitate to express my opinion that he
possesses, along with other and excellent natural endowments,
a very uncommon share of genius. Gentle and cheerful in his
intercourse with others, playful and ready in conversation, he
is capable of acquirements and knowledge far beyond his
years, while his reason is so clear and so jealous of error, that
he will not rest satisfied without a most exact solution of what-
ever appears to him obscure. He has passed an excellent
examination just now in mathematics, exhibiting at times an
illustration of that love of precise argument, which seems to
him natural.

I must not omit to set off against these great advantages
one or two faults, of which the removal as soon as possible
is desirable, tho' I am prepared to find it a work of time.
As you are well aware, our young friend, while jealous of
error, as I said above, where important faith or principles are
concerned, is exceedingly lenient towards lesser frailties — and,
whether in reading aloud or metrical composition, frequently
sets at nought the notions of Virgil or Ovid as to syllabic
quantity. He is moreover marvellously ingenious in replacing
the ordinary inflexions of nouns and verbs, as detailed in our
grammars, by more exact analogies, or convenient forms of his
own devising. This source of fault will in due time exhaust
itself, though flowing freely at present. . . . You may fairly
anticipate for him a bright career. Allow me, before I close,
one suggestion which assumes for itself the wisdom of experi-
ence and the sincerity of the best intention. You must not
entrust your son with a full knowledge of his superiority over
other boys. Let him discover this as he proceeds. The love
of excellence is far beyond the love of excelling ; and if he
should once be bewitched into a mere ambition to surpass
others I need not urge that the very quality of his knowledge
would be materially injured, and that his character would
receive a stain of a more serious description still. . . . 26 THE LIFE AND LETTERS OF LEWIS CARROLL And again, when Charles was leaving Rich- mond, he wrote : "Be assured that I shall always feel a peculiar Interest in the gentle, intelligent, and well-conducted boy who is now leaving us. " Althouo-h his father had been a Westminster boy, Charles was, for some reason or other, sent to Rugby. The great Arnold, who had, one might almost say, created Rugby School, and who certainly had done more for It than all his predecessors put together, had gone to his rest, and for four years the reins of government had been in the firm hands of Dr. Tait, afterwards Archbishop of Canterbury. He was Head- master during the whole of the time Charles was at Rugby, except the last year, during which Dr. Goulburn held that office. Charles went up in February, 1846, and he must have found his new life a great change from his quiet experiences at Richmond. Football was in full swing, and one can imagine that to a new boy *' Big-side " was not an unalloyed delight. Whether he dis- tinguished himself as a " dropper,' or ever beat the record time In the " Crick " run, I do not know. Probably not; his abilities did not lie much In the field of athletics. But he got on capitally with his work, and seldom returned home without Page:Collingwood - Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll.djvu/51 Page:Collingwood - Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll.djvu/52 Page:Collingwood - Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll.djvu/53 30 THE LIFE AND LETTERS OF Public school life then was not what it is now ; the atrocious system then in vogue of setting hundreds of lines for the most trifling offences made every day a weariness and a hopeless waste of time, while the bad discipline which was main- tained in the dormitories made even the nights intolerable — especially for the small boys, whose beds in winter were denuded of blankets that the bigger ones might not feel cold. Charles kept no diary during his time at Rugby ; but, looking back upon it, he writes in 1855 ••- During my stay I made I suppose some progress in learning of various kinds, but none of it was done con aniore, and I spent an incalculable time in writing out impositions — this last I consider one of the chief faults of Rugby School. I made some friends there, the most intimate being Henry Leigh Bennett (as college acquaintances we find fewer common sympathies, and are consequently less intimate) — but I cannot say that I look back upon my life at a Public School with any sensations of pleasure, or that any earthly considerations would induce me to go through my three years again. When, some years afterwards, he visited Radley School, he was much struck by the cubicle system which prevails in the dormitories there, and wrote in his Diary, I can say that if I had been thus

secure from annoyance at night, the hardships of Page:Collingwood - Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll.djvu/55
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from the picture in the Vernon Gallery.

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As much as four strong rabbits,
Could munch from morn to night,
For he'd done a deed of daring,
And faced that savage steed,
And therefore cups of coffee sweet,
And everything that was a treat,
Were but his right and meed.

And often in the evenings,
When the fire is blazing bright,
When books bestrew the table
And moths obscure the light,
When crying children go to bed,
A struggling, kicking load;
We'll talk of Ulfrid Longbow's deed,
How, in his brother's utmost need,
Back to his aid he flew with speed,
And how he faced the fiery steed,
And kept the New Croft Road.