The origins of ‘The Jabberwocky’
Lewis Carroll composed the first stanza to his famous nonsense poem, ‘The Jabberwocky’, more than a decade before it was incorporated into Through the Looking-Glass; and What Alice Found There (1871). It first appeared under the title ‘A Stanza of Anglo-Saxon Poetry’ in Mischmasch, one of the many family magazines that, with his 10 siblings, Carroll wrote, illustrated and edited. Both versions are identical in wording, although Carroll provides different translations of the invented portmanteau words.
Just as we later find in the Alice books, Mischmasch contains a plethora of visual and linguistic jokes and is underpinned by a playfully irreverent attitude towards the authority of ‘classic’ or mainstream literature and art. This is exemplified here in the titling of ‘A Stanza of Anglo-Saxon Poetry’, and its description as ‘an obscure, but yet deeply-affecting, relic of ancient Poetry’. Carroll has even written out the stanza in old English script.