Humpty Dumpty & Gutenberg
Date: Wed, 25 Oct 95 15:01:33 -0700
From: Peter Langston <psl>
Subject: Humpty Dumpty & Gutenberg
Forwarded-by: email@example.com (Keith Bostic)
From: Robert Jones <jones@Think.COM>
Humpty Dumpty is an egg ... right? Not so ...
In the Manchester Guardian Weekly there is a weekly column extracted from
the daily UK guardian called "Notes and Queries" in which readers ask
questions and other readers send in answers. One reader raised the issue
that s/he always thought of Humpty Dumpty as an egg but nowhere in the
nursery rhyme is he so identified ... he was certainly illustrated as such
by Tenniel etc but what is the real story ...
It turns out that Humpty Dumpty was one of a pair of siege towers built over
300 years ago. Siege towers were wheeled up to whatever castle or religious
cult you happened to be besieging at the time and your soldiers would then
jump over the walls etc. It was probably as tall as a house, made of wood,
had wheels and was probably covered in hides.
The tricky thing with siege towers was getting them in place -- being heavy,
loaded with troops and inevitably involved going over rough ground.
Humpty Dumpty was built during the English Civil War by the Royalists
... "all the King's horses and all the King's men" ... and it had a
little operational difficulty ... falling and being damaged beyond repair.
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Craig Good)
If I recall correctly from my reading of "The Real Personages Behind Mother
Goose*" many years ago, Humpty Dumpty was King Richard of "My kingdom for
a horse!" fame. The verse describes his fall in battle and the inability of
his army to right things.
In the days before mass media, nursery rhymes were political satire. For
example, Little Miss Muffet was Mary, Queen of Scots and the spider was John
Knox. In "Hey diddle, diddle, the cat and the fiddle" the feline character
was Queen Elizabeth, who was wont to hold dances at the palace.
Interestingly, "The Spoon" was the real title of the girl who was the
queen's food taster, and "The Dish" was the man in charge of the royal
dinnerware. Elizabeth's plate minder eloped with her food taster, so in a
very literal sense the Dish ran away with the Spoon.
*I'm pretty sure I have that title right. It was published around 1926 as
[Nursery rhymes were also news, as in the description of the plague in "Ring
Around the Rosie." I've long been fascinated by stories of pre-printing press
minstrels learning each other's songs (the news) in a single hearing. It
seems reasonable to infer that literacy interferes with the development of
that kind of memory. Does being able to read music have a corresponding
effect? And what ever happened to our sense of smell? ... Okay, that's a
topic for another day... -psl]
© 1995 Peter Langston