The Author of "Alice in WonderLand"

by Edwin Watts Chubb

It is said that when Victoria, late queen of England, had read Alice in Wonderland she was so pleased that she asked for more of the author's books. They brought her a treatise on logarithms by the Rev. C.L. Dodgson. Lewis Carroll and the Rev. C.L. Dodgson were one and the same person, although they were two dissimilar characters. The one was a popular author of nonsense that delighted children by the hundreds of thousands and the other was a scholarly mathematician.

C.L. Dodgson came of good Northern-England stock. His father, grandfather, and great-grandfather were clergymen—a contradiction, says his biographer, Mr. Collingwood, of the scandalous theory that three generations of parsons end in a fool. As a boy he kept all sorts of odd and unlikely pets. From Rugby he entered Oxford. In 1856 he was made college lecturer in mathematics, a position which he filled for a quarter of a century. That he had thoughts of lighter material than mathematics is evidenced by a short poem that appeared about this time in a college paper called College Rhymes. Two of the stanzas run like this:

She has the bear's ethereal grace
 The bland hyena's laugh,
The footsteps of the elephant,
The neck of the giraffe;
I love her still, believe me,
Though my heart its passion hides,
She is all my fancy painted her,
But oh! how much besides.

The year 1862 saw the beginning of the world-famous Alice. He told the story to Dean Liddell's three daughters. "Alice," the second of the three (now Mrs. Reginald Hargreaves) thus tells the story:

"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, and which was under a new-made hay-rick. 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.' 'Oh! 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 midst of telling a thrilling adventure, would pretend to fall fast asleep, to our great dismay." ...

"Many of Lewis Carroll's friendships with children began in a railway carriage. Once when he was traveling, a lady, whose little daughter had been reading Alice, startled him by exclaiming: 'Isn't it sad about poor Mr. Lewis Carroll? He's gone mad, you know.... I have it on the best authority.'"

Lewis Carroll, or rather Mr. Dodgson, did not wish his acquaintances to speak of him as the author of Alice. In his every-day work he wanted to be known as the serious mathematician. He was conservative in his ideas and did not look with favor upon the movement to overthrow Euclid. In 1870 he published a book entitled Euclid and his Modern Rivals. The London Spectator speaks of this as probably the most humorous contribution ever devoted to the subject of mathematics. In an academical discussion held at Oxford he once published three rules to be followed in debate. This is one of the three: "Let it be granted that any one may speak at any length on a subject at any distance from that subject."