Dot Wordsworth


Pippa Middleton, I learnt from the Daily Telegraph, has a ‘passion’ for writing. Justin Welby, the next Archbishop of Canterbury, the BBC said, has a ‘passion for resolving conflict’. The Times, in a piece about entrepreneurs, quoted a lawyer as saying: ‘Passion is very, very important.’

Can any of this be true? Certainly not if passion is meant in the pleasantly old-fashioned sense found in Alice. Tweedledum points at his broken rattle, saying: ‘Do you see THAT?’ in a voice ‘choking with passion’. Humpty Dumpty accuses Alice of listening at doors, ‘breaking into a sudden passion’. It was a nursery emotion 150 years ago, and would not help in resolving conflicts, writing books or starting a business.

Oddly enough, Lewis Carroll had an older sense of passion in his mind as he wrote Through the Looking Glass. The Garden of Live Flowers is based on a section of Tennyson’s Maud (‘Come into the garden, Maud’ — you probably remember Michael Balfe’s setting sung by Webster Booth accompanied by Gerald Moore). Tennyson wrote: ‘There has fallen a splendid tear/ From the passion-flower at the gate… She is coming, my own, my sweet;/ Were it ever so airy a tread,/ My heart would hear her and beat.’ Lewis Carroll makes it: ‘ “She’s coming!” cried the Larkspur. “I hear her footstep, thump, thump, thump”.’ He expected children to get the reference and the joke, but he changed Tennyson’s passion-flower into a tiger-lily in consideration of the flower’s name. ‘The parts of the flower were imagined to correspond to the instruments and circumstances of Jesus’s Passion: the three stigmas to the nails, the five stamens to the wounds, the corona to the crown of thorns,’ says the OED.

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