The Hunting of the Snark HTML version

IF—and the thing is wildly possible—the charge of writing nonsense were ever brought
against the author of this brief but instructive poem, it would be based, I feel convinced,
on the line (in p.4)
“Then the bowsprit got mixed with the rudder sometimes.”
In view of this painful possibility, I will not (as I might) appeal indignantly to my other
writings as a proof that I am incapable of such a deed: I will not (as I might) point to the
strong moral purpose of this poem itself, to the arithmetical principles so cautiously
inculcated in it, or to its noble teachings in Natural History—I will take the more prosaic
course of simply explaining how it happened.
The Bellman, who was almost morbidly sensitive about appearances, used to have the
bowsprit unshipped once or twice a week to be revarnished, and it more than once
happened, when the time came for replacing it, that no one on board could remember
which end of the ship it belonged to. They knew it was not of the slightest use to appeal
to the Bellman about it—he would only refer to his Naval Code, and read out in pathetic
tones Admiralty Instructions which none of them had ever been able to understand—so it
generally ended in its being fastened on, anyhow, across the rudder. The helmsman used
to stand by with tears in his eyes; he knew it was all wrong, but alas! Rule 42 of the
Code, “No one shall speak to the Man at the Helm,” had been completed by the Bellman
himself with the words “and the Man at the Helm shall speak to no one.” So
remonstrance was impossible, and no steering could be done till the next varnishing day.
During these bewildering intervals the ship usually sailed backwards.
As this poem is to some extent connected with the lay of the Jabberwock, let me take this
opportunity of answering a question that has often been asked me, how to pronounce
“slithy toves.” The “i” in “slithy” is long, as in “writhe”; and “toves” is pronounced so as
to rhyme with “groves.” Again, the first “o” in “borogoves” is pronounced like the “o” in
“borrow.” I have heard people try to give it the sound of the “o” in “worry.” Such is
Human Perversity.
This also seems a fitting occasion to notice the other hard words in that poem. Humpty-
Dumpty’s theory, of two meanings packed into one word like a portmanteau, seems to me
the right explanation for all.
For instance, take the two words “fuming” and “furious.” Make up your mind that you
will say both words, but leave it unsettled which you will say first. Now open your mouth
and speak. If your thoughts incline ever so little towards “fuming,” you will say “fuming-
furious;” if they turn, by even a hair’s breadth, towards “furious,” you will say “furious-