Valentine’s cards intrigue me. Suellen and I exchange them every year. Some are sweet. Some are funny. Some are silly. Some are mildly sexy. But really, is there anything new in them? Have we come a long way, baby, or are we just recycling platitudes? And how did people in past centuries address their love, passion, and heartaches? What can we learn from our ancestors?
By happy accident, I discovered a partial answer in the Newberry Library in Chicago. The Newberry holds a copy of The New Academy of Complements published in London in the 17th century. The small book – easily tucked in a pocket — is addressed to “both Sexes” and contains a “variety of Courtly and Civil complements” as well as “Eloquent Letters of Love and Friendship … both amorous and jovial.” Happily, the compliments are compiled by “the most refined Wits of the Age.”
What were the best amorous compliments of 17thcentury England? Here are a few of my favorite selections. *
Complemental Expressions towards Men, Leading to The Art of Courtship.
Sir, Your Goodness is as boundless, as my desires to serve you.
Sir, You are so highly generous, that I am altogether senceless.
Sir, You are so noble in all respects that I have learn’d to love, as well as to admire you.
Sir, Your Vertues are so well known, you cannot think I flatter.
Complements towards Ladies, Gentlewomen, Maids, &c.
Madam, When I see you I am in paradice, it is then that my eyes carve me out a feast of Love.
Madam, Your beauty hath so bereav’d me of my fear, that I do account it far more possible to die, than to forget you.
Madam, Since I want merits to equallize your Vertues, I will for ever mourn for my imperfections.
Madam, You are the Queen of Beauties, your vertues give a commanding power to every mortal.
Madam, Had I a hundred hearts I should want room to entertain your love.
I don’t have room to quote many of the gems contained in the book, but here are a few of the categories. Each category provides several models of what to say or write to address the situation. Who knows – you might need one from time to time.
A Gentleman of good Birth, but small Fortune, to a worthy Lady, after she had given a denial.
The Ingratiating Gentleman to his angry Mistriss.
The Lover to his Mistriss, upon his fear of her entertaining a new Servant.
The Jealous Lover to his beloved. The Answer: A Lady to her Jealous Lover.
A crack’t Virgin to her deceitful Friend, who hath forsook her for the love of a Strumpet.
A Lover to his Mistriss, who had lately entertained another Servant to her bosom, and her bed. The Answer: The Lady to her Lover, in defence of her own Innocency.
As you can see, The Academy provides the words to address (and perhaps remedy) most any situation. Is a bald man bothering you? Here’s how to respond:
Sir…while I could be content to keep my Coaches, my Pages, Lackeys, and Maids, I confess I could never endure the society of a bald pate.
I think the Newberry might find an interesting niche market by publishing high quality Valentine’s cards with extracts from The Academy. I know I would buy some. In the meantime, I hope you can find an appropriate quote for whatever your needs are this Valentine’s Day
* The edition held by the Newberry Library was published in 1671. The selections in this article are drawn from the 1669 edition