Of course, as any Tom-fool of a Took could tell you, 'The Hunting of the Snark' is a nonsense poem by Lewis Carroll. It's telling had little to do with Henry Holiday (what a fantabulous name, like one of my inventions and hardly real at all) but whose illustrations, some collected here, helped define the mood and gave shape and definition to the improbable crew in search of an inconceivable creature.
People far and wide and of greater intellect than your humble servant have long striven to find meaning in the words of Carroll's now infamous and celebrated work. Personally, I think they all madder than the Mad Hatter, more bonkers than dear old Jabberwocky.
Lewis Carroll's inventions now rank high in literary circles but also with people who love reading. But his wondrous poem, surreal and nonsensical owes considerable thanks to its original artist.
Young Henry wasn't just a book illustrator, no, no, no, his real bent was that of, and highly regarded as such, a Pre-Raphaelite artist but also a landscape painter, a sculptor, a designer of stained glass windows and, if that wasn't enough, in his spare time, an illustrator of considerable talent.
I have to state here and now this is not an attempt at biography or essay on the life and times of such a talented man, but rather a simple appreciation of the work he produced for Lewis Carroll's perennial poem. However, it would be slightly rude to the man's memory not to mention, if just in passing, something about him.
Born in 1839 in London, Henry Holiday showed prodigious talent from an early age. He attended Leigh's Art Academy where he flourished, growing in scope and ability. In 1855, aged just sixteen, he visited the Lake District where he was seduced by its beauty. It was a relationship that would last for he returned time and again to Cumbria, sketching and painting that rugged region of England. His first painting was sold in 1858 and thus began a career that would bring him both celebrity and comfort.
It was in 1874 when Lewis Carroll commissioned the thirty-five-year-old artist to bring his talent to the latest project the author had in mind - 'The Hunting of The Snark.'
With someone as gifted as Henry Holiday it would be stupid to apply praise for only his work on this book. He was much more than that but these illustrations, much like those of Ernest Shepherd on A.A. Milne's delightful 'Winnie the Pooh' are close companions if not synonymous with the tales.
Whatever other masterful works Holiday produced it was these that I love best.
Henry Holiday died, aged eighty-seven, in 1927. It was a long life, a good life one hopes made all the better, from my selfish perspective for these incredible illustrations...