Kemble, Henry Stephen (DNB00)

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KEMBLE, HENRY STEPHEN (1789–1836), actor, son of Stephen Kemble [q. v.], was born 15 Sept. 1789 in Villiers Street, Strand, London, whither his mother, after acting Queen Margaret in the ‘Battle of Hexham,’ on this the closing night of the Haymarket Theatre, was hurriedly carried. He was educated at Winchester and Trinity College, Cambridge, which he quitted after two years' residence to try his fortune on the stage. His first appearance was made at Whitehaven, under his father's management, as Frank Heartall in Cherry's comedy the ‘Soldier's Daughter.’ Under his father he acted in various northern towns, and married, in opposition to parental wishes, a Miss Freize, a member of the company. After his father relinquished country management, he joined the Southampton and Portsmouth circuit under Maxfield, Kelly, and Collins. As Octavian in the ‘Mountaineers’ to the Agnes of his wife he made, on 12 July 1814, his first appearance at the Haymarket, where the family name secured him a favourable reception. This was not announced as his first appearance in London, where it is possible he made, under one or other of his relatives, an unpretending début. He possessed at this time a good figure, above the middle size, and a fine eye, the other features being void of expression. The ‘Theatrical Inquisitor’ says he ‘did not tear a passion to rags, but diluted it to the consistence of water-gruel.’ Mrs. Kemble was pretty, lively, and vivacious, but overpowered by timidity. Engaged by Palmer of the Bath Theatre, he played under the same management, in Bristol, and made his first appearance in Bath, on 16 Nov. 1816, as Bertram in Maturin's tragedy of the same name. He was also seen as Bajazet in ‘Tamerlane,’ Gambia in the ‘Slave,’ Daran in the ‘Exile,’ Three-Fingered Jack in ‘Obi,’ and Octavian in the ‘Mountaineers’ to the Agnes of his wife. He was noticed at the time as boisterous, and a Bath paper said of his De Zelos in ‘Manuel’ that it was received ‘with peals of derision, although entitled to shouts of disgust.’

During his one year's management of Drury Lane, 1818–19, his father caused much murmuring by sending for him and entrusting him with many parts of importance for which he was wholly unqualified. Making his first appearance on 12 Sept. 1818, the opening night of the theatre, as Romeo, he shouted and ranted until his voice gave way, and it was said of him in joke that he had promised to be heard in Bath. Among the parts assigned him during this ill-starred experiment were Julio in ‘A Bold Stroke for a Husband,’ Harry Dornton in the ‘Road to Ruin,’ George Barnwell, Carlos in ‘Love makes a Man,’ Biron in ‘Isabella,’ Macduff, Richmond, Norval, Alonzo in ‘Pizarro,’ &c.; and he was the first exponent of some dozen characters, among which were Giafar in Milner's ‘Barmecide, or the Fatal Offspring,’ Sextus in Howard Payne's ‘Brutus,’ Guilio (sic) in Soames's ‘Dwarf of Naples,’ and Manfredi in Bucke's ‘Italians, or the Fatal Accusation.’ He also played Marmion in ‘Flodden Field,’ an adaptation from Scott by himself and his father, and given on 31 Dec. 1818. At the close of this season he seems to have dropped into the minor theatres. For the Coburg he altered the piece last named into the ‘Nun of St. Hilda's Cave.’ Here, at the Surrey, Astley's, and the East London Theatres he acted principal parts, incurring the censure that he possessed ‘the strongest lungs and weakest judgment with (sic) any performer in his station.’ Generous, although self-indulgent, he was widely popular. Before he was forty his hair was snow-white, and he showed many signs of age, and some, it is said, of decrepitude. He died on 22 June 1836. Mrs. Kemble made a successful début at the English Opera House (Lyceum) as Polly in the ‘Beggar's Opera.’

Prints of Kemble as Giafar in the ‘Barmecide’ and other characters are traceable.

[Genest's Account of the English Stage; Biography of the British Stage, 1824; Oxberry's Dramatic Biography, vol. ii. old ser., vol. i. new ser.; Theatrical Inquisitor, various years; Gent. Mag. August 1836; General Mag. 1789.]

J. K.