Ben Miller

Archive for the ‘Love and Courtship’ Category

Old Valentine’s Day Customs and Lost Romantic Rituals

In Customs and Traditions, Everyday Life, Georgian Era, Love and Courtship, Victorian Era on February 16, 2010 at 2:23 am

Valentines- Punch

Although the roots of Valentine’s Day stretch back to A.D 496 (when it was established by Pope Gelasius I to commemorate the life of a Christian martyr), most scholars agree that the holiday did not become associated with any romantic notions until the late middle ages. By the early 18th century the custom of “drawing names” had become popular, as noted by Bourne, in his Antiquitates Vulgares (1725):

It is a ceremony, never omitted among the Vulgar, to draw Lots which they Term Valentines, on the Eve before Valentine-day. The names of a select number of one sex, are by an equal number of the other put into some vessel; and after that, every one draws a name, which…is called their Valentine, and is also looked upon as a good omen of their being man and wife afterwards.

These name-drawing rituals could become quite elaborate, to the point of resembling European folk-magic. Consider the following example, described in a 1755 letter by an anonymous girl dubbed “Arabella Whimsey”:

Last Friday, Mr. Town, was Valentine’s Day, and I’ll tell you what I did the night before. I got five bay-leaves and pinned them to the four corners of my pillow, and the fifth one to the middle; and then if I dreamt of my sweetheart, Betty said we should be married before the year was out. But to make it more sure, I boiled an egg hard, and took out the yolk, and filled it up with salt: and when I went to bed, eat it shell and all, without speaking or drinking after it, and this was to have the same effect with the bay-leaves. We also wrote our lovers names upon bits of paper; and rolled them up in clay, and put them into water; and the first that rose up, was to be our Valentine. Would you think it? Mr. Blossom was my man: and I lay a-bed and shut my eyes all the morning, till he came to our house; for I would not have seen another man before him for all the world.

WEARING YOUR HEART ON YOUR SLEEVE

During the eighteenth century, if a man was particularly smitten with a woman, he might declare it to the world by pinning to his sleeve a heart-shaped piece of paper with the name of his beloved written on it. It was this custom which led to the expression “wearing one’s heart on one’s sleeve.” A woman might achieve the same goal with respect to the man she admired by wearing a charm called a love-bagge near her heart, as recorded in Pepys’s diary entry of March 3, 1662:

And here Mrs. T. shewed me my name upon her breast as her valentine, which will cost me twenty shillings.

VALENTINE CARDS

During the Victorian era, sending Valentine cards became popular in England, and, in 1847, a Massachusetts woman named Esther Howland capitalized on the tradition by developing a successful business producing hand-made Valentine cards. Thus began the practice in America. In 1872, Punch Magazine offered an update of the tradition:

The belief is universal…that if you are single, the first unmarried person you meet outside the house on St. Valentine’s Day will exercise an important influence over your future destiny. Fortunately there is a simple way of evading the hand of Fate, open to those who desire a greater freedom in their choice of a partner in wedlock – at least, if they are willing to remain indoors till the expiration of the spell at twelve p.m. It is amazing how much faith they put into this sort of thing.

This same superstition was mentioned in Ms. Whimsey’s 1755 letter, when she stated that she would lay in bed all morning with her eyes shut, until Mr. Blossom “came to our house; for I would not have seen another man before him for all the world.”

HEAVING

Another interesting ancient tradition not connected to Valentine’s Day (but romantic nonetheless, and thus deserving of mention) was that of heaving, practiced in England and Wales since time immemorial. On the day after “Old Eastertide,” groups of men were allowed to physically lift women off the ground in a chair specially adorned with ribbons and flowers for that purpose.

Sometimes a kiss was required as a condition of release; or rather, a kiss (or money) was bestowed as a “reward” upon the heaving party. In some places, the mothers of the girls gave presents of food or milk, so as to bribe the boys to go away quietly. The next day the women would exact their revenge by performing the same ritual on the men. The following extract is from the Public Advertiser for Friday, April 13th, 1787:

Old as the custom has been, the counties of Shropshire, Cheshire, and Lancashire boast one of equal antiquity, which they call Heaving, and perform with the following ceremonies, on the Monday and Tuesday in the Easter week. On the first day, a party of men go with a chair into every house to which they get admission, force every female to be seated in their vehicle, and lift them up three times, with loud huzzas. For this they claim the reward of a chaste salute, which those who are too coy to submit to may get exempted from by a fine of one shilling, and receive a written testimony, which secures them from a repetition of the ceremony for that day. On the Tuesday the women claim the same privilege, and pursue their business in the same manner, with this addition–that they guard every avenue to the town, and stop every passenger, pedestrian, equestrian or vehicular.

In a letter dated May 7, 1799, one Englishman described the startling experience of being forced to submit to the custom by several aggressive females :

I was sitting alone last Easter Tuesday at breakfast at the Talbot in Shrewsbury, when I was surprised by the entrance of all the female servants of the house handing in an arm chair, lined with white, and decorated with ribbons and favours of different colours. I asked them what they wanted? Their answer was, they came to heave me. It was the custom of the place on that morning; and they hoped I would take a seat in their chair. It was impossible not to comply with a request very modestly made, and to a set of nymphs in their best apparel, and several of them under twenty. I wished to see all the ceremony, and seated myself accordingly. The group then lifted me from the ground, turned the chair about, and I had the felicity of a salute from each. I told them I supposed there was a fee due upon the occasion, and was answered in the affirmative; and, having satisfied the damsels in this respect, they withdrew to heave others.

Heaving, or Lifting, from an old drawing.

Heaving, or Lifting, from an old drawing.

According to a 1902 British folklore journal, heaving was was originally meant “to represent the Crucifixion of Our Saviour—the dressing (in gay ribbons) being intended to set forth the clothing of our Lord with the purple robe; the lifting, the nailing on the Cross; the kiss, the betrayal; the reward, the thirty pieces of silver.” Although the roots of the custom are obscure, it appears to date back to at least the rule of Edward I “Longshanks,” when it was recorded that:

Seven of Queen Eleanora’s (of Castile) ladies, on the Easter Monday of 1290, unceremoniously invaded the chamber of King Edward (the First), and seizing their majestic master, proceeded to ‘ heave him’ in his chair till he was glad to pay a fine of fourteen pounds to enjoy ‘ his own peace,’ and be set at liberty.

Heaving appears to have eventually fallen out of favor at some point during the late nineteenth or early twentieth century. It seems to have been looked upon with disapproval by members of respectable society, judging by the stern observation of a gentleman from Manchester writing in 1784:

It is a rude, indecent, and dangerous diversion, practised chiefly by the lower class of people. Our magistrates constantly prohibit it by the bellman, but it subsists at the end of the town; and the women have of late years converted it into a money job.

SOURCES AND FURTHER READING:

Bourne, Henry. Antiquitates Vulgares, pub. 1725.

Bye-gones, relating to Wales and the Border Counties. Volume III, New Series. Printed at the Caxton workd., 1894

A Quarterly Review, or, Myth, Tradition, Institution, & Custom, being the Transactions of the Folk-lore Society, and incorporating The Archaeological Review and The Folk-lore Journal, Vol. XIII. London: David Nutt, 1902.

Opie, Iona and Moira Tatem, A Dictionary of Superstitions, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989.

Kacirk, Jeffrey. Forgotten English, New York: William Morrow, 1997.

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Nineteenth Century Courtship Advice

In Behavior and Etiquette, Edwardian Era, Gender Roles, Love and Courtship, Victorian Era on February 13, 2010 at 6:29 pm

Spread

With one day to go until Valentine’s, we thought it prudent to post some courtship advice from the Victorian and Edwardian eras. It holds just as true today as it did back then:

In public a gentleman should show constant attention to his intended, and neither in company nor elsewhere should he flirt with any other lady. On the other hand, he should avoid, even to his bride-elect, those marked attentions and endearments that would excite in strangers a smile of ridicule.

– Cassell’s Handbook of Etiquette, 1860

You should be ready to act the knight, if a lady in your company is attacked. If she give offence, and that without reason, your office is that of a mediator. You should even ask pardon for your companion. A bully would act otherwise; but it is absurd to get into a quarrel for the sake of maintaining that a person who is insolent has a right to be so, and that because she is of your company. You will show yourself, in acting thus, as ill-bred as she.

Beadle’s Dime Book of Etiquette, 1861

When traveling with a lady, always carry her bag and assist her in and out of the trains. Your behavior is on its mettle under these circumstances, and traveling is very apt to be like a mustard plaster, bringing out both the good and evil attributes of a man.

The Complete Bachelor: Manners for Men, 1896

OD2

If the honor of a woman be attacked, you should always defend it. It is not allowable for any one to assail the reputation of a lady, even if she be open to censure.

Beadle’s Dime Book of Etiquette, 1861

In walking with a lady in the street, leave her the inner side of the pavement.

Beadle’s Dime Book of Etiquette, 1861

When a man is led to spend more money than he can afford in entertaining a girl it is a bad preparation for matrimony. Courtship is a time when a man desires to bring gifts, and it is quite right and fitting that he should do so within reasonable limits. A girl of refined feelings does not like to accept valuable presents from a man at this period of their acquaintance. Flowers, books, music, if the girl plays or sings, and boxes of candy are always permissible offerings which neither engage the man who offers them nor the girl who receives them. This is the time when a man invites a girl to the theater, to concerts and lectures, and may offer to escort her to church. The pleasure of her society is supposed to be a full return for the trouble and expense incurred in showing these small attentions.

The Handy Cyclopedia Of Things Worth Knowing, 1911

Courtship

No gentleman should permit a lady, whom he likes, but does not love, to mistake for one hour the nature and object of his intentions. Women may have some excuse for coquetry; but a man has none. When flirtation is a game that two can play at, equally adepts, it is one thing; but to allow an innocent girl to deceive herself, or, as is more commonly the case, to be deceived by the badinage of her companions, into the idea that you are her lover, and intend to propose marriage, is ungentlemanly. You may be innocent — you may not suspect the existence of such an idea — but few will give you credit for your verdancy, and we warn you against making such blunders, which may lead to one of two results. Either, having engaged the affections, and excited the hopes of the lady, you will feel compelled to marry her, or you will be disgraced, possibly cowhided, or shot.

The Illustrated Manners Book, 1855

If the gentleman be a person of good breeding and right feeling, he will need no caution from us to remember that, when he is admitted into the heart of a family as the suitor of a daughter, he is receiving one of the greatest possible favors that can be conferred on him, whatever may be his own superiority of social rank or worldly circumstances; and that, therefore, his conduct should be marked by a delicate respect towards the parents of his lady-love. By this means he will propitiate them in his favor, and induce them to regard him as worthy of the trust they have placed in him.

Routledge’s Manual of Etiquette, 1875

At this period it is a wise man who makes a friend of a girl’s mother, and if he does this he will generally be repaid in a twofold manner. No matter how willful a girl may be, her mother’s opinion of her friends always has weight with her. Moreover, what the mother is the girl will in all probability become, and a man has no better opportunity of learning a girl’s mental and moral qualities than by knowing the woman who bore and reared her.

The Handy Cyclopedia Of Things Worth Knowing, 1911

A man should never make a declaration [of love] in a jesting manner. It is most unfair to a lady. He has no right to trifle with her feelings for mere sport, nor has he a right to hide his own meaning under the guise of a jest.

Our Deportment, 1881

Neither party should try to make the other jealous for the purpose of testing his or her affection. Such a course is contemptible; and if the affections of the other are permanently lost by it, the offending party is only gaining his or her just deserts. Neither should there be provocation to little quarrels for the foolish delight of reconciliation. No lover will assume a domineering attitude over his future wife. If he does so, she will do well to escape from his thrall before she becomes his wife in reality. A domineering lover will be certain to be more domineering as a husband.

Our Deportment, 1881

As to temper or disposition, the man or woman can easily gain some insight into the respective peculiarities of another’s temperament by a little quiet observation. If the gentleman be courteous and careful in his attentions to his mother and sisters, and behave with ease and consideration toward all women, irrespective of age, rank, or present condition, she may feel that her first estimate was a correct one. On the other hand, should he show disrespect toward women as a class, sneer at sacred things, evince an inclination for expensive pleasures in advance of his means, or for low amusements or companionship; be cruel to the horse he drives, or display an absence of all energy in his business pursuits, then is it time to gently, but firmly, repel all nearer advances on his part.

As to the gentleman, it will be well for him also to watch carefully as to the disposition of the lady and her conduct in her own family. If she be attentive and respectful to her parents, kind and affectionate toward her brothers and sisters, not easily ruffled in temper and with inclination to enjoy the pleasures of home; cheerful, hopeful and charitable in disposition, then may he feel, indeed, that he has a prize before him well worth the winning.

If, however, she should display a strong inclination towards affectation and flirtation; be extremely showy or else careless in her attire, frivolous in her tastes and eager for admiration, he may rightly conclude that very little home happiness is to be expected from her companionship.

Social Etiquette: or, Manners and Customs of Polite Society, 1896

Cultivate and manifest whatever qualities you would awaken. You inspire in the one you court the precise feeling and traits you yourself experience. This law effects this result. Every faculty in either awakens itself in the other. This is just as sure as gravity itself. Hence your success must come from within, depends upon yourself, not the one courted.

Social Etiquette: or, Manners and Customs of Polite Society, 1896

OD1

Now That’s Love

In Dueling, Gender Roles, Love and Courtship, Pirates, Rogues, and Gangs on January 30, 2010 at 12:48 am

By Ben Miller

Traditionally, the custom of dueling was a privilege accorded only to gentlemen. However, every now and again (and rather more frequently than most historians suppose), tradition was turned on its head. The female pirate Mary Read reportedly fought a duel to save the life of her lover, a young “artist” who been captured and forced into piracy:

Her Passion was no less violent than his, and perhaps she express’d it, by one of the most generous Actions that ever Love inspired. It happened this young Fellow had a Quarrel with one of the Pyrates, and their ship then lying at an Anchor, near one of the Islands, they had appointed to go ashore and fight, according to the Custom of the Pyrates: Mary Read was to the last Degree uneasy and anxious, for the Fate of her Lover; she would not have had him refuse the Challenge, because, she could not bear the Thoughts of his being branded with Cowardice; on the other side, she dreaded the Event, and apprehended the Fellow might be too hard for him: When Love once enters into the Breast of one who has any Sparks of Generosity, it stirs the Heart up to the most noble Actions; in this Dilemma, she shew’d, that she fear’d more for his Life than she did for her own; for she took a Resolution of quarrelling with this Fellow her self, and having challenged him ashore, she appointed the Time two Hours sooner than that when he was to meet her Lover, where she fought him at Sword and Pistol, and killed him upon the Spot.

– Capt. Charles Johnson, A General History of the Pyrates. Reprint of the 1724 edition.

A vintage image of Mary Read. Note the fencing stance.

A vintage image of Mary Read. Note the fencing stance.