February 13, 2018

Valentine's Chapbooks

        Chapbooks were one of the primary sources of printed material and “literature" for the common people in England during the eighteenth century.  They were small pamphlets, usually 16 or 24 pages, with poems, ballads, stories, satires, or “instructive” material, often illustrated with wood block prints.  They ranged from nice little books well printed to crude pirated editions, and the block prints illustrating them had a similar range of quality and even a range of relevance.  In honor of Valentine’s Day I have selected a few of these woodcuts of a romantic nature.
        First up, an illustration of “the Pleasant History of fair Rosamond… Daughter to the Lord Arundel whose love was obtained by the Valour of Tommy Pots: who conquered the Lord Phenix, and wounded him, and after obtained her to be his wife.  Being very delightful to read.”  It’s a classic tale of the triumph of true love for a commoner, and is rather nice because in the end everyone acquiesces quite happily and helpfully to the marriage of Rosamond and Tommy.  Although it would be a mistake to assume that a woodcut accompanying a chapbook necessarily corresponds closely with the story, I propose that this is the point when Rosamond and Tommy meet in secret to declare their love.  I like the sun peeping up over the
hill, and all the gratuitous variety of birds.  Rosamond’s expression is rather nice, showing hope and trepidation, although Tommy looks a little glazed.
        The next piece is quite crude, making even Tommy’s glazed expression look sensitive.  Nevertheless, I like the spotted puppy, and I’m amused by the cupid.  This woodcut accompanied the tale of Ned’s courtship and subsequent remorse upon marrying a chamber-maid.  It isn’t exactly a romantic story, but take the woodcut on its own Valentine merits.
        And finally, a much more accomplished woodcut, with nicely depicted horses and plenty of good detail on the figures.  I don’t know what this story was about, but what could be a better Valentine toast than these riders’ cry of “For Love!  For Life!”

[Pictures: Tommy Potts or Cupid’s Triumph, Being the Pleasant and Delightful History of Fair Rosamond, c1675;
Ned and a chambermaid from A York Dialogue, both reproduced in Chap-Books of the Eighteenth Century, by John Ashton, 1882 (Images from Internet Archive);
For Love, For Life, wood block print from A Poste with a Packet of Mad Leters by Nicholas Breton, 1660 (Image from Yale University Library).]

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