Kemble, Elizabeth (DNB00)

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KEMBLE, Mrs. ELIZABETH (1763?–1841), actress, the wife of Stephen Kemble [q. v.], born in London, was daughter of a musical instrument maker named Satchell. Her first recorded appearance on the stage took place at Covent Garden, on 21 Sept. 1780, as Polly in the ‘Beggar's Opera.’ She also played Patty in the ‘Maid of the Mill,’ and other parts. In the following season she was promoted to Margaret in ‘A New Way to Pay Old Debts,’ Juliet, Ophelia, and Celia in ‘As you like it,’ and took several characters of some importance in new pieces. On 24 Sept. 1783, when she had begun to play leading business, she appeared as Desdemona to Stephen Kemble's Othello. Subsequently she was Indiana in the ‘Conscious Lovers,’ to his Sealand, and Selima to his Bajazet in ‘Tamerlane.’ On 24 Nov. 1783, as Mrs. S. Kemble, late Miss Satchell, she was Miss Dormer in the ‘Mysterious Husband.’ The favour she won in public estimation was not shared by her husband, whom, to the regret of the management and the town, she accompanied in his enforced migrations. Her career consisted indeed in playing to and eclipsing her husband, with whom she appeared at the Haymarket, in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Newcastle, and other towns, and finally at Drury Lane. She was at the Haymarket, on 4 Aug. 1787, the first Yarico in the younger Colman's ‘Inkle and Yarico,’ and Harriet in ‘Ways and Means’ on 10 July 1788; and during her engagement at this house played very many original parts in plays of Colman, O'Keeffe, and other dramatists. Her repertory in London and the country was very large. She played characters so diverse as Lady Teazle and Cowslip in the ‘Agreeable Surprize,’ Mrs. Haller, and Cicely Homespun. By her prudence and exertions she contributed to her husband's fortune. Nineteen years after her husband, she died on 20 Jan. 1841, in retirement, at the Grove, near Durham, and was buried on the 25th by the side of her husband in Durham Cathedral.

Tate Wilkinson declares that with the exception of Mrs. Cibber she was the only good Ophelia he ever saw. Oxberry, a censorious judge, calls her ‘a little woman, but a great actress.’ Boaden supplies a very pleasing picture of her: ‘The stage never in my time exhibited so pure, so interesting a candidate as Miss Satchell. … No one ever like her presented the charm of unsuspecting fondness or that rustic simplicity which, removed immeasurably from vulgarity, betrays nothing of the world's refinement’ (Life of Mrs. Siddons, i. 214). Equally favourable testimony is borne by a writer in ‘Blackwood's Magazine,’ 1832, who says there were few more delightful actresses, and declares that, though not so lovely as Miss O'Neill, nor so romantic, her ‘eyes had far more of that unconsciously alluring expression of innocence and voluptuousness.’ The writer claims for her genius rather than talent, speaks of her clear, silvery voice, praises her Katherine in ‘Katherine and Petruchio’ and her Ophelia, and says that she was ‘a delicious Juliet, and an altogether incomparable Yarico.’ She sang with much feeling, but was less gentle than she appeared. Displays of temper on the stage were not unknown, and she once almost bit a piece out of the shoulder of Henry Erskine Johnston [q. v.], who was acting with her.

Another Elizabeth Kemble, a sister of her husband, appeared at Drury Lane 1783–4, played several parts, was extolled by George Steevens at the expense of Mrs. Siddons, married Mr. Whitelocke, a theatrical manager, and retired.

[For authorities see art. Kemble, Stephen or George Stephen.]

J. K.