The Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll/Chapter II

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Matriculation at Christ Church—Death of Mrs. Dodgson—The Great Exhibition—University and College Honours—A wonderful year—A theatrical treat—Misch-MaschThe TrainCollege Rhymes—His nom de plume—"Dotheboys Hall"—Alfred Tennyson—Ordination—Sermons—A visit to Farringford—"Where does the day begin?"—The Queen visits Oxford.

WE have traced in the boyhood of Lewis Carroll the beginnings of those characteristic traits which afterwards, more fully developed, gave him so distinguished a position among his contemporaries. We now come to a period of his life which is in some respects necessarily less interesting. We all have to pass through that painful era of self-consciousness which prefaces manhood, that time

when we feel so deeply, and are so utterly unable to express to others, or even to define clearly to ourselves, what it is we do feel. The natural Page:Collingwood - Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll.djvu/70 Page:Collingwood - Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll.djvu/71 Page:Collingwood - Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll.djvu/72 Page:Collingwood - Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll.djvu/73
Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll - Lewis Carroll, aged 23.jpg


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Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll - Archdeacon Dodgson.jpg


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Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll - Alfred Tennyson.jpg


(From a photograph by Lewis Carroll.)

THE LIFE AND LETTERS OF LEWIS CARROLL 71 I took the opportunity [he goes on to say] of asking the meaning of two passages in his poems, which have always puzzled me : one in " Maud " — Strange that I hear two men Somewhere talking of me ; Well, if it prove a girl, my boy Will have plenty ; so let it be. He said it referred to Maud, and to the two fathers arranging a match between himself and her. The other was of the poet — Dowered with the hate of hate, the scorn of scorn. The love of love. He said that he was quite willing it should bear any meaning the words would fairly bear ; to the best of his recollection his meaning when he wrote it was " the hate of the quality hate, &c.," but he thought the meaning of "the quintessence of hatred " finer. He said there had never been a poem so misunderstood by the "ninnies of critics" as "Maud." During an evening spent at Tent Lodge Tennyson remarked, on the similarity of the monkey's skull to the human, that a young- monkey's skull is quite human in shape, and gradually alters — the analogy being borne out by the human skull being at first more like the statues of the gods, and gradually degenerating into human ; and then, turning to Mrs. Tenny- son, There, that's the second original remark

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Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll - Bishop Wilberforce.jpg


(From a photograph by Lewis Carroll.)

76 THE LIFE AND LETTERS OF On December 22, 1 861, he was ordained deacon by the Bishop of Oxford. He never proceeded to priest's orders, partly, I think, because he felt that if he were to do so it would be his duty to undertake regular parochial work, and partly on account of his stammering. He used, however, to preach not unfrequently, and his sermons were always delightful to listen to, his extreme earnestness being evident in every word. " He knew exactly what he wished to say" (I am quoting from an article in TAe Guardian), "and completely forgot his audience in his anxiety to explain his point clearly. He thought of the subject only, and the words came of them- selves. Looking straight in front of him he saw, as it were, his argument mapped out in the form of a diagram, and he set to work to prove it point by point, under its separate heads, and then summed up the whole." One sermon which he preached in the Univer- sity Church, on Eternal Punishment, is not likely to be soon forgotten by those who heard it. I, unfortunately, was not of that number, but I can well imaofine how his clear-cut features would light up as he dwelt lovingly upon the mercy of that Being whose charity far exceeds the measure LEWIS CARROLL 77 of man's mind." It is hardly necessary to say that he himself did not believe in eternal punish- ment, or any other scholastic doctrine that con- travenes the love of God. He disliked being complimented on his ser- mons, but he liked to be told of any good effects that his words had had upon any member of the congregation. '* Thank you for telling me that fact about my sermon," he wrote to one of his sisters, who told him of some such good fruit that one of his addresses had borne. I have once or twice had such information volunteered; and it is a o-rea^ comfort — and a kind of thing that is really good for one to know. It is not good to be told (and I never wish to be told), 'Your sermon was so beautiful! We shall not be concerned to know, in the Great Day, whether we have preached beautiful sermons, but whether they were preached with the one object of serving God." He was always ready and willing to preach at the special service for College servants, which used to be held at Christ Church every Sunday evening ; but best of all he loved to preach to children. Some of his last sermons were delivered at Christ Church, Eastbourne (the church he 78 THE LIFE AND LETTERS OF regularly attended during the Long Vacation), to a congregation of children. On those occasions he told them an allegory — Victor and Arnion, which he intended to publish in course of time — putting all his heart into the work, and speaking with such deep feeling that at times he was almost unable to control his emotion as he told them of the love and compassion of the Good Shepherd. I have dwelt at some length on this side of his life, for it is, I am sure, almost ignored in the popular estimate of him. He was essentially a religious man in the best sense of the term, and without any of that morbid sentimentality which is too often associated with the word ; and while his religion consecrated his talents, and raised him to a height which without it he could never have reached, the example of such a man as he was, so brilliant, so witty, so successful, and yet so full of faith, consecrates the very concep- tion of religion, and makes it yet more beautiful. On April 13, 1859, he paid another visit to Tennyson, this time at Farringford. After dinner we retired for about an hour to the smoking- room, where I saw the proof-sheets of the " King's Idylls," but he would not let me read them. He walked through the garden with me when I left, and made me remark LEWIS CARROLL 79 an effect produced on the thin white clouds by the moon shining through, which I had not noticed — a ring of golden light at some distance off the moon, with an interval of white between — this, he says, he has alluded to in one of his early poems (" Margaret," vol. i.), *' the tender amber." I asked his opinion of Sydney Dobell — he agrees with me in iiking " Grass from the Battlefield," and thinks him a writer of genius and imagination, but extravagant. On another occasion he showed the poet a* photograph which he had taken of Miss Alice Liddell as a beggar-child, and which Tennyson said was the most beautiful photograph he had ever seen. Tennyson told us he had often dreamed long passages of poetry, and believed them to be good at the time, though he could never remember them after waking, except four lines which he dreamed at ten years old : — May a cock sparrow Write to a barrow? I hope you'll excuse My infantile muse ; — which, as an unpublished fragment of the Poet Laureate, may be thought interesting, but not affording much promise of his after powers. He also told us he once dreamed an enormously long poem about fairies, which began with very long lines that gradually got shorter, and ended with fifty or sixty lines of two syllables each !

On October 17, 1859, the Prince of Wales


Alice Liddell as a beggar-child

(From a photograph by Lewis Carroll.)


came into residence at Christ Church. The Dean met him at the station, and all the dons assembled in Tom Quadrangle to welcome him. Mr. Dodgson, as usual, had an eye to a photo- graph, in which hope, however, he was doomed to disappointment. His Royal Highness was tired of having his picture taken. During his early college life he used often to spend a few days at Hastings, with his mother's sisters, the Misses Lutwidge. In a letter written from their house to his sister Mary, and dated April II, i860, he gives an account of a lecture he had just heard : — I am just returned from a series of dissolving views on the Arctic regions, and, while the information there received is still fresh in my mind, I will try to give you some of it. In the first place, you may not know that one of the objects of the Arctic expeditions was to discover "the intensity of the magnetic needle." He [the lecturer] did not tell us, however, whether they had succeeded in discovering it, or whether that rather obscure question is still doubtful. One of the explorers, Baffin, " though he did not suffer all the hardships the others did, yet he came to an untimely end (of course one would think in the Arctic regions), for instance (what follows being, I suppose, one of the untimely ends he came to), being engaged in a war of the Portuguese against the Prussians, while measuring the ground in front of a fortifica- tion, a cannon-ball came against him, with the force with which cannon-balls in that day did come, and killed him dead 7 82 THE LIFE AND LETTERS OF on the spot." How many instances of this kind would you demand to prove that he did come to an untimely end ? One of the ships was laid up three years in the ice, during which time, he told us, " Summer came and went frequently." This, I think, was the most remarkable phenomenon he mentioned in the whole lecture, and gave me quite a new idea of those regions. SKETCH FROM ST. LEONARD'S CONCERT-ROOM. On Tuesday I went to a concert at St. Leonard's. On the front seat sat a youth about twelve years of age, of whom the enclosed is a tolerably accurate sketch. He really was, I think, the ugliest boy I ever saw. I wish I could get an opportunity of photographing him. The following note occurs in his Journal for May 6th :— LEWIS CARROLL 83 A Christ Church man, named Wilmot, who is just returned from the West Indies, dined in Hall. He told us some curious things about the insects in South America — one that he had himself seen was a spider charming a cockroach with flashes of light; they were both on the wall, the spider about a yard the highest, and the light was like a glow-worm, only that it came by flashes and did not shine continuously; the cock- roach gradually crawled up to it, and allowed itself to be taken and killed. A few months afterwards, when in town and visiting Mr. Munroe's studio, he found there two of the children of Mr. George Macdonald, whose acquaintance he had already made : They were a girl and boy, about seven and six years old — I claimed their acquaintance, and began at once proving to the boy, Greville, that he had better take the opportunity of having his head changed for a marble one. The effect was that in about two minutes they had entirely forgotten that I was a total stranger, and were earnestly arguing the question as if we were old acquaintances." Mr. Dodgson urged that a marble head would not have to be brushed and combed. At this the boy turned to his sister with an air of great relief, saying, Do you hear M<2/, Mary ? It needn't be combed!" And the narrator adds, I have no doubt combing, with his great head of long hair, (JEUKGE MACDONALD ANIJ HIS DAIGMTEK LILY, (From a pliologniph by Lcivis Carroll.) THE LIFE AND LETTERS OF LEWIS CARROLL 85 like Hallam Tennyson's, was ^Ae misery of his life. His final argument was that a marble head couldn't speak, and as I couldn't convince either that he would be all the better for that, I gave in." In November he gave a lecture at a meeting of the Ashmolean Society on " Where does the Day begin ? " The problem, which was one he was very fond of propounding, may be thus stated : If a man could travel round the world so fast that the sun would be always directly above his head, and if he were to start travelling at midday on Tuesday, then in twenty-four hours he would return to his original point of departure, and would find that the day was now called Wednesday — at what point of his journey would the day change its name ? The difficulty of answering this apparently simple question has cast a gloom over many a pleasant party. On December 12th he wrote in his Diary : — Visit of the Queen to Oxford, to the great surprise of every- body, as it had been kept a secret up to the time. She arrived in Christ Church about twelve, and came into Hall with the Dean, where the Collections were still going on, about a dozen men being in Hall. The party consisted of the Queen, Prince Albert, Princess Alice and her intended husband, the Prince of Hesse-Darmstadt, the Prince of Wales, Prince 86 THE LIFE AND LETTERS OF LEWIS CARIWLL Alfred, and suite. They remained a minute or two looking at the pictures, and the Sub-Dean was presented : they then visited the Cathedral and Library. Evening entertainment at the Deanery, tableaux vivants. I went a little after half-past eight, and found a great party assembled — the Prince had not yet come. He arrived before nine, and I found an opportunity of reminding General Bruce of his promise to introduce me to the Prince, which he did at the next break in the conversation H.R.H. was holding with Mrs. Fellowes. He shook hands very graciously, and I began with a sort of apology for having been so importunate about the photograph. He said something of the weather being against it, and I asked if the Americans had victimised him much as a sitter ; he said they had, but he did not think they had succeeded well, and I told him of the new American process of taking twelve thousand photo- graphs in an hour. Edith Liddell coming by at the moment, I remarked on the beautiful tableau which the children might make : he assented, and also said, in answer to my question, that he had seen and admired my photographs of them. I then said that I hoped, as I had missed the photograph, he would at least give me his autograph in my album, which he promised to do. Thinking I had better bring the talk to an end, I concluded by saying that, if he would like copies of any of my photographs, I should feel honoured by his accepting them ; he thanked me for this, and I then drew back, as he did not seem inclined to pursue the conver- sation. A few days afterwards the Prince gave him his autograph, and also chose a dozen or so of his

Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll - Mrs Rossetti and her children.jpg


(From a photograph by Lewis Carroll.)