G.A.H.! (Gardner’s Annotations Hyperlinked) – As large as life, and twice as natural

The Lion and the Unicorn, from Through the Looking Glass, illustrated by Peter Newell (1902)

In Chapter VII of Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, the Unicorn looks at Alice “with an air of the deepest disgust” and asks, “What – is – this?”

“This is a child!” Haigha replied eagerly, coming out in front of Alice to introduce her, and spreading out both hands toward her in Anglo-Saxon attitude. “We only found it to-day. It’s as large as life, and twice as natural!”

“I always thought they were fabulous monsters!” said the Unicorn. “Is it alive?”

There’s layers of good jokes here, as the Unicorn thinks Alice is a “fabulous monster,” and then offers to believe in her if she believes in him. There’s also some play on the concepts of “life” and being “alive.” (Death is one of the major themes of TTLG.)  For Haigha’s “twice as natural” remark, Martin Gardner’s note in The Annotated Alice is this:

“As large as life and quite as natural” was a common phrase in Carroll’s time (the Oxford English Dictionary quotes it from an 1853 source); but apparently Carroll was the first to substitute “twice” for “quite.” This is now the usual phrasing in both England and the U.S.

This series G.A.H.! (Gardners Annotations Hyperlinked) has the singular purpose of supplying internet links to Martin Gardner’s classic notes. Since he wrote them more than fifty years ago, some of his sources have become difficult to find in print, or alternately, easier to find online. Gardner never cites why he thinks Carroll was the first man to change the “quite as natural” into “twice as natural,” although it is vintage Carrollian wit. No doubt the inclusion of the phrase in the Alice books has aided its longevity in that form.

It’s hard to create hyperlinks for the Oxford English Dictionary. The OED is ubiquitous in halls of higher learning and prohibitively expensive to access outside of them. My local public library doesn’t have a subscription, so I had to swim through their physical volumes to find where and what that 1853 source was that Gardner referred to. I found the quote in question under life s.b., on page 911 in Volume VIII of the Second Edition:

7. a. (In early use commonly the life.) The living form or model; living semblance; life-size figure or presentation. Also life itself. after, from (or by) the life: (drawn) from the living model. as large as (the) life, life-size; hence humorously, implying that a person’s figure or aspect is not lacking in any point. Hence larger-than-life; larger-than-lifeness (nonce). small life: ? somewhat less than life-size.

Pg. 52 of "The Adventures of Mr. Verdant Green" by Cuthbert Bede (1857), which contains the quote "as large as life, and quite as natural" with an illustration by the author.

There’s nothing like needing a dictionary to have a joke explained. “As large as life” is funny because, you see, in a humorous context, you are implying that the life-form has successfully achieved an adequate fullness of size in proportion vis-à-vis its life.  They supply several quotes about the size of life, many much earlier than 1853. The 1853 quote that Gardner alludes to is from ‘C. Bede’ Verdant Green, I. vi. “An imposing-looking Don, as large as life, and quite as natural.” I can create a hyperlink for The Adventures of Mr. Verdant Green by Cuthbert Bede, B.A., a novel about a Freshman undergraduate at Oxford University (written within a few years of when C.L. Dodgson entered Oxford). The full text is at Project Gutenberg and the 1857 edition can be seen on Google Books, with 90 illustrations by the author, (whose real name was Edward Bradley).

Now, the Second Edition of the OED wasn’t published in its glorious twenty volumes until 1989, so the First Edition that Gardner would have looked at (in the early 1960s) might not have included the following quote, which is in the Second Edition immediately before the 1853 C. Bede one:

1840 Lady Wilton Art of Needlework xxi. 334
Birds … being, in proportion to other figures, certainly larger than life, and ‘twice as natural’.

What happened? Lady Wilton’s quote uses Carroll’s ‘twice as natural’ instead of the “common phrase” ‘quite as natural,’ and 1840 is three decades before Looking-Glass was written.To further add to the mystery, she places “twice as natural” inside inverted commas, to imply she’s also quoting something earlier – but what? (As for the “larger then life” versus “large as life” debate, there’s an article in the New York Times Magazine by William Saffire published October 14, 1990, about the evolution of the phrase. The article includes a conversation with Charlton Heston, who had nitpicky opinions about which of his characters were “as large as life” and which were “larger than life.” Henry VIII? Merely as large as life. Long-John Silver? Larger than life.)

Project Gutenberg also has the text of “The Art of Needle-work, from the Earliest Ages” (1841) which was edited by “The Right Honourable The Countess of Wilton” (actually named Elizabeth Stone), and Google Books also has one of their Xerox-quality scans of the 1841 edition. Wilton uses the expression twice in this book. In a chapter called “The Needle,” she tells a weird anecdote about an old woman’s needle, and the phrase “large as life and twice as natural” refers to a tear-drop found in the needle’s eye. I’ll quote it in full for context and also because it’s very silly:

For instance, we were told of an old woman who had used one needle so long and so constantly for mending stockings, that at last the needle was able to do them of itself. At length, and while the needle was in the full perfection of its powers, the old woman died. A neighbour, whose numerous “olive branches” caused her to have a full share of matronly employment, hastened to possess herself of this domestic treasure, and gathered round her the weekly accumulation of sewing, not doubting but that with her new ally, the wonder-working needle, the unwieldy work-basket would be cleared, “in no time,” of its overflowing contents. But even the all-powerful needle was of no avail without thread, and she forthwith proceeded to invest it with a long one. But thread it she could not; it resisted her most strenuous endeavours. In vain she turned and returned the needle, the eye was plain enough to be seen; in vain she cut and screwed the thread, she burnt it in the candle, she nipped it with the scissars, she rolled it with her lips, she twizled it between her finger and thumb: the pointed end was fine as fine could be, but enter the eye of the needle it would not. At length, determined not to relinquish her project whilst any hope remained of its accomplishment, she borrowed a magnifying glass to examine the “little weapon” more accurately. And there, “large as life and twice as natural,” a pearly gem, a translucent drop, a crystal tear stood right in the gap, and filled to overflowing the eye of the needle. It was weeping for the death of its old mistress; it refused consolation; it was never threaded again.

In that instance also, the idiom is in quotation marks, as if she’s either quoting a common phrase or referencing a well-known joke from an unnamed source. Seventy-nine pages later, in an unrelated context, the Countess of Wilton is describing French tapestries. The images are “representing scenes of the chase, and are enlivened with birds in every position, some of them being, in proportion to other figures, certainly largerthan life, and ‘twice as natural.’” The italic emphasis on “larger” is hers, indicating that she’s playing around with the phrase “as large as life” – the birds depicted on a giant tapestry, you see, are indeed larger than real-life birds. They’re also twice as natural. Vintage Wiltonian wit.

Tapisserie du Château d'Haroué (Meurthe) (1838)

 

G.A.H.! (Gardner’s Annotations Hyperlinked) – The Dormouse and Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Wombat

A sleepy young Hazel dormouse

The Dormouse in Chapter VII of The Annotated Alice (pgs. 93-95) gets the following footnote from Martin Gardner:

The British dormouse is a tree-living rodent that resembles a small squirrel much more than it does a mouse. The name is from the Latin dormire, to sleep, and has reference to the animal’s habit of winter hibernation. Unlike the squirrel, the dormouse is nocturnal, so that even in May (the month of Alice’s adventure) it remains in a torpid state throughout the day. In Some Reminiscences of William Michael Rossetti, 1906, we are told that the dormouse may have been modeled after Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s pet wombat, which had a habit of sleeping on the table. Carroll knew all the Rossettis and occasionally visited them.

This is the second blog post in a series for the LCSNA called Gardner’s Annotations Hyperlinked, in which we employ the mighty power of the internet to illuminate, investigate, and of course provide links for the footnotes from The Annotated Alice.

The only dormouse native to the British Isles is the Hazel dormouse, which is indeed more closely related to a squirrel than to a mouse. (The suborder Sciuromorpha contains chipmunks, squirrels, and dormice. Mice and rats are muroids.) Although dormire in Latin does mean “to sleep,” it might not be directly related to the etymology of “dormouse.” The Wiktionary‘s etymology: “From Middle English dormous, of uncertain origin. Possibly from dor-, from Old Norse dár (‘benumbed’) + mous (‘mouse’). … Although the word has come to be associated as an Anglo-Norman derivative of Old French dormir (‘to sleep’), no such Anglo-Norman word is known to have existed,” and it cites the Random House Dictionary as its reference. (The dormousian association with sleepiness seems to go back centuries – the Elizabethans apparently rubbed dormouse fat on the soles of their feet to induce sleep, according to The Sleepyhead’s Bedside Companion by Sean Coughlan. How could an animal both nocturnal and hibernating have any other reputation? We posted a cute viral video of a snoring dormouse a few months ago here.)

William Michael Rossetti (1829-1919)

As for Gardner’s one literary reference in his note, the Pre-Raphaelite memoir Some Reminiscences of William Michael Rossetti (1906), it’s widely available and has been reprinted multiple times in the past decade. Google Books has several accessible copies of the text: Vol. I here; Vol. II here. It is true that C.L. Dodgson knew the Rossetti’s and would hang out with them sometimes. It is also true that Dante Gabriel Rossetti owned several wombats (and some dormice and other exotic pets), and that one beloved wombat would entertain at dinner parties. However, it’s impossible that Gardner read in that specific book that Rossetti’s wombat “may have” inspired Carroll’s dormouse, because it’s neither written there nor true. In Volume I of Some Reminiscences, William Michael Rossetti describes some of the “beasts” Dante Gabriel kept in his garden, after which he describes his indoor pets:

From "Rossetti and his Circle" by Max Beerbohm. One of those animals is supposed to be a wombat.

…they were my brother’s companions day by day, and the wombat would follow at the housemaid’s heels when she went upstairs to make the beds. An anecdote is current of the wombat, and I accept it as only somewhat exaggerated – not untrue. My brother had asked, as he pretty often did, several friends to dinner; he himself never smoked, but for the satisfaction of his guests he had provided a box of superior cigars. The dinner over, he proceeded to produce the box. The box was there, but the cigars were gone: the wombat had made a meal of the entire assortment.

The Rossetti Family, photographed by Lewis Carroll (1863)

Hilarious! The wombat ate some fancy cigars. Sounds like a good party (except for the shortage of tobacco). He then goes on to describe several drawings of wombats by Edward Burne-Jones he owned, and of poetry by Christina Rossetti which mentions wombats as well. (“When wombats do inspire / I strike my disused lyre.”) Carroll is not mentioned in Volume I. Neither is any dormouse nor any of the Alice books ever mentioned in either volume of Some Reminiscences. In Volume II, William Michael Rossetti has one uninspiring paragraph about Carroll:

Lewis Carroll's photograph of Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1863)

One of the earliest of these [visiting authors] but I only saw him once or twice was the Rev. C. L. Dodgson, whom the English-speaking world knows under the name of Lewis Carroll. He was a skilful amateur photographer, and he took some few photographs of Dante Rossetti, and of other members of the family. He continued keeping up some little acquaintance with Christina till the close of her life, sending her his successive publications. My reminiscence of Mr. Dodgson is so slight and indeterminate that it would be vain to attempt any exactness of description. Suffice it to say that he impressed me mainly as belonging to the type of ” the University Man ” : a certain externalism of polite propriety, verging towards the conventional. I do not think he said in my presence anything ” funny ” or quaint.

The only mention of wombats in Volume II is a reference to his unsuccessful attempt to purchase one in Sydney.

So where did Martin Gardner learn that Rossetti’s wombat inspired Carroll’s Dormouse? I don’t know, but he didn’t invent the idea. That honor goes to the Pre-Raphaelite painter Ford Madox Brown. The artist’s grandson, Ford M. Hueffer (who changed his name to Ford Madox Ford and became a 20th Century novelist) wrote the book on Madox Brown in 1896: Ford Madox Brown: a record of his life and work. He also describes the Rossetti zoo and some legendary parties:

The beast that made the greatest impression, at least on Madox Brown, was the singularly inactive marsupial known as the wombat – an animal that seems to have exercised a latent fascination on the Rossettian mind. On high days and holiday banquets it occupied a place of honour on the épergne in the centre of the table, where, with imperturbable equanimity, it would remain dormant. On one occasion, however, it belied its character. Descending unobserved, during a heated post-prandial discussion, it proceeded in leisurely fashion to devour the entire contents of a valuable box of cigars, achieving that feat just in time for the exhaustion of the subject under consideration and consequent attention to things mundane.

If Madox Brown may be believed, the wombat of Rossetti was the prototype of the dormouse in ‘Alice in Wonderland,’  the author of which beloved work was a frequent visitor of Rossetti’s household at Chelsea. The ‘ Alice ‘ books exercised an even greater fascination over Rossetti and for that matter over Madox Brown than the historic wombat had done …

Note Ford’s subtle skepticism of his grandfather’s word. I found the final nail in the coffin to the Wombat-Dormouse theory in a 2003 lecture by Angus Trumble, the Harold White Fellow at the National Library of Australia, Canberra. Trumble adds some Australian local knowledge to his scholarship, in a talk called “Rossetti’s Wombat: A Pre-Raphaelite Obsession in Victorian England.”

A crystal épergne ($160) from the Horchow Collection, 20"H x 17"W x 14 1/4"D. Adult wombats are approx. 39" long.

…James McNeill Whistler invented a silly story about how the wombat had perished after eating an entire box of cigars. Ford Madox Brown thought that Rossetti’s habit of bringing the wombat to dinner and letting it sleep in the large épergne or centrepiece on the dining room table inspired the dormouse in the tea-pot incident at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. This is also impossible because Lewis Carroll wrote that chapter in 1863, and the novel with its famous illustrations by John Tenniel was published two years later in 1865. As my colleague David Marshall has also pointed out, either Rossetti’s épergne was enormous, or the wombat was dramatically small.

He says “impossible,” because his research shows that Dante Rossetti had bought the first of his pet wombats in 1869. I don’t know how big an épergne usually is, but dormice certainly fit more easily into teapots than wombats do. Do wombats fit in teapots? Do teapots fit in wombats?

"Dormouse surnamed Dwanging," by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, c. 1834 (age 6), pencil on paper.

Several final discoveries about cute animals owned by Pre-Raphaelites before we go. One of the earliest drawings by Dante Gabriel Rossetti was of a dormouse – he drew pictures of his pet dormouse named “Dwanging” when he was about six years old. It looks to me more like a cave painting than anything drawn by any pre-tween I know. In Dante Gabriel Rossetti: his family-letters, Vol. I, his brother also describes his pet hedgehog, which also hung out on the family dinner table.  So Dante was into pets long before he acquired his own large collection of strange creatures as an adult. What became of the wombat? It died.

"I never reared a young Wombat / To glad me with his pin-hole eye, / But when he most was sweet & fat / And tail-less; he was sure to die!" Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1869

"May I please sit on your épergne?"

American artist James McNeill Whistler’s version of the story (from this early biography) has the wombat skeleton discovered in the cigar box. (A humongous cigar box?) I wouldn’t attempt to guess how Rossetti’s wombat actually died, but eating tobacco is extremely poisonous. According to the Wikipedia, “The LD50 of nicotine is 50 mg/kg for rats and 3 mg/kg for mice. 0.5-1.0 mg/kg can be a lethal dosage for adult humans, and 10 mg (0.1mg/kg) for children.” A cigar contains around 150 mg of nicotine. Wombats weigh between 20 and 35 kg. Eating even a single cigar would very likely kill a wombat. Again, I’m not trying to perpetuate the theory that Rossetti’s wombat died from eating cigars at the dinner party in question. But either William Michael Rossetti’s anecdote is more than “only somewhat exaggerated,” or it didn’t end well for the wombat.

G.A.H.! (Gardner’s Annotations Hyperlinked) – The Ugly Duchess

John Tenniel's illustration of "Pig and Pepper," from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) by Lewis Carroll

When we first meet the Duchess in Chapter VI of The Annotated Alice, Martin Gardner’s footnote (on page 82) is this:

A glance at the portrait of the Ugly Duchess, by the sixteenth-century Flemish painter Quintin Matsys (it is reproduced in Langford Reed’s book on Carroll) leaves little doubt that it served as the model for Tenniel’s duchess. Matsys’s duchess is popularly supposed to be Margaretha Maultasch, a fourteenth-century duchess of Carinthia and Tyrol. “Maultasch,” meaning “pocket-mouth,” was a name given to her because of the shape of her mouth. The unhappy life of poor Margaret, who had the reputation of being the ugliest woman in history, is told by Lion Feuchtwanger in his novel The Ugly Duchess. (See “A Portrait of the Ugliest Princess in History,” by W. A. Baillie-Grohman, Burlington Magazine, April 1921).

Classic Gardner, in that is fascinating, imformative, but slightly dated, as it references a bunch of books and articles that are difficult to find in the 21st Century. The Life of Lewis Carroll by Langford Reed was published in 1932, and rarely or never afterwards. A few used copies turn up on Amazon for as cheap as $19.50. (The picture to the left is from an eBay copy listed for $14.99. A scanned copy is on Google Books, but the full text is currently restricted.) If one wanted to see Matsys’ painting, and can’t make it today to the National Gallery in London where it hangs, it’s still a quasi-famous if not iconic image and there are copies all over the internet. Recent research about the painting, as reported by the Guardian in 2008, solved a few old mysteries: “firstly, the portrait is truthful and she almost certainly looked like that, and secondly, a long held historical theory that the painter was copying Leonardo da Vinci is wrong. The medical research shows that she was suffering from an advanced form of Paget’s disease – osteitis deformans – which enlarged her jaw bones, extended her upper lip and pushed up her nose. It also affected her hands, eye sockets, forehead, chin and collarbones.” Gardner says there is “little doubt” that the Matsys image inspired Tenniel, and I presume he can state that without a reference because the portrait was famous enough, and his illustration evocative of it enough, to be obvious. (The nose, the headdress, the “pocket-mouth.”)

"An Old Woman ('The Ugly Duchess')" by Quintin Matsys, c. 1515, Oil on Oak, 25.6" by 17.9"

The Google Art Project has a very high quality image of the painting here. You can zoom in close and see every crack in her décolletage. (If you’re unfamiliar with the Google Art Project, it lets you wander around famous museums all over the world, virtually wander from room to room, and then study paintings in spectacular detail.)

Margaret, Countess of Tyrol, better known as Margarete Maultasch (1318 – 3 October 1369) has a Wikipedia page here. Of her posterity, it’s written: “Though contemporaries such as the chronicler John of Winterthur called her beautiful, the nickname Maultasch led to the widespread notion of a woman with deformed features. Quentin Matsys‘s 1513 portrait The Ugly Duchess, after a sanguine by Leonardo da Vinci, may refer to Margaret, and it was Sir John Tenniel‘s model for the ‘Duchess’ in his illustrations of Lewis Carroll‘s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Lion Feuchtwanger utilized her story in his novel The Ugly Duchess and in 1816 Jacob Grimm collected the ‘Legends of Margarete’ in his book German sagas.” Did you catch that? The original Margaret may actually have been “beautiful,” and it was centuries of folklore that created the figure of the Ugly Duchess. And then centuries later, people began to associate her with the painting of “An Old Woman.”

As for Feuchtwanger’s 1923 historical novel, Die häßliche Herzogin Margarete Maultasch (The Ugly Duchess), also recommended in Gardner’s footnote, it also appears to be out of print. First Editions in German go on Amazon for over a hundred dollars, but used copies of later editions can be found for $11. Used copies of Willa Muir and Edwin Muir’s translation into English, also out of print, can be found for pretty cheap. The text for the Feuchtwanger is also on Google Books in German and English, but it’s also currently restricted.

But just as we were beginning to get discouraged that none of the books Gardner referenced could still be found easily, Whala! “A Portrait of the Ugliest Princess in History,” by W. A. Baillie-Grohman, in Burlington Magazine’s April 1921 issue, can be found on the Internet Archive here! Thank you, Brewster Kahle.

Vol. xxxviii, p. 31 (Jan., 1021). 

A PORTRAIT OF THE UGLIEST PRINCESS IN HISTORY
BY W. A. BAILLIE-GROHMAN 

HE accompanying plate [a] is from
the portrait of Duchess Margaret of
Tyrol, better known as Pocket-
mouthed Meg, by the hand of Ouen-
tin Matsvs. [continue reading...]

(‘Y’s sometimes look like ‘v’s when text is scanned in, et cetera.) Subscribers to the Burlington Magazine can still read back issues online, but I’m not sure if that goes all the way back to 1921. (If the quote from the Internet Archive above can be believed, the article might be from January 1921, not April.)

This is the first blog post in a series I call “G.A.H.! (Gardner’s Annotations Hyperlinked),” named after the exclamation (“GAH!”) we sometimes speak softly when a footnote references a book that is increasingly difficult to put your greasy paws onto. The Annotated Alice is still the definitive edition of Lewis Carroll’s masterpiece, but sometimes it needs some links.