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Miraculous Matrimony

Monday, December 28, 2009

Several newspapers started printing matrimonials as early as the 1830s (though very rarely, from what I've found), but for the most part, the early were advertisements for agencies or individuals who promised to introduce lonely men and women to each other.  So, I present to you one of the earliest ads I have, as you can see for yourself by the date.  It's long, but ever so amusing:




To the single ladies. - Matrimony vs. Celibacy.  All consultations touching on the above topics will be most religiously kept secret and no name or circumstances can be given.  To prove the following testimonies, all must believe in the honor of the author: - On the 11th of January, 1849, a young lady called to have a courtship consummated, which had been lingering for seven months.  After having called, two moons had not been wasted before she was most happily and satisfactorily married.  Another One. - The 1st of June, 1849.  I consented to call at No. 6 White street, to inquire about a gentleman who had been paying his respects to me, and very suddenly left the city without telling me of it. When I called on Mr. Roback, I did not know where he had gone, but he told me he had gone to Bucks County, Pa; and when he came back it was exactly so.  We are now married, and I confidently believe it was accomplished through the influence of his miraculous power.  Mrs. ---.  All letters to C.W. ROBACK, No. 6 White street, will be religiously attended to, if pre-paid.  For more particulars call and get an astrological almanac, gratis, where certificates can be seen.

Ah, modern advertising.  I love that C.W. Roback has two testimonials, but the first is from his perspective and the second is, apparently, a letter from a satisfied customer (if we can believe the honor of the author, of course).  You know, Mr. Roback, they did use quotation marks back then, and given the amount of money you must have shelled out, a few extra pennies to make your ad less confusing would have been a good investment.

It's funny because it's actually hard to tell exactly what Mr. Roback does.  I assume he's an astrologer, but it's not clear how he helps people get married.  I love the line about the girl who needed her courtship "consummated."  Obviously that means a much different thing today than it did at the time, but it still makes me laugh.  What exactly did he do, anyway?  And the second letter makes no sense either!  Here's what I read between the lines: this girl was dating some guy, possibly got knocked up, and he freaked out and wanted to get away from her, so disappeared without a word.  She uses an astrologer (or private detective?) to find out where her (ex-)boyfriend has gone, and then follows him there.  Her condition is revealed, and he is forced to marry her.  Thanks to Mr. Roback!  Of course that's assuming the story is true.  If it's not true and Mr. Roback invented it, I'm not sure he could have come up with a less convincing example of how his powers work.

But, whatever.  I'm sure there were people who were taken in.  Ads like this - from astrologers - were common enough that they must have had some success.  After all, people still go to fortune tellers today, and people were a lot more superstitious back in the day.  I wouldn't be surprised if Mr. Roback got some clients this way.  But he really needed an editor.

Having trouble reading the ads? Click one to enlarge!

©2009 Pam Epstein

2 comments:

Matt December 28, 2009 at 12:45 PM  

I wonder if Mr. Roback was not JUST a consultant/private dick and if astrology and the vague description of his business might not have been a front for a more sinister occupation. After all, his address is in the heart of the Five Points, at a time when that was the neighbourhood to stay out of unless you needed dirty deeds done dirt cheap. I wonder whether the biggest part of his service might have involved "motivating" runaway boyfriends to... uh... do the right thing by his clients?

Pam December 29, 2009 at 10:30 AM  

Hmm, interesting point. I'd buy that.

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