Out & About …

… on the North York Moors, or wherever I happen to be.

18th-Century Valentines

I noticed new trees have been planted on Busby Moor, that stretch of Cleveland Hills below Cringle Moor and Green Bank.

And so to St. Valentine’s day, isn’t this year flying by?

Francis Grose’s ‘A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue‘, written in 1785, defines a ‘valentine‘ as ‘the first woman seen by a man, or man seen by a woman on St. Valentine’s day, the 14th of February, when, it is said, every bird chuses his mate for the ensuing year1Grose, Francis. “A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue”. 1785. Page 172..

In Richard Blakeborough’s works, there are a couple of examples of 18th-century valentine letters2‘Chats with Our Grandmothers. | Northern Weekly Gazette | Saturday 26 January 1901 | British Newspaper Archive’. 2022. Britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk <https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/bl/0003075/19010126/192/0013> [accessed 22 September 2022].

The first was addressed in a copper plate hand to a Miss Elizabeth Wyvill, in 1790:

To my dear Betsy,—

May no witche’s eye, thy charms o’er wither,
No roystering crack whip, e’re win thy smile,
No spurred and booted buck, my love, I fear me;
Thee beguile.
May God guard thee Betsy and thy virtue ever,
May angels with their pure white wings thy charms
Enwrap from every evil glance,
And ward off evil arms.
Believe me, dearest maiden, I have been,
True unto, thee, and so shall be through life,
A two fold blessing new crave from thee.
Oh Be
To me,
My Valentine
And wife.

The valentine begins by praying that no witch’s eyes shall wither his sweetheart’s charms, because, in the 18th century, it was believed a witch, if she merely looked at anything or anyone, could cause it to blight or wither. A “roystering crack whip” and a “booted buck” are names for someone who is wicked.

The second one was recollected to Blakeborough by a Bessy Smith. It is undated but refers to her own youth:

Maiden, with three tiny pebbles
Hie thee to the old worn cross;
As thou lays them, name each pebble,
And, by thy faith, call one Tom Moss.
Lay them gently on that emblem,
Of the faith which you and I,
Only love more than each other,
For its truth we both would die.
When thou turns to hie thee homeward.
Kiss the pebble named as mine,
Cast the others far behind thee
And I shall he thy Valentine.

This refers to an old custom where three pebbles were collected from three separate streams by a young maiden, each one ‘christened‘ by writing upon them with her own blood the first letter of the name of suitable sweethearts. All three were then laid upon a cross — if there wasn’t a cross the altar steps would do — and then those two least preferred were tossed over the left shoulder saying:—

You, and you, I cast ye from me,
But thou, I warm time near my heart,
I do hide thee in my bosom,
May I be thine own sweetheart?

It’s easier nowadays to buy some tat from Tesco.






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