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: 2021-02-27

Fact Checks

  • Ambiguous: The “Boots” and “the maker of Bonnets and Hoods” in The Hunting of the Snark might be two different persons, but also could be the same person.
  • Unproven: The assumption that Carroll was on drugs when he wrote the Alice books.
  • Sometimes wrong: Carroll quotes. Check them.
  • Not quite right: The assumption that C.L. Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll) invented the word “Snark”.
  • Wrong: The assumption that the “Ocean Chart” (the Bellman’s map) in The Hunting of the Snark was made by Henry Holiday.
  • Wrong: The claim by rare book sellers that only the first issue of The Hunting of the Snark has “Baker” on page 83.
  • Wrong: The assumption that there is photographic evidence that Alice Liddell as a child kissed C.L. Dodgson.
  • Wrong ( The story that C.L. Dodgson sent an admiring Queen Victoria a copy of An Elementary Treatise on Determinants.


Not Lewis Carroll

2019-07-12, updated: 2021-02-24

“Thought to be based on Gheeraert’s iconoclasm image”

Message to the Public Domain Review: You are using my comparison (from December 2008) without proper referencing. This was my first discovery of one of Henry Holiday’s allusions. This finding started my Snark hunt. I think that Public Domain Review should specify the source (my proposal).

(February 2021: Now there is a link “thought by some” in

From (Snapshot 2019-10-10):

Marcus Gheeraerts the Elder’s allegory of iconoclasm, ca.1566 — Source.

The next picture is an illustration by Henry Holiday for Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark. The face hidden in the darkness of the trees is thought to be based on Geheert’s iconoclasm image above.

The tenth of Henry Holiday’s original illustrations to Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark, 1876 — Source.

By the way, it’s not “the 10th” of Henry Holiday’s original illustrations to Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark. Holiday contributed only nine (not ten) illustrations to The Hunting of the Snark and two illustrations for the book cover. The Ocean Chart probably had been made by a typesetter, not by Henry Holiday.

And there are various way’s to write Gheeraert’s name. 😉

For discussion: Twitter | Flickr 2009

2019-10-10, updated: 2021-02-18

This is worth a follow

UofG Fantasy @UofGFantasy, Apr 13, 2020

This is worth a follow: a twitter account that offers astonishing insights into Henry Holliday’s illustrations for The Hunting of the Snark. Turns out there are dozens of visual gags in them, detectable only by the enlightened!

My bragging is not perfect. I accidentally deleted the Tweet which earned me the recommendation by the Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic (University of Glasgow). But luckily the Internet doesn’t forget.
(Firefox theme: Dark Snark)


Benjamin Jowett

Image sources: (ul,br) Henry Holiday, (ur) probably by The Autotype Company, after Désiré François Laugée, (bl) from cover of Benjamin Jowett and the Christian Religion by Peter Hinchliff.

Need I rehearse the history of Jowett?
I need not, Senior Censor, for you know it.
That was the Board Hebdomadal, and oh!
Who would be free, themselves must strike the blow!

C.L. Dodgson, from Notes by an Oxford chiel (1874)

For comparison (inspired by Dodgson?):

First come I. My name is J-W-TT.
There’s no knowledge but I know it.
I am Master of this College,
What I don’t know isn’t knowledge.

Source: The Balliol Rhymes (written in the 1880s), ed. W. G. Hiscock, 2nd edn. (1939; Oxford: printed for the editor, 1955): 1-25. PN 6110 C7H5 Robarts Library (Wikipedia: In 1880, seven undergraduates of Balliol published 40 quatrains of doggerel lampooning various members of the college under the title The Masque of B–ll––l, now better known as The Balliol Masque, in a format that came to be called the “Balliol rhyme“.The college authorities suppressed the publication fiercely.)

I suggest that The Barrister’s Dream in Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark is about E.B. Pusey’s attempt to trial Jowett for heresy at the Vice-Chancellor’s Court for unpaid bills for heresy. According to Karen Gardiner (see p. 55 below), the trial began on 1863-03-20. The judge was an academic common lawyer. Jowett’s lawyer objected to the formally civilian court being turned into something like a court of common law, which had no jurisdiction in spiritual matters. The Punch (the anonymous author Dodgson?) called it the “small debts and heresies court“. The judge disagreed, provided it could be shown that Jowett had been guilty of breaking any of the university statues. As this could not be shown, the case was dismissed. Thus, the trial was a mess like the trial in the Barrister’s dream.

“In the matter of Treason the pig would appear
      To have aided, but scarcely abetted:
While the charge of Insolvency fails, it is clear,
      If you grant the plea ‘never indebted.’

See also:
※ John Tufail, The Jowett Controversy
※ Karen Gardiner, Escaping Justice in Wonderland (An adaption of a paper given at the Glasgow International Fantasy Conference 2018), published in The Carrollian No. 33 p. 47 ~ 60, March 2020 (abstract, 2018).

Instagram | Reddit

2018-05-03, update: 2021-02-09




Comment to tweet by Jono Borden:

Retweeted by Musée Unterlinden (2017-12-27):more

Another finding (bycatch from my Snark hunt):

2017-12-27, updated: 2021-02-09

Alice on the Train

Bycatch (but not mine):

[left]: John Tenniel: Alice on the Train (1872)
[right]: Augustus Leopold Egg: The Travelling Companions (1862)

I found the comparison in If it is a pictorial reference at all, it might be a nice pun by Tenniel, but not as challenging as Henry Holiday’s conundrums.

Playing with the work of other artists could have been fun for John Tenniel too. (Of course another reason for such similarities always could be, that Holiday and Egg both referred an image by a third artist.)


Update 2021-02-05

The Irritating Gentleman – Berthold Woltze – Oil on Canvas – 1874

2017-09-22, updated: 2021-02-05

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 and John Tufail were among my most helpful scouts during my own Snark hunt.

2020-06-11, update: 2021-01-31

Snarks Have Five Unmistakable Marks

As I reported in the Associations Blaster (2014-03-08), Charles Lutwidge Dodgson and Henry Holiday kept a Snark as a pet. They served it with «greens», but as growing greens led to horrible electricity bills, Dodgson and Holiday could not afford to keep their Snark any longer. It took many years until 2014, before planting greens became legal in Colorado and affordable enough to breed Snarks again.

How can we recognize a Snark? The Bellman explains it (🎶🎶🎶):

    “Come, listen, my men, while I tell you again
        The five unmistakable marks
    By which you may know, wheresoever you go,
        The warranted genuine Snarks.

    Let us take them in order.

  1.     “The first is the taste,
            Which is meagre and hollow, but crisp:
        Like a coat that is rather too tight in the waist,
            With a flavour of Will-o’-the-wisp.
  2.     “Its habit of getting up late you’ll agree
            That it carries too far, when I say
        That it frequently breakfasts at five-o’clock tea,
            And dines on the following day.
  3.     “The third is its slowness in taking a jest.
            Should you happen to venture on one,
        It will sigh like a thing that is deeply distressed:
            And it always looks grave at a pun.
  4.     “The fourth is its fondness for bathing-machines,
            Which it constantly carries about,
        And believes that they add to the beauty of scenes –
            A sentiment open to doubt.
  5.     “The fifth is ambition.

          It next will be right
              To describe each particular batch:
      those that have feathers, and bite,
      And those that have whiskers, and scratch.

          “For, although common Snarks do no manner of harm,
              Yet, I feel it my duty to say,
          Some are Boojums –” The Bellman broke of in alarm,
              For the Baker had fainted away.

          “He remarked to me then,” said that mildest of men,
              “ ‘If your Snark be a Snark, that is right:
          Fetch it home by all means – you may serve it with greens,
              And it’s handy for striking a light.

          “ ‘You may seek it with thimbles—and seek it with care;
              You may hunt it with forks and hope;
          You may threaten its life with a railway-share;
              You may charm it with smiles and soap –’ ”

          (“That’s exactly the method,” the Bellman bold
              In a hasty parenthesis cried,
          “That’s exactly the way I have always been told
              That the capture of Snarks should be tried!”)

      Among the forks mentioned above (used to hunt the Snark and carried by this landing crew of a naval expedition) is a tuning fork (held by the Banker). Charles Darwin used a tuning-fork to let spiders dance, and for dissection (don’t tell the spiders) he used lace-needles together with his microscope (like the one carried by the beaver).

      2017-09-18, edited 2021-01-30

«L.C. forgot that “the Snark” is a tragedy»

To the illustrator Henry Holiday, Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark was a “tragedy”. That might have been Carroll’s intention in 1874, when he started to write the poem as one of the many chapters of his Sylvie and Bruno project. But when the poem was published as a separate book in 1876 with more than 500 lines, it turned out to be a tragicomedy.

Page from a letter (1876-01-04) by C.L. Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll) to Henry Holiday about Holiday’s illustration to the chapter The Beaver’s Lesson. The two lines at the bottom are notes written by Henry Holiday.


I think the note is:

× L.C. forgot that “the Snark” is a tragedy and [should]
on no account be made jovial. h.h.

In the end, Carroll produced a tragicomedy.


Link: Twitter

Update 2018-09-01

See also:


2017-09-06, update: 2021-01-24

Monstrous Things from Walls

Look at walls splashed with a number of stains, or stones of various mixed colours. If you have to invent some scene, you can see there resemblances to a number of landscapes, adorned with mountains, rivers, rocks, trees, great plains, valleys and hills, in various ways. Also you can see various battles, and lively postures of strange figures, expressions on faces, costumes and an infinite number of things, which you can reduce to good integrated form. This happens on such walls and varicoloured stones, (which act) like the sound of bells, in whose peeling you can find every name and word that you can imagine.
        Do not despise my opinion, when I remind you that it should not be hard for you to stop sometimes and look into the stains of walls, or the ashes of a fire, or clouds, or mud or like places, in which, if you consider them well, you may find really marvelous ideas. The mind of the painter is stimulated to new discoveries, the composition of battles of animals and men, various compositions of landscapes and monstrous things, such as devils and similar things, which may bring you honor, because by indistinct things the mind is stimulated to new inventions.

Leonardo da Vinci

Reprinted from the Oxford edition of Selections from the Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, edited by Irma A. Richter. The selections are from da Vinci’s A Treatise on Painting (Trattato della pittura).
(Thanks to Jono Borden for asking.)

2017-12-29, updated: 2021-01-21

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 (at age hundred-forty or so) know more. Some of them will recognize 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.


The image serves to compare two illustrations:

  • 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 upper 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).
  • 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.
    License: CC BY-SA 4.0.
    Source: Folger Digital Image Collection

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, update 2021-01-05

Tree of Life

In this image, Charles Darwin’s tree of life sketch of the evolutionary tree (c. July 1837, Notebook B, 1837-1838, page 36) is compared to a “weed” in the lower left corner of Holiday’s illustration.

To my knowledge, the earliest publishing of a facsimile from Darwin’s hand drawing occurred in the 20th century. A “tree” was published in Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species. But that was an image arranged by a typographer, not Darwin’s sketch from his Notebook B. Darwin did not keep his notebook B secret after the publication of On the Origin of Species, but I do not know of any presentation of his sketch before 1876. Thus, the resemblance between the “weed” and Darwin’s evolutionary tree probably may be purely incidental.

Are any earlier publishing dates for facsimile reproductions of his drawing known before 1876? Could Darwin’s supporters (probably not Darwin himself) have used his sketch for promoting The Descent of Man in 1871?

I am searching the earliest publishing date of that image e.g. in newspapers, magazines, books etc. Can you give me any hints?

In the illustration, there is no clear resemblance between Darwin and the Banker, who, however, is carrying a tuning fork. On his expedition with the HMS Beagle, Charles Darwin used such an instrument for experiments with spiders.


2018-12-09, updated: 2021-01-04



Lewis Carroll needed a clear mind for his writings. Drugs like laudanum would not have been helpful during writing.

The drug link is a homespun thing. You’ll find it on a host of random forums.

But the experts are usually sceptical. Carroll wasn’t thought to have been a recreational user of opium or laudanum, and the references may say more about the people making them than the author.

“The notion that the surreal aspects of the text are the consequence of drug-fuelled dreams resonates with a culture, particularly perhaps in the 60s, 70s and 80s when LSD was widely-circulated and even now where recreational drugs are commonplace,” says Dr Heather Worthington, Children’s Literature lecturer at Cardiff University.

Source: Is Alice in Wonderland really about drugs?
(by Sophie Robehmed, BBC magazine 2012-08-20)


Let me be perfectly clear here: Lewis Carroll didn’t do recreational drugs. Certainly there were drug references in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and these were picked up on by people with interests in that area, particularly in the late sixties. That is not to say that Carroll never took Laudanum for a medical problem on the advice of a doctor. There is NO direct proof (in his letters or his diaries) that he ever took narcotic drugs. You might ask yourself why students insist that he did and why some teachers teach that he did.

Source: (2002)


2019-12-12, update: 2020-11-29

Lists of Snark illustrators

Herbjørn Andresen allowed me to mirror his list of illustrators of Lewis Carroll’s “The Hunting of the Snark”. It had been published in 2008. Therefore many URLs are not valid anymore. Herbjørn’s page has been removed from the server of the Oslo university in 2020.

Then there also is Steve’s and Geoff’s page on Snark illustrators. And the British Lewis Carroll Society had a page about Carroll’s illustrators.