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If-and the thing is wildly possible-the charge of writing nonsensewere ever brought against the author of this brief but instructivepoem, it would be based, I feel convinced, on the line (in p.4)
"Then the bowsprit got mixed with the rudder sometimes."
In view of this painful possibility, I will not (as I might) appealindignantly to my other writings as a proof that I am incapable ofsuch a deed: I will not (as I might) point to the strong moral purposeof this poem itself, to the arithmetical principles so cautiouslyinculcated in it, or to its noble teachings in Natural History--I willtake the more prosaic course of simply explaining how it happened.
The Bellman, who was almost morbidly sensitive about appearances,used to have the bowsprit unshipped once or twice a week to be revarnished,and it more than once happened, when the time came for replacing it, thatno one on board could remember which end of the ship it belonged to.They knew it was not of the slightest use to appeal to the Bellman about it--he would only refer to his Naval Code, and read out in pathetic tonesAdmiralty Instructions which none of them had ever been able to understand--so it generally ended in its being fastened on, anyhow, across the rudder.The helmsman used to stand by with tears in his eyes; he knew it was all wrong,but alas! Rule 42 of the Code, "No one shall speak to the Man at the Helm,"had been completed by the Bellman himself with the words "and the Man at theHelm shall speak to no one." So remonstrance was impossible, and no steeringcould be done till the next varnishing day. During these bewildering intervalsthe ship usually sailed backwards.
As this poem is to some extent connected with the lay of the Jabberwock,let me take this opportunity of answering a question that has often been askedme, how to pronounce "slithy toves." The "i" in "slithy" is long, as in"writhe"; and "toves" is pronounced so as to rhyme with "groves." Again, thefirst "o" in "borogoves" is pronounced like the "o" in "borrow." I have heardpeople try to give it the sound of the "o" in "worry. Such is HumanPerversity.
This also seems a fitting occasion to notice the other hard works in thatpoem. Humpty-Dumpty's theory, of two meanings packed into one word like aportmanteau, seems to me the right explanation for all.
For instance, take the two words "fuming" and "furious." Make up yourmind that you will say both words, but leave it unsettled which you will sayfirst. Now open your mouth and speak. If your thoughts incline ever solittle towards "fuming," you will say "fuming-furious;" if they turn, by evena hair's breadth, towards "furious," you will say "furious-fuming;" but if youhave the rarest of gifts, a perfectly balanced mind, you will say "frumious."
Supposing that, when Pistol uttered the well-known words--
"Under which king, Bezonian? Speak or die!"
Justice Shallow had felt certain that it was either William or Richard, buthad not been able to settle which, so that he could not possibly say eithername before the other, can it be doubted that, rather than die, he would havegasped out "Rilchiam!"
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