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WAS HUMPTY DUMPTY AN EGG?


Humpty Dumpty_crop

“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 together again.”

Humpty Dumpty has become so popular a nursery figure and is pictured so frequently that few people today think of the verse as containing a riddle. The reason the king’s men couldn’t put him together again is known to everyone.

It’s more than probable that Humpty was a parody of someone in public office who fell out of favor, and thus was beyond redemption. We have all seen a few of that sort. But how did he become an egg?

We have John Tenneil to blame for our perception of Humpty. He was an artist and political cartoonist in the latter part of the 19th century, who contributed to Punch magazine for over 50 years. He was also famous for illustrating Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through The Looking Glass”, both of which are so famous I think it’s safe to say that Tenneil’s vision of an egg sitting on a wall tickled our sense of the ridiculous.

‘It’s very provoking to be called an egg–very’ as Humpty admits in “Through The Looking Glass”, but such common knowledge cannot be gainsaid.

What is not so certain is for how long the riddle has been known. It does not appear in early riddle books, but this may be because it was already so well-known. Students of linguistics believe that it is one of those pieces the antiquity of which is to be measured in thousands of years, or rather that it is so great that it cannot be measured at all.

The Humpty Dumpty of England is known as Boule-Boule in France, Thille Lille in Sweden, Lille-Trille in Denmark, and so on throughout the different parts of Europe. All double-rhyming words, easy and fun for children to sing. The word Humpty Dumpty is given in the Oxford English Dictionary for a boiled ale-and-brandy drink from the end of the seventeenth century.

The earliest reference to Humpty Dumpty as a squat, comical little person appears in the caption to an engraving with the title ‘A Lilliputian Prize Fighting’ published sometime between 1754 and 1764. Part of the caption reads:

Sir Humpty Dumpty fierce as a Turk,
At Captain Doodle runs his fork.

There is an old girl’s game called ‘Humpty Dumpty’ described by some American writers in 1848. The players sit down holding their skirts tight around their ankles. At an agreed signal they all fall backwards and try to recover their balance without letting go of their skirts.

Robert L. Ripley ‘Believe It Or Not’, stated that the original Humpty was Richard 111, while Professor David Daube, in one of a series of spoof nursery-rhyme histories for The Oxford Magazine” 1956, put forward the ingenious idea that Humpty Dumpty was a siege machine in the Civil War!

History aside, the beloved egg-shaped Humpty Dumpty sits precariously forever on the wall, waiting to be be pushed off in historical probability.

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18 comments on “WAS HUMPTY DUMPTY AN EGG?

  1. The Civil War theory is discussed here:

    http://myths.e2bn.org/mythsandlegends/origins1-humpty-dumpty-and-the-fall-of-colchester.html

    Humpty Dumpty was an egg, and thus a woman. We all know what caused the Fall of Man.

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  2. I should like, if I may, to add a little more detail from my researches for the further edification of your readers.

    Eve took of the fruit of the tree at the centre of the garden. The tree was a large Bramley Apple and God had built a wall round it to deter Adam and Eve from sampling the fruit. It was, after all, a cooking apple. This was not enough for Eve, who climbed up a rope (the “serpent”), sat on the wall and “scrumped” the apple.

    In ancient times, she was nicknamed “Scrumper”, which, because of the well-known laxative effects of apples, became “Scrumper-Dumper” and ultimately “Humpty-Dumpty”.

    The terms “Strumpet” and “Crumpet” derive from the same source.

    Adam joined her on the wall and was responsible for her swollen “Tummy”, the derivation of which I need hardly mention.

    Just remember all this when you break into your egg in the morning and scramble it.

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  3. We have two apple trees, neither of which I’m sorry to say is a Bramley apple, But I raise a toast to Eve, the mother of all Beauty and the grandmother of all mischief.

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  4. I have NO IDEA where you get your own ideas from – but they’re terrific !!! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Fascinating stuff, Kayti. I especially liked the bit about falling backwards while maintaining decorum by holding on to one’s skirt. Thanks to your readers, too, for the commentary.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Sometimes I’m too serious for my own good, I suppose. But these days, when I come across Mr. Humpty Dumpty (or Ms., or Mlle., or Master), all I can think of is that conversation he had with Alice about words.

    “”When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” “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.”

    Whatever the good H-D’s gender, there are a lot of politicians out there who have him on staff!

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  7. Isn’t it the truth? Especially when they use one word then change it the following week. We have seen a bit of that this year.

    I loved (love) Alice, though I had looked forward to the Johnny Depp version a couple of years ago, and was really disappointed.

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