A few lines to remember you by - Glimpses of the Past with Karen Webster
When part of a verse about worrying popped into my head one day, I turned to my little autograph book. This plaid-covered booklet with pastel pages was a treasured object when I was about 10 years old. An autograph book was not for signatures, but rather for little verses and tidbits of wisdom that friends and relatives shared.
One such gem given by an aunt of mine was, “Choose not your friends from outward show. For feathers fly high, but pearls lie low”. Not all verses were platitudes and some were downright silly such as “By hook or by crook, I’ll be the last in your book” (written on the book’s last page, of course!). Many people had their own special verses that they would write in a book when requested. Because they were concerned about not duplicating someone else’s verse, they would page through the book first to make sure that their verse was unique. One young lad cleverly penned “2 Ys U R, 2 Ys U Be. I C U R, 2Ys 4 Me”. Although the guys wrote some of the autographs, I never saw any of them with a book of their own. This was in sharp contrast to the historical beginnings of the autograph books.
In the 1500s, German scholars (all men), upon graduation, invited their classmates and instructors to sign their Bibles. Along with the signatures, bits of scholarly advice as well as poetry and sketches were included. These books were kept as evidence of their credentials, shown in the remarks and signatures of intellectual associates. Publishing companies sought to accommodate this practice by including blank pages in Bibles for just this purpose. Eventually, booklets containing only blank pages were offered for sale.
Autograph books, called “album amicorum (book of friends)”, originated in areas with German- and Dutch-speaking populations. The oldest autograph book on record is from 1545.
The popularity of autograph books was revived again periodically throughout the years and German immigrants carried the practice to the New World. The popularity of autograph books has ebbed and flowed over the centuries. For instance, in the mid-1800s, the autograph book became a status symbol among young women of the middle class. Some of these books survive to this day. Not only were verses included, but also some detailed drawings suggesting that the book would be in the signer’s possession for quite a while. Other items that might be found in autograph books of that era were embroidery, locks of hair and pressed flowers.
In another era, we find in a book from the 1930s with such verses as: “Friendship is a silken tie, That binds each heart together. And if you never break that tie, we shall be friends forever”. Another bit of wisdom was penned by “Grandma” and advised “Your future lies before you, Like a sheet of driven snow. Be careful how you step on it, For every step will show.” A more lighthearted one reads “You can fall from a steeple, you may fall from above. But for heaven’s sakes, Nellie, don’t fall in love!”
In the circular pattern of life, the collecting of autograph books interests some people. One such person is Diana, a collector from Vermont who has shared selections from two autograph books from the late 1800s in a blog. She frequents flea markets and garage sales in search of these little books, eventually selling them for much more than she invested in them. A survey of offerings on the buy-and-sell website, Kijiji, finds that these little books can have prices that range from $10 to over $100 showing that autograph books can have more than sentimental value.
Not surprisingly, entities such as Disney mega-business have found a way to capitalize on this fad by offering items such as the “Disney Princess Autograph Book” for children to collect the signatures of such animated and movie notables as Snow White, Cinderella and Ariel, while visiting the magical kingdoms.
Whether you still have an autograph book or it has been lost through the years, perhaps, in perusing the verses included here, you too, may have memories of autographed verses. Do they bring back memories of another time and of the people who wrote them? Autograph books may be a thing of the past, or, perhaps, they may have morphed into another form. How many times on Facebook or some similar platform have you seen verses both of serious and frivolous nature being shared with others? And then re-shared many times over? Just how many of those online gems of wisdom do you remember in the way that you remember the verses from your autograph book?
Oh, and that verse that I was trying to remember? My aunt had suggested “Don’t worry about tomorrow, Just think about today. Remember, today is the tomorrow, you were worrying about yesterday. So, don’t worry.” Good advice, no matter what the year, but one that is not so easily followed.