Fair Mistress, to my lasting sorrow

(notes by Philip Holberton, drawing on the work of Andrew Rutherford and Thomas Pinney)


A verse-letter to Miss Coxen, held in the Library of Congress in Washington DC, dated from “My Stables, 20 June 1884”, purporting to be from Kipling’s pony Joe.

W. S. Gilbert’s play “The Palace of Truth” was performed by the Lahore Amateurs on 14 and 15 April 1884. It was advertised for several days previously in the Civil and Military Gazette. The part of Palmis was to be played by Miss Coxen and Chrysal by Kipling. Pinney (Letters vol. 1 p. 58) notes that he got as far as the dress rehearsal but missed both performances owing to “a very sudden indisposition” (CMG 16 and 18 April).

Pinney (p. 74) notes that he evidently saw much of Miss Coxen in the Spring and early Summer of 1884. Rutherford reports (p. 219) that several letters of May-June 1884, one signed ‘Chrysal’, refer to his lending her his pony. He wrote again on 2 September (Pinney, Letters 1 p. 73) enclosing a copy of Echoes and telling her of Joe’s death at Dalhousie: the pony had fallen down the hillside and broken his back as a result of carelessness on the part of the groom.
The poem was never collected by Kipling but is to be found in Rutherford (p. 219) and Pinney (p. 1724).

The Poem

The poem must have accompanied the gift of a whip: Joe gives advice on when and how to use it.

Spare not to use it when they shirk … if a pony rears, / Don’t bring the butt down on his ears … and when he shies, / A stiff ‘rib-bender’ … will keep him straight.

Notes on the Text

Experto crede believe the expert (Latin).

syce groom

tats country-bred ponies.

Landour Landaur, convalescent depot for British troops near the hill-station of Mussoorie.

Mian Mir the cantonment six miles (10 km) from Lahore.

bucketted rode hard.


©Philip Holberton 2020 All rights reserved