If your Valentine is far away, this is a rather sad day. If only we could convey with a word (a bark), a flower, in one eternal hour, our true and hopeful love. . .
Chaucer was the first to associate Valentine's Day with mating in a literary text. In his Parlement of Foules (1382), he wrote -
For this was on seynt Volantynys day
Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.
It's thought he was referring to a date in May, when the second saint Valentine had his feast day, but the winter tradition took hold, like a warm ember lifted from the fires of courtly love.
Not long afterwards, in 1415, the earliest surviving valentine was sent by a prisoner in the Tower of London. Establishing the theme of separation that runs like a red ribbon through the day, the imprisoned Duke of Orleans sent a valentine to his wife.
Four hundred years later, valentines were creating havoc at the post office. On February 15th 1804, The Times reported -
Yesterday being Valentine's Day, the Twopenny Post had such an extraordinary influx of letters, with Valentines enclosed, that the Postmen, although assisted by a number of supernumeraries, could not get through their deliveries in the regular time. At the receiving house in New Street, Covent Garden, near 1000 Valentines were put into the box.
Around 1847 American Esther Howland received a valentine from a British admirer, and was inspired, but not, alas, as he had intended. Her father owned a large stationery store in Worcester, Massachusetts, and within a year the entrepreneurial Esther was producing and selling valentines of embossed paper lace.
It's a sad, sweet day.
"How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach. . ."
Like valentines, this post is rewritten every year.