Enamored Swain of 1843 Rebuffed on Valentine’s Day

Janet Beatty’s ancestor’s Valentine isn’t in the best shape being about 175 years old. Further it hasn’t been opened since around 1950 when her grandmother opened it to copy the message, then sewed it back together. The card presents quite the tribute considering the Valentine’s recipient rejected him.

Enamored Swain of 1843 Rebuffed on Valentine’s Day

Old Valentine cards used to range from the lacy sentimental to the sassy sophisticated. They carried on a tradition that began nearly 1,400 years before, when the first paper Valentines appeared.

But before mass produced Valentines could be sent through the mail, they were hand-made and always hand-delivered. The temper of those times, and the keen eyes of anxious chaperones, made it advisable to send early Victorian Valentines anonymously.

It was a calculated risk, for a young lady might easily believe her Valentine came from one of six other fellows! Often these Valentines were dropped on milady’s doorstep by bashful suitors, who knocked and promptly slipped away.

In those days the boys took pride in their penmanship. Rival suitors were judged by the ingenuity of their Valentines, the fancier the better.

I happen to have a valentine from that very era, a hand-made work of original poetry handed down since 1843 from my greatgreat-grandmother. Written in beautiful script on a sheet of paper now brown with age, the Valentine was carefully folded into an envelope-square and was sewn with fine linen thread, its edges “whipped” together.

In 1956 my grandmother carefully unstitched it, copied the verses, then sewed it together again. It hasn’t been opened since.

The Valentine begins with verse on the outside:

In the inside sweet turtle dove
There have I written the model of
my love
The power of envy cannot portend
To say that, false stories pretendHe continues inside:
My dearest dear and blest divine
I’ve painted here your heart
and mine
But Cupid with his fatal dart
Has deeply wounded my poor heart
And between us set a cross
Which makes me to lament my loss.
But when all is done, I am in hope
That both our hearts will
join in one.

He goes on to write several paragraphs swearing his devotion up to his dying day:

When dreary mists swim round my
dying eye
My last fond sigh shall bless the
charmer’s name
And praise the girl for whom I now
am slain.
Then concludes:
Accept from me this if you please
and keep it evermore
An emblem of true love to you, the
lady that I adore.

Quite a change from the tidy sentiments of today’s Valentines! Unfortunately for this enamored swain, my great-great-grandmother married someone else!

Janet Beatty lives in Alameda.