Green grained leather binding by Lauriat CC Boston. Gilt design on outside edges, title and spine. Presentation copy.
A classic First Edition
The Hunting of the Snark, subtitled An Agony in 8 Fits, is a poem by the English writer Lewis Carroll. It is typically categorised as a nonsense poem. Written between 1874 and 1876, it borrows the setting, some creatures, and eight portmanteau words from Carroll’s earlier poem “Jabberwocky” in his children’s novel Through the Looking-Glass (1871).
The narrative follows a crew of ten trying to hunt the Snark, a creature which may turn out to be a highly dangerous Boojum. The only crewmember to find the Snark quietly vanishes, leading the narrator to explain that the Snark was a Boojum after all. The poem is dedicated to young Gertrude Chataway, whom Carroll met at the English seaside town Sandown in the Isle of Wight in 1875. Included with many copies of the first edition of the poem was Carroll’s religious tract, An Easter Greeting to Every Child Who Loves “Alice”.
The Hunting of the Snark was published by Macmillan in the United Kingdom in March 1876, with illustrations by Henry Holiday. It had mixed reviews from reviewers, who found it strange. The first printing of The Hunting of the Snark consisted of 10,000 copies. There were two reprintings by the conclusion of the year; in total, the poem was reprinted 17 times between 1876 and 1908. Carroll often denied knowing the meaning behind the poem; however, in an 1896 reply to one letter, he agreed with one interpretation of the poem as an allegory for the search for happiness. Henry Holiday, the illustrator of the poem, considered the poem a “tragedy”. Scholars have found various meanings in the poem, among them existential angst, an allegory for tuberculosis, and a mockery of the Tichborne case. The Hunting of the Snark has been adapted for musicals, opera, plays, and music.
Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (27 January 1832 – 14 January 1898), better known by his pen name Lewis Carroll, was an English writer of children’s fiction, notably Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel Through the Looking-Glass. He was noted for his facility with word play, logic, and fantasy. The poems “Jabberwocky” and The Hunting of the Snark are classified in the genre of literary nonsense. He was also a mathematician, photographer, inventor, and Anglican deacon.
Carroll came from a family of high-church Anglicans, and developed a long relationship with Christ Church, Oxford, where he lived for most of his life as a scholar and teacher. Alice Liddell, daughter of the Dean of Christ Church, Henry Liddell, is widely identified as the original for Alice in Wonderland, though Carroll always denied this. Scholars are divided about whether his relationship with children included an erotic component.
In 1982, a memorial stone to Carroll was unveiled in Poets’ Corner, Westminster Abbey. There are Lewis Carroll societies in many parts of the world dedicated to the enjoyment and promotion of his works.
Nonsense verse is a form of nonsense literature usually employing strong prosodic elements like rhythm and rhyme. It is often whimsical and humorous in tone and employs some of the techniques of nonsense literature.
Limericks are probably the best-known form of nonsense verse, although they tend nowadays to be used for straightforward humour, rather than having a nonsensical effect.
Among writers in English noted for nonsense verse are Edward Lear, Lewis Carroll, Mervyn Peake, Edward Gorey, Colin West, Dr. Seuss, and Spike Milligan. The Martian Poets and Ivor Cutler are considered by some to be in the nonsense tradition.
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