Windows into History… in Wonderland 9.
Today is the final entry in our Wonderland articles, which have been a connecting theme throughout July. I recently finished reading an excellent biography of Lewis Carroll (Rev. Charles Dodgson) by Michael Bakewell (1996), but the problem with reading a biography is that you know how the story is going to end, and after reading about a person’s life in such detail it is sad to read about how it came to an end. Dodgson died in 1898 after his cold symptoms took a turn for the worst and he fell victim to pneumonia. The following obituary was published in Globe, on 15th January 1898:
By the death of the Rev. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, known to all the world as “Lewis Carroll,” the gaiety of two nations is eclipsed. It is perhaps hardly right to restrict the sense of his loss even to England and America, since we believe that there is no European language into which his two immortal books have not been translated. But we doubt whether anyone to whom English is not his mother-tongue could fully appreciate the proverbial wit of the Cheshire Cat, the sorrows the Mock Turtle, the rage of Tweedledum, or the pathetic perplexities of the White Knight. The two Alices are among the most exquisite examples of real humour which have ever been given to the world. That they should have been written by a studious mathematician of Christ Church is still a marvel to everyone.
And thereby hangs a tale. When Alice in Wonderland was first written to amuse Dean Liddell’s little daughters the Queen was so delighted with it that she commanded the author to send her his next book. Her Majesty must have been almost as much surprised as Bill the Lizard himself when it proved to be “An Elementary Treatise on Determinants.”
This is a lovely story that has been perpetuated ever since, but sadly it is complete nonsense and never happened. To end a month celebrating one of the greatest writers of nonsense poetry, perhaps that’s appropriate.
Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
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