The Vision of the Three T's  (1874)  by Lewis Carroll
Chapter III


A Conference of the Hunter with a Tutor, whilom the Angler his eyes be closed in sleep. The Angler awaking relateth his Vision. The Hunter chaunteth 'A Bachanalian Ode.'


Venator. He hath left us, but methinks we are not to lack company, for look you, another is even now at hand, gravely apparelled, and bearing upon his head Hoffmann's Lexicon in four volumes folio.

Piscator. Trust me, this doth symbolise his craft. Good morrow. Sir. If I rightly interpret these that you bear with you, you are a teacher in this learned place?

Tutor. I am, Sir, a Tutor, and profess the teaching of divers unknown tongues.

Pisc. Sir, we are happy to have your company, and, if it trouble you not too much, we would gladly ask (as indeed we did ask another of your learned body, but understood not his reply) the cause of these new things we see around us, which indeed are as strange as they are new, and as unsightly as they are strange.

Tutor. Sir, I will tell you with all my heart. You must know then (for herein lies the pith of the matter) that the motto of the Governing Body is this:—

'Diruit, ædificat, mutat quadrata rotundis;' which I thus briefly expound.

Diruit. 'It teareth down.' Witness that fair opening which, like a glade in an ancient forest, we have made in the parapet at the sinistral extremity of the Hall. Even as a tree is the more admirable when the hewer's axe hath all but severed its trunk—or as a row of pearly teeth, enshrined in ruby lips, are yet the more lovely for the loss of one—so, believe me, this our fair Quadrangle is but enhanced by that which foolish men in mockery call 'the Trench.'

Ædificat. 'It buildeth up.' Witness that beauteous Belfry which, in its ethereal grace, seems ready to soar away even as we gaze upon it! Even as a railway-porter moves with an unwonted majesty when bearing a portmanteau on his head—or as I myself (to speak modestly) gain a new beauty from these massive tomes—or as ocean charms us most when the rectangular bathing-machine breaks the monotony of its curving marge—so are we blessed by the presence of that which an envious world hath dubbed 'the Tea-chest.'

Mutat quadrata rotundis. 'It exchangeth square things for round.' Witness that series of square-headed doors and windows, so beautifully broken in upon by that double archway! For indeed, though simple ('simplex munditiis,' as the poet saith) it is matchless in its beauty. Had those twin archways been greater, they would but have matched those at the corners of the Quadrangle—had they been less, they would but have copied, with an abject servility, the doorways around them. In such things, it is only a vulgar mind that thinks of a match. The subject is lowe. We seek the Unique, the Eccentric! We glory in this two-fold excavation, which scoffers speak of as 'the Tunnel.'

Ven. Come, Sir, let me ask you a pleasant question. Why doth the Governing Body chuse for motto so trite a saying? It is, if I remember me aright, an example of a rule in the Latin Grammar.

Tutor. Sir, if we are not grammatical, we are nothing!

Ven. But for the Belfry, Sir. Sure none can look on it without an inward shudder?

Tutor. I will not gainsay it. But you are to note that it is not permanent. This shall serve its time, and a fairer edifice shall succeed it.

Ven. In good sooth I hope it. Yet for the time being it doth not, in that it is not permanent, the less disgrace the place. Drunkenness, Sir, is not permanent, and yet is held in no good esteem.

Tutor. 'Tis an apt simile.

Ven. And for these matchless arches (as you do most truly call them) would it not savour of more wholesome Art, had they matched the doorways, or the gateways?

Tutor. Sir, do you study the Mathematics?

Ven. I trust, Sir, I can do the Rule of Three as well as another: and for Long Division——

Tutor. You must know, then, that there be three Means treated of in Mathematics. For there is the Arithmetic Mean, the Geometric, and the Harmonic. And note further, that a Mean is that which falleth between two magnitudes. Thus it is, that the entrance you here behold falleth between the magnitudes of the doorways and the gateways, and is in truth the Non-harmonic Mean, the Mean Absolute. But that the Mean, or Middle, is ever the safer course, we have a notable ensample in Egyptian history, in which land (as travellers tell us) the Ibis standeth ever in the midst of the river Nile, so best to avoid the onslaught of the ravenous alligators, which infest the banks on either side: from which habit of that wise bird is derived the ancient maxim 'Medio tutissimus Ibis.'

Ven. But wherefore be they two? Surely one arch were at once more comely and more convenient?

Tutor. Sir, so long as public approval be won, what matter for the arch? But that they are two, take this as sufficient explication——that they are too tall for doorways, too narrow for gateways; too light without, too dark within; too plain to be ornamental, and withal too fantastic to be useful. And if this be not enough, you are to note further that, were it all one arch, it must needs cut short one of those shafts which grace the Quadrangle on all sides——and that were a monstrous and unheard-of thing, in good sooth, look you.

Ven. In good sooth. Sir, if I look, I cannot miss seeing that there be three such shafts already cut short by doorways: so that it hath fair ensample to follow.

Tutor. Then will I take other ground, Sir, and affirm (for I trust I have not learned Logic in vain) that to cut short the shaft were a common and vulgar thing to do. But indeed a single arch, where folk might smoothly enter in, were wholly adverse to Nature, who formeth never a mouth without setting a tongue as an obstacle in the midst thereof.

Ven. Sir, do you tell me that the block of masonry, between the gateways, was left there of set purpose, to hinder those that would enter in?

Tutor. Trust me, it was even so; for firstly, we may thereby more easily controul the entering crowds ('divide et impera' say the Ancients), and secondly, in this matter a wise man will ever follow Nature. Thus, in the centre of a hall-door we usually place an umbrella-stand——in the midst of a wicket-gate, a milestone——what place so suited for a watch-box as the centre of a narrow bridge?——Yea, and in the most crowded thoroughfare, where the living tide flows thickest, there, in the midst of all, the true ideal architect doth ever plant an obelisk! You may have observed this?

Ven. (much bewildered), I may have done so, worthy Sir: and yet, methinks——

Tutor. I must now bid you farewell; for the music, which I would fain hear, is even now beginning.

Ven. Trust me, Sir, your discourse hath interested me hugely.

Tutor. Yet it hath, I fear me, somewhat wearied your friend, who is, as I perceive, in a deep slumber.

Ven. I had partly guessed it, by his loud and continuous snoring.

Tutor. You had best let him sleep on. He hath, I take it, a dull fancy, that cannot grasp the Great and the Sublime. And so farewell: I am bound for the music. [Exit Tutor.

Ven. I give you good day, good Sir. Awake, my Master! For the day weareth on, and we have catched no fish.

Pisc. Think not of fish, dear Scholar, but hearken! Trust me, I have seen such things in my dreams, as words may hardly compass! Come, Sir, sit down, and I'll unfold to you, in such poor language as may best suit both my capacity and the briefness of our time,

The Vision of the Three T's.

Methought that, in some byegone Age, I stood beside the waters of Mercury, and saw, reflected on its placid face, the grand old buildings of the Great Quadrangle: near me stood one of portly form and courtly mien, with scarlet gown, and broad-brimmed hat whose strings, wide-fluttering in the breezeless air, at once defied the laws of gravity and marked the reverend Cardinal! 'Twas Wolsey's self! I would have spoken, but he raised his hand and pointed to the cloudless sky, from whence deep-muttering thunders now began to roll. I listened in wild terror.

Darkness gathered overhead, and through the gloom sobbingly down-floated a gigantic Box! With a fearful crash it settled upon the ancient College, which groaned beneath it, while a mocking voice cried 'Ha! Ha!' I looked for Wolsey: he was gone. Down in those glassy depths lay the stalwart form, with scarlet mantle grandly wrapped around it: the broad-brimmed hat floated, boat-like, on the lake, while the strings with their complex tassels, still defying the laws of gravity, quivered in the air, and seemed to point a hundred fingers at the horrid Belfry! Around, on every side, spirits howled in the howling blast, blatant, stridulous!

A darker vision yet! A black gash appeared in the shuddering parapet! Spirits flitted hither and thither with averted face, and warning finger pressed to quivering lips!

Then a wild shriek rang through the air, as, with volcanic roar, two murky chasms burst upon the view, and the ancient College reeled giddily around me!

Spirits in patent-leather boots stole by on tiptoe, with hushed breath and eyes of ghastly terror! Spirits with cheap umbrellas, and unnecessary goloshes, hovered over me, sublimely pendant! Spirits with carpet-bags, dressed in complete suits of dittos, sped by me, shrieking 'Away! Away! To the arrowy Rhine! To the rushing Guadalquiver! To Bath! To Jericho! To anywhere!'

Stand here with me and gaze. From this thrice-favoured spot, in one rapturous glance gather in, and brand for ever on the tablets of memory, the Vision of the Three T's! To your left frowns the abysmal blackness of the tenebrous Tunnel. To your right yawns the terrible Trench. While far above, away from the sordid aims of Earth and the petty criticisms of Art, soars, tetragonal and tremendous, the tintinabulatory Tea-chest! Scholar, the Vision is complete!

Ven. I am glad on't: for in good sooth I am a-hungered. How say you, my Master? Shall we not leave fishing, and fall to eating presently? And look you, here is a song, which I have chanced on in this book of ballads, and which methinks suits well the present time and this most ancient place.

Pisc. Nay then, let's sit down. We shall I warrant you, make a good honest wholesome hungry nuncheon with a piece of powdered beef and a radish or two that I have in my fish-bag. And you shall sing us this same song as we eat.

Ven. Well then, I will sing: and I trust it may content you as well as your excellent

discourse hath oft profited me. [Venator chaunteth

A Bachanalian Ode.

Here's to the Freshman of bashful eighteen!
Here's to the Senior of twenty!
Here's to the youth whose moustache can't be seen!
And here's to the man who has plenty!
Let the men Pass!
Out of the mass
I'll warrant we'll find you some fit for a Class!

Here's to the Censors, who symbolise Sense,
Just as Mitres incorporate Might, Sir!
To the Bursar, who never expands the expense!
And the Readers, who always do right, Sir!
Tutor and Don,
Let them jog on!
I warrant they'll rival the centuries gone!

Here's to the Chapter, melodious crew!
Whose harmony surely intends well:
For, though it commences with 'harm,' it is true,
Yet its motto is 'All's well that ends well'!
'Tis love, I'll be bound,
That makes it go round!
For 'In for a penny is in for a pound'!

Here's to the Governing Body, whose Art
(For they're Masters of Arts to a man, Sir!)
Seeks to beautify Christ Church in every part,
Though the method seems hardly to answer!
With three T's it is graced—
Which letters are placed
To stand for the names of Tact, Talent, and Taste!

Pisc. I thank you, good Scholar, for this piece of merriment, and this Song, which was well humoured by the maker, and well rendered by you.

Ven. Oh me! Look you. Master! A fish, a fish!

Pisc. Then let us hook it.

[They hook it.