‘Tweedledum and Tweedledee’ are two well-known, fantastical characters who also happen to be brothers. They are remembered for their ridiculous spats with one another.
The two characters are are tied directly to Lewis Carroll’s oeuvre. But, there is more to the story. Despite their connection, he was not the creator of the twins/brothers, someone else was.
The History of Tweedledum and Tweedledee
What is the Story of Tweedledum and Tweedledee?
Unfortunately, the origins of Tweedledum and Tweedledee are mixed in the broader, poorly documented history of English nursery rhymes. What is known about the two characters is that they are thought to come from the poet John Byrom and his depiction of musicians George Frideric Handel and Giovanni Bononcini.
Here are the lines of the nursery rhyme as written by John Byrom:
Tweedledum and Tweedledee
Agreed to have a battle;
For Tweedledum said Tweedledee
Had spoiled his nice new rattle.
Just then flew down a monstrous crow,
As black as a tar-barrel;
Which frightened both the heroes so,
They quite forgot their quarrel.
Nowadays, the names “Tweedledum and Tweedledee” are often used colloquially, and derogatorily, to refer to two people who look and act alike. Some have suggested that the final two lines of this short piece of verse, and perhaps even more, were written by someone else, perhaps Johnathon Swift or Alexander Pope.
You can read more about the poem Tweedledum and Tweedledee here.
Who Created Tweedledum and Tweedledee?
When readers see the names “Tweedledum and Tweedledee” it is likely that the first thing they think of is Alice’s in Wonderland, specifically Through the Looking-Glass, or at the very least, Lewis Carroll. While valid, those connections are not the origin of the story. In fact, the story of Tweedledum and Tweedledee originated with an epigram written by the poet John Byrom.
While it’s important to credit John Byrom with the creation of Tweedledum and Tweedledee, it is equally important to remember that it was Lewis Carroll who popularized the characters.
Who was John Byrom?
John Byrom was born in Manchester, England in February of 1692. He died in September of 1763. Today, he is remembered as the inventor of a form of shorthand and as a writer of Anglican hymns. He came from a genteel Lancashire family therefore allowing him to attend The King’s School in Chester and Merchant Taylors’ School in London. He later studied at Trinity College, Cambridge.
While his Christmas poems/carols are what he is best remembered for, he also wrote other poems, such as ‘My spirit longs for Thee’. Additionally, his epigrams survive. Above all else, his name is connected with Tweedledum and Tweedledee, or at the very least the names. They are directly connected to a dispute about composers Handel and Bononcini.
Byrom was a member of the Royal Society and led something of a mysterious life. He was once thought to be a Jacobite and then later possibly a double agent. He died in 1763 and was buried in the Jesus Chapel in Manchester Cathedral in England. On a final mysterious note, his papers were destroyed in the nineteenth century, decades after his death. Some scholars have suggested that he belonged to a secretive society, such as the “Cabala Club”.
Publication History of Tweedledum and Tweedledee
Like most English nursery rhymes, ‘Tweedledum and Tweedledee’ dates back to the 18th century. The lyrics that are most commonly known today come from a publication in 1805, Original Ditties for the Nursery.