Carrollean Misunderstandings

dodgsonsnippetWindows into History… in Wonderland 7.

We have a connecting theme this month: Lewis Carroll (Rev. Charles Dodgson) and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  In 1867 Dodgson went on a tour of Europe with his friend Rev. Henry Liddon.  In Russia they encountered some language barrier issues, but muddled through somehow.  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 excerpts from Dodgon’s own journal of the trip:

In the afternoon we went down to the Archbishop’s palace, and were presented to him by Bishop Leonide. The Archbishop could only talk Russian, so that the conversation between him and Liddon (a most interesting one, which lasted more than an hour) was conducted in a very original fashion — the Archbishop making a remark in Russian, which was put into English by the Bishop; Liddon then answered the remark in French, and the Bishop repeated his answer in Russian to the Archbishop. So that a conversation, entirely carried on between two people, required the use of three languages!

Later on the tour of Russia they were staying at a friend’s house at Kronstadt, and met with some difficulties when the time came to leave:

Liddon hand surrendered his overcoat early in the day, and when going we found it must be recovered from the waiting-maid, who only talked Russian, and as I had left the dictionary behind, and the little vocabulary did not contain coat, we were in some difficulty. Liddon began by exhibiting his coat, with much gesticulation, including the taking it half-off. To our delight, she appeared to understand at once — left the room, and returned in. a minute with — large clothes-brush. On this Liddon tried a further and more energetic demonstration; he took off his coat, and laid it at her feet, pointed downwards (to intimate that in the lower regions was the object of his desire), smiled with an expression of the joy and gratitude with which he would receive it, and put the coat on again. Once more a gleam of intelligence lighted up the plain but expressive features of the young person; she was absent much longer this time, and when she returned, she brought, to our dismay, a large cushion and a pillow, and began to prepare the sofa for the nap that she now saw clearly was the thing the dumb gentleman wanted. A happy thought occurred to me, and I hastily drew a sketch representing Liddon, with one coat on, receiving a second and larger one from the hands of a benignant Russian peasant. The language of hieroglyphics succeeded where all other means had failed, and we returned to St. Petersburg with the humiliating knowledge that our standard of civilisation was now reduced to the level of ancient Nineveh.

Dodgson’s hastily drawn original sketch accompanies this blog post.

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About Roger Pocock

Author of Co-writer on Editor of
This entry was posted in 19th Century, Alice in Wonderland, Books, History, Humor, Humour, Memoirs, Travel and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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