Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Vaguely Valentines

Holidays are sometimes a welcome respite in a world of never-ending responsibilities. But they can also be rituals that don’t turn out quite as expected. Take, for example, the following Valentine poem published in London in the early 19th century. The question is, was it meant for Valentine’s Day or Hallowe’en?


This morning, ma’am, you did incline
To hail me for a Valentine,
But I write this, to let you know
That I will never be your beau;
I do not like your face so sallow
Resembling the worse colour’d tallow;
Your lips are pale, your eyes are green,
You pace along with aukward mien,
In short, you are a perfect fright;
Think not of me, and so good night.


You are a very saucy fellow,
And the first that ever call’d me sallow;
And if I’m ugly, what are you,
With your beard so black, and nose so blue?
Your head is like a cook-maid’s mop,
And you speak and write like a milk fop;
A fine scare-crow they might make of thee
To hang up in a cherry tree.

So much for love, and all hail the trading of insults! Another set of Valentine poems originally published in New York in 1823:


My dear, your eyes they shine so bright;
They’re like dead whitings in the night:
Your arms are brawny, brown and tough;
Their skin, like any hog’s back, rough;
Your voice the screech-owl does excel,
Your breath, a pole-cat’s is as well;
In you such charms at once combine,
I choose you for my Valentine.


Your wit is pert, like an oyster-knife,
The bluntest I ever beheld in my life;
It hews and it hacks at a terrible rate,
And is a just emblem of your addle pate,
So take my advice and the honour decline,
For you never, I vow, shall be my Valentine.

Ah, wounded lovers, don’t despair. In spite of the occasional reign of the knucklehead, it’s still possible to find that true gem in a relationship; one who knows his or her own quirks, accepts them and is lucky enough to find another who loves them for those very reasons. After all, isn’t that a more realistic true love than Hollywood could ever give us? Check out this pair of sweethearts, who found their sentiments published in London during the early 19th century.

Valentine from an Odd Fellow

I am an odd fellow, who wants an odd wife,
To pass with him all the odd days of his life,
To bring him odd children, to serve, d’ye see
As careful odd comforts to you and to me.
If you my odd lass, will consent to be mine,
On any odd day, my dear Valentine:
Each night my dear girl, when your labour does end,
We’ll drink an odd glass, and invite an odd friend:
We’ll sing an odd song, and tell an odd tale,
And drown our odd sorrows in sparkling ale;
Thus merry and happy, we’ll form an odd pair,
And drive from our bosoms both envy and care.


I like your odd plan, for I’m oddly inclin’d,
It must be something odd, that will suit my odd mind
To live single at best, is an odd life we know,
So buy an odd ring, and to church let us go?
And to an odd dinner our friends we’ll invite,
To spend the odd hours in mirth and delight;
May all our odd days be in happiness spent,
With every odd blessing, to yield us content.

Well, there you have it. Love is truly in the eyes of the beholder. With that, I wish a hearty Valentine’s Day to all you oddly normal people out there.

Martha Miles lives and works in the Chicago area. She is an interior decorator and the owner of Peninsula Point Designs. In her spare time, she enjoys rummaging around research libraries for rare old books that give insights into the minds of men and women from centuries past.

The first valentine, "This morning, ma'am, you did incline…" and the third valentine, "I am an odd fellow, who wants an odd wife…" are found in The Frolicsome Valentine Writer, published in London by "Stevens & Co. at 10 Borough Road," sometime during the 1820s.

The second valentine, "My dear, your eyes they shine so bright…" is found in The New Quizzical Valentine Writer. Being an Excellent Collection of all the Humourous, Droll, and Merry Valentines Ever Published. The author is listed as Peter Quizumall, Esq. It was published in New York in 1823 and the title page proudly states, “Published by W. Borradaile, and sold wholesale and retail at his Book-store, 130 Fulton-Street.”

Valentine writers were a product of the early 19th century before the idea of mass-produced valentines hit the popular market. People made their own valentines, and since many of them felt poetically challenged, numerous little booklets called "Valentine Writers" were readily available. From them, you could choose an appropriate valentine to woo your intended or perhaps reject that nightmare who would not stop plaguing you--they often came equipped with sample answers to encourage the sender, or at least give them an idea of the response they might receive.    --M.M.

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