The Young Man and His Valentines: 1887

[St. Valentine’s] day is observed right along now, and here in Springfield where we live, move and consequently don’t have to pay any rent, it is particularly celebrated. It’s the biggest day in the year for the largest percentage of people. I like St. Valentine’s day. I once paid $4.45 for a large, sweet-smelling affair with a heart-shaped basque and no end of flesh-colored kids, without buttons or anything on which to button, meandering around over it. I got another fellow to address the envelope. It was a girl on whose outline I was madly and passionately impaled. The other fellow was a good writer and the next day the girl accused him of sending her the valentine. He looked down in sweet confusion and said as he wiggled from side to side, “Oh, Miss Jones, who’d have thought you knew my hand-writing.”

Then the girl was sure it was him, and the next week she crocheted him a horse blanket and a lot of other fancy work, including a cute little money purse to be used as a savings bank in which his nibs was expected to put all his spare coin for missionary purposes. On  one side it had these crewel, crewel words, “Give freely,” and on the other side, “Love the giver.” The young man obeyed one of the mottoes, at least. I never in my life saw a man so stuck on himself. But I got even with him. He married the girl.

Since the sad and foregoing experience, I have rigidly adhered to the habit of slyly writing my name in one corner of every pretty and costly valentine I send. It adds to the poetry of the lovely trifle and keeps the girl’s father from kicking the necktie off of the wrong man.

I put my name once on a comic valentine which I sent to a young fellow whom I used to wake myself up at night with an alarm-clock to hate. I wanted him to know who sent it. It was a hideous caricature, got up in the most exaggerated style. It had a great mouth, like the map of somebody’s affected lung in the almanacs. It was unmistakably homely in six colors and a verse. I put my name on it and sent it to this fellow. I was wild with glee and excitement during the day, and fancied I could see him flinging himself over a four-story precipice and dashing his brains out with a three-“em” dash.

Next morning  I received a note from the recipient of the valentine. He had evidently recipped it. The note was as follows:

Springfield, O., Feb. 15, 1884.

Dear Fellow: — Photo received. Thanks so hard. But the signature was superfluous. I recognized the features as soon as I saw them. But don’t you think that part of the mouth was lost in the retouching of the negative at the expense of the naturalness of the picture.

Yours in earnest inquiry.

GUS.

P.S. I don’t speak positively about the mouth. I merely throw it out as a suggestion. I had to throw it out, as there wasn’t room enough in the house.

Once More,

Gus

The next time I met Gus, we had a chat and when we parted, he looked hurt—especially about the left eye. During the next week, Gus put in his time trying to decipher the inscription on a beef-steak, at a distance of a decimal part of an inch from his sense of sight.

When I was fourteen years old I was wildly stuck on a little girl who lived across from where we were accumulating a rent account. I determined to send her a valentine. I got a lovely one, with a beautiful vine clambering over it and a cluster of violets in the center. A sweet little cherub, attired in an intelligent look and a maxillary dimple, was peering out from between the violets, with one little fat leg trailing along behind him in the airy fashion that cupid affects. But the verse on it made me tired. It was something to the effect that when the starlight was kissing the moonlight and the evening zephyrs were exhaling a bouquet of vesper odors, then I loved her—oh, I loved her. I knew that my girl was a practical sort of a person who always split the family kindling and had to draw the family rain-water by hanging head downward in the cistern and dragging an old brass kettle along the bottom with a sound like an escaped Wagnerian overture. I knew that if I wanted to make any impression on her, I mustn’t spring any “Luna, thou art the moon” business on her, for she would simply come to the front gate and yell across to my folks to put me on ice before I got mildewed. So I made some verses entirely of my own composure and pasted them over the sentimental lollipop. This was my poetry:

Oh maid! My little speckled maid!

This is a world of trouble,

But when I see you—am I glad?

Well, I should gently bubble.

 

You are the apple of my eye,

As I have oft declared;

And I’m the apple, too, of yours,

Why then can’t we be pa(i)red?

 

Forgive me for my crime-like rhyme,

And should we ever part,

Dost know fair maid, what restest next

My madly palping heart?

I didn’t see anything of my girl for four days and I had concluded she had fallen into the cistern and broken her pledge. But on the fifth day she came sneaking across the street, shoved something under the front door, rang the bell, and then skinned back again as tight as she could go. On the way she stepped on her left ankle with her right foot and brushed away a mud-puddle in the road, but I laid it to excitement. My heart beat wildly as I heard my big brother go to the door, and present he returned with an envelope in his hand and a broad grin bordering the hair on his head. My brother had the broadest grin I ever stood beside and examined. He handed me an envelope. It was dog-eared and finger-marked. I tore it open. Inside was a half sheet of paper, with the following written on it in red ink:

You talk as though you were a chump,

Or took me for a flirt:

I guess the thing that’s next your heart

Must be your undershirt.

I let this girl alone after this and turned my affections elsewhere. I always felt hard toward the family, and as soon as I grew up and went to work for a newspaper I took my revenge out on her brother. I saw him washing his neck one day, and he got so much soil off of it that I wrote the item up and put it under the head of real estate transfers. He must have appreciated this delicate piece of satire, for I never knew him to repeat the operation.

There are somethings in a person’s life which ought not to be made fun of, and I deeply deplore the habit of sending comic valentines. I admit that the temptation is strong, but it ought to be resisted. I knew a man who had a mother-in-law on his wife’s side of the house, who had a cast of features that would stop the progress of time on a sun-dial when she looked at it. She was so ugly that her son-in-law used to keep a jar of cucumbers pickled by setting her photo next to it. Yet he did not go and get a horrible thing in four and five colors with a satirical verse, and send it to his mother-in-law. Not he. He simply sent her one of her own tintypes. She had him arrested. She then expired to slow curtain, soft music, and plaid fire.

Any young man of good address ought to have no trouble in having plenty of pretty valentines sent him. Mine is care REPUBLIC office. But any one who intends sending me comic ones will please address them to Box ¾, New Zealand.

CABRIOLET.

Springfield [OH] Daily Republic 29 January 1887: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The “comic” or “vinegar” valentine was the bane of St Valentine’s Day. The receipt of one of these horrors might cause tears, loving hearts torn asunder, ruptured engagements, horse-whippings, and even worse violence.  Still, unkind as it was, Mrs Daffodil feels that the verse hand-delivered by “the little speckled maid,” equitably summed up the narrator’s “chump” tendencies. One wonders what would have been the outcome had he not called her “speckled” (that deadly insult to the charmingly freckled complexion!) and had left the Valentine versifying to trained professionals.

To be Relentlessly Informative, the puzzling reference to “plaid fire,” refers to melodramatic theatrical conventions as in this passage from an 1866 edition of “Fun,” satirically describing a play: “Dance by all the characters, blue fire, green fire, red fire, plaid fire, grand transformation scene, and rhymed tags…”

 

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdote

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

2 thoughts on “The Young Man and His Valentines: 1887

  1. Kathryn McKeen

    Utterly delightful! I plan to use the line about “a young fellow whom I used to wake myself up at night with an alarm-clock to hate” in the future!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

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