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!
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.
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