. . . . Stop,—a bright idea ! I will amuse myself by speculating on the probabilities of all my Cupids, and doves’ nests made of dry moss and green paper to keep out the cold March winds.
To begin with, what are these Valentines? The very first question is difficult. The immortal Charles Lamb described them as ” little missives,” ” little visual interpretations,” ” delicate embarassments which are not the postman’s own.” These, no doubt, are proper synonyms of the word ” Valentines.” But Valentines also form a portrait gallery, a national portrait gallery, portraying but one set of features—those of immortal Cupid.
Probably no one ever sat for his portrait so often as Master Cupid. How many out of the entire number of painters in all ages could affirm that they never painted Cupid ?
There he remains depicted in every position that is ungraceful, in every colour from cherry ripe to the most delicate carnation, distributed over the nation in private collections so that, as Mr. Euskin truly remarks,” no certain destruction of these works of art is possible.” Consequently, on and a short time before the 14th of February, Cupid is to be found in all his phases.
There are Cupids petticoated, Cupids nude, winged Cupids, and wingless Cupids; archer Cupids, and sentimental Cupids with eyes considerably undersized—the result of a pair of well-filled cheeks; Cupids in bird’s nests, and unfledged Cupids wiih arms lovably entwined. In short, Cupids of all sorts and sizes, agreeing in but two particulars, namely rosiness and obesity.
Yet Valentines have something more in them than Cupids. There is ” the little three-cornered exponent of all our hopes and fears,” ” the bestuck and bleeding heart,” — ” the assigned metropolis and headquarters of god Cupid,”—and the great triangle which in conjunction with Cupid symbolizes youth and eternity, or the prospects of Tithonus not fulfilled.
Then there is the profusion of white paper curled and twisted into patterns partaking of the two elements, ladies’ embroidery and the white sugar outside a wedding cake. Then, too, there is the sentiment delicately, sometimes even odoriferously, expressed upon white satin—possibly an ode to Hymen—possibly a representation of a true lover’s knot only—anyhow probably very silly.
Such are the Valentines of these latter days; such were not the Valentines of old. That was no such Valentine upon which Henry Gow expended so much labour and took to his mistress’s window by sunrise (for postmen and nine o’clock posts were not then in fashion). But a truce to Valentines of paper and the like.
Valentines proper are human beings; and the greatest Valentine who ever lived was Bishop Valentine, and next to him, Valentine brother to the wild man Orson. What connexion Cupid had with the Bishop history refuses to disclose, unless, as Lamb suggests, he had Cupids for choristers; nor is it certain which eventful day in the life of ” the immortal go-between,” “the Arch Flame of Hymen,” we celebrate on the 14th of February.
We must therefore follow the example of modern critics, and judge from internal evidence, which seems to point to the following facts:—that the Bishop was a largehearted gentleman; that on the 14th February (authorities differ as to the year) he fought a pitched battle with Cupid, by whom he was slain, being transfixed with an arrow. His last words again are a subject of debate. Some say they were, ” Forget me not;” some, ” Lovers all, a madrigal,” &c, &c.;—-but that, dying nobly, he was transferred to the better sphere of Marriagedom.
Source: The Wykehamist, 1866