Saint Valentine’s Day, or the feast of Valentine, has its origins in the celebration of the life of Saint Valentine (Valentinius), a third century Roman saint. The feast day (February 14) is now, of course, related to the tradition of courtly love which has its origins in the middle ages. The history of Saint Valentine is uncertain, among the UL’s earliest works including a history of Saint Valentine is: Opus eruditissimum diui Irenaei episcopi lugdunensis in quinque libros digestum, in quibus mire retegit & confutat ueterum haereseon impias ac portentosas opiniones, ex uetustissimorum codicum collatione quantum licuit emendatum opera Des. Erasmi Roterodami, ac nunc eiusdem opera denuo recognitum, correctis ijs quae prius suffugerant (3.10.29).
The first Valentine’s Day was associated with romantic love in the circle of Geoffrey Chaucer. Chaucer’s influence throughout European literature is clearly shown by the number of works in the UL’s collections that contain translations of his poems, including Chaucer und der Rosenroman : eine litterargeschichtliche Studie (Berlin, 1893 – N.28.68), Fyra Canterburysägner / i svensk tolkning av H. Jernström (Helsingfors, 1930 – Ud.8.508) and Contes de Cantorbery / traduits en vers de G.C. ; Par le Chevalier de Chatelain (London, 1857-1861, XIV.17.5-). Nineteenth century translations of Chaucer are also held in a number of college libraries, such as Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury-Geschichten / uebersetzt in den Versmassen der Urschrift und durch Einleitung und Anmerkungen erläutert von Wilhelm Hertzberg (Trinity College Library, 222.c.86.9) and Ausgewählte kleinere Dichtungen Chaucer’s / im Vermaasse des Originals in das Deutsche übertragen, und mit Erörterungen versehen von John Koch (St John’s College: Special Collections, 4.11.84).
In 18th century England, Valentine’s Day developed into a celebration that is recognisably similar to today’s: an opportunity for lovers to express their love for each other– and to children as well– by sending cards and giving flowers or similar tokens of appreciation. The expression of love, as formalised by Valentine’s Day, has been a subject for many early works of literature. One of the oldest Italian printed books about love in the UL collections dates from 1737: Lettere scritte da donna di senno e di spirito per ammaestramento del suo amante (CCD.17.15), and more contemporary works continue this tradition, such as Pablo Neruda’s Poemas de amor (743:36.c.95.442) and his Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperada (2008.7.1799).
The study of love and its depictions in art and literature are common themes of study: L’Image de l’Amour charnel au Moyen Âge by Florence Colin-Goguel (S950.a.200.3455), and L’art d’aimer de la séduction à la volupté (S950.a.201.1093) examine this area throughout the history of art. Vouchsafe o love = (Vieni la mia vendetta), presents the aria from Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia in parallel Italian and English texts in an 1865 edition which stands at A1871.3616. Published in London, this is an example of the UL’s collection of unbound sheet music, which has been collected since the late 19th century as part of the Copyright Act. The Music Department has written about the breadth of this collection on their blog, and last year they wrote a “Valentine’s Day Special: MusiCB3’s Guide to Dating”.
Of course, while the contents of books can be a token of love, books as objects themselves are often given to loved ones. While not all of these are recorded, it is interesting to look at cases where a book that has come into the Library’s collections had previously been given as a gift earlier in its history. For instance, a 1988 edition of Voyage en Espagne / Edouard Manet (CCC.65.19) received in 2014 from the library of Professor Nigel Glendinning contains the simple note from the editor of the book: “For Nigel with love, Juliet”.
The first known written valentine is a 15th-century rondeau written by Charles, Duke of Orléans to his wife, which can be seen in full in a number of collections of Charles, duc d’Orléans’ poetry, including Les poésies du duc Charles d’Orléans / pub. sur le manuscrit de la bibliothèque de Grenoble conféré avec ceux de Paris et de Londres, et accompagnées d’une préface historique, de notes et d’éclaireissements littéraires, par Aimé Champollion-Figeac (1842 – 8735.d.69). It begins:
Je suis desja d’amour tanné
Ma tres doulce Valentinée…