Ah, Valentines Day. When roses are red, and Violets are…well…in the case of Violet Crawley (Dowager Countess of Grantham If You’re Nasty)…mean.
Here at Beekman 1802, we love our historical context. So in doing a little research on the history of Valentines Day, we learned that during the 1800’s, Valentines Day wasn’t just a bounty for florists and candy-makers. February was also a boon month for printers, publishers, and hack poets. Every year several slim volumes of sample Valentines Day verses were published, to be utilized by those suitors and beloveds who might be a little poetically-challenged.
These minor tomes offered up examples of Valentine missives that were suitable for use on most any object of affection. There were poems appropriate to send to “One With Whom You Have Danced.” Or to a “Far Away Sweet.” There were Valentines crafted for specific professions as well. In love with a “Pastry Cook,” “Parish Clerk,” or a “Duck of a Curate” (whatever that is)? There were sample lyrics tailored for just your mooning and spooning needs.
These volumes weren’t just for admirers, however. They also offered up sample responses to be used by those being admired. While most of the responses to requests to “Be Mine” were crafted to answer in the affirmative, occasionally a suitor needed to be dismissed as well. And the best manner to do so in the 19th century, apparently, was adamantly and succinctly.
We found a wealth of hilariously mercenary verses in our research. And as we were reading through them, we kept hearing the voice of a particularly pithy and cutting 19th century teen girl: Violet Crawley. She may not have been a Dowager Countess yet, but we’re fairly certain her Valentines Day pen was as sharp as her tongue would one day become.
Below are a few of our favorite 19th Century satirical Valentines Day verses we stumbled across.
A Response to Misplaced Affection from “Cupid’s Annual Charter; or, St. Valentine’s Festival” published in 1815:
Your Valentine, so full of flame,
I put into the fire;
Against your folly I exclaim,
Such nonsense all must tire.
As I had neither twine nor rope,
I could not send a line,
But if you wish to hang, I hope
You’ll buy one, Valentine.
But as you’re full of raging fire,
Water would better cool,
So take a leap off London Bridge,
And drown yourself poor fool.
A Valentine “To a Fat Person” from “A Collection of New and Original Valentines, Serious and Satirical, Sublime and Ridiculous” published in 1858:
…Do be persuaded, unctuous one,
Take something to get thinner;
Or, better still, don’t take so much
When you sit down to dinner.
Your friends may term you “embonpoint,”
Or “stout” – that’s very fine:
You’re fat – uncommon – much too fat
To be my Valentine.
A Valentine “To a Tall Thin Person” from “A Collection of New and Original Valentines, Serious and Satirical, Sublime and Ridiculous” published in 1858:
When first your tall, gaunt form I saw
With face like any mourner
I thought you were the shadow
Of some person round the corner.
If I am preying on your mind,
Dismiss, I pray, that matter;
The Valentine I choose will be
At least a trifle fatter.
A Valentine for someone afflicted with bad breath, “LINES TO ACCOMPANY A TOOTH-BRUSH” from “A Collection of New and Original Valentines, Serious and Satirical, Sublime and Ridiculous” published in 1858:
Though silent this mute thing will speak
My sentiments. If not, still louder
My words upon your ear shall break,
While simply I suggest – tooth powder.
Just rinse your mouth out when you rise,
And use this votive gift of mine –
Some day or other, in my eyes,
You then may be a Valentine.
Another Response to Misplaced Affection from “Cupid’s Annual Charter; or, St. Valentine’s Festival” published in 1815:
I once more tell you, foolish swain,
I don’t your suit approve,
With me you only lose your time,
And ne’er will win my love;
When you’re beneath the willow tree,
This plan I recommend,
Pray jump into the stream beneath,
And give your sorrows end.