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Home -> Lewis Carroll -> Through the Looking-Glass -> Chapter 6

Through the Looking-Glass - Chapter 6

1. Chapter 1

2. Chapter 2

3. Chapter 3

4. Chapter 4

5. Chapter 5

6. Chapter 6

7. Chapter 7

8. Chapter 8

9. Chapter 9

10. Chapter 10

11. Chapter 11

12. Chapter 12


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--

'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 a 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 there 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 enough name!' 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
his lips and looked so solemn and grand that Alice could hardly
help laughing. 'IF I did fall,' he went on, 'THE KING HAS

'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, _I_ am: 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

'In that case we start fresh,' 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

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

'I though 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

'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 inquired.

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 I only 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

'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?'


'And if you take one from three hundred and sixty-five, what

'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:



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

'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

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

'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

'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

'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.)

'You seem very clever at explaining words, Sir,' said Alice.
'Would you kindly tell me the meaning of the poem called

'Let's hear it,' said Humpty Dumpty. 'I can explain all the
poems that were ever invented--and a good many that haven't
been invented just yet.'

This sounded very hopeful, so Alice repeated the first verse:

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

'That's enough to begin with,' Humpty Dumpty interrupted:
'there are plenty of hard words there. "BRILLIG" means four
o'clock in the afternoon--the time when you begin BROILING
things for dinner.'

'That'll do very well,' said Alice: and "SLITHY"?'

'Well, "SLITHY" means "lithe and slimy." "Lithe" is the same
as "active." You see it's like a portmanteau--there are two
meanings packed up into one word.'

'I see it now,' Alice remarked thoughtfully: 'and what are

'Well, "TOVES" are something like badgers--they're something
like lizards--and they're something like corkscrews.'

'They must be very curious looking creatures.'

'They are that,' said Humpty Dumpty: 'also they make their
nests under sun-dials--also they live on cheese.'

'And what's the "GYRE" and to "GIMBLE"?'

'To "GYRE" is to go round and round like a gyroscope. To
"GIMBLE" is to make holes like a gimlet.'

'And "THE WABE" is the grass-plot round a sun-dial, I suppose?'
said Alice, surprised at her own ingenuity.

'Of course it is. It's called "WABE," you know, because it
goes a long way before it, and a long way behind it--'

'And a long way beyond it on each side,' Alice added.

'Exactly so. Well, then, "MIMSY" is "flimsy and miserable"
(there's another portmanteau for you). And a "BOROGOVE" is a
thin shabby-looking bird with its feathers sticking out all round--
something like a live mop.'

'And then "MOME RATHS"?' said Alice. 'I'm afraid I'm giving
you a great deal of trouble.'

'Well, a "RATH" is a sort of green pig: but "MOME" I'm not
certain about. I think it's short for "from home"--meaning
that they'd lost their way, you know.'

'And what does "OUTGRABE" mean?'

'Well, "OUTGRABING" is something between bellowing and
whistling, with a kind of sneeze in the middle: however, you'll
hear it done, maybe--down in the wood yonder--and when you've
once heard it you'll be QUITE content. Who's been repeating all
that hard stuff to you?'

'I read it in a book,' said Alice. 'But I had some poetry
repeated to me, much easier than that, by--Tweedledee, I think
it was.'

'As to poetry, you know,' said Humpty Dumpty, stretching out
one of his great hands, '_I_ can repeat poetry as well as other
folk, if it comes to that--'

'Oh, it needn't come to that!' Alice hastily said, hoping to
keep him from beginning.

'The piece I'm going to repeat,' he went on without noticing
her remark,' was written entirely for your amusement.'

Alice felt that in that case she really OUGHT to listen to it,
so she sat down, and said 'Thank you' rather sadly.

'In winter, when the fields are white,
I sing this song for your delight--

only I don't sing it,' he added, as an explanation.

'I see you don't,' said Alice.

'If you can SEE whether I'm singing or not, you've sharper eyes
than most.' Humpty Dumpty remarked severely. Alice was silent.

'In spring, when woods are getting green,
I'll try and tell you what I mean.'

'Thank you very much,' said Alice.

'In summer, when the days are long,
Perhaps you'll understand the song:
In autumn, when the leaves are brown,
Take pen and ink, and write it down.'

'I will, if I can remember it so long,' said Alice.

'You needn't go on making remarks like that,' Humpty Dumpty
said: 'they're not sensible, and they put me out.'

'I sent a message to the fish:
I told them "This is what I wish."

The little fishes of the sea,
They sent an answer back to me.

The little fishes' answer was
"We cannot do it, Sir, because--"'

'I'm afraid I don't quite understand,' said Alice.

'It gets easier further on,' Humpty Dumpty replied.

'I sent to them again to say
"It will be better to obey."

The fishes answered with a grin,
"Why, what a temper you are in!"

I told them once, I told them twice:
They would not listen to advice.

I took a kettle large and new,
Fit for the deed I had to do.

My heart went hop, my heart went thump;
I filled the kettle at the pump.

Then some one came to me and said,
"The little fishes are in bed."

I said to him, I said it plain,
"Then you must wake them up again."

I said it very loud and clear;
I went and shouted in his ear.'

Humpty Dumpty raised his voice almost to a scream as he
repeated this verse, and Alice thought with a shudder, 'I
wouldn't have been the messenger for ANYTHING!'

'But he was very stiff and proud;
He said "You needn't shout so loud!"

And he was very proud and stiff;
He said "I'd go and wake them, if--"

I took a corkscrew from the shelf:
I went to wake them up myself.

And when I found the door was locked,
I pulled and pushed and kicked and knocked.

And when I found the door was shut,
I tried to turn the handle, but--'

There was a long pause.

'Is that all?' Alice timidly asked.

'That's all,' said Humpty Dumpty. 'Good-bye.'

This was rather sudden, Alice thought: but, after such a VERY
strong hint that she ought to be going, she felt that it would
hardly be civil to stay. So she got up, and held out her hand.
'Good-bye, till we meet again!' she said as cheerfully as she

'I shouldn't know you again if we DID meet,' Humpty Dumpty
replied in a discontented tone, giving her one of his fingers to
shake; 'you're so exactly like other people.'

'The face is what one goes by, generally,' Alice remarked in a
thoughtful tone.

'That's just what I complain of,' said Humpty Dumpty. 'Your face
is the same as everybody has--the two eyes, so--' (marking their
places in the air with this thumb) 'nose in the middle, mouth
under. It's always the same. Now if you had the two eyes on the
same side of the nose, for instance--or the mouth at the top--that
would be SOME help.'

'It wouldn't look nice,' Alice objected. But Humpty Dumpty
only shut his eyes and said 'Wait till you've tried.'

Alice waited a minute to see if he would speak again, but as he
never opened his eyes or took any further notice of her, she said
'Good-bye!' once more, and, getting no answer to this, she
quietly walked away: but she couldn't help saying to herself as
she went, 'Of all the unsatisfactory--' (she repeated this
aloud, as it was a great comfort to have such a long word to say)
'of all the unsatisfactory people I EVER met--' She never
finished the sentence, for at this moment a heavy crash shook the
forest from end to end.

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