“Good morrow to my Valentine,” sings the poor Ophelia. “Good morrow! ’tis St. Valentine’s day, all in the morning betime, and I a maid at your window to be your Valentine!
Rude as these lines may be, they are sacred for they are Shakspeare’s, one of the wild and beautiful snatches of song, which are drawn from the heart of the love torn, riven-hearted maid of Denmark! It, moreover, celebrates a custom in the olden time, of looking for a Valentine through your bed-room window, which has partially descended to us, by the first person we see, of the opposite sex, on this festive morning, being Our Valentine.
Our fair readers will perhaps be gratified with a few reminiscences of the practices in former periods, on this
day, from which originated our Valentines. It was the practice in ancient Rome, during a great part of the month of February, to celebrate the Lupercalia, which were feasts in honour of the deities Pan and Juno. On this occasion, among a variety of other festive ceremonies, the names of all the young females were put into a box, from which they were drawn by the men, as chance directed. The pastors of the early Christian church, who by every possible means endeavoured to eradicate the vestiges of pagan superstitions, substituted the names of saints for those of women; and, as the feast of the Lupercalia had commenced about the middle
of February, they chose a saint’s day for the purpose of celebrating it. As it was, however, impossible to extirpate altogether any ceremony to which the people had been so long accustomed, especially one which was so consonant to their feelings, as the original Lupercalia, the practice of choosing partners or sweethearts, was kept up, and, from the day upon which it was celebrated, all persons so chosen
were called Valentines.
And now we will record some of our own customs peculiar to Saint Valentine. In many parts of England and
Scotland, an equal number of maidens and bachelors assemble together, and each write their name upon separate scraps of paper, which are all rolled up and put into bags; the papers are then drawn, and each young man lights upon a female who is to be his Valentine. The company being thus divided into so many happy, laughing couples, the gentlemen give balls and other amusements to their mistresses, and wear the paper with the lady’s name subscribed on it, upon their bosom or sleeve. The festival is kept up several days, and we need scarcely add that this little amusement generally ends in love!
In some parts of Kent they have a curious kind of sport on Valentine’s Day. The young girls of the diiferent villages construct a figure, which they call an ivy girl, while the young men make up another figure, which is denominated a holly boy, and after amusing themselves therewith, the girls steal the holly boy and burn him, and the men run away with the ivy girl, and serve her in a similar manner. The origin, or the meaning of this amusement, we confess ourselves at a loss to guess.
Who would not wish to receive a Valentine? Who is there so dead to all the fascinations of beauty, all the
endearments and allurements of life, as to refuse paying two-pence or three-pence, or whatever it may be, for one of those neat folded, tale telling, blissful billets, even though it should contain nothing more than two hearts transfixed with a dart, or a true lover’s knot, and a poesy from the song, ” If you loves I as I loves you,
no knife shall cut our love in two.”
Who, I enquire, is there that would not feel delighted by any of these tender morceaux? Does it not plainly evidence that there are persons who feel a warm and ardent interest in your welfare, and, humble as the scrap may be, is it not a Valentine? and ought you not to be thankful?
If such simple prettynesses then are to be esteemed, what are we to say of the bright and gorgeous emanations of the artist’s pencil, the glittering and highly wrought bijouterie which adorn the windows of our fancy stationers, and are more splendid than the beautiful annual pocket-books which we should never touch but with new gloves on our hands, for fear of sullying their brilliancy. Roses, which unfolding, discover gorgeous temples, sparkling in gold and glitter, surmounted with bands of little cherubs that seem starting into life, and quaint devices, which speak more forcibly to the heart than the finest poetry of Byron or of Moore. Wreaths and bouquets of flowers, with Cupids springing from the leaves, painted in the finest style of art,
the symbolical flowers arranged in an expressive manner; honeysuckle and jasmine twining fondly round the lilies, roses, and other beauty blossoms, with the little meek and blue-eyed ” Forget Me Not,” peering from between its more splendid compeers, but rivalling all in beautiful allusion. What a present for a lover ! how dearly does his lady esteem it! how fondly does she press the bright gem to her heart, and willingly believe its silent eloquence, the tender avowal of this pledge of love!
The practice of sending Valentines is not confined to one class or body of persons, for the same disposition is found in every rank of life; and every juvenile, as soon as he is old enough to fancy himself in love, thinks it very necessary to write Valentines. Nay, every village clodhopper must also have one for his charming Moggy Dumpling, or Betsy Blossom, and “comes up to town ‘ith’ waggon,” on purpose to buy the prettiest, and have a “real Lonnon one.” With what a happy face he enters the stationer’s shop, and enquires for a “nice looking Woluntine,” and after he has turned over some score or two of cupids, and hearts, and churches, and lovers knots, at length pounces upon one which tickles his
fancy, and chuckling to himself, with what a triumphant air he ulls out his leather pouch, and throws down the demanded sixpence; then borrowing a
pen and ink, he scribbles under the gaudy-coloured picture,
Afterwards, begging the shopkeeper to fold it up nicely for him, he sallies out of the shop with as much pride and consequence as if he had been made high constable of his parish . . . .
* Two hundred thousand letters, above and beyond the usual daily average, annually pass through the two-penny post-office in London alone, on St. Valentine’s day. What a tiribe of lovers!