Valentine’s Day For the Young Englishwoman (1875)


At certain special times of the year we experience a tendency to indulge in mental associations more or less connected with the sentimental and emotional side of our nature. At no time are the best women, or men either, free from such influences, for the thoughts and actions of good lives are always regulated by them; but they are comparatively private and undemonstrative, except at the particular seasons to which we allude . . . .  .  .

February has one day on which a little playful sentimentality and badinage are sanctioned by custom. St. Valentine’s Day gives a measure of freedom which at no “other season could be permitted. A young lady may then receive a tastefully ornamented epistle, containing a few words of conventional sentimentality, and smile at what, at at any other time, would be considered an unwarranted freedom ; the season sanctions the sentimentality by depriving it of any specific meaning, and makes it merely a compliment which may be interchanged between friends.

A young lady must be very inexperienced who would attach any serious meaning to the pretty words embedded in garlands of flowers and all the glories of lacepaper, and artistic colour-printing which the postman— who ought by rights to look as much like a valentine Cupid as the exigencies of modern costume will permit— delivers into her hand on the morning of the famous fourteenth of February.

It has now become the custom, and a very pretty custom too, to send little valentines to little children, with pretty little pictures and verses which they can understand. How delighted are the tiny Mauds and Kates when the dainty little missives are handed to them, and they are left to guess all day who could have sent them, and are only enlightened when papa and uncle and cousins look very mysterious, and ask if they have had any valentines this year?

We have known valentines sent to those who are no longer young by their partners through many years of wedded life. A smile on the face, still beautiful, although the freshness of youth has passed away, speaks the pleasure the letter has given, but the contents are sacred, treasured up in the storehouse of the heart. Such a valentine, like a Silver Wedding, revives old memories, but it cannot add to the calm intensity of ripened love, which has matured with the progress of years and the community of joys and griefs. “I know well you love me, as you did when I was’younger, but it is pleasant to be told so,” are the words of many a happy wife whose once bright hair is tinged with silver, but to whom advancing years have brought no diminution of tenderness or sympathy.

It is very pleasant to see the smile of fathers and mothers when the daughters of the house jump up at the postman’s knock, and laughingly and blushingly open the pretty envelope. Real love-letters are not read in public and handed round afterwards for inspection, as valentines are, and the fair recipients have no difficulty in guessing who sends them, although the names may not be duly signed.

But there is always a little pleasing, teasing mystery about valentines—a mystery which gives rise to many speculations and a considerable amount of joking on the part of brothers and sisters, and grave papas, too. For papa, while he jokes his girls, often, no doubt, remarks that years ago he sent a valentine to a young lady whom he thought to be the most charming creature in the world, and who, indeed, is little less charming now, as she sits at the head of the breakfast table, smiling demurely, not, most likely, without sharing the thought that is flashing into the mind of papa himself, how people do not, when they are old, forget their early lives; they see in their children their own youthful life reproduced, and, knowing their own happiness, trust that a similar joy will be realized by the young hearts about them.

“You, in your gills, again be courted.

And I go wooing in my boys,”

is the silent adoption of the words of the old balladisits by many a man of middle life while gazing on his wife amid the laughter and gaiety which mark the morning of St. Valentine’s Day.

This “season of sentiment,” then, is a time for playful sentiment of the versifying kind, with no very deep feeling underlying it. We have the flashing ripple of the brook, not the strong unswerving current of the deep stream which flows and flows for ever. We must be careful not to mistake the one for the other.

Valentines are toys, charming, graceful toys, but they are not the expression of that mysterious powerful emotion which links lives in the most sacred and most enduring of earthly ties. But, while toys, valentines should deserve the epithets “charming and graceful,” we have given to them.

We will not speak to our readers of the coarse production which are named ” valentines,” and sent to gratify spite, or a mean, despicable liking for insulting the weak and unprotected. But there is a tendency sometimes exhibited. which should be guarded against, to extend the proper licence of the time to unkind jokes and even sneers and sarcasms. “Omit it altogether.”

Good taste always goes hand-in-hand with good humour; and our valentine Cupid, when he gives his double knock at the door, should bring nothing but what good taste and good feeling can sanction, in alliance with the pleasant merrment and pretty sentiment appropriate to the day.

Source: The Young Englishwoman, 1875

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