Kemble, Charles (DNB00)
|←Kemble, Adelaide||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 30
KEMBLE, CHARLES (1775–1854), actor, fourth and youngest son of Roger Kemble [q. v.] and Sarah his wife, was born at Brecon, South Wales, 25 Nov. 1775, and in his thirteenth year was sent by his brother, John Philip [q. v.], to the English College at Douay. Returning to England he obtained a situation in the post-office. In opposition to the counsels of his brother he took to the stage, and made his second appearance, the first being unrecorded, at Sheffield, towards the close of 1792 or beginning of 1793, as Orlando in ‘As you like it.’ After playing parts beyond his strength in Newcastle, Edinburgh, and other country towns, he made his way, through his brother's influence, to Drury Lane, where he appeared, 21 April 1794, as Malcolm in ‘Macbeth.’ His early performances were unsuccessful, mainly owing to his ungainly figure. It was said concerning him that during thirty years he steadily improved. Jaques de Boys in ‘As you like it,’ Cromwell in ‘King Henry VIII,’ and Belville in the ‘Country Girl’ were among the parts played in his first season. On 28 Oct. 1794 he was the original Count Appiani in ‘Emilia Galotti,’ translated from Lessing, and on 28 Feb. the original Henry Woodville in the ‘Wheel of Fortune.’ During 1795–6 he played Carlos in ‘Isabella,’ Lawson in the ‘Gamester,’ Octavio in ‘She would and she would not,’ Paris in ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ Laertes, Celadon in ‘Celadon and Florimel,’ Saville in the ‘Belle's Stratagem,’ &c. He was also Pascentius in the ill-starred production of ‘Vortigern.’ Lovel in ‘High Life below Stairs,’ Ferdinand in the ‘Tempest,’ Guiderius in ‘Cymbeline,’ Philotas in the ‘Grecian Daughter,’ followed. In the summer season, or when not playing at Drury Lane, Kemble appeared at the Haymarket, where he was, on 29 July 1791, the first Jammy (Jamie) in ‘Auld Robin Gray.’ At the Haymarket as Hotspur, Wilford in the ‘Iron Chest,’ Vivaldi in the ‘Italian Monk,’ Bassanio, and Cassio, he rose steadily in public favour. Richmond in ‘Richard III’ was essayed at Drury Lane on 25 Sept. 1798; Claudio in ‘Measure for Measure’ followed, and as Norval in ‘Douglas,’ 27 Dec. 1798, he took a principal part in tragedy. In many of the new plays in which John Philip Kemble and Mrs. Siddons appeared Charles Kemble took a part, and he originated many rôles in comedy. In the first performance of ‘Pizarro,’ 24 May 1799, he was Alonzo. In July 1800 he made a considerable reputation at the Haymarket as Three-Fingered Jack in Fawcett's pantomime of ‘Obi,’ and on 15 July 1800 was the original Durimel in ‘Point of Honour,’ 8vo, 1800, his own three-act adaptation of Mercier's ‘Le Déserteur,’ a five-act piece given at the Théâtre Italien in 1782. Charles in the ‘School for Scandal,’ Falconbridge, Edmund in ‘Lear,’ Young Mirabel in the ‘Inconstant,’ belong to this season, in which his value as a comedian began to be recognised. He was, 4 May 1801, at Drury Lane, the original Adelmorn in ‘Monk’ Lewis's ‘Adelmorn the Outlaw,’ Lothario, Florizel in the ‘Winter's Tale,’ Sir Brilliant Fashion in ‘The Way to keep him,’ and, at the Haymarket, Frederic in ‘Lovers' Vows’ and Dick Dowlas. In the Drury Lane season of 1802–3 he added to his repertory Cromwell, Chamont, and some new parts; and was, 19 May 1803, Hamlet, a performance which the ‘Monthly Mirror’ says added greatly to his reputation.
After a trip to Vienna and St. Petersburg, necessitated by a threatened loss of voice, Kemble joined his brother at Covent Garden, appearing on 12 Sept. 1803 as Henry in ‘Speed the Plough.’ On 19 Feb. he played Romeo. Pyrrhus in the ‘Distressed Mother’ and very many important parts were now taken by him. On the first appearance of Master Betty, 1 Dec. 1804, Kemble spoke an occasional address. On 2 July 1806 he married Miss de Camp, who henceforth acted as Mrs. Charles Kemble [see Kemble, Mrs. Maria Theresa]. He was, on 10 Feb. 1807, the original Plastic in Morton's ‘Town and Country,’ and on 8 May Peter the Great in Cherry's piece of that name. His own adaptation in three acts, from Kotzebue, ‘The Wanderer, or the Rights of Hospitality,’ 8vo, 1808, was given at Covent Garden 12 Jan. 1808, with Kemble as Sigismond the hero. To satisfy the requirements of authority the scene was changed from Scotland in the time of the Pretender in 1745 to Sweden. The play as originally written was first given at Covent Garden 26 Nov. 1829. On 30 June 1808 he is said, in the ‘Biographia Dramatica,’ to have made a single appearance at the Haymarket, playing the part of Fernando in ‘Plot and Counterplot, or the Portrait of Michael Cervantes,’ 8vo, 1808, a farce extracted by himself from ‘Le Portrait de Michel Cervantes’ of Dieulafoi, played at the Théâtre Louvois in 1799. Genest does not note this appearance, but assigns the character to Putnam, who was to have played it, and on account of illness was replaced by Kemble. Kemble shared in the unpopularity of his family during, and subsequent to, the O.P. riots in 1809–10 [see Kemble, John Philip], and like them lived it down. He played in 1810 at the Haymarket with much success Mortimer in the ‘Iron Chest.’ He was the first Knight of Snowdoun in Morton's adaptation of the ‘Lady of the Lake,’ Covent Garden, 5 Feb. 1811. Antony in ‘Julius Cæsar’ was played in the following season. ‘Kamschatka, or the Slave's Tribute,’ an adaptation from Kotzebue by Kemble, who played Stepanoff, was given at Covent Garden, 16 Oct. 1811. The ‘Child of Chance,’ a farce also by him, was performed at the Haymarket 8 July 1812, played thrice and never printed; and on 29 May 1813 the ‘Brazen Bust,’ an unprinted melodrama by Kemble, was given for the first time at Covent Garden with the adaptor as Frederick. It was played four times in all, and appears to be the last of his efforts at adaptation. After this he travelled in the country, performing subsequently in Brussels, Calais, Boulogne, &c., and visited Germany, it was said, in search of plays to be translated. He reappeared at Covent Garden, after an absence of three years, 13 Sept. 1815, as Macbeth, and divided the leading parts with his brother. Doricourt in the ‘Belle's Stratagem,’ in which, 12 Sept. 1817, he followed William Thomas Lewis [q. v.], disputed with Mercutio the claim to be his best comic part. Benedick and Young Marlow were played in this season in London, in which he was, 5 Feb. 1818, the original Giraldi Fazio in Milman's ‘Fazio,’ and on 22 April the original Manfredi in Sheil's ‘Bellamira.’ On 10 Jan. 1819 he was the first Vicentio in Sheil's ‘Evadne.’ Lord Towneley, Tamerlane, Archer, Sir Edward Mortimer in an adaptation of Schiller's ‘Mary Stuart,’ Hastings in ‘Jane Shore,’ Ivanhoe, Icilius in ‘Virginius,’ belong to this season, at the close of which he played at the Haymarket Oakley in the ‘Jealous Wife’ and other parts. He was the original Guido in Barry Cornwall's ‘Mirandola,’ and Don John in Reynolds's ‘Don John,’ adapted from the ‘Chances.’ He also appeared in Bath.
On the death of Thomas Harris [q. v.], J. P. Kemble made over to Charles Kemble his share in Covent Garden, a handsome, but, as the event proved, a ruinous present. His management of Covent Garden began 1822–3. Like most managers, he was accused of sacrificing the higher drama to melodrama and spectacle. ‘Falstaff’ was played 3 May 1824. He was the first Stephen Foster, 9 Nov. 1824, in ‘A Woman never vext,’ altered by Planché from Rowley, and on 20 April 1825 the original Orestes in Bailey's ‘Orestes in Argos.’ At this period he played Othello, Feignwell, and innumerable leading parts in tragedy and comedy, and was, 20 May 1826, the original Louis Kerneguy (Charles II) in Pocock's ‘Woodstock.’ On 4 Nov. 1826 he was the first Francesco Foscari in Miss Mitford's ‘Foscari.’ At the beginning of the season of 1829–30 affairs at Covent Garden were at the worst, distraint warrants for rates and taxes to the amount of between 1,000l. and 2,000l. were issued, and the theatre was in the possession of bailiffs. A subscription was got up, and a performance given at the King's Theatre for the benefit of Covent Garden, and many actors played gratuitously for from three to ten nights. On the opening night of the season, 5 Oct. 1829, Kemble played for the first time Mercutio, perhaps his greatest part. On 29 Oct. he was Shakespeare in ‘Shakespeare's Early Days.’ The appearance of Miss Fanny Kemble (Mrs. Butler), Kemble's daughter, retrieved the position of the theatre, enabling it to pay off a debt of 13,000l. For several consecutive seasons she was the mainstay of the theatre, and Kemble was largely occupied in supporting her. In 1830, while living with his daughter in Great Russell Street, he assaulted Westmacott, the editor of the ‘Age,’ for his comments upon her. He accompanied Miss Kemble to Brighton, Bristol, and other places. He was in 1832 the original Sir Thomas Clifford to her Julia in the ‘Hunchback’ of Sheridan Knowles, and on 15 Jan. of that year took part in the opening dinner of the Garrick Club. On 1 Aug. 1832 he sailed with his daughter for America, and on 17 Sept. appeared in New York as Hamlet. The success of the pair, artistic and social, was great, though Miss Kemble hints that their style was perhaps somewhat too tame for the New York public. Philadelphia, Boston, and other towns in the United States and Canada were visited. On 7 June 1834 the trip was concluded by the marriage of Miss Kemble in Philadelphia to Mr. Pierce Butler.
In 1835 Kemble was again at the Haymarket, and on 23 Dec. 1836, as Benedick, he made a nominal retirement from the stage. He was then living in Park Place, St. James's. In obedience to a royal command he returned to the stage of Covent Garden in the early spring of 1840, and gave twelve performances. His last appearance was on 10 April 1840, it is said for the benefit of his daughter. Fanny Kemble was, however, at that date in America. On 17 Oct. 1836 Kemble was gazetted examiner of plays. He performed the duties by proxy, and on 22 Feb. 1840 formally resigned them to his son, John Mitchell Kemble [q. v.] On 13 May 1844 he gave at Willis's Rooms a series of readings from Shakespeare, which were repeated the following year. Deafness had been growing upon him, and became in his later years almost total. He died on Sunday, 12 Nov. 1854. His son, John Mitchell Kemble [q. v.], and his younger daughter, Adelaide [q. v.], who married Mr. Sartoris, are separately noticed. The second daughter Frances Anne, better known as Fanny Kemble, an authoress of repute, is still alive.
Kemble played a greater range of parts than any actor except Garrick, and in his later years occupied a foremost position. Tall, and with a full share of the Kemble beauty, he was eminently picturesque in tragic characters. Leigh Hunt declares him equally happy in the tender lover, such as Romeo, in which line, according to Hunt, he was ‘certainly the first performer on the stage;’ in the spirited gentlemen of tragedy, Laertes, Falconbridge, and in a ‘very happy mixture of the occasional debauchee and the gentleman of feeling,’ Cassio and Oakley in the ‘Jealous Wife;’ and credits him with a ‘reposing command in the use of his head and shoulders,’ recalling Antinous, but taxes him with indolent languor and weariness of manner. C. R. Leslie [q. v.] disparages him somewhat in 1816, saying that Kemble looked Orlando better than he played it, and adding, ‘He is no great actor; the only character I ever liked him in was Falconbridge’ (Autobiography). Two years earlier Macready pronounced his Young Mirabel ‘a most finished piece of acting,’ his Richmond chivalrous and spirited, and his Cassio incomparable. His tragic assumptions he styles laborious failures, summing him up as ‘a first-rate actor in second-rate parts.’ Dr. Doran holds him the most graceful and refined of actors, unrivalled in Macduff, Falconbridge, and Laertes. Guido in ‘Mirandola,’ by Barry Cornwall, is said to be his best original part. His Hamlet is declared as fine in conception as that of his brother, but inferior in execution, an opinion said to have been held by Mrs. Siddons. In Mercutio ‘he walked, spoke, looked, fought, like a gentleman.’ Westland Marston gives highest praise to the Mercutio, finds his Hamlet in some respects superior to that of Macready, and says concerning his delivery: ‘I had never imagined there could be so much charm in words as mere sounds.’ Vandenhoff gives a stirring account of his delivery, when seventy years of age, of a speech of Mercutio. Outlasting his brother on the stage by some twenty years, he is principally responsible for what is known as the Kemble school, by which the English and American stage was long coloured. In all personal and social respects he stood deservedly high. He was, 10 Jan. 1837, after his retirement, entertained at dinner by the Garrick Club, an unusual honour.
Portraits of him by Kearsley; as Hamlet, by Wyvell; and as Charles II, with Fawcett as Copp, in ‘Charles the Second,’ by George Clint, are in the Mathews collection in the Garrick Club. R. J. Lane, A.R.A., published a series of studies of his principal characters, and Timothy Butler executed a bust.[The career of Charles Kemble up to 1830 is chronicled in Genest. For his subsequent life, The Records of a Girlhood, 3 vols. 1878, and The Records of Later Life, 3 vols. 1882, supply the principal particulars. See also Biographia Dramatica; Boaden's Life of Mrs. Siddons, and Life of J. P. Kemble; Campbell's Life of Mrs. Siddons; Fitzgerald's Lives of the Kembles; Georgian Era; Pollock's Reminiscences of Macready; Leslie's Autobiography; Westland Marston's Recollections of Our Recent Actors; Vandenhoff's Dramatic Reminiscences; Gent. Mag. January 1855; Era newspaper, 19 Nov. 1854; the stage writings of Hazlitt, Leigh Hunt, and Lamb.]