Cupid’s Annual Charter

Cupid’s Annual Charter, or, St. Valentine’s Festival: In Which All True Lovers Have Free Leave to Declare Their Sentiments for Each Other

Author: Unknown
Publisher: W. Perks
Publication Year: Unknown
Language: English
Book Dimensions: 10.9cm x 17.78cm
Pages: 24
University of Virginia Library Catalog Entry, Sadleir-Black Collection: PN6110.V35 C86 1820



Material History

When looking at the chapbook while closed, the book is quite a modest piece. From a top-down perspective, it is 17.78cm long and 10.9cm wide. The chapbook is small, and also very thin, and feels very fragile when handling. This may be because of the binding: the chapbook’s binding is simply a colored piece of paper folded over the story, bound by a single stich of string in the center of the spine keeping the entire book together. Upon examination, it does not look as though there have previously been any other stitches of strings, and that the single white string was the only one placed. The paper covering the book has a feeling of something akin to construction paper. It feels worn and frail, and on the back there is a crease here the backside cover corner has been folded up. This binding causes the book to feel floppy, since there is no structural spine but simply the pages folded together and bound by the single string.

Adorned on the cover is Cupid’s Annual Charter, or St, Valentine’s Festival, which has been printed onto the paper cover in dark bold text. Flipping the cover page open, the direct next page is the backside of the cover page, which is bare and blue, and the next page has nothing printed on it, but is a creamy white. On the next page is a frontispiece illustration, and then follows the title page. The illustration depicts a man and a woman together next to a tree; they are looking at each other, and there is a small home in the background. The picture originally was printed in black and white, but in this edition of the chapbook, the illustration has been hand-painted, most likely by watercolor. The illustration’s colors are recurring, with many uses of yellow and orange. On the title page, the full title is announced as Cupid’s Annual Charter, or, St. Valentine’s Festival, in which all the lovers have free leave to declare their sentiments for each other. No author name appears on either the cover, the title page, or anywhere else in the book. The rest of the title page lists the publisher: “Published by W. Perks, 21, St. Martin’s Lane.” Also on the title page is a small poem about love.

The pages within the book feel quite cheaply made. They are rough to the touch and bumpy where the words have been printed. The imprints of the printed words on the front of the page are evident on the back of the page. The edges of the pages are cut unevenly: some are completely straight, while others have slight ridges. The pages have very wide margins, and the text is printed in the center, almost aligned in a column, coinciding with the fact that the entirety of the book is written in poems. The pages are also scuffed, with little marks of what could be pencil or dirt on almost every page, and some small dots and browning in some areas. The printing job is also quite uneven. On many pages there are words printed on top of each other, as though they were printed on twice. On other pages, the entire column of words is printed at an angle instead of straight. The last two pages of the book, before the last cover page, are still connected at the top: after the printing and folding of this book, either the printer or an early reader did not cut the last two pages.

Other than the frontispiece illustration that precedes the title page, there are no other illustrations within the book. There are two places in the book denoting ownership, both written in pencil. The page before the title page has a short phrase, likely a name, that reads possibly “Munny Hill,” “Murry Hill,” or “Munney Hill.” There are also penciled notes on this same page that can be read as “11mo72”, “1/12” or “V12,” “Cupids,” and “124.” Also on this page is potentially another name scribbled as what looks to be “Caude Riefiaisphortz.” On the last page of the book, before the back blue cover page, there looks to be written another series including letters, numbers, and punctuation, possibly “coutd:24 pp.zhy+Eugd.cold.Frordis.”

Overall, the book itself looks very delicate, as if it would be very easy to damage the book or fold the cover page. With too much use, the pages will come off its single binding. There is a handmade feeling from the binding of the cover to a cheaper and more worn look from the pages themselves.

Textual History

The publisher, William Perks, and the printer, George Smeeton, of Cupid’s Annual Charter are quite evident, as William Perks is listed on the title page (“Published by W. Perks, 21, St. Martin’s Lane”) and George Smeeton is listed on the next page as well as the last page of the text (“G. Smeeton, Printer, 139, St. Martin’s Lane, London”). The publisher, William Perks, had published a few chapbooks between 1800 and 1820, including The Turtle Dove; or Cupid’s Artillery Levelled Against Human Hearts, by Sarah Wilkinson. All three chapbooks that are listed as published by William Perks in The Women’s Print History database are authored by Sarah Wilkinson. Another one of Sarah Wilkinson’s published books, The New General Valentine Writer, or the Congress of Lovers, has an almost identical look and feel as Cupid’s Annual Charter. The title page of The New General Valentine Writer features a small poem, and the book itself is written in stanzas, with a writer and a replier, with the same rhyming scheme as Cupid’s Annual Charter (Wilkinson 6). This suggests that Wilkinson may be the author of Cupid’s Annual Charter. James Comerford, a Victorian book collector, lists The Turtle Dove, The School of Love, and Cupid’s Annual Charter in his library catalogue underneath “Wilkinson (S.)” (224).

There is no publication date printed anywhere on this edition of Cupid’s Annual Charter. WorldCat aggregates multiple possible publication dates for Cupid’s Annual Charter across libraries. The earliest edition of Cupid’s Annual Charter listed on WorldCat is from 1807 and four libraries own this version. WorldCat also lists an 1810 version owned by seventeen libraries, and Yale’s library catalogue lists its edition as published in 1811 (though WorldCat erroneously notes the publication date for this copy as 1798). Oxford University dates its copy of Cupid’s Annual Charter as a circa 1815 edition. The University of Virginia, along with twenty other libraries, give their edition a date of 1820 in their library catalog records. It is unclear from where these dates arise, as there is no date printed on the text and no other indication of the publication date.

The frontispiece also contains an interesting history. The Yale Library owns an edition of Cupid’s Annual Charter and their library catalog notes “Frontispiece designed by Isaac Cruikshank.” A sales catalogue by the American Art Association for The Splendid Library of the late Theodore N. Vail lists Cupid’s Annual Charter with a note: “Contains a crude frontispiece in colors which has been attributed to the early work of George Cruikshank, he having executed similar other works” (54). Isaac Cruikshank is the father of George Cruikshank, and both were artists. Both have been accredited for designing the frontispiece, though Isaac Cruikshank died in 1811, possibly before many editions emerged, depending on the actual publication date.

Because of the sheer number of colored frontispiece editions of Cupid’s Annual Charter recorded by library catalogues, book sales, and book auction records, it could be presumed that the text was being sold with an already painted frontispiece (see, for instance, the sales notice in Special Clearance Catalogue 58). When comparing the frontispiece in the University of Virginia’s edition to the edition held by Oxford University, on first glance the paintings appear almost identical. However, on closer inspection, there are slight variations: for instance, in the Oxford frontispiece the colors are more vibrant, and the house is left white, while in the University of Virginia’s copy the house is painted. These similarities could imply that the publisher intended the frontispiece to look similar across the editions, but the differences imply that each frontispiece has been hand-painted.

Interestingly, a 1913 bookseller catalogue and a 1914 auction record both list Cupid’s Annual Charter for sale as “uncut” (Special Clearance Catalogue 58, Karslake 361).

Cupid’s Annual Charter has been mentioned quite a few times in newspapers and other publications across the centuries. In Monographs on Anniversaries and Festivals by Edmund W. Miller and prepared by the Free Public Library of Jersey City in 1913, there is a two-page section on “St. Valentine’s Day” that discusses the increased popularity of sending valentines. According to Miller, titles such as Cupid’s Annual Charter and other valentine chapbooks were used as a reference or a guide for individuals making and sending their own valentines. Miller suggests that the “first book of this kind was published in 1797” (Miller “St. Valentine’s Day”).

The Evening Telegraph, on February 14, 1923, printed a column about the origin of St. Valentines. This piece mentions the number of valentines shared through the post offices in 1870 and the surge in popularity of the holiday in America. This column also discusses the “most remarkable collection of valentines” that a Mr. Jonathan King had shown the British Museum, and which he had been collecting for fifty years. The column describes Cupid’s Annual Charter as an example of a book “of verses suitable for copying as valentines,” indicating that it was “one of the favorite publications” (“St Valentine’s Day” Evening Telegraph 2).

In February 1928, The American Printer published an article called “Good Bishop Valentine” discussing Valentine’s Day in the context of how important printing was to the success of the holiday. This article explains that both in America and in Britain around the late 1700s to early 1800s, printers made a lot of Valentine chapbooks to “assist the country swain” with “ready-made rhymes” (Stone 40). The article describes a typical chapbook, notes that many did have a colored frontispiece, and reports that these chapbooks were sold at six-pence in Britain and ten cents in America. The article lists Cupid’s Annual Charter as one of the titles that were “ingenious” (Stone 40).

In his more recent book Customer Rites: The Buying and Selling of American Holidays, historian Leigh Eric Schmidt includes Cupid’s Annual Charter as an example of one of the titles of valentine books that were published during the early nineteenth century. Schmidt explains the beginnings of the popularity of these valentine books and accredits one of the earliest books that started the genre as The Complete Valentine Writer; or, The Young Men and Maidens Best Assistant by Thomas Sabine in 1783, which included a classic “engraved frontispiece.” Schmidt goes on to list many of the chapbook titles that appeared in the early 1800s following the success of Sabine (57).

Though many questions remain about the precise publication details of Cupid’s Annual Charter, it is clear that this chapbook was published while the valentine style was very popular and could have been used as a way to help individuals write their own valentines to each other.

Narrative Point of View

Cupid’s Annuel Charter is written in the first person by multiple personas in the form of poetic letters sent as valentines, and responding stanzas that are answering the valentines. Each stanza employs rhyming couplets, where pairs of lines rhyme with each other and do not rhyme with any other lines in the same stanza. The language utilizes more antiquated English phrases, using verbiage like “thee” and “chastely.” The stanzas themselves are quite short, and often reveal the persona’s feelings towards their letter’s recipient, whether of love or disdain.

Valentine.
In virgin snow I like white array’d
I first beheld my Cottage Maid.
Some flowers did adorn her breast,
And peace was in her looks exprest,
Love I embib’d at every glance,
My senses she did quite entrance,
Cupid did exert his power,
And it increases every hour ;
Now to thee sweet Cottage Maid,
Be my ardent wishes paid ;
Haste with me to Hymen’s shrine,
And make me happy Valentine.

Answer.
My Cottage neat, I’ll not forsake
For any offer you can make ;
I’ll not give up my russet gown
For the pleasures of the town,
I love and am belov’d again,
My Henry a Cottage Swain,
Equal marriages are best,
Vanity don’t fill my breast ;
So your offer I decline,
Adieu for ever Valentine.
(Cupid’s Annual Charter 7)

In this Valentine, the speaker describes how he “beheld” this “Cottage Maid” and every time he looked at her, he became increasingly enamored. The reference to Cupid suggests an immediacy to his falling in love, and that he also kept falling for her over time. The particular request the speaker makes in his Valentine is that the Cottage Maid will have sex with him, as indicated by the reference to her joining him at “Hymen’s shrine.” In her Answer, the Cottage Maid refuses his request: “I’ll not give up my russet gown / For the pleasures of the town,” she insists, indicating that she will not get undressed for him. She further explains that she is already in a relationship with someone she loves named Henry, who she also appears to see as her equal. Her declaration that “Equal marriages are best” might be read as a direct response to the speaker’s wish in the previous stanza that she give him his desires when he commands, “Be my ardent wishes paid.” She may be implying that she wants her own wishes to be “paid,” too. In no uncertain terms, she declines his invitation and does not want to be his valentine.

Summary

Cupid’s Annual Charter is entirely made up of stanzas in a poem. The book is written in a call and response format: A “Valentine” writes an inquiry to someone asking to be their valentine. Oftentimes, an “Answer”stanza follows, responding to what the “Valentine” said. There are twenty-eight Valentine-Answer pairings, and each pairing is distinct; in other words, this book depicts a collection of different fictional couples sending poetic valentines to one another.

In addition to these paired stanzas, there are also twelve instances where the text prints a Valentine stanza but does not include a response. In these cases, a different Valentine stanza then starts.

The stanza format of both the Valentines and the Answers remains consistent across the entire chapbook. Each stanza is made up of between six and fourteen lines, and each line contains approximately five to seven words. The rhyming pattern of the stanzas preserves couplets throughout.

Many Valentines ask their particular reader to be their valentine, and frequently they propose marriage or evidence a desire to wed. Each Valentine uses different figurative language to profess their love for their beloved. Oftentimes, the Answers respond with an acceptance. However, some Valentine stanzas are met with rejection: sometimes the Answer says they love someone else, and other times the Answer says that the Valentine is not the type of person they want.

In some Valentine-Answer pairs, the Valentine is addressed to a specific type of person, indicated by, for example, “Valentine TO A GENTLEMAN” (3). There are valentines sent to, “a faithless lover” (8), “an old maid” (12), “an old bachelor” (13), “a miser” (14), “a prude” (14), “a coquette” (15), a valentine sent “with flowers” (19), sent “with a book” (19), and even a valentine “from a soldier” (15) and “a sailor” (16).

Sometimes, depending on the intended recipient, the context of the poetic letter changes. The Valentines composed to the “old maid” and the “old bachelor” both read as though the Valentine is taunting the old maid and old bachelor because they did not end up finding love; both reply to their Valentines with advice for them on how to find love as the Valentines are much younger than the “old” individuals composing the Answers. The Valentine to “a coquette” talks about how she should stop being a coquette in order to protect her reputation, and therefore the Valentine writer will want to be with her; she replies, rejecting him saying that he is not the person for her. The Valentines from the soldier and the sailor both talk about how they love their valentine, but use figurative language based on either fighting and loyalty to their country from the soldier or being at sea and on a boat from the sailor. The Valentine sent with flowers uses language of blooming and fragrance to describe the love they feel, and the Valentine sent with a book explains that the book’s lines exemplify his love.

There are two Answers that contain a line about how the Valentine writer should jump into a body of water, a rather cruel form of a rejection. There are two Valentines that refuse to reveal their name, and both have no Answer.

The very final Valentine relays how he is upset that his partner cheated on him, and how he had loved her. He also feels bad for the person she is now with, as he claims her new man is doomed to experience his same fate. There is no Answer.


Bibliography

Karslake, Frank, editor. Book-Auction Records: A Priced and Annotated Record of London, Dublin, Edinburgh, and Glasgow Book-Auctions, volume 11, part 1. London, Karslake & Company, 1914.

Comerford, James. Catalogue of the Extensive and Very Valuable Library of the Late James Comerford, Esq … Dryden Press, 1881.

“Cupid’s annual charter; or, St. Valentine’s festival” [catalog record]. Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, https://solo.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/permalink/44OXF_INST/35n82s/alma990142997550107026 Accessed 2. Apr. 2024.

Cupid’s Annual Charter, Or, St. Valentine’s Festival: In Which All True Lovers Have Free Leave to Declare Their Sentiments for Each Other. London, W. Perks.

“Cupid’s Annual Charter, or, St. Valentine’s Festival : in which all true lovers have free leave to declare their sentiments for each other …” [catalog record]. Yale Library, Yale University, https://search.library.yale.edu/catalog/1263117. Accessed 2 Apr. 2024.

Miller, Edmund W. “St. Valentine’s Day.” Monographs on Anniversaries and Festivals, Jersey City, 1913.

Schmidt, Leigh Eric. Consumer Rites: The Buying and Selling of American Holidays. United Kingdom, Princeton University Press, 1995.

Special Clearance Catalogue of Interesting & Desirable Books (Chiefly Modern) Offered for Sale at Much Reduced Prices by Bertram Dobell, No. 221, 1913. 

“The Splendid Library of the late Theodore N. Vail.” Sales Catalogues: Miscellaneous, by the American Art Association and Anderson Galleries, New York, 1922.

“St Valentine’s Day.” Evening Telegraph, 14 Feb. 1923, p. 2. British Library Newspapers, link.gale.com/apps/doc/JE3237130264/BNCN?u=viva_uva&sid=bookmark-BNCN&xid=acfb6fc9. Accessed 2 Apr. 2024.

Stone, Wilbur Macey. “Good Bishop Valentine.” The American Printer, Feb. 1928, pp. 40–41.

“William Perks.” The Women’s Print History Project, 2019, Firm ID 2444, http://womensprinthistoryproject.com/firm/2444. Accessed 26 Mar. 2024.

Wilkinson, Sarah Scudgell. The New General Valentine Writer; Or, the Congress of Love: to which All True Votaries are Invited … J. Spencer, 1820.


Researcher: Amisha Sahni


How to cite this page:

MLA: “Cupid’s Annual Charter.” Project Gothic, University of Virginia, 2024, https://gothic.lib.virginia.edu/access-the-archive-2/cupids-annual-charter/