Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Father Warns Against the "Depravity" of Valentines, 1805

Tuesday, February 14, 2012
Susan reporting:

Like a modern father ever-vigilant against the wrong sort of texting, this early 19th c gentleman takes matters – literally – into his hands regarding Valentines sent to his daughter and her friend. Since I doubt teenaged daughters or their admirers have changed that much in 250 years, I can easily imagine the howls of outrage that followed his actions, too. And don't you wish you knew exactly what "depravity" these Valentines contained? Depravity being highly objective, they might have simply been like the ones mentioned yesterday by Loretta, or they could have been...well, use your imagination! This letter of cautionary advice was written by W. Chamberlaine, and appeared in The Gentleman's Magazine, London, 1805.

   "As the 14th of [this] month is a day anxiously looked for by the youth of both sexes, in the expectation of exercising their ingenuity in forming those amorous billets denominated "valentines," I beg leave, through the channel of your Magazine, to offer a few suggestions to parents and guardians on the subject of these productions.
   "As my family were sitting at breakfast, the two-penny-post-man brought in five letters. Three of these were directed to the young ladies; the other two were on business, to myself. My eldest daughter who never receives any letter which she would wish to conceal from her parents, finding that her billet contained what appeared to be Poetry, began to read it to us; but she fortunately had not gone beyond the second line, when I recollected (from having heard of them in my boyish days) what the sequel was; and, snatching, as quick as lightning, the abominable Valentine from her hands before she could possibly arrive at the meaning, threw it upon the fire, congratulating my daughter on having escaped reading the most horrid obscenity that depravity could invent.
   "A young lady, an inmate in my house, over whom I had not the same authority as over my own daughter, had by this time opened her packet of painted trumpery; and began to read the verses aloud. No sooner heard I the first line than I knew it to contain ribaldry more shockingly indecent, if possible than the former; I therefore made free to snatch that one also out of the reader's hand, assuring my young friend that, if she had gone to the end of it, she never could again have looked at me, or either of the young gentlemen who were then sitting at the table with us, in the face.
   "The third was then handed to me by my youngest daughter unopened. This was also a Valentine, but contained only a few innocent lines...."

Above: [The reader tickled by Cupid], London? c. 1800?, copyright Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University


Anonymous said...

Some game show or something on the radio yesterday mentioned that at one time, law cost of mailing a letter led to many really obscene and pornographic valentines. I thought the date was way past the Regency and not before it, though. Of course, it is just possible that some of the verses that were considered clever and witty in the previous century were now considered bawdy or worse. Some of the verses would make a hardened sinner blush.

Keri said...

This line made me LOL: "congratulating my daughter on having escaped reading the most horrid obscenity that depravity could invent." Wow, overreact much? :-D

The use of the word "inmate" in the third paragraph of the quote is unintentionally ironic in its modern usage... I looked it up on etymonline:

"1580s, 'one allowed to live in a house rented by another' (usually for a consideration), from in 'inside' + mate 'companion.' Sense of 'one confined to an institution' is first attested 1834."

Ann said...

Just found your blog - lovely! This post was very interesting and I'll have to share!

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