[(essay date 1929) In the following essay, McDermott places Carroll’s poetry within its biographical context and ties his work to his interest in logic. McDermott suggests that Carroll’s poems are filled with parody and satire and that his object in The Hunting of the Snark is a mockery of life itself.]
Frankly this is to be the book of Lewis Carroll and I have no intention here of allowing Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, a dull and uninteresting person, to intrude in it any more than is absolutely necessary to explain the writer of the verse in this volume. My attitude must justify itself, but this I can say and demonstrate: Dodgson did not understand himself. He realized vaguely the extremes within him but he could never distinguish between them. Rather deliberately he divided himself and his work into two parts but he never knew strictly what belonged to either part or what linked the two in one man. I am not, of course, at any time pretending that a distinct separation can be made between the phases of his nature. I shall simply indicate what of his life and work appears to be consistent with each part of him, indicate the fullness and opposition of his two personalities, and the involvement of them all his life.
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The first signs that this boy will differ from the average are found in his solitary amusements: among other things he is said to have furnished earthworms with weapons that they might fight more effectively. This, of course, is no direct prophecy of the development of the greater part of the duality but rather is an indication of that middle ground where Dodgson and Carroll met—and parted. The same may be said of his persistent demands for an explanation of logarithms—though this points rather to the future mathematician than towards the satirist.
It was the embryo Lewis Carroll who wrote and performed plays for marionettes. And his biographer, Collingwood, also tells us at considerable length of certain home magazines which appeared at odd times until he entered Oxford at the age of eighteen. These publications he wrote and illustrated himself; stories, verse, and numerous drawings filled them and all demonstrated definitely the growth of Lewis Carroll, the directness and ease of the satire here (mostly parody at this time) offering unusual promise.
It was Charles Dodgson who during this time at Rugby took honors in mathematics and divinity, at the same time finding little to interest him in the usual schoolboy enthusiasms.
At Oxford he matriculated in May, 1850. During his four undergraduate years he made various contributions to the college magazines, several of which he edited. These writings appeared over various signatures but the tone in most cases is emphatically that of Lewis Carroll.
At Oxford Charles Dodgson took great interest in mathematics—an interest which culminated in his winning First Class (Final) Honors in 1854. Previous to this he had been admitted to a Studentship in Christ Church (which required that...