Useful and Instructive Poetry. With an Introduction by Derek Hudson.

London, Butler & Tanner Ltd for Geffrey Bles, 1954.

8vo, pp. 45, [1 (blank)], [2 blank leaves]; facsimile frontispiece and 7 facsimile plates, one with illustrations recto-and-verso; original parchment-covered boards, upper board lettered in red and green and with a gilt design after Carroll, spine lettered in red and green, original cellophane dustwrapper with paper flap; very lightly marked on upper board, dustwrapper chipped and torn with small losses, otherwise a very good copy.


US $137€118

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First edition. Useful and Instructive Poetry was Lewis Carroll’s first book, composed in 1845 (when its author was thirteen) and written out for his siblings Wilfred Longley Dodgson and Louisa Fletcher Dodgson. It was the first in a series of family magazines and was inspired in part by W.M. Praed’s Etonian (Windsor and London, 1820-1821), although Carroll’s identity as writer already manifests itself in the poems and watercolours and pencil sketches which illustrate the manuscript, some of which are reproduced here.

As M.N. Cohen comments, Useful and Instructive Poetry ‘shows a sophisticated wit for a thirteen-year-old and an impressive range of literary allusion and influence: the humorist poet W.M. Praed, Shakespeare, Blake, the Romantic poets, Izaak Walton, Tennyson. We see the influence of his religious upbringing and recognize the seeds of a later harvest – “The Mouse’s Tail”, the cook and her stew, some of the words that Humpty Dumpty will utter, intimations of “Phantasmagoria” and The Hunting of the Snark. Young Charles clearly took pleasure in playing with words, even in coining a few, and delighted in parody and humor [...] The self-confidence throughout suggests an exceptional young man in the making. Perhaps most remarkable is the tone, how he treats serious subjects without offending. The verses bear serious titles (“Punctuality”, “Charity”, “Rules and Regulations”), but what he does with these virtuous subjects often surprises. In one after another, he dispatches conventional and ponderous Victorian concerns with a fresh and light stroke, with banter, irreverently but endearingly spoofing solemn rubrics’ (Lewis Carroll. A Biography (London: 1995), p. 13).

Williams, Madan, Green, and Crutch 316.

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