Wooing a lady was as fraught in 1795 as it is now, but fortunately for lovestruck early Americans a guide to pick-up lines was published by Isaiah Thomas in 1795. The Lover’s Secretary was filled with ravished hearts, flames of ardent affection and charming power of virtues.
Its full title was as over-the-top as some of the compliments it suggested:
A New Academy of Compliments: Or, The Lover’s Secretary: Being Wit and Mirth Improved, by the Most Elegant Expressions Used in the Art of Courtship, in Divers Examples of Writing Or Inditing Letters, Relating Either to Love Or Business.
The guide suggests such flattery as:
Think it not strange, mistress, if I should speak the truth, and tell you, that I have a long time been broiling on the flames of ardent affection towards your dear self.
I must tell you, that your Perfections have so amazed my senses, and affections that I resolve never to love nor serve any but you.
It must have worked back then.
Isaiah Thomas may seem an improbable publisher for such a book. He was born in Boston on Jan. 30, 1749, and apprenticed to a printer at age seven. In his early 20s he set up shop in Boston where he published the Massachusetts Spy. The newspaper vexed Royal Gov. Thomas Hutchinson, who tried to have him prosecuted. A grand jury found no cause for indictment. Three days before the Battle of Concord, Thomas moved his presses to Worcester. Then he fought the battle and reported on it. A year later he read the Declaration of Independence in Worcester.
But Isaiah Thomas was above all else a printer, and a printer of many things. He published books and almanacs, music (the first in America to use a musical font) and most of the Bibles and school books in the United States. He also built a paper mill and bindery, opened a bookstore in Boston and founded the American Antiquarian Society in 1812. His lifelong ambition, which he accomplished, was to publish a history of printing.
He also married his half-cousin Mary Fowle, in 1779. Whether he consulted a dating guide to win her is lost to history.
Thomas, like many 18th century American printers, published European works for an American audience. The Lover’s Secretary was originally published in England. For tongue-tied lovers, it included a chapter on how to start a conversation, or “To accost a Lady, and enter into a Discourse with her.” Some samples:
Though I have not been so happy to be known to you by any Service, yet the Zeal I bear to your Obedience hath obliged me to come and salute you.
I believe you will not take my Boldness in evil Part, for presuming to come and see you; for it is with a full Intent to serve you.
Another chapter advises on courting a woman on honorable terms. It even has suggested responses:
“Madam, I find so many Perfections in your Ladyship, that I am obliged to honour them with all my power, and offer you my most humble service.
(The proper response: “Sir it is your courtesy and fair language, that would willingly excuse my defects, to make your Sufficiency appear so much the more.”)
Pardon me, Madam, it is the charming power of your Virtues and Merits, which oblige me not only to honour and serve you, but also to desire some share and interest in your affections.”
(Response: “Sir, whatever a Maid may with Honour do, you may request of me; I respect your Quality, admire your Virtues, and wish you a happiness befitting your magnanimous designs.”
Finally, the Lover’s Secretary listed random ‘witty and ingenious sentences’:
The unblown Rose, the Crystal, or Diamond are not more pure than you.
The Sun never met the Summer with more Joy.
I prize your chaste Love above all the Wealth of India.
This witty and ingenious sentence could have been used more often than any of them:
Your Tongue is as smooth as Oil with courtly Flatteries.
Isaiah Thomas died April 4, 1831.
‘Isaiah Thomas 1818’ by Ethan Allen Greenwood, courtesy American Antiquarian Society. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.