A good article
in the Guardian, suitable for valentine's Day too:
For decades the Cambridge University Library Tower has been a source of excited mythmaking among undergraduates. No one quite knew what books were stored there, but that didn't stop them speculating. And by far the most common rumour doing the fevered rounds was that the tower was chock-full of Victorian porn, so filthy that the powers-that-be had decreed that no one would ever be allowed to set eyes on it. For, if they did, everyone involved would be struck blind. Or turned to stone. Or, worse still, have their reader's pass rescinded.
Obviously this didn't turn out to contain stacks of smut (were people really expecting a dirty version of the library in The Name of the Rose??) but it was more interesting containing hundreds of guides to romance including letter writing advice:
The New Letter Writer for Lovers, for instance, provides scores of templates suited to every possible situation that a courting couple might encounter. Imagine, for example, that you are a chap who has met a lady just once but has decided, nonetheless, that she is the one for you. Here is how you should compose your request for more face-to-face time:
I scarcely can find courage to address you, and particularly as I cannot fl atter myself that you have noticed me in any way. But, at the risk of incurring your displeasure, I feel compelled to express, with all deference, the anxiety I feel to become better acquainted with you, and to confess that you have inspired feelings warmer than those a mere acquaintance might warrant.
Now imagine yourself as the unfortunate young woman on the receiving end of this serpentine missive from someone whose face you can barely place. Rather than making being-sick noises and resolving to avoid the creep in future, the New Letter Writer for Lovers suggests that you whip out the Basildon Bond and confront the situation head-on:
Miss — presents her compliments to Mr — and while she is unwilling to consider his letter an insult, she trusts that in future should she meet Mr _ he will see the necessity for abstaining from addressing her under any circumstances whatever.
Of course, not all the advice is that helpful:
Other self-appointed relationship experts adopt a more oblique approach. Hints on Matrimony by a Practical Man (1882) displays the kind of wilful obfuscation that seems the opposite of practical. Each page of the waxy little text is studded with mottoes intended to act as a guide for anyone entering the romantic lists. But quite what "Many go out for wool, and come home short" or "Nothing comes out of the sack but what was in it" actually means, let alone how it could possibly be applied, remains baffling.
Still a great insight into Victorian romance - if nothing else a handy reference guide if one wanted to throw some top quality wooing into a story.