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CPC Report; An unabashedly liberal perspective

23 September 2010

It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.


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Through the Looking Glass (Chapter VI)

 HUMPTY DUMPTY 

However, the egg only got larger and larger, and more and more human: when she had come within a few yards of it, she saw that it had eyes and a nose and mouth; and, when she had come close to it, she saw clearly that it was Humpty Dumpty himself. `It can't be anybody else!' she said to herself. `I'm as certain of it, as if his name were written all over his face!'

It might have been written a hundred times, easily, on that enormous face. Humpty Dumpty was sitting, with his legs crossed like a Turk, on the top of a high wall -- such a narrow one that Alice quite wondered how he could keep his balance -- and, as his eyes were steadily fixed in the opposite direction, and he didn't take the least notice of her, she thought he must be a stuffed figure, after all.

`And how exactly like an egg he is!' she said aloud, standing with her hands ready to catch him, for she was every moment expecting him to fall.

`It's very provoking,' Humpty Dumpty said after a long silence, looking away from Alice as he spoke, `to be called an egg -- very!'

`I said you looked like an egg, Sir,' Alice gently explained. `And some eggs are very pretty, you know,' she added, hoping to turn her remark into a sort of compliment.

`Some people,' said Humpty Dumpty, looking away from her as usual, `have no more sense than a baby!'

Alice didn't know what to say to this: it wasn't at all like conversation, she thought, as he never said anything to her; in fact, his last remark was evidently addressed to a tree -- so she stood and softly repeated to herself:

`Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall:
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the King's horses and all the King's men
Couldn't put Humpty Dumpty in his place again.
'

`That last line is much too long for the poetry,' she added, almost out loud, forgetting that Humpty Dumpty would hear her.

`Don't stand chattering to yourself like that,' Humpty Dumpty said, looking at her for the first time, `but tell me your name and your business.'

`My name is Alice, but --'

`It's a stupid name enough!' Humpty Dumpty interrupted impatiently. `What does it mean?'

`Must a name mean something?' Alice asked doubtfully.

`Of course it must,' Humpty Dumpty said with a short laugh: `my name means the shape I am -- and a good handsome shape it is, too. With a name like yours, you might be any shape, almost.'

`Why do you sit out here all alone?' said Alice, not wishing to begin an argument.

`Why, because there's nobody with me!' cried Humpty Dumpty. `Did you think I didn't know the answer to that? Ask another.'

`Don't you think you'd be safer down on the ground?' Alice went on, not with any idea of making another riddle, but simply in her good-natured anxiety for the queer creature. `That wall is so very narrow!'

`What tremendously easy riddles you ask!' Humpty Dumpty growled out. `Of course I don't think so! Why, if ever I did fall off -- which there's no chance of -- but if I did --' Here he pursed up his lips, and looked so solemn and grand that Alice could hardly help laughing. `If I did fall,' he went on, `the King has promised me -- ah, you may turn pale, if you like! You didn't think I was going to say that, did you? The King has promised me -- with his very own mouth -- to -- to --'

`To send all his horses and all his men,' Alice interrupted, rather unwisely.

`Now I declare that's too bad!' Humpty Dumpty cried, breaking into a sudden passion. `You've been listening at doors -- and behind trees -- and down chimneys -- or you couldn't have known it!'

`I haven't indeed!' Alice said very gently. `It's in a book.'

`Ah, well! They may write such things in a book,' Humpty Dumpty said in a calmer tone. `That's what you call a History of England, that is. Now, take a good look at me! I'm one that has spoken to a King, Iam: mayhap you'll never see such another: and, to show you I'm not proud, you may shake hands with me!' And he grinned almost from ear to ear, as he leant forwards (and as nearly as possible fell off the wall in doing so) and offered Alice his hand. She watched him a little anxiously as she took it. `If he smiled much more the ends of his mouth might meet behind,' she thought: `And then I don't know what would happen to his head! I'm afraid it would come off!'

`Yes, all his horses and all his men,' Humpty Dumpty went on. `They'd pick me up again in a minute, they would! However, this conversation is going on a little too fast: let's go back to the last remark but one.'

`I'm afraid I can't quite remember it,' Alice said, very politely.

`In that case we start afresh,' said Humpty Dumpty, `and it's my turn to choose a subject --' (`He talks about it just as if it was a game!' thought Alice.) `So here's a question for you. How old did you say you were?'

Alice made a short calculation, and said `Seven years and six months.'

`Wrong!' Humpty Dumpty exclaimed triumphantly. `You never said a word like it!'

`I thought you meant "How old are you?"' Alice explained.

`If I'd meant that, I'd have said it,' said Humpty Dumpty.

Alice didn't want to begin another argument, so she said nothing.

`Seven years and six months!' Humpty Dumpty repeated thoughtfully. `An uncomfortable sort of age. Now if you'd asked my advice, I'd have said "Leave off at seven" -- but it's too late now.'

`I never ask advice about growing,' Alice said indignantly.

`Too proud?' the other enquired.

Alice felt even more indignant at this suggestion. `I mean,' she said, `that one can't help growing older.'

`One can't, perhaps,' said Humpty Dumpty; `but two can. With proper assistance, you might have left off at seven.'

`What a beautiful belt you've got on!' Alice suddenly remarked. (They had had quite enough of the subject of age, she thought: and, if they really were to take turns in choosing subjects, it was her turn now.) `At least,' she corrected herself on second thoughts, `a beautiful cravat, I should have said -- no, a belt, I mean -- I beg your pardon!' she added in dismay, for Humpty Dumpty looked thoroughly offended, and she began to wish she hadn't chosen that subject. `If only I knew,' she thought to herself, `which was neck and which was waist!'

Evidently Humpty Dumpty was very angry, though he said nothing for a minute or two. When he did speak again, it was in a deep growl.

`It is a -- most -- provoking -- thing,' he said at last, `when a person doesn't know a cravat from a belt!'

`I know it's very ignorant of me,' Alice said, in so humble a tone that Humpty Dumpty relented.

`It's a cravat, child, and a beautiful one, as you say. It's a present from the White King and Queen. There now!'

`Is it really?' said Alice, quite pleased to find that she had chosen a good subject after all.

`They gave it me,' Humpty Dumpty continued thoughtfully as he crossed one knee over the other and clasped his hands round it, `they gave it me -- for an un-birthday present.'

`I beg your pardon?' Alice said with a puzzled air.

`I'm not offended,' said Humpty Dumpty.

`I mean, what is an un-birthday present?'

`A present given when it isn't your birthday, of course.'

Alice considered a little. `I like birthday presents best,' she said at last.

`You don't know what you're talking about!' cried Humpty Dumpty. `How many days are there in a year?'

`Three hundred and sixty-five,' said Alice.

`And how many birthdays have you?'

`One.'

`And if you take one from three hundred and sixty-five what remains?'

`Three hundred and sixty-four, of course.'

Humpty Dumpty looked doubtful. `I'd rather see that done on paper,' he said.

Alice couldn't help smiling as she took out her memorandum book, and worked the sum for him:

365
    1
----
364
----

Humpty Dumpty took the book and looked at it carefully. `That seems to be done right --' he began.

`You're holding it upside down!' Alice interrupted.

`To be sure I was!' Humpty Dumpty said gaily as she turned it round for him. `I thought it looked a little queer. As I was saying, that seems to be done right -- though I haven't time to look it over thoroughly just now -- and that shows that there are three hundred and sixty-four days when you might get un-birthday presents --'

`Certainly,' said Alice.

`And only one for birthday presents, you know. There's glory for you!'

`I don't know what you mean by "glory",' Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. `Of course you don't -- till I tell you. I meant "there's a nice knock-down argument for you!"'

`But "glory" doesn't mean "a nice knock-down argument",' Alice objected.

`When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, `it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less.'

`The question is,' said Alice, `whether you can make words mean so many different things.'

`The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, `which is to be master -- that's all.'

Alice was too much puzzled to say anything; so after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again. `They've a temper, some of them -- particularly verbs: they're the proudest -- adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs -- however, I can manage the whole lot of them! Impenetrability! That's what I say!'

`Would you tell me please,' said Alice, `what that means?'

`Now you talk like a reasonable child,' said Humpty Dumpty, looking very much pleased. `I meant by "impenetrability" that we've had enough of that subject, and it would be just as well if you'd mention what you mean to do next, as I suppose you don't mean to stop here all the rest of your life.'

`That's a great deal to make one word mean,' Alice said in a thoughtful tone.

`When I make a word do a lot of work like that,' said Humpty Dumpty, `I always pay it extra.'

`Oh!' said Alice. She was too much puzzled to make any other remark.

`Ah, you should see 'em come round me of a Saturday night,' Humpty Dumpty went on, wagging his head gravely from side to side, `for to get their wages, you know.'

(Alice didn't venture to ask what he paid them with; and so you see I can't tell you.)

 

Postscripts



 
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