New Hampshire’s Billet-Doux Season

Some claim that New Hampshirites are as emotionally frosty as their winter weather.

Quite to the contrary our men-folk have managed to woo, wow, wed (although possibly a few of the women took the lead), and procreate–resulting in a general increase in the population of New Hampshire. It would be difficult to say with any certainty when the very first New Hampshire valentine was presented, or if it had any impact on the wooing and wedding.

What IS known is that some residents in colonial New Hampshire were probably celebrating Valentine’s Day to some extent even in the 18th century as is shown by the following newspaper articles and advertisements.  On January 14, 1799 the Farmer’s Weekly Museum newspaper (of Walpole NH) printed a poem entitled, “Pairing Time Anticipated,” by William Cowper about birds pairing and mating.  The 11th-14th lines note:
The birds, conceiving a design
To forestall sweet St. Valentine,
In many an orchard, copse, and grove,
Assembled on affairs of love

By 1828 the Portsmouth Journal was heralding a new book by Sir Walter Scott entitled, “St. Valentine’s Day, or the Fair Maid of Perth” describing it as ‘romance from his magical pen.’

Sarah Josepha Hale, editor of The Ladies Magazine, advertised the contents of her February 1829 edition that included an article called “The Valentine.”

The day before Valentine’s Day in 1830, the Portsmouth Journal and Rockingham Gazette republished an entire poem dedicated to the topic of Valentines Day. One may guess from the title, that it was probably written with tongue in cheek.
For the Fourteenth of February
All hail to the billet doux season.
 When Cupid throws off his disguise–
When rhymes have the value of reason,
 And the pen speaks the language of eyes.
To day’s the fourteenth of February.
 Most lovers are joyous and gay,
And some, sentimentally merry,
 Because it is Valentine’s day.

My pen I have dipped in the standish
 My paper is colure de-rose,
My verse is a little outlandish,
 But love prompts–so here goes,
I scarcely know whom to begin with,
 My heart has so off been astray,
So many sweet girls fallen in with,
 I am puzzled on Valentine’s day.

There is Laura the graceful and witty,
 Though some thing she is a coquette,
E’en her ‘good natured friends’ say she’s pretty;
 But–she likes every year a new pet,
She flatters her lovers most sweetly,
 Compliments in a natural way,
And dupes e’en the wisest completely,
 Except–on St. Valentine’s day.

There is Edith in person majestic,
 Grand outline of figure and tall,
But of late she’s grown very domestic,
 And don’t go to parties at all.
With her lofty agreeable manner,
 She over a number bears sway,
But was too many troops round her banner,
 To be rhymed to, on Valentine’s day.

There’s Clara she’s worth thirty thousand,
 Reads Italian, makes mottoes, can sing;
But she tries for two string to her bows, and
 Has often two beaux to her string.
Her tongue’s a perpetual motion,
 E’en in sleep it ne’er ceased to play;
Such a talent as that, I’ve a notion,
 Can’t be praise’d on St. Valentine’s day.

There is Agnes, she’s quite literary,
 ‘Tis thought she’s a bit of a blue;
She grows philosophical–very–
 And writes pretty poetry too.
But somehow, such women are duller
 At home–when abroad, they display,
And of stockings, the azure’s no colour
 To think of, on Valentine’s day.

Sprightly Jane, is “a limb” of a romper,
 As flighty as e’er was March hare.
Silent Ann, stands in need of a prompter,
 Notwithstanding her sensible air,
Joanna, so tall and so haughty,
 Is engaged to be married they say;
And Louise, I fear you’re too naughty,
 And cross, for St. Valentine’s day.

Augusta is quite too precocious,
 luclin’d to be flippant and quick;
Fair Margaret, a pretty foot shows us,
 What a pity her hearing is ‘thick.’
Ianthe is handsome and careless,
 Her shoes, and her manner distrait,
She will probably wed, (she’s an heiress,)
 Ere the next coming Valentine’s day.

Thus then I have run the list over,
 Of many flirtations now past,
And assuming the serious Lover,
 I come to thee, Mary, at last,
The snow-drop, beneath its cold whiteness,
 Doth naught of its beauty betray,
Till the sun shining out in his brightness,
 Its mantle of flakes melt away.

My love, like the beautiful flower,
 Exists, though conceal’d by the snow–
If transplanted it were to thy bower,
 ‘Twould soon in luxuriance grow.
Your dark eyes so brilliantly beaming,
 Would light, life, and warmth then convey,
From sorrow, and sadness redeeming
 Your Lover, on Valentine’s day.   V.C.
[From: Portsmouth Journal of Literature and Politics, published as The Portsmouth Journal and Rockingham Gazette; Date: 02-13-1830; Volume: XLI; Issue: 7; Page: [1]; Location: Portsmouth, New Hampshire; FROM the Albany Times and Writer.]

By the year 1847 it is obvious that Valentine notes, poems and painted cards are becoming popular, as George Tilden of Keene NH advertises them in the New Hampshire Sentinel newspaper.
St. Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14th
JUST received, a beautiful assortment of VALENTINES–all kinds and prices–suitable for Ladies or Gentlemen.  Also, Envelopes and Valentine Writers.  GEO. TILDEN.  Keene, Feb 8, 1847.

Between 1853-1856 the existence of newspaper advertising demonstrates that other stores in East Wilton and Amherst New Hampshire also offer Valentines.

Today cupid’s arrow may be covered with snow on Valentine’s Day, but it still finds its target.  Did you know that 3 percent of people give cards to their pets? The 2005 U.S. Census Report estimates that New Hampshire is home to approximately 263,253 dogs and 285,910 cats, not to mention, birds, reptiles, horses, et al.  That’s alot of billet-doux!


* Valentines Day*

*How to Celebrate a Happy Valentine’s Day 2008*

*A holiday of consumerism: Valentine’s Day Stats*

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One Response to New Hampshire’s Billet-Doux Season

  1. Pingback: Portsmouth NH 1846: Customs of Valentine’s Day | Cow Hampshire

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