Thames Pathway

Journal of a Walk Down the River Thames

by Keith Pauling

Charles Dodgson

It would be too much to hope that a white rabbit carrying a large pocket-watch and yelling “I’m late, I’m late I’m late”, would race across my path as I wandered across Godstow meadow. Popular myth has it that one did many years ago, on July 4th 1862 and famously became the start of that favourite children’s book, “Alice in Wonderland”.

Godstow was a favourite place for Charles Dodgson, better known to us as the writer Lewis Carrol. Dodgson was a lecturer in mathematics at Christ Church College where he spent all of his adult life. He became a close friend of the Dean of Christ Church College, Henry Liddel, and his wife Lorina. On a summers day Charles liked nothing more than to take a boat and row the four young Liddel children, Harry, Lorina, Edith and Alice up the river to Godstow meadow for a picnic, and entertain them by telling them stories.

Dodgson was brilliant with words, which coupled with his vivid imagination produced stories that delighted the children. They were always demanding more stories and encouraged him to write them down so they could read them again for themselves. Charles Dodgson is widely recognised to have invented many word games, including an early form of scrabble and word ladders, where one letter is changed at a time to turn one word into another, e.g. cat – cot – dot – dog.

Dodgson was a very clever man, not just skilled in the use of words but a highly intelligent thinker, logician, mathematician and photographer. Among his inventions was the postal order, an electoral system for proportional representation, double-sided tape, a device for justifying margins on a typewriter, and (most usefully to my mind), a simple cardboard scale device that when held next to a beer glass could easily check that you had been served the correct measure. This gizmo became immediately popular among the common rooms of Oxford University.

Not a good day for picnics today. The rain keeps coming and in the absence of white rabbits it is onward to the city of dreaming spires that I can see in the distance across the fields.

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