The Vanishing

Image based on an illustration by Henry Holiday and a page of the British Museum:

Almost four months before Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark was officially published on the 1st of April 1876, the illustrator Henry Holiday still thought of that ballad as a “tragedy“. In the end, the collaboration between the author and the illustrator yielded a tragicomedy. The sad end still is there, albeit very well hidden from child readers: The burning of Thomas Cranmer.

Nonsense literature like Carroll’s can be read repeatedly. Carroll’s nonsense is crossover literature. At different ages you would read the Snark tragicomedy differently. Likewise, you would look at Henry Holiday’s illustrations differently. Carroll wrote his Snark tragicomedy in a way which protects the young reader from understanding the sad end of the final “fit” The Vanishing too early.

2021-09-02, updated: 2022-01-28


Nose is a Nose is a Nose

A Snark article in the Knight Letter
(with lots of help from the editors Chris Morgan and Mark Burstein)

Source: Knight Letter (ISSN 0193-886X), Fall 2017, Number 99

When I wrote this article, I failed to mention that already in 1973 Elizabeth Sewell pointed out in The Field of Nonsense that a line in Carroll’s poem has a similarity to a line in a limerick by Edward Lear (MG058). I am sorry for not having mentioned that.

I posted my article online with permission of the Knight Letter editors. In the online copy, I fixed the wrong URL It’s Furthermore, four additional images have been attached to my online version.

read more



2018-02-09, update: 2018-12-30: Reference to Elizabeth Sewell

2018-12-30, updated: 2022-08-01

Lime Twig

I was walking on a hillside, alone, one bright summer day, when suddenly there came into my head one line of verse — one solitary line — “For the Snark was a Boojum, you see.” I knew not what it meant, then: I know not what it means, now; but I wrote it down: and, some time afterwards, the rest of the stanza occurred to me, that being its last line: and so by degrees, at odd moments during the next year or two, the rest of the poem pieced itself together, that being its last stanza.

Source: From Lewis Carroll’s notes, found in Alice on Stage, The Theatre, April 1887.
See also:

That walk over the hills near Guildford took place on 1874-07-18. I think that leaving such a nice origination story to his readers is part of Carroll’s skillful marketing of his Snark ballade.

Oliver Sturm, who translated The Hunting of the Snark into German (Die Jagd nach dem Schnatz. 1996, ISBN 978-3-15-009433-4, p. 85) called that a “Leimrute für Kritiker” (“lime twig for critics”).

I don’t think that Carroll misleads his readers when he said “I know not what it means“. He just made his poem as ambiguous as possible. The motive: Widening the interpretation space of his Snark poem. With that wider space, a book makes more readers happy (and therefore sells better, which is a nice side effect).

In case his readers (like me) think they have discovered some obfuscated meaning, it is the reader (again like me) who can be hold responsible for her or his interpretation, not the author. So, as for my interpretations, there still is the possibility that I am misleading myself.

This is why the Snark hunt never will end.

2017-12-17, update: 2022-07-16

Pursuit of Happiness

Part of C.L. Dodgson’s (Lewis Carroll’s) Snark marketing was to claim that he doesn’t know the meaning of The Hunting of the Snark. But there was a meaning which he liked

To Mary Barber

The Chestnuts, Guildford
January 12, 1897

My dear May,

        In answer to your question, “What did you mean the Snark was?” will you tell your friend that I meant that the Snark was a Boojum. I trust that she and you will now feel quite satisfied and happy.

        To the best of my recollection, I had no other meaning in my mind, when I wrote it: but people have since tried to find the meanings in it. The one I like best (which I think is partly my own) is that it may be taken as an Allegory for the Pursuit of Happiness. The characteristic “ambition” works well into this theory—and also its fondness for bathing-machines, as indicating that the pursuer of happiness, when he has exhausted all other devices, betakes himself, as a last and desperate resource, to some such wretched watering-place as Eastbourne, and hopes to find, in the tedious and depressing society of the daughters of mistresses of boarding-schools, the happiness he has failed to find elsewhere.

        With every good wish for your happiness, and for the priceless boon of health also, I am

Always affectionately yours,
C.L. Dodgson

To all meaning deniers in a nutshell: There is a meaning which partly is Carroll’s own meaning. Therefore The Hunting of the Snark has at least one meaning.


About “May”vs. “Mary”: In The Selected Letters of Lewis Carroll (1982, edited by Morton Cohen) and in all copies of this letter in the internet, C.L. Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll) is being quoted as having addressed Mary Barber with “My dear May”, not with “My dear Mary”. I learned that “My dear May” is correct: Quora | Twitter


2018-04-29, update: 2022-07-16

The Jabberwock

[…] [Jabberwocky] has also been interpreted as a parody of contemporary Oxford scholarship and specifically the story of how Benjamin Jowett, the notoriously agnostic Professor of Greek at Oxford, and Master of Balliol, came to sign the Thirty-Nine Articles, as an Anglican statement of faith, to save his job. […]

Stephen Prickett (2005): Victorian Fantasy, Baylor University Press, p. 113, ISBN 1-932792-30-9

Unlike Benjamin Jowett, the Rev. Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll) didn’t sign, but managed to save his job nevertheless without being ordained as a priest.



’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!”

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought—
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! and through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
He chortled in his joy.

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

See also:
Vogon poetry


Jabberwocky, Confounded, app for iOS by Christopher Gross


composer: Zoë Tweed, rendition: Sylva Winds
(flute: Yi-Hsuan Chen, bassoon: Guylaine Eckersley, oboe & voice: Drake Gritton,
clarinet: Rowan Jones, french horn: Zoë Tweed)

composer: Ben Ponniah, rendition: Peter Noden

2018-04-06, update: 2022-07-15

Mental Troubles

Perhaps I may venture for a moment to use a more serious tone, and to point out that there are mental troubles, much worse than mere worry, for which an absorbing object of thought may serve as a remedy.

  • There are sceptical thoughts, which seem for the moment to uproot the firmest faith;
  • there are blasphemous thoughts, which dart unbidden into the most reverent souls;
  • there are unholy thoughts, which torture with their hateful presence the fancy that would fain be pure.

Against all these some real mental work is a most helpful ally. That “unclean spirit” of the parable, who brought back with him seven others more wicked than himself, only did so because he found the chamber “swept and garnished,” and its owner sitting with folded hands. Had he found it all alive with the “busy hum” of active work, there would have been scant welcome for him and his seven!

(Charles Lutwidge Dodgson: Pillow Problems and A Tangled Tale, 1885, p. XV;
see also: Life & Letters. Bulletpoints not by Dodgson.)


As any human, Carroll/Dodgson was battling with all kind of temptations. As we know, speculations about possible temptations in his private life keep feeding the pop culture Carroll debate since the 1930s. The controversy is marginalizing the religious conflicts which the Reverend Dodgson was struggling with. I think that one of these serious conflicts was Charles Darwin’s challenge to fundamental religious beliefs. Darwin’s discoveries surely had (and still have) the potential to uproot the firmest faith in various religions.

In the title of the book [Pillow-Problems, 2nd edition], the words “sleepless nights” have been replaced by “wakefull hours”.
        This last change has been made in order to allay the anxiety of friends, who have written to me to express their sympathy in my broken-down state of health, believing that I am a sufferer of chronic “insomnia”, and that it is a remedy for that exhausting malady that I have recommended mathematical calculation.
        The title was not, I fear, wisely chosen; and it certainly was liable to suggest a meaning I did not intend to convey, viz. that my “nights” are often wholly “sleepless”. This is by no means the case: I have never suffered from “insomnia”: and the over-wakeful hours, that I have had to spend at night, have often been simply the result of the over-sleepy hours I have spent during the preceding evening! Nor is it as a remedy for wakefulness that I have suggested mathematical calculation: but as a remedy for the harassing thoughts that are apt to invade a wholly-unoccupied mind.

I believe that an hour of calculation is much better for me than half-an-hour of worry.

(Charles Lutwidge Dodgson: Pillow Problems, preface to the second edition, 1893)

Carroll openly described how he used mental mathematical work to find distraction from “harassing thoughts”.

I don’t know to which degree the illustrator Henry Holiday discussed and aligned with Carroll his choice of pictorial references in his illustrations to Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark, but there is a pictorial reference to mental troubles: St. Anthony’s temptations (painting by Matthias Grünewald). In one of Holiday’s illustrations you see Colenso’s arithmetic textbook. Like Anthony, also Carroll needed lots of mental work as an distraction from sceptical, blasphemous and unholy thoughts. Anthony probably found help in the scriptures which were sacred to him. Interestingly, the Reverend Dodgson used mathematics to resist the temptations.

I saw this math textbook in Holiday’s illustration since many years. Only recently that led me to the assumption (which probably always will be just an assumption) that Holiday might have placed that book into his illustration as a hint to how Carroll used math to keep his brain busy with “some real mental work” as a “most helpful ally” in his battle against the temptations which haunted him.

By the way: Possible references in “The Hunting of the Snark” to St. Anthony and to Darwin had been addressed by Mahendra Singh before I thought about that. Mahendra (who alluded to Matthias Grünewald’s painting himself) and John Tufail were among my most helpful scouts during my own Snark hunt.

2020-06-11, update: 2022-06-27

From Horses to Frolicking Weeds

※ [top left]: Illustration to Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark (1876) by Henry Holiday: The Vanishing (detail from lower left side depicting some weeds which seem to have some fun with each other)
※ [top right]: John Martin: The Bard (ca. 1817, detail from lower left side, retinex filtered and vectorized, then slightly horizontally compressed)

overview | Twitter

2018-02-17, updated: 2022-06-22

Museé Unterlinden Retweets




2019-07-04, uptated: 2022-06-20




Comment to tweet by Jono Borden:

Retweeted by Musée Unterlinden (2017-12-27, 2022-06-20):


Another finding (bycatch from my Snark hunt):

2017-12-27, updated: 2022-06-20

Easter Greeting

On 1875-10-25, C.L. Dodgson noted in his diary that publishing The Hunting of the Snark as a book «would give me a good opportunity to of circulating two papers (which might be lightly gummed in), one a new “Christmas Greeting” to my 40,000 child-readers, the other an advertisement for a house (and a garden perhaps) in or near London».

Later, as the book wasn’t ready for the Christmas sales (due to delays in preparing the printing blocks for the illustrations), an Easter Greeting was lightly gummed into the book shortly before it was published.


Easter Greeting by Lewis Carroll, printed by James Parker & Co. (Oxford, 1876) for C. L. Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll) privately on cream laid fine paper with the “Towgood Fine” watermark. Tipped in at front end paper of Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark, 1st edition and 1st printing, Macmillan & Co. (London, 1876).
'Towgood Fine' watermark of the 'Easter Greeting' tipped in at the front end paper of Lewis Carroll’s 'The Hunting of the Snark'

2017-11-17, update: 2022-06-17

A Double Rule of Three

He thought he saw a Garden-Door
 That opened with a key:
He looked again, and found it was
 A Double Rule of Three:
‘And all its mystery,’ he said,
 ‘Is clear as day to me!’

Lewis Carroll, Sylvie and Bruno and Sylvie and Bruno Concluded

After going in the wrong direction for a while, I understood that this is not about applying the Bellman’s Rule twice. I think that Lewis Carroll (like Charles T. Brooks) quite probably referred to cross multiplication.Rule of Three

Then again, I am not shure whether my direction was that wrong. Carroll could have used Double Rule of Three with a double meaning:
※ the extension to the rule of three for cross-multiplication and
※ the double application of the Bellman’s rule.

More on the Rule of Three: Alfred Crowquill (pen name of Alfred Henry Forrester), Comic Arithmetic, London 1843, p. 96

2022-05-31, updated: 2022-06-12   (MG007)

The Failing Occurred in the Sailing

Applicable to leaders of the Brexit and to all the other more or less stable geniuses:

Just the place for a Snark!” the Bellman cried,
    As he landed his crew with care;
Supporting each man on the top of the tide
    By a finger entwined in his hair.

“Just the place for a Snark! I have said it twice:
    That alone should encourage the crew.
Just the place for a Snark! I have said it thrice:
    What I tell you three times is true.”

Then the bowsprit got mixed with the rudder sometimes:
    A thing, as the Bellman remarked,
That frequently happens in tropical climes,
    When a vessel is, so to speak, “snarked.”

But the principal failing occurred in the sailing,
    And the Bellman, perplexed and distressed,
Said he had hoped, at least, when the wind blew due East,
    That the ship would not travel due West!

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.


Sir Nicholas Soames’ speech | Repetition increases perceived truth | Truth isn’t Truth

2018-08-26, updated: 2022-06-10   (MG007)

Repetition increases perceived truth

Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

October 2019, Volume 26, Issue 5, pp 1705–1710

Repetition increases perceived truth equally for plausible and implausible statements

Lisa K. Fazio, David G. Rand, Gordon Pennycook

Repetition increases the likelihood that a statement will be judged as true. This illusory truth effect is well established; however, it has been argued that repetition will not affect belief in unambiguous statements. When individuals are faced with obviously true or false statements, repetition should have no impact. We report a simulation study and a preregistered experiment that investigate this idea. Contrary to many intuitions, our results suggest that belief in all statements is increased by repetition. The observed illusory truth effect is largest for ambiguous items, but this can be explained by the psychometric properties of the task, rather than an underlying psychological mechanism that blocks the impact of repetition for implausible items. Our results indicate that the illusory truth effect is highly robust and occurs across all levels of plausibility. Therefore, even highly implausible statements will become more plausible with enough repetition.

Keywords: Truth, Repetition, Illusory truth, Plausibility

Cite the article as: Fazio, L.K., Rand, D.G. & Pennycook, G. Psychon Bull Rev (2019) 26: 1705.


Cognitive Ability and Vulnerability to Fake News
Researchers identify a major risk factor for pernicious effects of misinformation.
By David Z. Hambrick, Madeline Marquardt on February 6
Scientific American, 2018

How liars create the ‘illusion of truth’ by Tom Stafford, BBC Future, 26th October 2016

What I tell you three times is true!

2020-01-11, updated: 2022-06-10   (MG007)

The Mathematical World of C.L. Dodgson

On voting:

2019-10-22: Below you find text (2018-05-13) moved from to this blog article.

Carroll/Dodgson tried to fight against apodictic assertiveness and oversimplification not only by means of nonsense poetry but also by means of mathematics. He expected decisions to have a solid base – like fair voting:

One small part of Dodgson’s work, though, has impressed social scientists: his analysis of the mathematics of voting. His interest in the topic was sparked by the deliberations of his colleagues at Christ Church over such matters as how to choose a new belfry. Dodgson’s pamphlets on voting were largely ignored until 1958, when a British economist, Duncan Black, noticed that there had been nothing so good on the topic since just after the French Revolution., 2009

Ostensibly, [Dodgson] was pondering the best way for the governing body of Christ Church, Oxford, where he was a tutor in mathematics, to decide on the design for a controversial belfry, and to pick new members of the college. […] For college elections, Dodgson first proposed a version of Borda’s method, and also a version of Condorcet’s (though he appears not to have known about Borda’s and Condorcet’s work). Later, he developed an interest in politics beyond the walls of Christ Church, and, in the eighteen-eighties, he tried to find ways to secure equitable representation in Parliament for minorities., 2010

Dodgson’s method of taking votes on more than two issues (1876) attempts to find winners in case initially there is no winner. The method was applied at Christ Church college for a small number of candidates. However, for large lists of choices, the rearranging of candidates (until a winner is found) requires a computing power which surely was not available then. And in 2006 it still was a challenge (see McCabe-Dansted below).

2019-10-22, updated: 2022-05-22

What I tell you three times is true!

001    “Just the place for a Snark!” the Bellman cried,
002        As he landed his crew with care;
003    Supporting each man on the top of the tide
004        By a finger entwined in his hair.

005    “Just the place for a Snark! I have said it twice:
006        That alone should encourage the crew.
007    Just the place for a Snark! I have said it thrice:
008        What I tell you three times is true.

329    “’Tis the voice of the Jubjub!” he suddenly cried.
330        (This man, that they used to call “Dunce.”)
331    “As the Bellman would tell you,” he added with pride,
332        “I have uttered that sentiment once.

333    “’Tis the note of the Jubjub! Keep count, I entreat;
334        You will find I have told it you twice.
335    ’Tis the song of the Jubjub! The proof is complete,
336        If only I’ve stated it thrice.

Referring to Edith Wharton’s biography of Theodore Roosevelt (MG007), Kelly Ramsdell Fineman told us …

… that President Theodore Roosevelt and Edith Wharton were huge fans of the Snark. On one visit to the White House, Wharton learned of the following exchange that occurred between the President and the Secretary of the Navy (undoubtedly unaware of Carroll’s poem, or at least unaware that Roosevelt was quoting):

During discussion, Roosevelt said to the secretary of the Navy,

“Mr. Secretary, what I tell you three times is true!”

The Secretary replied stiffly,

“Mr. President, it would never for a moment have occurred to me to impugn your veracity.”


Already Shakespeare applied the Bellman’s Rule. It is stated in Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark, line #7 and line #335. I said it in Lua – wrote it in Python and Scratch, I made that indeed, but I wholly forgot (when finally done), that Haskell is what you need! So, here is an example for how to implement that rule:

#! /usr/bin/haskell
import Data.List
someAssertions :: [String]
someAssertions =
  ["I am a very stable genius!"
  ,"There are 10 Snark hunters."
  ,"There are 9 Snark hunters."
  ,"There are 10 Snark hunters."
  ,"I am a very stable genius!"
  ,"Brexit promises will be kept!"
  ,"Brexit promises will be kept!"
  ,"Brexit promises will be kept!"
  ,"6 * 7 = 39"
  ,"6 * 7 = 39"
  ,"There are 10 Snark hunters."
  ,"6 * 7 = 42"
  ,"I am a very stable genius!"
  ,"There are 10 Snark hunters."
  ,"6 * 7 = 39"
  ,"There are 10 Snark hunters."
atLeastThrice :: [String] -> [String]
atLeastThrice assertions =
  [head grp | grp <-
    group $ sort assertions, length grp >= 3]

Result (if loaded and executed in GHCi):

*Main> atLeastThrice someAssertions
["6 * 7 = 39","Brexit promises will be kept!","I am a very stable genius!","There are 10 Snark hunters."]

PS: It’s not easy. Truth isn’t truth.

2017-12-16, update: 2022-05-21

Page 83

«With ‘Baker’ not ‘Butcher” on p. 83.»

Do you think that this “Baker” on page 83 really proves that the book is a first edition and that it should be “butcher”? You find the answer in any contemporary Snark edition. No mistake, the Baker still is there.

More Examples for advertising the first edition of “The Hunting of the Snark”, offered for prices between €200 and €2000:

First edition, first issue of Carroll’s whimsical nonsense poem with “baker” on p. 83 which was later corrected to “butcher”.

First edition, first printing, with “Baker” for “Banker” on page 83.

First issue with “baker” not “butcher” on page 83. It is unknown how many copies were printed this way.

No, it is known: All copies were printed this way!

This is about line 560 on page 83, the last page of Lewis Carroll’s tragicomedy. A “Baker” in that line is no proof that the book is a rare first Snark edition. Actually, all copies are printed this way, because that is how it should be. In Henry Holiday’s illustration on page 82 you see the head and a hand of the Baker, not the Butcher and not the Banker. Remember, the Banker had to be left behind in the previous chapter, so he cannot show up in the final chapter. And the Butcher didn’t meet the Snark either.

Thus, there is nothing special about “Where the Baker had met with the Snark.” This alleged error is a myth. Those rare book traders just didn’d (and still don’t) check the facts.

Then there is the JubJub. If you read somewhere that the bird never will look at a “bride”, then better check line 386 on page 55 in the original Snark edition. It’s “bribe”. You can find “It will never look at a bride” in the Internet many times. But that’s wrong.


Removed (not by me) from Wikipedia:

Rare book sellers often claim, that the first edition of ”The Hunting of the Snark” can be identified by the word “Baker” instead of “Butcher” or “Banker” in the 560th line on page 83. However, “Where the Baker had met with the Snarkis correct. “Butcher” or “Banker” in the 560th line would be wrong. Also “bribe” in the 386th line on page 55 is correct, even though in the Internet the erratic “It never will look at a bride” can be found.

(The hyperlinks in this text where not part of the WP text.)

2018-04-02, update: 2022-05-16

Crossover Literature

The Hunting of the Snark needs to be read at least twice. It is crossover literature. You read it differently at different ages. The book is an excellent example for crossover literature (and crossover picture books): Children read it as a nonsense story. It is “dark”, but funny nevertheless. Adult readers know more than children. Some of them will recognize (around 140 years after the book was published) the textual and pictorial references in Lewis Carroll, Henry Holiday and Joseph Swain’s tragicomedy.

Henry Holiday’s illustration to the final chapter of Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark has been published almost 150 years ago. Children probably will not understand that the illustration is a reference to the burning of Thomas Cranmer. He and the Baker (the ambivalent hero in The Hunting of the Snark) perhaps hoped that after having left their 42 articles behind, the Boojum won’t get them.

Comparison of two illustrations:

  • Faiths Victorie in Romes Crueltie (published by Thomas Jenner, c. 1630). Immediately to the right side of the fire, Thomas Cranmer is depicted burning his hand.
    Source: British Museum
  • Henry Holiday’s illustration to the chapter The Vanishing in Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark (1876). The complete illustration is on the lower left side. A 135° couterclockwise rotated detail from that illustration has been rendered on the upper right side of this comparison image.
    Source: 1st edition of The Hunting of the Snark (April 1876).

The rotated detail from Henry Holiday’s illustration neither is a “claw” nor a “beak”. I assume that it depicts a fire. And there is a hand in both fires. Carroll and Holiday almost too successfully made sure that the readers of The Hunting of the Snark don’t understand their references to Thomas Cranmer too early: Carroll’s tragycomedy was published in 1876. In 1994, Angus MacIntyre suggested: “The Baker’s 42 Boxes are the original Protestant Articles of 1553, with Thomas Cranmer’s name on each.” in The Reverend Snark, Jabberwocky 23(1994), p. 51~52. Henry Holiday’s pictorial reference (I started to search for it in 2010) to Thomas Cranmer’s burning confirms the link between The Hunting of the Snark and Thomas Cranmer.

2018-05-07, updated: 2022-04-27


He would answer to “Hi!” or to any loud cry,
  Such as “Fry me!” or “Fritter my wig!”
To “What-you-may-call-um!” or “What-was-his-name!”
  But especially “Thing-um-a-jig!”

See also: and

2020-02-25, update: 2022-04-19