Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Love is in the Air...18th Century Valentine Wishes

"Happy Lovers" (1760-1765) by Jean-Honore Fragonard

"St. Valentine Baptizing St. Lucilla" (1575) by Jacopo Bassano
"The Lupercalian Festival in Rome" by the Circle of Adam Elsheimer (1578-1610)
Ah…’tis the week of love culminating in Valentine’s Day this Friday the 14th. Many’s the modern man who looks upon this day with disdain claiming it’s just a made-up day by the greeting card companies, a pernicious ploy to part the lover from his cash, to trap his heart in ransom until he buys his love a valentine. Oh, but he would be wrong, at least as far as the origins of the day are concerned. Celebrating February 14 as a day for proclamations of love goes waaaay back to ancient Roman times. Although more than one story exists as to how the saint, for which the day is named, became associated with romantic love, there are two likely scenarios. One, is that a priest named Valentine, who lived in 3rd century Rome, defied Emperor Claudius II’s orders and performed secret wedding ceremonies for soldiers. The emperor had outlawed the marriage of his soldiers, deeming them less useful if they had wives and children to think of. When Claudius II learned of the priest’s actions, he had him imprisoned and sentenced to death. Another story has it that while in prison, Valentine fell in love with the jailer’s daughter who was kind to him and, before his death, penned her a letter reading “From your Valentine.” 

Long before Valentine, however, the Romans celebrated the festival of Lupercalia, a day in mid- February dedicated to the god of fertility, Faunus. In the 5th century, in an effort to distract Christians from the pagan activities, the church deemed February 14 as
Saint Valentine’s Day, the day on which the saintly priest was martyred. In the middle ages, the good folk of England and France thought that February 14 was the day birds chose their mates for the season and in this mix of pagan fertility rites, loving saints, and love birds, the romantic notions of Saint Valentine’s Day came to full flower.

"Lovers in a Landscape" (1740) Pieter Jan van Reysschoot 
Helene Lambert de Thorigny" (1700) Portrait by Nicolas de Largillierre
Flowers by 
Jean-Baptiste Belin de Fontenay
Jumping ahead to the 18th century, we find many poems flowing from romantic hearts and hand-written messages of love being exchanged on February 14. And if a love-struck Romeo of the late 18th century found himself at a loss for words, he could refer to a book published in Great Britain in 1797 entitled, The Young Man’s Valentine Writer. Remember the old standard, “Roses are red, Violets are blue?” Well you will find the original is a Valentine message written in a collection of English nursery rhymes in 1784, 
Gammer Gurton’s Garland
Here, you see it in its original version:

The rose is red, the violet's blue,
The honey's sweet, and so are you.
Thou are my love and I am thine;
I drew thee to my Valentine:
The lot was cast and then I drew,
And Fortune said it shou'd be you.

"Mary Darby Robinson as 'Perdita' "(1782) by Joshua Reynolds 
For more adult verses, I give you a prolific female poet of the 18th century, Mary Darby Robinson, whose life was short on years but long on romantic intrigue (including a bout with the teenaged Prince of Wales, but that’s for another day!) Here, I present one of her many poems touting the sweet pain love can inflict upon us:

“Sonnet XVII: Love Steals Unheeded”

Love steals unheeded o'er the tranquil mind,
As Summer breezes fan the sleeping main,
Slow through each fibre creeps the subtle pain,
'Till closely round the yielding bosom twin'd.

Vain is the hope the magic to unbind,
The potent mischief riots in the brain,
Grasps ev'ry thought, and burns in ev'ry vein,
'Till in the heart the Tyrant lives enshrin'd.
Oh! Victor strong! bending the vanquish'd frame;
Sweet is the thraldom that thou bid'st us prove!
And sacred is the tear thy victims claim,
For blest are those whom sighs of sorrow move!
Then nymphs beware how ye profane my name,
Nor blame my weakness, till like me ye love.
"Robert Burns" by Alexander Naysmith (1758-1840)
Turning to that 18th century superstar of songs and poetry, I give you Scotland’s Robert Burns whose hundreds of verses are full of romantic notions. Here is one of his all-time favorites:

"A Red, Red Rose" 

O my Luve's like a red, red rose
That's newly sprung in June;
O my Luve's like the melodie
That's sweetly played in tune.

As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in luve am I;
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a' the seas gang dry:

Till a' the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi' the sun;
I will luve thee still, my dear,
While the sands o' life shall run.

And fare thee weel, my only Luve,
And fare thee weel awhile!
And I will come again, my Luve,
Tho' it ware ten thousand mile.

Yes, just give Robbie a lass’s name and he’ll pen her tribute. Here is a list of names I pulled from his long list of poems and songs (perhaps you’ll find your lady’s name!)
Mary Ann
"The Swing" (1767) by Jean-Honore Fragonard
"Lovers First Tiff" (1876 painting of an 18th century scene)
by Louis Haghe

A busy man was our Rrrobbie! Now, if you find a poem suitable for your love, you may want to do a little Scottish/modern English translation or you just might honor her with a line like this from one of his poetic ditties: “Johnie lad, cock up your beaver…”

Hmmm…well on that note, I think it’s time to draw this post to close!

Have a good week, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...Y'all come back now!  (And Happy Valentine's Day!)

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