Tweedle Twaddle


You probably know Tweedledum and Tweedledee from their appearance in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass and works derived from that. You may also know that they’re characters from a nursery rhyme. What are the origins of this poem? As is typical with such rhymes, we don’t really know. One thing we do know, however, is that, in 1725, John Byrom wrote a poem spoofing the rivalry between Handel and the Italian composer Giovanni Bononcini. Apparently most people didn’t see a whole lot of difference between the two, and Byrom ended his verse with, “Strange all this difference should be/’Twixt tweedle-dum and tweedle-dee.” It does seem that Handel was the one who better stood the test of time, as I’m not sure I’ve even heard of Bononcini outside of this story. What isn’t clear is whether the more famous poem about the Tweedles having a battle interrupted by a monstrous crow derives from Byrom’s work, or Byrom was referencing this rhyme. I believe the nursery rhyme isn’t known to have been printed prior to the early nineteenth century, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t exist. In The Annotated Alice, Martin Gardner cites J.B.S. Haldane as coming up with a possible origin for the crow, specifically a solar eclipse that interrrupted a battle between Alyattes of Lydia and Cyaxares of the Medes in 585 BC. I guess we’ll never know for sure. I’m also not sure whether the image of the Tweedles as fat twins was introduced by Carroll, or that was already the picture associated with the rhyme by his time. The two might now be best known from Disney’s 1951 Alice in Wonderland, which shoehorns them into the story of the first Alice book. Indeed, “horns” is an appropriate term to use, as the two constantly honk like bicycle horns, as well as having a lot of other cartoonish features.

This entry was posted in Authors, Lewis Carroll, Nursery Rhymes and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Tweedle Twaddle

  1. Mario500 says:

    “One thing we do know, however, is that, in 1725, John Byrom wrote a poem spoofing the rivalry between Handel and the Italian composer Giovanni Bononcini”

    Who is this particular “Handel”?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s