17th-century courting advice

A Lady and Two Gentlemen - Johannes Vermeer, 1659. The lady blushes at something the gentleman next to her has said, while the unlucky suitor sits despondently in the corner.
A Lady and Two Gentlemen – Johannes Vermeer, 1659

The internet is awash with relationship advice. Just searching for ‘chat-up lines’ brings up over a million results, revealing scores of people wondering how to impress the stranger across the room with charming, witty and suggestive opening gambits. Most of these lines are of dubious quality at best and I’m not sure how many people actually use them seriously, but they can claim to be part of a long tradition. For example, hopeful lovers in the 17th century could turn to one of the many ‘books of compliments’ for collections of one-liners which covered a multitude of potential romantic situations. These books usually included lists of flowery compliments, phrases to stop unwelcome advances, expressions for ending a liasion, and insults to use in response to a rejection. Here is a selection of some of the best. I have kept the original spellings.

How to compliment a woman
* Madam, you have vanquished me, I am an eternal prisoner to your beauty
* Fair creature, You are that rich Cabinet wherein Nature hath lockt up all her rarities
* Madam, if there be a Heaven to reward vertues, your name will be recorded in the Register of Saints
How to please a man
* Sir, I shall desire no greater glory of you, than new proofs of my Obedience
* Sir, you have the power to sway me as you please
* Sir, I yield myself to your direction, manage me at your pleasure
The Academy of Complements, 168? Note the scribble at the top, 'Edward Jones. his Booke'
The Academy of Complements, 1684
Note the scribble at the top, ‘Edward Jones. his Booke’
How to handle compliments
* Sir, leave your superfluous language, I am none of those Ladies that are enamoured with flattering acrosticks
* Madam, my language is as my Intentions, plain and real, he that makes use of golden words, does it only to gild over the corruptions of his soul
* Sir, your language is more dubious than the oracle at Delphi

How to respond to a rejection

* Coy mistress, once I loved you, but have learned more Wit now than to followe such a blind guide as Cupid
* Scornful girl, can you imagine I ever did intend to dote, especially on that small stock of beauty of yours, which serves only to convince me, you are not extreamly ugly
Some more unconventional lines
* Sir, your accomplishments speak you the Muses’ darling; you have suck’d the marrow of the Court
* Sir, the toyish conceites of your Youth are unfit for the testie cogitations of my age
* Madam, the perfume of your sweete breath informs me your Mother fed on Roses when she bred you
Cupid's Court of Salutations, 1687
Cupid’s Court of Salutations, 1687

Further Reading

John Gough, The Academy of Complements (1663)

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