Nympho seeks nuptials

Jonathan Sale looks back on three centuries of romantic ads

A Gentleman about 30 Years of Age, that says he has a Very Good Estate, would willingly Match Himself to some young Gentlewoman that has a fortune of pounds 3000 or thereabouts. And he will make Settlement to Content.

- Matrimonial small ad, 19 July 1695

"Nymphomaniac blonde, short, fat, slut, aged 33, 55-45-55, wishes to marry titled aristocrat," was how Lindi St Claire, alias Miss Whiplash, promoted her charms. "Spike Milligan would like to meet a rich, well-insured widow - intention: murder," was another classic of the lonely-hearts ads in Private Eye. "He got 15 replies," recalls Cecilia Boggis, the magazine's classified ads manager.

Nuptial notices have come a long way in the 300 years since the blunt announcement at the top of this column, in a publication with the far from romantic title of Collection for the Improvement of Husbandry and Trade ("husbandry" as in "careful farming", not as in "husband"). Spinsters reading these lines, and between them, must have wondered about the precise age of the "about-30-year-old" farmer. Readers of small ads have gone on wondering ever since. "People lie," explains Mary Balfour of Drawing Down the Moon, the smart introduction agency at the apposite address of Adam & Eve Mews, Kensington. "If you say you're `young-looking', that means over 45. If you say you're `young at heart', that means over 65."

It is also a matter of what you omit. One large lady received 10 times as many replies to her ads if she left out the fact that she was a size 18.

So spare a thought for the young maidens in 1760 who read the ad by a "young gentleman" claiming to be "tall in Stature [with] a delicate Head of Hair, white Hand, a large Calf, strong Back, broad Shoulders". Let's hope they weren't faced with a dead ringer for the Hunchback of Notre Dame leading a small cow on a rope.

The small ads became big business for magazines of the 1800s such as Matrimonial Journal, Marriage Gazette and - the title said it all - Nuptials. The publishers seem to have accepted even complete no-hopers, to judge by an 1838 call to matrimony from "A Jentleamman near the senter of Gloucestershire" who was looking for "wedlocks with any woman of his eakles [equal?]". A shared interest in remedial spelling would clearly have helped, too.

Yet although gentlemen (not to mention jentleammen) could make charlies of themselves with impunity, there was public outrage in 1727 when a woman was immodest enough to advertise for a husband, as a Miss Helen Morison did in the Manchester Weekly Journal. The poor woman was locked in a lunatic asylum for a month to cool down.

Same-sex ads have only recently been allowed to come out in print. They can be just as soppy as the conventional type: "For weeks I wait for even one reply - does nobody care if I sit and cry?" rhymed one lonely heart in Gay Times.

Yet the real villains of those hanging out their smalls have been straight men - two men in particular. The French mass murderer Henri Landrau was guillotined in 1922 for killing at least 10 women lured by his request for "a widow with a view to matrimony". In 1906, Johann Hoch advertised for "widows without children" and killed six of his 13 wives. (In mitigation, it could be said that left seven he hadn't done away with.)

The lonely hearts club band of 300 years ago didn't know what it was starting. Even more incomprehensible would have been the idea of "voice personals". These ads are recorded, and listened to, over the phone. Ideally they are tied in with a newspaper classified section. You read the ad, you dial the number, and, if the advertiser tickles your fancy, you leave a message.

The next advance in hi-tech mating will have to wait until we all have videophones at home. Respondents to a romantic small-ad will be able to dial up a short video clip to check the truth of expressions such as "young- looking" or, in the case of Miss Whiplash, "55-45-55".

They will also be able to leave not only a spoken response to the ad but also a few seconds of their own smiling faces. Or, in the case of Miss Whiplash, some other portion of their anatomyn

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
love + sex
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Sport
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle 0 Man United 1: Last minute strike seals precious victory
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Seth Rogan is one of America’s most famous pot smokers
filmAmy Pascal resigned after her personal emails were leaked following a cyber-attack sparked by the actor's film The Interview
News
Benjamin Netanyahu and his cartoon bomb – the Israeli PM shows his ‘evidence’
people
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
News
i100
Life and Style
A statue of the Flemish geographer Gerard Kremer, Geradus Mercator (1512 - 1594) which was unveiled at the Geographical Congree at Anvers. He was the first person to use the word atlas to describe a book of maps.
techThe 16th century cartographer created the atlas
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger & Credit Control Assistant

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Ledger & Credit Control...

Recruitment Genius: Junior PHP Web Developer

£16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Guru Careers: Front End Web Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: Our client help leading creative agencies ...

Christine McCleave: FP&A Analyst

£36,000 - £40,000: Christine McCleave: Are you looking for a new opportunity a...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot