★ Valentine’s Day Story :
In the western counties, the children, decked with the wreaths and true-lover’s knots presented to them, gaily adorn one of their number as their chief, and march from house to house, singing–
Good morrow to you, Valentine! Curl your locks as I do mine; Two before and three behind; Good morrow to you, Valentine!
They commence in many places as early as six o’clock in the morning, and intermingle the cry, “To-morrow is come!” Afterwards they make merry with their collections. At Islip, co. Oxon, I have heard the children sing the following when collecting pence on this day:
Good morrow, Valentine! I be thine and thou be’st mine, So please give me a Valentine!
And likewise the following:
Good morrow, Valentine, God bless you ever! If you’ll be true to me, I’ll be the like to thee; Old England for ever!
Schoolboys have a very uncomplimentary way of presenting each other with these poetical memorials:
Peep, fool, peep, What do you think to see? Every one has a valentine, And here’s one for thee!
Far different from this is a stanza which is a great favorite with young girls on this day, offered indiscriminately, and of course quite innocently, to most of their acquaintances:
The rose is red, The violet’s blue; Pinks are sweet, And so are you!
The mission of valentines is one of the very few old customs not on the wane; and the streets of our metropolis practically bear evidence of this fact in the distribution of love-messages on our stalls and shop-windows, varying in price from a sovereign to one halfpenny. Our readers, no doubt, will ask for its origin, and there we are at fault to begin with. The events of St. Valentine’s life furnish no clue whatever
Prayer, absurdly disposes of the question in this way: “St. Valentine was a man of most admirable parts, and so famous for his love and charity, that the custom of choosing valentines upon his festival, which is still practised, took its rise from thence.” We see no explanation here in any way satisfactory, and must be contented with the hope that some of our antiquaries may hit on something more to the purpose.
Valentine’s day has long been popularly believed to be the day on which birds pair. Shakespeare alludes to this belief:
Good morrow, friends: St. Valentine is past; Begin these wood-birds but to couple now?
It was anciently the custom to draw lots on this day. The names of an equal number of each sex were put into a box, in separate partitions, out of which every one present drew a name, called the valentine, which was regarded as a good omen of their future marriage. It would appear from a curious passage quoted in my Dictionary of Archaisms, that any lover was hence termed a valentine; not necessarily an affianced lover, as suggested in Hampson’s Calendarium, vol. i. p. 163. Lydgate, the poet of Bury, in the fifteenth century, thus mentions this practice:
Saint Valentine, of custom year by year Men have an usance in this region To look and search Cupid’s calendere, And choose their choice by great affection: Such as be prick’d with Cupid’s motion, Taking their choice as their lot doth fall: But I love one which excelleth all.
Gay alludes to another popular notion referring to the same day:
Last Valentine, the day when birds of kind Their paramours with mutual chirpings find, I early rose, just at the break of day, Before the sun had chas’d the stars away; Afield I went, amid the burning dew, To milk my kine, for so should housewives do. Thee first I spied; and the first swain we see, In spite of fortune shall our true love be.
The divinations practised on Valentine’s day is a curious subject. Herrick mentions one by rose-buds:
She must no more a-maying; Or by rose-buds divine Who’ll be her valentine.
Perhaps the poet may here allude to a practice similar to the following, quoted by Brand: “Last Friday was Valentine day; and the night before I got five bay-leaves, and pinned four of them to the four corners of my pillow, and the fifth to the middle; and then, if I dreamt of my sweetheart, Betty said we should be married before the year was out. But to make it more sure I boiled an egg hard, and took out the yolk, and filled it with salt; and when I went to bed, eat it shell and all, without speaking or drinking after it.
We also wrote our lovers’ names upon bits of paper, and rolled them up in clay, and put them into water; and the first that rose up was to be our valentine. Would you think it? Mr. Blossom was my man. I lay abed, and shut my eyes all the morning, till he came to our house, for I would not have seen another man before him for all the world.” According to Mother Bunch, the following lines should be said by the girl on retiring to rest the previous night:
Sweet guardian angels, let me have What I most earnestly do crave, A valentine endow’d with love, That will both kind and constant prove.
We believe the old custom of drawing lots on this eventful day is obsolete, and has given place to the favorite practice of sending pictures, with poetical legends, to objects of love or ridicule. The lower classes, however, seldom treat the matter with levity, and many are the offers of marriage thus made. The clerks at the post-offices are to be pitied, the immense increase of letters beyond the usual average adding very inconveniently to their labours.
“This iz Volantine day, mind, an be wot ah can see theal be a good deal a hanksiaty a mind sturrin amang’t owd maids an’t batchillors; luv sickness al be war than ivver wor nawn, espeshly amang them ats gettin raither owdish like; but all al end weel, so doant be daan abaght it. Ah recaleckt, when ah wor a yung man, ah went tut poast-office an bowt hauf a peck a volantines for tuppance, an when ah look’t em ovver, thear wor wun dereckted for mesen, an this wor wot thear wor it inside:
Paper’s scarce, and luv iz dear, So av sent ye a bit a my pig-ear; And if t’same bit case we yo, my dear, Pray send me a bit a yor pig-ear.
Ha, ah wor mad, yo mind, ah nivver look’t at a yung womman for two days at after for’t; but it wor becos ah hedant a chonce.”–Yorkshire Dial.
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