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Origins: Tweedledum and Tweedledee

Tweedledum & Tweedledee as reimagined by Tim Burton in 2010's Alice in Wonderland

Tweedledum and Tweedledee
Agreed to have a battle,
For Tweedledum said Tweedledee
Had spoiled his nice new rattle.
Just then flew by a monstrous crow,
As black as a tar-barrel,
Which frightened both the heroes so
They quite forgot their quarrel.

Often attributed to Lewis Carroll, this verse was included in an Original Ditties for the Nursery, edited by John Harris, in 1805, almost 70 years before Carroll published Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There.

The names Tweedledum and Tweedledee also appear in a rhyme of 1725. Smithsonianmag.com takes up the story:

Free-spirited musical entrepreneurship was more than possible in London, to which Handel moved permanently in 1710. […] Adding zest to the London music scene were rivalries that split the audience into two broad musical camps. On one side were defenders of the more conventional Italian opera style, who idolized the composer Giovanni Bononcini (1670-1747) and brought him to London. Enthusiasts of Handel’s new Italian operas cast their lot with the German-born composer. The partisanship was captured in a 1725 verse by poet John Byrom.

There is some contention over the final couplet, which may have been added by Alexander Pope or Jonathan Swift:

Some say, compar’d to Bononcini
That Mynheer Handel’s but a Ninny
Others aver, that he to Handel
Is scarcely fit to hold a Candle
Strange all this Difference should be
‘Twixt Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dee!

Some say that John Byrom coined the words tweedledum and tweedledee. Still others say that although the version we know well does not appear in print until 90 years after this verse appeared, it is likely to have been the inspiration for Byrom’s satire. It is likely that only one of these assertions is correct, but I wouldn’t like to wager on which one.

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