The Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll/Chapter IX

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(1897, 1898)

Logic lectures—Irreverent anecdotes—Tolerance of his religious views—A mathematical discovery—"The Little Minister"—Sir George Baden-Powell—Last illness—"Thy will be done"—"Wonderland" at last!—Letters from friends—"Three Sunsets"—"Of such is the kingdom of Heaven."

THE year 1897, the last complete year which he was destined to spend, began for Mr. Dodgson at Guildford. On January 3rd he preached in the morning at the beautiful old church of S. Mary's, the church which he always attended when he was staying with his sisters at the Chestnuts.

On the 5th he began a course of Logic Lectures at Abbot's Hospital. The Rev. A. Kingston, late curate of Holy Trinity and S. Mary's Parishes, Guildford, had requested him to do this, and he had given his promise if as many as six people could be got together to


(From a photograph.)

hear him. Mr. Kingston canvassed the town so well that an audience of about thirty attended the first lecture.

A long Sunday walk was always a feature of Mr. Dodgson's life in the vacations. In earlier years the late Mr. W. Watson was his usual companion at Guildford. The two men were in some respects very much alike; a peculiar gentleness of character, a winning charm of manner which no one could resist, distinguished them both. After Mr. Watson's death his companion was usually one of the following Guildford clergymen: the Rev. J. H. Robson, LL.D., the Rev. H. R. Ware, and the Rev. A. Kingston.

On the 26th Mr. Dodgson paid a visit to the Girls' High School, to show the pupils some mathematical puzzles, and to teach the elder ones his "Memoria Technica." On the 28th he returned to Oxford, so as to be up in time for term.

I have said that he always refused invitations to dinner; accordingly his friends who knew of this peculiarity, and wished to secure him for a special evening, dared not actually invite him, but wrote him little notes stating that on such and such days they would be dining at home. Thus there is an entry in his Journal for February 10th:

"Dined with Mrs. G——— (She had not sent an 'invitation'—only 'information.')."

His system of symbolic logic enabled him to work out the most complex problems with absolute certainty in a surprisingly short time. Thus he wrote on the 15th: "Made a splendid logic-problem, about "great-grandsons" (modelled on one by De Morgan). My method of solution is quite new, and I greatly doubt if any one will solve the Problem. I have sent it to Cook Wilson."

On March 7th he preached in the University Church, the first occasion on which he had done so:—

There is now [he writes] a system established of a course of six sermons at S. Mary's each year, for University men only, and specially meant for undergraduates. They are preached, preceded by a few prayers and a hymn, at half-past eight. This evening ended the course for this term: and it was my great privilege to preach. It has been the most formidable sermon I have ever had to preach, and it is a great relief to have it over. I took, as text, Job xxviii. 28, "And unto man he said, The fear of the Lord, that is wisdom"—and the prayer in the Litany "Give us an heart to love and dread thee." It lasted three-quarters of an hour.

One can imagine how he would have treated the subject. The views which he held on the subject of reverence were, so at least it appears to me, somewhat exaggerated; they are well expressed in a letter which he wrote to a friend of his, during the year, and which runs as follows:—

Dear ———,—After changing my mind several times, I have at last decided to venture to ask a favour of you, and to trust that you will not misinterpret my motives in doing so.
The favour I would ask is, that you will not tell me any more stories, such as you did on Friday, of remarks which children are said to have made on very sacred subjects—remarks which most people would recognise as irreverent, if made by grown-up people, but which are assumed to be innocent when made by children who are unconscious of any irreverence, the strange conclusion being drawn that they are therefore innocent when repeated by a grown-up person.
The misinterpretation I would guard against is, your supposing that I regard such repetition as always wrong in any grown-up person. Let me assure you that I do not so regard it. I am always willing to believe that those who repeat such stories differ wholly from myself in their views of what is, and what is not, fitting treatment of sacred things, and I fully recognise that what would certainly be wrong in me, is not necessarily so in them.
So I simply ask it as a personal favour to myself. The hearing of that anecdote gave me so much pain, and spoiled so much the pleasure of my tiny dinner-party, that I feel sure you will kindly spare me such in future.
One further remark. There are quantities of such anecdotes going about. I don't in the least believe that 5 per cent, of them were ever said by children. I feel sure that most of them are concocted by people who wish to bring sacred subjects into ridicule—sometimes by people who wish to undermine the belief that others have in religious truths: for there is no surer way of making one's beliefs unreal than by learning to associate them with ludicrous ideas.
Forgive the freedom with which I have said all this.

Sincerely yours,
C. L. Dodgson.

The entry in the Diary for April 11th (Sunday) is interesting:—

Went my eighteen-mile round by Besilsleigh. From my rooms back to them again, took me five hours and twenty-seven minutes. Had "high tea" at twenty minutes past seven. This entails only leaving a plate of cold meat, and gives much less trouble than hot dinner at six.
Dinner at six has been my rule since January 31st, when it began—I then abandoned the seven o'clock Sunday dinner, of which I entirely disapprove. It has prevented, for two terms, the College Servants' Service.

On May 12th he wrote.—

As the Prince of Wales comes this afternoon to open the Town Hall, I went round to the Deanery to invite them to come through my rooms upon the roof, to see the procession arrive. . . . A party of about twenty were on my roof in the afternoon, including Mrs. Moberly, Mrs. Driver, and Mrs. Baynes, and most, if not all, of the children in Christ Church. Dinner in Hall at eight. The Dean had the Prince on his right, and Lord Salisbury on his left. My place was almost vis-à-vis with the Prince. He and the Dean were the only speakers. We did not get out of Hall till nearly ten.

In June he bought a "Whiteley Exerciser," and fixed it up in his rooms. One would have thought that he would have found his long walks sufficient exercise (an eighteen-mile round was, as we have seen, no unusual thing for him to undertake), but apparently it was not so. He was so pleased with the "Exerciser," that he bought several more of them, and made presents of them to his friends.

As an instance of his broad-mindedness, the following extract from his Diary for June 20th is interesting. It must be premised that E——— was a young friend of his who had recently become a member of the Roman Catholic Church, and that their place of worship in Oxford is dedicated to S. Aloysius.

I went with E——— to S. Aloysius. There was much beauty in the service, part of which consisted in a procession, with banner, all round the church, carrying the Host, preceded by a number of girls in white, with veils (who had all had their first communion that morning), strewing flowers. Many of them were quite little things of about seven. The sermon (by Father Richardson) was good and interesting, and in a very loyal tone about the Queen.

A letter he wrote some years before to a friend who had asked him about his religious opinions reveals the same catholicity of mind:—

I am a member of the English Church, and have taken Deacon's Orders, but did not think fit (for reasons I need not go into) to take Priest's Orders, My dear father was what is called a "High Churchman," and I naturally adopted those views, but have always felt repelled by the yet higher development called " Ritualism."

But I doubt if I am fully a "High Churchman" now. I find that as life slips away (I am over fifty now), and the life on the other side of the great river becomes more and more the reality, of which this is only a shadow, that the petty distinctions of the many creeds of Christendom tend to slip away as well—leaving only the great truths which all Christians believe alike. More and more, as I read of the Christian religion, as Christ preached it, I stand amazed at the forms men have given to it, and the fictitious barriers they have built up between themselves and their brethren. I believe that when you and I come to lie down for the last time, if only we can keep firm hold of the great truths Christ taught us—our own utter worthlessness and His infinite worth; and that He has brought us back to our one Father, and made us His brethren, and so brethren to one another—we shall have all we need to guide us through the shadows.

Most assuredly I accept to the full the doctrines you refer to—that Christ died to save us, that we have no other way of salvation open to us but through His death, and that it is by faith in Him, and through no merit of ours, that we are reconciled to God; and most assuredly I can cordially say, "I owe all to Him who loved me, and died on the Cross of Calvary."

He spent the Long Vacation at Eastbourne as usual, frequently walking over to Hastings, which is about twenty miles off. A good many of his mornings were spent in giving lectures and telling stories at schools.

A letter to the widow of an old college friend reveals the extraordinary sensitiveness of his nature:—

2, Bedford Well Road, Eastbourne,
August 2, 1897.

My dear Mrs. Woodhouse,—Your letter, with its mournful news, followed me down here, and I only got it on Saturday night; so I was not able to be with you in thought when the mortal remains of my dear old friend were being committed to the ground; to await the time when our Heavenly Father shall have accomplished the number of His elect, and when you and I shall once more meet the loved ones from whom we are, for a little while only—what a little while even a long human life lasts!—parted in sorrow, yet not sorrowing as those without hope.
You will be sure without words of mine, that you have my true and deep sympathy. Of all the friends I made at Ch. Ch., your husband was the very first who spoke to me—across the dinner-table in Hall. That is forty-six years ago, but I remember, as if it were only yesterday, the kindly smile with which he spoke. . . .

September 27th and 28th are marked in his Diary "with a white stone":—

Sept. 27th.—Dies notandus. Discovered rule for dividing a number by 9, by mere addition and subtraction. I felt sure there must be an analogous one for 11, and found it, and proved first rule by algebra, after working about nine hours!
Sept. 28th. — Dies cretâ notandus. I have actually superseded the rules discovered yesterday! My new rules require to ascertain the 9-remainder, and the 11-remainder, which the others did not require; but the new ones are much the quickest. I shall send them to The Educational Times, with date of discovery.

On November 4th he wrote:—

Completed a rule for dividing a given number by any divisor that is within 10 of a power of 10, either way. The principle of it is not my discovery, but was sent me by Bertram Collingwood—a rule for dividing by a divisor which is within 10 of a power of 10, below it.

My readers will not be surprised to learn that only eight days after this he had superseded his rule:—

An inventive morning! After waking, and before I had finished dressing, I had devised a new and much neater form in which to work my Rules for Long Division, and also decided to bring out my "Games and Puzzles," and Part iii. of "Curiosa Mathematica," in Numbers, in paper covers, paged consecutively, to be ultimately issued in boards.

On November 20th he spent the day in London, with the object of seeing "The Little Minister" at the Haymarket. "A beautiful play, beautifully acted," he calls it, and says that he should like to see it "again and again." He especially admired the acting of Mrs. Cyril Maude (Miss Winifred Emery) as Lady Babbie. This was the last theatrical performance he ever witnessed.

He apparently kept rough notes for his Diary, and only wrote it up every few weeks, as there are no entries at all for 1898, nor even for the last week of 1897. The concluding page runs as follows:—

Dec. (W.) 10 a.m.—I am in my large room, with no fire, and open window—temperature 54°.
Dec. 17 (F.).—Maggie [one of his sisters], and our nieces Nella and Violet, came to dinner.
Dec. 19 (Sun.).—Sat up last night till 4 a.m., over a tempting problem, sent me from New York, "to find 3 equal rational-sided rt.-angled ∆'s." I found two, whose sides are 20, 21, 29; 12, 35, 37; but could not find three.
Dec. 23 (Th.).—I start for Guildford by the 2.7 to-day.

As my story of Lewis Carroll's life draws near its end, I have received some "Stray Reminiscences" from Sir George Baden-Powell, M.P., which, as they refer to several different periods of time, are as appropriate here as in any other part of the book. The Rev. E. H. Dodgson, referred to in these reminiscences, is a younger brother of Lewis Carroll's; he spent several years of his life upon the remote island of Tristan d' Acunha, where there were only about seventy or eighty inhabitants besides himself. About once a year a ship used to call, when the island-folk would exchange their cattle for cloth, corn, tea, &c., which they could not produce themselves. The island is volcanic in origin, and is exposed to the most terrific gales; the building used as a church stood at some distance from Mr. Dodgson's dwelling, and on one occasion the wind was so strong that he had to crawl on his hands and knees for the whole distance that separated the two buildings.

My first introduction [writes Sir George Baden-Powell] to the author of "Through the Looking-Glass" was about the year 1870 or 1871, and under appropriate conditions! I was then coaching at Oxford with the well-known Rev. E. Hatch, and was on friendly terms with his bright and pretty children. Entering his house one day, and facing the dining-room, I heard mysterious noises under the table, and saw the cloth move as if some one were hiding. Children's legs revealed it as no burglar, and there was nothing for it but to crawl upon them, roaring as a lion. Bursting in upon them in their stronghold under the table, I was met by the staid but amused gaze of a reverend gentleman. Frequently afterwards did I see and hear "Lewis Carroll" entertaining the youngsters in his inimitable way.
We became friends, and greatly did I enjoy intercourse with him over various minor Oxford matters. In later years, at one time I saw much of him, in quite another rôle—namely that of ardent sympathy with the, as he thought, ill-treated and deserted islanders of Tristan d'Acunha. His brother, it will be remembered, had voluntarily been left at that island with a view to ministering to the spiritual and educational needs of the few settlers, and sent home such graphic accounts and urgent demands for aid, that "Lewis Carroll" spared no pains to organise assistance and relief. At his instance I brought the matter before Government and the House of Commons, and from that day to this frequent communication has been held with the islanders, and material assistance has been rendered them—thanks to the warm heart of "Lewis Carroll."

On December 23, 1897, as the note in his Diary states, he went down, in accordance with his usual custom, to Guildford, to spend Christmas with his sisters at the Chestnuts. He seemed to be in his ordinary health, and in the best of spirits, and there was nothing to show that the end was so near.

At Guildford he was hard at work upon the second part of his "Symbolic Logic," spending most of the day over this task. This book, alas! he was not destined to finish, which is the more to be regretted as it will be exceedingly difficult for any one else to take up the thread of the argument, even if any one could be found willing to give the great amount of time and trouble which would be needed.

On January 5th my father, the Rev. C. S. Collingwood, Rector of Southwick, near Sunderland, died after a very short illness. The telegram which brought Mr. Dodgson the news

(From a photograph.)

of this contained the request that he would come at once. He determined to travel north the next day—but it was not to be so. An attack of influenza, which began only with slight hoarseness, yet enough to prevent him from following his usual habit of reading family prayers, was pronounced next morning to be sufficiently serious to forbid his undertaking a journey. At first his illness seemed a trifle, but before a week had passed bronchial symptoms had developed, and Dr. Gabb, the family physician, ordered him to keep his bed. His breathing rapidly became hard and laborious, and he had to be propped up with pillows. A few days before his death he asked one of his sisters to read him that well-known hymn, every verse of which ends with "Thy Will be done." To another he said that his illness was a great trial of his patience. How great a trial it must have been it is hard for us to understand. With the work he had set himself still uncompleted, with a sense of youth and joyousness, which sixty years of the battle of life had in no way dulled, Lewis Carroll had to face death. He seemed to know that the struggle was over. "Take away those pillows," he said on the 13th, "I shall need them no more." The end came about half-past two on the afternoon of the 14th. One of his sisters was in the room at the time, and she only noticed that the hard breathing suddenly ceased. The nurse, whom she summoned, at first hoped that this was a sign that he had taken a turn for the better. And so, indeed, he had—he had passed from a world of incompleteness and disappointment, to another where God is putting his beautiful soul to nobler and grander work than was possible for him here, where he is learning to comprehend those difficulties which used to puzzle him so much, and where that infinite Love, which he mirrored so wonderfully in his own life, is being revealed to him "face to face."

In accordance with his expressed wish, the funeral was simple in the extreme—flowers, and flowers only, adorned the plain coffin. There was no hearse to drag it up the steep incline that leads to the beautiful cemetery where he lies. The service was taken by Dean Paget and Canon Grant, Rector of Holy Trinity and S. Mary's, Guildford. The mourners who followed him in the quiet procession were few—but the mourners who were not there, and many of whom had never seen him—who shall tell their number?

After the grave had been filled up, the wreaths which had covered the coffin were placed upon it. Many were from "child-friends" and bore such inscriptions as "From two of his child-friends"—"To the sweetest soul that ever looked with human eyes," &c. Then the mourners left him alone there—up on the pleasant downs where he had so often walked.

A marble cross, under the shadow of a pine, marks the spot, and beneath his own name they have engraved the name of "Lewis Carroll," that the children who pass by may remember their friend, who is now—himself a child in all that makes childhood most attractive—in that "Wonderland" which outstrips all our dreams and hopes.

I cannot forbear quoting from Professor Sanday's sermon at Christ Church on the Sunday after his death:—

The world will think of Lewis Carroll as one who opened out a new vein in literature, a new and a delightful vein, which added at once mirth and refinement to life. . . . May we not say that from our courts at Christ Church there has flowed into the literature of our time a rill, bright and sparkling, health-giving and purifying, wherever its waters extend?

On the following Sunday Dean Paget, in the

(From a photograph.)

course of a sermon on the "Virtue of Simplicity," said:—

We may differ, according to our difference of taste or temperament, in appraising Charles Dodgson's genius; but that that great gift was his, that his best work ranks with the very best of its kind, this has been owned with a recognition too wide and spontaneous to leave room for doubt. The brilliant, venturesome imagination, defying forecast with ever-fresh surprise; the sense of humour in its finest and most naive form; the power to touch with lightest hand the undercurrent of pathos in the midst of fun; the audacity of creative fancy, and the delicacy of insight—these are rare gifts; and surely they were his. Yes, but it was his simplicity of mind and heart that raised them all, not only in his work but in his life, in all his ways, in the man as we knew him, to something higher than any mere enumeration of them tells: that almost curious simplicity, at times, that real and touching child-likeness that marked him in all fields of thought, appearing in his love of children and in their love of him, in his dread of giving pain to any living creature, in a certain disproportion, now and then, of the view he took of things—yes, and also in that deepest life, where the pure in heart and those who become as little children see the very truth and walk in the fear and love of God.

Some extracts from the numerous sympathetic letters received by Mr. Dodgson's brothers and sisters will show how greatly his loss was felt. Thus Canon Jelf writes:—

It was quite a shock to me to see in the paper to-day the death of your dear, good brother, to whom we owe so much of the brightening of our lives with pure, innocent fun. Personally I feel his loss very much indeed. We were together in old Ch. Ch. days from 1852 onwards; and he was always such a loyal, faithful friend to me. I rejoice to think of the serious talks we had together—of the grand, brave way in which he used the opportunities he had as a man of humour, to reach the consciences of a host of readers—of his love for children—his simplicity of heart—of his care for servants—his spiritual care for them. Who can doubt that he was fully prepared for a change however sudden—for the one clear call which took him away from us? Yet the world seems darker for his going; we can only get back our brightness by realising Who gave him all his talent, all his mirth of heart—the One who never leaves us. In deep sympathy,

Yours very sincerely,

George E. Jelf.

P.S.—When you have time tell me a little about him; he was so dear to me.

Mr. Frederic Harrison writes as follows:—

The occasional visits that I received from your late brother showed me a side of his nature which to my mind was more interesting and more worthy of remembrance even than his wonderful and delightful humour—I mean his intense sympathy with all who suffer and are in need.

He came to see me several times on sundry errands of mercy, and it has been a lesson to me through life to remember his zeal to help others in difficulty, his boundless generosity, and his inexhaustible patience with folly and error.

My young daughter, like all young people in civilised countries, was brought up on his beautiful fancies and humours. But for my part I remember him mainly as a sort of missionary to all in need. We all alike grieve, and offer you our heartfelt sympathy.I am, faithfully yours,

Frederic Harrison.

His old friend and tutor, Dr. Price, writes: —

. . . I feel his removal from among us as the loss of an old and dear friend and pupil, to whom I have been most warmly attached ever since he was with me at Whitby, reading mathematics, in, I think, 1853—44 years ago! And 44 years of uninterrupted friendship. . . . I was pleased to read yesterday in The Times newspaper the kindly obituary notice: perfectly just and true; appreciative, as it should be, as to the unusual combination of deep mathematical ability and taste with the genius that led to the writing of "Alice's Adventures."

Only the other day [writes a lady friend] he wrote to me about his admiration for my dear husband, and he ended his letter thus: "I trust that when my time comes, I may be found, like him, working to the last, and ready for the Master's call"—and truly so he was.

A friend at Oxford writes:—

Mr. Dodgson was ever the kindest and gentlest of friends, bringing sunshine into the house with him. We shall mourn his loss deeply, and my two girls are quite overcome with grief. All day memories of countless acts of kindness shown to me, and to people I have known, have crowded my mind, and I feel it almost impossible to realise that he has passed beyond the reach of our gratitude and affection.

The following are extracts from letters written by some of his "child-friends," now grown up:—

How beautiful to think of the track of light and love he has left behind him, and the amount of happiness he brought into the lives of all those he came in contact with! I shall never forget all his kindness to us, from the time he first met us as little mites in the railway train, and one feels glad to have had the privilege of knowing him.

One of Mr. Dodgson's oldest "child-friends" writes:—

He was to me a dear and true friend, and it has been my great privilege to see a good deal of him ever since I was a tiny child, and especially during the last two years. I cannot tell you how much we shall miss him here. Ch. Ch. without Mr. Dodgson will be a strange place, and it is difficult to realise it even while we listen to the special solemn anthems and hymns to his memory in our cathedral.

One who had visited him at Guildford, writes:—

It must be quite sixteen years now since he first made friends with my sister and myself as children on the beach at Eastbourne, and since then his friendship has been and must always be one of my most valued possessions. It culminated, I think, in the summer of 1892 — the year when he brought me to spend a very happy Sunday at Guildford. I had not seen him before, that year, for some time; and it was then, I think, that the childish delight in his kindness, and pride in his friendship, changed into higher love and reverence, when in our long walks over the downs I saw more and more into the great tenderness and gentleness of his nature.

Shortly after Mr. Dodgson's death, his " Three Sunsets" was published by Messrs. Macmillan. The twelve "Fairy Fancies," which illustrate it. were drawn by Miss E. G. Thomson. Though they are entirely unconnected with the text, they are so thoroughly in accordance with the author's delicate refinement, and so beautiful in themselves, that they do not strike one as inappropriate.

Some of the verses are strangely in keeping with the time at which they are published.

I could not see, for blinding tears,
The glories of the west:
A heavenly music filled my ears,
A heavenly peace my breast.
"Come unto me, come unto me—
All ye that labour, unto me—
Ye heavy-laden, come to me—
And I will give you rest."

One cannot read this little volume without feeling that the shadow of some disappointment lay over Lewis Carroll's life. Such I believe to have been the case, and it was this that gave him his wonderful sympathy with all who suffered. But those who loved him would not wish to lift the veil from these dead sanctities, nor would any purpose be served by so doing. The proper use of sympathy is not to weep over sorrows that are over, and whose very memory is perhaps obliterated for him in the first joy of possessing new and higher faculties.

Before leaving the subject of this book, I should like to draw attention to a few lines on "woman's mission," lines full of the noblest chivalry, reminding one of Tennyson's "Idylls of the King":—

In the darkest path of man's despair,
Where War and Terror shake the troubled earth,
Lies woman's mission; with unblenching brow
To pass through scenes of horror and affright
Where men grow sick and tremble: unto her
All things are sanctified, for all are good.
Nothing so mean, but shall deserve her care:
Nothing so great, but she may bear her part.
No life is vain: each hath his place assigned:
Do thou thy task, and leave the rest to God.

Of the unpublished works which Mr. Dodgson left behind him, I may mention "Original Games and Puzzles"; "Symbolic Logic, Part ii.," and a portion of a mathematical book, the proofs of which are now in the hands of the Controller of the Oxford University Press.

I will conclude this chapter with a poem which appeared in Punch for January 29th, a fortnight after Lewis Carroll's death. It expresses, with all the grace and insight of the true poet, what I have tried, so feebly and ineffectually, to say:—

Born 1832.Died January 14, 1898.

Lover of children! Fellow-heir with those
Of whom the imperishable kingdom is!
Beyond all dreaming now your spirit knows
The unimagined mysteries.
Darkly as in a glass our faces look
To read ourselves, if so we may, aright;
You, like the maiden in your faërie book—
You step behind and see the light!
The heart you wore beneath your pedant's cloak
Only to children's hearts you gave away;
Yet unaware in half the world you woke
The slumbering charm of childhood's day.
We older children, too, our loss lament,
We of the "Table Round," remembering well
How he, our comrade, with his pencil lent
Your fancy's speech a firmer spell.
Master of rare woodcraft, by sympathy's
Sure touch he caught your visionary gleams,
And made your fame, the dreamer's, one with his,
The wise interpreter of dreams.
Farewell! But near our hearts we have you yet,
Holding our heritage with loving hand,
Who may not follow where your feet are set
Upon the ways of Wonderland.

  1. This poem is reproduced here by the kind permission of the proprietors of Punch.