Every Passing Breeze

Mary Hibbs has published a short booklet (under the name Sandra Mann) containing her analysis of Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark. She suggests that the scene in which the Baker plunges into a chasm and vanishes is a metaphor for Christ’s crucifixion. Although she has not published her thoughts on the possible connection within the scene to Heber, she believes that it is a very good possibility:

If you accept the premise that The Hunting of the Snark is an allegory which, at its heart, explores Lewis Carroll’s beliefs that God is not capable of imposing infinite punishment for finite sin, you might be interested in a possible attribution of Carroll’s phrase “It was only a breeze that went by” to a famed quotation by the Bishop Reginald Heber, “Death rides on every passing breeze.”

Bishop Reginal Heber (1783-1826) was a Cheshire born man who gained fame at the University of Oxford as a poet, before taking orders and going on to serve as a County parson in Shropshire, and ultimately as Bishop of Calcutta. Carroll, who was also a Cheshire born man who gained fame at Oxford as a poet, was very familiar with Heber, and referenced him in one of his lesser known poems, The Deserted Parks, which he wrote in 1867 (“Enough of Heber!”). Although this phrase seems to speak of dislike for Heber, Carroll is, here, likening Heber to the rural virtues and simple scholarship which Carroll believed were being overtaken by a more crass materialism.

The quotation by Heber, “Death rides on every passing breeze” is a part of a poem which emphasizes that as death is ever near, every Christian should focus less on earthly pleasures and more on Christ’s teachings, a message which fits well with an analysis which proposes the Baker as Christ.

Beneath our feet and o’er our head
Is equal warning given;
Beneath us lie the countless dead,
Above us is the Heaven!

Death rides on every passing breeze,
He lurks in every flower:
Each season has its own disease,
Its peril, every hour!

Our eyes have seen the rosy light
Of youth’s soft cheek decay,
And Fate descend, in sudden night
On manhood’s middle day.

Our eyes have seen the steps of age
Halt feebly towards the tomb;
And yet shall earth our hearts engage,
And dreams of days to come?

Turn, mortal, turn! thy danger know;
Where’er thy foot can tread
The earth rings hollow from below,
And warns thee of her dead!

Turn, Christian, turn! thy soul apply
To truths divinely given’
The forms that underneath thee lie
Shall live for Hell or Heaven!

In what may or may not be a coincidence…
Heber died at the age of 42.

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