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Tweedledum and Tweedledee
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Tweedledum and Tweedledee

Tweedledum and Tweedledee are characters in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There and in a nursery rhyme by an anonymous author. The names originally came from a John Byrom poem.

Table of contents
1 John Byrom's poem
2 Anonymous nursery rhyme
3 Lewis Carroll and John Tenniel

John Byrom's poem

Its first appearance in print is in a poem by John Byrom (1692-1763):

Some say, that Signor Bononcini,
Compared to Handel's a mere ninny;
Others aver, to him, that Handel
Is scarcely fit to hold a candle.
Strange! That such high dispute should be
'Twixt Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

—John Byrom, On the Feuds Between Handel and Bononcini

In Byrom's poem the words are clearly onamatopoeic representations of similar musical phrases.

Anonymous nursery rhyme

Starting in the early nineteenth century, collections of nursery rhymes began to include:

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.

The editors of The Annotated Mother Goose quote Martin Gardner, editor of The Annotated Alice as saying "No one knows whether the nursery rhyme... had reference to [Byrom's] famous musical battle, or whether it was an older rhyme from which Byrom borrowed in the last line of his doggerel."


John Tenniel's illustration of Tweedledum and Tweedledee, from ''Through the Looking-Glass" (1871), chapter 4

Lewis Carroll and John Tenniel

The third and perhaps most familiar source is Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass and what Alice Found There. Carroll, after quoting the nursery rhyme, introduces two characters named Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Although though physically twins, they are argumentative contrarians. As predestined, they end up fighting over a rattle. John Tenniel cleverly captured Carroll's description in a well-known illustration.