Friday, January 20, 2012

Love's Vocabulary

Valentine's Day is coming, and so it seems appropriate to discuss 'Love's Vocabulary'. It is a common phrase; a Google search will bring up hundreds of results. But one writer in the early 19th century had an interesting take on the idea, and wrote elegant, scathing definitions of the words that describe the participants, the emotions, and the activities involved in the romantic state we call 'love'.
Sun -- All comparisons of one's mistress to the sun, the stars, etc. are out of date. They are all so hackneyed, that even poetry rejects them. One modern poet, indeed, has ventured to compare his mistress to the sun, because, like him, she was a common benefit, and shone on all alike."

We don't know the name of the writer of this brief, clever glossary. It was first published, I believe, in the April and May issues of the Lady's Monthly Museum for 1801. Portions appeared a year later in The Lady's Magazine and Musical Repository, without any attribution. Then in 1811, selections from the same essay were published in an American magazine, The Lady's Miscellany and Weekly Visitor.

Women are not always cast in a good light:
Coquette - One who wants to engage the men without engaging herself, whose chief aim is to be thought agreeable, handsome, amiable; though a composition of levity and vanity.

But neither are men:
Danglers - An insipid tribe of triflers, with whom the women divert themselves, in perfect innocence, when they have nothing better to do. They are in a class of beings beneath their monkeys, parrots, and lap-dogs.
The entries speak of manipulation:
Absence - "How dear is my absence from you going to cost me! How tedious will the hours seem!" This signifies precisely, "If I was always with you, my stock of fine speeches would be soon exhausted. I should have nothing new to say to you: when I see  you again, you will like me better."
And of pain:
Cruelty - This expression does no so much signify the insensibility of a mistress, as the impatience of a lover.
And the writer seems to have a particular point to make about:
Matrimony - A term, which is the stale topic of ridicule to witlings, libertines, and coxcombs; and a term of the utmost respect among the virtuous and sensible. It is, like patriotism, the most noble motive, and the most infamous pretext. It is the paradise of the wise, and the hell of fools. At present, the fashion is, properly speaking, to commit matrimony; since on the footing that things are, it is rather a crime than a virtue; since, often, no nobler a view determines to it, than sends a highwayman to Hounslow heath; to wit, ---the taking of a purse. Sordid interest is now the great master of ceremonies to Hymen, of which it pollutes the sanctuary, and dishonours the worship. Parents who sacrifice their children to it are worse than the Ammonites, who burned theirs in honour to Moloch; at least the pain of those wretched victims was momentary; whilst the pain of those sold for interest is a lingering one, and often as sure as death.

I hope you have enjoyed these excerpts from the 'Vocabulary' of this astute, insightful writer; I wish we knew his/her name. I wonder if it is one we would recognize.

Next week, Diane Gaston, award-winning author of Regency Historical Romance, will visit to talk about 'Regency Army Officers'. She will also be giving away an autographed copy of  the first in her series, Gallant Officer, Forbidden Lady, to a randomly chosen commenter. Please join us then!

'Til next time,



Anne Gallagher said...

Words can mean so much, are so important, it's interesting to see the meanings this author gave them.
Thanks Lesley-Anne.

Can't wait for next week. I have two army hero's I'm currently writing and I hope they are correct.

Lesley-Anne McLeod said...

It's going to be a great guest post! And, if you have time to comment, maybe you will win her giveaway :-)