It has been said often enough (at least more than three times) that the Snark hunting party consists of ten members. All Snark readers had and have been given the choice to believe that, so why not. I have a choice too and decided that there only are nine members. I can do that because line #10 of Carroll’s problem either introduces a new Snark hunter, or it describes the Snark hunter who has been introduced in line #9. Here we have a clear ambiguity. Therefore we can choose what we like.
I assume that Carroll had created Boots as a portmanteau word in his tragicomical ballad The Hunting of the Snark (1876).
I have always wondered if Carroll was using “Boots” as a portmanteau of “Bonnets and Hoods,” and if he using “Boots” to MEAN the Maker of Bonnets and Hoods. You will note that no Boots ever appears in any picture, but the maker of Bonnets does. Also, “Maker of Bonnets” doesn’t really begin with B.
The Boots and the maker of Bonnets and Hoods being the same person could explain, why Henry Holiday seemingly didn’t depict the Boots in his illustrations. But the maker of Bonnets and Hoods can be seen (partially) in one illustration shown above.
Below you find what Carroll’s said in his preface to his long poem about portmanteau words and how Carroll introduced the hunting party in the first chapter (the first “fit”) in The Hunting of the Snark. In the first chapter all members of the Snark hunting crew are introduced.
- Can the possibility that the crew consists of nine members be excluded?
- Can the possibility that the crew consists of ten members be excluded?
From The Hunting of the Snark:
[…] This also seems a fitting occasion to notice the other hard words in that poem. Humpty-Dumpty’s theory, of two meanings packed into one word like a portmanteau, seems to me the right explanation for all.
For instance, take the two words “fuming” and “furious.” Make up your mind that you will say both words, but leave it unsettled which you will say first. Now open your mouth and speak. If your thoughts incline ever so little towards “fuming,” you will say “fuming-furious;” if they turn, by even a hair’s breadth, towards “furious,” you will say “furious-fuming;” but if you have the rarest of gifts, a perfectly balanced mind, you will say “frumious.”
Supposing that, when Pistol uttered the well-known words—
“Under which king, Bezonian? Speak or die!”
Justice Shallow had felt certain that it was either William or Richard, but had not been able to settle which, so that he could not possibly say either name before the other, can it be doubted that, rather than die, he would have gasped out “Rilchiam!”
Introduction of the Snark hunting party (with nine or ten members):
001 “Just the place for a Snark!” the Bellman cried,
002 As he landed his crew with care;
003 Supporting each man on the top of the tide
004 By a finger entwined in his hair.
017 There was also a Beaver, that paced on the deck,
018 Or would sit making lace in the bow:
019 And had often (the Bellman said) saved them from wreck,
020 Though none of the sailors knew how.
[introduction of the Baker]
021 There was one who was famed for the number of things
022 He forgot when he entered the ship:
023 His umbrella, his watch, all his jewels and rings,
024 And the clothes he had bought for the trip.
025 He had forty-two boxes, all carefully packed,
026 With his name painted clearly on each:
027 But, since he omitted to mention the fact,
028 They were all left behind on the beach.
029 The loss of his clothes hardly mattered, because
030 He had seven coats on when he came,
031 With three pairs of boots —but the worst of it was,
032 He had wholly forgotten his name.
033 He would answer to “Hi!” or to any loud cry,
034 Such as “Fry me!” or “Fritter my wig!”
035 To “What-you-may-call-um!” or “What-was-his-name!”
036 But especially “Thing-um-a-jig!”
037 While, for those who preferred a more forcible word,
038 He had different names from these:
039 His intimate friends called him “Candle-ends,”
040 And his enemies “Toasted-cheese.”
041 “His form is ungainly —his intellect small —”
042 (So the Bellman would often remark)
043 “But his courage is perfect! And that, after all,
044 Is the thing that one needs with a Snark.”
045 He would joke with hyenas, returning their stare
046 With an impudent wag of the head:
047 And he once went a walk, paw-in-paw, with a bear,
048 “Just to keep up its spirits,” he said.
049 He came as a Baker: but owned, when too late —
050 And it drove the poor Bellman half-mad —
051 He could only bake Bridecake —for which, I may state,
052 No materials were to be had.
[introduction of the Butcher]
053 The last of the crew needs especial remark,
054 Though he looked an incredible dunce:
055 He had just one idea —but, that one being “Snark,”
056 The good Bellman engaged him at once.
057 He came as a Butcher: but gravely declared,
058 When the ship had been sailing a week,
059 He could only kill Beavers. The Bellman looked scared,
060 And was almost too frightened to speak:
061 But at length he explained, in a tremulous tone,
062 There was only one Beaver on board;
063 And that was a tame one he had of his own,
064 Whose death would be deeply deplored.
065 The Beaver, who happened to hear the remark,
066 Protested, with tears in its eyes,
067 That not even the rapture of hunting the Snark
068 Could atone for that dismal surprise!
069 It strongly advised that the Butcher should be
070 Conveyed in a separate ship:
071 But the Bellman declared that would never agree
072 With the plans he had made for the trip:
073 Navigation was always a difficult art,
074 Though with only one ship and one bell:
075 And he feared he must really decline, for his part,
076 Undertaking another as well.
077 The Beaver’s best course was, no doubt, to procure
078 A second-hand dagger-proof coat —
079 So the Baker advised it — and next, to insure
080 Its life in some Office of note:
081 This the Banker suggested, and offered for hire
082 (On moderate terms), or for sale,
083 Two excellent Policies, one Against Fire,
084 And one Against Damage From Hail.
085 Yet still, ever after that sorrowful day,
086 Whenever the Butcher was by,
087 The Beaver kept looking the opposite way,
088 And appeared unaccountably shy.
More about the Boots (again from the PREFACE) in a footnote:
The Bellman, who was almost morbidly sensitive about appearances, used to have the bowsprit unshipped once or twice a week to be revarnished, and it more than once happened, when the time came for replacing it, that no one on board could remember which end of the ship it belonged to. They knew it was not of the slightest use to appeal to the Bellman about it— he would only refer to his Naval Code, and read out in pathetic tones Admiralty Instructions which none of them had ever been able to understand— so it generally ended in its being fastened on, anyhow, across the rudder. The helmsman¹ used to stand by with tears in his eyes; he knew it was all wrong, but alas! Rule 42 of the Code, “No one shall speak to the Man at the Helm,” had been completed by the Bellman himself with the words “and the Man at the Helm shall speak to no one.“ So remonstrance was impossible, and no steering could be done till the next varnishing day. During these bewildering intervals the ship usually sailed backwards.
¹ This office was usually undertaken by the Boots, who found in it a refuge from the Baker’s constant complaints about the insufficient blacking of his three pairs of boots.
This means that the helmsman usually was the Boots, who had to unship the bowsprit once or twice a week to be revarnished. What does Carroll’s ballad tell us about the Bonnetmaker and the Boots?
009 The crew was complete: it included a Boots—
010 A maker of Bonnets and Hoods—
011 A Barrister, brought to arrange their disputes—
012 And a Broker, to value their goods.
109 He [Bellman] was thoughtful and grave—but the orders he gave
110 Were enough to bewilder a crew.
111 When he cried “Steer to starboard, but keep her headlarboard!”
112 What on earth was the helmsman [Boots] to do?
273 The Boots and the Broker were sharpening a spade—
274 Each working the grindstone in turn:
275 But the Beaver went on making lace, and displayed
276 No interest in the concern:
281 The maker of Bonnets ferociously planned
282 A novel arrangement of bows:
283 While the Billiard-marker with quivering hand
284 Was chalking the tip of his nose.