Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Fit the Fifth, Page 36, Panel 4 … Jubjub, at first though sweet, bitter ere long back on itself recoils

“You boil it in sawdust: you salt it in glue:
You condense it with locusts and tape:
Still keeping one principal object in view —
To preserve its symmetrical shape.”

Our Hunting of the Snark resumes its Jubjubian subplot for yet another stanzel; Lewis Carroll regales us here with a spirited description of a Jubjub being tortured by a variety of methods whose diabolical ingenuity and inventive discomfort seem uncomfortably redolent of an impromptu herd of schoolboys possessing the usual cretinous surplus of high spirits and moral pygmyism.

Carroll’s closest associate, C.L. Dodgson, would have been quite familiar with such goings-on, both as grim memories of his own public-schooling at Rugby and more to the point, as part of his quotidian duties as a maths tutor at Christ Church, where we can have little doubt that the vast majority of his students possessed a similar burning enthusiasm to make things hot for all creatures great and small.

This implicit connection twixt torture and mathematics must have troubled Dodgson’s gentle soul; no doubt he shared his unease with the more worldly Carroll, who then incorporated all of the above into this snappy bit of verse which we are chewing over right now.

In his Annotated Snark, Martin Gardner briefly discussed Prof. John Leech’s observations upon the mathematical implications of this stanza. Leech noted that by substituting locuses (or loci) for locusts, and tape measure for tape, one is then provided with the rudimentary instructions for the sawing and gluing together of the various wooden rods necessary for the skeletal framework of a regular polyhedron.

One can have little doubt that these instructions for the construction of a geometric solid would have provided Dodgson’s students with some considerable discomfort! From their 19th-century British discomfort they would have slipped, inevitably, into the very graphic slough of a fullblown 16th-century German melancholia, with all its attendant polyhedronal tortures!

Huzzah for the symmetrical mathematical-moral shape of things in our cozy world of boiled and salted Jubjubs-cum-schoolboys, ‘tis all very well thought out, Messers Carroll and Dodgson! The morally high-minded reader can chuckle appreciatively at all this, the rest of you just rattle your jewelry in a passing gust of old-fashioned schadenfreude.

NB. I must draw your attention, my dear Watson, to the curious incident of the dog barking at the moon. It is a Catalonian, 20th-century dog prone to bouts of selenic melancolia originating from its anachronistic exile to Nuremberg.


  1. That stanza's recipe? I have only one word to say to you ... plastics.

  2. Hiawatha's Photographing

    From his shoulder Hiawatha
    Took the camera of rosewood,
    Made of sliding, folding rosewood;
    Neatly put it all together.
    In its case it lay compactly,
    Folded into nearly nothing;
    But he opened out the hinges,
    Pushed and pulled the joints and hinges,
    Till it looked all squares and oblongs,
    Like a complicated figure
    In the Second Book of Euclid.

    This he perched upon a tripod -
    Crouched beneath its dusky cover -
    Stretched his hand, enforcing silence -
    Said "Be motionless, I beg you!"
    Mystic, awful was the process.

    First, a piece of glass he coated
    With collodion, and plunged it
    In a bath of lunar caustic
    Carefully dissolved in water -
    There he left it certain minutes.

    Secondly, my Hiawatha
    Made with cunning hand a mixture
    Of the acid pyrro-gallic,
    And of glacial-acetic,
    And of alcohol and water
    This developed all the picture.

    Finally, he fixed each picture
    With a saturate solution
    Which was made of hyposulphite
    Which, again, was made of soda.
    (Very difficult the name is
    For a metre like the present
    But periphrasis has done it.)


  3. Thanks, Dave, the poem had entirely slipped my mind and you were right to bring it up; it has an uncanny bearing upon the matter at hand!

    Carrollians take notice!

  4. “You boil it in sawdust: you salt it in glue:
    You condense it with locusts and tape:
    Still keeping one principal object in view —
    To preserve its symmetrical shape.”

    As a light hearted aside. Has anyone noticed that if Dodgson had patented this recipe he would have become a multi-billionair?

  5. Indeed, for Jubjub, like Snark, is one of the original Slow Foods. Slow Foods for Slow Thinkers and perhaps, Sloe Drinkers.