Reflections on Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day in Regency England

Cards were already a popular custom for all classes by regency times. Most were home-and-handmade from plain to fancy, depending on what the sender could afford. Fancier ones might include gilt-edged paper and real lace (paper lace didn’t come into production until later in the century). Woodcuts or copperplate engraved cards existed but this process was still hand-done and thus time-consuming, so mass-produced cards didn’t come on the market until the 1820s. This coincided with the standardization of the postal system, making sending cards cheaper.

For those who had trouble with a rhyme, there were publications called “Valentine writers,” chock full of ready-made verses for gentlemen to use. Some even contained poetical replies for ladies to use.

Everybody’s Valentine Writer; or True Lover’s Notebook; and Kemmish’s Annual and Universal Valentine Writer, or the Lover’s Instructor were a couple published in England in the late 18th century.

A sample of a lady’s reply to a gentleman’s verse, from Everybody’s Valentine Writer:

To a Gentleman

With proverbs, sir, I see you play;

With proverbs, too, I answer nay—

 

The Language of Flowers

Although special significance of flowers became most popular in Victorian times, lovers’ messages through flowers was already seen in regency times. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, wife of the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire , described a “secret language of flowers,” when her letters home were published posthumously in 1763. This language was a form of Turkish and Persian poetry called selam, which used words that rhymed with flower names. In 18th century Europe this developed into giving flowers sentimental significance (ie. a rose symbolizing love).

 

Various and changing meanings were ascribed to different flowers, but you wouldn’t want to receive a striped carnation in 1819, which according to Madame Charlotte de la Tour, who published a dictionary on flower language entitled [sic] Le Language des Fleur, meant “I’m sorry, I must say no.”

Yellow carnation, you disappoint me...

 

 

Nor would you want to receive a yellow carnation, which meant “You disappoint me.”

 


 

Better would be a red rose from your true love; or a pansy (“you occupy my thoughts”); or perhaps an arum, which meant ardor.

The Art of the Valentine Card

The reputedly oldest valentine card in existence is owned by the British Royal Mail. It dates from 1790. Its four points open up to reveal a love poem, but the outside words are already quite enchanting:

Valentine card circa 1790

“My dear the Heart which you behold,
Will break when you the same unfold,
Even so my heart with lovesick pain,
Sure wounded is and breaks in twain.”

 

Sources:

The Evening Independent, Feb. 14, 1977

The Year’s Festivals, Helen Philbrook Patten, 1903

The Quest of the Quaint, Virginia Robie, 1916

http://www.newyorker.com/archive/1947/02/15/1947_02_15_021_TNY_CARDS_000207379

http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/documents/11feb2011-aac.pdf

Be Mine, Valentine ~ The art of the handmade card

Kristi here.

By the time the Regency time period came around, sending letters to your special valentine was a firmly established tradition in England.

Handmade Valentine from 1816. Photo by Nancy Rosin, www.victoriantreasury.com

While a few manufactured valentines were finding their way into shops, mass-produced, pre-printed valentines similar to what we see today (minus the cartoon characters) didn’t really make an appearance until the mid-1800s. Therefore, when our handsome heroes gave valentines to our heroines, they had to make them.

You can check out an article about  antique valentines here. You can learn more about the particular valentine pictured at left here.

I am a fan of the handmade valentine. I’m a fan of the handmade anything, really. The personal time and thought mean a lot to me.

My oldest daughter is in preschool this year which means she’s going to have her first Valentine’s party. Since I’m making a deliberate attempt to make me and my family healthier this year, the last thing I want to do is send candy to 24 preschoolers and have the leftovers sitting around the house.  I am also on a mission to clean out and organize my house so the second to last thing I want to do is send her to school with little pieces of meaningless, useless paper to go home and clutter up everyone else’s houses.

So we made valentines. I got on the handy, dandy internet and started looking for non-candy, non-pointless valentines and I found these.

My daughter holding her pencil valentines

See? They have a point.  <enter big cheesy grin here>

I love these valentines! They are cheap, practical, and really easy for my daughter to put together herself. While the kids might not be excited about pink and purple pencils, I know there are some moms that will be happy to get something besides candy and cartoon characters.

As a bonus, because I had to get this post ready, these valentines are actually done early! I won’t have to stay up on the thirteenth taping construction paper flags to valentine themed pencils. My husband is so proud.

If you’re looking for some creative valentine ideas, check out Family Fun’s website. They have a lot of ideas with and without candy. There are even ideas for teacher gifts and things like that.

What about you? Do you make your valentines or buy them? What’s the most creative valentine you’ve ever seen?

Love & Marriage

Hello, Jessica here! It’s February, and when I started thinking about Valentine’s Day during the Regency, I thought of a poem that many a Regency gentleman would have had in a volume on his bookshelves. It’s an epithalamion – or “marriage poem” – written by John Donne to celebrate a marriage that took place on Valentine’s Day. (If you want to read the whole thing, you can find it here.)

In the poem, Donne riffs on the legend that Valentine’s Day is the day when the birds choose their mates. He says, humorously, “Hail Bishop Valentine, whose day this is, all the air is thy diocese,” and goes on from there to make comparison between the marriages of the birds and the marriage of the human couple in whose honor his poem is written.


Photo credit: gracey from morguefile.com 

Marriage of the Birds

As I perused the poem in preparation for this blog entry, I admit that my first reaction was to geek out on all the cool literary and historical stuff in it – the use of avian and celestial imagery, the conceit that the whole poem is a speech to St. Valentine himself, the echoes of Chaucer’s “Parliament of Fowls” – but as I read further, my thoughts took a more devotional turn.

Even though the Regency was a time when the ideas spawned by the Enlightenment were changing the culture and a time when industrial progress was starting to creep over the landscape in the form of railroads and factories, it was still a time when the young minds of the landed gentry were saturated with ancient philosophy and poetry, thanks to the classical education so many of them received. The old idea of the natural world as a created, ordered system still held sway over the English imagination.

Thus, the idea of finding your spouse on the same day that the birds found their mates appealed not just because it was romantic, but because, in some mystical sense, it was right. Mankind was seen as a part of the natural order and it was fitting to let your own life reflect the order of the cosmos.


Photo credit: click from morguefile.com

First Comes Love . . .

Of course, even if getting married on Valentine’s Day was a good thing, no educated Regency gentleman would have said that it was necessary. But what most would have said is that there was an order to the cosmos and that humans were a part of it.

Romance and the Cosmos

Romance might be a small part of the cosmic order, but if it is a part of it, what does that mean? Well, it means what we’ve always known that it means: it means that romance is not something meant to stand alone. It’s a part of a bigger picture – it’s supposed to lead to and be a part of marriage. A wedding is the crowning glory of a romance. And then, over time, things shift, and romance becomes the warm affection of a faithful marriage. Romance is the gate a couple opens in order to walk down the path to their home – the home that was created when the two became one – and romance is the light and warmth that still adorn that home, months and years and decades after the wedding itself.

More than that, a good marriage becomes a window for us to understand the relationship between Christ and His church. Maybe the marriage of the birds was just a legend that provoked some beautiful poetry once upon a time, but the poetic relationship between human marriage and the wedding of the Lamb is a true reflection of eternity onto the skin of the natural universe. All good and true love is not only a gift from God:  it’s also an arrow that directs our gaze back to the greatest Lover of all.