26 October 2012
A Recently Discovered Unpublished Lewis Carroll Poem
Even all these years after Carroll's death, new items come to light. Edward Wakeling told me a few months ago about a cache of previously unknown Lewis Carroll memorabilia. He thought it overpriced, and I have to say it has been languishing on eBay for a while. You can click the link and see if it is still up! At the top of this post is one of the images from the listing.
To me the most interesting item in the collection was a previously unknown little poem by Carroll. It was the sort of thing he would write to amuse his friends - and, no doubt himself. I am usually struck by his clever use of language in these little poems, which he probably assumed would be ephemeral. He typically uses a severely limited selection of words but getting around the restrictions seem to entertain him.
This one is about whether or not to call his friend "Miss" or not. In Victorian days, even friends tended to call each other "Mr," "Mrs," or "Miss." Only children were called by their first names. The concept of teenagers was unknown - you were either a child or a grown up, but it was courteous to start calling girls "Miss" when they were in their early teens.
Edward Wakeling considers that this poem was written for Carroll's longtime friend Bessie Hussey, but if so it is slightly strange, because Bessie was 32 in 1884. when it was written. Carroll would normally have been calling her "Miss" for a long time. To me, this reads as if it is asddressed to a young teenager, but there again, perhaps this was some kind of a private joke between Carroll and Bessie Hussey.
Here it is.
Take not amiss this missile dread
Nor maim my mystic hopes
Miscalling me a much misled
My missive’s meant to murmur this
With mute mysterious touch
If I should merely miss the “Miss”
Would you, Miss, miss it much?