Lewis Carroll

Author, mathematician, Logician, Anglican Deacon and Photographer Lewis Carroll (Charles Dodgson) sadly died 14 January 1897. Born 27 January 1832, he is best remembered for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Alice Through the Looking-Glass, “The Hunting of the Snark” and “Jabberwocky”. From a young age, Dodgson wrote poetry and short stories, which he contributed to the family magazine Mischmasch and also sent them to various magazines. Between 1854 and 1856, his work appeared in The Comic Times and The Train, the Whitby Gazette and the Oxford Critic. Most of this output was humorous, sometimes satirical, he also wrote puppet plays Such as La Guida di Bragia.

In 1856 he published A romantic poem called “Solitude” in The Train as “Lewis Carroll”. This pseudonym was a play on his real name; Lewis was the anglicised form of Ludovicus, which was the Latin for Lutwidge, and Carroll an Irish surname similar to the Latin name Carolus, from which comes the name Charles. In 1856, a new dean, Henry Liddell, arrived at Christ Church, bringing with him his young family, all of whom would figure largely in Dodgson’s life and, over the following years, greatly influence his writing career. Dodgson became close friends with Liddell’s wife, Lorina, and their children, particularly the three sisters: Lorina, Edith and Alice Liddell. He was for many years widely assumed to have derived his own “Alice” from Alice Liddell. This was given some apparent substance by the fact the acrostic poem at the end of Through the Looking Glass spells out her name and also that there are many superficial references to her hidden in the text of both books. It has been noted that Dodgson himself repeatedly denied in later life that his “little heroine” was based on any real child, and frequently dedicated his works to girls of his acquaintance, adding their names in acrostic poems at the beginning of the text. Gertrude Chataway’s name appears in this form at the beginning of The Hunting of the Snark and it is not suggested that this means any of the characters in the narrative are based on her.

Carroll’s friendship with the Liddell family was an important part of his life in the late 1850s and he took the children on rowing trips accompanied by an adult friend.to nearby Nuneham Courtenay or Godstow.it was on one such expedition, on 4 July 1862, that Dodgson invented the outline for Alice in Wonderland after Alice Liddell persuaded him to write it down, Dodgson presented her with a handwritten, illustrated manuscript entitled Alice’s Adventures Under Ground in November 1864 Before this, the family of friend and mentor George MacDonald read Dodgson’s incomplete manuscript, and the enthusiasm of the MacDonald children encouraged Dodgson to seek publication. In 1863, he had taken the unfinished manuscript to Macmillan the publisher, who liked it immediately. After the possible alternative titles Alice Among the Fairies and Alice’s Golden Hour were rejected, the work was finally published as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in 1865 under the Lewis Carroll pen-name, which Dodgson had first used some nine years earlier. The illustrations this time were by Sir John Tenniel; Dodgson evidently thought that a published book would need the skills of a professional artist.

The overwhelming commercial success of the first Alice book changed Dodgson’s life in many ways. The fame of his alter ego “Lewis Carroll” soon spread around the world. He was inundated with fan mail and with sometimes unwanted attention. Indeed, according to one popular story, Queen Victoria herself enjoyed Alice In Wonderland so much that she suggested he dedicate his next book to her, and was accordingly presented with his next work, a scholarly mathematical volume entitled An Elementary Treatise on Determinants. Dodgson himself vehemently denied this story, commenting “…It is utterly false in every particular: nothing even resembling it has occurred”; and it is unlikely for other reasons: as T.B. Strong comments in aTimes article, “It would have been clean contrary to all his practice to identify [the] author of Alice with the author of his mathematical works”. He also began earning quite substantial sums of money but continued with his seemingly disliked post at Christ Church. Late in 1871, a sequel – Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There – was published. It is somewhat darker and the mood possibly reflects the changes in Dodgson’s life. His father had recently died (1868), plunging him into a depression that lasted some years. In 1876, Dodgson produced his last great work, The Hunting of the Snark, a fantastical “nonsense” poem, exploring the adventures of a bizarre crew of tradesmen, and one beaver, who set off to find the eponymous creature. The painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti reputedly became convinced the poem was about him. In 1895, Carroll published a two-volume tale of the eponymous fairy siblings. Carroll entwines two plots, set in two alternate worlds, one the fairytale kingdom of Elfland, the other a realm called Outland, which satirizes English society, and more specifically, the world of academia.

In 1856, Dodgson took up photography, first under the influence of his uncle Skeffington Lutwidge, and later his Oxford friend Reginald Southey and soon became a well-known gentleman-photographer. Dodgson also made many studies of men, women, male children and landscapes; his subjects also include skeletons, dolls, dogs, statues and paintings, and trees. His pictures of children were taken with a parent in attendance and many of the pictures were taken in the Liddell garden, because natural sunlight was required for good exposures, Unfortunately this led to great controversy and unsavory rumors concerning his relationship with Alice and Lorina Liddell and he parted company with them under dubious circumstances. He found photography to be a useful entrée into higher social circles. During the most productive part of his career, he made portraits of notable sitters such as John Everett Millais, Ellen Terry, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Julia Margaret Cameron, Michael Faraday, Lord Salisbury, andAlfred, Lord Tennyson. Dodgson abruptly ceased photography in 1880. Over 24 years, he had completely mastered the medium, set up his own studio on the roof of Tom Quad, and created around 3,000 images. Fewer than 1,000 have survived time and deliberate destruction. He reported that he stopped taking photographs because keeping his studio working was difficult (he used the wet collodion process) and commercial photographers (who used the dry-plate process) took pictures more quickly.

Dodgson also worked in mathematics, in the fields of geometry, linear and matrix algebra,mathematical logic and recreational mathematics, producing nearly a dozen books under his real name. Dodgson also developed new ideas in linear algebra (e.g. the first printed proof of the Kronecker-Capelli theorem),probability, and the study of elections (e.g.,Dodgson’s method) and committees; some of this work was not published until well after his death. He worked as the Mathematical Lecturer at Christ Church, an occupation that gave him some financial security. His mathematical work attracted renewed interest in the late 20th century. Martin Gardner’s book on logic machines and diagrams, and William Warren Bartley’s posthumous publication of the second part of Carroll’s symbolic logic book have sparked a reevaluation of Carroll’s contributions to symbolic logic. Robbins’ and Rumsey’s investigation of Dodgson condensation, a method of evaluating determinants, led them to the Alternating Sign Matrix conjecture, now a theorem. The discovery in the 1990s of additional ciphers that Carroll had constructed, in addition to his “Memoria Technica”, showed that he had employed sophisticated mathematical ideas to their creation

Dodgson invented many things including the Wonderland Postage-Stamp Case in 1889. This was a cloth-backed folder with twelve slots, two marked for inserting the then most commonly used penny stamp, and one each for the other current denominations to one shilling. The folder was then put into a slip case decorated with a picture of Alice on the front and the Cheshire Cat on the back. All could be conveniently carried in a pocket or purse. When issued it also included a copy of Carroll’s pamphletted lecture, Eight or Nine Wise Words About Letter-Writing. Another invention is a writing tablet called the nyctograph for use at night that allowed for note-taking in the dark; thus eliminating the trouble of getting out of bed and striking a light when one wakes with an idea. The device consisted of a gridded card with sixteen squares and system of symbols representing an alphabet of Dodgson’s design, using letter shapes similar to the Graffiti writing system on a Palm device.

Among the games he devised outside of logic there are a number of word games, including an early version of Scrabble, “doublet” a form of brain-teaser which involves changing one word into another by altering one letter at a time, each successive change always resulting in a genuine word. For instance, CAT is transformed into DOG by the following steps: CAT, COT, DOT, DOG. Other items he invented include a rule for finding the day of the week for any date; a means for justifying right margins on a typewriter; a steering device for a velociam (a type of tricycle); new systems of parliamentary representation; more nearly fair elimination rules for tennis tournaments; a new sort of postal money order; rules for reckoning postage; rules for a win in betting; rules for dividing a number by various divisors; a cardboard scale for the college common room he worked in later in life, which, held next to a glass, ensured the right amount of liqueur for the price paid; a double-sided adhesive strip for things like the fastening of envelopes or mounting things in books; a device for helping a bedridden invalid to read from a book placed sideways; and at least two ciphers for cryptography.

Dodgson continued to teach at Christ Church until 1881, and remained in residence there until his death. The two volumes of his last novel, Sylvie and Bruno, were published in 1889 and 1893. He also travelled to Russia in 1867 as an ecclesiastical together with the Reverend Henry Liddon. He recounts the travel in his “Russian Journal”, published in 1935. On his way to Russia and back he also saw different cities in Belgium, Germany, the partitioned Poland, and France. He died at his sisters’ home, “The Chestnuts” in Guildford, of pneumonia following influenza, two weeks before turning 66. He is buried in Guildford at the Mount Cemetery.

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