Kemble, Roger (DNB00)

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KEMBLE, ROGER (1721–1802), actor and theatrical manager, head of the Kemble family, was born in Hereford on 1 March 1721. He was a catholic, and it was claimed on his behalf that he was descended from a Wiltshire family of old standing. The connecting links are, however, missing. The priest, John Kemble [q. v.], is said to have been a granduncle. The death of Roger's sister, Eleanor Kemble, was announced in the ‘Hereford Journal,’ May 1804. Lee Lewes says that Roger Kemble, who was bred a hairdresser, conceived a desire to be an actor on meeting in Canterbury in 1752 Smith's theatrical company. Fanny Furnival, a well-known actress then in the company, undertook his education, and at the end of seven weeks' training qualified him to appear in ‘Serjeant Kite.’ The experiment was a failure, and Kemble and his fair trainer set out for Birmingham, where he was engaged by Ward, the manager, while his companion, for whom Ward had no place, was accepted by Quelch, manager of the company at Coventry. Rejected by Miss Furnival, who had formed other connections, Kemble married at Cirencester in 1753 Sarah, daughter of his manager, John Ward (1704–1773), a noteworthy man and an actor of some merit, from whom, rather than from Kemble, it is probable that what was remarkable in the Kemble strain was derived. Ward, who objected to his daughter marrying an actor, consoled himself by the thought that Kemble was none. The lady was born at Clonmel, Ireland, on 2 Sept. 1735. Of their twelve children those who reached maturity were (1) Sarah, afterwards Mrs. Siddons [q. v.]; (2) John Philip [q. v.]; (3) Stephen or George Stephen [q. v.]; (4) Frances, afterwards Mrs. Twiss; (5) Elizabeth, afterwards Mrs. Whitelock; (6) Anne; (7) Henry; and (8) Charles [q. v.] All made some effort on the stage. Four other children, Mary, Catherine, Lucy, and Jane, died young. Mrs. Kemble being a protestant, an arrangement was made by which the boys were to be brought up in their father's religion and the girls in that of their mother. Kemble accordingly sent most of his sons to be educated at Douay. Kemble spent his life in the worthy discharge of his duties, domestic and managerial.

Soon after his marriage Kemble formed a travelling company, of which many of his children were members in their youth. At Worcester, ‘at the Great Room at the King's Head in High Street’ (12 Feb. 1767), some of the young Kembles took part in a representation of Havard's ‘King Charles I,’ assumably under Roger Kemble, whose management began in that year. A concert of vocal and instrumental music was given at the same place by Kemble's company of comedians, admission to which, nominally gratis, was only available to those who bought packets of tooth-powder obtainable at certain places. The concert included a representation of ‘Love in a Village,’ with Siddons as Young Meadows and his future wife as Rosetta. Again, on 16 April 1767, in the same room was a concert of music, between the two parts of which was presented the ‘Tempest, or the Inchanted Island,’ as altered from Shakespeare by Dryden and Sir W. D'Avenant. Of this the following was the cast: Alonzo (Duke of Mantua), Mr. [? John Philip] Kemble; Hyppolito (a youth who never saw a woman), Mr. Siddons; Stephano (master of the duke's ship), Mr. [? Roger] Kemble; Amphitrite by Mrs. Kemble; Ariel (the chief spirit) by Miss Kemble; and Melcha by Miss F. Kemble (Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. iv. 45).

For the benefit of his son, Stephen (26 Aug. 1788), at the Haymarket, Roger played the Miller in the ‘Miller of Mansfield,’ ‘being the first and only time he will ever appear in London.’ Boaden (Life of Campbell) says he acted it ‘with very superior effect,’ and states elsewhere that Mrs. Roger Kemble told him that he was the only gentleman Falstaff she had ever seen. He is also known to have played Sir William Meadows in ‘Love in a Village.’ Kemble died on 6 Dec. 1802. Boaden made the acquaintance of the Roger Kembles late in life, and says that Roger, who wore a black silk skull-cap, looked like a dignitary of the church of two centuries back, and had conspicuous ease and polish of manner. Mrs. Kemble had some beauty, and was, according to Boaden, ‘tempted by a coronet.’ She is said to have been a disciplinarian with her girls, a clever and rather eager conversationalist, with a deliberate and careful utterance, recalling that of Mrs. Siddons, and a nervous and exact propriety of speech, inherited by John Philip Kemble.

Portraits of Roger Kemble and Mrs. Kemble are given in the fourth volume of Fitzgerald's ‘Lives of the Kembles.’ A caricature by Rowlandson represents Mrs. Siddons being instructed by her father.

[Books cited; Campbell's Life of Mrs. Siddons; Boaden's Life of Mrs. Siddons; Boaden's Life of J. P. Kemble; Percy Fitzgerald's Lives of the Kembles; Genest's Account of the English Stage; Hitchcock's Irish Stage; Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. i. 268, viii. 205.]

J. K.