Snarks Have Five Unmistakable Marks

How can we recognize a Snark? The Bellman explains it (🎶🎶🎶): A Snark is not necessarily evil, but once it turns into a Boojum, you are in trouble.

    “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!”)

          “ ‘But oh, beamish nephew, beware of the day,
              If your Snark be a Boojum! For then
          You will softly and suddenly vanish away,
              And never be met with again!’

          “I engage with the Snark — every night after dark —
              In a dreamy delirious fight:
          I serve it with greens in those shadowy scenes,
              And I use it for striking a light:

          “But if ever I meet with a Boojum, that day,
              In a moment (of this I am sure),
          I shall softly and suddenly vanish away —
              And the notion I cannot endure!”

      Important: The descriptions above are opinions of the Bellman, the Baker and the Baker’s Uncle. The views of these characters are not necessarily Lewis Carroll’s views: “I do not hold myself responsible for any of the opinions expressed by the characters in my book.” (Lewis Carroll, Sylvie and Bruno Concluded). However, the “delirious fight” “every night after dark” could be a reference to the author’s own “mental troubles“.

      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 2022-11-29

My Avatar

My present avatar:

In this image you see where this avatar came from.


History: In 2017, my first avatar was based on a painting by William Blake.

This is a recombed version of Blake’s The Ancient of Times. Your family and your friends might enjoy them in high resoluton: Print them in color (8000×10000) and in black&white (8000×111111), frame them nicely, and give them away as a beautiful gift to keep up their spirits.

Firefox Theme

2017-08-28, update: 2022-11-14

Snark too Dark

On the left side of this image comparison you see a scan (source: of Henry Holiday’s illustration to the final chapter The Vanishing in Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark. It already is a quite faithful reproduction of the original illustration.

The image on the right side has been generated from a scan of an original illustration from my own 1st edition of The Hunting of the Snark, where I grew the white areas a bit. (First I enlarged the image by 2:1. Then I applied GIMP → Filters → Generic → Delate. After that I scaled the image back to its previous size.)

I am not sure whether in the original printing from electrotypes the dark areas of the illustration might have grown wider than it was intended by Henry Holiday. It looks as if too much black ink had spilled into the white areas.

As for resolution, the print made by Ian Mortimer (for a limited edition of The Hunting of the Snark published by Macmillan in 1993) from Joseph Swain’s original woodblocks has a better quality than the illustration which you find in the mass printed books. But Mortimer’s print looks even darker.

In order to fix overprinting with the technology available to in the 19th century printers, one perhaps would have to redo the electrotypes and then try to erode the black areas using etching. Or just less ink would just do the job. But I don’t know too much about electrotyping (and printing in general), so I am just guessing here. Whatsoever, since many Snark editions hade been sold already, the dark Snark with the well hidden face of the Baker is the standard today.

Further reading: Lewis Carroll’s cat-astrophe, and other literary kittens by Mark Brown, The Guardian, 2018-11-22. (A tweet by Susan J. Cheadle drew my attention to that article. “Carroll’s Trump-like anger at the printing of his book Through the Looking-Glass and what Alice Found There is revealed in a new exhibition opening at the British Library which explores and celebrates cats in literature.” (As for cats, you might like my blog post “Kitty”.))

2021-06-05: Today I learned that on 1876-03-02, Macmillan reported to Carroll that the block for the illustration for the 8th fit was not printing clearly. Source: p.17 in The Snarkologist, The Institute of Snarkology, Vol. 1, Fit 1, May 2021, referring to p.124 Footnote 1 in Morton Cohen and Anita Gandolfo’s Lewis Carroll and the House of Macmillan, 1987. So I suggest, that from now on Snark publishers use a corrected version of the illustration for the 8th fit.

For discussion: Twitter [3][2][1] | Facebook [2][1]

2018-06-17, updated: 2022-11-24

The Bandersnatch fled
as the others appeared

509    The Bandersnatch fled as the others appeared
510        Led on by that fear-stricken yell:
511    And the Bellman remarked “It is just as I feared!”
512        And solemnly tolled on his bell.

Lewis Carroll (text) and Henry Holiday (illustration)
Marcus Gheeraerts the Elder
Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger
On Borrowing

2022-05-31 (my 5696×4325 assemblage: 2013)
update: 2022-11-08

Charles Darwin

The Bellman and Charles Darwin.

As for Darwin’s beard see also: Charles Darwin’s wild whiskers in From Charles Darwin’s beard to George Eliot’s right hand: 4 famous Victorian bodily quirks

In an early preparatory draft, the Bellman had a quite different face. Henry Holiday later used that face (an Oxford colleague?) in another illustration.

2017-08-27, updated: 2022-10-31

Waistcoat Poetry


There was an old man of Port Grigor,
Whose actions were noted for vigour;
He stood on his head
till his waistcoat turned red,
That eclectic old man of Port Grigor.

Edward Lear, 1872


He was black in the face,
and they scarcely could trace
The least likeness to what he had been:
While so great was his fright
that his waistcoat turned white –
A wonderful thing to be seen!

Lewis Carroll, from “The Hunting of the Snark”, 1876


Martin Gardner annotated (MG058) to The Hunting of the Snark that Elizabeth Sewell pointed out in The Field of Nonsense (1952) that a line in Carroll’s poem has a similarity to a line in a limerick by Edward Lear.

See also:

In The Field of Nonsense (I use a 2015 reprint), Elizabeth Sewell compared Carroll’s waistcoat stanza and Lears’s waistcoat limerick while taking a safe distance to considering “mutual plagiarism” by stating that “there is no evidence that either man was familiar with the other’s work”, adding that “the likeness do not in any case suggest borrowings…” (p. 9). However, Carroll/Dodgson knew Lear’s work (Marco Graziosi), and borrowing isn’t necessarily evil.

2017-09-11, update: 2022-10-24

My 1st Snark Trophy

My first Snark encounter was in 2005. Then, after almost four years, I entered the Snark hunting grounds in December 2008. could give you an idea where I was in 2010.

The image shows illustrations by Henry Holiday (from The Hunting of the Snark, 1876) and Marcus Gheeraerts the Elder (Allegory of Iconoclasts, aka The Image Breakers, around 1567): In the “mouth” of Gheeraerts’ “head” a praying priest is depicted. The shape of the priest also is visible in the “mouth” of Holiday’s vanishing “Baker”.

There is more — with acknowledgments to Mahendra Singh, to John Tufail and to the Internet.

And there are more big heads.

Articles in this blog about Henry Holiday’s illustration to the chapter The Vanishing.

2017-08-28, updated: 2022-10-21

Benjamin Jowett

Image sources: (1, 4) Henry Holiday, (2) probably by The Autotype Company, after Désiré François Laugée, (3) 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:
※ Lewis Carroll, «Take care of the sense and the sounds will take care of themselves.» in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
※ Lewis Carroll, «The New Method of Evaluation as applied to π», 1865
※ John Tufail, The Jowett Controversy, 2010 (document creation date)
※ 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).
Essays and Reviews

Instagram | Reddit

2018-05-03, update: 2022-10-17

Crossing the Line

  • [left]: Illustration The Crew on Board by Henry Holiday to Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark (1876)
  • [right]: Crossing the Line (1839), based on a print by Thomas Landseer, after Augustus Earle. You will find the print in Robert Fitz-Roy’s Narrative of the surveying voyages of HMS Adventure and Beagle, Vol II (1839).

This is of of the comparisons where am not so sure whether Holiday alluded to the work of another artist. If he did, then you might wait a little bit before you look at my spoiler where I marked possible(?) clues given to us by Holiday.

2017-11-08, updated: 2022-10-14

Mike Batt’s Snark

※ 1987: The Hunting Of The Snark – Royal Albert Hall (1h)

«In 1987 Mike Batt recorded this concert of the early stage album of his “Snark” project. This is not a film of the eventual 1991 West End show, which was much more fully produced and had many more songs and more story. This early concert starred John Hurt, Roger Daltrey, Justin Hayward, Deniece Williams, Captain Sensible, Julian Lennon, Midge Ure, and Billy Connolly, with Batt conducting the London Symphony Orchestra. Music/lyrics/orchestrations by Mike Batt. Based on the poem (as recited in the narration) written by Lewis Carroll.»

※ 2010: The Hunting Of The Snark – Live at Cadogan Hall (9m40s)

Mike Batt’s Snark project


※ 2020-07-22, Interview: John Murray Lunchtime Show with Mike Batt. The whole show on k107FM is worth listening to, but if you are very impatient and want to learn more about Mike Batt’s Snark musical right away, start at 01:18:45 in the podcast:

If anyone's bored, my office have just posted my "Director Showreel". It's about 5 years old but someone found it! Anyway who knows, you might want me to direct your music spectacular feature!

— Mike Batt (@Mike_Batt) September 2, 2020

Mike Batt – Director Showreel (YouTube, 2020)


Mike Batt – A Songwriters Tale (YouTube, 2012)


A “Mike Batt Fans” theme for the Firefox browser:

With dark search text on white background:

Wikipedia | Mike Batt page (in German) | more Snark music

2018-10-15, update: 2022-10-09

The Mathematical World of C.L. Dodgson

Had no idea Carroll diagrams existed! A new rabbit hole to disappear down, methinks🐰@GreshamCollege

— Small Press (@smallpressbooks) October 21, 2019

The Mathematical World of C.L. Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) vía @YouTube

— Profesor Raul Alva G (@Prof_Raul_Alva) October 21, 2019

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: 2022-09-05

On Borrowing

One of the surest tests [of a poet’s superiority or inferiority] is the way in which a poet borrows. Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different than that from which it is torn; the bad poet throws it into something which has no cohesion. A good poet will usually borrow from authors remote in time, or alien in language, or diverse in interest.

T. S. Eliot, p. 114 in The Sacred Wood: Essays on Poetry and Criticism, 1920

Likewise, a good illustrator welds the theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different and sometimes even funnier than that from which it is torn.

And Lewis Carroll may have borrowed from Thomas Gray.


All art is infested by other art.

(Leo Steinberg, in Art about Art, 1979)


Gustave Doré was an inspired master thief too:Segments from:
※ Plate I (mirror view) of Gustave Doré’s illustrations to Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote (1863),
※ Matthias Grünewald’s Temptation of St Anthony (c. between 1512 and 1516, a panel of the Isenheim Altarpiece, now located at Musée Unterlinden, Colmar, France).

The borrowing never ends:

2018-02-18, update: 2022-09-05

The Beaver’s Lesson

The Butcher reasoning with the Beaver.

This is the illustration (partially inspired by various works of other artists) to the chapter The Beaver’s Lesson.



2017-09-26, updated: 2022-09-04

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

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

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