Isa Bowman.

The story of Lewis Carroll, told for young people by the real Alice in Wonderland online

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[Illustration: _Miss Isa Bowman as Alice in "Alice in Wonderland"_]







The Knickerbocker Press, New York















"A TURK" 103



It seems to me a very difficult task to sit down at a desk and write
"reminiscences" of a friend who has gone from us all.

It is not easy to make an effort and to remember all the little personalia
of some one one has loved very much, and by whom one has been loved. And
yet it is in a measure one's duty to tell the world something of the inner
life of a famous man; and Lewis Carroll was so wonderful a personality,
and so good a man, that if my pen dragged ever so slowly, I feel that I
can at least tell something of his life which is worthy the telling.

Writing with the sense of his loss still heavy upon me, I must of
necessity colour my account with sadness. I am not in the ordinary sense
a biographer. I cannot set down a critical estimate, a cold, dispassionate
summing-up of a man I loved; but I can write of a few things that happened
when I was a little girl, and when he used to say to me that I was "_his_
little girl."

The gracious presence of Lewis Carroll is with us no longer. Never again
will his hand hold mine, and I shall never hear his voice more in this
world. Forever while I live that kindly influence will be gone from my
life, and the "Friend of little Children" has left us.

And yet in the full sorrow of it all I find some note of comfort. He was
so good and sweet, so tender and kind, so certain that there was another
and more beautiful life waiting for us, that I know, even as if I heard
him telling it to me, that some time I shall meet him once more.

In all the noise and excitement of London, amid all the distractions of a
stage life, I know this, and his presence is often very near to me, and
the kindly voice is often at my ear as it was in the old days.

To have even known such a man as he was is an inestimable boon. To have
been with him for so long as a child, to have known so intimately the man
who above all others has understood childhood, is indeed a memory on which
to look back with thanksgiving and with tears.

Now that I am no longer "his little girl," now that he is dead and my life
is so different from the quiet life he led, I can yet feel the old charm,
I can still be glad that he has kissed me and that we were friends. Little
girl and grave professor! it is a strange combination. Grave professor and
little girl! how curious it sounds! yet strange and curious as it may
seem, it was so, and the little girl, now a little girl no longer, offers
this last loving tribute to the friend and teacher she loved so well.
Forever that voice is still; be it mine to revive some ancient memories of

First, however, as I have essayed to be some sort of a biographer, I feel
that before I let my pen run easily over the tale of my intimate knowledge
of Lewis Carroll I must put down very shortly some facts about his life.

The Rev. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson died when he was sixty-six years old,
and when his famous book, "Alice in Wonderland," had been published for
thirty-three years. He was born at Daresbury, in Cheshire, and his father
was the Rev. Charles Dodgson. The first years of his life were spent at
Daresbury, but afterwards the family went to live at a place called Croft,
in Yorkshire. He went first to a private school in Yorkshire and then to
Rugby, where he spent years that he always remembered as very happy ones.
In 1850 he went to Christ Church, Oxford, and from that time till the year
of his death he was inseparably connected with "The House," as Christ
Church college is generally called, from its Latin name "√Жdes Christi,"
which means, literally translated, the House of Christ.

There he won great distinction as a scholar of mathematics, and wrote many
abstruse and learned books, very different from "Alice in Wonderland."
There is a tale that when the Queen had read "Alice in Wonderland" she was
so pleased that she asked for more books by the same author. Lewis Carroll
was written to, and back, with the name of Charles Dodgson on the
title-page, came a number of the very dryest books about Algebra and
Euclid that you can imagine.

Still, even in mathematics his whimsical fancy was sometimes suffered to
peep out, and little girls who learnt the rudiments of calculation at his
knee found the path they had imagined so thorny set about with roses by
reason of the delightful fun with which he would turn a task into a joy.
But when the fun was over the little girl would find that she had learnt
the lesson (all unknowingly) just the same. Happy little girls who had
such a master. The old rhyme -

"Multiplication is vexation,
Division is as bad,
The rule of three doth puzzle me,
And Practice drives me mad,"

would never need to have been written had all arithmetic lessons been like
the arithmetic lessons given by Charles Dodgson to his little friends.

As a lecturer to his grown-up pupils he was also surprisingly lucid, and
under his deft treatment the knottiest of problems were quickly smoothed
out and made easy for his hearers to comprehend. "I always hated
mathematics at school," an ex-pupil of his told me a little while ago,
"but when I went up to Oxford I learnt from Mr. Dodgson to look upon my
mathematics as the most delightful of all my studies. His lectures were
never dry."

For twenty-six years he lectured at Oxford, finally giving up his post in
1881. From that time to the time of his death he remained in his college,
taking no actual part in the tuition, but still enjoying the Fellowship
that he had won in 1861.

This is an official account, a brief sketch of an intensely interesting
life. It tells little save that Lewis Carroll was a clever mathematician
and a sympathetic teacher; it shall be my work to present him as he was
from a more human point of view.

Lewis Carroll was a man of medium height. When I knew him his hair was a
silver-grey, rather longer than it was the fashion to wear, and his eyes
were a deep blue. He was clean shaven, and, as he walked, always seemed a
little unsteady in his gait. At Oxford he was a well-known figure. He was
a little eccentric in his clothes. In the coldest weather he would never
wear an overcoat, and he had a curious habit of always wearing, in all
seasons of the year, a pair of grey and black cotton gloves.

But for the whiteness of his hair it was difficult to tell his age from
his face, for there were no wrinkles on it. He had a curiously womanish
face, and, in direct contradiction to his real character, there seemed to
be little strength in it. One reads a great deal about the lines that a
man's life paints in his face, and there are many people who believe that
character is indicated by the curves of flesh and bone. I do not, and
never shall, believe it is true, and Lewis Carroll is only one of many
instances to support my theory. He was as firm and self-contained as a man
may be, but there was little to show it in his face.

Yet you could easily discern it in the way in which he met and talked with
his friends. When he shook hands with you - he had firm white hands, rather
large - his grip was strong and steadfast. Every one knows the kind of man
of whom it is said "his hands were all soft and flabby when he said,
'How-do-you-do.'" Well, Lewis Carroll was not a bit like that. Every one
says when he shook your hand the pressure of his was full of strength,
and you felt here indeed was a man to admire and to love. The expression
in his eyes was also very kind and charming.


He used to look at me, when we met, in the very tenderest, gentlest way.
Of course on an ordinary occasion I knew that his interested glance did
not mean anything of any extra importance. Nothing could have happened
since I had seen him last, yet, at the same time, his look was always so
deeply sympathetic and benevolent that one could hardly help feeling it
meant a great deal more than the expression of the ordinary man.

He was afflicted with what I believe is known as "Housemaid's knee," and
this made his movements singularly jerky and abrupt. Then again he found
it impossible to avoid stammering in his speech. He would, when engaged in
an animated conversation with a friend, talk quickly and well for a few
minutes, and then suddenly and without any very apparent cause would
begin to stutter so much, that it was often difficult to understand him.
He was very conscious of this impediment, and he tried hard to cure
himself. For several years he read a scene from some play of Shakespeare's
every day aloud, but despite this he was never quite able to cure himself
of the habit. Many people would have found this a great hindrance to the
affairs of ordinary life, and would have felt it deeply. Lewis Carroll was
different. His mind and life were so simple and open that there was no
room in them for self-consciousness, and I have often heard him jest at
his own misfortune, with a comic wonder at it.

The personal characteristic that you would notice most on meeting Lewis
Carroll was his extreme shyness. With children, of course, he was not
nearly so reserved, but in the society of people of maturer age he was
almost old-maidishly prim in his manner. When he knew a child well this
reserve would vanish completely, but it needed only a slightly
disconcerting incident to bring the cloak of shyness about him once more,
and close the lips that just before had been talking so delightfully.

I shall never forget one afternoon when we had been walking in Christ
Church meadows. On one side of the great open space the little river
Cherwell runs through groves of trees towards the Isis, where the college
boat-races are rowed. We were going quietly along by the side of the
"Cher," when he began to explain to me that the tiny stream was a
tributary, "a baby river" he put it, of the big Thames. He talked for some
minutes, explaining how rivers came down from hills and flowed eventually
to the sea, when he suddenly met a brother Don at a turning in the avenue.

He was holding my hand and giving me my lesson in geography with great
earnestness when the other man came round the corner.

[Illustration: C. L. DODGSON]

He greeted him in answer to his salutation, but the incident disturbed his
train of thought, and for the rest of the walk he became very difficult to
understand, and talked in a nervous and preoccupied manner. One strange
way in which his nervousness affected him was peculiarly characteristic.
When, owing to the stupendous success of "Alice in Wonderland" and "Alice
Through the Looking-Glass," he became a celebrity many people were anxious
to see him, and in some way or other to find out what manner of man he
was. This seemed to him horrible, and he invented a mild deception for use
when some autograph-hunter or curious person sent him a request for his
signature on a photograph, or asked him some silly question as to the
writing of one of his books, how long it took to write, and how many
copies had been sold. Through some third person he always represented that
Lewis Carroll the author and Mr. Dodgson the professor were two distinct
persons, and that the author could not be heard of at Oxford at all. On
one occasion an American actually wrote to say that he had heard that
Lewis Carroll had laid out a garden to represent some of the scenes in
"Alice in Wonderland," and that he (the American) was coming right away to
take photographs of it. Poor Lewis Carroll, he was in terror of Americans
for a week!

Of being photographed he had a horror, and despite the fact that he was
continually and importunately requested to sit before the camera, only
very few photographs of him are in existence. Yet he had been himself a
great amateur photographer, and had taken many pictures that were
remarkable in their exact portraiture of the subject.

It was this exactness that he used to pride himself on in his camera work.
He always said that modern professional photographers spoilt all their
pictures by touching them up absurdly to flatter the sitter. When it was
necessary for me to have some pictures taken he sent me to Mr. H. H.
Cameron, whom he declared to be the only artist who dared to produce a
photograph that was exactly like its subject. This is one of the
photographs of me that Mr. Cameron took, and Lewis Carroll always declared
that it was a perfect specimen of portrait work.

Many of the photographs of children in this book are Lewis Carroll's work.
Miss Beatrice Hatch, to whose kindness I am indebted for these photographs
and for much interesting information, writes in the _Strand Magazine_
(April 1898):

"My earliest recollections of Mr. Dodgson are connected with
photography. He was very fond of this art at one time, though he had
entirely given it up for many years latterly. He kept various costumes
and 'properties' with which to dress us up, and, of course, that added
to the fun. What child would not thoroughly enjoy personating a
Japanese or a beggar child, or a gipsy or an Indian? Sometimes there
were excursions to the roof of the college, which was easily
accessible from the windows of the studio. Or you might stand by your
friend's side in the tiny dark room and watch him while he poured the
contents of several little strong-smelling bottles on to the glass
picture of yourself that looked so funny with its black face."

[Illustration: A CHINAMAN]

Yet, despite his love for the photographer's art, he hated the idea of
having his own picture taken for the benefit of a curious world. The
shyness that made him nervous in the presence of strangers made the idea
that any one who cared to stare into a shop window could examine and
criticise his portrait extremely repulsive to him.

I remember that this shyness of his was the only occasion of anything
approaching a quarrel between us.

I had an idle trick of drawing caricatures when I was a child, and one day
when he was writing some letters I began to make a picture of him on the
back of an envelope. I quite forget what the drawing was like - probably it
was an abominable libel - but suddenly he turned round and saw what I was
doing. He got up from his seat and turned very red, frightening me very
much. Then he took my poor little drawing, and tearing it into small
pieces threw it into the fire without a word. Afterwards he came suddenly
to me, and saying nothing, caught me up in his arms and kissed me
passionately. I was only some ten or eleven years of age at the time, but
now the incident comes back to me very clearly, and I can see it as if it
happened but yesterday - the sudden snatching of my picture, the hurried
striding across the room, and then the tender light in his face as he
caught me up to him and kissed me.

I used to see a good deal of him at Oxford, and I was constantly in Christ
Church. He would invite me to stay with him and find me rooms just outside
the college gates, where I was put into charge of an elderly dame, whose
name, if I do not forget, was Mrs. Buxall. I would spend long happy days
with my uncle, and at nine o'clock I was taken over to the little house in
St. Aldates and delivered into the hands of the landlady, who put me to

In the morning I was awakened by the deep reverberations of "Great Tom"
calling Oxford to wake and begin the new day. Those times were very
pleasant, and the remembrance of them lingers with me still. Lewis
Carroll at the time of which I am speaking had two tiny turret rooms, one
on each side of his staircase in Christ Church. He always used to tell me
that when I grew up and became married he would give me the two little
rooms, so that if I ever disagreed with my husband we could each of us
retire to a turret till we had made up our quarrel!

And those rooms of his! I do not think there was ever such a fairy-land
for children. I am sure they must have contained one of the finest
collections of musical-boxes to be found anywhere in the world. There were
big black ebony boxes with glass tops through which you could see all the
works. There was a big box with a handle, which it was quite hard exercise
for a little girl to turn, and there must have been twenty or thirty
little ones which could only play one tune. Sometimes one of the
musical-boxes would not play properly, and then I always got tremendously
excited. Uncle used to go to a drawer in the table and produce a box of
little screw-drivers and punches, and while I sat on his knee he would
unscrew the lid and take out the wheels to see what was the matter. He
must have been a clever mechanist, for the result was always the
same-after a longer or shorter period the music began again. Sometimes
when the musical-boxes had played all their tunes he used to put them in
the box backwards, and was as pleased as I at the comic effect of the
music "standing on its head," as he phrased it.

There was another and very wonderful toy which he sometimes produced for
me, and this was known as "The Bat." The ceilings of the rooms in which he
lived at the time were very high indeed, and admirably suited for the
purposes of "The Bat." It was an ingeniously constructed toy of gauze and
wire, which actually flew about the room like a bat. It was worked by a
piece of twisted elastic, and it could fly for about half a minute.

I was always a little afraid of this toy because it was too lifelike, but
there was a fearful joy in it. When the music-boxes began to pall he would
get up from his chair and look at me with a knowing smile. I always knew
what was coming even before he began to speak, and I used to dance up and
down in tremendous anticipation.

"Isa, my darling," he would say, "once upon a time there was some one
called Bob the Bat! and he lived in the top left-hand drawer of the
writing-table. What could he do when uncle wound him up?"

And then I would squeak out breathlessly, "He could really FLY!"

Bob the Bat had many adventures. There was no way of controlling the
direction of its flight, and one morning, a hot summer's morning when the
window was wide open, Bob flew out into the garden and alighted in a bowl
of salad which a scout was taking to some one's rooms. The poor fellow
was so startled by the sudden flapping apparition that he dropped the
bowl, and it was broken into a thousand pieces.

There! I have written "a thousand pieces," and a thoughtless exaggeration
of that sort was a thing that Lewis Carroll hated. "A thousand pieces?" he
would have said; "you know, Isa, that if the bowl had been broken into a
thousand pieces they would each have been so tiny that you could have
hardly seen them." And if the broken pieces had been get-at-able, he would
have made me count them as a means of impressing on my mind the folly of
needless exaggeration.

I remember how annoyed he was once when, after a morning's sea bathing at
Eastbourne, I exclaimed, "Oh, this salt water, it always makes my hair as
stiff as a poker."

He impressed it on me quite irritably that no little girl's hair could
ever possibly get as stiff as a poker. "If you had said, 'as stiff as
wires,' it would have been more like it, but even that would have been an
exaggeration." And then, seeing that I was a little frightened, he drew
for me a picture of "The little girl called Isa whose hair turned into
pokers because she was always exaggerating things."

That, and all the other pictures that he drew for me are, I'm sorry to
say, the sole property of the little fishes in the Irish Channel, where a
clumsy porter dropped them as we hurried into the boat at Holyhead.

"I nearly died of laughing," was another expression that he particularly
disliked; in fact any form of exaggeration generally called from him a
reproof, though he was sometimes content to make fun. For instance, my
sisters and I had sent him "millions of kisses" in a letter. Below you
will find the letter that he wrote in return, written in violet ink that
he always used (dreadfully ugly, I used to think it).


"CH. Ch. Oxford,
"_Ap. 14, 1890_.


It's all very well for you and Nellie and Emsie to write in millions
of hugs and kisses, but please consider the _time_ it would occupy
your poor old very busy Uncle! Try hugging and kissing Emsie for a
minute by the watch, and I don't think you'll manage it more than 20
times a minute. 'Millions' must mean 2 millions at least.

20)2,000,000 hugs and kisses
60)100,000 minutes
12)1,666 hours
6)138 days (at twelve hours a day)
23 weeks.

"I couldn't go on hugging and kissing more than 12 hours a day: and I
wouldn't like to spend _Sundays_ that way. So you see it would take
_23 weeks_ of hard work. Really, my dear child, I _cannot spare the

"Why haven't I written since my last letter? Why, how _could_ I, you
silly silly child? How could I have written _since the last time_ I
_did_ write? Now, you just try it with kissing. Go and kiss Nellie,
from me, several times, and take care to manage it so as to have
kissed her _since the last time_ you _did_ kiss her. Now go back to
your place, and I'll question you.

"'Have you kissed her several times?'

"'Yes, darling Uncle.'

"'What o'clock was it when you gave her the _last_ kiss?'

"'5 minutes past 10, Uncle.'

"'Very well, now, have you kissed her _since_?'

"'Well - I - ahem! ahem! ahem! (excuse me, Uncle, I've got a bad cough).
I - think - that - I - that is, you, know, I - - '

"'Yes, I see! "Isa" begins with "I," and it seems to me as if she was
going to _end_ with "I," _this_ time!'

"Anyhow, my not writing hasn't been because I was _ill_, but because I
was a horrid lazy old thing, who kept putting it off from day to day,
till at last I said to myself, 'WHO ROAR! There's no time to write
now, because they _sail_ on the 1st of April.'[1] In fact, I shouldn't
have been a bit surprised if this letter had been from _Fulham_,
instead of Louisville. Well, I suppose you _will_ be there by about
the middle of May. But mind you don't write to me from there! Please,
_please_, no more horrid letters from you! I _do_ hate them so! And as
for _kissing_ them when I get them, why, I'd just as soon
kiss - kiss - kiss _you_, you tiresome thing! So there now!

"Thank you very much for those 2 photographs - I liked
them - hum - _pretty_ well. I can't honestly say I thought them the very
best I had ever seen.

"Please give my kindest regards to your mother, and 1/2 of a kiss to
Nellie, and 1/200 a kiss to Emsie, and 1/2,000,000 a kiss to yourself.
So, with fondest love, I am, my darling, your loving Uncle,

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Online LibraryIsa BowmanThe story of Lewis Carroll, told for young people by the real Alice in Wonderland → online text (page 1 of 5)