Lollipops: A cause of juvenile crime [poem, The Bulletin, 21 August 1886]

[Editor: This untitled poem, about lollipops being alleged to be a cause of juvenile crime, appeared in the “Pepper and salt” column published in The Bulletin (Sydney, NSW), 21 August 1886. It is a parody of some verse by Elizabeth Barrett Browning (an English poetess), with her poetry being quoted beforehand.]

[Lollipops: A cause of juvenile crime]

Our old and reverend acquaintance, Mr. Horsley, formerly editor of the Melbourne War Cry, has sounded a new alarm in the Sunday Magazine. He says: “The perverted taste for lollipops, caused chiefly (because not prevented) by mothers, is a large — very large — cause of juvenile crime.” This must be seen to. Elizabeth Barrett Browning has pleaded eloquently for the luckless juvenile drudges of the factory and the mine:—

Do you hear the children weeping, O my brothers,
Ere the sorrow comes with years?
They are leaning their young heads against their mothers,
And that cannot stop their tears.
The young lambs are bleating in the meadows,
The young birds are chirping in the nest,
The young fawns are playing with the shadows,
The young flowed are blowing towards the west;
But the young, young children, O my brothers,
They are weeping bitterly!
They are weeping in the playtime of the others,
In the country of the free.
They look up with their pale and sunken faces,
And their looks are sad to see,
For the man’s hoary anguish draws and presses
Down the cheeks of infancy.

Mrs. Browning sleeps the sleep of the great, but surely there is someone willing to twang a lyre for those other poor children, whose souls are being slain with kindness, in many a so-called Christian home. Up, bards, and at ’em! Take lodgings opposite a lolly-shop, watch the little innocents toddling in to their dooms, and then throw off a set of verses which shall shake the world. This might do for a start:—

Do you see the children sucking, O my brothers,
Ere the sorrow comes with years?
They have been and got a penny from their mothers —
Poor, misguided little dears!
The young lambs are served with new pertaters,
The young birds are made into a pie,
The young fawns are handed round by waiters,
The young flowers are “buttonholed” to die;
But the young, young children, O my brothers,
They are sucking lollipops!
They have purchased ’em (per favour of their mothers)
From the damsels in the shops.
They look now, with sin distorted faces,
At the tempting acid-drops —
But they’ll drink, and swear, and gamble at the races
When they’ve done with lollipops.

The Bulletin (Sydney, NSW), 21 August 1886, p. 15 (column 3)

Editor’s notes:
The first piece of poetry in the article is “The Cry of the Children” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
See: Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “The Cry of the Children”, Poetry Foundation

acid-drop = a lolly (candy or sweet) made with a sour flavor (made from citric or tartaric acid) as well as using sugar (the term can be hyphenated, although it is usually spelt without a hyphen)

buttonhole = a narrow hole in an item of clothing designed so that a button, disc, or other attachment can be pushed through, thus acting as a fastener; a buttonhole flower (a flower inserted through a buttonhole for use as a decoration); a boutonniere (a buttonhole flower or a small bunch of flowers inserted through a buttonhole or pinned to the lapel of a garment); (verb) to insert a flower into a buttonhole (past tense: buttonholed)

Elizabeth Barrett Browning = (1806-1861) an English poetess (née Moulton-Barrett)

’em = them

ere = before (from the Middle English “er”, itself from the Old English “aer”, meaning early or soon)

hoary = a descriptive term for someone or something which is old or ancient; someone with grey or white hair; something grey or white in colour

lolly-shop = a shop which primarily sells lollies (confectionary; candies, sweets)

lyre = a stringed musical instrument, similar to a small harp, although with a U-shaped frame with strings attached to a crossbar (especially known for its use in ancient Greece)

pertater = (vernacular) potato

twang = (verb) to make or cause to make a “twang” noise; to pluck or strum (especially on a stringed instrument) so as to cause a “twang” sound; (noun) a strong ringing sound made by the plucking of a tight string, wire or elastic band (such as may be made by plucking a string on a musical instrument, releasing a string on a bow, or releasing the elastic of a catapult)

War Cry = a periodical published by the Salvation Army


  1. Raymond says:

    Dear Ed(itor).
    I am NO expert on poetry, so maybe I am barking up the wrong tree here.
    I always find your Editorial ‘glosses’ of words used in the quotations to be very helpful.
    On the topic of your gloss above on “buttonhole” — I wonder if it is apposite in the context.
    I ask this, purely because to my ignoramus’s reading of it, I thought that that line about the young flowers might have been referring to the wearing of a flower in the lapel buttonhole of a coat or jacket. I will readily stand corrected. With gratitude as always.

    • Raymond, you are absolutely correct.

      It’s quite apparent that, in the context of this poem, it is a reference to putting flowers through a buttonhole (interestingly, “buttonhole” can also refer to the flower itself; presumably as an abbreviation of a “buttonhole flower”).

      The error has now been corrected. No idea how that one slipped through. Am currently casting around for excuses (tired whilst typing, run-down whilst researching, a death in the family, Coronavirus infection, nuclear war – willing to use any excuse for such an obvious mistake). — Ed.

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