Thursday, 3 June 2010

Chat up Lines: Early Modern Style

 'The New Academy of Complements' was written by Charles Sackville, Earl of Dorset and printed in 1669. It amused me as its first section is almost like a seventeenth century dating manual (I really think some of these lines should be reintroduced!). It contains a collection of suggested compliments to use on the opposite sex. Sackville himself was married three times so I suppose he must have known a thing or two about the process of courting....

Complemental Expressions towards Men, Leading to The Art of Courtship:
  • Sir, My appetite is sick, for want of a capacity to digest your Favours.
  • Sir, 'Tis no wonder there is so little goodness in the world, since by the rich stock of Vertue that rests in you, others are become bankrupts!

  • Sir, I shall desire no greater glory from you, than new proofs of my obedience.
  • Sir, When I have finisht your desires, I should in reat you to reserve some new Commands, so great a pleasure I take in being yours.
  • Sir, You have deserved more services from me, than my life is able to perform.
  • Sir, Your bounties have been showr'd upon me with such excess, that I am uncapable of a Complement.
  • Sir, I congratulate your happy presence.
  • Sir, May this meeting create a lasting League of Amity betwixt us.
  • Sir, I should be entirely happy, should I finde an occasion to imprint the Characters of your Vertues in my brest, by a more firm acquaintance.


Complements towards Ladies, Gentlewomen, Maids:
  • Madam, It is impossible any one should see your beauty and not become a captive. 
  • Madam, In those smiling dimples, Cupid hath pitched his Tents. 

  • Madam, You are all Vertue, from your sweet lip the morning gathers blushes.
  • Fair one, your feature and your vertues excel all mortal sence.
  • Madam, You have vanquished me, I am an eternal prisoner to your beauty.

  • Madam, When I see you I am in paradice, it is then that my eyes carve me out a feast of Love.

  • Madam, Mortal eyes are never to be satisfied with the wonders of your beauty.

  • Madam, Your complexion clear as is the skie, was never fram'd but to be ador'd.

  • Madam, Though my person is removed from you, my purpose is not, for I still retain and will till death, the resolutions of being, Madam, Yours.

  • Madam, give me but the favour to suffer me to discover my affections, and then if you shall think fit, silence me to perpetuity.

  • Madam, The perfume of your sweet breath informs me your Mother fed on Roses when she bred you. 
Other handy features of this book are examples of letters for every occassion the following is suggested correspondence between a rich gent and a young virgin who does not return his favours, I like the poem it makes her wishes very clear:
A rich old Gentleman, to a fair young Virgin.

Young Lady,

LEt not my years be an obstacle to your love, since I have those gifts of fortune, that will not onely maintain our affections, and keep the fire of love in a continual flame, but will also afford you all those Ornaments which Art hath designed for the adorning such tender and beautiful Buds of Nature: Besides, though I come not to you with a powdred Lock, or in the mode of a young Gallant, yet know my Girl, my zeal for you can be as hot, and as sincere, as the sprucest Pretenders in the world: and if age doth make me seem in your apprehension, as a withering tree, yet I have Gold will keep its colour, and it is that which in this world is ones best friend. Pray have me in your thoughts, and I shall watch for an opportune season, wherein I may make my self farther known to be, Fairest Lady,

Your most affectionate Servant.

The Answer. A beautiful young Virgin, to a decrepit, rich, old Gentleman.

Grave Sir,

You are too far distant from me in years, to be admitted into my affections, since you are arrived to the pitch of Dotage, and I yet ignorant of what is Love; However, I must do you so much justice as to commend your discretion, for fishing with a Golden Bait; for believe me, next to Beauty, I cannot imagine any thing to be more taking among mortals, than the glorious name of Wealth: I could be content to keep my Coaches, my Pages, Lackeys, and Maids, but I confess I could never endure the society of a bald pate; How can you think, Reverend Sir, that I should love you, when by the temptations which you offer, you clearly manifest your opinion, that if I should marry, it must be to your Gold, rather than to you: I confess a Silver Myne is a pretty toy for a thing of my years to dote on, but I have a childish humour peculiar to my self that is, never to humble my affections so, as that they suffer Treasure, as a Load-stone, to draw them to its beck. 'Tis true, wealth will be wellcome to me, to maintain my Train, but the Person of that more lovely creature, Man, will ever be more welcome to a Maids Embraces. Can you think me so weak, as to exchange the Flower of my Youth, for a bundle of Snow, or rotten Dirt? No Sir, Gold with a man is good, admirably good, but it is Man that in the School of Love, passes for the principal Verb; for my own part, rather than joyn my self to a meer wedge of Gold, I shall choose to accept of a bundle of Rags, so they have any affinity to a Man.

Old men are grey, Old men are grey,
I'm a lusty bonny young Lass,
And I prithee Old man away.

By this time, good old man, you know my minde; be wise, and wed your self to heaven, and I shall thank you, if in your death, you remember to bequeathe your Gold to

Your young Adviser.

This book was reprinted in 1671, 1681, 1694 and 1698 so it must have been popular throughout the latter part of the seventeenth century, with such great chat up lines you can see why!

The original document can be found at the Folger Shakespeare Library or Early English Books Online:
Charles Sackville, The New academy of complements erected for ladies, gentlewomen, courtiers, gentlemen, scholars, souldiers, citizens, country-men, and all persons, of what degree soever, of both sexes, (Samuel Speed: London, 1669) Illustrations:
  • Cover illustration from The New Academy of Complements
  • Frans Hals, Married couple in a garden, 1622,  Web Gallery of Art (hereafter WGA).
  • Thomas de Kyser, A portrait of a lady, 1632, WGA.
  • Thomas de Kyser, A protrait of a gentleman, 1632, WGA.
  • Rose and petals photgraph from ibiblio
  • Frans Fracken II, A young lady and a and a cavlier holding a letter, 17th century, WGA.
Copyright © 2010 E.JH