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Preface to Hunting of the Snark

Lewis Carroll 1832 (Daresbury) – 1898 (Guildford)


  If---and the thing is wildly possible---the charge of writing
  nonsense were ever brought against the author of this brief but
  instructive poem, it would be based, I feel convinced, on the line

  ``Then the bowsprit got mixed with the rudder sometimes''

  In view of this painful possibility, I will not (as I might) appeal
  indignantly to my other writings as a proof that I am incapable of
  such a deed: I will not (as I might) point to the strong moral
  purpose of this poem itself, to the arithmetical principles so
  cautiously inculcated in it, or to its noble teachings in Natural
  History---I will take the more prosaic course of simply explaining
  how it happened.

  The Bellman, who was almost morbidly sensitive about appearances,
  used to have the bowsprit unshipped once or twice a week to be
  revarnished, and it more than once happened, when the time came for
  replacing it, that no one on board could remember which end of the
  ship it belonged to. They knew it was not of the slightest use to
  appeal to the Bellman about it---he would only refer to his Naval
  Code, and read out in pathetic tones Admiralty Instructions which
  none of them had ever been able to understand---so it generally ended
  in its being fastened on, anyhow, across the rudder. The helmsman
  used to stand by with tears in his eyes: he knew it was all wrong,
  but alas! Rule 42 of the Code, ``No one shall speak to the Man at the
  Helm'', had been completed by the Bellman himself with the words
  ``and the Man at the Helm shall speak to no one''. So remonstrance
  was impossible, and no steering could be done till the next
  varnishing day. During these bewildering intervals the ship usually
  sailed backwards.

  This office was usually undertaken by the Boots, who found in it
  a refuge from the Baker's constant complaints about the insufficient
  blacking of his three pairs of boots.

  As this poem is to some extent connected with the lay of the
  Jabberwock, let me take this opportunity of answering a question that
  has often been asked me, how to pronounce ``slithy toves''. The
  ``i'' in ``slithy'' is long, as in ``writhe''; and ``toves'' is
  pronounced so as to rhyme with ``groves''. Again, the first ``o'' in
  ``borogoves'' is pronounced like the ``o'' in ``borrow''. I have
  heard people try to give it the sound of the ``o'' in ``worry''.
  Such is Human Perversity.

  This also seems a fitting occasion to notice the other hard words in
  that poem. Humpty-Dumpty's theory, of two meanings packed into one
  word like a portmanteau, seems to me the right explanation for all.

  For instance, take the two words ``fuming'' and ``furious''. Make up
  your mind that you will say both words, but leave it unsettled which
  you will say first. Now open your mouth and speak. If your thoughts
  incline ever so little towards ``fuming'', you will say
  ``fuming-furious''; if they turn, by even a hair's breadth, towards
  ``furious'', you will say ``furious-fuming''; but if you have that
  rarest of gifts, a perfectly balanced mind, you will say

  Supposing that, when Pistol uttered the well-known words---

  ``Under which king, Bezonian? Speak or die!''

  Justice Shallow had felt certain that it was either William or
  Richard, but had not been able to settle which, so that he could not
  possibly say either name before the other, can it be doubted that,
  rather than die, he would have gasped out ``Rilchiam!''.

'Lewis Carroll'

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Submitted on May 13, 2011

2:58 min read

Lewis Carroll

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known by his pen name, Lewis Carroll, was an English writer, mathematician, logician, Anglican deacon and photographer. more…

All Lewis Carroll poems | Lewis Carroll Books

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