Archive for category Mariana Starke

Mariana Starke: ‘Buy A Copy’: recently discovered letters of the 19th century travel guide writer Mariana Starke

Mariana - Buy a CopyLast year – 2015 – was such a ‘suffragette year’ that my various other interests were sadly overlooked. Now, at the very beginning of 2016, I would like to make amends and bring once more to the fore Mariana Starke, my favourite lady of the late-18th/early-19th centuries.

For at the very end of 2014 I had the great good fortune to meet Gerlof Janzen, who had just published a most interesting collection of letters written in the mid-1820s by Mariana to a Surrey gentleman, Edgell Wyatt Edgell. We know of Mariana as the ‘celebrated traveller’, the author of Letters from Italy, which over the years transformed itself into Travels on the Continent –the guidebook to Italy – and to Europe – but the newly-discovered letters to Edgell Wyatt Edgell reveal her in another light entirely – as a businesswoman.

Travels on the Continent was revered – and sometimes mocked – for the painstaking detail with which Mariana itemised the cost of travels – from washing petticoats in Venice to sending out for a meal in Rome. In the Edgell letters we see how such preoccupation with practical details was second-nature to her, although, in this instance, her concern was the business of acquiring copies of celebrated paintings, suitably modified in size and shape, to adorn the home of a Surrey gentleman. Thus we find her busy with measurements, with artists and framers, and with the cost and method of arranging for the safe carriage of the goods from Rome to England.

Among the paintings that she shipped to Edgell were copies of ‘Schidone’s Charity, Titian’s sacred & profame Love, & the Battle of Constantine; all of which will be properly stretched, varnished, packed, & sent by sea to Leghorn…'[p57]. She detailed how, to save money, she would be ‘packing the pictures myself, by the aid of the carpenter employed to make the packing-case & then consigning them to the care of Lowe – the Wine Merchant – to be, by him, conveyed to the Ripa Grande; thence to Leghorn; & thence to Messrs Calrow, London…’. She then accounted, in a most complicated fashion, for all the costs.

In addition to her labours on Edgell’s behalf a letter to him of 13 April 1825 recounts how, at the last minute, she had included in the shipment one other painting destined not for Edgell but for ‘Mrs Shelley’. This was ‘a small portrait of Mr Shelley, Lord Byron’s great Friend, who was drowned near Pisa…’ She explained that ‘the extreme anxiety expressed by Mrs Shelley to have this picture sent to England, has induced me to give you this trouble, instead of waiting to take it myself.’ This portrait of Percy Bysshe Shelley was that painted in Rome in 1819 by Mariana’s friend, Amelia Curran. Mary Shelley was desperate to have this only likeness of her beloved husband – even though the artist herself was less than satisfied with it. This painting, the only one done in his lifetime, now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in London and, when you stand and view, give a thought to Mariana Starke labouring with the carpenter to fit it into the packing case. What a subject for a student of ‘material culture’.

Edgell Wyatt Edgell was clearly a friend of Mariana’s; she had known his wife in Surrey in the early 1790s, before their marriage. So – was the service she provided in finding copies to decorate Edgell’s mansion peculiar to this friendship, or did she do so for others? I suspect that she did act as an informal agent general, capitalizing on her knowledge of the Roman art scene and on her reputation as a practical woman of the world. Just as the Edgell Wyatt Edgell letters eventually hove into public view, nearly 200 years after they were written, perhaps there is another cache of ‘Mariana’ letters yet waiting discovery which will throw further light on her activities.

Gerlof Janzen’s edition of these Mariana letters – published as Buy a Copy –  is wonderfully readable, bringing Mariana to life and, in his essays and notes, illuminating her world – Rome, Sorrento and Exmouth.

The book – with numerous illustrations – can be obtained from its publisher,

Robert Schreuder

Nieuwe Spiegelstraat 48

1017 DG Amserdam

The Netherlands



All the articles on Woman and Her Sphere are my copyright. An article may not be reproduced in any medium without my permission and full acknowledgement. You are welcome to cite or quote from an article provided you give full acknowledgement.


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Mariana Starke: Travels in Europe 1791-1794

At the end of my last ‘Mariana Starke’ post I left Mariana, her mother, father and her sister, Louisa, in the winter of 1791 journeying south through Europe. On 3 December Mrs Crespigny, Mariana’s friend and patron, noted in her diary that she had received letters from Lyons; from the context I presume these were from the Starke party.

We next glimpse the Starke family at Nice on 18 April 1792 – at Louisa’s deathbed. She was just 20 years old.

Mariana and her parents, presumably still accompanied by Mrs Crespigny’s servant, ‘Scott’, then  left Nice in May in order to travel north to Geneva. It is this journey that Mariana describes in ‘Letter 1’ of Letters from Italy, the work that eventually developed into Information and directions for travellers on the continent,  the guide to European travel for which she became famous.

starketp_smMariana’s magnum opus has a complicated publishing history, each stage in its development reflecting the changing ability and inclination of the British (and, indeed, American) public to travel and consume culture during the period 1792-1838 as Europe swung between war and peace.

The first edition of the work that eventually developed into Information and directions for travellers on the continent was published in December 1799 (with 1800 publication date on title page) by ‘R. Phillips of 71 St Paul’s Churchyard’ and was entitled:

Letters from Italy, between the years 1792 and 1798, containing a view of the revolutions in that country, from the capture of Nice by the French republic to the expulsion of Pius VI from the ecclesiastical state: Likewise pointing out the matchless works of art which still embellish Pisa, Florence, Siena, Rome, Naples, Bologna, Venice etc. With instructions for the use of invalids and families who may not choose to incur the expence attendant upon travelling with a courier. It was printed by T. Gillet, Salisbury Square, Fleet Street, for R. Phillips, no 71, St Paul’s Church-yard, in 1800.

The two-volume work followed in the epistolary tradition well established by male – and a few female – travel writers but, as you will see from the lengthy, explanatory title, included not only comment on the current state of affairs but detailed information on all the art and antiquities that the author considered should be viewed by the tourist, together with exhaustive recommendations – and warnings – covering all practical details of routes, inns, shopping, laundering, eating etc in order to make the journey – particularly if taken for reasons of health – as comfortable and economical as possible.

Mariana’s publisher, ‘R. Phillips’, was Sir Richard Phillips (1767-1840) considered by his contemporaries an eccentric and a radical and, even more preposterously, renowned as a vegetarian. Five years later Phillips published William Hayley’s Ballads, illustrated by William Blake. It may be that Phillips was already in Hayley’s circle in 1798/1799 when Mariana would have been looking for a publisher.  The firms of J. Walter and Debrett, with whom she had previously done business, had either not been approached or had rejected this new venture.

I have no idea if, when she set off with her family in the autumn of 1791, Mariana thought that she would publish, in any form, reports of her travels. With her mother, she was the sole survivor of the party and did not, I think, return to England until 1798.  However, at some point during those seven years the idea of turning her experience into a publication must have occurred to her, for in the ‘Advertisement’ to the second edition (1815) she notes that ‘The first Edition of this Work was written abroad, where the Author had so many domestic duties to fulfil, that she could only find leisure sufficient to draw up a hasty statement of facts…’. For during those sometimes harrowing years it was Mariana to whom responsibilities as both nurse and journey planner fell – but it’s clear that, nevertheless, she did keep notes that could be worked up into a book.

We can follow a variety of clues in order to spy on Mariana as she travelled. For instance, we know that, having journeyed north to Geneva in May 1792 the Starkes returned quickly to Nice, arriving on 22 September, when they learned of the impending war between Sardinia and France. By the 27th the French fleet was off Nice. In her Letters Mariana describes how ‘I immediately went to the quay, with an intention of hiring an English merchantman (our nation being at peace with France), and getting my family and friends embarked before the city was bombarded, a circumstance which we hourly expected to take place; but no English vessel could I find ready for sea…’ After a great deal of anxiety the Starkes were eventually able to escape by sea. Having been ‘advised to make as little parade as possible on our way to the port, my family went two and two by different paths, while I, being obliged to stay to the last, walked down, dressed as a servant, passing all the French posts without the smallest molestation…‘ With her love of theatricals, I can imagine that Mariana rather revelled in playing this part.

The Starkes reached Genoa on 14 October 1792, went from there by sea to Leghorn (Livorno) and then on to Pisa. There they encountered, among other English visitors, Lady Spencer (mother of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire), to whom, in 1811, Mariana dedicated the first poem in her slim volume, The Beauties of Carlo-Maria Maggi Paraphrased.

In April and May 1793 the Starkes were in Rome, meeting there with the family of John Flaxman, the sculptor. If the Starkes had not previously been known to the Flaxmans – the latter having been in Italy since 1787 – during the course of the next couple of years a firm friendship was cemented.



The Starkes returned to Pisa where they spent the winter of 1793/4 and it was there that Richard Starke died, aged 74, on 5 March 1794. He was buried on 9 March at Livorno. [For a very interesting article about Richard Starke’s grave see here.]

We know that some days later, on 21 March, Mariana was visiting her friend Lady Bolingbroke who was also in Pisa. [I can’t at the moment check the reference but believe it comes from the Journal of Sarah Bentham, held in the Colchester Papers at the National Archives.]  Lady Bolingbroke was born Charlotte Collins, daughter of the Rev Thomas Collins, who had been tutor to Viscount Bolingbroke. A friend of the novelist Charlotte Smith, Lady Bolingbroke had translated some of Smith’s poems into Italian and presumably shared a similar literary friendship with Mariana. Poor Lady Bolingbroke certainly needed to think beautiful thoughts in order to take her mind off the scandal that had enveloped her marriage (for gossipy details see here). Previous sightings of Mariana and Lady Bolingbroke together had been made in Pisa by American-born Count Rumford in late 1793.

Mariana and her mother remained in Pisa before moving on to Florence, where we shall renew our acquaintance with them in the summer of 1794.


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Mariana Starke: Toxophilia – And Then To Italy, 1791

1791 was a most important year in the life of Mariana Starke. 

We last met her in January of that year when, with her friend and patron, Mrs Crespigny, she attended her play, The Widow of Malabar,  on the first night of its second season at the Theatre Royal Covent Garden.

Mrs Crespigny’s diary reveals that during the next few months she and Mariana met frequently – sometimes in Camberwell and sometimes in Epsom. Among their circle were the family of Henry Martin, who had become Comptroller of the Navy in 1790 and the news of whose baronetage Mrs Crespigny noted in her diary on 21 June 1791.

The Martins had at one time lived at Ashtead, a short distance down the Dorking Road from the Starkes’ Hylands House, but were probably now resident at Little Farm, near Tooting. ‘Miss Martin’ – presumably the eldest of his four daughters – was frequently included in parties to the theatre and opera and Mrs Crespigny mentions dining with Mrs Martin, together with Mariana, on 4 April, a day she described as ‘the first shooting day at Epsom’.

Mrs Crespigny’s diary relates that she and Mariana next met in Camberwell on 2 May – when they were joined by ‘Thomas on his matrimonial business’. This ‘Thomas’, I am sure, refers to the Rev Joseph Thomas for, on 6 May, ‘Miss Parkhurst dined and slept here’. Mellicent Parkhurst, Mariana’s very close friend and co-author, was soon to marry the Rev Thomas. I cannot, though, explain why the Rev Thomas was discussing ‘matrimonial business’ – apparently in Mellicent’s absence – with the inhabitants of Grove House. On 7 May, after dinner, Mariana and Mellicent returned to Epsom.

Mariana was back at Grove House on 24 May and on the 25th Mrs Crespigny notes that she ‘gave my first archery party’. Mrs Crespigny was a keen archer – for excellent articles about this aspect of her life see  A toxophilite – Mary de Crespigny née Clarke (1749 – 1812) and, for another much older article, here.


After John Emes & Robert Smirke To His Royal Highness George Prince of Wales This Plate representing a Meeting of The Society of Royal British Archers in Gwersyllt Park, Denbighshire, aquatint by Cornelis Apostool, [Siltzer p.335], 1794, John Emes. The scene illustrates the popularity of the Royal British Archers, or Royal Toxophilite Society, amongst women (albeit only of a high social standing) as one of the few sports in which they compete at all, let alone on equal terms. The original painting is in the British Museum, the landscape being the work of Robert Emes, who also published the print, while the figures were painted by Robert Smirke. Retrieved from Image and caption courtesy of A toxophilite - Mary de Crespigny née Clarke (1749 - 1812) see

After John Emes & Robert Smirke To His Royal Highness George Prince of Wales This Plate representing a Meeting of The Society of Royal British Archers in Gwersyllt Park, Denbighshire, aquatint by Cornelis Apostool, [Siltzer p.335], 1794, John Emes. The scene illustrates the popularity of the Royal British Archers, or Royal Toxophilite Society, amongst women (albeit only of a high social standing) as one of the few sports in which they compete at all, let alone on equal terms. The original painting is in the British Museum, the landscape being the work of Robert Emes, who also published the print, while the figures were painted by Robert Smirke. Retrieved from Image and caption courtesy of A toxophilite – Mary de Crespigny née Clarke (1749 – 1812) see

Mariana was at Grove House to enjoy that first archery party and on Friday 27 May accompanied Mrs Crespigny to Blackheath.  This day, the diary records, was ‘The great anniversary of the archers at Blackheath. We all went  – in my uniform. Miss Starke went home afterwards.’ Anecdotes of Archery describes that ‘grand meeting’ on Blackheath, which was attended by a good number of ‘Societies of Archers’, including such groups as the Surrey Bowmen, the Kentish Bowmen and the Woodmen of Arden. The report also records that ‘Numbers of women were likewise dressed in the uniforms of the societies.’ I am sure Mariana would have very much enjoyed donning a uniform. Did she draw a bow?

On Monday 21 August Mrs Crespigny spent the night at Hylands House after a day of archery in the course of which she presented the Surrey Bowmen with a silver arrow as a prize for a competition.

St Martin's Church 1807 Drawn by J Nixon, Engraved by S Rawle Image courtesy of Surrey Libraries and is held in the Epsom & Ewell Local And Family History Centre. Image courtesy Epsom and Ewell History Explorer website

St Martin’s Church 1807
Drawn by J Nixon, Engraved by S Rawle
Image courtesy of Surrey Libraries and is held in the
Epsom & Ewell Local And Family History Centre. Image courtesy Epsom and Ewell History Explorer website

On  19 September 1791 Mrs Crespigny met Mariana in town. Although she makes no entry in clear script, surely both she and Mariana were in attendance three days later at St Martin’s Church in Epsom when, on 22 September, Mellicent Parkhurst married the Rev Thomas? The Rev Jonathan Boucher conducted the ceremony and the witnesses were Mellicent’s father, John Parkhurst, and her half-sister, Susanna Altham. I note that in the entry in the parish register the Rev Joseph Thomas is described as ‘of Camberwell’ – which may explain why he was discussing wedding plans in Grove House a few months earlier. I mention that Mrs Crespigny made no entry in clear script because large sections of her diary are written in shorthand and I haven’t checked whether there is such any such passage for that date.

Mrs Crespigny saw Mariana on several occasions in October. On 17th she slept at Hylands House after attending an archery match at Epsom and on the 22nd Mrs Starke, Mariana and Louisa arrived at Grove House for a short visit.

However, the atmosphere over these few days seems to have been less than calm. On  23rd October Mariana and Mary Crespigny had words -though quite what it was about is difficult now to ascertain. The diary entry appears to read ‘Miss S was very unkind to me relative to the grog and the Bow  – and said things that hurt me. I was very ill in consequence.’

The following day, Monday 24 October, Mrs Crespigny records that she ‘Had a sad day with the distress of Mr Browning  & Miss Louisa’ This may, perhaps, be explained by the next-day’s entry – Wednesday 25 October Mr & Mrs Starke & Misses Starke  & Scott, who I parted with to oblige them, set off for Nice.

”Scott’ was a woman, a maid or nurse, who until now had been in Mrs Crespigny’s employ and to whom, on her departure with the Starkes, she gave a guinea. That the Starke family was setting out for the south of France late in the autumn and despite the state of turmoil in that country would indicate that the state of health of Louisa Starke certainly – and probably also both her mother and father – had become increasingly critical. All were suffering from tuberculosis.

As early as 1779/1780 Mrs Starke, discussing her ill-health in a letter to Mrs William Hayley, had commented that ‘an hour’s talking would produce a spitting of blood’. In an April 1781 letter to William Hayley Mariana mentioned that they had been staying at Brighthelmstone for the previous two months on account of her mother’s health. The sea air was, of course, considered efficacious for pulmonary complaints. In a letter of 1787 or 1788 Mrs Starke mentioned that she and Louisa had spent a few weeks at Brighthelmstone, leaving her husband and Mariana at Hylands House.

In the Introduction to the 1815 edition of Letters from Italy (which is the one I have to hand) Mariana writes that she hopes the work will be of use ‘to those of my compatriots who, in consequence of pulmonary complaints, are compelled to exchange their native soil for the renovating sun of Italy’ and mentions that her observations on health are ‘the result of seven years’ experience; during which period my time and thoughts were chiefly occupied by endeavours to mitigate the sufferings of those most dear to me.’ Alas, little of the time abroad was devoted to nursing her sister Louisa, who, aged just 20, died at Nice on 18 April 1792, barely six months after leaving England. Had Mrs Crespigny’s comment on 24 October 1791 about ‘the distress of Mr Browning and Miss Louisa’ been a comment on a romance thwarted by her illness?

Having buried Louisa in Nice the Starke party – which Mariana describes in Letters from Italy as four in number (comprising, presumably, herself, her mother and father and ‘Scott’)- set out for Italy. In Letter 1, dated Nice, September 1792, Mariana writes that they undertook the journey over the Alps to Turin at the end of May.

On 3 November 1791 Mrs de Crespigny had noted in her diary that Mr and Mrs Starke and party had arrived at Calais and on 3 December that she had received ‘letters from Lyons’. Were those from Mariana?

I wondered briefly if Mrs Crespigny could have been the recipient of the originals of the Letters on which Mariana eventually based her book? It is the kind of role a close friend and patroness might fulfil but I must swiftly state that I have seen no evidence whatsoever to suggest that this was so. Indeed, perhaps rather surprisingly, I have come across no mention of Mrs Crespigny in any of Mariana’s manuscript letters that I have read.

The dedication in the 1815 edition of Letters from Italy is to Mellicent Thomas ‘as a small testimony of gratitude for her great kindness in having corrected th epress, and aided, by her deep and extensive classical knowledge, the labours of The Author’. Mariana would surely have acknowledged any specific interest taken in her work by the woman to whom she had made such a fulsome dedication in The Poor Soldier.

However, it is Mrs Crespigny we must thank (or at least those of us who follow the life of Mariana Starke in intimate detail must thank) for alerting us to the exact date when the Starkes’ coach swept out of the gates of Hylands House, taking Mariana to Italy and her destiny.


All the articles on Woman and Her Sphere and are my copyright. An article may not be reproduced in any medium without my permission and full acknowledgement. You are welcome to cite or quote from an article provided you give full acknowledgement.

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Mariana Starke: With Thanks To Mrs Crespigny From ‘The Poor Soldier’, ‘The British Orphan’ And ‘The Widow of Malabar’

The period 1789-91 was a busy and important time for Mariana Starke, who was still only in her mid-twenties. For her very public success she owed everything to the patronage of Mrs Crespigny, for more about whom see Mariana Starke: The Mystery of the Bodleian Diary.

Mrs Crespigny, courtesy of Kelmarsh Hall and the Public Catalogue Foundation

Mrs Crespigny, courtesy of Kelmarsh Hall and the Public Catalogue Foundation

In March 1789 Mariana’s long poem, The Poor Soldier, An American Tale was published by J. Walter (who in 1787 had published her first work, A Theatre of Education). The work was advertised as ‘founded on a recent fact and inscribed to Mrs Crespigny’. The poem tells how Mrs Crespigny,  travelling in her coach across Westminster Bridge, stopped to give alms  to a beggar. He turned out to be an American Loyalist, Charles Short, who had lost his home, wife, children and leg during the American Revolution. Remaining loyal to the Crown, he had resisted the call to join the Congress forces and had ‘left his happy Cot, his fair domains/ To war for thee on Carolina’s Plains’.

The poem tells how Mrs Crespigny intervened to grant him his heart’s desire, a place, as a veteran soldier, in the Chelsea Hospital. Alas, though, the offer came too late for the Poor Soldier, who died before he could take up his place. Although Mariana was herself a true-blood Royalist/Loyalist, and those in America fighting to free themselves from Britain were of the planter class, I wonder if her knowledge of her great-grandfather’s involvement with Virginia – as the owner of tobacco plantations, added to her interest in this story. The poem proved sufficiently popular for the publisher to issue a second edition in July 1789.

A couple of weeks after the first publication of The Poor Soldier,  The Times reported on 7 April that ‘At Mrs Crespigny’s temporary theatre at her house at Camberwell Miss Starke and Mr Starke  took part in The Tragedy of Douglas.’ The performance had, in fact, taken place on 4 April with a cast that included Mrs Crespigny, her son, William, Mariana Starke, her brother, Richard, and a Mr Bayley. The play had been written by John Home in the 1750s but for this production Mrs Crespigny had given it a new, happy, ending. On 30 April the Public Advertiser reprinted her new Prologue, in which she warned that ”If in our play some alter’d scenes you find/They owe their merit to a female mind’.

Two months later, in July (as described in a previous post), ‘The Sword of Peace’,  was back on stage at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, and the text was published by J. Debrett..

In its issue dated 29 December 1789 The World mentioned that Mrs Crespigny was planning another theatrical and tried to dispel the rumour that the new play was ‘by a lady’. The report also mentioned that Mr Starke was’exerting his pencil’ and Miss C. Fanshaw had adorned the theatre with a Tragic and a Comic Muse ‘painted in a novel and very superior stile’. ‘Mr Starke’ was surely Mariana’s brother Richard and ‘Miss C. Fanshaw’  Catherine Fanshawe (1765-1834),who is now better known as a poet than a scenic designer, but see here for an example of her art . The Starkes had been very friendly for many years with the Fanshawes, who were Surrey neighbours.

This play, The British Orphan, opened at Mrs Crespigny’s Camberwell theatre on 7 April 1790.The Public Advertiser of 10 April reported that ‘The author of The British Orphan was not announced but he is certainly of the modern school. The principal incident of the piece is founded on the idea of suspended animation..”The dresses were extremely splendid and the scenery was characteristic and painted with great spirit’. For all the attempts to dissemble and pass the author off as a man, it was Mariana who was this author ‘of the modern school’; the play, alas, was never published and no text survives. The cast included Mrs Crespigny, Richard Starke, Mr Thomas (who may have been the Mr Thomas who was soon to marry Millecent Parkhurst), and a Mr Fitz-Gerald, who wrote the Prologue. The accompanying music was composed by R.J.S. Stevens, who mentions the experience in his Recollections. His work was a setting of a poem by Mariana, Saints and Angels hear our strains, hear our strains from purging fire. Interestingly, he appears to have been vehemently opposed to private theatricals ‘a species of entertainment very injurious to young minds; destructive of their innocence and modesty; and equally endangering their piece and happiness.’

Mrs Larpent, wife of the inspector of plays in the Lord Chamberlain’s office, was in the audience for the first night of The British Orphan, writing in her diary on 7 April ‘ Camberwell to Mrs Crespigny’s to see Miss Starke and others, act The British Orphan, a tragedy written by Miss Starke. Mrs Crespigny acted the heroine, and Roxana, in The Sultan, which was the Afterpiece. The Scenery was very pretty, the dresses very elegant. The Acting outrée. And the whole absurd. I was shocked – I disapprove the whole. Acting revolts in Women against Feminine delicacy – in Men against Manly decorum – My spirits were hurt with contemplating so much folly, I could not be amused. I was sorry to see Miss Starke thus traverstie – and as she was – as I should grieve to see a worthy man I esteemed, intoxicated’. Mariana had, as author, presumably written for herself a part that required her, for some of her scenes, to  dress as a man – and thereby outrage Mrs Larpent’s sensitivities.   She was, in fact, the heroine, Eliza, who arises out of her coffin after a period of  suspended animation. Mrs Crespigny played her sister, Isabella.

Barely a month later, on 5 May, Mariana’s new play, The Widow of Malabar, was given its first public performance at the Theatre Royal Covent Garden. Embellished with the rituals of Indian sati – a burning funeral pyre – and with specially composed music, it was something of a spectacle. Mrs Larpent was again in the audience – ‘We went to the Play, saw The Widow of Malabar, a free translation from the French, by Miss Starke on the fate of an Indian widow, who burns herself. I was ennuiée. I will not criticise. Dramatic Interest is wanting, it is a showy performance’. If by  ‘showy performance’ she meant to single out one actress, she may have been referring to ‘Miss Brunton’, who The World reported on 6 May, had received the play as a present from Miss Starke, that is, this first night was a ‘Benefit’ performance for her. ‘Miss Brunton’ was likely to be Ann Brunton, the elder of a family of actress sisters.

Ann Brunton (as Cordelia in 'King Lear', 1785)..This engraving by T. Cook and William Brent, courtesy of Women in Theatre Collection, Univeristy of Illinois Library

Ann Brunton (as Cordelia in ‘King Lear’, 1785)..This engraving by T. Cook and William Brent, courtesy of Women in Theatre Collection, Univeristy of Illinois Library

Fortunately other critics, such as that writing for the Whitehall Evening Post (6 May), were kinder to The Widow of Malabar than was Mrs Larpent and on 27 May it was announced that ‘Miss Starke’s Widow has been accepted by Mr Harris for the next season’. Thus the play was back at the Theatre Royal Covent Garden for more performances in January 1791.

Thanks to the newly discovered diary in the Bodleian Library we know that Mrs Crespigny was in the theatre on that second, as it were, first night – 12 January – ‘Miss Starke’s play The Widow of Malabar came on and it went off extremely well  – but Lady Salisbury took my Box which caused great confusion’. She was back a week later on Wednesday 19 January forThird night of The Widow. Miss Starke had a very full house. I sent [?] vast numbers – filled 10 rows of pit & nearly all the Boxes – & numbers [?] into the Gallery.’

The play was a considerable success, often staged in succeeding years. Although derived from La Veuve du Malabar,  a play by Lemierre, Mrs Larpent was incorrect in referring to it as a translation, it was, rather, a free interpretation. In Mariana’s version the widow is saved from the funeral pyre by an Englishman. In the edition of Mariana’s play, published by William Lane in 1791, her dedication, dated 24 January,  is, unsurprisingly, to Mrs Crespigny, who had given such active support, not least of all by packing the theatre with her friends during the previous fortnight.

See D. O’Quinn, ‘Battling Hindu Superstition on the London Stage’ in M. Franklin (ed), Romantic Representations of British India, Routledge, 2006, for an interesting discussion of the text of Mariana Starke’s The Widow of Malabar.


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Mariana Starke: ‘The Sword Of Peace’, 1788

On 9 August 1788  Mariana Starke’s play, The Sword of Peace; or, a Voyage of Love, received the first of six public performances that season at London’s Theatre Royal, Haymarket.  

sword of peace

This was certainly not the first play that Mariana had written,  but was the first to be professionally staged. See Mariana Starke: First Productions for mention of Ethelinda, which, possibly in 1787, Mariana had sent to George Colman, the manager of the Theatre Royal. He had been encouraging, but in the end had rejected it. He would, therefore, have been an obvious choice to receive her next dramatic work and in the Preface to the published edition of The Sword of Peace she thanks him most warmly. To Mariana’s play Colman added a Prologue and his son an Epilogue.

In her introduction to the online edition of The Sword of Peace Jeanne Moskal has suggested that prior to its short run at the Theatre Royal, the play may already have been produced in the private theatre of her friend and patron Mary Crespigny [see Mariana Starke: The Mystery of the Bodleian Diary]. This is possible, but if such a production was staged it is surprising that papers such as ”The World and Fashionable Advertiser’ and ”The Public Advertiser’ make no mention of it, while carrying information of other theatricals at Camberwell Grove that  involved Mariana and her brother, Richard. Mrs Crespigny’s activities were good ‘copy’for these papers and it seems unlikely they would have overlooked such an interesting item.

As the reader can so easily consult the online text of The Sword of Peace, together with the associated apparatus of notes which includes a summary of the play, I will not repeat it here, but would like to make one observation.

The Starkes' home, Hylands House, Epsom

Hylands House, Epsom, 0ne-time home of Governor Starke and his family’  (the two brick bays being a rather unfortunate later addition). A house, in the late 18th-century, replete with memories of and talk about life in India

This is an idea that occurred to me as to what Mariana might mean in her Preface when she observes that ‘the character of David Northcote is a real one. To Indians this is needless: the sketch, however, is not too faint, I hope, for others: it was dictated by a heart glowing with gratitude and admiration of his noble and unbounded goodness!’

It has been suggested, by Jeanne Moskal among others, that ‘David Northcote’ is based on Lord Cornwallis, who succeeded Warren Hastings as Governor-General of India. This assumption is quite probably correct. Hastings had been arrested in 1787, at a time when Mariana would probably have been writing the play; his trial was underway in Westminster Hall when The Sword of Peace played at the Theatre Royal. As ‘David Northcote’ was created as an exemplar of a good man in the midst of venality it may well be that Mariana was commending Cornwallis .

However, with the Hastings trial figuring so prominently in the news it seems just a little odd for the author to hope, even with the falsest of modesty, that ‘the sketch is not too faint’. Actually at the time it must have seemed blindingly obvious.  It occurred to me, however, that she may actually have had in mind a model for ‘David Northcote’ found rather closer to home, but more distant in time – one about which there might more justifiably be  a fear that the ‘sketch’ might be too  ‘faint’ .

Could ‘David Northcote’ have been modelled on Mariana’s father, Richard Starke, who, even at this time, 30 years after he had been forced from office, was always known as ‘Governor Starke’?

The name of the character does have resonances close to Mariana’s own circle. ‘David’ could be a nod to Fort St David, from which her father was ousted in 1756 by ambitious Robert Clive.

Mariana would have discussed the making of her play with her great friend, Millecent Parkhurst, whose father, John Parkhurst, was giving her advice on the construction of her dramas. John Parkhurst’s wife was born Millecent Northey, whose  family lived at Woodcote House, Epsom. When Mariana was pondering a surname for the hero of The Sword of Peace could she have created it out of this local association? For an essay on the Northeys and Woodcote House see here.

Among the final lines of the play, when Mr Northcote is created ‘Resident’, one of the characters describes how

‘They [the local inhabitants] do nothing but call him father—they keep blessing him and his children; and King George and his children; and their great prophet and his children’.

Would – could – that mention of ‘blessing him and his children’ have been a knowing authorial wink. The emphasising italics are in the original and there does not seem any reason for an allusion to Northcote’s children in terms of the play. Indeed, there is no mention of his being married, or having children. So was that a little joke -Mariana calling blessings on herself and her siblings, as well as her father -that the audience might have shared?

In terms of the plot of The Sword of Peace, a slight parallel between the careers of ‘David Northcote’ and Richard Starke occurred in 1752 when Governor Floyer of Fort St David was dismissed – accused of allowing a ‘Spirit of Gaming’  and ‘general neglect and want of order’ to prevail, as well as running up ‘Extravagant Expences’. Among the men entrusted to reinstate order was Richard Starke.

On 1 May 1787 ‘Governor Starke and family’ and ‘other names to India not unknown’ were present in the Playhouse, Covent Garden, for the performance of a new farce, Bonds Without Judgment, or, the Loves of Bengal, performed as a benefit for the actress, Mrs Wells. The plot concerns the fate of two young women who are sent to India in search of husbands…There is no mention in the World and Fashionable Advertiser’ report of 2 May 1787 of the author of the piece, but I understand it was one Edward Topham. The piece was acted for four nights in May 1787 but was never printed.

Could this play have motivated Mariana  to write her own? It is worth mentioning that the Prologue to ‘Bonds Without Judgment’ was written by ‘Mr Berkley’, surely her friend and collaborator, George Monck Berkeley (for whom see Mariana Starke: First Productions). In fact Oulton, The History of the Theatres of London suggests that Berkeley rather than Topham may have been the author of the entire piece. Incidentally, Mrs Crespigny took a very numerous party to Bonds Without Judgment.

The Sword of Peace was published in 1789, in London by J. Debrett and in Dublin by H. Chamberlaine, and returned to the Theatre Royal that year, on 30 July, for a further four perfomances.


Source: H.D. Love, Vestiges of Old Madras

P.S. UPDATE I knew that Mariana was not Richard and Mary Starke’s first born; a son, John, had died shortly before she was born and was buried at Epsom. I have now just found the gory details in a news report  in ‘The Public Advertiser’ of 21 June 1762, to the effect that this young boy, aged 20 months, had died the previous week after falling out of the coach in which he was ‘taking an airing’ with some women servants and was then run over by the vehicle’s wheels. Horrific.


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Mariana Starke: First Productions

In 1787 J. Walter, a London publisher/bookseller operating from premises close to Charing Cross, issued – as Theatre of Education – a new English translation of Le Théâtre á l’usage des jeunes personnes, a collection of comedies by Mme de Genlis, the first woman to be appointed tutor to princes of France.

Madame de Genlis

This innovative method of providing a moral education for children through the use of short plays had proved immensely popular on both sides of the Channel. First published in France in July 1779, an English translation, under the imprint of T. Cadell and P. Elmsly ; T. Durham, appeared in 4 octavo volumes in 1781, with a new edition, in 3 volumes, under the same imprint, following in 1783. [See for the online edition of the 1781 4-volume edition]. Nowhere is the name of the translator of this edition stated, although it is thought that he was male. As far as I know he has never been identified – although this really is not my field and I would welcome correction.

Nor, indeed, is there any indication on the title page of the J. Walter edition of the names of the translator(s) of his edition. It was not until 1831, when an obituary of Mrs Millecent Thomas (the former Millecent Parkhurst -see Mariana Starke: An Epsom Education) appeared, that the truth was revealed.

As the Annual Register and The Gentleman’s Magazine  reported, Mrs Thomas ‘assisted her friend Miss Starke in translating Mme de Genlis’ Theatre of Education’. Over 150 years later,  in Notes and Queries (45:1; March 1998), Edward W. Pitcher identified the edition translated by Mariana and Millecent as that published by J. Walter. The Annual Register had cited the translation as being issued between 1783 and 1788 in three duodecimo volumes, although a consultation of COPAC reveals no J. Walter edition pre-dating 1787. It does, however, seem to have been issued in a variety of formats. The 3-volume British Library set appears to be inscribed, if I have deciphered the handwriting correctly, ‘Miss M.B. Woollery, the gift of her friend Mrs Thomas’. Millicent Parkhurst married the Rev Joseph Thomas in 1791, the gift, if it really was from her, presumably post-dating her marriage. The only advertisement for the J. Walter  edition that I have found appears in The Times, 28 July 1790, and refers to a set of four-volumes, at the not inconsiderable price of 10 shillings. J. Walter was the publisher of, among a wide variety of productions, Mrs Chapone’s works – including Letters on the Improvement of the Mind, a seminal conduct book for young women of the period. He had presumably thought it worth backing a translation of Theatre of Education to rival that issued by Cadell et al, although doubtless he had paid little to the youthful translators. It does not appear to have merited either a reissue or a second edition.

So we find that the two young women, still in their mid-20s, living in Epsom, across the road from each other, had embarked on a new translation of a much-fêted work which they had then succeeded in getting published. Not that this, when we know their circumstances, is particularly surprising. For, by the 1780s, Millecent Parkhurst and Mariana Starke were well-educated young women, with influential literary contacts. We have noted that John Parkhurst, Millecent’s father, and William Hayley, to whom Mariana was a ‘poetic daughter’, both gave encouragement.

Mariana Starke was also on intimate authorly terms with George Monck Berkeley (1763-93), a precocious literary talent. In a letter written to him at Magdalen Hall, Oxford, on 22 August 1787, Mariana reveals ‘that I am now much better qualified to write a Tragedy than when I composed the first three Acts of Ethelinda, as I have lately studied dramatic composition with great diligence.’  She is referring to a play, Ethelinda, which she and Monck were writing together. It is tempting to conclude that her reference to recent dramatic composition might not be unrelated to the work involved in producing the translation of Mme de Genlis’ plays. A few sentences later she tells Monck that ‘After I had finished Ethelinda to the best of my abilities, I carried it to my excellent Friend, Mr Parkhurst, whose almost paternal regard for me prompted him to consider it with great attention: he has corrected all the errors which happened to strike him; and advises me to let every material thing stand as it is now, saying, he thinks the Play very dramatic, and very likely to be well received: As he has condescended to take infinite pains with the Piece, I am sure you must agree with me in thinking it would be extremely indelicate to put any Critic over him, especially as Mr Parkhurst (from the soundness of his judgment and the depth and universality of his knowledge), is perhaps of all men in this Kingdom, best qualified for the office of a Critic. I have, in conformity to your advice, shortened my own acts and lengthened yours; and I have studied to insert the many excellent speeches, with which your acts abound; but sorry am I to say, that there is one sweet speech on fame, which I know not how to introduce according to the present plan of the Play. Your speech on murder, which is, by the by, the finest thing I ever read, I have put into the beginning of the Play, where it shows to great advantage; and many more of your lines I have occasionally introduced among my own, by way of giving a strength to my composition, which it seemed to want. I find, from Joinville, that the Crusaders always crowned their Heroes with palm, therefore I have substituted that for laurel. I am told by a Gentleman who is deeply read in the records, that even Kings, in the time of Richard the 1st, did not espouse what we now call the regal style; therefore I should think Ethel had better not do it – and I have taken the liberty to alter the two last lines of Bertram’s [?] dying speech, because (if Homer may be credited) no man, who dies of a wound in the breast, can see objects immediately before his death. I have applied to a Friend for Mrs Siddons’s interest but am not certain how I shall succeed – if I was more intimate with Mrs Soane [?] I would certainly write to her; but slight as our acquaintance is, it would be too presumptuous – from you, perhaps, she might receive an application graciously. Another Friend of mine, who is acquainted with Linley and King, has undertaken to introduce Ethelinda and me to both of them, and I almost daily expect a summons to appear before those mighty Rulers of the Theatre. So, if you have any interest, work it now, let me entreat you. Linley, at present, is at Bath, but he will speedily return to London.’

Thus, it is clear that by 1787 Mariana Starke was working her apprenticeship as a playwright and knew how to network the theatrical scene. (Mrs Siddons was the most famous tragic actress of her day; Thomas Linley and Thomas King were both involved with the management of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.) It is virtually certain (although I have not yet found any pre-1788 evidence) that Mariana was already well acquainted with Mrs Mary Crespigny (see Mariana Starke: The Mystery of the Bodleian Diary), who organized dramatic performances at a private theatre erected in the grounds of her Camberwell home. The success of The Theatre of Education was predicated on the willingness of families, such as the Crespignys, to stage short plays for amusement – and instruction. For an interesting article on the relationship at this time between private theatricals and public theatre see here.

Although the translators of the J. Walter edition are not named, the ‘Advertisement’ that prefaces the text at least makes clear that they were women. ‘The fame acquired by Madame de Genlis is so deservedly great, and the Theatre d’Education so universally considered as her chef-d’oeuvre, that it naturally becomes the study and admiration of her sex; some of whom, in order to amuse their minds, and at the same time amend their hearts, by imprinting on the memory such exalted precepts as those contained in the Theatre d’Education, undertook to translate it into English, and have now, to the best of their abilities, finished this Work, which they presume to place before the eyes of an indulgent Publick….[so that].people of all ages and all ranks may derive from the Original of Madame de Genlis, the most useful and persuasive lessons, couched in the most eloquent and characteristic language.

I have only compared the two editions in the most superficial way, but, even so, could immediately detect distinct differences in the language used. It was presumably because they felt something wanting in the 1781 translation of Mme de Genlis’ work that the two young women felt encouraged to embark on their own. However, The Critical Review, while conceding that there were faults in the 1781 edition, could not bring itself to praise the J. Walter edition.

The translators make clear in the Preface to the J. Walter edition that they had sought Mme de Genlis’ permission to publish their translation of her work: ‘Permit us, Madam, thus publickly to return our most thankful acknowledgements for the honour you confer upon us, by allowing the following translation to be inscribed to your name; an honour which demands our gratitude in an especial manner, as we do not enjoy the happiness of your personal acquaintance’. There had, presumably, been an exchange of letters between Epsom and France. Unfortunately there is no correspondence (or, at least, none that I have found) that throws any more light on either the production of the translation of the Theatre of Education or its afterlife as it related to the life of Mariana Starke. I have come across no reference at all to the work in any subsequent correspondence. This is perhaps just a little surprising.

We do know, however, the fate of the other work mentioned with which Mariana was involved – for, on 30 October 1788 [at least, I think it was 1788, but it may have been 1787 – the dating of the letters is uncertain], her mother, Mary Starke, wrote from Epsom to George Monck Berkeley a letter in which she she mentions that Mariana is awaiting ‘something decisive respecting the fate of the rash, yet beauteous Ethelinda.. You long ago were informed that this heroic Damsel was presented to, and rejected, by the respective Managers of Drury Lane and Covent Garden. Her next application was to Mr Colman [of the Theatre Royal, Haymarket] who paused a long while upon the question, her merit making a deeper impression upon his mind, than upon either of the other Gentlemen. Yesterday, and not before, his determination reached Epsom – ‘That he thinks the piece distinguished by many touches of Poetry, tho’ on the whole too romantick ..for the Theatre. ‘…The dear Authoress has laid aside her pen, and taken up her distaff, in other words, her time now is chiefly occupied in inquiring as to the practicability and possibility [?] of establishing Sunday Schools & Schools of Industry in this neighbourhood. How much more becoming in a Female [?] is this than dabbling in ink. However I have derived so large a portion of amusement, not to say instruction, from some female Writers of the present age that I cannot subscribe implicitly to this opinion, worthless perhaps it does not seem proper and may so claim an exception from this lordly privilege on behalf of my own daughter. Therefore she, as I told you before, is resuming the primitive employment of the distaff. Let her rejoice at the success attendant upon the fair Heloise….’

The latter remark may refer to Monck Berkeley’s Heloise: or the Siege of Rhodes, published in 1788. Ethelinda, clearly a play set at the time of the Crusades, does not alas, appear ever to have been staged. However we know that Mariana Starke certainly did not take up the distaff and devote herself to ‘Sunday Schools & Schools of Industry’ but, if the dating of her mother’s letter is correct, had already, on 8 August 1788, seen another of her plays – The Sword of Peace – given its first public performance at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket. George Colman had, as we shall discover in the next Mariana Starke post, proved most supportive.

Sources: Berkeley mss, British Library


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Mariana Starke: The Mystery Of The Bodleian Diary

Duke Humfrey’s Library

It was over a year ago that I became aware that the Bodleian Library in Oxford had recently acquired a manuscript pocket diary that was catalogued as:

‘Diary of Mrs Starke, relative of the playwright and travel writer, Mariana Starke, 1791. This Ladies Pocket Journal; or Toilet Assistant: For the Year 1791 had been published in London by S. Bladon and comprised 84 leaves in a binding of gilt-stamped roan, with flap, clasp missing, marbled endpapers. The catalogue description went on to explain that ‘From internal evidence it appears that the author was the wife of ‘Starke’, an officer in the army, and a relative of the playwright Mariana Starke. They were married 16 Feb. 1764 (see fol. 18v). There are brief entries each day describing her social engagements and her husband’s movements. They often visited Mariana Starke’s family at Epsom and were frequently in the audience at her new play, ‘The Widow of Malabar’. The entries include weekly accounts. Many are supplemented by notes in shorthand.’

I was intrigued.  Having, as I thought, researched Mariana Starke’s family fairly comprehensively from her great-grandfather’s merchant life in the late 17th century, through the overseas adventures of her grandfather and father I was interested in discovering who this ‘new’ Starke relation was. For I could not place any ‘army’ Starke – married in 1764 – in the family tree. Nor, using all the wonderful internet genealogical sites that we now have at our disposal, could I discover a suitable 1764 Starke marriage.  I was, however, quite prepared to believe that the marriage had taken place abroad – perhaps in India – or that there were collateral branches of the family of which I knew nothing. And it was certainly interesting to know of anyone who had had such close contact with Mariana – as this diarist apparently had

So, I eventually got round to planning a visit to Oxford and amassing the various forms that would allow me access to the Bodleian Special Collections. It was some years since I had been there – and then it had been to research the 19th-century suffrage movement. That had not necessitated sitting amidst the splendour of the Duke Humfrey Library; what a pleasure it was to do so now.

I devoted about four hours to reading this little diary. The shorthand was impenetrable, the conventional handwriting crisp and legible, but at the end of my visit I was no clearer as to the identity of the diarist than I was at the beginning. One thing was incontrovertible – she did refer to her husband as ‘Starke’ or ‘S’ throughout – and there was no mention of any other family name. There were, however, various clues as to identity – of which I took careful note. There was the date of her wedding – on 16 February 1791 she had been married 27 years and there was mention in March of the birth – abroad – of a third son to her own son. Further reading showed that her son’s name was William; there was no mention of any other children, so perhaps, I thought, William was her only son. It also appeared that William’s wife was ‘Lady Sarah’, a daughter of Lord Plymouth. Moreover after her son’s family returned from abroad they were all staying with the diarist when the new grandson was christened ‘Augustus James’, in July, from her house.

On my return home I used this information to search the online websites for a likely Augustus Starke, a William Starke, a Lady Sarah Starke – all to no avail. I then made a wider search – using just the names ‘Augustus James’ and a date of birth ‘1791’. And immediately came up with the answer to the conundrum.

Champion Lodge, Camberwell, a watercolour painted in 1823 by which time Mrs Crespigny’s son, WIlliam, had inherited the estate. Courtesy of Surrey History Centre.

The diarist’s family name is not ‘Starke’ but ‘Crespigny’. She is Mrs Mary Crespigny of Champion Lodge, Camberwell, patron and friend of Mariana Starke. Mary Clark (1748-1812) (see her portrait here) was married at St Giles, Camberwell, to Claude Champion Crespigny (1734-1818) on 16 February 1764 (see here for his portrait, painted 10 years before the marriage). Their only child – a son – William (1765-1829) was baptized at St Giles Camberwell (Jan 1765). William Crespigny married Lady Sarah Windsor, daughter of the Earl of Plymouth, in 1786. William Crespigny’s third son, Augustus James Crespigny, was born on 9 March 1791 in Nice and baptized at St Giles, Camberwell, in July 1791.  The military group to which the diary often refers – her husband is on duty etc – is likely to have been the Camberwell Volunteers (which may have had a slightly different name in 1791), to whom Lady de Crespigny (Claude Crespigny was created a baronet in 1805) later presented colours.

I – and the Bodleian – would be most interested in hearing from anybody who might be able to shed light on why Mrs Crespigny referred to her husband – Claude Champion de Crespigny were all the names he seems to have possessed – as ‘Starke’. There is not, as far as I know, any connection between the families by either blood or marriage. There was, however, certainly a connection between Mary Crespigny and Mariana Starke –  sympathy – and the theatre. Their preoccupation with drama – as writer, actor and patron – will become clear in a subsequent post.  But for the time being let me mention that Mrs Crespingy noted on 12 January in this 1791 diary that:

‘Miss Starke’s play The Widow of Malabar came on and it went off extremely well  – but Lady Salisbury took my Box which caused great confusion’. A week later, on Wednesday 19 January, Mrs Crespigny attended ‘Third night of the Widow. Miss Starke had a very full house. I sent [?] vast numbers – filled 10 rows of pit & nearly all the Boxes – & numbers [?] into the Gallery.

As I say, Mrs Crespigny’s handwriting is really very clear and these lacunae could have been filled in – or puzzled out – had more time been available.

With the identity of the diarist known, the names she mentions can begin to shape themselves into a circle of acquaintances – families that lived within riding distance of Camberwell or whom she saw on her frequent visits to Town. Epsom was a favourite haunt – not only to visit  – or even stay with – the Starkes at Hylands House, but to go hunting (Mr Crespigny) or for archery (Mrs Crespigny). For Mary Crespigny, I now discover, was an early female toxophilite,  the diary describing competitions held at Epsom and Box Hill. In fact, with the diary identified as recording a year in the life of Mrs Crespigny, it now has a considerably greater significance than if it had indeed belonged to a shadowy ‘Mrs Starke’. It only now requires a cryptographer to set to work to decode the sections that she wished to keep safe from prying eyes.

I shall certainly have to return to Duke Humfrey’s Library and re-engage with Mrs Crespigny’s diary. One piece of information that it contained pleased me greatly: she notes the exact day on which the Starkes embarked on their travels on the continent and, before the year’s end, records letters from Calais and Lyons. These letters were undoubtedly penned by Mariana who, despite the difference in their ages, was, the diary makes clear, Mrs Crespigny’s especial Starke friend.


All the articles on Woman and Her Sphere and are my copyright. An article may not be reproduced in any medium without my permission and full acknowledgement. You are welcome to cite or quote from an article provided you give full acknowledgement.