Little Miss Muffet
|"Little Miss Muffet"|
|("Little Miss Muffet")|
Origins and meaning
The rhyme first appeared in print in 1805, in a book titled Songs for the Nursery. Like many such rhymes, its origins are unclear. Some claim it was written by Dr Thomas Muffet (d.1604), an English physician and entomologist, regarding his stepdaughter Patience; others claim it refers to Mary, Queen of Scots (1543–87), who was said to have been frightened by religious reformer John Knox (1510–72). The former explanation is speculative and the latter is doubted by most literary scholars, who note that stories linking folk tales or songs to political events are often urban legends.
There is also an alternative set of lyrics which has been taught in some countries where whey is not a common food stuff. In the nineteenth century the rhyme existed in many alternative versions including: 'Little Mary Ester, Sat upon a tester' (1812); 'Little Miss Mopsey, Sat in the shopsey' (1842). These rhymes may be parodies of whichever is the original.
In 1868, the supposed partner of Walt Whitman, Peter Doyle, allegedly wrote a version of little Miss Muffet that some experts believe could be a metaphorical representation of their relationship.
- Little Miss Man
- Had a great plan
- to get her man to love
- Along came the writer
- Who sat down beside her
- and said "you fit like a glove."
The poem was signed 16.4, which was Whitman's method of concealing Doyle's identity, and is thought to represent the sudden and explosive sexual relationship that is rumoured to have existed between the two.
- I. Opie and P. Opie, The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1951, 2nd ed., 1997), pp. 323–4.
- 'Was Little Miss Muffet a local girl?'. Brookmans Park Newsletter, retrieved 02/04/09.
- A. Sorby, Schoolroom Poets: Childhood and the Place of American Poetry, 1865–1917 (UPNE, 2005), p. 80.
- C. Shively, Calamus Lovers: Walt Whitman's Working Class Camerados (San Francisco, CA: Gay Sunshine Press, 1987), ISBN 978-0-917342-18-9.