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Happy Lewis Carroll’s Birthday!

January 27, 2010

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Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) – writer, mathematician, photographer, Anglican deacon, and perpetrator of glorious logic-puzzles and nonsense – was born on this day in 1832. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the best known of his works, and a book no doubt responsible for fostering a great many fixations on tea, was first published in 1865.

I can’t find any verification of this, but I would like to imagine that Carroll preferred a nice Keemun in his cup.

“Take some more tea”, the March Hare said to Alice, very earnestly.

“I’ve had nothing yet”, Alice replied in an offended tone: “so I can’t take more.”

“You mean you can’t take less,” said the Hatter: “it’s very easy to take more than nothing.”

“Nobody asked your opinion,” said Alice.

“Who’s making personal remarks now?” the Hatter asked triumphantly.

Alice did not quite know what to say to this: so she helped herself to some tea and bread-and-butter, and then turned to the Dormouse, and repeated her question.

I’d like to add a couple of notes on the madness exhibited by the attendees of this famous tea party. The Mad Hatter can be assumed to suffer from a malady common to many milliners of the Victorian era: extended exposure to mercury, which was used in the felting process during the manufacture of hats. Common symptoms of mercury poisoning are delusional, erratic behavior and shiny red skin. The March Hare’s perceived madness can be attributed to the commonly observed crazed behavior of hares during mating season in the Spring.

The painting above of the mad tea party is by Arthur Rackham, illustrator of many children’s books and classical fables in the early twentieth century. You can view the rest of Arthur Rackham’s beautiful 1907 illustrations for Alice in Wonderland here, along with a large collection of other Alice artworks, including the more familiar John Tenniel woodcuts.

So why is a raven like a writing desk anyway?

“The Twa Corbies” (The Two Ravens) is also by Arthur Rackham, from “Some British Ballads,” published in 1919.

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