Posts Tagged mrs crespigny
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.
On 9 August 1788 Mariana Starke’s play, The Sword of Peace; or, a Voyage of Love, received the first of six public performances that season at London’s Theatre Royal, Haymarket.
This was certainly not the first play that Mariana had written, but was the first to be professionally staged. See Mariana Starke: First Productions for mention of Ethelinda, which, possibly in 1787, Mariana had sent to George Colman, the manager of the Theatre Royal. He had been encouraging, but in the end had rejected it. He would, therefore, have been an obvious choice to receive her next dramatic work and in the Preface to the published edition of The Sword of Peace she thanks him most warmly. To Mariana’s play Colman added a Prologue and his son an Epilogue.
In her introduction to the online edition of The Sword of Peace Jeanne Moskal has suggested that prior to its short run at the Theatre Royal, the play may already have been produced in the private theatre of her friend and patron Mary Crespigny [see Mariana Starke: The Mystery of the Bodleian Diary]. This is possible, but if such a production was staged it is surprising that papers such as ”The World and Fashionable Advertiser’ and ”The Public Advertiser’ make no mention of it, while carrying information of other theatricals at Camberwell Grove that involved Mariana and her brother, Richard. Mrs Crespigny’s activities were good ‘copy’for these papers and it seems unlikely they would have overlooked such an interesting item.
As the reader can so easily consult the online text of The Sword of Peace, together with the associated apparatus of notes which includes a summary of the play, I will not repeat it here, but would like to make one observation.
This is an idea that occurred to me as to what Mariana might mean in her Preface when she observes that ‘the character of David Northcote is a real one. To Indians this is needless: the sketch, however, is not too faint, I hope, for others: it was dictated by a heart glowing with gratitude and admiration of his noble and unbounded goodness!’
It has been suggested, by Jeanne Moskal among others, that ‘David Northcote’ is based on Lord Cornwallis, who succeeded Warren Hastings as Governor-General of India. This assumption is quite probably correct. Hastings had been arrested in 1787, at a time when Mariana would probably have been writing the play; his trial was underway in Westminster Hall when The Sword of Peace played at the Theatre Royal. As ‘David Northcote’ was created as an exemplar of a good man in the midst of venality it may well be that Mariana was commending Cornwallis .
However, with the Hastings trial figuring so prominently in the news it seems just a little odd for the author to hope, even with the falsest of modesty, that ‘the sketch is not too faint’. Actually at the time it must have seemed blindingly obvious. It occurred to me, however, that she may actually have had in mind a model for ‘David Northcote’ found rather closer to home, but more distant in time – one about which there might more justifiably be a fear that the ‘sketch’ might be too ‘faint’ .
Could ‘David Northcote’ have been modelled on Mariana’s father, Richard Starke, who, even at this time, 30 years after he had been forced from office, was always known as ‘Governor Starke’?
The name of the character does have resonances close to Mariana’s own circle. ‘David’ could be a nod to Fort St David, from which her father was ousted in 1756 by ambitious Robert Clive.
Mariana would have discussed the making of her play with her great friend, Millecent Parkhurst, whose father, John Parkhurst, was giving her advice on the construction of her dramas. John Parkhurst’s wife was born Millecent Northey, whose family lived at Woodcote House, Epsom. When Mariana was pondering a surname for the hero of The Sword of Peace could she have created it out of this local association? For an essay on the Northeys and Woodcote House see here.
Among the final lines of the play, when Mr Northcote is created ‘Resident’, one of the characters describes how
‘They [the local inhabitants] do nothing but call him father—they keep blessing him and his children; and King George and his children; and their great prophet and his children’.
Would – could – that mention of ‘blessing him and his children’ have been a knowing authorial wink. The emphasising italics are in the original and there does not seem any reason for an allusion to Northcote’s children in terms of the play. Indeed, there is no mention of his being married, or having children. So was that a little joke -Mariana calling blessings on herself and her siblings, as well as her father -that the audience might have shared?
In terms of the plot of The Sword of Peace, a slight parallel between the careers of ‘David Northcote’ and Richard Starke occurred in 1752 when Governor Floyer of Fort St David was dismissed – accused of allowing a ‘Spirit of Gaming’ and ‘general neglect and want of order’ to prevail, as well as running up ‘Extravagant Expences’. Among the men entrusted to reinstate order was Richard Starke.
On 1 May 1787 ‘Governor Starke and family’ and ‘other names to India not unknown’ were present in the Playhouse, Covent Garden, for the performance of a new farce, Bonds Without Judgment, or, the Loves of Bengal, performed as a benefit for the actress, Mrs Wells. The plot concerns the fate of two young women who are sent to India in search of husbands…There is no mention in the ‘World and Fashionable Advertiser’ report of 2 May 1787 of the author of the piece, but I understand it was one Edward Topham. The piece was acted for four nights in May 1787 but was never printed.
Could this play have motivated Mariana to write her own? It is worth mentioning that the Prologue to ‘Bonds Without Judgment’ was written by ‘Mr Berkley’, surely her friend and collaborator, George Monck Berkeley (for whom see Mariana Starke: First Productions). In fact Oulton, The History of the Theatres of London suggests that Berkeley rather than Topham may have been the author of the entire piece. Incidentally, Mrs Crespigny took a very numerous party to Bonds Without Judgment.
The Sword of Peace was published in 1789, in London by J. Debrett and in Dublin by H. Chamberlaine, and returned to the Theatre Royal that year, on 30 July, for a further four perfomances.
Source: H.D. Love, Vestiges of Old Madras
P.S. UPDATE I knew that Mariana was not Richard and Mary Starke’s first born; a son, John, had died shortly before she was born and was buried at Epsom. I have now just found the gory details in a news report in ‘The Public Advertiser’ of 21 June 1762, to the effect that this young boy, aged 20 months, had died the previous week after falling out of the coach in which he was ‘taking an airing’ with some women servants and was then run over by the vehicle’s wheels. Horrific.
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