An Argument with Lewis Carroll

drojkyWindows into History… in Wonderland 6.

We have a connecting theme this month: Lewis Carroll (Rev. Charles Dodgson) and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  Dodgson was not generally keen on foreign travel, but in 1867 he did go abroad on a tour of Europe with his friend Rev. Henry Liddon, with his ultimate goal to explore Russia, a country that fascinated him. The following amusing anecdote is taken from The Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll, written by Dodgon’s nephew Stuart Dodgson Collingwood and published in 1898, which contains some quotes from Dodgon’s own journal of the trip:

His experiences with an exorbitant drojky-driver at St. Petersburg are worthy of record. They remind one of a story which he himself used to tell as having happened to a friend of his at Oxford. The latter had driven up in a cab to Tom Gate, and offered the cabman the proper fare, which was, however, refused with scorn. After a long altercation he left the irate cabman to be brought to reason by the porter, a one-armed giant of prodigious strength. When he was leaving college, he stopped at the gate to ask the porter how he had managed to dispose of the cabman. “Well, sir,” replied that doughty champion, “I could not persuade him to go until I floored him.”

After a hearty breakfast I left Liddon to rest and write letters, and went off shopping, etc., beginning with a call on Mr. Muir at No. 61, Galerne Ulitsa. I took a drojky to the house, having first bargained with the driver for thirty kopecks; he wanted forty to begin with. When we got there we had a little scene, rather a novelty in my experience of drojky-driving. The driver began by saying “Sorok” (forty) as I got out; this was a warning of the coming storm, but I took no notice of it, but quietly handed over the thirty. He received them with scorn and indignation, and holding them out in his open hand, delivered an eloquent discourse in Russian, of which sorok was the leading idea. A woman, who stood by with a look of amusement and curiosity, perhaps understood him. I didn’t, but simply held out my hand for the thirty, returned them to the purse and counted out twenty-five instead. In doing this I felt something like a man pulling the string of a shower-bath — and the effect was like it — his fury boiled over directly, and quite eclipsed all the former row. I told him in very bad Russian that I had offered thirty once, but wouldn’t again; but this, oddly enough, did not pacify him. Mr. Muir’s servant told him the same thing at length, and finally Mr. Muir himself came out and gave him the substance of it sharply and shortly— but he failed to see it in a proper light. Some people are very hard to please.

A “drojky”, more commonly spelt “droshky” or “drosky” is a low, four-wheeled, open carriage.  An example is illustrated above.


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“Refer to the Big Drawer!”

The main building of the Nijni Novgorod fair, C19th.

Windows into History… in Wonderland 5.

We have a connecting theme this month: Lewis Carroll (Rev. Charles Dodgson) and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  Dodgson was not generally keen on foreign travel, but in 1867 he did go abroad on a tour of Europe with his friend Rev. Henry Liddon, with his ultimate goal to explore Russia, a country that fascinated him.  In particular, he wanted to see the Nijni Novgorod fair, an important event for Russian commerce and entertainment, held annually until 1929.  The following quote is taken from The Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll, written by Dodgon’s nephew Stuart Dodgson Collingwood and published in 1898, which contains some quotes from Dodgon’s own journal of the trip:

One of the objects of the tour was to see the fair at Nijni Novgorod, and here the travellers arrived on August 6th, after a miserable railway journey. Owing to the breaking down of a bridge, the unfortunate passengers had been compelled to walk a mile through drenching rain.

“We went to the Smernovaya (or some such name) Hotel, a truly villainous place, though no doubt the best in the town. The feeding was very good, and everything else very bad. It was some consolation to find that as we sat at dinner we furnished a subject of the liveliest interest to six or seven waiters, all dressed in white tunics, belted at the waist, and white trousers, who ranged themselves in a row and gazed in a quite absorbed way at the collection of strange animals that were feeding before them. Now and then a twinge of conscience would seize them that they were, after all, not fulfilling the great object of life as waiters, and on these occasions they would all hurry to the end of the room, and refer to a great drawer which seemed to contain nothing but spoons and corks. When we asked for anything, they first looked at each other in an alarmed way; then, when they had ascertained which understood the order best, they all followed his example, which always was to refer to the big drawer.”

The main building of the Nijni Novgorod fair, C19th.


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Lewis Carroll says “Non!”

Tenniel’s “pool of tears” illustration. This part of the book is probably inspired by an incident where Dodgson and the Liddell sisters got caught in the rain on a boating excursion.

Windows into History… in Wonderland 4.

We have a connecting theme this month: Lewis Carroll (Rev. Charles Dodgson) and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  Dodgson was not generally keen on foreign travel, preferring to spend his summers at Eastbourne or on the Isle of Wight, but in 1867 he did travel abroad on a tour of Europe with his friend Rev. Henry Liddon, with his ultimate goal to explore Russia, a country that fascinated him.  The following quote is taken from The Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll, written by Dodgon’s nephew Stuart Dodgson Collingwood and published in 1898, which contains some quotes from Dodgon’s own journal of the trip:

During the whole of this tour Mr. Dodgson kept a diary, more with the idea that it would help him afterwards to remember what he had seen than with any notion of publication. However, in later years it did occur to him that others might be interested in his impressions and experiences, though he never actually took any steps towards putting them before the public.

“The pen refuses to describe the sufferings of some of the passengers during our smooth trip of ninety minutes: my own sensations were those of extreme surprise, and a little indignation, at there being no other sensations — it was not for that I paid my money…

“We landed at Calais in the usual swarm of friendly natives, offering services and advice of all kinds; to all such remarks I returned one simple answer, ‘Non!’ It was probably not strictly applicable in all cases, but it answered the purpose of getting rid of them; one by one they left me, echoing the ‘Non!’ in various tones, but all expressive of disgust.”

Tenniel’s “pool of tears” illustration. This part of the book is probably inspired by an incident where Dodgson and the Liddell sisters got caught in the rain on a boating excursion.


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Who was Lewis Carroll?

dodgsonWindows into History… in Wonderland 3.

We have a connecting theme this month: Lewis Carroll (Rev. Charles Dodgson) and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  Dodgson was generally very keen to keep his own life separate from the work of “Lewis Carroll” and continued to deny the connection long after it was an open secret.  The exceptions to that rule were his many female child friends, who could be impressed by his alter ego and sent copies of his Alice books, but Dodgson sought no public recognition from the world of adults, as the following quote from the Sheffield Daily Telegraph (1st January 1890) illustrates:

A most entertaining volume in the Canterbury Poets series… is that devoted to Humorous Poetry of the century, edited by Ralph Caine. The thoroughness with which the editorial work has been done may be gathered from the statement that some seventy English and American humorist poets have been drawn on, and each of these is briefly biographed at the end of the volume. In preparing the work Mr. Caine appears to have met with at least one quaint adventure. It has been generally supposed that Mr. “Lewis Carroll,” the author of most delightful fairy stories, was the Rev. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, of Oxford. To this gentleman accordingly Mr. Caine addressed himself, and received the following reply in typewriting:—”Mr. C. L. Dodgson begs to say, in reply to Mr. Caine’s letter received this morning, that he has never put his name to any such pieces as are named by Mr. Caine. His published writings are exclusively mathematical, and would not be suitable for such a volume as Mr. Caine proposes to edit.”


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The Genesis of Alice

Alice Liddell, photographed by Dodgson.

Windows into History… in Wonderland 2.

We have a connecting theme this month: Lewis Carroll (Rev. Charles Dodgson) and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  It is not by accident that I chose July for this.  Exactly 157 years ago, on 4th July 1862, Dodgson went on one of his many boat trips with little Alice Liddell and her sisters, the daughters of a friend and colleague of his, and improvised much of the Alice story.  The following quote is Alice’s own account of the day, as quoted in The Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll, written by Dodgon’s nephew Stuart Dodgson Collingwood and published in 1898:

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.


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1865 Reviews of “Alice”

Alice Tenniel IllustrationWindows into History… in Wonderland 1.

This month I will be doing something a bit different on Windows into History, with a connecting theme for the whole month: Lewis Carroll (Rev. Charles Dodgson) and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  July is an appropriate month for this endeavour.  On 4th July 1862, Dodgson went on one of his many boat trips with little Alice Liddell and her sisters, the daughters of a friend and colleague of his, and improvised much of the Alice story.  The real Alice insisted he write the story down, and Alice’s Adventures Underground (as he originally called it), was eventually published as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in 1865, after a great deal of hassle trying to get illustrations drawn to his liking by John Tenniel.  The following are two contemporary newspaper articles, reflecting the positive reception the book received when it was first published:

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. By Lewis Carroll. (Macmillan and Co.) This is a very elegant piece of fancy-work wrought by clever brain for the amusement and even instruction of children. Externally and internally it is well suited for the season at which children receive if they do not expect all manner of gifts, amongst which books are not the least conspicuous. The pleasant volume contains forty-two illustrations due to the practised pencil of John Tenniel, and that fact should of itself be a strong recommendation.

The above quote is from the Illustrated London News, 16th December 1865.  Next we have a review from the Pall Mall Gazette, 23rd December 1865, as part of an article looking at the wider world of Christmas gifts for children:

Of gift books for young people there are abundance; we doubt whether so many really good ones have ever been published in one year. First among them we may mention “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” (Macmillan and Co.), embellished with more than forty illustrations by John Tenniel. This delightful little book is a children’s feast and triumph of nonsense; it is nonsense with bonbons, flags and music; never inhuman, never inelegant, never tedious. Take a rabbit, a dodo, a little girl, a boarding-school prospectus, a mouse, a griffin, a cat, a puppy, a guinea-pig, and almost anything else you can think of that is innocent and unexpected; shake it all up in a Brobdignag-Lilliput kaleidoscope, and you have (when you have done it) a tale like the one before us…


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Fish Tank on the Head

aquariumQuick Quotes 31.  The following quote is taken from the John O’Groat Journal, from 19th April 1877.  The journal is re-reporting an article taken from the New York Times, as was commonplace for local newspapers at the time to bulk out their content:

A gentleman, evidently a stranger, was walking along Main Street on Monday morning. He walked leisurely and used his eyes to the best advantage. He had his hands clasped behind him, and was well dressed. As he was passing Perrins’ Block a most extraordinary mishap overtook him. A small aquarium sitting in an open window on the second floor was thrown from its rest by some unknown cause and descending struck on the tall silk hat which the gentleman wore. The glass enclosure was smashed to atoms, and the unhappy man, thrown on his knees by the blow, was deluged with water. His hat was jammed down over his face, an eel three inches long, and two lizards and goldfish were driven down his back, and a frog and another gold fish were deposited in each of his overcoat pockets, while both ears were covered with moss. Mr Merrills, the grocer, and two of his customers witnessed the accident, and hastened to his aid. The grotto in the aquarium had broken in the crown of his hat, and was found inside, but his head was not cut, and beyond a drenching and a seriously skinned nose no great damage was done to his person. He was taken into the barber’s shop where the sand was removed from his head. On disrobing, a performance that was attended to at once owing to the agility of the eel and the lizards, two more goldfish and another frog were found. The gold-fish and frog were dead, but the eel and lizards were saved. It was certainly a most remarkable accident, as well as a miraculous escape from death, and the gentleman should feel quite grateful, although we have no reliable evidence that he does.

Some aspects of that story sound like they might have been exaggerated, especially as it is reported as if it is second-hand information.  The victim had clearly not been interviewed by the journalist, and neither had the cause of the incident been discovered.  The birth of “modern” journalism standards, perhaps!


“Quick Quotes” are some bonus content for the blog. Each time I find an interesting or amusing little quote that does not really need any further explanation or background information, it will appear on Windows into History under this heading. You can keep updated each time I post a new entry by clicking on the follow button on the right of the screen. I welcome any comments or suggestions, and will consider guest posts.

Posted in 19th Century, History, Humor, Humour, News, Newspapers, People, Quick Quotes, Travel, USA | Tagged , | 1 Comment