Victorian Lessons: How to Flirt with Gloves, the Importance of Ring Position, and Writing Love Letters that Get You Married (or not)

Good heavens, it has been months since I last visited The Mystery of Love, Courtship and Marriage Explained by Henry J Wehman, published in 1890.  How my heart has missed its missives of love and longing. Tonight, I learned why I had so much trouble getting dates in my early 20s. It seems I was wearing my ring the wrong finger! I was telegraphing to men of wealth and station my intention to die unmarried.  Not only that, I was constantly biting the tips of my gloves not knowing that I was telling gentlemen to go away. I should been striking my gloves over my shoulder inviting men to follow me.

So, let us learn the proper ways to telegraph love with glove and rings, as well as how to write love letters to strangers, inconstant lovers and heavenly angels that you fell in love with at first sight.

Most of the images in this post come from Cassell’s Family Magazine.

Let’s get started….

Love’s Telegraph

If a gentleman wants a wife, he wears a ring on the first finger of the left hand; if he is engaged, he wears it on the second finger; if married, on the third; and on the fourth if he never intends to be married. When a lady is not engaged, she wears a hoop or diamond on her first finger; if engaged, on the second; if married, on the third and on the fourth if she intends to die unmarried. When a gentleman presents a fan, flower, or trinket to a lady with the left hand, this on his part is an overture of regard; should she receive it with the left hand, it is considered as an acceptance of his esteem; but if with the right hand, it is a refusal of the offer. Thus, by a few simple tokens explained by rule, the passion of love is expressed and through the medium of the telegraph, the most timid and diffident man may, without difficulty, communicate his sentiments of regard to a lady, and, in case his offer should be refused, avoid experiencing the mortification of an explicit refusal.

Letter to a young lady after seeing her in a store:

Madam:

 You will perhaps think it extraordinary that a young man should take the liberty of addressing you without even the formality of a previous introduction. I have to apologize, therefore, and I hope that you will at least forgive me if you cannot confer the favor which I would ask.  I have so far seen only through the window of ——‘s store, bit cannot explain to you how great a desire I feel that I should enjoy the very great pleasure of your acquaintance. I might perhaps obtain this, if you allowed me to do so, by means of some mutual friend, but I know of none. There is no alternative for me but a direct request, and I thought it more respectful to make it by letter. It would at this moment, be impertinent to allude further to the great admiration which I have for you, in begging you to give me an opportunity of introducing myself, and I must add of satisfying you of my respectability. I feel that I have already run the risk of causing you annoyance. To have done so would have been a source of deep regret.  I trust that you will be so kind as to give me even the slightest intimation of your wishes, and you may depend upon my intruding no further without your permission.

Respectfully,

HERBERT WHITE

Her reply

Sir:

Your note has very much surprised me. You are so entirely unknown to me that cannot guess what my correspondent’s appearance even may be. Under these circumstances I must decline saying more than that I can neither refuse nor comply with your request. I think indeed that I ought at once to refuse it.

ROSE

From a lady to an inconstant lover:

Dear C—-:

It is with great reluctance that I enter upon a subject which has given me great pain, and upon which silence has become impossible if I would preserve my self-respect. You cannot but be aware that I have just reason for saying that you have much displeased me. You have apparently forgotten what is due to me, circumstanced as we are, thus far at least.  You cannot suppose that I can tamely see you disregard my feelings, by conduct toward other ladies from which I should naturally have the right to expect  you to abstain. I am not so vulgar a person as to be jealous.  When there is cause to infer changed feelings, or unfaithfulness to promises of constancy, jealousy is not the remedy. What the remedy is I need not say – we both of us have it in our own hands. I am sure you will agree with me that we must come to some understanding by which the future shall be governed. Neither you nor I can bear a divided allegiance.  Believe me that I write more in sorrow than in anger. You have made me very unhappy, and perhaps thoughtlessly. But it will take much to reassure me of your unaltered regard

Yours truly

EMMA

Love at First Sight:

To Miss Rose Terry:

It is but a few short months since we met, and yet in that time I have come to regard you more in the light of a heavenly angel than an earthly mortal, and in thee, dearest, I have found the ideal I have so long pictured as the woman I could love and cherish for a lifetime. I have neither wealth or station to offer thee, but instead an honest, loyal and lasting love, which you will increase tenfold in brightness and glory if you will accept it. This is sudden – too sudden, I fear – but my excuse is the hope of winning a sweet, gracious wife, who alone can make me happy. Write me at the earliest moment, I beseech thee, dearest love, and tell me if I am to be the happiest man in all the world. With feelings of the highest esteem and the deepest, most loyal love, I am thine.

JAMES LEON

See more posts from The Mystery of Love, Courtship and Marriage Explained:

More Victorian Love Letters and the Basics of Postage Stamp Flirtation

Valentine’s Day Edition: The Language of Flowers, How to Write a Victorian Love Letter, and Parasol Flirtations

How to Write Victorian Love Letters

Handkerchief and Fan Flirtations

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7 Responses to Victorian Lessons: How to Flirt with Gloves, the Importance of Ring Position, and Writing Love Letters that Get You Married (or not)

  1. Abigail Carlton says:

    It’s amazing all the things one could fill one’s head with if one didn’t have to learn mathematic or science.

  2. Susanna says:

    @Abigail You are an amazing friend! Just amazing. I am so blessed to know you. Now stop reading my blog and get on your plane!

  3. Ella Quinn says:

    How complicated and how easy it would be to give the wrong sign or mis-read a sign. Now, I’m curious, did the same or other rules exist during the Regency?

  4. Susanna says:

    @Ella – I have to believe that people didn’t behave like this 🙂

  5. Nancy says:

    Language of fans, language of gloves, language of flowers– what is wrong with a few words? How much time might be wasted by men and women– for the men had to learn the language as well-.All this is too much trouble. Also, it seems that messages had to be clandestine because they were not something one could openly express. Probably how to flirt with a married woman.

  6. Ccnnie Case says:

    I m beginning to write a book on the Victorian era and would like permission to use information from your site in the book. i will give website info. thanks Connie Case

  7. Susanna says:

    Hi, Most of the stuff on my website is in the public domain. So have fun!

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