Lewis Carroll

Here you will find the Long Poem Preface to Hunting of the Snark of poet Lewis Carroll

Preface to Hunting of the Snark


 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'