Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Kemble, Charles

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KEMBLE, Charles, actor, b. in Brecon, Wales, 27 Nov., 1775; d. in London, England, 12 Nov., 1854. He was the brother of John Philip and Mrs. Sarah Siddons, carefully educated at the Roman Catholic seminary in Douai, and in 1792 became engaged as a junior clerk in the London general post-office. In April, 1794, he made his theatrical debut in Sheffield as Orlando in “As You Like It,” and he appeared on the London stage at Drury Lane theatre on the 22d of that month, as Malcolm in “Macbeth.” In 1806 he married Miss Maria Theresa De Camp, a ballet-dancer, who, after the loss of her sprightliness, became an actress. Later he and his wife played in the cities of the United Kingdom, and after joined the company at Covent Garden. From 1828 until 1832 he was manager of the last-named theatre. In 1832 Kemble came to the United States in company with his daughter, Frances Anne. He opened at the Park theatre in New York city as Hamlet. For two years father and daughter continued playing in the large cities of the Union. After the actor's return to London, in 1834, he performed in public for limited periods, taking a farewell of the stage in 1836. He then became a dramatic reader in public, and was frequently invited to read condensations of Shakespeare's plays in the royal household. In 1840, for a single season, he again managed Covent Garden. His permanent connection with the stage was closed in 1842. Toward the last, Charles Kemble became examiner of plays for the London theatres. During his management he produced and published several dramas that were translated from Schiller, Kotzebue, Dumas, Sr., and others. If it be true, as the English would have it, that “there never was a Welshman of first-rate ability,” Charles Kemble comes under this sarcasm. While his sister, brother, and daughter were actors of remarkable endowments, he, the Welsh member of the family, could not claim so high a distinction. It was long, laborious application and careful study that polished him into the refined and scholarly actor. Criticism has justly recorded him as “a first-rate performer of second-rate parts.” Among his best Shakespearian renderings were Mercutio, Faulconbridge, Edgar, Petruchio, Cassio, Benedick, and Macduff. —

Appletons' Kemble Charles Frances Anne.jpg
Appletons' Kemble Charles Frances Anne signature.jpg

His eldest daughter, Frances Anne, actress, b. in London, England, 27 Nov., 1809, is usually spoken of as Fanny Kemble. After receiving a careful education at seminaries, she dwelt in a theatrical atmosphere; the ways of the stage were more familiar to her than the duties of the household or the graces of the drawing-room. Her father, who managed Covent Garden theatre in 1829, was in serious financial difficulties and devised the expedient of introducing his daughter to the public as an actress. She made her début on 5 Oct. of that year, in the character of Juliet, in company with her father as Mercutio and her mother as Lady Capulet. Miss Kemble's success, which was immediate and remarkable, continued for several years in London and other large cities. On 15 March, 1832, she produced at Covent Garden her drama “Francis the First,” in which she essayed Louise of Savoy. As a literary production the play was favorably criticised, but it became wearisome on repetition. At this time Miss Kemble's attractive Shakespearian characters were Juliet, Portia, Constance, and Queen Katherine, supplemented by Bianca in “Fazio,” Julia in “The Hunchback,” Belvidere in “Venice Preserved,” and Juliana in “The Honeymoon.” In 1832 she came with her father to this country, and played for about two years in the principal cities. Their success was so marked as to cause great excitement, that lasted until Miss Kemble's marriage and her father's departure for England. Her last appearance was at the Park theatre in New York city in June, 1834. She came before the public in the United States in the full flush of young womanhood — lithe and graceful, with black hair and brilliant eyes, set forth by expressive features. Remarkable energy and a voice of uncommon range and power were among her attributes. On 7 June, 1834, she married, in Philadelphia, Pierce Butler, a southern planter, son of the U. S. senator of that name. During most of Miss Kemble's American career he had followed her from place to place, frequently engaged as a volunteer musician in the orchestra. For the greater part of their married life the young couple dwelt in Brambleton, near Philadelphia, varied by brief winter visits to their estate of Butler's Island in Georgia. Here the wife found the conditions of a southern planter's life unendurable. Her outspoken condemnation of slavery fostered disagreements, and in 1846 the wife permanently forsook her husband's home. In 1848 Mr. Butler sued for a divorce, on the plea of abandonment and incompatibility of temper. The case stood entirely “non criminis.” His counsel was Geo. M. Dallas, hers Rufus Choate. A divorce was readily granted by the Philadelphia court, to the satisfaction of both parties. Mr. Butler died in 1867. Immediately after the divorce Mrs. Butler resumed her maiden name, and for years lived in Lenox, Mass. In 1849 she came before the public at Philadelphia, in her first course of Shakespearian readings. These entertainments were repeated in many cities from 1856 until 1860, and again from 1866 until 1868. From 1873 until 1877 Mrs. Kemble resided near Philadelphia. At the present time (1887) she is living in England. She read in all twenty-four Shakespearian plays. The reader's own favorite was “The Tempest.” Mrs. Kemble's renderings of the masculine roles of Lear and Macbeth were particularly admired. As a reader Mrs. Kemble was pre-eminent, displaying both scholarship and intellectual mastery, and combining tenderness with power. It sounds strangely to hear from one so highly gifted that “her dislike for the stage made her indifferent to her own success” as an artist. Apart from her acting and reading she has claims to distinction as a poet, dramatist, critic, and prose-writer. Her publications include “Francis the First,” a drama (London, 1832; New York, 1833); “Journal” (2 vols., London, 1835; Philadelphia and Boston, 1835); “The Star of Seville,” a drama (London and New York, 1837); “Poems” (London and Philadelphia, 1844; Boston, 1859); “A Year of Consolation” (2 vols., London and New York, 1847); “Plays,” translated (London, 1863); “Journal of a Residence on a Georgia Plantation” (London and New York, 1863); “Records of a Girlhood” (3 vols., London, 1878; New York, 1879); “Records of Later Life” (3 vols., 1882); and “Notes on some of Shakespeare's Plays” (London, 1882).