Not very surprisingly, the place where I was born–birthplace of the Smiley Face–played a prominent role in the commercialization of Valentine’s Day. Here’s a sample of their wares:
More is available at
Meanwhile, in England…
Upon further investigation on this snowy (at last) and sleety Valentine’s day, I was a surprised to find out that the commercialization of Valentine’s Day was being bemoaned during the time period when I set many of my stories.
Here’s tiny sample from several pages of Hone’s Everyday Book (1827) dealing with the subject:
“Of this saint, so celebrated among young persons, little is known, except that he was a priest of Rome, and martyred there about 270.
“It was the custom with the ancient Roman youth to draw the names of girls in honour of their goddess Februata-Juno on the 15th of February, in exchange for which certain Roman catholic pastors substituted the names of saints in billets given the day before, namely on the 14th of February.”
Following some less than stellar poetry typical of the time, we learn:
“Two hundred thousand letters beyond the usually daily average, annually pass through the twopenny post-office in London on St. Valentine’s Day.”
Then comes the good part. He quotes–at length, copyright being more or less nonexistent at the time–Elia (aka Charles Lamb):
“In other words, this is the day on which those charming little missives, ycleped Valentines, cross and intercross each other at every street and turning. The weary and all for-spent twopenny postman sinks beneath a load of delicate embarrassments, not his own. It is scarcely credible to what an extent this ephemeral courtship is carried on in this loving town, to the great enrichment of porters, and detriment of knockers and bell-wires. In these little visual interpretations, no emblem is so common as the heart,–that little three cornered exponent of all our hopes and fears, –the bestuck and bleeding heart; it is twisted and tortured into more allegories and affectations than an opera-hat. What authority we have in history or mythology for placing the head-quarters and metropolis of god Cupid in this anatomical seat rather than in any other, is not very clear; but we have got it, and it will serve as well as any other thing. Else we might easily imagine, upon some other system which might have prevailed for any thing which our pathology knows to the contrary, a lover addressing his mistress, in perfect simplicity of feeling, ‘Madam, my liver and fortune are entirely at your disposal;’ or putting a delicate question, “Amanda, have you a midriff to bestow?”
As I have mentioned before, not all 19th century writing is at Jane Austen’s level, but Elia’s piece on Valentine’s Day is a delightful example of readable and amusing prose.
So I’ll steal his closing:
“Good morrow to my Valentine, sings poor Ophelia; and no better wish, but with better auspices, we wish to all faithful lovers…”
…and I wish to all, lovers or not, peace, love, and understanding.