Posts Tagged Mariana Starke
A curious incident that occurred – or, rather, didn’t occur – a couple of days ago reminded me of a past link I effected between Persephone Books and English women writing about Italy. For, many years ago, I gave a talk on this subject at a symposium organised by Persephone at Newnham College. I have in the past posted a few articles on my website amplifying some of the material covered – but here below is the fons et origo.
We have to imagine the subject of one of Persephone’s latest books [Flush] curled up on the sofa alongside his mistress in the drawing room at Casa Guidi in Florence. It’s early evening and the long shutters have been opened, letting dusky light into the somewhat cavernous drawing room. Flush is startled by a sudden movement as his mistress puts aside her book, raises herself from a reclining position and takes a few steps over to the open window. They both venture out onto the narrow balcony, facing the imposing wall of the church, opposite across the narrow road. While Flush is involved with Flush business, Elizabeth cranes over the railing, to catch a glimpse of a young boy as he passes, singing, along the street below. It is the essence of his song that I have lifted to name this talk. This is how Elizabeth Barrett Browning put into words her experience that evening:
‘I heard last night a little child go singing
‘Neath Casa Guidi windows, by the church,
O bella libertà, O bella – stringing
The same words still on notes he went in search
So high for, you concluded the upspringing
Of such a nimble bird to sky from perch
Must leave the whole bush in a tremble green,
And that the heart of Italy must beat,
While such a voice had leave to rise serene
‘Twixt church and palace of a Florence street’
Thus in Under Casa Guidi Windows, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, one of England’s most famous exports to Italy, extolled ‘La Bella Libertà’, the freedom that was Italy’s due. However it takes only a cursory reading to realise that ‘sweet freedom’ was what above all Italy gave to the many English women writers who have, over the last two centuries, flocked there.
As we can recognize, ‘freedom’ is not synonymous with ‘bliss’, but in Italy English women have felt free to fail as well as succeed – to be unhappy as well as happy – at least to be unhappy in their own way. They have felt able in that country, far from home, the Alps a psychological as well as a physical barrier, to construct a life for themselves, untramelled by the conventions that controlled society in England. One would think that nowadays such escape would no longer seem necessary. But nobody can fail to have noticed the recent spate of books by women – not only British women, but also Americans and Australians – describing new lives forged in Italy. These are merely the latest in a line of such love affairs with Italy that stretches way back into at least the 18th century. Indeed, Italian-American women (that is women whose parents or grandparents left the mother country – usually the poor south – for the US) have produced so many works recounting their return that a school of literary criticism is being developed to discuss the phenomenon. And guess what these writers call themselves? – yes, Persephone’s daughters. Persephone, whom the myth relates was snatched from the fields of Enna in Sicily, has become a particularly appropriate symbol for such women who travel in order to reconnect with their ancestral heritage and discover a new identity. Because of patterns of emigration English women are far less likely to have this experience of searching for Italian roots. Rather, individually, they set forth for Italy to root themselves. I know – my own daughter has done so.
What follows is a series of vignettes of the lives of English women writers shaped by Italy. Apart from marvelling at the bella libertà these women, in a myriad of ways, found, I have no particular thesis but have allowed myself – and I hope – you -the pleasure of glimpsing a diverting eclectic range of women and of experiences in Italy.
There are two early books by women that piqued my interest. The first, Travels in Italy between the years 1792 and 1798, (published in 1802) is by Mariana Starke, who when she began her Italian travels was 30 years old. Travels in Italy evolved into the first modern guide to the country or, indeed, at least in English, to anywhere. For those who had previously undertaken and written of the Grand Tour had not burdened themselves of the precise – or, doubtless, even a vague – knowledge of the price to be paid for washing petticoats in Pisa, buying wax candles in Venice, asses milk in Tuscany, or hiring carriages in Florence. It took a woman, and a woman conscious of value for money, to gather and set out all these – and a thousand more fascinating details – of life as a traveller. She gives a very lengthy list of the equipment it is necessary to take – from a chamber pot that could be fitted into the well of a coach to a nutmeg grater – and goes into considerable detail about how to get across the Alps – this at a time before Napoleon for his own purposes had constructed a manageable road. She describes what type of coach was suitable and how it had to be taken apart, laden onto mules and its passengers then carried in sedan chairs over the mountain pass by porters. The book covers all the major towns of Italy, giving details of the best lodging houses, restaurants, doctors, dentists, provision merchants, dress makers and tailors, and details of all the principal sights.
Mariana Starke introduced an innovation into travel writing, annotating particular buildings and paintings with exclamation marks to indicate merit – five, I think, for the best. She wanted the visitor, if pressed for time, to select only the best – and set out a daily itinerary in order to ‘prevent Travellers from wasting their time and burdening their memory by a minute survey of what is not particularly interesting, and thereby, perhaps, depriving themselves of leisure to examine what really deserves the closest attention.’ Doesn’t that sound the advice of one who knew what it was to have been dragged around one gallery too many?
In the late 1820s Mariana Starke was taken up by John Murray and wrote for him a guide to the whole Continent – her exclamation mark system being now exchanged for a system of stars. So when you next consult your Egon Ronay or Good Food Guide, it is Mariana Starke you have to thank for inventing the tools of discrimination. [For more on Mariana Starke see here].
My second book is a novel – Anne Radcliffe’s Mysteries of Udolpho, published in 1794, at a time when Mariana Starke was well into her travels, and which captivated the British reading public – particularly its female portion – painting Italy as picturesquely gothic. The irony is that this romantic view of Italy was shaped by a woman whose continental travels never extended further than Holland and Germany, and then only after the success of her Italian novels. Her landscape descriptions were drawn from travel literature and from the work of mid-17th century Rome-based painters such as Claude Lorraine, Poussin and Salvator Rosa. Her descriptions in turn had an overwhelming influence on the way that Italy was seen by later travellers. Northanger Abbey, published in 1817, is, of course, a delicious parody of her subject matter and style.
Whereas Mariana Starke, having detailed the nitty gritty of passing across the Alps, gives us no description of the scenery, Mrs Radcliffe in Udolpho more than makes up for this. ‘The snow was not yet melted on the summit of Mount Cenis, over which the travellers passed; but Emily [our heroine], as she looked upon its clear lake and extended plain, surrounded by broken cliffs, saw, in imagination, the verdant beauty it would exhibit’ – .’ who may describe her rapture, when, having passed through a sea of vapour, she caught a first view of Italy; when from the ridge of one of those tremendous precipices that hang upon Mount Cenis and guard the entrance of that enchanting country, she looked down through the lower clouds, and, as they floated away, saw the grassy vales of Piedmont at her feet.’ This is Arcadia.’
Whereas Mariana Starke said of Venice only that ‘from its singularity alone [it] highly merits notice’ and that ‘it is less strikingly magnificent than many other cities of Italy‘, in Udolpho ‘nothing could exceed Emily’s admiration on her first view of Venice, with its islets, palaces, and towers rising out of the sea, whose clear surface reflected the tremulous picture in all its colours…the sounds seemed to grow on the air; for so smoothly did the barge glide along, that its motion was not perceivable, and the fairy city appeared approaching to welcome the strangers.’ It was Mrs Radcliffe’s view of Italy as arcadia and fairyland, albeit with a gothic tinge, that inspired the dreams of so many English women travellers in the early 19th century – and it is those who wrote who have immortalized their dreams. However, if these women held Mrs Radcliffe in one metaphorical hand, they held Mariana Starke’s guide book in the other. It was her details, perhaps prosaic then, but utterly fascinating now, that gave a reality to the dream – women could work out how, and how to afford to, to travel to arcadia.
All these features –an appreciation of the gothic and the arcadian and fairyland nature of Italy– resonated through the work and lives of the English women I shall discuss.
Lady Elizabeth Foster
My first vignette is of a woman whose early Italian travels, undertaken in the last quarter of the 18th century, are the stuff of the gothic novel and whose later, 19th-century life, was devoted to uncovering the arcadia of classical Italy. Her whole life is something of a fairy tale. While not a published writer, Lady Elizabeth Foster commended her daily experience to 128 volumes of journals, excerpts of which have been used in recreating both her life and that of her dearest friend, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. A biography of Georgiana has in recent years received almost as much media hype as did the works of Mrs Radcliffe at the end of the 18th century, so some of you may well know something about her life. However, its dramas and excesses pale into insignificance beside those of her ‘Dearest Bess’. Lady Elizabeth’s ‘sweet freedom’ lay in being her loveable, incalcitrant, self-indulgent self and Italy allowed her to be so. She married young but after five years separated from her husband who consequently forbade her to see their two sons, whom she didn’t meet again for a further fourteen years – but who still remained devoted. Returning to England from the marital home in Ireland, she cast her spell on the Devonshire House circle. In fact the circle became a triangle when Lady Elizabeth, while remaining the Duchess’s most intimate friend, in the autumn of 1784 also became the lover of the Duke. Unsurprisingly she soon became pregnant; surprisingly there was no hint of any scandal as she took herself off to Italy, from whence she had only very recently returned. By April 1785, keeping up her diary, which served as a confessional, Lady Elizabeth was in Pisa, Florence, and then Rome, where she wrote ‘Sometimes I look at myself in the glass with pity. Youth, beauty, I see I have; friends I know I have; reputation I still have; and perhaps in two months, friends, fame, life and all future peace may be destroyed and lost for ever to me. If so, my proud soul will never, never return to England –But it was not his fault. Passion has led us both awry – his heart suffers for me I know’. Entries such as this – and there are very many more – would not disgrace a gothic novel.
After a stay in Naples, at the end of June she was accompanied to Ischia by her brother, Jack Hervey, himself something of a rake, who was living a racketty life at the Naples court and, like everybody else, was quite oblivious of her condition. She had thought the island suitably remote and settled there to await the birth, but after a couple of weeks discovered that friends from Naples were coming to the island and that she would no longer be able to conceal her condition – and disgrace. She now revealed her predicament in a letter to her brother, who hastily returned to Ischia and appears to have been entirely supportive, although ‘I could not – dared not name the dear Author of my child’s existence’ Jack told her she would have to leave Ischia and, with her faithful servant, Louis, they set sail for the mainland in an open boat. ‘How calm the Sea is – it scarce is heard as it beats against the rocks, the air is perfum’d with herbs, the sky is clear, at a distance blazes Vesuvius – oh were I happy’.
They landed at Salerno and then travelled to nearby Vietri, a little town now swallowed up in greater Salerno. When, many years ago, I read the following entry from her journal – written over 200 years before that – it made an impression such that I have never forgotten it . ‘With no woman at hand, encumbered by the weight of my child, enfeebled by long ill health, fearing every person I met, and, for the first time in my life, wishing only to hide myself, I arrived at last.’ The place to which brother Jack directed her appears to have been at best a kind of baby farm, at worst a brothel – perhaps a bit of both. Her description of the ‘seraglio’, as she called it, is gothic –run by ‘The Arch-Priest of Lovers, his woman-servant, a coarse, ugly and filthy creature, the doctor (his brother) and his wife, two young girls, pretty enough but weeping all day, the nurse who was to take charge of my child; and some babies which cried from morning to night.’ One wonders quite how it was that it was her brother knew of this place. She passed as Louis’ wife, as a servant’s wife dishonoured by Jack Hervey. A few days later a daughter was born and, as so often in gothic novels, the heroine now showed resilience in a time of extremity. Thinking her attendants quite ignorant, she immediately took care of the new-born baby but then, instead of the usual lying-in period of a month or so, which she had enjoyed after the birth of her previous children, was back on the road after six days, leaving the baby behind, eventually arriving at her brother’s house at Naples. Louis later fetched the baby, Caroline, from Vietri and brought her to Naples – where she was looked after by foster parents. I always thought this a memorably Italian episode.
Georgiana died in 1806 and in 1809 Lady Elizabeth married the Duke. He died in 1811 and in 1815, after peace had returned to Europe, Elizabeth, now Dowager Duchess of Devonshire returned to Italy, living in Rome until her death in 1824, keeping a very elegant salon, packed with diplomats, painters and sculptors. During her earliest visit to Italy in 1784 she had described in her journal, with impressive diligence, the paintings and antiquities she had seen. Now, in this new stage of life, she really did become a lady of letters, commissioning de luxe editions of Virgil and of Horace. She took up antiquities, under the guidance of Cardinal Consalvi, her last love, secretary of state and spy master to Pius VII. Of her excavating, Lady Spencer, the sister-in-law of the first Duchess, wrote ‘That Witch of Endor the Duchess of Devon has been doing mischief of another kind to what she has been doing all her life by pretending to dig for the public good in the Forum’. Mrs Charlotte Ann Eaton, who had travelled to Italy with her brother and sister and published her observations in 1820 as Rome in the Nineteenth Century, commented apropos the reclamation of the Forum, ‘the English, as far as I see, are at present the most active excavators. There is the Duchess of D— at work in one corner, and the Pope, moved by a spirit of emulation, digging away in another’. Italy had certainly allowed Lady Elizabeth the freedom to develop in ways she found unconventionally satisfying.
Charlotte Eaton’s sister, Jane Waldie, also published her description of their journey, albeit with a different publisher, and her enthusiasm still leaps off the page – when ‘the dome of St Peter’s burst on our view in the midst of the Campagna. Unable any longer to restrain ourselves, we leaped out of the carriage and ran up a bank by the road-side. Never, oh, never, shall I forget the emotions with which I gazed on this prospect! That Rome itself should really be before me seemed so incredible, that my mind could scarcely take in the fact.’ She and Charlotte stayed first at the Hotel de Paris in the Via della Croce, which runs off the Piazza di Spagna in the heart of the ‘English’ quarter, but didn’t remain there long – on the second night of their stay the chimney of one of their apartments took fire and they moved to lodgings in the Corso. [For more about Charlotte Eaton see here and here.]
In fact the Hotel de Paris, or Villa di Parigi or Albergo di Parigi as they variously term it, provided shelter to a series of our English women writers over the next 20 years. [For more about the Hotel see here.] It is slightly surreal to see their shades slipping into bed, one after the other, under this one Roman roof. Amusingly all commented on the indifference of its facilities. It was at the Villa di Parigi in the summer of 1819, while the Duchess of Devonshire, the sole survivor of her menage à trois, was still digging in the Forum, that another interesting trio took up abode in Rome. Percy Bysshe Shelley and his wife, Mary, daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft, were accompanied by Mary’s step-sister, Claire Clairmont. All three sought inspiration from Italy and freedom from censure and their past –which was already gothic both in life (Mary’s half-sister, Fanny, and Shelley’s wife, Harriet, had both recently committed suicide) – and literature – Mary Shelley had just published Frankenstein. The drama of their stay in Italy was to be remorseless.
Claire Clairemont, who had devoured Mrs Radcliffe in her exhaustingly wide-ranging reading, wrote in her journal of the descent from Mont Cenis that ‘The primroses are scattered everywhere. The fruit trees covered with the richest blossoms which scented the air as we passed. A sky without one cloud – everything bright and serene – the cloudless Sky of Italy – the bright and the beautiful’. Thus she entered Arcadia. But with Shelley and Mary, and their two young children, William and Clara, she was travelling to hand over her daughter, born the previous year when she was 19, to the child’s father, Lord Byron. This was done in April 1818, at Venice, and in August she received permission from Byron to visit the child. She persuaded Shelley and Mary to accompany her, although Mary was very reluctant because baby Clara was unwell, To Mary’s great grief, as soon as they arrived in Venice, Clara died. ‘Sweet freedom’ was not without its dangers – the story of English women in Italy is littered with lost or dead babies. The mother with a secret and – often related – the orphan – are recurring themes in gothic novels.
The Shelley party later travelled to Rome and the Villa di Parigi. Claire appears, like all good travellers, to have been planning a book about Rome. Mary, who in the 1840s did publish a book on her later Italian travels, also at this time recorded her impressions of the city, ‘The other night we visited the Pantheon by moon light and saw the lovely sight of the moon appearing through the round aperture above and Lighting the columns of the Rotunda with its rays…’ But there was little time for sight seeing – tragedy had not done with them. On 7 June, despite having moved from the Villa di Parigi to an apartment at the top of the Spanish Steps, where the air was thought to be less malarial, the Shelleys’ two-year old son, William, died of Roman fever and was subsequently buried in the Protestant cemetery. He is a doubly lost English baby because when, all too soon, his grave was unearthed in order to bury him near his father, the grave marked as his was found to contain not a baby but the remains of an adult. The year after William’s death Mary wrote a verse drama for children, heartrending when one knows what she had recently suffered. It is, what else, but Proserpine’ – filled with Ceres’ anguished search – ‘Where is my daughter? Have I aught to dread? Where does she stray..I fear my child is lost’. Two years later Claire’s daughter, Allegra, died, a five- year old banished by her father to a convent, bereft of her mother’s care – and a couple of months after that Shelley was drowned off the Ligurian coast.
Mary remained in Italy until 1823 but was back in England when, in 1826, she proposed writing a review article based on a handful of books that had recently been published by English writers about Italy. One of the books she reviewed was The Diary of an Ennuyée, published anonymously and purporting to be the diary of a young governess, travelling in Italy with her charge, but broken-hearted, having left a shattered romance behind in England. Indeed so broken-hearted was she that at the end she goes to her grave. However, although there was much that was true in the book, its author, then Anna Murphy, but who, soon after her return to England, became Mrs Anna Jameson, had not in fact died, but was at the very beginning of a long and distinguished writing career, in which Italy played a central part. Indeed the Diary of an Ennuyée, in the intervals between anguished breast-beatings, serves as a very detailed guidebook to Italy, particularly Rome. A guidebook, admittedly, that veers more towards Mrs Radcliffe than Mariana Starke. It contains little in the way of practical details, such as routes and prices, but her descriptions do have the merit of being based on personal observation.
Anna Murphy’s first day in Rome strikes as true a note as did Jane Waldie’s description of her arrival: ‘The day arose as beautiful, as brilliant, as cloudless, as I could have desired for the first day in Rome. About seven o’clock, and before any one was ready for breakfast, I walked out; and directed my steps by mere chance to the left, found myself in the Piazza di Spagna and opposite to a gigantic flight of marble stairs leading to the top of a hill. I was at the summit in a moment; and breathless and agitated by a thousand feelings, I leaned against the obelisk, and looked over the whole city.’ She was here standing a few yards away from where young William Shelley had died barely five years previously. And, yes, her party was staying at the Albergo di Parigi.
Having spent an adventurous 20 or so years – she travelled extensively around north America and Canada, having ditched her alcoholic husband, and earning a living through her writing – Anna Jameson returned to Italy in 1846 under rather romantic circumstances. It was she who conducted Mr and Mrs Browning from Paris to Pisa. She was as surprised as the rest of the world at the Browning marriage. When she was contacted in Paris she had only a few days previously bade farewell to her friend Elizabeth Barrett in Wimpole Street, having no inkling of the planned elopement. Anna was on her way to Italy to research a new book, Sacred and Legendary Art, and was delighted to act as courier for the impractical pair. From Paris she wrote to her sister ‘I have also here a poet and a poetess – two celebrities who have run away and married under circumstances peculiarly interesting, and such as render imprudence the height of prudence. Both excellent; but God help them! for I know not how the two poet heads and poet hearts will get on through this prosaic world.’. She later commented that the elopement ‘was as delightful as unexpected, and gave an excitement to our journey which was already like a journey into the old world of enchantment – a revival of fairyland.’
Italy indeed had a magical effect on Elizabeth Browning. While on the journey Mrs Jameson wrote to her sister from Avignon ‘Our poor invalid has suffered greatly, often fainting and often so tired that we have been obliged to remain a whole day to rest at some wretched place..’ But as Flush noted (courtesy of Virginia Woolf), after their arrival in Pisa ‘she was a different person altogether. Now, for instance, instead of sipping a thimbleful of port and complaining of the headache, she tossed off a tumbler of Chianti and slept the sounder..Then instead of driving in a barouche landau to Regent’s Park she pulled on her thick boots and scrambled over rocks. Instead of sitting in a carriage and rumbling along Oxford street, they rattled off in a ramshackle fly to the borders of a lake and looked at mountains…Here in Italy was freedom and life and the joy that the sun breeds.’ Indeed, breeding began as soon as she reached Pisa, although she miscarried five months later. Rather than lamenting this loss, she was very proud of having been pregnant at all. After a recuperating stay in Pisa, a city that had for many years been host to an interesting, rather Bohemian English set, all escaping one thing or another, the Brownings travelled on to Florence in the summer of 1847, eventually moving into an apartment in Casa Guidi.
It was here in Florence, having never previously been particularly interested in national politics – although she had long been concerned with social reform – that Elizabeth took up the cause of Italian freedom. On a more prosaic level for the first time she was able to experience other aspects of her freedom – she furnished her first home and in 1849, following a second miscarriage – and when she was 43 years old – she gave birth to a son.
Two years later, in 1851, she published Under Casa Guidi Windows, in which she charts her initial optimism that the newly awakened liberal movements would result in the freedom and unification of the Italian states and, then, her disillusionment when the movement was crushed. Biographers have suggested that she equated the oppression of the Italian people (most of Italy was then under Austrian rule) with that of her father against her. Whether or not there is any truth in this analogy – it has a rather depressingly contrived feel – there were other English women – some of whom had certainly grown up happily in the bosom of supportive families – who were also intensely interested in the cause of Italian freedom.
One such was Jessie White, born in Gosport in Hampshire where her father had a ship building firm, and who i 1854, when she was 22, met Garibaldi in London. She was no conventional young lady, having already studied for a time in Paris and was at this time writing for Eliza Cook’s Journal, a London-based feminist publication. Garibaldi fired her with enthusiasm and she travelled to Italy, where she met Mazzini and became a disciple.
Mazzini appears to have had this effect on women –at least on English women. Another of his devotees was Emilia Ashurst, known at this stage of her life as Mrs Sidney Hawkes, a member of a London family all of whom involved themselves in the radical causes of the day. When Jessie White returned to England in 1855, she met Emilie, who had already had many Italian adventures. Besides acting as his secret agent Emilie wrote a memoir of Mazzini and translated his works into English. She was also an artist and a copy of her portrait of Mazzini, enigmatically labelled as by ‘E. Hawkes’, is on display in the Museo di Risorgimento, housed inside the Victor Emmanuel monument in Rome. It struck me when I saw it that, as visitors drifted past it year after year, there could hardly be among them anybody who would realize that behind this painting lay an Englishwoman’s deep commitment to Italy. Emilie separated from Hawkes and later married Carlo Venturi, a Venetian patriot, who proved an altogether more satisfying husband.
Jessie White, too, wished to give practical aid to Italy. She thought she would train as a doctor in England, but, as a woman, she was refused admittance to medical school, and she settled on offering herself as a nurse to the Italians and also, as had Emilie Venturi, concentrated on translating Italian works of propaganda and writing articles for the English press. In 1857 she took part in an uprising led by Mazzini and was arrested and imprisoned. In prison she met Alberto Mario, like Venturi a handsome Venetian, whom, on their release, she married. In the early 1860s, with her husband, she followed Garibaldi and his men, nursing the sick – for most of the time the only woman attached to the campaign. From 1866 until her death in 1906 Jessie White Mario, as Italian correspondent of the Nation, analysed Italy for American and English readers. She travelled all round Italy in search of material for articles and is now esteemed in Italy as one of the first of its investigative reporters, writing about economic developments and social conditions – especially in the south –her writing forceful in detail, vivid and vigorous. When she died in 1906 one paper connected two Anglo-Italian patriots, specifically remarking that her funeral procession in Florence, ‘passed the Casa Guidi, which was decorated in honour of the centenary of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’.
Amongst the artefacts now displayed in Casa Guidi is a cast of the clasped hands of Robert and Elizabeth Browning. The sculptor of this incarnation of romance was a young American woman, Harriet Hosmer. Harriet had lived and worked in Rome since 1852, part of a group of ‘jolly female bachelors’ that clustered around the overpowering personality of the American actress, Charlotte Cushman. After meeting Charlotte with her companion, Matilda Hays, Elizabeth Barrett Browning had written to her sisters ‘I understand that she and Miss Hays have made vows of celibacy and of eternal attachment to each other – they live together, dress alike …it is a female marriage’. A photograph of the two women certainly shows them dressed alike, skirts topped by tailored shirts and jackets. Matilda, who preferred to be known as ‘Max’, is lean and saturnine. She was a novelist, who in 1847 had, with Emilie Venturi’s elder sister, Eliza Ashurst, embarked on the daring project of translating the works of George Sand. When she and Charlotte arrived in Rome they were looking for freedom from the social constraints imposed in America and England. Charlotte wrote that in Rome ‘the Mrs Grundies [are] so scarce, [and] the artist society ..so nice, that it is hard to choose or find any other place so attractive’. They spent most of the next five years or so in Rome – during the winter and spring of 1856 to 1857 Anna Jameson was part of their circle. But the Hays/Cushman female marriage was volatile and in 1857 came to a violent end – swearing certainly and, fisticuffs, possibly, were involved – and Matilda was forced to leave Rome.
Nine years later she published a novel, Adrienne Hope, in which she painted a very lifelike picture of Roman life as experienced by the expatriate English. Her main protagonists live in what was clearly the apartment in the via Gregoriana, along from the top of the Spanish Steps, in which she had lived with Charlotte: ‘a suite of rooms on the fourth piano, beneath the windows of which Rome lay extended like a panorama… There lies the Queen City of the World, with its quaint, irregular, grey roofs, its 364 churches, its noble pagan temples and imperial palaces, noble in their ruin and decay, basking through the day in the undimmed lustre of an Italian sun, to be glorified by its setting rays of gold, and crimson, and purple, the depth and richness of whose hues none who have not seen can by any means imagine, and none who have seen can ever forget.’ [For more about Matilda Hays and Adrienne Hope see here.]
Although Rome was at this time the centre for artistic training there was from the mid-19th century a revived interest in medieval Italy as inspiration for both art and literature. Tuscany in general and Florence in particular was the mecca for English devotees. One such arrival was Louise de la Ramée, who wrote under the pen name Ouida. She had already had considerable success and had made a considerable amount of money from her sensational novels. Having found her life in Bury St Edmunds insufficiently exciting she left England for Florence, where she quickly fell in love with a neighbour, the Marchese della Stuffa, for whom she felt all the passion that she had previously only been able to allow to her heroines. However, what she didn’t for a long time realise was that the Marchese was already spoken for – he had for several years been the ‘cavalier servante’ of Mrs Janet Ross – queen bee of the English circle in Florence. As her biographer put it. ‘Soon there was open enmity between Ouida and Mrs Ross, each fiercely resenting what she considered the other’s preposterous tendency to behave as if della Stufa were her property. Both were women of strong character, Mrs Ross the more domineering, Ouida the more impassioned’.
Ouida took up what she considered was her best weapon – her pen -and wrote a roman a clef based on this intriguing triangle – entitling it with the mot just – ‘Friendship’. When one knows something of the background, it makes a very good read. She describes Mrs Ross in the character of Lady Joan as ‘ a faggot of contradictions; extraordinarily ignorant, but naturally intelligent; audacious yet timid; a bully, but a coward; full of hot passions, but with cold fits of prudence.. She had a bright, firm, imposing way of declaring her opinions infallible that went far towards making others believe them so .’ Her own character was quite the reverse – all modesty and balm, ‘She gave him a yellow rose from a cluster that she had been placing in water as he had entered; there was tea standing near her on a little Japanese stand; she poured him out a cup, and brought it to him by the hearth; he followed all her movements with a sense of content and peace. As she tendered him the little cup, his fingers caressed hers, and as he drew the cup away, his lips lingered on her wrist. She coloured and left him.’
Her friends begged her not to publish it – the Ross side threatened a libel suit. Eight years later a reviewer wrote: ‘Italy was destined to do more for Ouida, as an artist, in a larger sense of the word, than to satisfy her ideal of the beautiful in landscape. An experience was reserved for her there, or more probably, a series of experiences, which vastly enlarged her knowledge of living men and women’.
Janet Ross was a member of a family of strong-minded women. In 1888 she and her husband bought a castle near Settignagno. In her memoirs she recounts her investigation of its history and its reclamation, describing for instance ‘having hateful French wallpaper scraped off the walls and having them washed a light grey stone colour – to the dismay of the workmen’ – so like all the villas in Tuscany idylls, where the jarring contemporary is erased in order to reclaim the peace of the past. Forging the path that so many later have followed she wrote a cookery book, Leaves from our Tuscan Kitchen. Those intimate with the Ross household later made clear that, of course Mrs Ross never needed to concern herself with the workings of the kitchen – and her cook, who prided himself on being able to produce more than the cookery of the region, had provided her with recipes that were, as a result, by no means authentically Tuscan. The commission for the book had, in the first instance, come from J.M. Dent to Janet Ross’s young niece, Lina, who, however, thought a cookery book dull work and preferred another commission, The Story Of Assissi. For the same ‘Medieval Towns’ series Janet Ross wrote The Story of Pisa and Lina’s friend, Margaret Symonds, The Story of Perugia.
Lina married an artist, Aubrey Waterfield, and in 1905 they bought their own castle, Fortezza della Brunella, near Carrara. Three years later Lina wrote Home Life in Italy, describing, in her turn, how they had made their castle habitable, and writing about their servants and local customs. The castle sounds magical: ‘As the evening draws in, wisps of clouds become suffused with a lustre of rose-purple and gold, to fade with the light to the colour of a Florentine iris. How often have I not returned home dazed by it all, and reached the drawbridge just as the birds were settling to rest with a great flutter and commotion among the ilexes in the moat..’ In 1917 she was one of the founders of the British Institute at Florence, which has subsequently served as an easy escape route into Italy for England’s well-heeled youth. From 1921 until 1939 Lina Waterfield was Italian correspondent for the Observer, speaking out firmly against Mussolini. That life at Fortezza della Brunella was for a child the embodiment of arcadia is set out in the memoir, A Tuscan Childhood, written by Lina’s daughter, Kinta Beevor, and published in the 1980s. Thus three English women of one family have between them recorded 100 years of Tuscan life.
At the same time as the Waterfields were restoring their castle, another English woman, Georgina Graham was living near Carrara, enjoying life in Italy and writing of it In a Tuscan Garden. Rather than a horticultural treatise this was in essence a guide for those wishing to move to Italy. ‘The ideal condition of residence is to have the home in England, and to be able to leave it for the winter or spring months… But when that ideal is beyond attainment, and when one has to choose a place of exile, Italy appears to me, taking it all round, to afford greater compensations than any other country.. Before settling in Tuscany, I had heard the remark that English society in Florence was for the most part so unpleasant, that every one did his best to keep out of it, and that if you wished to make a mortal enemy, you had only to offer to introduce one person to another.’. Doubtless the standoff between Mrs Ross and Ouida had many lesser emulators.
Mrs Graham continues, evoking the Florence of A Room with a View: ‘Nowadays Florence may be said to be one vast pension, it was totally different when I first knew it in the sixties; such places hardly existed then, and if they had, the class of English visitors of that day would not have gone into them. Many of them were badly off –; but it would not have occurred to them to herd with other people.’ Describing how easy it is to rent rooms for the long term, she comments: ‘It is astonishing how many Englishwomen of small means there are living here in respectability, and comfort in their own small etage, who, if in London, would be in comfortless suburban lodgings, in two rooms in one of those “ladies’ flats” to which all sorts of drawbacks and restrictions are attached. In Florence everything lends itself to their independence.’ Georgina Graham relates that she was seized with ‘Italy Fever’ back in the 1860s but that as time has passed ‘a long residence in Italy gives an intimate knowledge of her people, her standards, and her morale generally, under the influence of which the poetry becomes less prominent, and what may be called the seamy side is apt to be painfully to the front. But in spite of all, to those who have once yielded to its charm, it ever remains the enchanted land.’
This ‘Italy Fever’ had doubtless seized many of the women who were not so fortunate as Mrs Graham in finding themselves enjoying a large Tuscan villa and garden but, as she describes, happily occupied a room or two in Florence, with or without a view. I have been struck by the number of books that were published about Tuscany by women writers at the turn of the 20th century, including a couple by a woman of whom I had never before heard. One was Scenes and Shrines, written by Dorothy Nevile Lees, who had been born in Wolverhampton to a reasonably prosperous family. In 1903, aged 23, gripped by Italian fever, inspired by the poetry of Byron and Shelley, she left Wolverhampton and travelled alone to Florence. At the opening of Scenes and Shrines she recounts how ‘ I passed the great mountain gates which bar the way to Italy, the enchanted land of my childish imaginings, the Mecca of my dreams.’ In order to learn Italian as quickly as possible she chose to board with a middle-class Florentine family and plunged with a will into Italian life.
Both Scenes and Shrines and a second book, Tuscan Feasts and Tuscan Friends, were published in the same year, 1907, and were probably the result of collecting together articles that she had already had published in the English press. Tuscan Feasts opens with a hymn to her new land ‘ O Italy, my land of Heart’s Desire/No Paradise could be more fair than thou’, and the finding of her dream villa. ‘The Villa strictly speaking, was not beautiful; its time-stained plastered walls, its lofty height, its heavily-barred windows were a little gaunt and forbidding; and yet, as I stepped down from the carriage, I felt instinctively that I had found the place of dreams and peace’. If Dorothy Nevile Lees had been of our time she would have been a participant in ‘A Place in the Sun’ – making a television programme about her new Tuscan life.
I then discovered that in 1907 Dorothy Nevile Lees met Edward Gordon Craig, theatrical director, stage designer, son of Ellen Terry, married man and father, and, clearly, a great charmer, and that from 1908 until it folded in 1929 she was the editorial mainstay of his theatrical magazine, The Mask. She lived all this time in Florence – while Craig travelled the world – he went through a couple of marriages, and several affairs – including one with Isadora Duncan (by whom he had two children). In 1917 Dorothy herself had a son, David, by him, the existence of whom Craig was very keen to keep quiet – so quiet indeed that his entry in the new ODNB makes no mention whatsoever of Dorothy Nevile Lees or her son (although conceding that Craig had many children). It is clear Craig did what he could to ensure that David Lees, who in fact became an internationally-renowned photographer, would become another of England’s children lost in Italy. In 1935 Dorothy heard that Craig had denied that he was David’s father. When she commented on this, by way of reply he counselled her ‘not to blab’.
Dorothy Nevile Lees, clearly a woman of independent spirit, remained in Florence during the Second World War, shielding Craig’s archive from the Nazis, despite an office raid, and eventually giving the British Institute in Florence a collection of his theatrical material. One cannot know what she had really expected when she arrived as she had put it, in ‘the Mecca of my dreams’, but she had certainly carved out for herself an interesting life, one unlikely to have been her fate in Wolverhampton. [For more about Dorothy Lees see here.]
Life in a Tuscan villa in the years before the Second World War and then in wartime Florence falls to the lot of Fenny, the creation of Lettice Cooper, whose eponymous novel, Fenny, was published in 1953. I don’t know enough of Lettice Cooper to know what part Italy played in her life, but the loving description of her heroine’s enjoyment of her surroundings at least suggest that the author relished her research. Fenny is not the chatelaine of the villa – that character is a spoilt and wilful Englishwoman – but Ellen Fenwick, who until shortly before the opening of the novel, which begins in 1933, is a teacher in an English girls’ high school and is then invited to Tuscany as a governess. One can imagine her background as not unlike that of Dorothy Nevile Lees. When she arrived at the villa Fenny considered life within its grounds as paradise –she really does say ‘When I first arrived her I thought I’d got into a house in a fairy-tale’ – a very suitable romance follows but it is stifled by the lady of the house – Fenny later copes with the war – and ensures that her much loved pupil will not suffer as she suffered. A conventional enough plot, lovingly told against the backdrop of Italian life and landscape. The novel ends with Fenny saying to the young boy she has rescued from the disasters of war, ‘All right, Dino! We’ll go to Rome.’
And it was to Rome in the year of Fenny’s publication that the novelist Elizabeth Bowen went, sponsored by the British Council. She had made many previous visits, but her husband had recently died and she made this extended stay the occasion of specific research for her book, A Time in Rome. I love this book. I love the way she explains how she got to grips with the city –‘My object was to walk it into my head and (this time) keep it there.’ I love the way she is alone as she does this (or at least appears to be alone) – I like the idea of the solitary walker –the observer. And I love this sentence she wrote early on in the book; ‘To talk of “entering” the past is nonsense, but one can be entered by it, to a degree.’ The book’s final sentences even on re-reading are still affecting. ‘Only from the train as it moved out did I look at Rome. Backs of houses I had not ever seen before wavered into mists, stinging my eyes. My darling, my darling, my darling. Here we have no abiding city.’
Through the second half of the 20th and into the 21st century women have still relished the challenge of reshaping a life in Italy. And as in the 18th and 19th centuries, writing still offers the possibility of earning a living and a new and interesting locality provides possible material for the writing. Detective fiction, blending social observation and deduction/intuition, has proved a successful genre for women writers; an exotic locality gilds the lily. The best-known woman writer of English-language Italian detective fiction is Donna Leon, whose policeman, Guido Brunetti, is the epitome of Venetian suavity and good humour. However Donna Leon, although an intriguing woman, is an American and doesn’t qualify for discussion today.
But while thinking of women writers and detection in Venice I must mention in passing Sarah Caudwell – the pen name of Sarah Cockburn –now, alas, dead – who led a life of bella libertà. She was a charming and scatty, pipe-smoking lawyer who wrote four witty detective novels, the first, Thus Was Adonis Murdered, set in Venice. While I am sure Sarah enjoyed complete freedom at all times and didn’t need to go to Venice to find it, it was assumed by those who knew her that an opportunity to foster close acquaintance with young Venetian men made her research all the sweeter.
Magdalen Nabb, an English writer of detective fiction, has, like Donna Leon, created an Italian policeman. Her central character is Marshal Guarnaccia and she has posted him in Florence, close to the Pitti Palace. All I know of Magdalen Nabb is what is revealed on her book jackets – but in its bare outline it is the epitome of the ideal life of the English women writer in Italy. ‘She was born in Lancashire in 1947 and trained as a potter. In 1975 she abandoned pottery, sold her home and her car, and went to Florence with her son, knowing nobody and speaking no Italian’. When she wrote the first of what are now 12 books in her detective series she was living in an apartment in Casa Guidi. Indeed I first came across her novels while staying there myself, in the Brownings’ drawing room, in the Library supplied by the Landmark Trust.
Another English writer, who has written at least one thriller with an Italian setting, and who has also taken root in Florence, is Sarah Dunant. She has described in an interview how, after the break up of a relationship, she thought life needed a radical change – and so bought a flat in Florence. She holds the city responsible for her own personal renaissance and it, naturally, became the setting for The Birth of Venus, a novel that I am sure is selling very well and ensuring her a comfortable Florentine life. [The Birth of Venus was the only one of Sarah Dunant’s Italian novels published when I gave the talk – but she has written more since – see here.]
As well as being the setting for detective stories, which I could perhaps tie into my gothic theme, Italy has also provided the setting for a number of contemporary arcadian or fairyland novels. In these authors have gathered together a group of disparate characters and allowed enchantment of one kind or another to work on them. In Enchanted April, published in 1923, Elizabeth von Arnim describes in loving detail (detail so easily translated into a gentle film) how four women, previously unknown to each other, rent a castle on Italy’s Ligurian coast, overlooking the bay where Shelley drowned, and find themselves and happiness.
Amanda Craig’s Love in Idleness cleverly and amusingly reworks A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream in the setting of a houseparty in a Tuscan villa, effortlessly evoking the magic suspension of reality that overtakes her characters. ‘The heat intensified. At night the house creaked and whispered, so that they woke to confusion, climbing out of their dreams on the ladder of light cast by the shutters, excited, ashamed, frustrated. During the day each person became more and more enervated, yet also more relaxed.’
A similar atmosphere of shimmering heat and long shuttered siestas, interspersed with bursts of uncharacteristic behaviour, is what I remember of The Italian Lesson, a 1985 novel by Janice Elliott. Again a group, most previously unknown to each other, gathers for a holiday – this time in a restored castle a few miles outside Florence. William, one of the central characters, has for years been researching a monograph on E.M. Forster and Italy and the novel is intertwined with Forsterian allusions. His wife is recovering from a still birth and in the course of the novel another baby is carelessly lost to death, its fate an echo of the bronzed baby in Forster’s Where Angels Fear to Tread, and an echo of all those others that have been lost in Italy – in both fact and fiction.
I shall end this talk in Venice, Mrs Radcliffe’s ‘fairy city’, with Julia Garnet, the creation of Salley Vickers, who will give the First Persephone Annual lecture on the 5th October, discussing Miss Garnet alongside Persephone’s Miss Pettigrew and Miss Ranskill. I am very fond of Miss Garnet, who is the epitome of all the women whom we have encountered today. One can, in fact, imagine that Julia Garnet is what Fenny would have become if she had not been transported to Tuscany in her youth. For Julia Garnet came to Venice only on her retirement from teaching and there found the angel that was to guide her to the next world. Like Elizabeth Bowen, she walks the city into her head, transformed by it – ‘Venice has changed me’ she thought. We can see that Julia Garnet, while remaining essentially herself, has changed – her emotions and understanding expanded, Venice and the people she found there, Anglo-American as well as Italians, having worked their magic. As in so many novels that centre on Venice the cast of characters includes art historians and art restorers and I will leave you with a glimpse of this –the handwritten diary of a young Englishwoman, which details a three-month stay in Venice, where she was taking an art history course [Note: this diary was an item that I had in my book dealing stock at the time]. This was in 1986 – exactly 200 years after Lady Elizabeth Forster wrote up her Italian diary. What this young woman puts on paper is equally self-regarding, sprawling and observant – it could be raw material for a novel – a romance, a romantic comedy, a detective novel, or even, perhaps, a tragedy. The writer is anonymous –– although I suppose there are sufficient clues scattered throughout that would enable her identity to be discovered. But let her remain anonymous, her experience in Italy in the mid 1980s merely a contemporary version – factor in drugs, sex and rock and roll – of the bella libertà enjoyed by all our English women writing in Italy – her refrain, like that of all the others, is: ‘I never want to go back to England.’
Mariana Starke: ‘Buy A Copy’: recently discovered letters of the 19th century travel guide writer Mariana Starke
Last 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,
Nieuwe Spiegelstraat 48
1017 DG Amserdam
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.
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 ‘..to 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.
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 for ‘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.’
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.
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.
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 http://archive.org/details/theatreeducatio07genlgoog 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
Mariana Starke was christened at Epsom Parish Church on 23 October 1762. On 19 June, barely four months earlier, and three years into their marriage, her parents had buried their first-born child – a son, John – in the church’s graveyard. Mariana was to be an only child for six years – until the birth of her brother, Richard Isaac Starke, in 1768 – and to be an only daughter until the birth of her sister, Louisa, in 1772. Although there is no record of other children having been born in the years between the births of these living children, the gaps are significantly long, suggesting the possibility that Mary Starke may have suffered miscarriages. Certainly Richard’s father, John Starke, while leaving his eldest son only Hylands House in his rather punitive 1763 will, seems to have expected him to sire at least five children – to all of whom the grandfather was prepared to leave handsome legacies.
We know no firm details of Mariana’s early life as she grew up in Epsom. She may have had a governess, but more likely was taught by her mother, who from her letters appears a competent, amusing woman, interested in literature and the world. The only extant reference I have found to the hiring of a teacher occurs in one of Mrs Starke’s letters, in which she mentions that she is thinking of engaging a music master for her daughters.
This letter written, probably, in 1781, is to Mrs Hayley, wife of William Hayley, an influential man of letters and, in his life-time at least, a highly-regarded poet, patron of William Blake, friend of Cowper, of Romney and of Mariana Starke, who was to him his ‘dear poetical daughter’. The earliest letter in the extant correspondence between the Starkes and the Hayleys dates from 1779 and it is clear from the tone and language employed by the writers that the two families were on close and affectionate terms – and would appear to have been so for some time. There is no indication, however, of how or when the introduction between the families took place. Mariana’s earliest letter in the sequence, dated 22 December 1780, is to Mrs Hayley inviting the Hayleys to ‘a little Hop’to be held by her family early in the new year – on Monday 8 January – and to dinner the day before. At this time the Hayleys lived at Eartham in Sussex, about 45 miles south of Epsom. Hylands House was on their route into Town; in another letter Mrs Starke mentions that she could look out for their chaise as it passes along the Dorking Road. When she wrote this letter of invitation Mariana was 18 years old and entirely at ease in corresponding with the older woman.
From her mother’s letters we can catch glimpses of this youthful Mariana. In November 1780 (?) when Mrs Starke suffered a a bout of illness, during which exertion ‘produced a spitting of blood’, she was ‘an affectionate un-wearied attendant under Providence’ ‘her tenderness contributes materially to my recovery….I can read a little, and so my daughter ransacks the circulating library for my amusement and has brought me the life of Garrick, written by Davies, the materials supplied by Johnson and the whole regulated by him. Tis very entertaining; it contains a history of the Theatre for 36 years. I remember many of the persons mentioned. It likewise comprehends an account of the contemporary dramatic Writers. What an assemblage of opposite qualities met in ‘Dr Goldsmith’ without one particle of common sense to rectify the composition.’ Davies’ life of Garrick was first published in 1780, suggesting that the Epsom circulating library was quick to offer the latest published works and that Mariana had been prompt in her ‘ransacking’. From the list of books catalogued when the stock of the Epsom circulating library [as far as I can establish this was the only circulating library in Epsom during this period] was put up for auction in 1823 it is clear that there was no shortage of reading matter likely to appeal to both mother and daughter. For instance, quantities of novels and book of travels dating from the 1780s were still held in the stock of the library at the time of its sale – novels such as Aspasia, the wanderer (1786), Alfred and Cassandra (1788), Letters of an Italian Nun (1789) and Adeline the Orphan (1790).
By the 1780s Epsom’s heyday as a spa town had passed but, in a healthy position close to the Downs and close to London, it attracted well-to-do merchants quite prepared then – as now – to commute into town on business. Although he had no necessity to make this journey regularly, ‘Governor Starke’ – by which slightly inflated version of his former title Richard Starke is often named in contemporary accounts – still some had business with the East India Company. By virtue of his stock holding in the Company he was able to vote for candidates to the Directorate of the Company and probably made periodic visits to their headquarters in Mincing Lane – a stone’s throw from the house in which his grandfather, Thomas Starke, the slave trader, had lived 100 years before. It is interesting – if useless – to speculate as to whether a knowledge of the lives of his forebears was incorporated into his perception of the world. Did he know – as we shall never – that his father had turned to India because he did not wish to be involved in the trade in Africans of which Thomas was a pioneer? Or, what is more likely, did he know that John Starke had seen that the Virginia tobacco trade was taking a downward turn – and was tediously prone to litigation – and that India was the new Virginia? Whatever his thoughts as he walked along Mincing Lane Richard Starke would have been well aware of the importance in Starke family history of the church of St Dunstans in the East, just three minutes walk away, down towards the river. Besides his grandfather – and all the late-17th- c infant Starkes buried there, it was here that his own mother had been interred in 1730 and here, five years later, that his wife, the daughter of a merchant, had been christened. That, at least, should have inculcated a proprietorial feeling for this small area of the City in a man who had spent his working life in India and now lived a rather secluded life in Surrey. Again, idle to speculate, but surely, on occasion, Mariana would have been taken to the City. Would she not have been curious to see the streets where her forebears lived?
For Mariana, we know, was in her youth passionate about ‘antiquity’. In 1781 her mother, writing to Mrs Hayley, mentions that they had visited ‘Cowdry’ [Cowdray, a Tudor house in Sussex that in 1793 was reduced to ruins by a fire but whose magnificence was still intact when the Starkes visited], remarking that ‘The outside is striking, fine, venerable and claims respect, but within tis unequal and disappoints the expectation. Perhaps altogether no ill emblem its owner. Marian was pleased; I am not so rapturously fond of antiquity as she is. At her age I was, but my passion for gothic structures, and tragedy, expired at the same moment. When the gaiety of youth is fled, lively scenes become necessary.’ So, here is a glimpse of a Mariana swept up in the zeitgeist for the gothic – her ‘sensibility’ a counterpoint to her mother’s ‘sense’.
‘Sense’ was, I am sure, a virtue with which Mariana’s closest contemporary companion of her youth was liberally endowed. Millecent Parkhurst, who was a few months younger than Mariana, lived with her parents in Abele Grove on the other side of Dorking Road from Hylands – on the way into Epsom town. Then an elegant house, with coach house, stables and grounds of about 1 acre, Abele Grove is now, rather bizarrely, the Epsom Central branch of the Premier Inn chain, But it is there still – as is Hylands House – and you can still walk along the Dorking Road between the two- either on your own two feet or, thanks to Google Street View, on your computer.
Millecent’s elderly father, John Parkhurst, had inherited valuable estates around Epsom and, although a clergyman, of the high Anglican variety, felt neither the necessity nor inclination to seek preferment. His life was devoted to scholarship; amongst other writings he had published both Hebrew/English and Greek/English Lexicons (the latter to the New Testament). When, in 1798, after his death, a new edition of this work was called for, it was published with Millecent as editor. In the preface to the 5th edition, a later editor recorded that she was ,’reared under the immediate inspection of her learned and pious father, by an education of the very first order, [and] has acquired a degree of classical knowledge which is rarely met with in the female world’. In a 1787 letter (to be considered at greater length in a subsequent post) Mariana mentions ‘the almost paternal regard that [Mr Parkhurst] has for me.’ It would, I think, be safe to assume that Mariana spent a considerable time in that household, that she was at home in John Parkhurst’s library and, with Millecent, benefited from his teaching. See here to view portraits of John Parkhurst and his wife – held at Clare College, Cambridge. If the date (1804) attributed to the paintings is correct they were commissioned some time after the pair had died – John in 1797 and Millecent in 1800.
The Rev Parkhurst was not only Mariana’s advisor and critic but, with William Hayley, was responsible for inducting Mariana into the literary world. In 1781 she was among the subscribers to Ann Francis’ Poetical Translation of the Song of Solomon, from the original Hebrew, published by J. Dodsley. John Parkhurst subscribed six copies and it is to him that the book was dedicated, with a credit for supplying Notes. Among the female Epsom subscribers were Mrs Foreman, Mrs E. Foreman, Miss Foreman and Mrs Phipps. The latter ladies, who were presumably of a literary incline, were unlikely to have been those of whom Mariana wrote to William Hayley on 1 October 1781, ‘I spent an afternoon a short time since in company with Mrs Francis. She appears perfectly good-natured and unaffected – our Epsom Ladies were quite astonished that she should be in the least degree like other people – one observed that she really dressed her hair according to the present fashion, another, that she had a very tolerable cap, and a third that she certainly conversed in a common way, in short they spoke of her, as tho’ they had expected to have seen a wild beast instead of a rational creature, & I felt myself very happy that they were perfectly ignorant of my ever having made a Poem in my life.’ In her preface Ann Francis had felt it necessary to defend her translation of this particular text on two counts – in case it might ‘be thought an improper undertaking for a woman [since] the learned may imagine it a subject above the reach of my abilities; while the unlearned may incline to deem it a theme unfit for the exercise of a female pen.’
Besides John Parkhurst, the other male Epsom subscriber to The Song of Solomon was the Rev Martin Madan, who the previous year had raised considerable controversy with his publication of Thelyphthora; or a treatise on female ruin. In this Madan argued the social benefit of polygamy as a means of countering the evils of prostitution. He had been chaplain at the Hyde Park Corner Lock Hospital – a hospital for those afflicted with venereal disease – and may be considered to know of what he spoke. His treatise immediately attracted a series of ripostes. It was clearly a book – and, therefore, a subject much debated at this time and in the same 1 October 1781 letter to Hayley Mariana writes. Have you met with a book entitled ‘Whisper in the ear of the Author of Thelypthora’? The author Mr Greene did me the honor of sending it to me, and was it small enough to be enclosed in a frank, I would sent it to Earthham; tho I do not imagine it is a Book that would amuse either you, or Mrs Hayley much.’ Why, one wonders, did 40-year-old Edward Burnaby Greene send his work on this subject to 19-year-old Mariana Starke?
Greene was a translator and poet – though even in his lifetime not held in much regard – and at some time point his social or literary life must have intersected with that of Mariana to occasion this ‘honor’ . For, while the Ladies of Epsom may have been ignorant of the fact that they harboured a young Poet in their midst, her literary mentors were not – Mariana was in the custom of enclosing poems in her letters to Hayley. And to Hayley she made clear her feelings about Epsom society, writing at the end of a 7 January 1782 letter, ‘Pardon this hasty and stupid scrawl, as I am going to dress for an Epsom Party, the very thought of which, has benumbed my faculties.’ Both Mariana and her mother doubtless felt more stimulated at gatherings at which literature and ideas took precedence over discussions of hairdressing and caps. Not only did they utilise the circulating libraries but when in Town they made a point of visiting booksellers. In a letter to Mrs Hayley, dated 2 August 1781, Mrs Starke wrote, ‘Marian and I were at Dodsley’s the other day. The counter was covered by Mr Hayley’s poems, nothing sells so well. Dodsley did himself great credit with us, by his manner of speaking of Mr Hayley, second to none, now living, or that ever did live!’
Dodsley – whose shop was in Pall Mall – had recently published Hayley’s Triumphs of Temper, a didactic work illustrating the usefulness of a good temper to a young woman in search of a husband. See here for a Dulwich Picture Gallery page setting Romney’s portrait of Hayley alongside one of his illustrations from Triumph of Temper
The literary Epsom ladies maintained their interest in furthering the publication of interesting new works by women, subscribing to two important works of the period. In 1785 Millecent Parkhurst (‘Miss Parkhurst, Epsom’) and ‘Mrs Starke, Epsom’ were subscribers to Poems by Ann Yearsley, the Bristol milkwoman and protegee of Hannah More and in 1786 Mariana, her mother and Mrs Parkhurst were all subscribers to Helen Maria Williams’ Poems. The women may well have supported other publications, their connection not yet brought to light by the digital scanner. We can, however, be certain that these were two works that, along with The Song of Solomon, Hayley’s poems and that oddity, Whisper in the ear of the author of Thelypthora’?, were definitely on the shelves in Hyland House in the late 1780s. It was not to be long before Mariana, together with Millecent Parkhurst,- put her own pen into public action.
Sources: William Hayley Papers, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge
Although Mariana Starke’s grandfather, John Starke, was never an employee of the East India Company, both his sons, Richard and John, were. Richard Starke (1719 – 93) – yet to be the father of Mariana – sailed from London in 1734 as a passenger in the Onslow to Fort St George, taking with him wine, a chest of apparel and an escritoire. In Fort St George he could have resumed contact with his mother’s family, the Empsons.
On 29 December 1735 Richard Starke entered ‘the service of the Honourable Co on the coast of Coromandel as ‘Writer Entertained’. A 1736 note made clear that it was ‘out of regard for his father’ that he was ‘taken into our service’, a 10 May 1737 dispatch confirming that ‘Mr Richard Starke is so usefull a hand in the Secretary’s Office’. During the following years his father sent out to him several boxes ‘of apparel’ and in 1746 ‘two boxes of books’, in 1747 one box of books and a hat, in 1750 one box of pamphlets and pens, in 1752 a box of books and in 1753 a pair of scales, a lanthorn and books. In April 1747 Richard was joined as a writer in the EIC by his younger brother, John Starke (aged 22), who sailed out on the Houghton with one chest, one escritoire, and a bundle of bedding
A dispatch from Fort St George to England, dated 22 February 1749, stated that Richard Starke, who had been ‘upper searcher at Madras – now appointed to that position at Cuddalore [i.e. Fort St David]. By 2 November 1749 he had been appointed ‘second’ at Fort St George – that is ‘under deputy governor’ and in February 1752 he succeeded Mr Prince as deputy governor of Fort St David, formally taking office on 31 July 1752.
Fort St David, about a mile from Cuddalore, was a small fortified town, near to the sea and, by all accounts, a very comfortable billet. In The Life of Lord Clive Sir George Forrest quotes the following description of the area: ‘The country within the boundaries is very pleasant, and the air fine, having seldom any fogs. In the district are many neat houses with gardens; the latter were laid out with much good taste by the gentlemen, who either had been, or were in the company’s service. These gardens produce fruits of different sorts, such as pine-apples, oranges, limes, pomegranates, plantaines, bananoes, mangoes, guavas, (red and white,) bedams (a sort of almond), pimple-nose, called in the West Indies, chadocks, a very fine large fruit of the citron-kind, but of four or five times it’s size, and many others. At the end of each gentleman’s garden there is generally a shady grove of cocoanut trees.’
Clearly it was all too comfortable to last. First we hear that John Starke, who was also working at Fort St David, under the Paymaster, received a peremptory dismissal for which no reason was given; a dispatch from London to Madras, 31 Jan 1755 merely noted: ‘The services of John Starke are dispensed with.’.’ Having no further occasion for the service of Mr John Starke he is upon receipt of this to be accordingly discharged from the Company’s service’.
A year later Richard Starke was compelled to write the following letter, dated 19 August 1756:
‘Honourable Sir and Sirs [to the President and Governors of Fort St George] I am to acquaint you that agreeable to your orders of the [lacuna] June I have delivered over the charge of the settlement of Fort St David to Col Robert Clive and as I imagine by the Company’s having been pleased to supersede me, by the appointment of that Gentleman so much my junior in their service, my conduct cannot have been so agreeable to them as I can assure Your Honour etc I have endeavoured to make it, I am to desire permission to resign their employ and return to Europe. Richard Starke.’
To the letter was subsequently appended a brief note: ‘In which the Board acquiesce’.
A dispatch of 21 November 1756 gave further information. ‘Starke handed over charge to Clive, returned to Madras in August, and requested leave to resign the service as he had been superseded by Clive.’ A further dispatch, 20 October 1757, gave a list of the passengers sailing to England on the Norfolk, among whom were Richard and John Starke.
Thus ended, rather ignominiously, Richard Starke’s Indian career, ousted by the very much more wily and ambitious Robert Clive. I am sure that a reading might be made of The Sword of Peace in the light of Mariana’s close knowledge of these events.
In 1759 Richard Starke married Mary Hughes, the 23-year-old daughter of Isaac Hughes, a merchant of Crutched Friars in the City of London, and Yewlands House, Banstead. Mariana, born in the last week of September 1762, was their first surviving child; I think a first son had died soon after birth. UPDATE (6 April 2014) I’ve just found 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.
Richard’s father, John Starke, died in a year later, in October, 1763. His will reveals some family dissension. Richard and his sister, Martha, appear to have been involved in a lawsuit, presumably involving John, the result being that, although John Starke left Hylands House at Epsom to Richard, the main part of his wealth was to bypass Richard, to be settled on Richard’s children. Thus, by the time she was a year old, Mariana Starke was living in a large, pleasant house in Epsom, where her father, who never again took up employment, could maintain a position in society on account of his Indian EIC service and, while probably not overburdened with great wealth, could live with a certain nabob style.
In the late-17th century Thomas Starke, the slave trader, lived and, I think, carried on his business in Mincing Lane in a house rebuilt in the 1670s – after the Great Fire of London. Starke’s house – and all the others in that street- have long since disappeared – now replaced by a Gotham City simulacrum, politely described as a ‘post-modern gothic complex’. However a few London houses built by Mincing Lane’s post-Fire-of London developer, Nicholas Barbon, do remain, including – pictured here – 5-6 Crane’s Court, just off Fleet Street – giving a rough idea of the manner of house in which Starke and his family lived.
Fortunately for us, when Starke – a freeman of the city of London – died in early 1706 several of his children were not yet 21 years old. This meant that the London Court of Orphans was required to draw up an itemized list of his household goods, assets and debts in order to supervise the division of the estate. This inventory provides a marvellous picture of the furnishing of the Mincing Lane house – at least some of which were purchased with the profits from Starke’s slave-trading activity, as well as an insight into Starke’s complicated finances. Moreover, the inventory, made on 18 April 1706, is held in the London Metropolitan Archives, very close to my home, a short walk collapsing the centuries.
Although the inventory does not reveal who was living in the house in 1706, a 1695 tax assessment showed that besides Starke, his wife, and two daughters, the household then comprised two apprentices (both of whom were to figure in later Starke litigation) and three servants – two of them women, one a boy.
The 1706 inventory begins at the top of the house – in the fore garrett – [perhaps a bedroom for the apprentices?] which contained:
One corded bedstead and rods, printed stuff curtains and valance, and flock bed and feather bolster and pillow, 2 blankets and 2 rugs, a table, 2 chests of drawers, a pallet bedstead, 2 chairs, one box – value £2 2s
I assume that ‘corded bedstead’ meant a bed with cords to support the mattress and that ‘rods’ are curtain-type rods from which hung the printed stuff curtains that surrounded the bed to exclude draughts.
The back garrett [perhaps a bedroom for 2 servants?] contained::2 chests, a horse for clothes, a few candles, 2 little bedsteads, a feather bed, 2 flock bolsters, two blankets, two rugs, a quilt, some lumber – value £2 1s
In the room 2 pairs of stairs forwards [perhaps Stark’s daughters’ room]: One sacking bedstead and rods, camblett curtains and valance lined with silk. Feather bed, a bolster, 2 pillows, 2 blankets, a rug, one counterpane. Corded bedstead and rods, curtains, 1 feather bed, bolster, 6 pillows, 4 blankets, a rug, 7 chairs, 1 chest of drawers, a table, 2 looking glasses, 5 window curtains, 3 rods, 2 pairs of dogs [ ie for the fireplace], a fender shovel, and tongs, a pair of bellows, 4 hangings of the room – value £15 7s.
Apart from the value, we can tell that this room was used by more important members of the household than the two garrets because of the use of ‘camblett’ to make the curtains, ‘camblett’ being a fine dress fabric of silk and camel-hair, or wool and goat’s hair, which was a lighter material, replacing broadcloth and serge and quite newly fashionable.. Similarly the lining of the valance with silk was a newish and fashionable furnishing style.
Back room: 1 corded bedstead, printed stuff curtains and valance, feather bed, bolster, 1 pillow, 1 blanket, a rug, 1 chest of drawers, 1 table, 2 matted chairs, grate, fender, shovel and tongs, a warming pan, a pair of bellow, 1 boll printed stuff. Hangings of the room, 3 chairs – value £5 2s
Middle room: 1 corded bedstead and rods, a pair of old curtains and valance, 1 feather bed, bolster, 1 pillow, a blanket and rug – value £1 15
In the room 1 pair of stairs backwards: [perhaps Starke’s bedroom – to be used for entertaining as well as sleeping.] 1 sacking bedstead, silk and damask curtains and valance lined with silk, a quilt and feather bed bolster, some calico curtains, 1 table, a looking glass, 6 chairs and cushions, a slow grate, shovel, tongs and poker, a brass hearth shovel and tongs, 3 pairs of tapestry hangings – value £36 6s [Peter Earle in The Making of the English Middle Class: Business, Society and Family Life in London 1660-1730 (1989) gives the average value of the furnishings of a merchant’s bedroom as £23.3, positioning Starke’s as rather above average.]
The silk and damask curtains and the valance lined with silk were smart and fashionable, while the presence of the tapestry hangings suggest a room intended for comfort in a slightly old-fashioned style..
On the staircase: 3 pictures, clock and case, 2 sconces – value £5
In the Dining room [Earle denotes the dining room as the ‘best’ living room in a house of this type, giving the average value of the contents of such a room as £12 2s – making Starke’s furnishings a little above the average in value.]: Gilded leather hangings, 2 tables, a looking glass, 1 side table, 11 cane chairs, 12 cushions, a pallet case, 2 glass sconces, a pair of tables, brass hearth dogs, shovel and tongs – value £13 12s.
The gilded leather hangings were, by the early 18th-century, perhaps a little old fashioned, but the possession of cane chairs marked the Starkes out as a family who were prepared to buy new and fashionable styles. Cane chairs had been new in aristocratic homes in the 1660s, and were taken up by ‘middling men ’ from the 1680s. It would seem that the Starkes’ cane-bottomed chairs required cushions to make them acceptably comfortable.
In the parlour [the ‘second best’ living room]: Cane chairs, 2 cushions, a boll – value £2 10s.
In the Kitchen: An iron back grate, fender, 2 spit racks, an iron crane, 3 hooks, 2 shovells, tongs and poker, 1 gridiron, 2 iron dripping pans, 2 dish rings, 1 shredding knife, 2 frying pans, 2 box irons and heaters, jack chain and weight and pulley,. 4 spits, a beef fork, a brass mortar and pestle, 7 candlesticks, a pair of snuffers, a ladle and scummer, 2 iron bottles, 4 brass pots and covers, 1 bottle, 2 sauce pans, 1 copper stew pan, 3 chairs, 2 folding boards, 1 pair of bellows and napkin press, a table, a lanthorn, 196lbs of pewter, some tin wooden and earthenware – value £19 12s 10d .
Earle mentions that the average value of kitchen goods in this period was between £10-£20, putting the Starkes’ batterie de cuisine at the top end of the scale.
In the cellar and yard: A few coals, a beer stilling, 2 brass corks, some fire wood, a leaden cistern, 1 boll, 2 doz glass bottles – value £7 1s.
The inventory goes on to give the value of Starke’s wearing apparel (£5), household linen, and plate (292 oz, value £74 –presumably including the silver salver and caudle cup that Starke specifically mentioned in his will) – before moving on to monies owed to him and his own debts.
All in all, this is a house of a middling London merchant, one who, with his family, wished to be comfortable but was not desperate to adopt the very newest fashions. I do not think it would have been as elegant as the parlour room set, dating from 1695, that one can see at the Geffrye Museum. Here you can see the Starkes’ cane chairs, but Thomas Starke presumably preferred the older-fashioned tapestries and gilded leather hangings. which many of his fellow merchants – as in the Geffrye Museum re-creation -would have been taking down and replacing with pictures. In fact only three pictures are listed in the Starke inventory, all hanging on the stair case, alongside the household’s only clock. Similarly, the Starkes were, presumably, still eating off pewter and had not been tempted by the more newly fashionable china.
I did find two omissions interesting. The first is that no room is specifically denoted as a counting-house, although at the time of Starke’s death the sum of £245 19s 13/4 [=£32,000 purchasing power in today’s terms] was held in cash in the house. So, perhaps I was incorrect in assuming that, as he was living in Mincing Lane, in the very heart of the trading district, his business would have been done on the premises. And, secondly, I suppose I might have expected a merchant’s possessions to have included at the very least a quantity of ledgers – and, perhaps, some books and a globe.
Sometime after Thomas’ death, his widow and her daughters – Sarah, Martha, Frances and Elizabeth moved out of the City. There no longer being any necessity to live close to business, they chose Chelsea as their new home– more rural, more fashionable. It is possible that they were the first occupants of a newly-built house in Upper Cheyne Row, close to their great friend Lady Mary Rawlinson, widow of a a close associate of Thomas Starke and a former Lord Mayor of the City of London. The Survey of London suggests that this house and its immediate neighbours were built c 1716 and Lady Mary and her daughter, also Mary, lived at 16 Upper Cheyne Row between 1717 and her death in 1725. Between 1748 and 1757 Thomas Starke’s daughter, Martha, and the younger Mary Rawlinson lived together at 12 Upper Cheyne Row. They were evidently very close; in her will Martha, who died in 1758, left everything to Mary and asked to be buried with her in the same grave in Ewell parish churchyard. However, Mary Rawlinson lived on to 1765 and in a codicil to her will, made in 1764, changed her preferred place of burial from Ewell to the Rawlinson family vault in St Dionis Church Backhurch in the City (demolished 1868)..
I imagine that Thomas Starke’s tapestries and gilded leather hangings did not make the move from Mincing Lane to Chelsea and that his widow and daughters took the opportunity to furnish the new – airier and lighter – house with new china and new materials to complement the modern fireplaces and panelling. As we shall discover, in the early 18th-century the Starke family began a close association with India and goods – gifts – from the East would have travelled back to decorate these Chelsea rooms, perhaps, eventually coming into the possession of Mariana Starke.