The Walrus and the Carpenter

Beach season is winding down as the end of the summer approaches and here at the Rosenbach we’re starting to gear up for Alice-in-Wonderland season as we make preparations  for “Down the Rabbit Hole” a three gallery exhibit that will open October 14, along with a fabulous slate of programs ranging from a conversation with Maira Kalman, Alexandra Horowitz, and Maria Popova to tea and tarts with a tea connoisseur. Appropriately, today’s blog object combines both the beach and Alice.

John Tenniel, “‘I doubt it,’ said the Carpenter.” [1870 or 71].1954.27. The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia
This drawing of
the Walrus and the Carpenter is one of fifty illustrations which Sir John
Tenniel produced for Through the Looking
Glass and What Alice Found There
. It depicts the pair tramping along the sand, which, strangely, upsets them.

The Walrus and the Carpenter
Were walking close at hand;
They wept like anything to see
Such quantities of sand:
If this were only cleared away,’
They said, it would be grand!’
If seven maids with seven mops
Swept it for half a year,
Do you suppose,’ the Walrus said,
That they could get it clear?’
I doubt it,’ said the Carpenter,
And shed a bitter tear. 

The character of the Carpenter was Tenniel’s own invention–when Carroll gave Tenniel the manuscript he offered him the choice of drawing a carpenter, a butterfly, or a baronet, since any of these three-syllable words would fit the poem’s meter. Tenniel exerted significant influence over other aspects of Looking Glass as well; at his insistence Carroll dropped an entire episode, “The Wasp and the Wig,” because it was “altogether beyond the appliances of art.” 

In Looking Glass, the Walrus and the Carpenter poem famously ends with them devouring a group of oysters whom they have lured out for a walk.

It seems a shame,’ the Walrus said,
To play them such a trick,
After we’ve brought them out so far,
And made them trot so quick!’
The Carpenter said nothing but
The butter’s spread too thick!’
I weep for you,’ the Walrus said:
I deeply sympathize.’
With sobs and tears he sorted out
Those of the largest size,
Holding his pocket-handkerchief
Before his streaming eyes.
O Oysters,’ said the Carpenter,
You’ve had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?’
But answer came there none —
And this was scarcely odd, because
They’d eaten every one.”
The sun was shining on the sea,
Shining with all his might:
He did his very best to make
The billows smooth and bright —
And this was odd, because it was
The middle of the night.

Interestingly, Lewis Carroll changed the poem’s ending for
an 1886 operetta version of Alice,
allowing the ghosts of the oysters to wreak revenge on the Walrus and Carpenter:
O woeful, weeping Walrus, your
tears are all a sham!
You’re greedier for Oysters than
children are for jam.
You like to have an Oyster to give
a meal a zest–

Excuse me, wicked Walrus,
for stamping on your chest!
For stamping on your chest!
For stamping on your chest!
Excuse me, wicked Walrus,
For stamping on your chest!
Possibly the stamping on chests was a metaphor for indigestion?  In any case, according to Rebecca Stott’s book Oyster, “The oyster uprising brought audiences to their feet, cheering.”

Kathy Haas is the Associate Curator at the Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia and the primary poster at the Rosen-blog