An early modern advice book

Figure 1. Newberry Case Y 1846 .62, title page
Figure 1. Newberry Case Y 1846 .62, title page
Figure 2. Newberry Case Y 1846 .62
Figure 2. Newberry Case Y 1846 .62
Figure 3. Newberry Case Y 1846 .62
Figure 3. Newberry Case Y 1846 .62
Figure 4. Newberry Case Y 1846 .62
Figure 4. Newberry Case Y 1846 .62
Figure 5. Newberry Case Y 1846 .62
Figure 5. Newberry Case Y 1846 .62
Figure 6. Newberry Case Y 1846 .62
Figure 6. Newberry Case Y 1846 .62
Figure 7. Newberry Case Y 1846 .62
Figure 7. Newberry Case Y 1846 .62

The genre of advice manuals and guides became a best-selling phenomenon in Europe during the centuries following the advent of print. The Newberry collection boasts many examples of this prescriptive literature, which can introduce us with great immediacy to the behavioral expectations of both women and men at the time.

A few pages from one such book, published in London in 1671, are shown here—click on the images to see larger pop-up versions. The full title page reads “The New Academy of Complements, erected for ladies, gentlewomen, courtiers, gentlemen, scholars, souldiers, citizens, country-men, and all persons, of what degree soever, of both sexes. Stored with variety of Courtly and Civil Complements, Eloquent Letters of Love and Friendship. With an exact collection of the newest and choicest songs à la Mode, both amorous and jovial, compiled by L. B. Sir C. S. Sir W.D. and others, the most refined wits of this Age. London, Printed for Tho. Rooks, at the Ink-Bottle in Threadneedle Street. 1671” (figure 1).

As promised, the book delivers advice for everyone. The first section contains “complemental expressions towards men, leading to the art of courtship.” A list of dozens of compliments women can make to men follows, commencing here with “Sir, Your Goodness is as boundless, as my desires to serve you,” and “Sir, Your Vertues are the Load-stones that draw even your enemies to love and to admire you” (figure 2).

This is followed by a section of “complements toward ladies, gentlewomen, maids, etc.,” which includes such natty expressions as “Madam, it is a vain illusion, if you dream that ever you can gain a reputation by my ruine,” and “Madam, The grace of eloquence is seated on your lips” (figure 3).

Next is the promised “Letters for All Occasions,” beginning with “A Tender of Service to the Kings most Excellent Majesty,” which starts: “I am not ignorant of the great presumption, wherewith at this time I give a trouble to your Majesty. Nor can my deserts give me any hopes that the least beam of your love should shine on any thing that in me can be thought a merit” (figure 4).

Sample letters for every conceivable situation follow; here are a few examples:

  • “One lady to another, with complements of extreme kindness”
  • “A person of Quality to a worthy Lady, one a Protestant and the other a Roman Catholic”
  • “A Lady to a Gentleman, concerning his sick Mistress—and his reply”
  • “One lady’s advice to another, near Marriage”
  • “A lover to his false mistress” (the salutation reads “Stain to thy sex”)
  • “A lady to her discourteous lover” (that salutation is simply: “Sir”)
  • And my personal favorite: “A courteous lass to her Paramour, who had gotten her with child.”

That last is worth transcribing in full: “I am now constrained to confine my self to a retired life, such is the fruit of your late dalliance, thus I am become obvious (and without your company shall be odious) to all that see me, and like your self, the Babe in my womb is continually exercising it self in an activity that affords me but little rest. You cannot forget your promise to marry me, ere you could prevail with me to satisfy your pleasures. Sweet Sir, let your stay be short, for prolixity is dangerous to both our reputations. I languish till you come, and till then, and ever shall remain, My Dear Soul, Yours, to love and live with you.”

The New Academy continues with a section of songs “à la Mode,” or fashionable songs, such as this ditty, Song 18 (figure 5):

Fine young folly though you wear
That fair Beauty, I do swear,
Yet you ne’r could reach my heart;
For We Courtiers learn at School,
Only with your Sex to fool
Y’are not worth our serious part.

The book helpfully includes tables in the back that list all the letters by topic (figure 6), so you can easily find the one appropriate to your circumstances; and then all the songs by their first line (figure 7).

Posted by Karen Christianson.

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