Valentine’s Day in the Georgian Era

AN00322790_001
Courtesy of the British Museum

There were many different customs and traditions surrounding Valentine’s Day, one of which baffled the unsentimental writer of this letter to the newspaper.

Derby Mercury – 7th March 1782

Sir,

Amongst many customs useful and ridiculous which have been handed down to us from our Ancestors, I lately observed one of drawing Valentines, on the Evening preceding Valentine’s Day, which was much in this Manner, the Boys collected all the names of females (unmarried) they could remember, and wrote them separately upon little tickets or bits of paper, which were put into a hat and shaked about for some time, when each of them drew one of these out, and the next day sent a kind of poetical epistle to the girl who was his Valentine or Lot.  I confess the meaning of this is extremely strange to me at present, as I cannot see any thing in it useful or entertaining.  I should therefore be greatly obliged, if any Correspondent of your’s would favour me with a reason for this superstitious ceremony.

I am, Sir,

Your humble Servant,

The INSPECTOR.

Valentine's - Love in a Village
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

February the 14th was a popular and romantic day for a wedding whether they were unusual, unsuccessful or happy.

Read’s Weekly Journal – 16th February 1751

Thursday one Mrs. Mann, aged upwards of 60, who keeps a Cook and Chandler’s Shop in Shoreditch, was married to a Soldier quartered in that Neighbourhood, aged about 22.  Being asked by a Neighbour how she could think of Marriage at those Years?  She replied it was Valentine’s Day, and she was resolved to be coupled.  The old Gentlewoman had, by her Frugality and Industry, collected upwards of 200 l. which she freely bestowed on her new Lover.

Valentine's - Lovers of all sorts
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

Morning Herald – 4th March 1784

It may be worth remarking, that on last Valentine’s Day, a couple were married in St. Peter’s Church, Derby, who had between them seven thumbs, viz. the woman three, and the man four.

Valentine's - smick smack 1812
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

Hereford Journal – 26th July 1787

WINCHESTER, JULY 21.  At our assizes a cause was tried between Sarah Stephens, of Newport, in the Isle of Wight, aged 24, plaintiff, and Mr. Spencer of the same place, aged 65, defendant.  This cause occasioned much diversion in the court.  The happy pair had agreed, it seems, to unite in the soft and pleasing bands of Hymen on Valentine’s day last; a day conceived by them to be most propitious to love and the union of lovers; but unfortunately the demon of discord interfered.  The old gentleman’s age and unwieldy figure, contrasted with the youth and genteel appearance of the lady, afforded an ample field for wit and humour, and the laugh went much against the unfortunate gentleman.  But what was still more against him, the Jury gave a verdict in favour of the lady for 400 l. damages, with costs of suit.

Valentine's - The Best Shelter
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

The Bury and Norwich Post – 25th February 1807

On Valentine’s Day set out from Stamford, in Lincolnshire, on a matrimonial trip to Gretna Green, Mr. Charles Wales, printer, lately of Bury St. Edmund’s, with Miss Eliza Booth, second daughter of Mr. Booth, wine and spirit merchant, of the former place. – The far-famed Hymen of the Northern border having indissolubly entangled the happy pair in his silken bonds, they returned to Stamford on Sunday last, and their nuptial bliss was consummated with the blessing of the lady’s opulent friends!

Gretna Green, or, the red-hot marriage, c.1795. Lewis Walpole Library
Gretna Green, or, the red-hot marriage, c.1795. Lewis Walpole Library

In 1797 a booklet had been published titled ‘The Young Man’s Valentine Writer’ which listed romantic verses which could be copied out by those with little poetic skill and sent to their sweethearts. Later printers began to mass-produce printed verses and cards. While these lacked the personal touch of a handwritten note it did mean that they could easily and cheaply be sent anonymously via the postal service. Valentine’s Day proved to be a busy one for early 19th century postmen.

The Love Letter by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, 1770. Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Love Letter by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, 1770. Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Ipswich Journal – 23rd February 1805

On Valentine’s Day the General Two-penny Post Office received 80,000 letters – an increase from last year of 20,000.  The amount of 80,000 letters is 686£ 13s 4d.

Valentine's - Edward & Eliza
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

The Morning Post – 15th February 1815

Yesterday being Valentine’s day, the whole artillery of love was put into requisition.  The Postmen were converted into Cupids, and instead of letters upon business, carried epistles full of flames, darts, chains, and amorous declarations.

We end with a Valentine’s Day poem addressed to the lucky Miss F____ of Winchester by an anonymous admirer who used the Hampshire Chronicle newspaper rather than the post to proclaim his love.

Hampshire Chronicle – 21st February 1791

 

VALENTINE’S DAY.

LINES addressed to Miss F____, of WINCHESTER.

I only sing one blooming fair to gain;

Adieu, ye muses, if she will not hear.  HAMMOND

BEAUTY from fancy often takes its arms,

And every common form some breast may move;

Some in an air, a look, a shape, find charms,

To justify their choice or boast their love: –

But, had the great Apelles seen that face,

When the beauteous Cyprian goddess drew,

He had neglected all the female race,

Thrown his first Venus by, and copy’d – YOU.

Feb. 14., 1791 

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2 thoughts on “Valentine’s Day in the Georgian Era

  1. Pingback: Happy Valentine’s Day, Jane Austen Style!

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