Shawn and I went to a little house by the name of Good Books in the Woods, which is becoming one of our favorite places to hunt for treasure. My eyes fell on a set of books by the name of The Letters of Lewis Carroll I & II. I opened it, wondering whether there were any communications recorded with George MacDonald (knowing they had been friends). There were many indeed, and then this lovely letter, which made me smile. I don’t know if reading other people’s mail will ever get old, even if the letter was written in 1883, or any date. With letters in particular I feel that sense of awe, of walking through a wardrobe (or pen) and stepping suddenly into that room, that world – of being included in that conversation, in that thought, and touching that psyche for a moment. 🙂
To Ellen Terry
Christ Church, Oxford
March 20, 1883
Dear Mrs. Wardell,
This letter needs no answer. Now that I have learned the fact (I think it was Polly who revealed it) that you find letter-writing a tiring occupation, I am loth to do anything to add to your fatigues – for I am sure you are very hard-worked. But reading a letter takes very little time or trouble: besides, you are not obliged to read it, you know!
Lucy Arnold1 tells me that, each day of her life, the recollection of her night at the play becomes more delightful! (What it will be by the time she is 50, and whether such ecstasy, as she will then have reached, will be consistent with sanity, is a serious question.) So you see what an amount of happiness you have conferred – not only by your acting, which was for all others as well, but by your special kindness to herself. I think you have learned a piece of philosophy which many never learn in a long life – that, while it is hopelessly difficult to secure for oneself even the smallest bit of happiness, and the more trouble we take the more certain we are to fail, there is nothing so easy as to secure it for somebody else: so that, if only A would aim at B’s happiness, and B at C’s, and so on, we should all be happy, and there would be little need to wait for heaven: we should have it. There are some verses I am very fond of repeating to myself, that say all this so much more perfectly than I have managed to do, that I will run the risk of wearying you with yet more reading, by copying them for you.
Ethel was here yesterday afternoon, and was keenly interested in reading some of your old letters, which I picked out for her. I did not know, before, that she had had the presumption to write and ask for your autograph! However, she has it now, in a form very precious to herself, on that photograph you sent her. She is regularly stage-struck at present, that girl: I should not wonder if she finds her way, some day, upon the stage. I have no idea whether she has any talent for acting, but if enthusiasm will do it, she ought to succeed.
Now I’m going to put before you a “Hero-ic” puzzle of mine: but please remember, I do not ask for your solution of it, as you will persist in believing, if I ask your help in a Shakespeare difficulty, that I am only jesting! However, if you won’t attack it yourself, perhaps you would ask Mr. Irving some day how he explains it?
My difficulty is this: Why in the world did not Hero (or at any rate Beatrice when speaking on her behalf) prove an “alibi, “in answer to the charge? It seems certain she did not sleep in her own room that night: for how could Margaret venture to open the window and talk from it, with her mistress asleep in the room? It would be sure to wake her. Besides, Borachio says, after promising that Margaret shall speak with him out of Hero’s chamber-window, “I will so fashion the matter that Hero shall be absent.” 2 (How he could possibly manage any such thing is another difficulty: but I pass over that.)
Well, then, granting that Hero slept in some other room that night, why didn’t she say so? When Claudio asks her, “What man was he talked with you yesternight Out at your window betwixt twelve and one?” 2 Why doesn’t she reply, “I talked with no man at that hour, my lord: Nor was I in my chamber yesternight, But in another, far from it remote.” And this she could of course prove by the evidence of the housemaid, who must have known that she had occupied another room that night.
But even if Hero might be supposed to be so distracted as to not remember where she had slept the night before, or even whether she had slept anywhere, sure Beatrice has her wits about her? And when an arrangement was made, by which she was to lose, for that one night, her twelve-months’ bedfellow, is it conceivable that she didn’t know where Hero passed the night? Why didn’t she reply
But, good my lord, sweet Hero slept not there:
She had another chamber for the nonce.
‘Twas sure some counterfeit that did present
Her person at the window, aped her voice,
Her mien, her manners, and hath thus deceived
My good lord Pedro and this company?
With all these excellent materials for proving an “alibi,” it is incomprehensible that no one should think of it. If only there had been a barrister present, to cross-examine Beatrice! “Now, ma’am, attend to me, if you please: and speak up, so that the jury may hear you. Where did you sleep last nigh? Where did Hero sleep? Will you swear that she slept in her own room? Will you swear you do not know where she slept? Etc. etc.” I quite feel inclined to quote old Mr. Weller, and to say to Beatrice at the end of the play (only I’m afraid it isn’t quite etiquette to speak across the footlights), “Oh, Samivel, Samivel, vy vorn’t there a halibi? 3
But I shall bore you if I go on chattering. I will copy those lines I spoke of.
And if, in thy life on earth,
In the chamber, or by the hearth,
‘Mid the crowded city’s tide,
Or high on the lone hill-side,
Thou canst cause a thought of peace
Or an aching thought to cease,
Or a gleam of joy to burst
On a soul in sadness nurst –
Spare not thy hand, my child,
Though the gladdened should never know
The well-spring amid the wild
Whence the waters of blessing flow;
Find thy reward in the thing
Which thou hast been blest to do;
Let the joy of others cause joy to spring
Up in thy bosom too.
And if the love of a grateful heart
As a rich reward be given,
Lift thou the love of a grateful heart
To the God of Love in heaven. 4
By the way, I must not forget to say that I thought the change in the fainting business a great improvement. I presume the changes was made owing to some one else having suggested it, before I did (as you do not say it was owing to me), but even so I am glad to have my opinion thus confirmed.
Love to the Children.
1 Lucy Arnold first enters Dodgson’s (Caroll) diaries on December 7, 1877.
2 Much Ado about Nothing, Act II, sc. 11, ll. 47-8.
3 Ibid. Act IV, sc.1, ll. 84-5
4 This quotation, so dear to Dodgson that he was able to quote it again more than twelve years later (see his letter to Edith Rowel, p. 1066 below), is from a poem by his friend George MacDonald (“To C.C.P.,” which appeared as part of a set of three poems entitled “Lessons for a Child” in MacDonald’s Poems (1857). The revised version, included in MacDonald’s Poetical Works (1893) does not include the lines that Dodgson quotes (Anthony W. Shipps supplied the source of the quotation).