Kean, Ellen (DNB00)

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KEAN, ELLEN (1805–1880), actress, daughter of a Mr. Tree of Lancaster Buildings, St. Martin's Lane, London, and younger sister of Mrs. Quin (Miss Tree), a dancer of Drury Lane, and of Mrs. Ann Maria Bradshaw [q. v.], was born, it has been said in the south of Ireland, in December 1805. After one or two experiments in the private theatre, Berwick Street, she appeared at Covent Garden towards the close of the season of 1822–1823, playing, in an operatic version of ‘Twelfth Night,’ Olivia, to the Viola of her sister Maria, whose benefit it was. On 7 Feb. 1824 she began an engagement in Bath as Lydia Languish, this being announced as her ‘first appearance on this, and fourth on any stage.’ Charlotte in the ‘Hypocrite’ followed on the 13th. Genest, who witnessed the performance, says she ‘spoilt the play; she should have begun with smaller parts.’ She was the original Mavilla in the ‘Parricide,’ by R. Allen, 12 May 1824. The following season she played leading parts in comedy, including Agnes in ‘A Woman never Vext,’ and Lætitia Hardy in the ‘Belle's Stratagem,’ causing a general impression that she was overweighted. Practice in Birmingham effected improvement, and on 23 Sept. 1826, as Violante in the ‘Wonder,’ she appeared at Drury Lane. Another sister, afterwards wife of John Philip Chapman, proprietor of the ‘Sunday Times,’ also from Bath, appeared on the same occasion as Susanna in the ‘Marriage of Figaro.’ During this and two following seasons Ellen remained at Drury Lane, playing in comedy Lætitia Hardy, Lady Teazle, Albina in the ‘Will,’ Miranda in the ‘Busybody,’ Charlotte in the ‘Hypocrite,’ Lady Elizabeth Freelove in the ‘Day after the Wedding,’ Miss Hardcastle, Emily in the ‘Poor Gentleman,’ Angelica in ‘Love for Love,’ &c., and occasionally with dubious advantage a serious part, such as Jane Shore, or Cora in ‘Pizarro.’ She played Ellen in the ‘Lady of the Lake,’ and also took part in some new plays not worth recalling.

As Lady Townley she made, 6 Oct. 1829, her first appearance at Covent Garden. On the 10th she was the original Lady Elizabeth Grey in ‘First of May, or a Royal Love Match,’ and also in the same season was Susan on the first production at this theatre of ‘Black-eyed Susan.’ During her stay at Covent Garden she played Romeo to the Juliet of Miss Fanny Kemble; played, in 1832, a leading part in the ‘Francis I’ of Miss Fanny Kemble; was, in 1833, the original Mariana in the ‘Wife’ of Sheridan Knowles; and, 26 May 1836, the original Clemanthe to the Ion of Macready in Talfourd's ‘Ion.’ During 1836 she went to America, where she stayed till 1839, playing, in addition to the characters named, Rosalind, Mrs. Haller, Beatrice, Juliet, Portia, Mrs. Oakley, Violante, Kate O'Brien, and Mary in the ‘Daughter.’ On her return she appeared at Covent Garden in 1839 as the original Countess in Sheridan Knowles's ‘Love,’ and in 1840 as the original Isoline in the ‘John of Procida’ of the same author. On 29 Jan. 1842 she married in Dublin Charles Kean, playing the same evening Juliana in the ‘Honeymoon.’ The same year she was seen at the Haymarket in many Shakesperean characters, and was on 4 June 1842 the original Olivia in the ‘Rose of Arragon’ of Sheridan Knowles.

Her history now became merged in that of her husband, with whom, long previous to her marriage, she had been in the habit of acting. She accompanied him to America, and on all his country tours, enacting the heroines in the pieces in which he appeared. She was, 17 Jan. 1848, at the Haymarket, the original Lady Eveline Amyott in the ‘Wife's Secret,’ and 20 June 1849 the first Katherine Lorn in ‘Strathmore.’ Charles Kean's occupancy of the Princess's began with the ‘Twelfth Night,’ in which she was Viola. To note only her original parts, on 9 Sept. 1850 she was Isoline in the ‘Templar;’ 17 March 1851, the heroine of Oxenford's ‘Pauline;’ 4 June 1851, Mlle. Belle Isle in the ‘Duke's Wager;’ 7 June 1852, the heroine of Lovell's ‘Trial for Love;’ in October 1852, Anne Blake in Westland Marston's play of the same name; 12 Jan. 1853, Dorothy Budd in Jerrold's ‘St. Cupid;’ 13 June 1853, Myrrha in ‘Sardanapalus.’ She also played Desdemona, Lady Macbeth, Hermione, Constance in ‘King John,’ the Queen in ‘Richard II,’ Queen Katharine in ‘Henry VIII,’ and the Chorus in ‘Henry V.’ On Kean's death she retired from the stage. She lived respected, and died 20 Aug. 1880.

Like her husband, Mrs. Kean met with much opposition in her early career. In her later years she was recognised as an actress of high position. She was essentially womanly in her art. Early in her career, J. A. Heraud, in the ‘Athenæum,’ 16 April 1842, declared her the most gentle and effective representative of Mrs. Beverley on the stage. Her Lady Evelina was pure and noble as well as gentle. Viola, Constance, and Katharine were fine performances, and her Gertrude in ‘Hamlet’ was perfect. Of imagination in its highest sense she was deficient, but she had genuine humour and provocative mirth. Westland Marston declares that ‘in sympathetic emotion, as distinguished from stern and turbulent passion, no feminine artist of her time surpassed her; in suggestiveness of detail, no artist but one.’ Miss Helen Faucit writes: ‘She had in youth much beauty and fascination, and in riper age was handsome and intellectual. An admirable wife, she supported her husband through all difficulties, exercising over him a constant and affectionate vigilance that warded from him many shafts and disarmed much prejudice.’

[Personal recollections; Genest's Account of the English Stage; Oxberry's Dramatic Biography, vol. iii. and new ser. vol. i.; Theatrical Times; Mrs. F. Baron Wilson's Our Actresses; Westland Marston's Recollections of our Recent Actors; Tallis's Magazine; Pascoe's Dramatic List; Clark Russell's Representative Actors; Cole's Life and Times of Charles Kean; Frances Ann Kemble's Recollections of a Girlhood; Stirling's Old Drury Lane; Wemyss's Theatrical Biography; Jefferson's Autobiography; Hist. of the Dublin Theatre; Macready's Reminiscences, by Pollock; Dibdin's Hist. of the Edinburgh Stage; Georgian Era; Era Almanack and newspaper, various years; Athenæum and Sunday Times, various years.]

J. K.