Blurring images is low pass filtering images. An artist’s blunted sight can have the same effects like blurring with computerized image processing. Sometimes you need to get rid of distracting details in order to get the whole picture.

Jay Clause‘s what Salvador Dali taught me about creative work will help you to (perhaps) get the whole picture. However, keep in mind that artists like to play with what the beholders of their work might want (or might not want) to percieve. Even without blurring, artists can deny anything you “see” in an ambiguous creation: They play with their own pareidolia as well as with the pareidolia of their audience.

Before computerized image processing was available, artists use simple techniques to blurr images. For example, squinting or looking at an image through a feather did the trick.

Squinting might help you to see things which you wouldn’t see with clear sight. It’s fine to try that with artwork which might have been intentionally created for such an exercise. But better make sure that it was an artist who created the face that is looking at you. I don’t know whether Mars ever has been inhabited by artists.


2017-12-28, updated: 2020-11-22

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)

2018-02-18, update: 2020-11-01

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

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 | Yahoo Groups | Twitter

2018-04-29, update: 2020-09-02

Holiday’s Butcher and Millais’ Raleigh

But perhaps Holiday’s ruff – and the pose of the Fit Five drawing – was inspired by the Elizabethan drama inherent in Millais’ Boyhood of Raleigh, (1869).

Louise Schweitzer, One Wild Flower (2012)

A popular approach to avoid frustration and embarrassment is to claim that the meaning of the Snark is elusive. But some try to understand it nevertheless. For those courageous readers I take this post as an occasion to recommend Louise Schweitzer’s doctoral thesis One Wild Flower.


2017-09-04, updated 2020-07-16

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).

2017-09-11, update: 2020-07-10

Carroll’s Honest Lie

Authors, who say that they “don’t not know” whether their book is satire, quite probably lie. Such honest lies are less boring that telling that they won’t tell. (That is a difference to presidents who lie openly because it shows that they have the power to do that.)

Of course “The Hunting of the Snark” contains satire. Dodgson wasn’t stupid. Satirists who explain their work would kill their work. E.g. in case of the “bathing machines“, “The Hunting of the Snark” took a reference to one of Carroll’s obvious satires.


2019-06-23, update: 2020-07-04

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: Lewis Carroll 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 “lime twig for critics” (“Leimrute für Kritiker”).

I don’t think that Carroll really 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: 2020-07-03

Lorenzo and Isabella

Bycatch from my Snark hunt:

The, well, ambiguity of that “shadow”is known. Also there were some Freudian assumptions regarding what the salt could stand for. But so far I didn’t find any remarks on the impossibility of having a shadow being covered by white salt which isn’t covered by that shadow. To someone who learned physics that is a quite obvious question.


2017-12-17, update: 2020-04-11

When the Queen met the Boojum

This is the first page published in, a blog which was set up in 2017. It’s mostly about Lewis Carroll‘s, Henry Holiday‘s and Joseph Swain‘s illustrations to The Hunting of the Snark.

In his Illuminated Snark, John Tufail assumed that the night sky in the front cover of The Hunting of the Snark could be a map. Together with my assumption that Henry Holiday drew inspiration from several paintings by Marcus Gheeraerts (I+II), John’s paper helped me to find the Ditchley Portrait. That again helped me to find the painting by an unknown artist depicting Elizabeth I at old age.


2017-08-28, update 2020-02-27


[…] When [The Hunting of the Snark] was published in 1876 it was illustrated by Henry Holiday who, though a very talented artist, failed to capture the surreal nature of Carroll’s poem. The illustrations for this edition however, provided by Gormenghast author Mervyn Peake, are the perfect accompaniment. Peake’s drawings have an uneasy bubbling quality, blending with the silly and macabre feel of the words […]

Nothing against Mervyn Peake’s illustrations, but already this illustration (even without the yellow lines and dots which I added) might contain more elements of “surreal nature” than what you find in Mervyn Peake’s illustrations. I like those playful weeds (or animals?) in the lower left corner of Holiday’s illustration.

That’s not the only thing which that corner has to offer.

Another popular path (not) to understand The Hunting of the Snark has been stated more than three times: Some call Carroll’s poem “nonsense”. It isn’t.

Anyway, I don’t think that Holiday failed to convey to us graphically what Carroll meant. The price for his achievement perhaps was that Holiday’s illustrations are less eye pleasing than illustrations like Peake’s.

Holiday’s illustrations are as grotesque as Carroll’s poem.

2018-02-16, updated: 2020-02-01

From Horses to Playful Weeds

[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)
[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: 2020-02-01

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

Henry George Liddell

A Billiard-marker, whose skill was immense,
 Might perhaps have won more than his share—
But a Banker, engaged at enormous expense,
 Had the whole of their cash in his care.

The Times announces that Liddell of Westminster is to be the new Dean: the selection does not seem to have given much satisfaction in the college.

Quote: C.L. Dodgson, 1855-06-07, @DodgsonDiaries on Twitter


2017-08-28, updated: 2019-06-08