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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The ad that started it all.

Actually what really started it all was my friend J, who told me one day as I was desperately trying to come up with a dissertation topic that she'd love to read a book about the history of classifieds. Turned out that she was interested in something totally different than what I ended up doing, but I really do owe the genesis of this project to her.

However, I also owe "Bertram" a huge debt of gratitude. I thought doing a project about personal advertisements might be interesting, and skimming through old, nineteenth-century newspapers I did find a few, but nothing that seemed very promising. Then I ran across this guy. Not to sound cliched, but there's no way my dissertation would have gotten off the ground if it hadn't been for him. The ad is pretty long (as you see), so I'm transcribing it below.

A young gentleman in all respects favorably situated in life, as life is commonly estimated, but still wanting the essential element of happiness; of prepossessing appearance and manners, elevated aims, and, he trusts, no ordinary capabilities and attainments, independent in thought and action, enlarged, liberal and charitable in views, to whom all modes (if honorable) are alike, so they achieve the desired end, despising the narrow bigotry and conventionalities of society, which, by interposing barriers to the free intercourse of the sexes, and thus limiting our choices, condemn multitudes of even the most favored to lives of celibacy and misery; regarding the world as his matrimonial field, and believing that it contains somewhere the congenial spirit – the “bright particular star” – the light of whose blessed presence and sweet influence his social confines, extensive as contracted souls would consider them, have shut him out from, adopts this method as the only one open to him of testing the reality of his faith and hopes. He makes worldly advantages, beyond unquestionable respectability, no condition; but none who, to an agreeable person, expressive face and engaging manners – in short, an attractive tout ensemble externally – do not unite brains and heart (the latter especially) of no common order, need reply; and none such, however high their positions, need fear to do so, for their incognitos will of course remain in their own keeping should not a correspondence lead to an acquaintance, in which case the world will be none the wiser as to the means. He is no wife-seeker on easy terms; he intends this for no husband-seekers of the same class, but only for those who, with resources of soul and wealth of affection greater than their opportunities however great, can (at least in an exceptional case, as this claims to be,) rise above the prejudice of mode and tyranny of custom in the search for happiness, and in the hope of escaping the relentless social constriction which crushes our best aspirations within the folds of its “circles” and thus dooms us to become the helpless victims of mere matrimonial chance or accident. Full letters (including description, personal and mental,) solicited, as indicative of character and capacity. Address BERTRAM - June 4, 1864


Any theater people worth their salt would recognize that the name "Bertram" is borrowed from Shakespeare's All's Well That Ends Well, but what's interesting to me is the fact that the line "bright, particular star" is actually spoken by Helena. And the story of All's Well doesn't even make a whole lot of sense in this context. Bertram actually ran away across Europe to escape Helena, whom he didn't want to marry, and the only way she was able to win him back was by pretending to be his mistress so that he would sleep with her.

In any case, give poor Bertram a quick read-through. It sounds cheesy, but I'd like to dedicate this blog, maybe even my dissertation (one day book?) to him, in the hopes that he found his "bright, particular star."

Having trouble reading the ads? Click one to enlarge!

© 2009 Pam Epstein

3 comments:

Breukellen June 5, 2009 at 10:46 AM  

Bertram sounds like a man who was ahead of his time. I especially like this part:
"and in the hope of escaping the relentless social constriction which crushes our best aspirations within the folds of its “circles” and thus dooms us to become the helpless victims of mere matrimonial chance or accident."

C February 14, 2010 at 8:50 PM  

This is so good! Is it possible that Bertram was a grad student??

Pam February 15, 2010 at 12:36 AM  

Maybe...!

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