As Valentine’s Day has come upon us again, the Great Library’s collection is probably the last place you’d consider for romantic inspiration. Luckily for you, our biggest donor, William Renwick Riddell, collected books from many different genres, including poetry. Scouring through the collection, we found five collections of poetry that were composed on the topic of love.
Our first love collection is not actually poetry but biographical sketches. Memoirs of the loves of the poets, written in 1865, recounts the lives of the women who were loved by famous poets throughout history. Some of the highlighted stories include Laura and Petrarch; Dante and Beatrice (pictured to the left); the multiple loves of Robbie Burns; and Voltaire and Madame du Chatelet.
The next collection is titled Stories and Musings by James L. Hughes, a personal friend of Riddell, who gifted our copy to Riddell on Christmas of 1917. The first part of this collection contains love stories, including “My Lost Jean”, which recounts how every flower would respond to his love’s charms. Unfortunately, this poem ends sadly with the death of the titular Jean.
Valentine’s Day cards are often hard to write, especially if you’re no poet. Our next collection, The Mission of Love and Other Poems, has a handy little section full of a wide variety of valentine poems for inspiration. Written in 1882, these poems are quite fanciful and often evoke Classical figures such as the fates, the gods on Olympus, and Cupid among others. Some of these valentines are directed at specific people, so if you have a Mary, Sadie, Rebecca, Caroline, or perhaps even a Pyramus in your life, this book might be the one for you.
Our earliest collection of poetry is by Joannes Secundus, which was reprinted and translated in 1930 by F.A. Wright. In The Love Poems of Joannes Secundus, F.A. Wright translates five different collections of Latin love poems by Joannes Secundus, including his most famous: Basia, or the Kisses. In Basia, first written in 1541, the poet explores the theme of kisses through his relationship with Neaera, his lover.
If human love isn’t really your thing, you may be interested in our last poetry collection by Erasmus Darwin, the grandfather of the more famous naturalist, Charles Darwin. While many of his writings are scientific in nature, he did write some poetry. The most famous, Loves of the Plants, envisions the stamen and pistill (male and female plant organs) as a bride and groom. Interestingly, it is in his poetry Loves of the Plants that Erasmus Darwin writes about his own theory on evolution.
If you are eager to read more of the poems in these collections, most of these texts are available online through the Internet Archive. We have provided the links below: