Thursday, January 25, 2007

Coping with Humpty Dumpty

By J. Peter Pham

As I get older, I have come to appreciate more the wisdom that we learn from our elders in the early years of our earthly lives. Some of those lessons are imparted explicitly in the solemn moments of our youth, while others are inculcated implicitly by what Samuel Huntington calls our “core culture.” Of the latter, perhaps no expression has been as elemental as the English nursery rhyme which, passed down from generation to generation, has been the bearer of both the language and history of those who first raised the flag of liberty on these shores.

As a toddler, one of the first that rhymes I learned at the WASPish preschool my assimilation-eager immigrant parents enrolled me in was the sad tale of Humpty Dumpty: “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 have since learned that, pace Lewis Carroll, the original Humpty Dumpty, was not a person, but a huge cannon deployed by the Royalists in their defense of Colchester during the English Civil War. The gun was put on a critical, but hastily erected, bastion constructed along the buttresses of medieval St. Mary’s Church. A month into the siege of the town during the summer of 1648, the gun emplacement took a direct hit from Roundhead (Parliamentarian) artillery, causing the massive cannon to tumble to the ground. Humpty was so heavy that the laws of physics took their toll: neither Charles I’s Cavaliers (“King’s Horses”) nor any of his engineers (“King’s men”) could salvage their principal weapon. As a result, the strategically important royal stronghold fell to the rebel forces of Oliver Cromwell.

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