The Agony Column of the 'Times' 1800-1870 online

. (page 1 of 1)
Online LibraryVariousThe Agony Column of the 'Times' 1800-1870 → online text (page 1 of 1)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


Produced by Chris Curnow, Harry Lamé and the Online
Distributed Proofreading Team at (This
file was produced from images generously made available
by The Internet Archive.)

Transcriber’s Notes

Words printed in italics in the original work have been transcribed
between underscores: _text_. Small capitals have been transcribed as
CAPITALS. More transcriber’s notes may be found at the end of this






[_All rights reserved_]



THE contents of the little volume now presented to the public have been
taken from the second column (commonly called the “Agony Column”) of the
_Times_ newspaper, from the commencement of the present century to the
end of the year 1870.

Readers of newspapers (more especially of the _Times_) cannot fail to be
struck by the mysterious communications which daily appear, and I
venture to hope my selection of some of the most remarkable may interest
those who peruse these pages.

Most of the advertisements selected show a curious phase of life,
interesting to an observer of human existence and human eccentricities.
They are veiled in an air of mystery, with a view of blinding the
general public, but at the same time give a clue unmistakable to those
for whom they were intended.

At the early period of 1800 the “Agony Column” seems to have been the
chief medium for matrimonial advertisements; but, unfortunately, we are
left considerably in the dark, and our curiosity as to whether the young
nobleman (in advertisement No. 2) eventually married the unknown
“Catholic widow” is not gratified; but we do learn something, namely,
that love at first sight was not so rare in those days as it is supposed
to be in the present unromantic age.

There is little doubt that lovers separated by unfortunate
circumstances, or by angry parents, as well as bachelors meditating
matrimony, have found in the “Agony Column” a safe means of secret
correspondence. With what despair did “One-winged Dove” (advertisement
No. 214) beseech her lover, the “Crane,” to return to her! Sorely must
her patience have been tried as she scanned the paper in vain day after
day for four months. The answer came at last (advertisements No. 234 and
235), but only to kill every hope.

I do not know how this portion of the _Times_ newspaper came to be
called the “Agony Column;” but when we read advertisements like the one
quoted above, and which is only one in a hundred, I think all my readers
will agree that it is an unquestionably appropriate name.

Through our daily walk in life we brush up against millions of
fellow-men, yet of how few amongst them do we know anything? We each
live in a world of our own; we draw a circle, as it were, around us,
within which centre all our interests. How lightly our feelings are
touched by what happens outside our circle is shown by the exclamation
that escapes our lips as we read a fresh tragedy in the daily papers.
The actors in it are unknown to us, and in a moment or two the paper is
laid aside with a smile on our lips - the news that blighted many lives
forgotten! But if it comes within the charmed circle, how different our

On the other hand, how very little we know of the inner or deeper life
of even those in our own little world. Romances, stranger than fiction,
happen under our very eyes, and we do not see them. With hearts that are
breaking men and women can go through the duties of every-day life,
wearing calm and even smiling faces. He knew human nature well who
wrote -

“Broken hearts are dumb - or smile.”

What is there to tell us that such smiles are only on the surface?
Nothing. So, is it not possible that the very advertisement that
appealed to our feelings in the day’s paper may have been inserted by
some one living under the same roof with us!

We find some of the pseudonyms used by the advertisers are very
transparent disguises, for instance, “Bocaj” (advertisements No. 355 and
363), read backwards, is simply Jacob. What an insight we get here into
the writer’s character. No one possessing a sly, crafty nature would
have dictated an alias so apparent.

Many others are of the same transparent nature. In some cases numbers
have been substituted for the letters of the alphabet, and are easily
deciphered. Take, for example, advertisement No. 1561, which reads, “Z.
Y. R. Let me send correspondence with rector of college; it will
explain how things stand. I go abroad next month.”

In some advertisements the alphabet is slightly altered. Instead of
reading the letter B as printed, read C. Thus, “head” would read “if
be.” An advertisement of this description is found on June 23rd, 1864
(No. 1387) - “Alexander Rochfort reported dead. I saw you yesterday.
Moate vainly searched ten years.” The same rule applies to advertisement
No. 1454, the meaning of which is, “Bone to first joint taken out
yesterday - chloroform - régimes alone prevented me fulfilling my promise
to you - Myosotis - May 3rd.”

In advertisements No. 1701 and 1705 the alphabet is again altered, and
this time more ingeniously. Instead of the letter written supply the
second following. Thus we read in the first, “Umbrella. Dear Fanny, meet
your distracted friend beneath the willow by the lake. Row under the
stars. Common sea-breezes. Feather-weight. Yours, Bicycle.” The
advertisement preceding it is most intricate, and reads, “Wrote you
to-day. Will the letter ever reach. Love beyond telling, purely and
true. Inraptured (_sic_) with love, darling. No sleep that night.” The
spelling of this is so incorrect that it was most probably inserted by
an illiterate individual. Advertisements No. 1247, 1248, 1249, 1250 are
all from the same source, and the writers have very cleverly transposed
the whole alphabet. My readers will find that they have begun their
alphabet at the letter L. Thus L reads A; M, B; N, C, and so on through
the twenty-six letters. For example, we read in advertisement No. 1247,
“On Tuesday I sent letter to Byrne for you. May I speak fully on all
matters at the interview? It may do good. Trust to my love. I am
miserable. When may I go to Canterbury, if only to look at you?”

In advertisements No. 1650, 1651, 1660, 1666, 1670, 1680, 1681, 1696,
1697, 1698, 1702, and 1703 we go back to the simpler style of disguise,
namely, that of reading the letter that follows the one written.
Advertisement No. 1650 consequently reads, “O. Y. is ill. Do not like to
leave yet. How long notice would you want? Very kind thoughts.”
Frankenstein, in advertisements 1734, 1735, 1739, and 1747, has chosen a
disguise so clever and deep that I do not think his communications would
be easily detected; and for those of my readers who possess only a small
amount of patience and a large amount of curiosity, I give the
translation of the first of them.

“Three, four, five, six, yes to all, be cautious anywhere even in German
in case of seizure or stoppage, omit signature W for the present, twig
for safety any letter to me, safe here, trust me, I will never give you
up, never darling, put plenty of love in your letters.”

No. 1764 and 1765 are very much of the same description - clever, deep,
and remarkable for the same want of method in transposing the alphabet,
and when read are worthy of the cunning nature that devised such a
disguise. As the translation is a very tedious business and would
require a large amount of patience and perseverance I give them both:
No. 1764 - “Very vexed at angry part of your letter. Why not take
interest in your appearance? Heiress be damned. Have more trust. Shall
always remain as usual yours only. V.” No. 1765 - “On prowl and near
game. Party scrofulous but got the brass. Parker!! Family very soft and
come from Leeds. Make inquiries. Trust is broken reed ready wanted to
swagger withal (_sic_). Help Jones usually. V.”

Advertisement No. 1731 is equally mysterious and clever; the alphabet
commences at the letter N as in advertisement No. 1247, but is rendered
more obscure by the use of capital letters, and after having deciphered
the letters the sentence has to be divided into words; my readers will
then find it reads thus: “You only till death letter for you Sunday

I think after all the examples I have given that no one will have much
difficulty in deciphering for themselves advertisements No. 1762 and
1767 in which “Nellie” addressed herself to “Darling Alf.” Any
construction might be put on her simple message, but “I will be at the
Great Western Hotel at six on Wednesday” gives one the idea of a runaway
match, and this idea seems to be confirmed in the second advertisement,
No. 1767, in which she says, “Everything sacred as the grave” (query,
did she not mean silent?), and asks for £5 to defray expenses.

We come across a somewhat curious case in advertisements No. 694, 702,
708, 710, 713, and 715: a young lady, evidently in love, and separated
from the object of her affections, wrote to the “Agony Column” under the
name of “Puisque” (No. 694); she received no answer, so advertised again
twice (No. 702 and 708), and was evidently under a strong impression
that her lover was suffering from illness. After a few days an answer
appeared, headed “Puisque” (710), but the writer desired her to
advertise again, addressing her correspondent by his own initials. We
find in advertisement No. 713 that the lady suspected the fraud, and
then her genuine lover advertised (715) to tell her that the former one
(710) had not been inserted by him. There is little doubt that some one
interested in keeping them apart had detected the advertisement, and
under the common impression that “all is fair in love and war” had laid
aside all scruples - if he or she ever possessed any - to serve his or her
own ends. This is not the only case of mistaken identity; we find in
advertisement No. 1065 that the writer was in doubt as to whether the
one he was answering was intended for him or not.

After a very careful investigation I think the romantic pair who
advertised for some time under the disguise of “Does he repent”
(advertisements No. 923, 924, 925, and 926) were either found out or
afraid of detection, as they altered their names twice; the first time
to “Rose” and “Weed,” and again to “Blue bell” and “Lochinvar”
(advertisements No. 962 and 963). “Constantia” also appears to have had
a part in this plot (advertisement No. 969); probably she played the
part of “go-between.” Advertisements No. 1181, 1183, and one or two
others are quite legible when read backwards.

After the number of sentimental advertisements, which certainly form the
greater number in the Agony Column, it is rather a relief to find a few
ludicrous specimens, such as “Jolly to Rummy” (advertisement No. 1166);
“Portmanteau to Pack” (advertisement No. 1180); “Little Silly”
(advertisement No. 1216); “He has sneezed, etc.” (No. 1258); and a
splendid antidote to all sentimentality is expressed in the sarcasm of
advertisement No. 1237: “Fred. All right. I sympathize with your pain,
but why not seek consolation where you cannot find it, and in a way that
pains me? Write as usual. Trust Ever.”

Amongst the number of advertisements that I have passed over in silence
there are many, I have little doubt, that might be classed under the
head of stratagems, that is to say, they are inserted with a view of
deceiving those to whom they are addressed. For instance, how often do
we read nowadays: “John Smith will hear something to his advantage if he
applies in person to Tom Jones, Brown Street.” But in all probability
the same said John Smith will find that if he gratifies his curiosity by
visiting Mr. Jones at the place named, in the hope of finding a fortune
has been left to him, he will find it would have been decidedly more to
his advantage had he suppressed his curiosity and remained at home.

Nor is a hoax by any means an uncommon thing in the “Agony Column.”
There is a story - American, of course - of a man whose wife deserted him;
but instead of running after her and begging her to come back, he
published in the leading daily paper that he had drawn fifty thousand
dollars in the lottery; and the story goes that she returned
immediately. Needless to state that the prize in the lottery only
existed in the ingenious man’s imagination.

Lastly, I must draw the attention of my readers to the two most
remarkable series of advertisements, in my opinion, that have appeared
during the present century, though I feel sure that all who honour my
pages with a careful perusal will not fail to notice them without any
remark of mine.

The first series are those signed with the initials E. W., then E. J.
W., and latterly with the writer’s full address - E. J. Wilson, Ennis,
Ireland. His advertisements are headed by such a variety of names that,
at first sight, we are apt to be misled, and do not think of connecting
the writer of “Rouge et Noir” with that of “Indigo Blue” or “To the
Equator.” Nevertheless they are all from the same source, as well as
those headed “The Writer of the Anonymous Letter,” “Battledore and
Shuttlecock,” “Flybynight,” “Egypte,” “Anchor,” “Circumspice,” “Au
Simulacre,” “Decimals to Cheops,” “To Contre Coup,” “Tribe,” “Two
Hundred Pounds Reward,” “Nicht eine Million,” “Nicht Zwei Millonen,”
“Double Fin,” “Leb! Wohl,” “Poverty and Honour,” “Spurs and Skirts,” “A
La Croix Rouge,” “To the Counterfeit,” “Alpha the First,” “To St.
James,” “The Key,” “The Pillar,” “Honest Alexis,” “Hide and Seek,” “To a
Christian,” “X Cheops X,” “X Tribe X,” “X Blue Eyes X,” “X Gamins X,”
“My dearest Alice,” etc., some of which are signed “Cygne,” others
“Egypte,” and the rest with the initials of name in full. His first
advertisement (No. 245) appeared in 1851, and from that date they
appeared continually during a period of six years. They ceased for a
time, but commenced again in the year 1857. He seems to have been an
unfortunate man, and evidently lost not only his fortune, but his
daughter Alice, and his numerous appeals in the “Agony Column” are a
curious mixture of business complications and entreaties for his lost
child’s return. That his child was not lost by accident, but stolen by
some one of evil intent, cannot fail to be apparent to even the most
careless of my readers. One cannot help feeling an amount of sympathy
with this unfortunate writer as we read advertisements No. 995, 1001,
and 1034, in which we learn what a large share of anxiety and suffering
fell to his lot. The last of his advertisements appeared in 1870 (No.
1753), but unfortunately we cannot learn from its contents whether or
not the tide of misfortune had turned for him at last.

The other remarkable series of advertisements to which I alluded are
those signed “J. de W.” There is little doubt that mankind inherited a
large amount of curiosity from our mother Eve; therefore advertisements,
written in the ordinary intelligent manner, though they may be ful


Online LibraryVariousThe Agony Column of the 'Times' 1800-1870 → online text (page 1 of 1)