Breakfast at five-o’clock tea

Snark mark 2/5:

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.

In November 1859, Dodgson gave a lecture at a meeting of the Ashmolean Society on “Where does the Day begin?”. A clock traveling around the earth with the sun always exactly above of it could stand still but always would be correct. (It’s almost like the mad tea-party having always six o’clock while moving around the table.) Only the day date suddenly would change somewhere. (That’s where in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland the March Hare quickly changes the topic.)

There neither were internationally defined time zones yet, nor an internationally agreed date line when Charles Darwin and the HMS Beagle travelled around the world, but when he (and the Snark) breakfasted in Tahiti, it probably already was around tea time back home in Carroll’s Oxford. From England it carries us far away, when we imagine breakfasting in Tahiti.

On 2020-10-22 I found a twitter thread, where John Pretorius showed, that he interpreted (and applied) Lewis Carroll’s “breakfasts at five-o’clock tea” stanza in the same way as I did.

Discussion: Facebook | Twitter [4][3][2][1]

2019-08-16, updated 2021-03-20

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

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


Snark Assemblage

Here I inserted (2012-08-18) details from Henry Holiday’s Snark illustrations to the 1st Snark fit into Thomas Landseer’s illustration.

You can use the assemblage in compliance with license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. Main artists: Conrad Martens & Thomas Landseer, Henry Holiday & Joseph Swain.

more (with a high resolution image) | search “SnarkAssemblage”

2017-09-23, update: 2020-01-30

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 Landseer’s print. If it is, 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: 2019-06-16

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: 2019-05-30

Delightful Monster

Monsters, by Henry Holiday (left) and J. J. Grandville (right).

[…] 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)

Once you meet the Boojum, you might be Going Slightly Mad.