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Preface to Hunting of the Snark

Written by: Lewis Carroll | Biography
 | Quotes (53) |

If---and the thing is wildly possible---the charge of writing 
nonsense were ever brought against the author of this brief but 
instructive poem, it would be based, I feel convinced, on the line 

``Then the bowsprit got mixed with the rudder sometimes'' 

In view of this painful possibility, I will not (as I might) appeal 
indignantly to my other writings as a proof that I am incapable of 
such a deed: I will not (as I might) point to the strong moral 
purpose of this poem itself, to the arithmetical principles so 
cautiously inculcated in it, or to its noble teachings in Natural 
History---I will take the more prosaic course of simply explaining 
how it happened. 

The Bellman, who was almost morbidly sensitive about appearances, 
used to have the bowsprit unshipped once or twice a week to be 
revarnished, and it more than once happened, when the time came for 
replacing it, that no one on board could remember which end of the 
ship it belonged to. They knew it was not of the slightest use to 
appeal to the Bellman about it---he would only refer to his Naval 
Code, and read out in pathetic tones Admiralty Instructions which 
none of them had ever been able to understand---so it generally ended 
in its being fastened on, anyhow, across the rudder. The helmsman 
used to stand by with tears in his eyes: he knew it was all wrong, 
but alas! Rule 42 of the Code, ``No one shall speak to the Man at the 
Helm'', had been completed by the Bellman himself with the words 
``and the Man at the Helm shall speak to no one''. So remonstrance 
was impossible, and no steering could be done till the next 
varnishing day. During these bewildering intervals the ship usually 
sailed backwards. 

This office was usually undertaken by the Boots, who found in it 
a refuge from the Baker's constant complaints about the insufficient 
blacking of his three pairs of boots. 

As this poem is to some extent connected with the lay of the 
Jabberwock, let me take this opportunity of answering a question that 
has often been asked me, how to pronounce ``slithy toves''. The 
``i'' in ``slithy'' is long, as in ``writhe''; and ``toves'' is 
pronounced so as to rhyme with ``groves''. Again, the first ``o'' in 
``borogoves'' is pronounced like the ``o'' in ``borrow''. I have 
heard people try to give it the sound of the ``o'' in ``worry''. 
Such is Human Perversity. 

This also seems a fitting occasion to notice the other hard words in 
that poem. Humpty-Dumpty's theory, of two meanings packed into one 
word like a portmanteau, seems to me the right explanation for all. 

For instance, take the two words ``fuming'' and ``furious''. Make up 
your mind that you will say both words, but leave it unsettled which 
you will say first. Now open your mouth and speak. If your thoughts 
incline ever so little towards ``fuming'', you will say 
``fuming-furious''; if they turn, by even a hair's breadth, towards 
``furious'', you will say ``furious-fuming''; but if you have that 
rarest of gifts, a perfectly balanced mind, you will say 

Supposing that, when Pistol uttered the well-known words--- 

``Under which king, Bezonian? Speak or die!'' 

Justice Shallow had felt certain that it was either William or 
Richard, but had not been able to settle which, so that he could not 
possibly say either name before the other, can it be doubted that, 
rather than die, he would have gasped out ``Rilchiam!''.