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
I’m a men’s image specialist and I liken my image process to the Humpty Dumpty concept in that I take my clients apart, analyze those parts, and put them back together in a more comfortable, attractive, and natural configuration. I love this analogy, but I really thought about this Humpty Dumpty character one day, then started to look into it. It turns out that Humpty Dumpty has much more meaning and history to him than I realized.
In a very interesting blog that describes the origin of nursery rhymes, LetterPile cites the Oxford English Dictionary entry for “humpty dumpty”, a 17th century reference to” brandy boiled with ale. In the 1700s, it was also a term used to describe a short, clumsy person. It has also been a nickname attributed to someone who has had too much alcohol (perhaps imbibing the drink of the same name).”
Literature’s first mention of Humpty came in 1797 with Samuel Arnold’s Juvenile Amusements. This original didn’t mention the king’s horses and men but rather, four score and four score more could not make Humpty Dumpty where he was before. The rhyme’s next incarnation in 1842 seems to anticipate a second verse after Humpty hit the ground:
Humpty-Dumpty lay in a beck
With all his sinews around his neck;
Forty doctors and forty wights
Couldn’t put Humpty-Dumpty to rights.
It wasn’t until 1872 with Lewis Carroll’s fantastically drug-addled work, Through the Looking Glass, that the Humpty Dumpty rhyme made its place in children’s literature, but this time, all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty in his place again. In Lewis’ version, Humpty Dumpty is an egg with an enormous face, wearing clothes, and having a rude conversation with Alice.
Lewis’ opium (greatly) influenced his writing and his hallucinations painted a creepy picture of Humpty: “If he smiled much more the ends of his mouth might meet behind,” [Alice] thought: “and then I don’t know what would happen to his head! I’m afraid it would come off!”
“What a beautiful belt you’ve got on!” Alice suddenly remarked. “At least,” she corrected herself on second thought, “a beautiful cravat, I should have said – no, a belt, I mean – I beg your pardon!” she asked in dismay, for Humpty Dumpty looked thoroughly offended, and she began to wish she hadn’t chosen that subject. “If only I knew.” she thought to herself, “which was neck and which was waist!”
This made Humpty angry.
“It is a – most – provoking – thing,” he said at last, “when a person doesn’t know a cravat from a belt!”
Well, we can’t really blame Alice for not being able to decide if a band around an egg’s middle is a belt or a cravat, but outside of his wardrobe and literary history, Humpty’s associations go in unexpected directions. In his next incarnation, Humpty is not boozy drink nor a giant smart-ass egg, but a cannon.
Humpty Dumpty at War
During the English Civil War (1642 – 1649), the town of Colchester was under control of the Royalists, loyal to King Charles I. The town was fortified with large cannons atop the city walls. Some historians believe that one of these cannons was (for unknown reasons) nicknamed “Humpty Dumpty”.
Colchester was under siege by the Parliamentarians who supported a monarchy-free Parliament. The story goes that on July 14 – 15, 1648, a Parliamentarian cannon blew up the wall that Humpty Dumpty sat on. Humpty, the very large and heavy cannon fell to the ground, but no one – neither horse nor man – could recover the cannon. This may have been the event that turned the civil war to the side of the Parliamentarians who took the city on August 28 and went on to overthrow King Charles I the following year and end the war.
According to Adam Wears in his article, Humpty Dumpty Was A Cannon, Not An Egg, the fall of the cannon became legend after the Royalists were defeated, and “the soldiers’ song became a nursery rhyme that was sung to children to tell them of how their brave fathers and grandfathers had defeated the tyrannical King’s great weapon.”
The Origin of Humpty Dumpty suggests another possibility, this time around Richard III in 1485. Richard either had a horse named Wall, or his men (who abandoned him) represented “the wall”. “Either way, the king fell off his horse and was supposedly hacked to pieces on the field—thus no one could put him together again.”
So between liquor, an egg in pants, a cannon that changed English history, bad balance, or a disloyal army, Humpty Dumpty has certainly captured our imaginations. As for my clients, I’m happy to say that I always get them back together again, in spectacular, stylish fashion.