Tag Archives: Valentine’s Day

The Rare Books of Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is upon us. If this day of hearts, candy, and warm fuzzies isn’t exactly your cup of tea, you’re not alone! Here’s a look at our three best less-than-romantic rare books for the holiday.

Mark Twain’s (Burlesque) Autobiography and First Romance

Twain_Autobiography_First_RomanceThe title of this work is quite misleading; the events have no relevance to Twain’s life. The book, published by Sheldon & Co in 1871, contains two separate stories: “A Burlesque Autobiography,” which first appeared in Twain’s Memoranda contributions to The Galaxy; and “First Romance,” which was originally published in The Express in 1870. They were not Twain’s favorites; indeed, two years after the book was published, he bought the printing plates and destroyed them.

The short stories do feature characters who are supposedly related to Twain. Twain ends the story abruptly, saying only “The truth is, I have got my hero (or heroine) into such a particularly close place, that I do not see how I am ever going to get him (or her) out of it again—and therefore I will wash my hands of the whole business, and leave that person to get out the best way that offers—or else stay there. I thought it was going to be easy enough to straighten out that little difficulty, but it looks different now.”

Just as the story has no real connection to Twain’s life, the illustrations also have no connection to the text. They use illustrations of the children’s poem The House that Jack Built to criticize the Erie Railroad Ring and its participants.

Revi-Lona: A Romance of Love in a Marvelous Land

Cowan_Revi_LonaWhere romance and science fiction intersect, you’ll find Revi-Lona: A Romance of Love in a Marvelous Land by Frank Cowan. The novel is set in Antarctica and includes all the expected elements, such as prehistoric creatures and super science. Though Bleiler dates the novel’s publication to 1879, other sources simply place the novel “circa 1880’s.”

Though Cowan published a number of works, he’s probably better known for being Andrew Jackson’s personal secretary for managing land patents. Cowan was appointed to the position in 1867 and remained in the post until Jackson was succeeded by Ulysses S Grant. That same year, Cowan perpetrated a major literary hoax with his friend Thomas Birch Florence, who owned a failing Georgetown newspaper.

In an effort to bolster sales, Cowan and Florence came up with a fantastic story; they reported that the body of an Icelandic Christian woman who’d supposedly died in 1051 had been found under the Great Falls of the Potomac River. The body proved that other settlers had reached America a full five centuries before Christopher Columbus. Though the story did bolster sales, Cowan and Florence were eventually found out.

Fact and Fiction! Disappointed Love! A Story

Disappointed_Love_Cochran_CottonThe drop title of this work is “Drawn from the lives of Miss Clara C Cochran and Miss Catherine B Cotton, Who Committed Suicide, By Drowning, in the Canal at Manchester, N. H., August 14, 1853.” The two young women worked and roomed together at the Manchester Corporation and had “frequently expressed a purpose to drown themselves.” But their housemates thought little of it and paid the girls no heed.

Then on August 14, 1853, Cochran and Cotton “proceeded hand-in-hand, with great apparent cheerfulness, to the bridge crossing the upper canal…and together leapt into the water.” A few people witnessed the event. The women had obviously premeditated their demise, as both left letters to loved ones and put their affairs in order. Cochran, only nineteen years old at the time of her suicide, stood to inherit a large sum on her 21st birthday, which made her motives even more inscrutable to her contemporaries.

What are your favorite obscure or eccentric tales of love? And what rare book would you most like to receive for Valentine’s Day yourself?

Related Posts:
A Look Back at Long-Lost Manuscripts
Courtship, Romance, and Love…Antiquarian Style

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Courtship, Romance, and Love…Antiquarian Style

On the eve of Valentine’s Day, many of us are looking forward to spending time (and perhaps a romantic moment or two) with our significant others. But our decidedly tender views of courtship and marriage are a rather modern invention; for centuries, these institutions had little–if anything–to do with love. A look back at books on the subject offers an entertaining and educational perspective on relationships, religion, and even anatomy.

All for Love or, the World Well Lost (John Dryden, 1677)

Perhaps Dryden’s best known play, All for Love is a tragedy written in blank verse. Dryden sought to rekindle interest in serious dramas, and he acknowledged that Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra heavily influenced the work. Indeed, he reincarnates the Bard’s work with a few changes: Dryden sets the entire play in Alexandria and focuses more heavily on the end of Antony and Cleopatra’s life. Dryden’s work truly captures the complexity of the couple’s epic romance.


Love Letters between a Nobleman and His Sister (Aphra Behn, 1729)

Love Letters between a Nobleman and His Sister-Aphra BehnAphra Behn, generally accepted as the first woman to make a living as a writer, gained fame for her Spanish comedies. But Love Letters takes a darker turn: a woman is forced into an incestuous relationship with her own brother–then into a marriage to salvage her family name. The epistolary novel is supposedly based on the real relationship between Forde Grey (Lord Tankerville) and his sister-in-law, Lady Henrietta Berkley. Behn was among the first women to openly attack the practice of forced marriage, a commonplace practice at the time.


The Turtle Dove; Or Cupid’s Artillery Leveled Against Human Hearts, Being a New and Original Valentine Writer (Sarah Wilkinson, c 1811)

Turtle Dove-Valentines Reader-Sarah WilkinsonThough this chapbook is extremely rare, its theme certainly isn’t. Wilkinson wrote at least 50 chapbooks and bluebooks, and this one features two comical illustrations by Isaac Cruikshank. In the first, the groom gazes at his new bride with deep affection. Cupid’s arrow flies in his direction. The second illustration depicts Cupid–and the unhappy husband–fleeing the scene, leaving behind an angry wife encumbered with the usual accoutrements of broom and child.


Valentine Verses: or, Lines of Truth, Love, and Virtue (Rev Richard Cobbold, 1827)

Valentine Verses-Rev Richard CobboldFollowing the death of his beloved mother, Cobbold composed Valentine Verses. Proceeds from the book went to his mother’s favorite charities, but the poems weren’t received particularly well. The Reverend’s interpretation of love obviously errs on the side of religion, but this was not merely because of his occupation. The concept of love–even romantic love–almost always still carried undertones of piety and a rather religious devotion.


Physiological Mysteries and Revelations in Love, Courtship, and Marriage (Eugene Becklard, 1842)

Becklard's PhysiologyThe subtitle to this book gives the reader great expectations indeed: “An Infallible Guide-book for Married and Single Persons, in Matters of Utmost Importance to the Human Race.” Dr. Becklard, a French physiologist, fashioned his book as a sort of self-help guide for Victorians facing a wide range of sexual frustrations. He dispenses (exceedingly poor) advice on pregnancy, childbirth, and contraception, illustrating how little we really knew about the human body even during this relatively enlightened period. Dr. Becklard’s advice, though rather silly by today’s standards, certainly assuaged his contemporary readers’ anxieties.


The Battle of Life: A Love Story (Charles Dickens, 1846)

Battle of Life-Charles DickensThis novella, one of Dickens’ Christmas stories, recounts the story of sisters Grace and Marion Jeddler. The two live happily in the countryside with their father, who views life as a farce. Marion is betrothed to Alfred Heathfield, who leaves to finish his studies. After his departure, the Jeddlers’ servant spies the profligate Michael Warden with Marion and believes that the two are planning to elope. His suspicions seem to be confirmed when Marion disappears on the day of Albert’s return. Dickens, known for his progressive views, here explores the still relatively unconditional idea of marriage for love.


“Before and After Marriage: In Five Acts” (Cassius M Coolidge, 1882)


Perhaps best known for his poker playing dogs, famous caricaturist Coolidge turns his satirical eye to the institution of marriage. Comprised of six panels, “Before and After Marriage” shows the groom’s perspective shift over time from the satisfied love of a new groom to the apathy of a henpecked husband. This hilarious comic has proven an incredibly rare item.