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Mathematical Treasure: Postcard Written by Charles Dodgson and Debut of His Pseudonym

Sidney J. Kolpas (Delaware County Community College)

Lewis Carroll (1832–1898) was born Charles Lutwidge Dodgson on January 27 in Daresbury, Cheshire, England. He was the third of eleven children and the oldest boy. His father, Charles, was an Anglican clergyman, and his beloved mother was Frances (Fanny) Lutwidge, who died early, at the age of 47.

When he was about 12 years old, Dodgson began entertaining his family with poems, stories, and drawings. At this time he began attending Richmond Grammar School, where he advanced his mastery of mathematics under the guidance of his teacher, the headmaster, James Tate. At age 14, he enrolled at Rugby School where he excelled in mathematics.  In 1850 he entered Christ Church College, the University of Oxford, where Henry George Liddell was Dean. Henry and his wife, Lorina, had four children: Harry, Lorina Charlotte, Alice (of Alice in Wonderland fame), and Edith. Charles completed his studies in 1854 with a First Class degree in mathematics and a Second Class in classics. From 1855 to 1881 he was the Mathematical Lecturer at Christ Church. 

In mid-1855 Edwin Yates, editor of The Train magazine, suggested to Dodgson that he adopt a pseudonym for his non academic publications. The poem, "Solitude," was the first of his publications as Lewis Carroll.

Title page for The Train (1856).First part of Solitude by Lewis Carroll.


Lewis Carroll, "Solitude,"The Train 1 (1856): 154–155. Train title page from the collection of Dr. Sid Kolpas; p. 154 from HathiTrust.

On July 4, 1862, the ‘Alice’ stories were born on a boating trip with the Liddell sisters, where Dodgson entertained them by making up a story involving Alice chasing a white rabbit.  The story was written down and given the name: Alice’s Adventures Under Ground, renamed Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in 1865. In 1872 he published another story involving Alice, titled Through the Looking Glass And What Alice Found There.  

Dodgson also wrote numerous mathematical works including:

The Game of Logic (1887) by Charles Dodgson

The Game of Logic (1887). From the collection of Dr. Sid Kolpas.

Postcard written by Charles Dodgson (1896).

The postcardFrom the collection of Dr. Sid Kolpas.

Reverse of the 1896 postcard signed by Charles Dodgson.

Reverse of the postcard. From the collection of Dr. Sid Kolpas.

Google Earth image of Charles Dodgson's house.

View of 3 Wellington Place from Google Earth.

I purchased this postcard from an auction and wondered about its significance. So I did some research and discovered that the Misses K & M Aubrey-Moore were sisters at the Oxford High School for Girls. Dodgson taught formal logic there in 1894. "Ch. Ch." stands for Christ Church College, Oxford, where Charles resided. 3 Wellington Place, according to Google Maps, is .2 miles via St. Giles from Oxford University, thus “local,” meaning that mail was easily delivered before the next day’s class. The postcard indicates that Dodgson was canceling his lecture for the next day, June 20, 1896. On July 11, Dodgson had tea with Mrs. Catharine Moore and her daughters, Ethel Margaret and Catherine Ellen, after giving the last lecture in his course. Mrs. Moore was the wife of Aubrey Lackington Moore, successively Fellow of St. John’s College, Lecturer and Tutor of Magdalen, Tutor of Keble College and Honorary Canon of Christ Church (Cohen 1979, p. 1095n).

In a letter from Dodgson on July 24, 1896, to Mrs. Aubrey Moore, he asked if her daughters could come to dinner with him singly, and wondered if they were kissable (Cohen 1979, p. 1095). According to research by the auction house, Bonhams (2011), this letter is “the longest, most explicit, most revealing and most detailed about the nature of his interest in his 'girl-friends' and what he wanted of them. It is also the most comprehensive and bold letter on the subject he ever wrote to the mother of one of his prospective girl-friends.” Morton Cohen writes, “His pursuit of child friends, his dependence upon their companionship, his need to fill the void that repeated rejections and inevitable coolings created as the girls grew up, continued unabated” (Cohen 1995, p. 462).

Charles Dodgson letter to Mrs. Moore (1896), edited by Morton Cohen.

In a subsequent letter written by Dodgson (Cohen 1979, p. 1101), to Mrs. R. L. Poole, he reported that Mrs. Aubrey Moore had refused to let her daughters dine singly with him. Rachel Emily Poole was the author of the three volume Catalogue of Oxford Portraits, and the first woman elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries. She was the wife of Reginald Lane Poole, Lecturer in history at Jesus College, Oxford (Cohen 1979, p. 1094n).

Charles Dodgson to Mrs. Poole (1896), edited by Morton Cohen.

Dodgson was aware of the concern his relations with young girls were causing. When one of his sisters voiced her worries about what people were saying, he replied: “The only two tests I now apply to such a question as the having some particular girl friend as a guest are, first, my own conscience, to settle whether I feel it to be entirely innocent and right, in the sight of God; secondly, the parents of my friend, to settle whether I have their full approval for what I do. You need not be shocked at my being spoken against” (Cohen 1979, p. 244). 


Bonhams Auction 19386, 2011.

Cohen, Morton N.  Lewis Carroll: A Biography.New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 1995.

Cohen, Morton N. Selected Letters of Lewis Carroll, 2 volumes.New York, Oxford University Press, 1979.

Index to Mathematical Treasures 

Sidney J. Kolpas (Delaware County Community College), "Mathematical Treasure: Postcard Written by Charles Dodgson and Debut of His Pseudonym," Convergence (September 2019)