The hunting of the Snark
If — and the thing is wildly possible — the charge of writing
nonsense were ever brought against the author of this brief but
instructive poem, it would be based, I feel convinced, on the line (in
"Then the bowsprit got mixed with the rudder sometimes."
In view of this painful possibility, I will not (as I might) appeal
indignantly to my other writings as a proof that I am incapable of such a
deed: I will not (as I might) point to the strong moral purpose of this
poem itself, to the arithmetical principles so cautiously inculcated in
it, or to its noble teachings in Natural History — I will take the more
prosaic course of simply explaining how it happened.
The Bellman, who was almost morbidly sensitive about appearances,
used to have the bowsprit unshipped once or twice a week to be
revarnished, and it more than once happened, when the time came for
replacing it, that no one on board could remember which end of the ship it
belonged to. They knew it was not of the slightest use to appeal to the
Bellman about it — he would only refer to his Naval Code, and read out in
pathetic tones Admiralty Instructions which none of them had ever been
able to understand — so it generally ended in its being fastened on,
anyhow, across the rudder. The helmsman used to stand by with tears in his
eyes; he knew it was all wrong, but alas! Rule 42 of the Code, "No one
shall speak to the Man at the Helm", had been completed by the Bellman
himself with the words "and the Man at the Helm shall speak to no one." So
remonstrance was impossible, and no steering could be done till the next
varnishing day. During these bewildering intervals the ship usually sailed
As this poem is to some extent connected with the lay of the
Jabberwock, let me take this opportunity of answering a question that has
often been asked me, how to pronounce "slithy toves." The "i" in "slithy"
is long, as in "writhe"; and "toves" is pronounced so as to rhyme with
"groves." Again, the first "o" in "borogoves" is pronounced like the "o"
in "borrow." I have heard people try to give it the sound of the "o" in
"worry. Such is Human Perversity.
This also seems a fitting occasion to notice the other hard works in
that poem. Humpty-Dumpty's theory, of two meanings packed into one word
like a portmanteau, seems to me the right explanation for all.
For instance, take the two words "fuming" and "furious." Make up your
mind that you will say both words, but leave it unsettled which you will
say first. Now open your mouth and speak. If your thoughts incline ever so
little towards "fuming," you will say "fuming-furious;" if they turn, by
even a hair's breadth, towards "furious," you will say "furious-fuming;"
but if you have the rarest of gifts, a perfectly balanced mind, you will
Supposing that, when Pistol uttered the well-known words -
"Under which king, Bezonian? Speak or die!"
Justice Shallow had felt certain that it was either William or
Richard, but had not been able to settle which, so that he could not
possibly say either name before the other, can it be doubted that, rather
than die, he would have gasped out "Rilchiam!"
Fit the First THE LANDING