Mrs Hargreaves


a piece for soprano and instrumental ensemble
also available in a shortened version for soprano & piano

music by Martin Wesley-Smith
text by Lewis Carroll, Martin Wesley-Smith & Peter Wesley-Smith

first performed Friday July 11 1997
at the Alliance Francaise Society, Sydney,
by Miriam Gordon (soprano)
and members of The Spring Ensemble conducted by Luke Dollman

most recent performances:
Sat June 11 2005 Kangaroo Valley Hall, Kangaroo Valley, by The Song Company
Wed June 15 2005 The Studio, Sydney Opera House, by The Song Company

for more information, score etc, e-mail The Australian Music Centre

internal links:
program note the script footnotes clippings
external links:
Lewis Carroll
home page
home page


program note


In 1932, 79-year-old Mrs Reginald Hargreaves travelled to America from her native England to receive an honorary doctorate from Columbia University in New York. It was the centenary of Lewis Carroll's birth, and Mrs Hargreaves, before marriage to crack county cricketer Reggie, had been Alice Liddell, the real-life inspiration for Lewis Carroll's best-known nonsense classics Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass - and What Alice Found There. The doctorate was in recognition of her role in the creation of those masterpieces of English literature.

This piece depicts (quite fancifully) Mrs Hargreaves, the night before the degree is to be conferred, having a massage while rehearsing her acceptance speech. She soon wanders from what she had prepared and reminisces, with great fondness, about her childhood friend the Rev'rend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Lewis Carroll's real self). Her main focus is his depiction of himself as the White Knight in Through the Looking-Glass.


the script


During a musical introduction, Mrs Hargreaves enters, wrapped in a towel fastened at the back, and lies face down on a massage table. A masseuse (a flautist, dressed in white) opens the towel at the back to reveal Mrs H's bare back, which she proceeds to massage. When Mrs H sings, the masseuse pummels her back so that the rhythms she plays are transmitted through the voice:

Ah ... ah ... ah ... ah ...

Mrs H lifts her head and faces the audience

It gives me great pleasure to be here today to accept this degree that you've bestowed upon me on this most auspicious occasion ... 1

Ah ... impenetrability ... 2
Ah ... impenetrability ...

I remember Humpty there on the wall and the Unicorn, and the Bandersnatch, and the dear old White Knight

The masseuse fastens the towel; Mrs H sits on the table to sing the following song:

He sang 3
"I'll tell you ev'rything I can
There's little to relate
I saw an aged aged man
A-sitting on a gate
'Who are you, aged man?' I said
'And how is it you live?'
The answer trickled through my head
Like water through a sieve.

He said 'I look for butterflies
That sleep among the wheat:
I make them into mutton pies,
And sell them in the street.
I sell them unto men,' he said,
'Who sail on stormy seas;
And that's the way I get my bread -
A trifle, if you please.'"

Trumpet solo; Mrs H walks downstage

He would sing to me, this troubador
He was quite extraordinary
He would tell me cautionary
Tales for me to dream about
A genius there'd seem no doubt
What would life have been without
My Knight? 4

Mrs H speaks, over music:

Of all the strange things that I saw in my journey Through The Looking-Glass, this is the one I've always remembered most clearly. I can bring the whole scene back again as if it were only yesterday. 5

Mrs H sings:

For more than sixty years 6
Less than a hundred
He lived in hopes and fears
And often wondered
If he should ever find
Gentle and pure love
A Dulcinea God designed
A sweet mature love

It gives me great pleasure to accept this award
It's an honour I appreciate
But it belongs to that aged aged man
A-sitting on a gate

Mrs H returns to the massage table; the masseuse unfastens the towel, and massages Mrs H's bare back, again. Mrs H sings, while being pummelled:

Ah ... ah ... ah ... ah ...

Mrs H speaks, over music:

I remember the mild blues eyes and the kindly smile of the knight, the setting sun gleaming through his hair and shining on his armour in a blaze of light ... and his horse quietly cropping the grass at my feet ...

Mrs H falls asleep on the massage table.

The instrumentalists chant as well as play:

word, ford, food, fool, foul, soul, sour, dour, doub
game, gale, pale, pane, pans, pens, lens, less, lets! 7

white knight, while, whine, shine, shins, chins, chink, clink, clank, clack, black [k]night!

Alice, slice, slick, slack, snack, snark!

galumphing ... 8
galumph, galumph ...
jabberwock ...
snicker snack ...
one two! ...
'twas brillig ...
bandersnatch ...
whiffling, burbling ...
jubjub ...
It's the White Knight!
Calloo! Callay!

Mrs H wakes up! She sings:

I dreamt of Uncle Dodgson
Dreaming of me dreaming of him
I was back in his drawing-room at Oxford
Listening to the music boxes play

"And now, if e'er by chance I put 9
My fingers into glue,
Or madly squeeze a right-hand foot
Into a left-hand shoe,
Or if I drop upon my toe
A very heavy weight,
I weep, for it reminds me so
Of that old man I used to know -
Whose look was mild, whose speech was slow.
Whose hair was whiter than the snow,
Whose face was very like a crow,
With eyes, like cinders, all aglow,
Who seemed distracted with his woe,
Who rocked his body to and fro,
And muttered mumblingly and low,
As if his mouth were full of dough,
Who snorted like a buffalo -
That summer evening long ago
A-sitting on a gate."

It's this old man
This aged aged man
Uncle Dodgson and his life I celebrate

(c) 1997
Martin Wesley-Smith Peter Wesley-Smith
e-mail: e-mail:




1 The film Dream Child is about Alice Hargreaves receiving an honorary degree from Columbia University

2 A quote from Humpty Dumpty (Carroll, Lewis, Through the Looking-Glass - and What Alice Found There, chapter 6)

3 The first two verses of the song that follows are the first two verses of the White Knight's poem A-sitting On a Gate (Through the Looking-Glass, chapter 8). The music here is reminiscent of Dixieland jazz (which Mrs Hargreaves might have heard during her trip to New York).

4 The White Knight is Lewis Carroll himself - or, more appropriately, the Rev'rend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Carroll's real self). In fact it's more complicated than that: Carroll portrayed himself, autobiographically, as the White Knight, who, arguably, portrayed himself as the aged, aged man a-sitting on a gate.

5 A quote, edited, from Through the Looking-Glass, chapter 8

6 First verse of For More Than Sixty Years (from Boojum!; text by Peter Wesley-Smith). The lyric was developed from a snippet Carroll wrote as a young boy in which he imagined himself as an old man.

7 An illustration of a word-game Carroll invented called Doublets

8 Words from Jabberwocky (Looking-Glass, chapter 1)

9 Last verse of A-sitting On a Gate

* The instrumental ensemble consists of eleven players: fl/picc/bass fl, fl (masseuse), cl/bcl, tpt, trom, bass trom, pno, perc (mar, tb), vln1, vln2 & vlc

internal links:
program note the script footnotes clippings
more external links:
Quito Sydney




(many thanks to Sarah Wilson, Assistant, Columbiana Collection,
Columbia University in the City of New York,
for finding these clippings, photocopying them, and sending them to me [MW-S])

New York Times Herald Tribune

from the New York Times, Mon May 2 1932:


Finds Empire State Building Just Like "the Tumble Down Rabbit Hole"


She Reads on Radio to Big and Little Children Unpublished Letters by Carroll


Author Wrote to Her About Giving Profits of Book for Care of Ill Youngsters

Alice in Wonderland stood before a microphone in her suite in the Waldorf-Astoria yesterday and described for the big and little children of America a tiny bit of the immortal topsy-turvy land down a rabbit's hole and behind a looking glass.

The white rabbit with the pink eyes, who "actually took a watch out of its waistcoat-pocket" peered over her shoulder and muttered once again: "Dear, dear! I shall be too late!"; the Cheshire Cat grinned monotonously at the miraculous steel disc, and the walrus discussed, as it always has, many things. And Lewis Carroll himself spoke into the microphone in words written long ago, when Alice read three Carroll letters and a rhyme, believed to have been hitherto unpublished.

Mrs. Reginald Liddell Hargreaves of Lyndhurst, England, who seventy years ago as a demure 10-year-old Alice was the inspiration for Lewis Carroll's whimsical creations, seemed almost as excited with her newest adventures in the wonderland of New York as she was in 1862 when [? - unclear] Dodgson, an Oxford Don, spun for her amusement his imperishable nonsense.

Probably because of her lifetime of association with the Mad Hatter, Father William and the sanguinary Queen, who insisted: "Off with their heads!" Mrs. Hargreaves has become quite accustomed to the elfish tricks one is likely to encounter in looking-glass land, but the express elevators in the tallest building in the world and the rumble of Fifth Avenue traffic can still give her a thrill despite her gray hair and her eighty years, lacking two days.

The pace of New York seemed to have tired her and her voice trembled somewhat with the fatigue and the excitement of it as she faced the little quivering disc that seventy years ago would have been as much of a miracle as a rabbit with a waistcoat pocket.

"Coming here," she said - after her son, Captain Caryl Hargreaves, formerly of the Scots Guards, had introduced her - "coming here is an adventure overseas instead of underground.

"America and New York City are such exciting places that to visit them takes me back to Wonderland."

Her voice wavered as it sped out over the WABC-Columbia network to thousands of eager ears.

The Prophetic Rabbit Hole.

"I am beginning to think that when Lewis Carroll described the 'tumble down the rabbit hole' he visualised in a prophetic manner going down the Empire State Building.

"Express elevators don't give me much time to take things off the shelves, however," she added.

Her voice trembled again.

"If the children expect to see a girl like me - I mean a young girl such as I was, like the one in the books - I am afraid they will be disappointed. After all, if they had seen me in the boat in 1862, they would probably have thought my sisters and I were just like other children. Then, if they hesitated a minute, they might have noticed the kind-looking parson who was stroking the oar, and if they had stopped to listen to what he was saying, they might have looked at us again, wondering whether we were quite ordinary children going down rabbit holes and having tea with the Dormouse.

"I should like to take all the children who want me to go down the rabbit hole with me again," Alice continued, "but as I cannot do that, I am going to read you some letters which Lewis Carroll wrote me in later life. In these letters you will notice the great interest he took in helping children's hospitals and homes. And in this connection it is interesting to hear of the funds that are being collected both in New York and London for that purpose at the present time. In New York they propose to endow a memorial library to be attached to the Children's Hospital, and in London they hope to get enough money to build a children's ward onto the St. Mary's Hospital, Paddington.

Reads Carroll's Letters.

"Now I will read you these letters. This is Christ Church, Oxford, March 1, 1885:

My dear Mrs. Hargreaves:

I fancy this will come to you like a voice from the dead after so many years of silence. And yet those years have made no difference that I can perceive in my clearness of memories of the days when we did correspond. I am getting to feel what an old man's failing memory is after recent events with new friends.

For instance, I made friends only a few weeks ago with a very nice little maid of about 12 and had a walk with her, and now I can't remember either of her names. But my mental picture is as vivid as ever of one who was so many years my ideal child friend. I have had scores of child friends since your day, but they have been quite a different thing. However, I did not begin this letter to say all that. What I want to say is, what I want to ask you is, would you have any objection to the original manuscript book of Alice's Adventures, which I suppose you still possess, being published in facsimile? The idea occurred to me only the other day. If, on consideration, you come to the conclusion that you would rather not have it done, that will end the matter. If, however, you give me a favourable reply, I would be much obliged if you would lend it to me - registered post would, I think, be the safest - that I may consider the possibilities. I have not seen it for about twenty years, so I am not by any means sure that the illustrations may not prove to be so awfully bad that to reproduce them would be absurd. There can be no doubt that I shall incur a charge of gross egotism in publishing it, but I don't care for that in the least, knowing that I have no such motive. Only, I think, considering the extraordinary popularity that the books have had (we have sold more than 120,000 of the two), there must be many who would like to see the original form.

Always your friend,


Letter on Returning Book.

"Then there came another letter, July 15:

My dear Mrs. Hargreaves:

After a great deal of casting about among photographers and zincographers I seem at last to have found out the man who will reproduce "Alice's Adventures Underground" in really first rate style. He has brought his things to Oxford and I am having all the photographs taken in my own studio, so that no one touches the manuscript book except myself. By this method I hope to be able to return it to you in as good a condition as when you so kindly lent it to me. Whether the reproductions will be a source of pride or not it is impossible to say; but if it is, I hardly like the idea of taking all the profit, considering the book is now your property, and I was thinking of proposing to send half of them to you. But a better idea has now occurred to me which I now submit to you for your approval. It is to hand over the profits to hospitals and homes for sick children.

Very sincerely yours,


"You see from that how pleased he would have been had he known that as the result of his work the health of children was going to be improved and their lives brightened.

"He writes to me again on Nov. 6, 1886:

Would you mind extending the profits, if any, of Alice Underground to hospitals for children? You suggested homes only, but surely hospitals need help quite as much.
"I feel, therefore, that these two funds which have been started are the fittest memorial that could be to the memory of his fantastic stories. He brightened the lives of so many little girls himself that I would finish by reading you a poem which he wrote in a copy of a children's book called 'Holiday House,' very popular in those days, which he gave to my sisters and myself for Christmas, 1861. You will notice that the first letters of each line, if strung together, spell our names - Lorina, Alice, Edith. Now I will read it:

Verse written in a copy of "Holiday House," a Christmas gift from C. L. Dodgson to L., A. and E. Liddell:

Little maidens, when you look
On this little story book,
Reading with attentive eye
Its enticing history,
Never think that hours of play
Are your only holiday.
And that in a house of joy
Lessons serve but to annoy:
If in any house you find
Children of a gentle mind
Each the other pleasing ever -
Each the other vexing never -
Daily work and pastime daily
In their order taking gayly -
Then he very sure that they
Have a life of holiday.

Christmas - 1861

The quaint little flyleaf rhyme and the Carroll letters have never before been published, according to the Columbia Broadcasting System. Captain Hargreaves said last night that he was not sure, but as far as he could remember he did not believe they had been previously published. Roger Howson, a member of the Columbia University Committee in charge of the centenary celebration of Lewis Carroll, said he believed one or more of the letters had been in the exhibit at Columbia, but added that he did not believe they had been published. It was for the climax on Wednesday of the centenary celebration at Columbia that Mrs. Hargreaves came to this country. She arrived on the Cunarder Berengaria on Friday.

top New York Times Herald Tribune bottom

from the Herald Tribune, Thurs May 5 1932:

Carroll's Alice Praises Him in Centenary Talk

Mrs. Hargreaves Gets Ovation From 2,000 Attending Columbia Ceremony

She Marks 80th Birthday

Calls 'Very Retired Parson' Ideal Childhood Friend

On her eightieth birthday Mrs. Alice Liddell Hargreaves, the original Alice of "Alice in Wonderland," was the guest of honor yesterday at Columbia University at special exercises celebrating both her own anniversary and the centenary of Lewis Carroll, author of the famous story.

Two thousand persons rose to their feet as the now frail figure of the story's heroine appeared on the platform - Alice walking slowly with the aid of a cane and smiling shyly in response to the applause that swept the room.

Pays Homage to Carroll

The words of her brief speech were all in tribute to the memory of the young professor of mathematics, who on a summer afternoon in 1862 invented the White Rabbit, the Duchess and the Cheshire Cat to please a little girl who loved a story with nonsense in it.

"I beg to thank you," she said, "for your great kindness in inviting me to attend this celebration of the centenary of my childhood friend. He was the ideal friend of childhood."

Here her voice quivered and broke for an instant, but she rallied quickly and continued: "I often wonder how many wonderful stories may have been lost to the world, because he never wrote anything down until I teased him into doing it. I believe, however, the best of his stories are all embodied in the two books, for when I read them I remembered many old stories and found them there again, that he used to tell us in the boat or sitting on the bank of the river. Least of all persons he did not dream - that very retired parson - (I can even remember a curious stutter in his speech) - that because of those stories he used to tell us I would be coming here in 1932 to celebrate the centenary of his birth.

"I am very pleased to be here, and to thank you for your very kind reception to the book and to me. I thank you again and again."

Is Given Second Ovation

Finishing her speech amid another burst of applause, Mrs. Hargreaves looked at the terrifying microphones and sat down with the serenity of the little girl who faced so many other queer things seventy years ago. A decorative panel over her head recalled some of those queer things - the Duchess, Tweedledum and Tweddledee, the White Rabbit. In the center was Alice herself, with the flamingo in her arms.

All these wonderland creatures were explained later in the chief address of the afternoon, delivered by Professor Harry Morgan Ayres, of the university's English department, who analyzed Alice's adventures as an allegory of every child's progress to maturity, beset by hostile and incomprehensible personages.

"Alice herself," he said, "had a quality which I do not notice much in children nowadays - an overwhelming desire to please - it is the keynote of her character."

Mrs. Hargreaves joined in the laughter which followed this sally.

"Poor little Alice was ill prepared to cope with this world. Every word she uttered seemed to give offense. She was betrayed on all sides.

"It was not until she learned to speak up for herself, that she entered the alluring garden of further adventures. Humpty-Dumpty taught her a further lesson, namely, to become lord of words and their meanings, not their slave."

Says Carroll Was White Knight

"The White Knight," he said, "was Carroll himself. He is the one creature in the book who shows a touch of human affection for the little girl. With his odd little inventions for making life more convenient and entertaining, the White Knight is certainly Carroll's satire upon himself, explaining, as he falls from his horse that the great art of riding is to keep your balance properly."

Professor Ayres paid tribute to Mrs. Hargreaves as "one of the great heroines of literature, who if she had not always been as wise as her great and kindly teacher strove to make her, at least has the consolation of knowing that the painful travels of her immortal quest have been the cause of much wisdom in others and of that kind of mirth that is wisdom's fairest offering."

Mrs. Hargreaves was introduced by Dr. Nicholas Murray Butler, president of the university.

The glee clubs of Barnard and Hunter Colleges sand selections from the suite "Alice in Wonderland," assisted by the Columbia University orchestra.

Relatives Share Honors

Seated beside Mrs. Hargreaves were her son, Captain Caryl Hargreaves; her sister, Miss Rhoda Liddell; Professor J. Enrique Zanetti, chairman of the Lewis Carroll Centenary Committee, and Gerald Campbell, Consul General of Great Britain.

Mrs. Hargreaves was wearing a gown of brown lace and a brimmed hat of brown straw, edged with pale yellow.

The tonic of the New York climate has benefitted her, it was said, and now that the strain of the public ceremony has ended, her hosts anticipate that she will want to see the sights of the city.

top New York Times Herald Tribune bottom

My thanks to Joel Birenbaum and the Lewis Carroll
home page

program note the script footnotes clippings

young alice

Alice Liddell, photographed by
the Rev'rend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson

old Mrs H

Alice Hargreaves,
not long before her death

[click photos for larger versions]


mw-s works: | Quito | Boojum! | Cock Robin | X | Manners for Men
mw-s discography | articles, letters etc (re East Timor, Conservatorium etc)

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updated Sept 20 2010