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
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."