True History of Humpty Dumpty Rhyme

Is the Poem Based on a True Story? Different theories behind Humpty Dumpty? Moral & Origin
humpty dumpty statue of reading book. History of humpty dumpty

Have you ever wondered who and when wrote Humpty Dumpty or the History of Humpty Dumpty? We all must have sung this little rhyme repeatedly in our nursery class. Read below to know more about you favorite poem from childhood.

1. Meaning of Humpty Dumpty

According to Oxford Dictionary, Humpty Dumpty was a name of a drink of brandy boiled with ale. In the 18th century, the term began to refer to a short and clumsy person. The phrase was also used to refer to drunk, unstable people. However, the usage in rhymes as we know does not refer to any of these meanings. It is first believed to have been used like a riddle, which then became a nursery rhyme. (Also see How to read a book really fast?)

2. Publication of The Rhyme

  • The rhyme was first published in Juvenile Amusements by Samuel Arnold in 1797. The lines of the rhyme originally published here have been altered through the years in various other publications.
  • In 1803, the original rhyme was slightly modified in the manuscript addition to a copy of Mother Goose Melody, which was based on the popular Mother Goose tales.
  • In 1810, it was published in a version of Gammer Gurton’s Garland, or the Nursery Parnassus, which was a collection of songs and verses by Joseph Ritson.
  • In 1870, James William Elliott included Humpty Dumpty with variations when he compiled the Mother Goose’s Nursery Rhymes and Nursery Songs Set to Music.
  • The image of Humpty Dumpty as an egg was popularized by the sequel of Alice in Wonderland named Through the Looking Glass, written by Lewis Carroll.

3. Inspired by King Richard III

In Shakespeare’s play and Tudor’s histories, a humpbacked King was portrayed who was defeated, even though he had a large army. In 1930, Katherine Elwes Thomas gave a theory regarding this. According to her, the history of Humpty Dumpty was inspired by King Richard III of England. The King who fell from his wall, or his position, was severely injured that he couldn’t be saved by his men. This may have been symbolized in this nursery rhyme. (See Why is Shakespeare Called the Bard?)

4. Theory About Humpty Dumpty Canon

According to the war historians, Humpty Dumpty was neither an egg nor a man, but a canon. During the English Civil War (1642-1649), a large canon was used during the Siege of Colchester. A man named Jack Thompson, who was stationed over the wall, did a lot of damage to the opposite side i.e the Parliamentarian Troops. But then, the wall had crumbled and the canon couldn’t be lifted back due to its weight. This eventually, led to the surrender of Colchester. However unlikely, this is presumed to be the true history of Humpty Dumpty canon anecdote. (Also see How Did the Americans Win the Revolutionary War?)

5. The Moral Behind The Rhyme

The moral is that there may be times where we fall and feel like we cannot rise from failures. But, we need to try and overcome them. Do not let the failures define or stop us. Another way we can understand the rhyme is that humans are fragile like the egg-version of Humpty Dumpty. We humans also break. But we have to be strong and break the walls around us to move forward. We also have to make sure that we do not break, beyond repair.

Even after several stories claimed to be the inspiration behind writing Humpty Dumpty, many writers who wrote Humpty Dumpty in their literary works have presented it as an egg. We have done the same in this article. After all, how cute is he!

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