Kemble, Maria Theresa (DNB00)
|←Kemble, John Philip||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 30
Kemble, Maria Theresa
KEMBLE, MARIA THERESA or MARIE THÉRÈSE (1774–1838), actress, wife of Charles Kemble [q. v.], the daughter of George De Camp, whose real name it has been alleged was De Fleury, was born in Vienna 17 Jan. 1774. She belonged to a family of musicians and dancers. Brought to England, she appeared when six years old at the Opera House as Cupid in a ballet of Noverre. After playing at the age of eight in a theatre directed by M. Le Texier Zélie in a translation of Madame de Genlis's ‘La Colombe’ she was engaged for the Royal Circus, subsequently known as the Surrey Theatre. On the alleged recommendation of the Prince of Wales she was engaged by Colman for the Haymarket, where she appeared in a ballet entitled ‘Jamie's Return.’ She was then secured by King for Drury Lane, where, as Miss De Camp, 24 Oct. 1786, she played Julie, a small part in Burgoyne's ‘Richard Cœur de Lion.’ Her father, who left her in England and returned to Germany, where he died while she was still young, had taught her no English, and the few words she spoke were acquired by imitation. Reading, writing, and arithmetic, according to the ‘Biographia Dramatica,’ were taught her by Viscountess Perceval, and music, Italian, &c., by a Miss Buchanan. At Drury Lane or the Haymarket she played Prince Arthur, Lucinda in ‘Venice Preserved,’ and other juvenile or unimportant parts.
She first caught the public taste 15 Aug. 1792 at the Haymarket, when, in the ‘Beggar's Opera,’ she performed Macheath to the Polly of Bannister and the Lucy of Johnstone, in one of the fantastic experiments of changing the sex of the exponents then in vogue at that theatre. Biddy in ‘Miss in her Teens,’ Adelaide in the ‘Count of Narbonne,’ Gillian in the ‘Quaker,’ and Lucy in the ‘Recruiting Officer’ were assigned her; and she played some original parts, including Lindamira in Cumberland's ‘Box Lobby Challenge.’ In singing parts she was allowed at times to replace Signora Storace and Mrs. Crouch. She was the original Judith in the ‘Iron Chest,’ and Florimel in Kemble's ‘Celadon and Florimel.’ At one or other house Miranda in the ‘Busybody,’ Page (Cherubin) in ‘Follies of a Day,’ ‘Le Mariage de Figaro,’ and Kitty in ‘High Life Below Stairs’ followed. At the Haymarket, 15 July 1797, she was the original Caroline Dormer in the ‘Heir-at-Law,’ and in the same year she played Portia and Desdemona, followed at Drury Lane by Katherine in ‘Katherine and Petruchio,’ and Hippolito in Kemble's alteration of the ‘Tempest.’ For her benefit, 3 May 1799, she gave at Drury Lane her own unprinted play of ‘First Faults.’ In the same year William Earle, jun., printed in octavo a poor piece called ‘Natural Faults,’ and accused Miss De Camp in the preface of having stolen his plot and characters. In a letter to the ‘Morning Post,’ dated from Tottenham Court Road, 10 June (1799), she positively denied the charge, and asserted that her play was copied by Earle from recitation (cf. letter quoted in extenso in Biog. Dram., and signed Marie Thérèse De Camp). Genest observes that Earle's statement ‘has the appearance of truth’ (Account of the Stage, viii. 419). Lady Teazle, Miss Hoyden, Lady Plyant in the ‘Double Dealer,’ Hypolita in ‘She would and she would not,’ Little Pickle, and Dollalolla in ‘Tom Thumb’ were a few of the parts she played before her marriage to Charles Kemble [q. v.], which took place 2 July 1806.
Accompanying the Kembles to Covent Garden, she made her first appearance there, 1 Oct. 1806, as Maria in the ‘Citizen,’ and remained there for the rest of her acting career. Her pretty little comedy, ‘The Day after the Wedding, or a Wife's First Lesson,’ 8vo, 1808, was played at Covent Garden for the benefit of her husband, who enacted Colonel Freelove, 18 May 1808. She was Lady Elizabeth Freelove, a rôle in which she was at her best. ‘Match-making, or 'Tis a Wise Child that knows its own Father,’ played for her own benefit on the 24th, is also assigned to her. It was not acted a second time, nor printed. She also assisted her husband in the preparation of ‘Deaf and Dumb.’ Among the parts now assigned her were Ophelia, Mrs. Sullen, Violante, Beatrice in ‘Much Ado about Nothing,’ Mrs. Ford, Juliana in the ‘Honeymoon,’ and the like. In 1813–14 and 1814–15 she was not engaged. On 12 Dec. 1815 she made what appears to have been a solitary reappearance as Lady Emily Gerald in her own comedy ‘Smiles and Tears, or the Widow's Stratagem,’ a work the comic scenes in which are superior to the sentimental. She then disappeared until 1818–19, when she played Mrs. Sterling, and was the original Madge Wildfire in Terry's musical version of the ‘Heart of Midlothian.’ For her own and her husband's benefit she played Lady Julia in ‘Personation,’ 9 June 1819, when she retired. A solitary reappearance was made at Covent Garden on the occasion of the début as Juliet of her daughter Fanny, 5 Oct. 1829, when she played Lady Capulet. She died at Chertsey, Surrey, on 3 Sept. 1838.
An admirable actress of chambermaids, she was also excellent in Mrs. Oakley, Lucy Lockit, Caroline in the ‘Prize,’ Mrs. Sullen, Bisarre, and other similar parts. She was good-looking, intelligent, and so industrious that she was said in her early life to have almost lived in Drury Lane Theatre. A writer in ‘Blackwood’ for 1832 speaks of her as ‘a delightful dark-eyed, dark-haired girl, whose motion was itself music ere her voice was heard,’ and speaks of her as possessing remarkable charm. In later life, when she had grown stout, she insisted on playing juvenile parts, to the damage of her reputation. She was a moderate singer. As Lady Elizabeth Freelove and as Edmund in the ‘Blind Boy’ she had no successor. Her character was unassailable.
Her brother occasionally acted fops and footmen at Drury Lane and the Haymarket, and was subsequently an actor and a cowkeeper in America. Her sister Adelaide, an actress in a line similar to her own, was popular in Newcastle-on-Tyne.[Genest's Account of the English Stage; Biographia Dramatica; Georgian Era; Clark Russell's Representative Actors; Doran's Annals of the Stage, ed. Lowe; Gent. Mag. new ser. vol. x.; Secret History of the Green Room; Thespian Dict.]