10 February, 1477, Dame Elizabeth Brews wrote to John Paston III:
"Cousin, I recommend me to you, thanking you heartily for the
great cheer that you made me and all my folk the last time that I
was at Norwich . . . and cousin, on Friday is St. Valentine's Day
and every bird chooses for himself a mate . . ." [The
Brews (Elizabeth's daughter) to John Paston III [Topcroft, February
1477]: "Right reverend and worshipful and my right well beloved
valentine, I recommend me unto you, full heartily desiring to hear
of your welfare, which I beseech Almighty God long to preserve to
his pleasure and to your heart's desire. And, if it please you
to hear of my welfare, I am not in good health of body nor heart,
nor shall I be until I hear from you: For there knows no creature
what pain I endure, / and I should rather die than dare it
gives us, in the 16th century, as Ophelia's song: [Hamlet,
Act IV, scene 5]
is Saint Valentine's day,
All in the morning betime,
And I a
maid at your window,
To be your Valentine.
up he rose, and donn'd his clothes,
And dupp'd the chamber- door;
in the maid, that out a maid
Never departed more.
Gis and by Saint Charity,
Alack, and fie for shame!
will do't, if they come to't;
By cock, they are to blame.
she, before you tumbled me,
You promised me to wed.
So would I
ha' done, by yonder sun,
An thou hadst not come to my bed.5
Diary, in the 17th century, records the custom of drawing lots
with the name of the person upon whom one would bestow a gift, and a
motto, such as: "Most Courteous & Most Faire". One
superstition held that the first unmarried person of the other sex
that one met on this morning in walking abroad, was a destined spouse.
Kerr Cameron The English Year]
By the 18th century young folks were setting their names down
on 'billets' to be drawn by each sex to choose their Valentine.
The men then treated their chosen one to 'balls and treats', and this
little sport often ends in love. [The English Year]
19th century sees the love-token turned into a card, preferably
with hearts, lace, and sentimental verse, a fashion which has not
quite worn out. Charles Lamb pities the poor postmen staggering
under their load. [The Oxford Companion to the
Year] The Day is heralded in by the appearance in printsellers'
shop windows of vast numbers of missives calculated for use on this
occasion, each generally a single sheet of post paper, on which is
seen some ridiculous coloured caricature of the male or female figure,
with a few burlesque verses below. More rarely, the print is of
a sentimental kind, such as a view of Hymen's altar, with a pair
undergoing initiation into wedded happiness before it, while cupid
flutters above, and hearts transfixed with his darts decorate the
corners. [The English Year]