[(essay date 1941) In the following essay, Burpee discusses how often Carroll is quoted compared to the Bible and William Shakespeare. ]
“Nobody,” says Truth, “reads Alice in Wonderland to-day; it is too prosaic and rational, in comparison with the political news.” The argument is plausible, but the statement is not true, even though it is made by Truth.
There was a time when the most quoted books in English were the Bible and Shakespeare, though some popular sayings attributed to one or the other would be found in neither. Laurence Sterne’s “God tempers the wind to the shorn lamb” has been often credited to the Bible by those who have been misled by a certain Biblical atmosphere; and Cosgreve’s “Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, nor hell a fury like a woman scorned,” usually misquoted as “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,” is sometimes attributed to Shakespeare. On the other hand, only real students of the Bible remember that such an apparently modern figure of speech as “escaped with the skin of his teeth” was first used in the Book of Job.
Be this as it may, I would be willing to wager a modest sum that now the most widely quoted books, and perhaps also the most widely read books, are Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. Oddly enough his other books, The Hunting of the Snark, Phantasmagoria, Sylvie and Bruno, and the rest (I am thinking only of his lighter books) seem to be, like the second part of Robinson Crusoe, as little known among modern writers as among their readers, although they are not only very entertaining but full of good, quotable stuff.
Some little time ago it occurred to me that I had in the course of my casual reading come across a number of quotations from the books of Lewis Carroll, and I decided to make a note of any that might turn up in the future. This evening I dumped the result out of a large brown envelope, and as I shuffled the odds and ends of notes about on the table, I was first impressed by the number of them, and then by the curious variety of sources from which they came. It did seem to me as I looked them over, and remembered how there had been nothing even remotely systematic or purposeful about my reading, that they offered fairly conclusive evidence of the popularity of the Alice books among present-day writers of every description, from detective novelists up (or down) to statisticians.
And it is a not unreasonable assumption that if the sayings and doings of the Red Queen and the Duchess and the Cheshire Cat, Father William, Humpty Dumpty, the Mock Turtle, the Mad Hatter, the Gryphon, Tweedledee and the Jabberwock, not to mention Alice herself, have so entered into the thought of the writers of books and articles that they provide apt illustration for all sorts of situations, they...