Dodgson, Charles (1832 – 1898)

‘If I can only find something that will hurt him as much as your knife’

A superb, early three page autograph letter signed by Charles Dodgson, on a single folded sheet, January 23th 1862. Dodgson writes a highly humorous letter in neat, dark fountain pen ink, in the days before his more common flamboyant purple ink, to nine-year-old Hallam Tennyson, the eldest son of poet Alfred Lord Tennyson.

In full: ‘Thank you for your nice little note. I am glad you liked the knife, and I think it a pity you should not be allowed to use it “till you are older”. However, as you are older now, perhaps you have begun to use it by this time: if you were allowed to cut your finger with it, once a week, just a little, you know, till it began to bleed, and a good deep cut every birthday, I should think that would be enough, and it would last a long time so. Only I hope that if Lionel ever wants to have his fingers cut with it, you will be kind to your brother, and hurt him as much as he likes. If you will send me word, some day, when your two birthdays are, perhaps I may send him a birthday present, if I can only find something that will hurt him as much as your knife: perhaps a blister, or a leech, or something of that sort. Give him half my love, and take the rest yourself.’

In fine condition, with a piece of toned tape along the edge of the first page.

A fantastic example of Dodgson’s unique ability to construct bizarre narratives out of the everyday — a style he would bring to fruition a few years later in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. It is interesting to note that just six months after writing this letter, Dodgson took a rowing trip with a group that included Alice Liddell, the inspiration for Alice.

As a youth, Dodgson was a great admirer of Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poetry, and eventually met and befriended the great poet and his family. The Tennysons sat for photographic portraits by Dodgson, and he lavished the boys with gifts — in another instance, he gave Lionel a telescope. Excerpts from this letter have been published in multiple books about Dodgson and his works, including Lewis Carroll: The Man and his Circle by Edward Wakeling, who notes that ‘this letter is characteristic of his teasing and bluffing. He was not a cruel man — quite the reverse.’