The Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll
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Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known by his pen name Lewis Carroll, was an English author, poet and mathematician. His most notable works are Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and its sequel Through the Looking-Glass (1871). He was noted for his facility with word play, logic, and fantasy. The Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll was published in 1898.

Life and Letters
Lewis Carroll
(Rev. C. L. Dodgson)

Stuart Dodgson Collingwood
A. Christ Church, Oxford

Lewis Carroll Lewis Carroll


It is with no undue confidence that I have accepted the invitation of the brothers and sisters of Lewis Carroll to write this Memoir. I am well aware that the path of the biographer is beset with pitfalls, and that, for him, suppressio veri is almost necessarily suggestio falsi — the least omission may distort the whole picture.

To write the life of Lewis Carroll as it should be written would tax the powers of a man of far greater experience and insight than I have any pretension to possess, and even he would probably fail to represent adequately such a complex personality. At least I have done my best to justify their choice, and if in any way I have wronged my uncle's memory, unintentionally, I trust that my readers will pardon me.

My task has been a delightful one. Intimately as I thought I knew Mr. Dodgson during his life, I seem since his death to have become still better acquainted with him. If this Memoir helps others of his admirers to a fuller knowledge of a man whom to know was to love, I shall not have written in vain.

I take this opportunity of thanking those who have so kindly assisted me in my work, and first I must mention my old schoolmaster, the Rev. Watson Hagger, M.A., to whom my readers are indebted for the portions of this book dealing with Mr. Dodgson’s mathematical works. I am greatly indebted to Mr. Dodgson’s relatives, and to all those kind friends of his and others who have aided me, in so many ways, in my difficult task. In particular, I may mention the names of H.R.H. the Duchess of Albany; Miss Dora Abdy; Mrs. Egerton Allen; Rev. F. H. Atkinson; Sir G. Baden-Powell, M.P.; Mr. A. Ball; Rev. T. Vere Bayne; Mrs. Bennie; Miss Blakemore; the Misses Bowman; Mrs. Boyes; Mrs. Bremer; Mrs. Brine; Miss Mary Brown; Mrs. Calverley; Miss Gertrude Chataway; Mrs. Chester; Mr. J. C. Cropper; Mr. Robert Davies; Miss Decima Dodgson; the Misses Dymes; Mrs. Eschwege; Mrs. Fuller; Mr. Harry Furniss; Rev. C. A. Goodhart; Mrs. Hargreaves; Miss Rose Harrison; Mr. Henry Holiday; Rev. H. Hopley; Miss Florence Jackson; Rev. A. Kingston; Mrs. Kitchin; Mrs. Freiligrath Kroeker; Mr. F. Madan; Mrs. Maitland; Miss M. E. Manners; Miss Adelaide Paine; Mrs. Porter; Miss Edith Rix; Rev. C. J. Robinson, D.D.; Mr. S. Rogers; Mrs. Round; Miss Isabel Standen; Mr. L. Sergeant; Miss Gaynor Simpson; Mrs. Southwall; Sir John Tenniel; Miss E. Gertrude Thomson; Mrs. Woodhouse; and Mrs. Wyper.

For their help in the work of compiling the Bibliographical chapter and some other parts of the book, my thanks are due to Mr. E. Baxter, Oxford; the Controller of the University Press, Oxford; Mr. A. J. Lawrence, Rugby; Messrs. Macmillan and Co., London; Mr. James Parker, Oxford; and Messrs. Ward, Lock and Co., London.

In the extracts which I have given from Mr. Dodgson’s Journal and Correspondence it will be noticed that Italics have been somewhat freely employed to represent the words which he underlined. The use of Italics was so marked a feature of his literary style, as any one who has read his books must have observed, that without their aid the rhetorical effect, which he always strove to produce, would have been seriously marred.


GUILDFORD, September, 1898.

Chapter I

Lewis Carroll’s forebears — The Bishop of Elphin — Murder of Captain Dodgson — Daresbury — Living in “Wonderland” — Croft — Boyish amusements — His first school-Latin verses — A good report — He goes to Rugby — The Rectory Umbrella — “A Lay of Sorrow.”


The Dodgsons appear to have been for a long time connected with the north of England, and until quite recently a branch of the family resided at Stubb Hall, near Barnard Castle.

In the early part of the last century a certain Rev. Christopher Dodgson held a living in Yorkshire. His son, Charles, also took Holy Orders, and was for some time tutor to a son of the then Duke of Northumberland. In 1762 his patron presented him to the living of Elsdon, in Northumberland, by no means a desirable cure, as Mr. Dodgson discovered. The following extracts from his letters to various members of the Percy family are interesting as giving some idea of the life of a rural clergyman a hundred years ago:

I am obliged to you for promising to write to me, but don’t give yourself the trouble of writing to this place, for ‘tis almost impossible to receive ‘em, without sending a messenger 16 miles to fetch ‘em.

‘Tis impossible to describe the oddity of my situation at present, which, however, is not void of some pleasant circumstances.

A clogmaker combs out my wig upon my curate’s head, by way of a block, and his wife powders it with a dredging-box.

The vestibule of the castle (used as a temporary parsonage) is a low stable; above it the kitchen, in which are two little beds joining to each other. The curate and his wife lay in one, and Margery the maid in the other. I lay in the parlour between two beds to keep me from being frozen to death, for as we keep open house the winds enter from every quarter, and are apt to sweep into bed to me.

Elsdon was once a market town as some say, and a city according to others; but as the annals of the parish were lost several centuries ago, it is impossible to determine what age it was either the one or the other.

There are not the least traces of the former grandeur to be found, whence some antiquaries are apt to believe that it lost both its trade and charter at the Deluge.

… There is a very good understanding between the parties [he is speaking of the Churchmen and Presbyterians who lived in the parish], for they not only intermarry with one another, but frequently do penance together in a white sheet, with a white wand, barefoot, and in the coldest season of the year. I have not finished the description for fear of bringing on a fit of the ague. Indeed, the ideas of sensation are sufficient to starve a man to death, without having recourse to those of reflection.

If I was not assured by the best authority on earth that the world is to be destroyed by fire, I should conclude that the day of destruction is at hand, but brought on by means of an agent very opposite to that of heat.

I have lost the use of everything but my reason, though my head is entrenched in three night-caps, and my throat, which is very bad, is fortified by a pair of stockings twisted in the form of a cravat.

As washing is very cheap, I wear two shirts at a time, and, for want of a wardrobe, I hang my great coat upon my own back, and generally keep on my boots in imitation of my namesake of Sweden. Indeed, since the snow became two feet deep (as I wanted a ‘chaappin of Yale’ from the public-house), I made an offer of them to Margery the maid, but her legs are too thick to make use of them, and I am told that the greater part of my parishioners are not less substantial, and notwithstanding this they are remarkable for agility.

In course of time this Mr. Dodgson became Bishop of Ossory and Ferns, and he was subsequently translated to the see of Elphin. He was warmly congratulated on this change in his fortunes by George III., who said that he ought indeed to be thankful to have got away from a palace where the stabling was so bad.

The Bishop had four children, the eldest of whom, Elizabeth Anne, married Charles Lutwidge, of Holmrook, in Cumberland. Two of the others died almost before they had attained manhood. Charles, the eldest son, entered the army, and rose to the rank of captain in the 4th Dragoon Guards. He met with a sad fate while serving his king and country in Ireland. One of the Irish rebels who were supposed to have been concerned in the murder of Lord Kilwarden offered to give himself up to justice if Captain Dodgson would come alone and at night to take him. Though he fully realised the risk, the brave captain decided to trust himself to the honour of this outlaw, as he felt that no chance should be missed of effecting so important a capture. Having first written a letter of farewell to his wife, he set out on the night of December 16, 1803, accompanied by a few troopers, for the meeting-place — an old hut that stood a mile or so from Phillipstown, in King’s County. In accordance with the terms of the agreement, he left his men a few hundred yards from the hut to await his return, and advanced alone through the night. A cowardly shot from one of the windows of the cottage ended his noble life, and alarmed the troopers, who, coming up in haste, were confronted with the dead body of their leader. The story is told that on the same night his wife heard two shots fired, and made inquiry about it, but could find out nothing. Shortly afterwards the news came that her husband had been killed just at that time.

Captain Dodgson left two sons behind him — Hassard, who, after a brilliant career as a special pleader, became a Master of the Court of Common Pleas, and Charles, the father of the subject of this Memoir.

Charles, who was the elder of the two, was born in the year 1800, at Hamilton, in Lanarkshire. He adopted the clerical profession, in which he rose to high honours. He was a distinguished scholar, and took a double first at Christ Church, Oxford. Although in after life mathematics were his favourite pursuit, yet the fact that he translated Tertullian for the “Library of the Fathers” is sufficient evidence that he made good use of his classical education. In the controversy about Baptismal Regeneration he took a prominent part, siding on the question with the Tractarians, though his views on some other points of Church doctrine were less advanced than those of the leaders of the Oxford movement. He was a man of deep piety and of a somewhat reserved and grave disposition, which, however, was tempered by the most generous charity, so that he was universally loved by the poor. In moments of relaxation his wit and humour were the delight of his clerical friends, for he had the rare power of telling anecdotes effectively. His reverence for sacred things was so great that he was never known to relate a story which included a jest upon words from the Bible.

In 1830 he married his cousin, Frances Jane Lutwidge, by whom he had eleven children, all of whom, except Lewis Carroll, survive. His wife, in the words of one who had the best possible opportunities for observing her character, was “one of the sweetest and gentlest women that ever lived, whom to know was to love. The earnestness of her simple faith and love shone forth in all she did and said; she seemed to live always in the conscious presence of God. It has been said by her children that they never in all their lives remember to have heard an impatient or harsh word from her lips.” It is easy to trace in Lewis Carroll’s character the influence of that most gentle of mothers; though dead she still speaks to us in some of the most beautiful and touching passages of his works. Not so long ago I had a conversation with an old friend of his; one of the first things she said to me was, “Tell me about his mother.” I complied with her request as well as I was able, and, when I had finished my account of Mrs. Dodgson’s beautiful character, she said, “Ah, I knew it must have been so; I felt sure he must have had a good mother.”

On January 27, 1832, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson was born at Daresbury, of which parish his father was then incumbent. The village of Daresbury is about seven miles from Warrington; its name is supposed to be derived from a word meaning oak, and certainly oaks are very plentiful in the neighbourhood. A canal passes through an outlying part of the parish. The bargemen who frequented this canal were a special object of Mr. Dodgson’s pastoral care. Once, when walking with Lord Francis Egerton, who was a large landowner in the district, he spoke of his desire to provide some sort of religious privileges for them. “If I only had £100,” he said, “I would turn one of those barges into a chapel,” and, at his companion’s request, he described exactly how he would have the chapel constructed and furnished. A few weeks later he received a letter from Lord Francis to tell him that his wish was fulfilled, and that the chapel was ready. In this strange church, which is believed to have been the first of its kind, Mr. Dodgson conducted service and preached every Sunday evening!


The parsonage is situated a mile and a half from the village, on the glebe-farm, having been erected by a former incumbent, who, it was said, cared more for the glebe than the parish. Here it was that Charles spent the first eleven years of his life — years of complete seclusion from the world, for even the passing of a cart was a matter of great interest to the children.

Lewis Carroll, aged 8Lewis Carroll, aged 8

In this quiet home the boy invented the strangest diversions for himself; he made pets of the most odd and unlikely animals, and numbered certain snails and toads among his intimate friends. He tried also to encourage civilised warfare among earthworms, by supplying them with small pieces of pipe, with which they might fight if so disposed. His notions of charity at this early age were somewhat rudimentary; he used to peel rushes with the idea that the pith would afterwards “be given to the poor,” though what possible use they could put it to he never attempted to explain. Indeed he seems at this time to have actually lived in that charming “Wonderland” which he afterwards described so vividly; but for all that he was a thorough boy, and loved to climb the trees and to scramble about in the old marl-pits.

One of the few breaks in this very uneventful life was a holiday spent with the other members of his family in Beaumaris. The journey took three days each way, for railroads were then almost unknown; and whatever advantages coaching may have had over travelling in trains, speed was certainly not one of them.

Mr. Dodgson from the first used to take an active part in his son’s education, and the following anecdote will show that he had at least a pupil who was anxious to learn. One day, when Charles was a very small boy, he came up to his father and showed him a book of logarithms, with the request, “Please explain.” Mr. Dodgson told him that he was much too young to understand anything about such a difficult subject. The child listened to what his father said, and appeared to think it irrelevant, for he still insisted,“But, please, explain!”

Mrs DodgsonMrs Dodgson

On one occasion Mr. and Mrs. Dodgson went to Hull, to pay a visit to the latter’s father, who had been seriously ill. From Hull Mrs. Dodgson wrote to Charles, and he set much store by this letter, which was probably one of the first he had received. He was afraid that some of his little sisters would mess it, or tear it up, so he wrote upon the back, “No one is to touch this note, for it belongs to C. L. D.”; but, this warning appearing insufficient, he added, “Covered with slimy pitch, so that they will wet their fingers.” The precious letter ran as follows: —

My dearest Charlie, I have used you rather ill in not having written to you sooner, but I know you will forgive me, as your Grandpapa has liked to have me with him so much, and I could not write and talk to him comfortably. All your notes have delighted me, my precious children, and show me that you have not quite forgotten me. I am always thinking of you, and longing to have you all round me again more than words can tell. God grant that we may find you all well and happy on Friday evening. I am happy to say your dearest Papa is quite well — his cough is rather tickling, but is of no consequence. It delights me, my darling Charlie, to hear that you are getting on so well with your Latin, and that you make so few mistakes in your Exercises. You will be happy to hear that your dearest Grandpapa is going on nicely — indeed I hope he will soon be quite well again. He talks a great deal and most kindly about you all. I hope my sweetest Will says “Mama” sometimes, and that precious Tish has not forgotten. Give them and all my other treasures, including yourself, 1,000,000,000 kisses from me, with my most affectionate love. I am sending you a shabby note, but I cannot help it. Give my kindest love to Aunt Dar, and believe me, my own dearest Charlie, to be your sincerely affectionate


Among the few visitors who disturbed the repose of Daresbury Parsonage was Mr. Durnford, afterwards Bishop of Chichester, with whom Mr. Dodgson had formed a close friendship. Another was Mr. Bayne, at that time head-master of Warrington Grammar School, who used occasionally to assist in the services at Daresbury. His son, Vere, was Charles’s playfellow; he is now a student of Christ Church, and the friendship between him and Lewis Carroll lasted without interruption till the death of the latter.

The memory of his birthplace did not soon fade from Charles’s mind; long afterwards he retained pleasant recollections of its rustic beauty. For instance, his poem of “The Three Sunsets,” which first appeared in 1860 in All the Year Round, begins with the following stanzas, which have been slightly altered in later editions: —

I watch the drowsy night expire,
And Fancy paints at my desire
Her magic pictures in the fire.

An island farm, ‘mid seas of corn,
Swayed by the wandering breath of morn,
The happy spot where I was born.

Though nearly all Mr. Dodgson’s parishioners at Daresbury have passed away, yet there are still some few left who speak with loving reverence of him whose lips, now long silenced, used to speak so kindly to them; whose hands, long folded in sleep, were once so ready to alleviate their wants and sorrows.

In 1843 Sir Robert Peel presented him to the Crown living of Croft, a Yorkshire village about three miles south of Darlington. This preferment made a great change in the life of the family; it opened for them many more social opportunities, and put an end to that life of seclusion which, however beneficial it may be for a short time, is apt, if continued too long, to have a cramping and narrowing influence.

The river Tees is at Croft the dividing line between Yorkshire and Durham, and on the middle of the bridge which there crosses it is a stone which shows where the one county ends and the other begins. “Certain lands are held in this place,” says Lewis in his “Topographical Dictionary,” “by the owner presenting on the bridge, at the coming of every new Bishop of Durham, an old sword, pronouncing a legendary address, and delivering the sword to the Bishop, who returns it immediately.” The Tees is subject to extraordinary floods, and though Croft Church stands many feet above the ordinary level of the river, and is separated from it by the churchyard and a field, yet on one occasion the church itself was flooded, as was attested by water-marks on the old woodwork several feet from the floor, still to be seen when Mr. Dodgson was incumbent.

This church, which is dedicated to St. Peter, is a quaint old building with a Norman porch, the rest of it being of more modern construction. It contains a raised pew, which is approached by a winding flight of stairs, and is covered in, so that it resembles nothing so much as a four-post bedstead. This pew used to belong to the Milbanke family, with which Lord Byron was connected. Mr. Dodgson found the chancel-roof in so bad a state of repair that he was obliged to take it down, and replace it by an entirely new one. The only village school that existed when he came to the place was a sort of barn, which stood in a corner of the churchyard. During his incumbency a fine school-house was erected. Several members of his family used regularly to help in teaching the children, and excellent reports were obtained.

The Rectory is close to the church, and stands in the middle of a beautiful garden. The former incumbent had been an enthusiastic horticulturist, and the walls of the kitchen garden were covered with luxuriant fruit-trees, while the greenhouses were well stocked with rare and beautiful exotics. Among these was a specimen of that fantastic cactus, the night-blowing Cereus, whose flowers, after an existence of but a few hours, fade with the waning sun. On the day when this occurred large numbers of people used to obtain Mr. Dodgson’s leave to see the curiosity.


Near the Rectory is a fine hotel, built when Croft was an important posting-station for the coaches between London and Edinburgh, but in Mr. Dodgson’s time chiefly used by gentlemen who stayed there during the hunting season. The village is renowned for its baths and medicinal waters. The parish of Croft includes the outlying hamlets of Halnaby, Dalton, and Stapleton, so that the Rector’s position is by no means a sinecure. Within the village is Croft Hall, the old seat of the Chaytors; but during Mr. Dodgson’s incumbency the then Sir William Chaytor built and lived at Clervaux Castle, calling it by an old family name.

Shortly after accepting the living of Croft, Mr. Dodgson was appointed examining chaplain to the Bishop of Ripon; subsequently he was made Archdeacon of Richmond and one of the Canons of Ripon Cathedral.

Charles was at this time very fond of inventing games for the amusement of his brothers and sisters; he constructed a rude train out of a wheelbarrow, a barrel and a small truck, which used to convey passengers from one “station” in the Rectory garden to another. At each of these stations there was a refreshment-room, and the passengers had to purchase tickets from him before they could enjoy their ride. The boy was also a clever conjuror, and, arrayed in a brown wig and a long white robe, used to cause no little wonder to his audience by his sleight-of-hand. With the assistance of various members of the family and the village carpenter, he made a troupe of marionettes and a small theatre for them to act in. He wrote all the plays himself the most popular being “The Tragedy of King John” — and he was very clever at manipulating the innumerable strings by which the movements of his puppets were regulated. One winter, when the snow lay thick upon the lawn, he traced upon it a maze of such hopeless intricacy as almost to put its famous rival at Hampton Court in the shade.


When he was twelve years old his father sent him to school at Richmond, under Mr. Tate, a worthy son of that well-known Dr. Tate who had made Richmond School so famous.

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