The Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll/Chapter III

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search



Jowett—Index to "In Memoriam"—The Tennysons—The beginning of "Alice"—Tenniel—Artistic friends—"Alice's Adventures in Wonderland"—"Bruno's Revenge"—Tour with Dr. Liddon—Cologne—Berlin architecture—The "Majesty of Justice"—Peterhof—Moscow—A Russian wedding—Nijni—The Troitska Monastery—"Hieroglyphic" writing—Giessen.

IT is my aim in this Memoir to let Mr. Dodgson tell his own story as much as possible. In order to effect this object I have drawn largely upon his Diary and correspondence. Very few men have left behind them such copious information about their lives as he has; unfortunately it is not equally copious throughout, and this fact must be my apology for the somewhat haphazard and disconnected way in which parts of this book are written. That it is the best which, under the circumstances, I have been able 90 THE LIFE AND LETTERS OF to do needs, I hope, no saying, but the circum- stances have at times been too strong for me. Though in later years Mr. Dodgson almost gave up the habit of dining out, at this time of his life he used to do it pretty frequently, and several of the notes in his Diary refer to after- dinner and Common Room stories. The two following extracts will show the sort of facts he recorded : — • fanuaty 2, 1861. — Mr. Grey (Canon) came to dine and stay the night. He told me a curious old custom of millers, that they place the sails of the mill as a Saint Andrew's Cross when work is entirely suspended, thus X, but in an upright cross, thus +, if they are just going to resume work. He also mentioned that he was at school with Dr. Tennyson (father of the poet), and was a great favourite of his. He remembers that Tennyson used to do his school-translations in rhyme. May gth. — Met in Common Room Rev. C. F. Knight, and the Hon"". F. J. Parker, both of Boston, U.S. The former gave an amusing account of having seen Oliver Wendell Holmes in a fishmonger's, lecturing extempore on the head of a freshly killed turtle, whose eyes 'and jaws still showed muscular action : the lecture of course being all " cram," but accepted as sober earnest by the mob outside. Old Oxford men will remember the contro- versies that raged from about i860 onwards over the opinions of the late Dr. Jowett. In my time the name " Jowett " only represented the LEWIS CARROLL 91 brilliant translator of Plato, and the deservedly loved master of Balliol, whose sermons in the little College Chapel were often attended by other than Balliol men, and whose reputation for learning was expressed in the well-known verse of " The Masque of Balliol " : — First come I, my name is Jowett. There's no knowledge but I know it ; I am Master of this College ; What I don't know isn't knowledge. But in 1 86 1 he was anything but universally popular, and I am afraid that Mr. Dodgson, nothing if not a staunch Conservative, sided with the majority against him. Thus he wrote in his Diary : — November 20th.- — Promulgation, in Congregation, of the new statute to endow Jowett. The speaking took up the whole after- noon, and the two points at issue, the endowing a Regius Pro- fessorship, and the countenancing Jowett's theological opinions, got so inextricably mixed up that I rose to beg that they might be kept separate. Once on my feet, I said more than I at first meant, and defied them ever to tire out the opposition by per- petually bringing the question on {Mem. : if I ever speak again I will try to say no more than I had resolved before rising). This was my first speech in Congregation. At the beginning of 1862 an " Index to In Memoriam," compiled by Mr. Dodgson and his sisters, was published by Moxon. Tennyson had given his consent, and the little book proved to be very useful to his admirers.

On January 27th Morning Prayer was for the first time read in English at the Christ Church College Service. On the same day Mr. Dodgson moved over into new rooms, as the part of the College where he had formerly lived (Chaplain's Quadrangle) was to be pulled down.

During the Easter Vacation he paid another visit to the Tennysons, which he describes as follows: —

After luncheon I went to the Tennysons, and got Hallam and Lionel to sign their names in my album. Also I made a bargain with Lionel, that he was to give me some MS. of his verses, and I was to send him some of mine. It was a very difficult bargain to make; I almost despaired of it at first, he put in so many conditions—first, I was to play a game of chess with him; this, with much difficulty, was reduced to twelve moves on each side; but this made little difference, as I checkmated him at the sixth move. Second, he was to be allowed to give me one blow on the head with a mallet (this he at last consented to give up). I forget if there were others, but it ended in my getting the verses, for which I have written out " The Lonely Moor " for him.

Mr. Dodgson took a great interest in occult phenomena, and was for some time an enthusiastic member of the *' Psychical Society." It was his interest in ghosts that led to his meeting with the artist Mr. Heaphy, who had painted a picture of a ghost which he himself had seen. I quote the following from a letter to his sister Mary:—

During my last visit to town, I paid a very interesting visit to a new artist, Mr. Heaphy. Do you remember that curious story of a ghost lady (in Household Words or All the Year Round), who sat to an artist for her picture; it was called " Mr. H.'s Story," and he was the writer. . . . He received me most kindly, and we had a very interesting talk about the ghost, which certainly is one of the most curious and inexplicable stories I ever heard. He showed me her picture (life size), and she must have been very lovely, if it is like her (or like it, which ever is the correct pronoun). . . . Mr. Heaphy showed me a most interesting collection of drawings he has made abroad; he has been about, hunting up the earliest and most authentic pictures of our Saviour, some merely outlines, some coloured pictures. They agree wonderfully in the character of the face, and one, he says, there is no doubt was done before the year 150. ... I feel sure from his tone that he is doing this in a religious spirit, and not merely as an artist.

On July 4, 1862, there is a very important entry: I made an expedition ^cp the river to Godstow with the three Liddells; we had tea on the bank there, and did not reach Christ Church till half-past eight."

On the opposite page he added, somewhat later, " On which occasion I told them the fairy-tale of 'Alice's Adventures Underground,' which I undertook to write out for Alice."

These words need to be supplemented by the verses with which he prefaced the "Wonderland":—

Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll - Lorina, Alice, and Edith Liddell.jpg

(From a photograph by Lewis Carroll.)

All in the golden afternoon
Full leisurely we glide;
For both our oars, with little skill,
By little arms are plied,
While little hands make vain pretence
Our wanderings to guide.

Ah, cruel Three! In such an hour,
Beneath such dreamy weather,
To beg a tale of breath too weak
To stir the tiniest feather!
Yet what can one poor voice avail
Against three tongues together?

Imperious Prima flashes forth
Her edict "to begin it"—
In gentler tones Secunda hopes
"There will be nonsense in it!"
While Tertia interrupts the tale
Not more than once a minute.

Anon, to sudden silence won,
In fancy they pursue
The dream-child moving through a land
Of wonders wild and new,
In friendly chat with bird or beast—
And half believe it true.

And ever, as the story drained
The wells of fancy dry,
And faintly strove that weary one
To put the subject by,
"The rest next time"—"It is next time!"
The happy voices cry.

Thus grew the tale of Wonderland:
Thus slowly, one by one,
Its quaint events were hammered out—
And now the tale is done,
And home we steer, a merry crew,
Beneath the setting sun.

"Alice" herself (Mrs. Reginald Hargreaves) has given an account of the scene, from which what follows is quoted: —

Most of Mr. Dodgson's stories were told to us on river expeditions to Nuneham or Godstow, near Oxford. My eldest sister, now Mrs. Skene, was " Prima," I was " Secunda," and "Tertia" was my sister Edith. I believe the beginning of " Alice " was told one summer afternoon when the sun was so burning that we had landed in the meadows down the river, deserting the boat to take refuge in the only bit of shade to be found, which was under a new-made hayrick. Here from all three came the old petition of " Tell us a story," and so began the ever-delightful tale. Sometimes to tease us—and perhaps being really tired—Mr. Dodgson would stop suddenly and say, "And that's all till next time." "Ah, but it is next time," would be the exclamation from all three; and after some persuasion the story would start afresh. Another day, perhaps, the story would begin in the boat, and Mr. Dodgson, in the middle of telling a thrilling adventure, would pretend to go fast asleep, to our great dismay.

"Alice's Adventures Underground" was the original name of the story; later on it became Alice's Hour in Elfland." It was not until June 1 8, 1864, that he finally decided upon "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland." The illustrating of the manuscript book gave him some trouble. He had to borrow a " Natural History" from the Deanery to learn the correct shapes of some of the strange animals with which Alice conversed; the Mock Turtle he must have evolved out of his inner consciousness, for it is, I think, a species unknown to naturalists.

He was lucky enough during the course of the year to see a ceremony which is denied to most Oxford men. When degrees are given, any tradesman who has been unable to get his due from an undergraduate about to be made a Bachelor of Arts is allowed, by custom, to pluck the Proctor's gown as he passes, and then to make his complaint. This law is more honoured in the breach than in the observance; but, on the occasion of this visit of Mr. Dodgson's to Convocation, the Proctor's gown was actually plucked—on account of an unfortunate man who had gone through the Bankruptcy Court.

When he promised to write out "Alice" for Miss Liddell he had no idea of publication; but his friend, Mr. George Macdonald, to whom he had shown the story, persuaded him to submit it to a publisher. Messrs. Macmillan agreed to produce it, and as Mr. Dodgson had not sufficient faith in his own artistic powers to venture to allow his illustrations to appear, it was necessary to find some artist who would undertake the work. By the advice of Tom Taylor he approached Mr. Tenniel, who was fortunately
Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll - George Macdonald.jpg


(From a photograph by Lewis Carroll.)

well disposed, and on April 5, 1864, the final arrangements were made.

The following interesting account of a meeting with Mr. Dodgson is from the pen of Mrs. Bennie, wife of the Rector of Glenfield, near Leicester:—

Some little time after the publication of "Alice's Adventures" we went for our summer holiday to Whitby. We were visiting friends, and my brother and sister went to the hotel. They soon after asked us to dine with them there at the table d'hôte. I had on one side of me a gentleman whom I did not know, but as I had spent a good deal of time travelling in foreign countries, I always, at once, speak to any one I am placed next. I found on this occasion I had a very agreeable neighbour, and we seemed to be much interested in the same books, and politics also were touched on. After dinner my sister and brother rather took me to task for talking so much to a complete stranger. I said, "But it was quite a treat to talk to him and to hear him talk. Of one thing I am quite sure, he is a genius." My brother and sister, who had not heard him speak, again laughed at me, and said, "You are far

too easily pleased." I, however, maintained my point, and said what great delight his conversation had given me, and how remarkably clever it had been. Next morning nurse took out our two little twin daughters in front of the sea. I went out a short time afterwards, looked for them, and found them seated with my friend of the table d'hôte between them, and they were listening to him, open-mouthed, and in the greatest state of enjoyment, with his knee covered with minute toys. I, seeing their great delight, motioned to him to go on; this he did for some time. A most charming story he told them about sea-urchins and Ammonites. When it was over, I said, "You must be the author of 'Alice's Adventures.'" He Page:Collingwood - Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll.djvu/124 Page:Collingwood - Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll.djvu/125 Page:Collingwood - Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll.djvu/126
Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll - Holman Hunt.jpg


(From a photograph by Lewis Carroll.)

Page:Collingwood - Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll.djvu/128
Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll - Sir John Millais.jpg


(From a photograph by Lewis Carroll.)

Page:Collingwood - Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll.djvu/130 Page:Collingwood - Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll.djvu/131 Page:Collingwood - Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll.djvu/132 Page:Collingwood - Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll.djvu/133 Page:Collingwood - Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll.djvu/134 Page:Collingwood - Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll.djvu/135 Page:Collingwood - Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll.djvu/136 Page:Collingwood - Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll.djvu/137 Page:Collingwood - Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll.djvu/138 LEWIS CARROLL 115 fact a dragon is the correct thing, but if that is beyond the artist, he may content himself with a Hon or a pig. The beast- killing principle has been carried out everywhere with a relent- less monotony, which makes some parts of Berlin look like a fossil slaughter-house. He never missed an opportunity of studying the foreign drama, which was most praiseworthy, as he knew very Httle German and not a word of Russ : — At the hotel [at Danzig] was a green parrot on a stand ; we addressed it as " Pretty Poll," and it put its head on one side and thought about it, but wouldn't commit itself to any statement. The waiter came up to inform us of the reason of its silence : " Er spricht nicht Englisch ; er spricht nicht Deutsch." It appeared that the unfortunate bird could speak nothing but Mexican ! Not knowing a word of that language, we could only pity it. ^tily 2^rd. — We strolled about and bought a few photographs, and at 11.39 ^^^^ ^^^ Konigsberg. On our way to the station we came across the grandest instance of the " Majesty of Justice " that I have ever witnessed. A little boy was being taken to the magistrate, or to prison (probably for picking a pocket). The achievement of this feat had been entrusted to two soldiers in full uniform, who were solemnly marching, one in front of the poor little urchin and one behind, with bayonets fixed, of course, to be ready to charge in case he should attempt an escape. yuly 25//L — In the evening I visited the theatre at Konigs- berg, which was fairly good in every way, and very good in the singing and some of the acting. The play was " Anno 66," but I could only catch a few words here and there, so have very little idea of the plot. One of the characters was a correPage:Collingwood - Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll.djvu/140 Page:Collingwood - Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll.djvu/141 Page:Collingwood - Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll.djvu/142 Page:Collingwood - Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll.djvu/143 Page:Collingwood - Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll.djvu/144 Page:Collingwood - Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll.djvu/145 Page:Collingwood - Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll.djvu/146 Page:Collingwood - Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll.djvu/147 Page:Collingwood - Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll.djvu/148 Page:Collingwood - Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll.djvu/149 winding away in all directions among hills clothed with trees to the very top, and white villages nestling away wherever there was a comfortable corner to hide in. The trees were so small, so uniform in colour, and so continuous, that they gave to the more distant hills something of the effect of banks covered with moss. The really unique feature of the scenery was the way in which the old castles seemed to grow, rather than to have been built, on the tops of the rocky promontories that showed their heads here and there among the trees. I have never seen architecture that seemed so entirely in harmony with the spirit of the place. By some subtle instinct the old architects seem to have chosen both form and colour, the grouping of the towers with their pointed spires, and the two neutral tints, light grey and brown, on the walls and roof, so as to produce buildings which look as naturally fitted to the spot as the heath or the harebells. And, like the flowers and the rocks, they seemed instinct with no other meaning than rest and silence.

And with these beautiful words my extracts from the Diary may well conclude. Lewis Carroll's mind was completely at one with Nature, and in her pleasant places of calm and infinite repose he sought his rest — and has found it.

Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll - Sir John Tenniel.jpg


(From a photograph by Bassano.)