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The Lewis Carroll Scrapbook Collection: The Lewis Carroll Scrapbook by Edward Wakeling

Why has the Library of Congress taken the trouble to digitize and make available an old Victorian scrapbook? The answer lies in the compiler of this unique item that has been part of the Library’s collection for several decades. He was “Lewis Carroll.”

Lewis Carroll, or to use his real name, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (1832-1898), was a lecturer in mathematics at the University of Oxford, England. He is known to the world as the author of two extremely popular stories for children, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking-Glass (1871), neither book out of print from the moment that they were first published. There have been countless editions of these books published around the world--translated into most foreign languages. The books have inspired music and art, stage-plays and films, sequels and imitations, and even computer games.

There is an insatiable desire to know more about Lewis Carroll. There are Lewis Carroll societies worldwide whose members actively encourage scholarship and research on Carroll, write papers, publish articles, and answer questions from the general public. He is the subject of dozens of biographies and conferences held in many countries. There is also a wide range of Websites.

I have been studying Carroll for almost thirty years and feel that I know him as well as anybody does. There is, of course, no one alive who has actually met Carroll, so much study is based on such sources as his private diaries, letters, manuscripts, photographs, and his works (published or otherwise). There are also personal reminiscences recorded by people who knew him, but these are always less reliable, tinged as they are with sentiment and susceptible to lapses in memory with the passing of time.

This scrapbook, however, provides another important source of information on Lewis Carroll. The contents are primarily press clippings collected and pasted into the scrapbook, selected personally by Lewis Carroll, and therefore, telling us something about his interests and collecting habits.

Lewis Carroll was a collector of information from an early age. A number of his scrapbooks exist, mostly containing his hand-written notes, drawings, and sketches. Some scrapbooks contain items clipped from newspapers, such as his repository known as Mischmasch, which contains examples of his early, published work in the press.

Carroll began a number of family magazines for his brothers and sisters with contributions from the family, but mainly written by himself. These contributions were chiefly manuscript items in the form of hand-made and hand-stitched notebooks, with illustrations drawn and painted by his family. When he went to university (attending his father’s old college, Christ Church, Oxford), these magazines were transformed into personal notebooks, designed to contain “useful” and “amusing” snippets that he wanted to revisit from time to time, possibly as a source for his own literary ideas.

Beginning in 1854 Carroll contributed poems and stories to various newspapers and journals. Published items were collected and pasted into notebooks, this scrapbook being no exception. However, the scrapbook in the Library of Congress is unique; it consists almost entirely of press clippings from a wide range of sources between 1855 and 1872. Some of the items are his published works and others are reviews of publications written under his own name, but the majority are clippings that caught his imagination and probably made him chuckle. Many of the clippings are funny and satirical, appealing to his sense of humor and his fascination with nonsense and the absurd. Some clippings are more profound–serious reviews of the work of people that he admired, such as Tennyson and the Terry sisters. Carroll took a great interest in the theater of his day and reviews of plays that he saw are included. Still other clippings record the controversies of his day at Oxford University; he was not averse to joining in from time to time with anonymous squibs and scurrilous papers printed and sent round the Common Rooms.

Lewis Carroll was a man of his era, interested in the progress of Victorian society--its values and achievements. He respected his faith, his queen, and his country, and was a conservative and loyal citizen, living a comfortable life in the upper echelons of society in his day. But, at times, he was a rebel. He chose a lifestyle that sometimes contradicted the rigorous moral stance taken by many of his friends and colleagues. Carroll believed in the education and entertainment of children, the emancipation of women, and the freedom to enjoy the delights of his world--theater, art, the seaside, railway journeys, photography, meeting the celebrities of his day, rubbing shoulders with the royal family, reading modern novels, writing poetry, and visiting artists’ studios. He regularly attended church and, as an ordained member of the Church of England, assisted in the service and sometimes preached. He had many friends in politics and took a keen interest in the role of parliament. Carroll developed a theory of voting that resulted in proportional representation; he is now recognized as one of the inventors of this system of election.

Lewis Carroll was a polymath, with eclectic tastes and an enquiring mind. He also had a very fertile imagination and was extremely creative. Yet, on the other hand, he liked rules and conventions (when they suited him), belying his mathematical expertise and passion. He is often erroneously described as shy and withdrawn, but he loved mixing in society and was known as a great raconteur within the society of his college. A slight speech hesitation made him economical with his words and Carroll preferred a published pamphlet to a verbal debate.

Scrapbooks were, without doubt, a source of anecdotes and ideas that Carroll could weave into his conversations and literary works. It is fortunate that this scrapbook has survived intact, and in the state that Lewis Carroll left it. It is incomplete as there still are loose items waiting to be pasted in. The scrapbook was put aside sometime in the 1870s and, apart from reference, was not used for pasting press clippings of interest.

Charles Dodgson kept “Lewis Carroll” for his public persona and his real life was kept hidden from celebrity-seekers and autograph-hunters. But people in Oxford began to put two and two together, and even undergraduates such as Frederic L Huidekoper knew who he really was. Huidekoper wanted a souvenir of this literary genius and bought the scrapbook after Carroll’s death in 1898. At that time, few people associated the Oxford don with the world-famous author.

At Carroll’s death, his goods and chattels were dispersed in all directions at a sale held at the Holywell Music Rooms at Oxford. Auction catalogs of this and subsequent sales provide a tantalizing account of his library and personal effects.

In 1985 I heard about this scrapbook in the archives of the Library of Congress. A long and tortuous journey has led to this splendid outcome. I did not actually see and hold the scrapbook in my hands until March 2002. From then on, with the help of my good friend, August A. Imholtz Jr, we have been busy researching each item, trying to locate the source of each clipping, and trying to make sense of why Lewis Carroll kept them in the first place. The results of our investigations are included here although some sources have eluded us.

There are a number of people to thank who have helped me on this journey. David Schaefer put me on the track in the first place and Bea Sidaway and Jon Lindseth helped me to locate and obtain access to the scrapbook. August Imholtz was the first person to uncover, describe, and to take me to see the scrapbook. I am very grateful to Mark Dimunation, Chief of the Rare Book and Special Collections Division of the Library of Congress, who supported the investigation of this important Lewis Carroll item. He was instrumental in making the scrapbook available to a very wide audience through the medium of the Internet. I am also grateful to the late Gerry Wager, Head of Reference in the Rare Book and Special Collections Division who assisted me in the Reading Room on the occasions I went to see the scrapbook. And finally, thanks to Mark A. Williams for his expertise in digitizing the images and preparing the Library of Congress Internet site that makes this Lewis Carroll Scrapbook available to all that want to see it.

-- Edward Wakeling

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