Where are you going, my pretty maid?
I’m going a milking, sir, she said.
May I go with you, my pretty maid?
You’re kindly welcome, sir, she said.
What is your father, my pretty maid?
My father’s a farmer, sir, she said.
What is your fortune, my pretty maid?
My face is my fortune, sir, she said.
Then I won’t marry you, my pretty maid.
Nobody asked you, sir, she said.
The lines above come from an old nursery rhyme which was well known in the nineteenth century. The photo above them is the right half of an anonymous stereograph (stereoview), which came to me from Connecticut but which probably originated in the United Kingdom. Adhered to the left side of the mount is a label with a single line: NOBODY AXED YOU, SIR, SHE SAID.
The images were colored by hand. Hand-tinting was generally done by young women, often working in the back room of a studio. Dating an anonymous stereoview with certainty is a challenge, but this one may date to the 1860s. A blog post about stereographs at the Victoria and Albert Museum shows a hand-tinted stereograph from 1859 on a similar type of mount (see a page about it here).
The song itself may date back as far as the seventeenth century. I found a number of different versions online, and many more probably existed. However, none of the versions I found contained the word axed in place of asked. That made me wonder why the publisher of the stereograph chose that spelling. Was axed a common pronunciation at the time, or was it used here to emphasize the rural background of the milkmaid? Whatever the answer, her smile and her jaunty pose tell us she isn’t the least bit intimidated by the dandy peering over the fence.
If you’d like to look at the image more closely, you can see a larger scan of it here. Before you go, have a listen to the song below, from the album A Storybook of Children’s Songs. It’s charming! The video includes illustrations by Randolph Caldecott (1846-1886).