I could have gone the obvious route and written about the Declaration of Independence, but that would be dull. So, instead let’s talk literature—in this case, children’s literature, because July 4 was a good day for it.
On a fine July 4 in 1862, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll, told a little story to young Alice Liddell that would eventually become Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and its sequels. Little Alice begged Carroll to write the story down for her, and he eventually acquiesced, presenting her with a handwritten, illustrated manuscript in November 1864. I can’t even begin to imagine what that manuscript is worth now.
While Carroll was working on the manuscript, a partially finished draft found its way to his friend George Macdonald, who read it aloud to his children. The children’s enthusiastic reaction made Carroll consider publishing the story, and he handed the unfinished manuscript over to the publisher Macmillan. The book, with illustrations by Sir John Tenniel, was published on July 4, 1865.
The book was a smashing success. Queen Victoria herself was said to be a fan and suggested Carroll dedicate his next book to her. It sequel, Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There, was published in 1871. Sales from the Alice books made Carroll considerable sums of money, but he stuck with his teaching post at Christ Church in Oxford until 1881, and he remained in Oxford until his death in January 1898.
As for Alice Liddell—she grew up to (allegedly) become the love interest of a young Prince Leopold, one of Queen Victoria’s sons, who met her while he was studying at Christ Church. They evidently became good friends and remained so, because he was godfather to her second son (also named Leopold—certainly not a coincidence). He went on to name his first child Alice. Instead of a prince, Alice married a cricketer named Reginald Hargreaves. They had three sons, two of whom were killed in action in World War I. Hargreaves inherited a fortune, and Alice became a noted society hostess. To keep up with her costs of living after she was widowed in 1926, Alice auctioned off the manuscript Carroll had given her when she was a child. It went for £15,400, almost four times the reserve price given it by Sotheby’s. It was bought by Eldridge R. Johnson and displayed at Columbia University on the centennial of Carroll’s birth. After Johnson’s death, the manuscript was purchased by several American bibliophiles who presented it to the British people in recognition of their efforts in resisting Hitler in the early years of World War II. The manuscript now resides in the British Library.