Secret Flirtations at the Dinner Table and More Victorian Love Letters

It was an overcast day, and I was in a bad mood. All morning, I sat and stared at my computer screen with no creative inspiration, no burning desire. My mind was dull, dull, dull.  Then I realized what was wrong: I hadn’t posted in months from The Mystery of Love, Courtship And Marriage Explained by Henry J Wehman, published in 1890!  I was in withdrawal. I needed some bombastic Victorian Gothic lovin’ and fast.

Let Mr. Wehman teach us the basics of dining room flirtation and more lessons on writing love letters.

Victorian Dining Table Signaling

Drawing a napkin or handkerchief through the hand — I desire to converse by signal with you.

Holding it by the corners — Is it agreeable?

Playing with fork — I have something to tell you.

Holding up the knife and fork in each hand — When can I see you?

Laying both together left of the plate — After the meal.

Clenching right hand on table — Tonight.

Napkin held with three fingers — Yes.

Held with two fingers — No.

Holding Napkin to chin with forefinger to mouth — Cease signaling.

Standing knife and fork thus, A — Can I meet you?

Balancing fork on edge of cup — Are you engaged tonight?

Striking fork with knife — I shall go out.

Balancing fork on knife — Meet me.

Placing knife over the glass — Will you be alone?

Stirring spoon in cup slowly — Will you be late?

Slapping the ear, as if brushing away a fly — I don’t understand.

And now for some Victorian love letters!

From a young man who is modest but sincere.

To Miss Anna Watts:

Since our last interview you have been constantly in my thoughts, and from your actions, if not your words, I gleaned that the love I have cherished for you during the past five months is in a slight degree reciprocated. Am I wrong in this conclusion? I pray not.  If right, may I hope that some day in the near future you will become my wife? You are the one woman in the world for whom the intensity of my love is equaled only by its sincerity. Financially I have very little to offer you, but, with hard work, my prospects are promising, and what greater inspiration can a man have than the woman he loves to work for? I realized your superiority to me in every way, and yet I beg you to accept my name and a comparatively humble position, when you are fitted for and capable of filling the highest position in the land. My only plea is that I love you. Feeling sure that, after giving this matter serious and deliberate consideration, you will write me frankly, believe me, with deepest respect and admiration, as anxiously awaiting you reply.

James McKnight

From a gentleman to a lady, requesting her photograph.

Dear Josephine:

Do you remember about  a month ago promising that, if I would give it the first place in my album, you would give me your photograph? I promised, and have faithfully kept the page blank, but your picture does not come. Have you repented your generosity, or have other friends appropriated all the pile of cards you showed me? You cannot escape on the ground of poverty, for I know that your last sitting was a complete success, and have a great desire to own one of those exquisite profiles that you tantalize me by withholding.

Do, my dear Josey, send me at once the promised picture, that it may comfort me for absence from your presence.

Yours, most affectionately,


From a gentleman to a lady, requesting permissions to call

Miss Victoria Davidson:

Having had the pleasure of meeting you once at the house of our mutual friend, Mrs. Bowen, I venture to write to request permission to call upon you at your own residence. I have been but a short time a resident in this city, but your father will, I think, remember Mr. Martin Krider, of Chicago, who is my uncle..

Trusting that you will pardon the liberty I am taking, and grant me a position among your gentleman acquaintances, I am,

Very respectfully,

H.T. Rider

Will you be mine?

Dear Sarah:

As  my duties will not allow me to see you in person for some time, I feel unable to refrain any longer from asking a question which has lingered on my lips for months. My actions have been such that you cannot have failed to see my intentions, and, as they have not been rebuked, I have concluded my feelings are reciprocated.  As you are aware, I am alone, having no relatives, and I desire to have a companion—one of home I shall use my every effort to make happy, and who will in turn do likewise. Will you be that companion?  I have not taken this step without first considering your happiness, that being as much to me as my own. My business is sufficiently profitable to support us, and I know I can give you as comfortable a home as the one from which I desire to take you. And I assure you that, unless I was sure of being able to keep sorrow as far away from you in the future as it has been in the past, I would not ask you to be mine.

I await what I trust will be a favorable reply.

Sincerely yours,

Harvey Stone

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:


 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.



Her reply


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.


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


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.


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