Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

How guys tried to pick up girls in the 18th century

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It's a truth universally acknowledged that a gaggle of girls on a night out will face an onslaught of pick-up lines — some charming, many (many) more dumb, cheesy or downright creepy. What happened, you may wonder, to romance, word play and sophisticated seduction?

If you think it can be found in the 1700s -- the century in which Jane Austen was raised -- think again.

There were handbooks for clueless American men in search of love 200 years ago, but the advice was more Playboy than Pride & Prejudice. Published in New York in 1799, The New Academy of Compliments was full of advice for "proceeding in Amours to the highest Perfection," including good manners, how to impress a lady with your meat-carving skills, pick-up lines and a seduction technique worthy of Robin Thicke.

For the beleaguered ladies of 18th century New York -- it seems the modern experience of "courtship" wasn't so different as we might think.

 

1. Tell her that you think she's hot -- suggested pick up lines include:

- "Madam, as you are fair and beauteous, be generous and merciful to him that is your slave."

- "Sweet lady, your virtues have so strangely taken up my thoughts, that therein they encrease and multiply in abundant felicity."

- "I have a long time been broiling on the flames of ardent affection towards your dear self."

 

2. If necessary, catch her off-guard by insulting her first.

"I am as lantern-jaw'd as you are platter-fac'd; but yet perhaps we may have lovely babes when we come together, if we can but tell how to get them."

 

3. Make a dramatic entrance -- when all eyes are on you, make the most of it -- preferably with a bit of fancy footwork:

"If a young man enters into a room, on his approaching those he intends to pay his respects to, he must... bow with his hat in his right hand, and then advancing three steps traverse ways, and by degrees approach the party, and if there be more than one, he must salute them severally: if a man, by a genteel embrace, in pressing the left side with his right arm: if a woman, a proferred salute, if not a real one."

 

4. Don't open with "the conversation"

"When a young gentleman has found a conqueress of his affection, let him not rudely accost her if she be a virgin, lest his good meaning be taken in evil part."

 

5. Keep within her sights (because there is nothing more effective than a bit of light stalking).

"Then it is his business to walk before her window, or watch her going abroad, that she may have a perfect sight of him, which commonly creates a liking love."

 

6. Don't give up, even if she rejects you -- at which point it all gets a bit Blurred Lines.

"There is no way after the ice is once broke, like opportunity and resolution, in spight of all resistance, not to be denied, to haunt her like her shadow, and fill her ears with themes of love, settled with a few scattered protestations, which is the only way to obtain her."

 

Brand is a writer and historian living in Oxford, England. Her latest book, Mr Darcy's Guide to Courtship, looks at the seduction techniques of the 18th century.


-- Special To The Washington Post

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 9, 2014 D5

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