SUNDRIES: An eighteenth century newsletter

N° 17 - February 11, 2006

inter text THE VALENTINE EDITION inter text

ITALIAN CUSTOMS: The Palace of Valentin inter text ENGLISH CUSTOMS: Valentine's Day and Valentine's Eve inter text FRENCH CUSTOMS: Burning the Valentine (Dimanche des Brandons) inter text HOLIDAYS: Historical notes on Valentine's Day inter text MANUALS: Love Potion Number IX inter text VERSE: Valentine's Day

inter cooking 18th CENTURY RECIPE: Aphrodisiacs

fleur de lysFOR READERS OF FRENCHfleur de lys
JOURNAL DES SAVANTS: Struck dumb by love


ITALIAN CUSTOMS: The Palace of Valentin

Since this is Turin's week, let us start with congratulations to any Torinese members of our list for their city's moment of glory, and begin with this mid-eighteenth century account of one of several "Palaces Near Turin" from Johann Georg Keyssler:

Formerly the palace of Valentin which is but a half quarter of a league without the city from Porte neuve, was the scene of most of the court diversions and entertainments. The palace of Valentin is so called, as one may see in the memoires of the count de Grammon, from the title given to those gentlemen, who, on St. Valentine's day wait upon the ladies; it being a general custom all over Italy on that day for single women to chuse some one among their male friends or acquaintance, who is to gallant them wherever they go; and who, to discharge his office with honour, must present them with nosegays and other Bagatelles. This attendance, which expires at the year's end, is not liable to any exception, and often terminates in marriage. The parents, in the mean time, are very watchful over their daughter's behaviour, and things are conducted with so much decorum and honour, that even the monks themselves make no scruple of taking upon them the office of a Valentine; and possibly it is nobody's interest so much as theirs to recommend the innocence of these intercourses betwixt the sexes. But as these Valentine gallantries are intirely left off at court, the palace of Valentine is also neglected.
Johann Georg Keyssler - Travels Through Germany, Bohemia, Hungary, Switzerland, Italy and Lorrain.(238)
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ENGLISH CUSTOMS: Valentine's Day and Valentine's Eve

The Connoisseur. By Mr Town, Critic and Censor-General offers this glimpse of 18th century Valentine's customs in a 'letter' (dated February 17, 1755) from an Arabella Whimsey - whose creator appears to be John Duncombe:

Last Friday, Mr. Town, was Valentine's Day, and I'll tell you what I did the night before. I got five bay-leaves and pinned them to the four corners of my pillow, and the fifth one 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 up with salt: and when I went to bed, eat it shell and all, without speaking or drinking after it, and this was to have the same effect with the bay-leaves. 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: and I lay a-bed 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.

About a century later, the Notes and Queries described a very different (if local) idea of the holiday:


The day appropriated to St. Valentine is kept with some peculiarity in the city of Norwich. Although "Valentines," as generally understood, that is to say billets sent by means of the post, are as numerously employed here as in other places, yet the custom consists not in the transmission of a missive overflowing with hearts and darts, or poetical posies, but in something far more substantial, elegant and costly-; to wit, a goodly present of value unrestricted in use or expense. Though this custom is openly adopted among relatives and others whose friendship is reciprocated, yet the secret mode of placing a friend in possession of an offering is followed largely-; and this it is curious to remark, not on the day of the saint, when it might be supposed that the appropriateness of the gift would be duly ratified, the virtue of the season being in full vigour, but on the eve of St. Valentine, when it is fair to presume his charms are not properly matured. The mode adopted among all classes is that of placing the presents on the door-sill of the house of the favoured person, and intimating what is done by a run-a-way knock or ring as the giver pleases. So universal is this custom in this ancient city, that it may be stated with truth some thousands of pounds are annually expended in the purchase of Valentine presents. At the time of writing (February 2.) the shops almost generally exhibit displays of articles calculated for the approaching period, unexampled in brilliancy, taste and costliness, and including nearly every item suitable to the drawing room, the parlour, or the boudoir. The local papers contain numerous advertising announcements of "Valentines;" the walls are occupied with printed placards of a similar character, and the city crier, by means of a loud bell and an equally sonorous voice, proclaims the particular advantages in the Valentine department of rival emporiums. All these preparations increase as the avator of St. Valentine approaches. At length the saint and his eve arrives-; passes-; and the custom, apparently expanding with age, is placed in abeyance until the next year. I am inclined to believe that this mode of keeping St. Valentine is confined to this city and the county of Norfolk.
Notes and Queries 19, March 9, 1850
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FRENCH CUSTOMS: Burning the Valentine (Dimanche des Brandons)

Not all Valentine celebrations were on today's Valentine's Day. Several items in the Intermediaire des Chercheurs describe a custom in the Lorraine that starts on the first Sunday of Lent - the Dimanche des Brandons. One web site:

says that the 'brandon' was a branch of heather used to set fire to wasteland and that, in the Middle Ages, the Valentine couple "brandished" a bit of flaming straw on a stick around the vine in order to secure a better harvest.

In some areas, this appears to have been more casual, but in Nancy, the capital, participation was once required of all who had been married within the year - even the Duke and Dutchess (the town archives once included an expense for Charles III - 1545-1608 - for a gift to the countess of Saim "who had been his Valentine" IC 1874 (252).) All newly wed couples gathered at the ducal palace and went out to cut sticks of wood. Only the town sergeants could sell such cuttings outside the town walls, along with ornaments women wore to indicate their wifely duties (in 1699, for instance, Duke Leopold's wife, pregnant, wore a little gilt cradle while marching in the procession.)

These couples gathered in the Town Hall for a number of ceremonies and a dance in the courtyard. After a big supper, a bonfire - called a bure - was lit and while it burned, the couples gathered on the balcony of the Town Hall to proclaim the Valentines for the coming year, to the approval or disapproval of the crowd (in some areas, they would shout "I give! I give!" and the crowd would answer "Eh! Who? Eh! Who?". The assignments were sometimes satirical as well - an old man would be paired with a young flirt, or a cheating husband with his paramour.)

Young men chosen as Valentines were to send flowers or a gift to their chosen one during the week. The women in turn held a ball to which they could invite the men. When Valentines - male or female - failed in any of these duties, the neighbors burned a straw fire before their door. This was called "burning the Valentine" and could also indicate disapproval of the Valentine chosen or contempt for those who refused marriage.

In 1776, the Parlement of Nancy tried to forbid: all people, of whatever quality or condition…to cry or have cried, to give or have given, day or night, the first Sunday of Lent, or other days of the year, what are commonly called VALENTINES." The decree went on to denounce the impossibility, "despite the best efforts of officers of the police", of stopping this practice "which mixes people of both sexes, even those who are married... striking fatal blows to the tranquility of marriage, to the very peace of families. Intermediaire des Chercheurs 1881 (86-87), 1909-2 (284-285), 1903 (325)

Those who would like a more academic exploration of this custom may consult the Journal of Family History:

Love Riddles, Couple Formation, and Local Identity in Eastern France
David M. Hopkin
The purpose of this article is to show how specific aspects of the popular culture of Lorraine (eastern France) can be linked to distinctive features of the region's historical demography after the Thirty Years' War. It examines two customs associated with courtship: the dâyage, an exchange of riddle-like verses between groups of men and women at winter wakes, and the dônage, mock banns of marriage called by young men on the first Sunday of Lent. Both will be shown to have encouraged particularly high levels of geographical endogamy and premarital fertility, while the metaphors of monetary exchange that ran through both the dâyage and the dônage into the marriage service itself encouraged social homogamy. These customs served as a language in which rural Lorrainers between the seventeenth and the twentieth century could analyze and discuss their demographic strategies. The article considers the role of local elites (political before the Revolution, literary after) in fostering these customs and turning them into a badge of Lorrainer identity.
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HOLIDAYS: Historical notes on St. Valentine's

Various, mostly apocryphal, tales are told of the saint (whichever of three he was) and his holiday (in modern times a victim of Church reform). But:

it was not until the 14th century that this Christian feast day became definitively associated with love. According to UCLA medieval scholar Henry Ansgar Kelly, author of Chaucer and the Cult of Saint Valentine, it was Chaucer who first linked St. Valentine's Day with romance.
In 1381, Chaucer composed a poem in honor of the engagement between England's Richard II and Anne of Bohemia. As was the poetic tradition, Chaucer associated the occasion with a feast day. In "The Parliament of Fowls," the royal engagement, the mating season of birds, and St. Valentine's Day are linked:
For this was on St. Valentine's Day,
When every fowl cometh there to choose his mate.

"The first proper Valentine's Card, decorated and containing poetry, is attributed to the imprisoned Charles, Duke of Orleans in 1415. He eased the pain of imprisonment by writing love verses to his wife," says Emma Monk, Monk goes on to say, "By the end of the 18th Century, manufactured Valentine's cards started to appear and became the most popular way to declare love. These early cards were exquisite; usually hand-painted and often decorated with real gold leaf, satins, silks and exotic feathers." Infoplease's site confirms this: "by the 18th century, gift-giving and exchanging hand-made cards on Valentine's Day had become common in England. Hand-made valentine cards made of lace, ribbons, and featuring cupids and hearts eventually spread to the American colonies. The tradition of Valentine's cards did not become widespread in the United States, however, until the 1850s, when Esther A. Howland, a Mount Holyoke graduate and native of Worcester, Mass., began mass-producing them."

By 1882, a writer in the Intermediare des Chercheurs wrote: "It is impossible, in France, to have an idea of the development of this singular custom [in England and France]. In New York... postmen groan at the approach of Valentine's Day; the work... is more than doubled." The writer then describes the difference between "serious Valentines" - costly gifts - and the comic Valentines sent by the less well off, "which generally consist of an awful caricature in glaring colors, matching, as much as possible, the appearance and profession of the recipient, and at the bottom of which are printed silly verses." Though the writer does grant that some of these are quite beautiful.

He later says that on that day the NY Post Office sold 582,442 stamps for a total of $16,000 (80,000 francs at that time).

The same item offers a quick survey of the holiday in other countries, saying that the English practice it the most, the Germans "fairly overdo it". In Austria and Hungary the corresponding holiday was on August 15th, when couples carrying bouquets of roses would go to the river and the girls would throw in floral crowns. Those whose flowers floated on without encountering any obstacles would (surprise…) be married within the year. IC 1882 (543-544)

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AbeBooks - Signed Books

MANUALS: Love Potion Number IX

Love and its adjuncts have long prompted efforts at controlling others that range from desperate to dangerous. Secrets Magiques pour l'Amour en nombre d'Octante et trois (Eighty-Three Magic Secrets for Love), a collection of "Charms, Conjurations, Spells and Talismans" ("Charmes, Conjurations, Sortileges et Talismans"), offers one example of how this urge has spanned the centuries. The book itself is from 1868, but in fact is extracted from a work in the collection of Marc-Rene de Voyer d'Argenson, Marquis of Paulmy, a famous bibliophile - and, at the start of the eighteenth century, head of the Paris police. The editor ("C. J., book lover") has also added some recipes from the Great and Little Alberts, two collections that were popular in our period, as well as some citations from the Roman author Pliny echoed in later entries.

Otherwise, "it seems to us impossible to assign a precise date to this erotic grimoire. The writing of the two manuscripts shows a naïve, unpracticed hand, from the seventeenth, possibly even the beginning of the eighteenth century; but the formulas and secrets, gathered with no order or logic, certainly to back to various extremely diverse ages." The origins, too, are diverse: "Most can be attributed to a few miserable village sorcerers, such as our tribunals still summon from time to time, to send back to their sheep after a short period of administrative penance". Others give off "a perfume of priests and sacrilege, of compressed, shameful passions." Still others "breath in our face a toxic miasma of" the era of the poisoners (under Louis XIV).

The actual contents of the book include a wide range of advice, starting with (I) how, simply, to: "unfailingly be loved by whomever you please":

If you can have from the person by whom you hope to be loved something that comes from their body, be it hairs, saliva, blood, underwear where they have sweated. Put that with something similar of your own, tie it all up in a red ribbon, where you will form these characters [drawn in the text] with your name and theirs in your own blood. Roll all this so that the [last two characters] which is where the two names are touch: then take another ribbon and tie your characters in love knots. Close all this in the body of a sparrow, and carry this under your armpit until it stinks...

See what I mean about 'desperate'?

Personally, I'd prefer IV: "Rub your hands with verbena juice and touch him or her to whom you want to give love." This is probably the simplest of the various ways listed (through XXII) to be loved by another.

From XXXIII on, the tone starts to change. Want to see your loved one while you sleep? You'll need some pulverized coral, diamond dust, and more. And if, after all that, you don't see them, it's probably not meant to be.

Want your wife only be able to bear "yours"? Dry goat fat and gall and, when you're ready to use "it", soak the goat goodies in oil and rub the item in question with this lubricant: "She won't be able to stand anyone but you." (XXXIV)

There's a number which are downright sinister: "To Force a Person to Come Satisfy You" (XL); "To Attract to Yourself Any Person You Desire, And Make Them Submit to Your Will, Either Girl, Man or Woman, So That They Will Not Rest Until They Have Satisfied You" (XLI); "To Make Someone Follow You "(XLIV) (wisely, this one also includes a way to UNDO the spell); "To Make Two Lovers Quarrel (XLVII); etc..

But even some of these hint at male adolescent fantasy: "How to Make a Girl Dance Naked in Her Nightshirt" (last part of XLVIII). (Good news, guys - in 200 some years, there'll be this thing called 'the Internet', and all you'll need is a credit card.)

But women's concerns are certainly not ignore. Well before the current vogue for vaginal plastic surgery was "To Shrink" (LXIV): "Make a decoction of comfrey, wash with it three or four days after the... And eight days before. Only seven or eight days are needed, lest it become too narrow."

Etc. Let me just end with the same warning as the 19th century editor put at the start of this edition: "For the edification of bibliophiles and no others."

I trust no readers will misuse this dangerous information!

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VERSE: Valentine's Day

No doubt whole anthologies exist on this subject. Neither of the following is completely unknown, but both will be new to many here.

First, this further glimpse at English folk customs from John Gay's "The Shepherd's Week : Thursday; or, The Spell" (1714)

Last Valentine, the day when birds of kind
Their paramours with mutual chirpings find;
I rearly rose, just at the break of day,
Before the sun had chas'd the stars away,
A-field I went, amid the morning dew,
To milk my kine (for so should huswifes do)
Thee first I spy'd, and the first swain we see,
In spite of fortune shall our true-love be;
See, Lubberkin, each bird his partner take,
And canst thou then thy sweet-hear dear forsake?
"With my sharp heel I three times mark the ground,
And turn me thrice around, around, around.

And then, from William Shenstone:

Song 8. 1743.
Valentine's day.

'Tis said that under distant skies,
Nor you the fact deny,
What first attracts an Indian's eyes
Becomes his deity.

Perhaps a lily, or a rose,
That shares the morning's ray,
May to the waking swain disclose
The regent of the day.

Perhaps a plant in yonder grove,
Enrich'd with fragrant power,
May tempt his vagrant eyes to rove
Where blooms the sovereign flower.

Perch'd on the cedar's topmost bough,
And gay with gilded wings,
Perchance, the patron of his vow,
Some artless linnet sings.

The swain surveys her pleased, afraid,
Then low to earth he bends;
And owns, upon her friendly aid,
His health, his life depends.

Vain futile idols, bird or flower,
To tempt a votary's prayer!--
How would his humble homage tower
Should he behold my fair!

Yes--might the Pagan's waking eyes,
O'er Flavia's beauty range,
He there would fix his lasting choice,
Nor dare, nor wish, to change.
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From CHEZ JIM Books:
and a history of the CROISSANT:

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18th CENTURY RECIPE: Aphrodisiacs

Aphrodisiacs abound in our era, oysters and chocolate (both favored by Casanova) being the two most commonly mentioned. Carrots, celery, ginger, spearmint and (would you believe?) arugala are only some of the others.

A bit to my surprise, it turns out that oysters really do have some effect in this area:

Unfortunately, this requires that they be eaten raw - not very interesting from a recipe point of view. When it comes to chocolate, on the other hand, recipes from our era abound. This version, from a review of "The Natural History of Cocoa and Sugar" in the Journal des Savants of 1719 (639), is "as prepared in the French Isles of America":

Grate... with a knife lightly passed on loaves of pure Cocoa, or with a grater, the desired quantity (for instance, four large heaping spoonfuls, which weigh about an ounce) mix in a few pinches of powdered cinnamon passed through a silk strainer, and about two big spoonfuls of powdered sugar. Put this mix in a Chocolate Pot with a whole fresh egg, that is, both yolk and white; mix all this well with the whisk and reduce it to the consistency of liquid honey; on which one then pours boiling liquid (water or milk as you prefer) while stirring .. the whisk forcefully to mix it all well. Then put the Chocolate Pot on the fire, or in a double boiler; and as soon as the Chocolate rises, take off the Chocolate Pot, and after having stirred it well with the whisk, pour it several times and well-foamed into the cups. To enhance the flavor, one can, before pouring it, add a spoonful of orange flower water, in which has been dissolved a drop or two of essence of amber.

[NOTE: I've translated 'moulinet' - a kind of foam whip that was manipulated through a hole in the top of a chocolate pot - as whisk. More typically the word means a small mill.]

Madame Du Barry, whose professional past gave her far more training in the job of Royal mistress than previous holders of the post, apparently had a few favorites of her own: "Marie Comtesse du Barry (18th century), mistress to Louis XV of France, encouraged the greatest cooks of the age to prepare dishes such as soup of shrimps in chicken stock spiced with dill; roast capon stuffed with puree of chestnuts and an omelet flavored with fresh ginger."

So far, I haven't found any recipes for these, but they look fairly easy to improvise. (The shrimp soup sounds almost Thai.)

For those who find all these suggestions a bit tame - "Chocolate? We expect aphrodisiacs and you offer us CHOCOLATE?" - let me dip briefly back into the volume from the library of Paris' Lieutenant of Police for the following:

To Be Valiant in Love (LV):
Take Satyrion Pignon root, green anise, arugula, in equal parts; add a little musk, a mix of sparrow's brain and the herb called bird's tongue, otherwise, ornythoglossum, with a little cantharide [Spanish Fly]. Preserve all this in purified honey. Take some every morning for eight days on an empty stomach, the weight of a dram and then every day the weight of a denier [small copper coin]. And use in your meals chick peas, carrots, onions and arugala in salad. Eat anise and coriander, pine nuts and drink a glass of nettle water with every meal.

Dump the Spanish Fly and sparrow brain, and the rest of this may just be edible. Tastier than Viagra, at any rate.

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fleur de lysFOR READERS OF FRENCHfleur de lys

JOURNAL DES SAVANTS: Struck dumb by love

Only one item from the Journal des Savants this week, that of 1679 (132), this extracted from a German periodical:

A young man [became] mute without being able to articulate a single word through the effort [sic] of a love which he did not recognize himself, but suddenly recovered the use of his speech, several days after a sight of the loved object.

What could be more eloquent than such silence? :)

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End quote

"What can I say? That gives them so much pleasure and it costs me so little."

Mlle. Gaussin, of the Comedie Francaise (1711-1767)

"Mlle. Gaussin has had the most illustrious lovers, but she has always sacrificed self-interest to pleasure."
Bachaumont, 1-30-1762 (Tome I, 31)

FROM CHEZ JIM BOOKS Three works on eighteenth century subjects:

For some sample 18th century vegetarian recipes, click here.

copyright 2006 Jim Chevallier.
When using brief extracts from this site, please credit properly and provide a link back to this site.
(NOTE: Most translations, except where otherwise noted, are by Jim Chevallier and are copyrighted as such.)
Please do not reproduce extended pieces (recipes, translated pieces, etc.) without prior permission.


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