Lovers' Gifts - The Oldest Love Rings - A Heart Behind a Grating-harlequin and Regard
Rings-"Un Gage d'amour"
Ever since the world was young a gift has served as an appropriate, and generally, it may be assumed, an acceptable, medium for the expression of the loftiest sentiments of the human heart. Esteem, friendship, love-how many times have these been thus delicately expressed? And a gift is, like mercy, twice blessed: blessing the donor with the delightful sense of pleasure conferred, and the recipient with the thrilling joy which flows from the consciousness of being loved.
Herein lies the charm and secret of lovers' gifts, which, after all, bear with them the best of all gifts-the good intention of the giver. And as lovers are somewhat of monopolists, seeking ever to appropriate that which is best, it is no matter for surprise that from time immemorial they have so universally favoured the ring as the most fitting though " a small token of no small friendship " and devotion. The choice is as natural as it is happy. A perfect emblem, even in its simplest form, the ring may yet be enriched and embellished without detriment to its exquisite symbolism. It seems but natural, therefore, to find among the oldest love rings in the world the golden circlet glittering with gems, and, as in the case of one here illustrated (Fig. 1), the name of the loved one engraved upon a precious stone. It would be unkind to criticise the workmanship; it is more pleasant to try to imagine the delight of the fair recipient, whose feet were treading, possibly for the first time, the flowery path of love.
Names, mottoes, and sentiments were commonly inscribed upon these old love-rings, just as they were upon betrothal and wedding rings, until comparatively recent years. Poesies, too, for lovers, as Touchstone reminds us, are given to poetry; and in Queen Anne's time a gallant who had composed a happy couplet or hit upon a felicitous phrase, ruffled it not a little among his intimates, to whom he was
Fig. 2. A fifteenth century gold
French ring inscribed with the motto " Souvenez Vous," given by a lady to her lover an object of envy or admiration. Love
Fig. 3. A gold ring of the six-teenth or seventeenth century, inscribed with the greeting " en bon an," (a good year). These rings were popular New Year gifts rings were also bestowed by the fair sex on their hearts' choice, the second figure depicting one of the fifteenth century, a massive gold band inscribed " Souvenez vous "
-a most appropriate sentiment for those who are striving to attain the ideal of love, which, as Madame de Stael once said, is "to feel as one while remaining two."
Associated with this custom of giving love rings was that of presenting them as New Year's gifts and as valentines. The former were usually inscribed " En bon an," the latter with some playful or tender sentiment, and that prince of gossips,
Pepys, records in his diary his delight on receiving such a token from his wife. (Fig. 3.) Another old-time custom, fragrant with delightful sentiment, was for lovers to exchange rings, not only on plighting their troth, but on occasions when an unkind fate separated them for a while. In this connection a familiar scene in "Two Gentlemen of Verona" arises before the memory. It is where Julia, in the
Yet another custom of bygone days was for a ring to be broken, the lovers each retaining a half, sometimes attaching it to a chain; and if, when fortune brought about their re-union, the dissevered parts were found to fit exactly, this was accepted as a proof that both lovers had been true to their vows. ( F i g. 4 .)
Similar is the quaint practice, still prevalent in country districts of
" it waur a sinful waste of guid siller to z
Fig. 4. The broken half of a love ring was often attached to a chain and kept as a token of fidelity by either lover until fortune brought about a happy re-union