Published in 1875, The Lover’s Poetic Companion and Valentine Writer is a book intended for Victorian ladies and gentlemen “who wish to address those they love in suitable terms.” It contains a variety of Valentine verses, ranging from the sweet to the satirical. The book promises that these “Love Lyrics” are harmless and that even the more comical lines do not descend into vulgarity. But what these verses lack in vulgarity, they more than make up for in unkindness and — in some instances — outright cruelty.
Much of this unkindness is directed at those unfortunate would-be Valentines whom the Victorian lady or gentlemen must reject for some reason or another. For example, in the below Valentine, titled "A Tinted Venus," a gentleman rejects a woman because of her penchant for wearing too much makeup.
A Tinted Venus
I’m fond of paintings, and admire
A form divine and human,
But one thing I abominate,
And that’s a painted woman.
When gazing on your tinted cheeks
I feel inclined to scoff,
If I should kiss them, or your lips,
I know they’d all come off.
From Madame Rachel do attempt
Your notions to dissever,
That’s not the way, believe me, to
Be beautiful for ever.
Don’t credit the advertisements
In paper or in serial,
You cannot manufacture charms
With ugly raw material.
The next Valentine is a touch harsher—and even more personal. In it, a woman rejects a potential suitor for being too tall and thin.
To a Tall Thin Person
I’m fond of light in any shape,
But can’t perceive a cause
Why I should wed a lamp-post,
Or a pair of lantern jaws.
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.
I don’t know that I like a mate
But then, you know, you scraggy ones
Are always cross and grumpy.
If I am preying on your mind,
Dismiss, I pray, that matter;
The one I choose for life will be
At least a trifle fatter.
Unfortunately, a fat Valentine was, in many cases, no more acceptable than a tall, thin one. In the below Valentine, titled "To A Fat Person," a lady not only rejects her plump suitor, but also offers him some advice on shedding a few pounds.
To a Fat Person
Whenever thy form I look upon,
My friend so stout and flabby,
I thank my stars I was not born
A ‘bus-man or a cabby.
Since sure I am, were such my lot,
I should feel most unwilling
To take a pair of folks like you
For sixpence or a shilling.
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.
Spinsters were not exempt from Valentine’s Day rejection—at least, not insofar as The Lover’s Poetic Companion was concerned. In the following Valentine verses, addressed "To a Cod-Eyed Spinster," a rather ungentlemanly gentleman issues a resounding rejection to a lovelorn old-maid.
To a Cod-Eyed Spinster
The very last that I should take
To village church or minster,
For purposes connubial,
Would be a cod-eyed spinster.
I’m fond of cod for dinner, ’tis
With me a favourite dish,
But shouldn’t like to own a wife
With eyes just like a fish.
Time’s hourglass now is running low,
So be no longer jealous,
Make way for younger girls and cease
To hunt up us smart fellows.
I’d sooner marry a giraffe,
Hedgehog or porcupine,
Than from the female sex select
A cod-eyed Valentine.
Some of the Valentine verses offered seem justifiably cutting. There are those directed at braggarts, drunkards, and hardened flirts. One of my own favorites is the one below, addressed "To A Vain Individual."
To A Vain Individual
Do give it up, ‘tis quite in vain
Each air and grace you try on;
Don’t lay this unction to your soul,
That you’re the British Lion.
The lions of a breed like yours
Eat thistles, hay, and grass,
And for a roar they give a bray,
And that is all — al-as!
I never like in my remarks
To venture on a strong key,
But you provoke me, lions’ skins
Do misbecome a donkey.
So give up lionizing, and
Be simply asinine,
And then perhaps some female (l)ass
Will be your Valentine.
The above Valentine verses are only a few of the many contained within the pages of The Lover’s Poetic Companion. Though they’re mean-spirited, I can’t help but find them rather humorous. To the Victorian era person being rejected, however, these “Vinegar Valentines” would have been crushing indeed. If you have to reject the advances of a would-be Valentine this February 14th, I strongly encourage you to find a kinder method of doing so.
This post originally appeared on MimiMatthews.com and is reprinted with permission.
Top photo: The Two Central Figures in “Derby Day” by William Powell Frith, 1860 (Met Museum)
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Mimi Matthews is the author of The Pug Who Bit Napoleon: Animal Tales of the 18th and 19th Centuries and A Victorian Lady’s Guide to Fashion and Beauty (Pen and Sword Books, July 2018). Her articles on nineteenth-century history have been published on various academic and history sites, including the Victorian Web and the Journal of Victorian Culture. When not writing historical non-fiction, Mimi authors exquisitely proper historical romance novels. Her debut Victorian romance The Lost Letter can be ordered at Amazon. To learn more, please visit www. MimiMatthews.com.