What a bawling and a tearing of hair there will be!
Some nonsense of note from Lewis Carroll's father
If you've ever wondered where Lewis Carroll got his flair for the fantastical, look no further than his dad, Charles, who for many years worked as the Archdeacon of Richmond. Twenty-five years before Alice fell down her rabbit hole, seven-year-old Charles Jr, who would later adopt the pen name by which he is now known, asked his father to bring home a file, a screwdriver, and a ring from a business trip in Leeds. Charles Sr replied with a letter containing a scene that would not look out of place in one of his son’s stories, and it’s easy to see how this kind of playful absurdity could leave a mark.
January 6, 1840
My dearest Charles,
I am very sorry that I had not time to answer your nice little note before. You cannot think how pleased I was to receive something in your handwriting, and you may depend upon it I will not forget your commission.
As soon as I get to Leeds I shall scream out in the middle of the street…
Six hundred men will rush out of their shops in a moment—fly, fly in all directions—ring the bells, call the constables, set the Town on fire.
“I WILL have a file and a screw driver, and a ring, and if they are not brought directly, in forty seconds, I will leave nothing but one small cat alive in the whole Town of Leeds, and I shall only leave that, because I am afraid I shall not have time to kill it.”
Then what a bawling and a tearing of hair there will be!
Pigs and babies, camels and butterflies, rolling in the gutter together—old women rushing up the chimneys and cows after them—ducks hiding themselves in coffee-cups, and fat geese trying to squeeze themselves into pencil cases. At last the Mayor of Leeds will be found in a soup plate covered up with custard, and stuck full of almonds to make him look like a sponge cake that he may escape the dreadful destruction of the Town. Oh! Where is his wife? She is safe in her own pincushion with a bit of sticking plaster on the top to hide the hump in her back, and all her dear little children, seventy-eight poor little helpless infants crammed into her mouth, and hiding themselves behind her double teeth.
Then comes a man hid in a teapot crying and roaring, “Oh, I have dropped my donkey. I put it up my nostril, and it has fallen out of the spout of the teapot into an old woman’s thimble and she will squeeze it to death when she puts her thimble on.”
At last they bring the things which I ordered, and then I spare the Town, and send off in fifty wagons, under the protection of ten thousand soldiers, a file and a screw driver and a ring as a present to Charles Lutwidge Dodgson,
from his affectionate
Letter excerpted from The Letters of Lewis Carroll, edited by Morton N. Cohen and published in 1979 by Macmillan.