In Search of Love

I learned from Laura Schaefer’s entertaining book about personal ads that the very first was placed by a woman seeking a husband in Manchester in 1727. So I thought I’d share a few with you. Most of the Regency era ones are very polite, or they seem to be:

If the Gentleman (supposed a Foreigner) who kindly took a YOUNG LADY from No. 13, Charlotte-street, Rathbone-Place, to Bristol, the beginning of September last, will appoint a Place and Time of Meeting with the Advertiser, whose discretion and secrecy may be relied upon, it may be attended with real benefit to the young Lady. Direct to D.G., at John’s Coffee-house, Cornhill.

Mysterious stuff. The ad was placed on December 31, 1801, in The Times, a full three months after the journey. Surely this young lady’s journey with a nameless foreigner did not result in a pregnancy? Was it an elopement that went wrong?

Or how about this one, from June, 1804, in the chapter entitled A Little Bitter, Are We?

TO M-AM-E. “Forget” you? By Heaven I cannot! Engraven on my soul is your memory, in deepest characters, which time vainly will endeavour to efface, contracted as now must be its span, since without one remonstrance, one expostulation, you can resolve for ever to forget me. Wherefore, then, often warned, persist in exciting a reluctant, indeed, but never more unfeigned sensibility, only to wound it? DO I DESERVE THIS? Is it generous? Is it equitable? But severe no longer, welcome now, is the mandate of authority, enjoining oblivion of ORL-O.

Personals were not always anonymous. Here’s an excerpt from one placed in 1802 in the Ipswich Journal:

Sir John Dinely, of Windsor Castle, recommends himself and his ample fortune to any angelic beauty of a good breed, fit to become and willing to be the mother of a noble heir, and keep up the name of an ancient family ennobled by deeds of arms and ancestral renown …. favor him with your smiles, and paeans of pleasure await your steps.

So what happened? Sir John died a bachelor six years later. Perhaps despite his pedigree, maybe he didn’t meet the basics, as defined by a modern Craigslist personal: Please have all or most of your teeth. Hair is optional.

Personals were not restricted to the educated, the literate, or the upper class. Here’s a fascinating one from The Times, dated 1832, in the Just Plain Strange chapter:

Run away last night, my wife, Bridget Coole. She is a tight, neat body, and has lost one leg. She was seen riding behind the priest of the parish through Fermoy; and, as we never married, I will pay no debt that she does not contract. She lisps with one tooth, and is always talking about faries [sic], and is of no use but to the owner.–Phelim Coole, his X mark.

Didn’t Phelim mean he wouldn’t be responsible for any debt the one-legged lisping femme fatale might contract?

Confession time. Have you ever placed or answered a personal? Had a blind date, or used an online dating service?

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Elizabeth Kerri Mahon
14 years ago

I have done all three Janet in the years of my singledom. I answered a personal ad in Time Out when I was living in London. Met a very nice Scotsman, who unfortunately was moving to Hong Kong. And I’ve had varied success with the whole internet dating thing.

Diane Gaston
14 years ago

I had a blind date once or twice. Forgettable experiences…

I wonder if I would use the online dating sites if I were single, especially young and single. I have no idea. It’s a really good reason to stay married, actually.

Fascinating that they had personal adds in the 18th and 19th centuries!

Elena Greene
14 years ago

Thanks for sharing those Regency personals, Janet! I wonder what some Austen personals would be like: “Witty young lady with fine eyes seeks gentleman in possession of a handsome fortune. Ability to tolerate embarrassing relations essential. Beautiful grounds a plus.”

As for myself, I just had one blind date in college, by someone who claimed to be a consummate matchmaker. As Diane said, it was a very forgettable experience.

If I were single now, I doubt I’d try a dating service, online or otherwise. I have this theory that you meet more interesting people when you just pursue your own interests. For me it’d be getting more involved with the local symphony, joining the ski club, that sort of thing. It’s less awkward if you already have something in common and even if you don’t get dates out of it you’ll probably have some fun.

14 years ago

I worked with a guy once who placed and responded to a personal ad in the Village Voice. They had the quintessential NYC courtship and wedding. They were very urbane. They got married at St. Paul’s across from Lincoln Center. Its choir consists of members from the Met. Then they walked en masse from the church to the reception off Central Park. He in his tailor made suit and French cut shirt and she in a slip of a white organza wedding dress.
The stuff of our beloved books, friends. The stuff of books.

14 years ago

A friend’s mother met husband #4 (a man twelve years her junior) via an internet dating site. Now they horrify her adult children with their matching clothes and public displays of affection. This one’s the stuff of a different kind of book, San, not a romance. 🙂

Louisa Cornell
14 years ago

Great post, Janet! I LOVE those personal ads. What a hoot!

I have never done any of those things and I doubt that I would. I was lucky enough to be the talkative sort so I have always had friends and met interesting people in my travels.

The ad by the gentleman who died a bachelor six years later pretty much explains itself, doesn’t it?

Janet Mullany
14 years ago

I met my husband thru a personal ad I placed as a birthday present to myself some years ago. It was an interesting experience. I resisted the temptation to talk about fairies.

Elena Greene
14 years ago

What interesting stories, Santa, Janga and Janet. I never heard of anyone meeting a spouse through a personal ad before. Story fodder…

Pam Rosenthal
14 years ago

Fascinating about the Regency personals. Of course, they had such a vital press (our dying newspapers make a pale, pathetic contrast) — I love the image of scores (or was it hundreds) of newspapers sending out packets by fast coach to every city every day. What we do by internet they did via lots of smudgy paper and ink.

Cara King
14 years ago

Love those personal ads, Janet!

I must admit I never did a personal ad, or a blind date, or anything like that. Actually, I did very little dating of any kind!

I suspect one reason blind dates often work badly is that other folks can tell if you have similar interests, but most folks are bad at judging how your conversational styles will mesh. I know that some people I can like and admire a great amount, but I’m not great at talking with them…and others, we can chat on like best friends right away, without really knowing anything about each other… (But heck, maybe that’s just me…) 🙂


14 years ago

what an amazing idea for a book, and what vast amounts of research theauthor must have done.

i’ve never doneany of the 3, but i do know 3 people who married a person they met online. does that count?

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