I've come across the following quote by Lewis Carroll in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland:

Begin at the beginning, the King said, very gravely, and go on till you come to the end: then stop.

The "go on in till you come to the end" seems to suggest hard work and determination till you reach your goal. But I feel I'm missing a few nuances here—in particular, the significance of "gravely" and "stop".

How would you interpret this quote?

  • 1
    There is no in; it doesn't say go on in. That means something different from go on, which simply means "continue". Jan 30 at 18:56

3 Answers 3


Begin at the beginning, the King said, very gravely, and go on till you come to the end: then stop.

This is said in response to the White Rabbit's question where he should start reading the paper that could prove valuable in the case of the Knave of Hearts. The Knave has been accused of stealing the Queen's tarts. His trial takes place in the two last chapters of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

I don't believe there is anything more to this phrase than exactly what it says, which seems to me the entire point: the King wants the White Rabbit to read what turned out to be a "set of verses" from the beginning to the end.

The King says so 'gravely', because he is being completely earnest—he is not trying to sound pedantic or farcical.

  • 4
    Agreed. It's pretty obvious that that is how to read a document, but the King gives instructions 'very gravely' (not impatiently) as though he were explaining something difficult. Aug 16, 2022 at 7:17
  • The king states the obvious. Being pompous, he gives instructions that are unnecessary. Yet gravely serious to him. How do you normally tell a story but chronologically? Jul 3 at 20:00

Lewis Carroll is wildly funny. His works usually employ wry humor, often absurdist humor, occasionally over the top, broad "let's stuff the Dormouse' head into the teapot" humor.

"Where shall I begin?", is the question asked and many responses were possible from the king:

  • I don't know, how long is it?
  • Read the most relevant part,

...or even, simply,

  • Just read the whole thing.

But the king says none of these. Instead, the king responds by stating the most mundane yet obvious thing possible: begin where? Well, you know, at the beginning. And then goes on to compound the obviousness: ...and then you go on. You know, like, to the end. And then compounds the absurdity further: ...oh, but then you stop. When you've reached the end. That's when you stop. The end.

The king has, before this point, said nothing but foolishness, and so here, just as before, instead of ever realizing that he was saying something mind numbingly obvious, speaks his response "gravely" ...as if answering a question of great gravity. As if this question were deep rather than as shallow as they come.

So. The word "gravely"? It's humour. Simple enough to be laughed at by a child, but enduring enough to last a few centuries thus far.


The "go on in till you come to the end" seems to suggest hardwork and determination till you reach your goal.

This is wrong. To go on is a phrasal verb meaning "to continue". There is no nuance of it being hard work.

OED: go on (v.)

c. To proceed to do something (as the next step); to proceed or progress from one stage, subject, etc., to another.

1775 London Rev. Aug. 159 The writer goes on to illustrate the advantages of blank verse over rhyme.

1978 S. Lee & J. Buscema How to draw Comics Marvel Way x. 134
Before we go on to the next chapter, let's just take a minute to review the ‘design’ of the panels.

2004 New Scientist 4 Dec. 9/2 Many young stars in the nebula are surrounded by thick discs of gas and dust that might go on to form planets.

Gravely = in a serious manner

Stop ... literally... stop, cease, desist, say no more.

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