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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Lewis Carroll (1832–1898)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
THAT the author of the best nonsense-writing in the language should be a professional mathematician and logician, is not a paradox but a sequence. A gymnast cannot divert us by pretending to lose his balance unless perfectly able to keep his balance. Actors who counterfeit insanity must be acutely sane. Only a competent classical scholar can write good macaronics; only a good poet can write clever doggerel. The only ones who can use slang effectively are those who do not need to use it at all. Nor is the tone and temper of mind evinced by these dry and severe studies out of keeping with the airiest play of fancy or the maddest fun. The one is indeed a frequent relief from the other, and no intellectual bent is related in the least to any special temperament. Extravagant drollery can be mated to an aptitude for geometry or a passion for analysis as well as to a love of pictures or of horses.  1
  But the parentage of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and its fellows is closer to their creator’s intellectual being even than this. A very slight glance at their matter and mechanism shows that they are the work of one trained to use words with the finest precision, to teach others to use them so, to criticize keenly any inconsistency or slovenliness in their use, and to mock mercilessly any vagueness or incoherence in thought or diction. The fantastic framework and inconsequent scenes of these wonder-stories mask from the popular view the qualities which give them their superlative rank and enduring charm.  2
  The mere machinery, ingenious and amusing as it is, would not entertain beyond a single reading; it can be and has often been imitated, along with the incarnated nursery rhymes and old saws. Yet these grotesque chimeras, under Lewis Carroll’s touch, are as living to us as any characters in Dickens or the ‘Ingoldsby Legends,’ and even more so to the elders than the children. Who does not know and delight in the King and Queen and Knave of Hearts, the elegant White Rabbit and the conceited and monosyllabic Caterpillar, the Cheshire Cat and the Mock-Turtle, the March Hare and the Hatter and the Dormouse; or the chess White King and the Queens and the White Knight, the Walrus and the Carpenter, of Looking-Glass Land?  3
  The very genesis of many of these is the logical analysis of a popular comparison into sober fact, as “grinning like a Cheshire cat,” “mad as a hatter” or “March hare,” “sleeping like a dormouse,” etc.; and a large part of their wit and fun consists in plays on ambiguous terms in current use, like the classic “jam every other day,” “French, music, and washing,” “The name of the song is called—” or in parodies on familiar verses (or on the spirit of ballads rather than the wording, as in ‘Jabberwocky’), or in heaps of versified non-sequiturs, like the exquisite “poem” read at the trial of the Knave of Hearts. The analyst and the logician is as patent in ‘Alice’ as in the class lectures the author gave or the technical works he has issued; only turning his criticism and his reductiones ad absurdum into bases for witty fooling instead of serious lessons or didactic works. Hence, while his wonder-books are nominally for children, and please the children through their cheaper and commoner qualities, their real audience is the most cultivated and keen-minded part of the mature world; to whom indeed he speaks almost exclusively in such passages as the Rabelaisian satire of the jury trial in ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ or the mob in ‘Sylvie and Bruno’ yelling “Less bread! More taxes!” before the Lord Chancellor’s house, or the infinitely touching pathos of the Outlandish Watch.  4
  ‘Alice in Wonderland’ appeared in 1865; it received universal admiration at once, and was translated into many languages. By the rarest of good fortune, it was illustrated by an artist (John Tenniel) who entered into its spirit so thoroughly that the characters in popular memory are as much identified with his pictures as with Lewis Carroll’s text, and no other representation of them would be endured. ‘Through the Looking-Glass’ followed in 1871; its prose matter was almost equal to that of its predecessor,—the chapter of the White Knight is fully equal to the best of the other,—and its verse is superior. Part of the first book was based on the game of cards; the whole setting of the second is based on chess moves, and Alice’s progress to queenship along the board. He has published several books of humorous prose and verse since; some of the verse equal to the best of his two best books, but the prose generally spoiled by conscious didacticism, as in ‘Sylvie and Bruno,’ which however contains some of his happiest nonsense verse. ‘The Hunting of the Snark’ is a nonsense tale in verse, but oddly the best things in it are his prose tags. ‘Rhyme and Reason’ is a collection of verse, some of it of high merit in its kind: ‘The Three Voices’ is spun out and ill-ended, but has some passages which deserve to be classic.  5
  Lewis Carroll is in fact the Rev. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, who (disliking publicity) lives in retirement at Oxford, and the world knows little of him. He received his degree in Christ Church, Oxford, with high honors in mathematics. In 1861 he took orders in the Church of England. From 1855 to 1881 he was mathematical lecturer at Christ Church, Oxford. He has published several works on mathematics, including ‘Euclid and His Modern Rivals,’ and ‘Mathematica Curiosa,’ a very valuable work. ‘A Tangled Tale,’ ‘Pillow Problems,’ and a ‘Game of Logic’ are scientific and humorous, but are only appreciated by experts in mathematics and logic. Delighted with ‘Alice in Wonderland’ on its appearance, Queen Victoria asked Mr. Dodgson for his other works; and in response “Lewis Carroll” sent her his ‘Elementary Treatise on Determinants’ and other mathematical works.  6
  His death occurred in Guilford, Surrey, January 17, 1898. His love for children was a marked feature of his character, and it was to amuse the children of Dean Liddell that he began the tale which developed into the delightful child’s book which brought him fame.  7
 
 
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