27 January 2008


My mother left a message reminding me that today is Lewis Carroll's birthday. Rex Stout, John Lennon, Alexander Woollcott, James Thurber, and Martin Gardner are numbered among his admirers. Mark Twain once met him, describing him as the shyest adult male he had ever met except Joel Chandler Harris, the author of the Uncle Remus stories.

A photographer, inventor, mathematician, satirist, clergyman, and amateur philosopher, Lewis Carroll is best remembered as the author of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and Through the Looking-Glass. The Hunting of the Snark (An agony in eight fits) is a favorite of mine; the Bellman reminds me of a great many leaders in my experience. "He had bought a large map representing the sea, without the least vestige of land: and the crew were much pleased when they found it to be a map they could all understand. 'What's the good of Mercator's North Poles and Equators, Tropics, Zones, and Meridian Lines?' So the Bellman would cry: and the crew would reply 'They are merely conventional signs! Other maps are such shapes, with their islands and capes! But we've got our brave Captain to thank,' (so the crew would protest) 'that he's bought us the best--a perfect and absolute blank!' This was charming, no doubt; but they shortly found out that the Captain they trusted so well had only one notion for crossing the ocean, and that was to tingle his bell. He was thoughtful and grave--but the orders he gave were enough to bewilder a crew. When he cried 'Steer to starboard, but keep her head larboard!' what on earth was the helmsman to do?"

Lewis Carroll turned 176 today.

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