Home : Quarterly Archives : Volume 26
Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
Source: April 1988 Volume 26 Number 2, Pages 55–68
Roses are Red / Violets are Blue : A "Sampler" from Friendship Albums'
One of the better known quatrains in American verse goes
Roses are red, / Violets are blue,
It appeared at least as early as 1805 in Songs for the Nursery, and a variation of it appeared on valentines as early as 1784. (It may, in fact, trace its lineage as far back as 1590. In that year Edmund Spenser wrote in The Faerie Queen, "Roses red and violets blue, / and all the sweetest flowers that in the forest grew," [Book III, Canto 6, Stanza 6].)
In any event, during the past 150 years or so these four lines have been inscribed thousands upon thousands of times in autograph or "friendship" albums. Since the second quarter of the nineteenth century, it has been a custom for school students to accumulate the signatures of their classmates and teachers (and sometimes of other friends and relatives) in small albums, usually about 41/2" by 41/2" in size, though some of the earlier ones were larger, as mementoes of their school days.
Usually a verse, or "sentiment", accompanied the autograph. In the early decades these were generally quite serious and moral or religious in their tone, frequently then-popular and now-forgotten poems several stanzas long. By the latter part of the century and since then, however, the inscriptions were frequently less solemn and more frivolous in nature.
The same verses or rhymes have appeared over and over again in albums in various parts of the country, and rhymes inscribed in albums in the 1880s can be found in those of fifty or more years later. Nor is it uncommon to find the same verse inscribed several times in the same album.
On the first page of a number of albums it was requested
If you're a friend of mine
Here is a "sampler" of the verses, rhymes, and other sentiments that were inscribed in friendship albums in response to these requests. They come for the most part from albums still owned by several of our club members, with a few from albums in the Chester County Historical Society.
There were comments about the invitation to "drop a pleasant line" itself. This first one dates back to the 1840s.
Like one who, fruitlessly perchance,
In later years it was usually put more briefly, as in these examples, from late nineteenth and twentieth century albums.
I do not like the task of writing
You ask me to write in your album,
If scribbling in albums / Remembrance insures,
But even though it was "the greatest pleasure," it was also frequently noted
It tickles me, / It makes me laugh,
I thought, I thought, / I thought in vain;
My pen is poor, / My ink is pale,
Here are two other often-used comments on writing in the album
Read see that me
Remember the boy in the city,
And, on a more flowery note, is this simile.
If you call this book Garden Plot,
Your album is a garden plot
Another popular subject for inscriptions was the meaning of friendship
True friends, like ivy and the wall;
Forget me not
Friendship is like French china,
Friends are like melons. / Shall I tell you why?
Friends are not like pebbles, found in every path,
Friends are like diamonds,
This description of friendship, in the poem "Absence", is again from an older album of the 1840s.
A weary time thou 's been away --
I hear thee in the whisp'ring breeze,
Occasionally a passage from the Scripture was inscribed on an album's pages, usually by a teacher or by a parent, aunt or uncle. Thus this verse from the Book of John was used to describe friendship.
"Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for a friend."
The hope that the friendships of school days would be long-lasting was also a frequent theme of these inscriptions.
Yours 'til Niagara Falls.
Here are some other examples.
May our wing of friendship
When the golden sun is setting
Tho' far to other lands I go,
When you get old and cannot see,
This is another expression of hope for a lifelong remembrance
Let me on this unsullied page,
Thy dearest friends will leave you here
While in the sunny morn of youth,
When with age and life's cares oppress'd,
Others, however, hoped for an even longer, eternal friendship.
Remember me now, / Remember me ever,
I met you as a stranger, / I loved you as a friend.
Remember me in Friendship, / Remember me in Love,
Adieu, dear Libby, the time draws near
But if it chance to be our lot
But still others apparently were less confident in their expectations
Remember me you can, you must,
Nothing more, / Nothing less,
To meet, to love, and then to part
"Remember me" was the theme of other inscriptions.
There are few friends in this wide world
Do not think of me
Though hills and vales divide us,
Here I would write a line for thee
When you twine a wreath of friendship,
When twilight draws a curtain
Drink your tea, / Think of me.
Forget the moon, / Forget the stars,
Before 1850 or so this plea to "remember me" was often requested by the addition of a couplet or triplet to a popular and familiar verse of the time.
Seize, mortals! Seize the transient hour,
'Tis education forms the common mind,
How sweet and useful is the place
In much the same vein were pledges that "I'll remember you". Here are a few of this type.
Leaves may wither, / Flowers may die;
Many to you have written,
Days may pass, and years may fly,
And there were those expressing good wishes in one form or another
May your joys be as deep as the sea
May your life be full of sunshine, with few shadows.
May your troubles be like Aunt Jemima's teeth -
May each new page / Of life for you
May wisdom direct / And virtue attend,
May your life be like a piano --
May your life be like arithmetic
May your life be like a pack of cards
May the Lord meet you at the gate
Some friends may wish Thee happiness,
I wish you health, / I wish you wealth,
There were, especially in the earlier albums, also many inscriptions with advice or admonitions for the young school girl or school boy.
Strive to keep the "Golden Rule",
Count that day lost / Whose low descending sun
Do not look for wrong and evil,
Speak gently! It is better far
Upon all subjects presented for your consideration,
Never hurt a heart that loves you,
Those who hasten to restrain
Be a good daughter, / Be a good wife,
Don't be what you isn't, / Just be what you is
More of a note of caution were
Be ever often guarded in the choice of companions. For often in the highest flowers there lurks a deadly poison.
Love many, trust few
Never trouble trouble 'til trouble troubles you.
Others, again, included passages from the Scripture or were of a religious nature.
"Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest,
A few of the inscriptions, particularly in the nineteenth century, were words of inspiration. For example,
Every cloud has a silver lining.
Never give up, or sit down in despair,
Lives of great men all remind us,
Let the Storm Come!
Let the storm come! thou are not left
Rest on that power, whose sleepless eye
Or. as it was put more succinctly forty years later, in the 1880s,
Let us never forget, God will give us strength
Remember the Creator when life and hope are new,
There were personal remarks. Here are a couple of variations of the old "Roses are red" quatrain.
Roses are red, / Violets are blue.
Roses are red, / Violets are blue,
But not all of them were so complimentary. In other variations the last two lines were
Vinegar is sweet, / Compared to you.
or, since the Second World War,
And you look like / A B-22!
This one obviously dates from the "flapper age" of the 1920s, but has been many times since then.
Twinkle, twinkle little star,
Or again on a more flattering note,
To aunty you're a darling,
Policeman! Policeman! / Do your duty,
But by far the most popular themes in this century have been boy friends or girl friends, falling in love, and marriage.
To knit, to sew, to spin,
You may fall from a house top,
Betty now, / Betty ever,
Anna is your name, / Single is your station;
Remember this and bear in mind;
As we pass along life, / We all need an umbrella;
Many a ship's been lost at sea,
Violets are blue, / Sunflowers are yellow;
I wish you a husband both gallant and true,
Butter is butter, cheese is cheese,
A kiss without a squeeze
The higher the mountain, / The cooler the breeze.
Don't make love at the garden gate,
When you're engaged and full of love
I wish you luck, I wish you joy,
When you get married, / And your husband gets cross,
This is just one of several rhymes that begin "When you get married" or "When you are married". Here are some more of them.
When you get married and your husband gets cross,
When you 're married and live in a flat,
When you get married and live up stairs,
When you get married and have twins,
Perhaps it can all be summed up this way:
If all little girls / lived across the sea,
But, on the other hand, it was also noted in these friendship albums that
You may fall from a window,
When the fox preaches, / Let the geese beware.
Love is a humbug, / All things show it.
The first sigh of Love is the last sigh of wisdom.
The proper study of mankind is man;
When you are young / You have your fun.
Another group of inscriptions can probably be best described simply as nonsense doggerel. A number of them, for some reason or another, seem to feature animals.
Love me little, / Love me big,
The night was dark I And the clouds were big,
A dog stood on the burning deck,
When you see a monkey / In a tree,
I wish I were a bunny / That had a tail of fluff,
Here are two others that fall into this group.
Take a little tin can, / Take a little board,
If you want to be an angel, / And like an angel fly,
We've finally come to the end of the "sampler" - and we'll conclude it in the same manner that many of the albums were concluded.
Way back here and out of sight,
Way back hear out of site,
Your pages are all / And my time is short,
By hook or by crook,
You '11 want room for your friends,
Material for this "sampler" was contributed by Betty Haney, Libby Weaver, Claire Etherton, Peggy Egertson, Aileen Collins, Bill Wheeler, Bob Goshorn
Page last updated: 2009-12-04 at 15:30 EST