Victorian Valentine's Day Verses for Rejecting Unwanted Suitors

The Two Central Figures in Derby Day by William Powell Frith, 1860.(Met Museum)
The Two Central Figures in “Derby Day” by William Powell Frith, 1860.
(Met Museum)

Published in 1875, The Lover’s Poetic Companion and Valentine Writer is a book intended for Victorian ladies and gentlemen “who wish to address those they love in suitable terms.”  It contains a variety of Valentine verses, ranging from the sweet to the satirical.  The book promises that these “Love Lyrics” are harmless and that even the more comical lines do not descend into vulgarity.  But what these verses lack in vulgarity, they more than make up for in unkindness and—in some instances—outright cruelty.

Much of this unkindness is directed at those unfortunate would-be Valentines whom the Victorian lady or gentlemen must reject for some reason or another.  For example, in the below Valentine, titled A Tinted Venus, a gentleman rejects a woman because of her penchant for wearing too much make-up.

A Tinted Venus

I’m fond of paintings, and admire
A form divine and human,
But one thing I abominate,
And that’s a painted woman.

When gazing on your tinted cheeks
I feel inclined to scoff,
If I should kiss them, or your lips,
I know they’d all come off.

From Madame Rachel do attempt
Your notions to dissever,
That’s not the way, believe me, to
Be beautiful for ever.

Don’t credit the advertisements
In paper or in serial,
You cannot manufacture charms
With ugly raw material.

The next Valentine is a touch harsher—and even more personal.  In it, a woman rejects a potential suitor for being too tall and thin.

To a Tall Thin Person

I’m fond of light in any shape,
But can’t perceive a cause
Why I should wed a lamp-post,
Or a pair of lantern jaws.

When first your tall gaunt form I saw,
With face like any mourner,
I thought you were the shadow
Of some person round the corner.

I don’t know that I like a mate
Particularly lumpy,
But then, you know, you scraggy ones
Are always cross and grumpy.

If I am preying on your mind,
Dismiss, I pray, that matter;
The one I choose for life will be
At least a trifle fatter.

To a Tall Thin Person, The Lover’s Poetic Companion and Valentine Writer, 1875.

Unfortunately, an overweight Valentine was, in many cases, no more acceptable than a tall, thin one.  In the below Valentine, titled To A Fat Person, a lady not only rejects her plump suitor, but also offers him some advice on shedding a few pounds.

To a Fat Person

Whenever thy form I look upon,
My friend so stout and flabby,
I thank my stars I was not born
A ‘bus-man or a cabby.

Since sure I am, were such my lot,
I should feel most unwilling
To take a pair of folks like you
For sixpence or a shilling.

Do be persuaded, unctuous one—
Take something to get thinner;
Or, better still, don’t take so much
When you sit down to dinner.

Your friends may term you “embonpoint,”
Or “stout”—that’s very fine:
You’re fat—uncommon—much too fat
To be my Valentine.

Fatty, The Lover’s Poetic Companion and Valentine Writer, 1875.

Spinsters were not exempt from Valentine’s Day rejection—at least, not insofar as The Lover’s Poetic Companion was concerned.  In the following Valentine verses, addressed To a Cod-Eyed Spinster, a rather ungentlemanly gentleman issues a resounding rejection to a lovelorn old-maid.

To a Cod-Eyed Spinster

The very last that I should take
To village church or minster,
For purposes connubial,
Would be a cod-eyed spinster.

I’m fond of cod for dinner, ’tis
With me a favourite dish,
But shouldn’t like to own a wife
With eyes just like a fish.

Time’s hourglass now is running low,
So be no longer jealous,
Make way for younger girls and cease
To hunt up us smart fellows.

I’d sooner marry a giraffe,
Hedgehog or porcupine,
Than from the female sex select
A cod-eyed Valentine.

A Poetical Ruin, The Lover’s Poetic Companion and Valentine Writer, 1875.

Some of the Valentine verses offered seem justifiably cutting.  There are those directed at braggarts, drunkards, and hardened flirts.  One of my own favorites is the one below, addressed To A Vain Individual.

To A Vain Individual

Do give it up, ‘tis quite in vain
Each air and grace you try on;
Don’t lay this unction to your soul,
That you’re the British Lion.

The lions of a breed like yours
Eat thistles, hay, and grass,
And for a roar they give a bray,
And that is all — al-as!

I never like in my remarks
To venture on a strong key,
But you provoke me, lions’ skins
Do misbecome a donkey.

So give up lionizing, and
Be simply asinine,
And then perhaps some female (l)ass
Will be your Valentine.

To One with Whom You Have Danced, The Lover’s Poetic Companion and Valentine Writer, 1875.

 The above Valentine verses are only a few of the many contained within the pages of The Lover’s Poetic Companion.  Though they’re mean-spirited, I can’t help but find them rather humorous.  To the Victorian era person being rejected, however, these “Vinegar Valentines” would have been crushing indeed.  If you have to reject the advances of a would-be Valentine this coming February 14th, I strongly encourage you to find a kinder method of doing so.

Mimi Matthews is the author of The Pug Who Bit Napoleon: Animal Tales of the 18th and 19th Centuries (to be released by Pen and Sword Books in November 2017).  She researches and writes on all aspects of nineteenth century history—from animals, art, and etiquette to fashion, beauty, feminism, and law. 

Sources

The Lover’s Poetic Companion and Valentine Writer. London: Ward, Lock, & Tyler, 1875.


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32 Comments on "Victorian Valentine’s Day Verses for Rejecting Unwanted Suitors"

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jonathanmills95
Guest

“I’d sooner marry a giraffe”! Thanks for publishing these, they’re terrifically rude. I think these “anti-Valentines” damaged the popularity of the Day for a while.

Mimi Matthews
Guest

You’re very welcome, Jonathan :) I’m glad you enjoyed it!

Imelda Evans
Guest

They are, as the kids say these days, savage! You’d want to be pretty sure of your attractiveness, to reject someone like this, if you ever wanted to get married!

Mimi Matthews
Guest

I feel sorry for anyone who ever received one of these Valentine poems from the object of their affections!

michael39dunne
Guest

Agree with Mimi. As a young man my heart was broke on a couple of occasions and to be given a reply like those shown in this article could be the last straw. I am fortunate as most young men tend to be and got over these harrowing romantic humps finally meeting my own princess. She is now my queen and the mother of five healthy children so I suppose all’s fair in love and war.

Mimi Matthews
Guest

One hopes that, having been so cruelly rebuffed by these Vinegar Valentines, the unwanted suitors moved on to ladies (or gentleman!) more deserving of their affections!

josephine1837
Guest

I think these vinegars are very rude indeed. Maybe the line between funny and civilized has shifted through the years. It does make me think about my 98-year-old granny. She has always been quite direct on people being fat, or not very good looking. I always found that a bit embarrassing, but I do recognize such an harsh attitude towards physical appearance in Victorian novels, like Bleak House or even A Little Princess. So I suppose people were more open about physical deficiencies, where nowadays I’d like to think that we are more polite and not so judgmental.

Mimi Matthews
Guest

Thanks for your comment, Josephine! Proper Victorian ladies and gentlemen would not have said these sorts of things in person, thank goodness. Valentines like these were usually sent anonymously.

Lydia
Guest

Wow, I had no idea that people wrote rude poems like these in the past. Too funny! How did you originally come across The Lover’s Poetic Companion and Valentine Writer?

Mimi Matthews
Guest

I found it when I was looking through 19th century etiquette books for examples of Valentine’s Day etiquette. I always find unexpected gems during my research!

Lydia
Guest

How interesting.

Lindsay Downs (@ldowns2966)
Guest

Yes, cruel while at the same time a bit humorous. I pity the person who receives one

Mimi Matthews
Guest

Me too, Lindsay. It must have been crushing to receive one of these from a person you hoped to make your Valentine.

Machiel van Veen
Guest
To a Tall Thin Person To a Tall Fat Person (DumpyTrumpy) I’m fond of light in any shape, I´m fond of light in any shape, But can’t perceive a cause But can´t percieve a cause, Why I should wed a lamp-post, Why I should wed a oil lamp, Or a pair of lantern jaws. Or an oil bunker with claws. When first your tall gaunt form I saw, When first your fatty form I saw, With face like any mourner, With face like any greedy thief, I thought you were the shadow I thought you were the shadow Of some… Read more »
Machiel van Veen
Guest

For everybody, I accidently pressed the wrong button and now the new poem is not what it should be. You have to divide the second and the first poem.

Machiel van Veen
Guest

For DumpyTrumpy:

I´m fond of light in any shape,
But can´t percieve a cause,
Why I should wed a oil lamp,
Or an oil bunker with claws.

When first your fatty form I saw,
With face like any greedy thief,
I thought you were the shadow
Of a graveyard deep in grief.

I don´t know that I like a mate
Particularly thin,
But then, you know, you fatty ones
Are always cross and mean.

If I am preying on your mind,
Dissmiss it, you fool and sinner,
The one I choose for life will be
At least a little thinner.
===========================

Lydia
Guest

That was great, Machiel!

Mimi Matthews
Guest

Very creative!

Machiel van Veen
Guest

By the way, Thanks for your Valentine’s poems.

Mimi Matthews
Guest

You’re very welcome, Machiel :) I’m glad you enjoyed them!

victorochoa2016
Guest
There’s a lovely painting on the cover of Oxford World Classics’s cover of George Eliot’s novel Adam Bede, which novel I’m now reading: painting by Erskine Nicol, 1853, entitled Rejected Addresses, that might interest you. By the indication in the title of the painting, it is apparent that the young woman indeed is rejected the jovial suitor, but the image is a most remarkable similarity to a moment in the book, when Hetty Sorrel indeed is not rejecting Arthur Donnithorne’s advances, but is simply rather giving into a temporary respite of the demure rather than coquettish. The likeness between the… Read more »
Mimi Matthews
Guest

Thanks for the info, Victor. I’ll definitely give the painting a look!

travtrails
Guest

My favourite is the one to the ‘lamppost’.

Mimi Matthews
Guest

It was one of the funnier Valentine verses I found, though still a little cruel.

travtrails
Guest

Hard to imagine ‘Victorian’ miss being so outspoken

Mimi Matthews
Guest

These sorts of verses were usually sent anonymously.

paper doll
Guest

I wonder if these verses were sent anonymously? … I believe whether people were rejecting or swearing love , part of the fun was guessing who sent one the valentine…. and we are always more intense or crueler when anonymous

Mimi Matthews
Guest

They would definitely have been sent anonymously.

Machiel van Veen
Guest

On the day of Valentine
A Valentine has to gamble.
A Valentina conversely
Has to be a Dame, Shy and Lovely
Acting like she likes to ramble.

trackback

[…] Mimi Matthews has a few creative verses for telling someone who may or may not be interested in you to seek other pastures. […]

Angelyn
Guest

Oh, those were deliciously cutting. The Venus of the “Tinted” poem rather puts me in mind of another meaning much worse–that the object of the derision, the painted female, is a whore.

Mimi Matthews
Guest

I think that was always an underlying sentiment when referencing ‘painted’ women. Make-up was associated with prostitutes or (gasp!) actresses.

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