Pemberton, Charles Reece (DNB00)

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PEMBERTON, CHARLES REECE (1790–1840), actor and lecturer, was born at Pontypool, Monmouthshire, on 23 Jan. 1790, and registered as Thomas Reece Pemberton. His father was a Warwickshire man, his mother a Welshwoman, and he was the second of three children. When he was about four years old, his parents removed to Birmingham, and Pemberton was placed at a unitarian charity school under Daniel Wright. He was subsequently apprenticed to his uncle, a brassfounder in Birmingham, but ran away in 1807 to Liverpool, where he was seized by a press-gang and sent to sea. He served for seven years, seeing some active service off Cadiz, Gibraltar, and Madeira. After the war he became an actor, and led a wandering life; he is said to have managed several theatres in the West Indies with some success. He made an unhappy marriage with a lady named Fanny Pritchard, and they soon separated. By 1827 he was in England again, acting, lecturing, and reciting. On 19 Feb. 1828 he played Macbeth at Bath. Genest says ‘he acted tolerably, but nothing farther; he had an indifferent figure, and a bad face, with no expression in it; he had studied the part with great attention, and understood it thoroughly.’ On 21 Feb. he played Shylock. During the same year he was acting at Hereford during the assizes; Serjeant (afterwards Sir Thomas) Talfourd [q. v.] was greatly impressed with his performances, and praised him highly in the ‘New Monthly Magazine’ for September 1828, especially his rendering of Shylock and Virginius. He also played Hotspur, Sir Peter Teazle, and other characters, but was not successful in comic parts. On Talfourd's recommendation, Pemberton was engaged at Covent Garden by Charles Kemble [q. v.] He made his first appearance there on 2 March 1829 as Virginius, and on 9 March played Shylock. There was much divergence among critics as to his merits, but Talfourd still eulogised him as a tragedian. Pemberton did not, however, reappear at Covent Garden; and, after an engagement at the Royal Theatre, Birmingham, he devoted himself to lecturing and reciting, principally at mechanics' institutes. His favourite subjects were the tragic characters of Shakespeare. ‘Since Pemberton's day,’ says Mr. Holyoake, ‘I have heard hundreds of lecturers and preachers in England and America, but never one who had the animation, the inspiration, and the spontaneous variety he had’ (Sixty Years of an Agitator's Life, i. 40). In 1833 he commenced writing in the ‘Monthly Repository,’ then edited by William Johnson Fox [q. v.], the ‘Autobiography of Pel. Verjuice,’ in which he gave an account of his own experiences. In 1836 he played Macbeth and Shylock at Birmingham, and at the end of the year visited the Mediterranean on account of his health. He recommenced lecturing in the summer of 1838 at the Sheffield Mechanics' Institute; but his powers were failing, and a subscription was set on foot to enable him to spend the winter in Egypt. This visit brought about no improvement, and he died, not long after his return, on 3 March 1840, at the house of his younger brother, William Dobson Pemberton, on Ludgate Hill, Birmingham. He was buried in the Key Hill cemetery, and the Birmingham Mechanics' Institute, of which Mr. Holyoake was secretary, placed a memorial, with an epitaph by Fox, over his grave. Ebenezer Elliott [q. v.], the corn-law rhymer, wrote some verses on him called ‘Poor Charles.’

A portrait of Pemberton is prefixed to his ‘Life and Literary Remains.’ He directed that all his manuscripts, except three plays, should be destroyed. His ‘Life and Literary Remains,’ 1843, 8vo, edited by Mr. John Fowler, with memoir by Fox, contains ‘The Autobiography of Pel. Verjuice;’ ‘The Podesta, a Tragedy, in Five Acts;’ ‘The Banner, a Tragedy, in Five Acts;’ ‘Two Catherines, a Comedy, in Five Acts;’ with pieces in prose and verse. Another edition of the ‘Autobiography of Pel. Verjuice’ was edited in 1853 by George Searle Phillips [q. v.]

[Memoirs in the two editions of Pel. Verjuice; Holyoake's Sixty Years of an Agitator's Life, 3rd edit. i. 37–40, 85, 132, 221; Genest's English Stage, ix. 443, 480; Gent. Mag. 1880, i. 446; Monthly Repository, 1833–4; Aris's Birmingham Gazette, 9 March 1840; Memoirs of Charles Mathews, iv. 169.]

A. F. P.