Preface to Hunting of the Snark
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
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!''.