Although Ashby-Sterry loved girls of various ages, he clearly stated his preference for 16-year-old ones, while he often called younger ones ‘pet.’ This shows that he did not love them in the same manner as older ones, and in some way he considered them as inferior beings. Sometimes, he presented them as little animals. For instance one poem in the collection Boudoir Ballads is titled “Little Chinchilla” (with subtitle “A Symphony in Fur”), and on first reading one wonders whether it is about a girl or a little furry animal; now, a poem in his other collection The Lazy Minstrel, titled “January,” confirms that he writes about a girl: one reads “A merry maiden” and “To Miss Chinchilla you confide, / How proud you are to be her guide.” Another poem in the latter collection, “The Kitten,” explicitly compares a 10-year-old girl to a kitten.
In the following poem devoted to a disobedient little girl, one sees how Ashby-Sterry viewed younger girls in a much different way than the teenagers he loved tenderly. He speaks of her in a condescending and patronising way, calls her ‘pet,’ and threatens her with an insignificant caricature of punishment, in particular of parental violence, using instruments such as feathers, roses or kisses.
P E T’ S P U N I S H M E N T.
O IF my love offended me,
And we had words together,
To show her I would master be,
I’d whip her with a feather!
If then she, like a naughty girl,
Would tyranny declare it,
I’d give my pet a cross of pearl,
And make her always bear it.
If still she tried to sulk and sigh,
And threw away my posies,
I’d catch my darling on the sly,
And smother her with roses!
But should she clench her dimpled fists,
Or contradict her betters,
I’d manacle her tiny wrists
With dainty golden fetters.
And if she dared her lips to pout—
Like many pert young misses—
I’d wind my arm her waist about,
And punish her—with kisses!
Source of the poem: Joseph Ashby-Sterry, Boudoir Ballads, London: Chatto and Windus, Piccadilly (1876).
This is a revised version of a post previously published on Agapeta, 2018/07/15.