The quest of the Snark:
What can Science reveal?

[…] One of the first three [illustrations] I had to do was the disappearance of the Baker, and I not unnaturally invented a Boojum. Mr. Dodgson wrote that it was a delightful monster, but that it was inadmissible. All his descriptions of the Boojum were quite unimaginable, and he wanted the creature to remain so. I assented, of course, though reluctant to dismiss what I am still confident is an accurate representation. I hope that some future Darwin in a new Beagle will find the beast, or its remains; if he does, I know he will confirm my drawing. […]

(Henry Holiday (1898): The Snark’s Significance)


What can science reveal of the nature of man and the universe of which it is a part? This is the quest of the Snark.

(Philo M. Buck: “Science, Literature, and the Hunting of the Snark”, College English, Vol. 4, No. 1, Oct., 1942)

There is a good translation of Carroll’s long poem into Italian by a particle physicist, Andriano Orefice. He linked the Snark hunting expedition to Charles Darwin‘s Beagle voyage. Here are my notes about his translation:

Il Covile, anno XII NO690, 2012-03-29,
ISSN 2279-6924
(or pg. 101 in

Translation of Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark, 16 pages:

Un veliero: il brigantino H. M. S. Beagle. Lo comanda il bigotto Capitano Robert Fitz Roy. L’anno è il 1831. A bordo, un cervello esplosivo. Con un ritardo di due secoli sulla Fisica, sta per deflagrare il Galileo della Biologia. Le tappe successive: nel 1838 è completata la teoria della selezione naturale. Nel 1859 esce L’origine della specie.
Quando torna l’immagine, è ancora una nave. Un veliero, naturalmente. Il Beagle riprende il mare? L’anno, è il 1874: Darwin è ancora vivo, vegeto e chiacchierato. […]


A sailing ship: the brig H. M. S. Beagle. It is commanded by the bigoted Captain Robert Fitz Roy. The year is 1831. On board, a brain explosion. With a delay of about two centuries of Physics, it is shattered by the the Galileo of Biology. The following stages: In 1838 the theory of natural selection was completed. In 1859 comes the Origin of Species.
When it returns into the scene, it is still a ship. A sailing ship, of course. The Beagle took to the sea again? The year is 1874: Darwin is still alive, well and chatty. […]

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For comparison:

(Vectorized image from a 19th century book)

Thanks to John Tufail for discovering the similarity to Henry Holiday’s Boojum.

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