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

不佳

In the midst of the word he was trying to say,
In the midst of his laughter and glee,
He had softly and suddenly vanished away —
For the Snark was a Boojum, you see.

2021-12-23: Illustration mostly by Henry Holiday

How would Chinese call the Boojum?

  • Boojum can be approximately transcribed with 不佳 (bù jiā). The pronouncation in English is explained to Chinese people in fanyi.baidu.com.
  • I also found 布经 (bù jīng) as a Chinese transcription.
  • As for vanishing away, one also could consider to use 不见 (bù jiàn).
  • I call the beast 不佳不见 (bù jiā bù jiàn).

在他想说的话中间,
在他的笑声和喜悦中,
他轻轻地突然消失了—
因为斯纳克变成了
一个不佳不见,你看

在他想說的話中間,
在他的笑聲和喜悅中,
他輕輕地突然消失了—
因為斯納克變成了
一個不佳不見,你看

 
So what is a Snark and what is a Boojum?
Lewis Carroll wrote about The Hunting of the Snark:

As to the meaning of the Snark, I’m very much afraid I didn’t mean anything but nonsense. Still, you know, words mean more than we mean to express when we use them; so a whole book ought to mean a great deal more than the writer means. So, whatever good meanings are in the book, I’m glad to accept as the meaning of the book. The best that I’ve seen is by a lady (she published it in a letter to a newspaper), that the whole book is an allegory on the search after happiness.

  • Snark: Neither the usage in the year 1866 nor the contemporary usage of the term help here. According to Carroll, The Hunting of the Snark has at least one meaning: The pursuit of happiness. To Carroll, that pursuit could be about the Anglican path to happiness. That path is “meagre and hollow, but crisp“, because it is void of any catholic decor and superstition. The dispute about how to achieve happiness is not always comfortable, but it is necessary, because for different people there always are different paths to happiness. In civilized societies the Snark helps us to find a path which optimizes our happiness. As people and their environments keep constantly changing, the Snark hunt will never end.
  • Boojum: I think that Lewis Carroll and Henry Holiday’s tragicomedy (a “tragedy” in Holiday’s opinion) is about how walking the meagre and hollow, but crisp path (Snark) towards happiness (whatever that might be) turns into terrible fights with very sad ends (Boojum). Unfortunately, also in the 21st century too often good Snark hunters “softly and suddenly vanish away”. They and their work “disappear”, erased by those who walk along the path of the Boojum. It seems that this will never end as well.
            In a nutshell: In my view, a Boojum is a monster or a monstrous process. Once you encounter it (for example at the violent end of a controversy), then you softly and suddenly vanish away.

 
For comments: Reddit

 
2017-12-17, update: 2022-01-20

Hunting Happiness

As to the meaning of the Snark, I’m very much afraid I didn’t mean anything but nonsense. Still, you know, words mean more than we mean to express when we use them; so a whole book ought to mean a great deal more than the writer means. So, whatever good meanings are in the book, I’m glad to accept as the meaning of the book. The best that I’ve seen is by a lady (she published it in a letter to a newspaper), that the whole book is an allegory on the search after happiness.

Lewis Carroll (on The Hunting of the Snark)

 

What disturbs and depresses young people is the hunt for happiness on the firm assumption that it must be met with in life. From this arises constantly deluded hope and so also dissatisfaction. Deceptive images of a vague happiness hover before us in our dreams, and we search in vain for their original. Much would have been gained if, through timely advice and instruction, young people could have had eradicated from their minds the erroneous notion that the world has a great deal to offer them.

Arthur Schopenhauer
(Günther Flemming made me aware of this quote in a comment to his translation of The Hunting of the Snark, p. 156, ISBN 978-3-8442-6493-7)