Kemble, John Philip (DNB00)
KEMBLE, JOHN PHILIP (1757–1823), actor, eldest son and second child of Roger Kemble [q. v.], was born at Prescott in Lancashire, 1 Feb. 1757. In his childhood he played some parts in his father's company, among them being, 12 Feb. 1767, the Duke of York in Havard's ‘King Charles I,’ his elder sister, Mrs. Siddons, being the Princess Elizabeth, and either Stephano or Alonzo in Dryden's ‘Tempest,’ 16 April 1767. He was sent, 3 Nov. 1767, to a Roman catholic school at Sedgley Park in Staffordshire, with a view to becoming a priest, and left 25 July 1771 for the English College at Douay, where he acquired a fair knowledge of Latin and Greek, being able to declaim with facility in the former tongue. He showed there a surprisingly retentive memory, and in subsequent days laid a wager that after a few days' study he could repeat the contents of a newspaper, including advertisements, without misplacing a word. He studied the lives of the saints, but felt no vocation for the priesthood, and to the disappointment of his father, who refused to aid him in his new schemes, returned to adopt the profession of actor.
By his sister's recommendation he was admitted to Chamberlain's company at Wolverhampton, and on 8 Jan. 1776, as Theodosius in Lee's tragedy of that name, he made there what was practically his début. Bajazet was his second part. In bills of the performances of Chamberlain's company he is advertised to play the part of Tancred ‘after the manner of Mr. Cummins,’ ‘a shewy actor’ (Oxberry), whom he afterwards met at York. He was at this time, says Oxberry, slovenly in dress and habit, but worked hard. At Leicester he was hissed nightly. At Cheltenham he gave, for the first recorded time, a lecture on eloquence, the remainder of the entertainment consisting of sleight-of-hand tricks by a Mr. Carlton. Subsequently at Liverpool he produced his tragedy of ‘Belisarius,’ afterwards given at Hull and in York, but never printed nor brought to London. Here, too, he produced, or recited, his poem, variously said to have been called the ‘Palace of Misery’ and the ‘Palace of Mersey.’ He also played in Manchester. Engaged by Tate Wilkinson for the York circuit, he appeared at Wakefield as Captain Plume. On 30 Oct. 1778 he played in Hull for the first time as Macbeth, taking subsequently Archer and other parts. Wilkinson speaks with praise, not wholly unreserved, of his performances, and declares that ‘Belisarius’ was received with ‘candour, credit, and applause.’ In York Kemble appeared, 19 Jan. 1779, as Orestes in the ‘Distrest Mother,’ his second part being Ranger, and the third Edward the Black Prince. A farce of his called ‘The Female Officer,’ supposed to be the same which, under the title of ‘Projects,’ was produced at Drury Lane 18 Feb. 1786, was played at York for the benefit of Mrs. Hunter. Like most of Kemble's dramatic efforts it was never printed, and on neither occasion of performance was it given more than once. In 1780 he published in York a 12mo volume of verse entitled ‘Fugitive Pieces,’ which, so far as he was able, he subsequently bought up and destroyed with the result that copies have realised from ten to fifteen pounds. A reprint in facsimile, except that it had no date, subsequently appeared. An alteration of the ‘Comedy of Errors,’ with the two Dromios presented as black men, on which he bestowed the well-merited title of ‘Oh, it's impossible!’ and which he had the grace to leave unprinted, was acted in York in the same year. On 15 April 1778, according to Tate Wilkinson, Kemble supported Mrs. Mason at York in ‘Zenobia.’ The performance was interrupted by the loud talking of a fashionable young lady; Kemble stopped, and declared his intention to wait until the conversation was finished. The audience approved of his conduct. The supporters of the lady, however, insisted on an apology, which Kemble refused. Attempts to interrupt future performances were made, but soon abandoned.
A scholar and a man of breeding, Kemble, besides somewhat overawing his fellows, had won social recognition and made friends wherever he had gone. He wrote prologues for the benefit of charitable institutions in York and at Leeds, where he appeared for the first time in ‘Hamlet.’ At this time he made the acquaintance of Mrs. Inchbald [q. v.] Upon the sudden death of her husband he wrote a blank-verse ode, following closely that of Collins to ‘Evening.’ He also wrote the Latin verses over Inchbald's grave. In Leeds, 24 June 1780, he gave at the theatre what he called an ‘Attic evening,’ consisting of a lecture on the ‘Art of Speaking in line parts, Sacred Eloquence, and Oratory of the Theatre,’ with illustrations from various authors, including himself. A second entertainment, with illustrations, differing in some respects, was given on 17 Aug., and in the beginning of 1781 a similar lecture was delivered in York. In various towns of the York circuit Kemble played leading characters in tragedy and in comedy with a steadily increasing reputation. Never sparing labour, he is said to have written out the part of Hamlet forty times. He generally improved on a first representation. Under Tate Wilkinson, who became temporarily the manager of the Edinburgh Theatre, Kemble made, in July 1781, as the Master in the ‘Toy Shop,’ his first appearance in Edinburgh. On 24 July he was Contrast in the ‘Lord of the Manor’ and Puff in the ‘Critic,’ and on the 30th Sir Giles Overreach. As Hamlet he made with great success, 2 Nov. 1781, his first appearance in Dublin, playing at Smock Alley Theatre under Daly. As Sir George Touchwood in the ‘Belle's Stratagem’ he lost ground, which he recovered in ‘Alexander the Great;’ and as Raymond in the ‘Count of Narbonne,’ a popular piece, extracted by Robert Jephson [q. v.] from Horace Walpole's ‘Castle of Otranto,’ he obtained a complete triumph. It was produced at both the Dublin houses, and Kemble's performance set the seal on his country reputation. Jephson introduced Kemble to his Dublin friends, including some of the nobility. Kemble went with Miss Younge to Cork, where he played before a less sympathetic public in ‘Hamlet,’ ‘Warren Hastings,’ and ‘Jaffier.’ Limerick was also visited. In Ireland he was seen in a large round of characters. Mrs. Crawford or Mrs. Inchbald usually supported him. Sometimes he played second to West Digges [q. v.], whose manner he was unjustly taxed with copying. In Cork he met Miss Phillips, subsequently Mrs. Crouch. Drawing his sword, he protected her against some young officers who waited in the theatre to escort the frightened and reluctant actress home. This conduct strengthened the report that he was about to marry her.
Kemble's first appearance in London took place at Drury Lane, 30 Sept. 1783, as Hamlet, causing some excitement and a keen polemic among the critics. He had not reached the maturity of his powers, but on the other hand his mannerisms and affectations, though already a subject of comment, were less pronounced than they subsequently became. His appearance and general gifts, including his voice, were in his favour. He wore classical drapery with unrivalled ease and elegance, and his features were both noble and expressive. Davies commended the pauses in his Hamlet, and Gilliland defended the performance all through. In his first season Kemble played Hamlet, Edward the Black Prince, Richard III, Sir Giles Overreach, Beverley, King John, Shylock, Alwin in the ‘Countess of Salisbury,’ Cato, Carlos in ‘Love makes a Man,’ and Jupiter in ‘Amphitryon.’ In the nineteen years during which he remained with the Drury Lane company, accompanying it in its enforced migration, he presented over 120 characters, including almost all the great parts in Shakespearean tragedy and not a few comic parts, in which he could have been seen to comparatively little advantage. That he effected some change, chiefly in the right direction, in his rendering of tragic parts, was conceded by his adversaries; and not a few of the readings in ‘Hamlet’ which were most contested have been retained by subsequent actors. Henderson was the rival most frequently opposed to him. The victory rested ultimately with Kemble. Kemble made the mistake of challenging, unnecessarily and somewhat insolently, the criticism of Woodfall in the ‘Morning Chronicle,’ and was for some time ‘boycotted’ in that newspaper. Kemble's first performance in London with Mrs. Siddons took place at Drury Lane, 22 Nov. 1783, as Beverley in the ‘Gamester’ to her Mrs. Beverley. On 10 Dec., at royal command, he played King John to her Constance, in which she was seen for the first time. In both parts he was overshadowed by his partner. Brother and sister appeared together, 2 Dec. 1784, in the ‘Carmelite’ of Cumberland, in which Kemble played Montgomerie and she Matilda, and 27 Jan. 1785 in the ‘Maid of Honour,’ an adaptation from Massinger by Kemble, who played Adorni to the Camiola of his sister. The adaptation is unprinted. On 8 March he was Othello to her Desdemona, and 31 March he played Macbeth. Posthumus followed 21 Nov. 1785, Osman 26 Dec., and Orlando on 18 Feb. 1786, on which night he produced his farce of ‘Projects.’ ‘Richard Cœur de Lion,’ in which he played the King, 24 Oct. 1786, showed him in a singing part. On 7 Feb. 1787 he played Castalio in the ‘Orphan,’ and then repeated his Dublin success as Raymond in the ‘Count of Narbonne,’ and 14 April obtained an overwhelming triumph in Jephson's tragedy of ‘Julia.’ On 26 Oct. 1787 he was Pedro in a prose alteration by himself of the ‘Pilgrim’ of Fletcher.
Under conditions which, as told by Oxberry, are not very romantic, Kemble married, on 8 Dec. 1787, the widow of an actor named Brereton [see Kemble, Priscilla]. A daughter of Lord North was at the time in love with Kemble, and North, who objected to his daughter's union with an actor, promised Mrs. Brereton a dower if she married Kemble. The money was never paid. Kemble and his newly married wife dined on the day of the ceremony with the Bannisters, and at night Bannister and Mrs. Kemble played in the ‘West Indian.’ Kemble went to the theatre and took his wife home to her new house, Caroline Street, Bedford Square. The marriage was not announced till the next night, when his wife played Lady Anne in ‘Richard III’ as Mrs. Kemble. For Mrs. Siddons's benefit he played, 21 Jan. 1788, Lear to her Cordelia, the receipts at the door being 347l. 10s.; on 31 Jan. was the original Cleombrotus in Mrs. Cowley's ‘Fate of Sparta;’ and on 1 April was Manuel to the Dianora of Mrs. Siddons in the ‘Regent,’ a new tragedy by Bertie Greatheed; 30 April he was Benedick to Miss Farren's Beatrice, and, 5 May, Antony, in ‘Love for Love,’ to the Cleopatra of Mrs. Siddons.
In the season of 1788–9 Kemble undertook the management of Drury Lane Theatre. From this period he began to dress characters according to his own conception, forsaking to some extent the conventional costume. An address to the public which he issued, 10 Oct. 1788, denied that he had undertaken the management, as had been said, under ‘humiliating restrictions.’ His first new assumption was Lord Towneley in the ‘Provoked Husband,’ which was followed by Biron in ‘Isabella’ and Leon in ‘Rule a Wife and have a Wife,’ Sciolto in the ‘Fair Penitent,’ Mirabel in the ‘Way of the World,’ and the two parts of Cromwell and Griffith in ‘King Henry VIII.’ On 28 Nov. 1788 he produced the ‘Pannel,’ a farce in three acts, 8vo, 1788, cut down from ‘'Tis well it's no worse,’ a translation by Bickerstaffe from Calderon. This was the period of Kemble's greatest fertility. In addition to the parts named he played Norval, Osmyn in ‘Mourning Bride,’ Zanga, Coriolanus, Paladore in ‘Law of Lombardy,’ Sir Clement Flint in the ‘Heiress,’ Petruchio, Romeo, Wolsey, Macbeth, Malvolio, and was the original Norfolk in St. John's ‘Mary Queen of Scots’ and Marquis in ‘False Appearances.’ Many of these parts, Coriolanus and Wolsey especially, proved to be the best in his repertory. Though assigned to Thomas Sheridan, the alteration of Coriolanus, 8vo, 1789 and 1806, was by Kemble. It was first played 7 Feb. 1789. The ‘Farm House,’ a comedy, 8vo, 1789, acted a second time 2 May 1789, is a three-act version by Kemble of Johnson's ‘Country Lasses, or the Custom of the Manor.’ At the close of the London season, in conjunction with James Aickin [q. v.], he took the Liverpool Theatre, and on the opening night recited a prologue by Miles Peter Andrews [q. v.] Mrs. Siddons being unwell, Kemble began his next London season under some difficulty. He was, 1 Oct., Henry V in his arrangement of that play, 8vo, 1789, 1801, 1806; produced, 13 Oct. 1789, his own adaptation of the ‘Tempest,’ 8vo, 1789 (a second alteration was published, 8vo, 1806), in which he did not appear, and he gave on 24 Oct. the ‘False Friend,’ an ill-starred and poor alteration by himself of Vanbrugh's comedy, in which he played Don Pedro. He was on 7 Nov. the original Hernandez in Hayley's ‘Marcella;’ on 8 March 1790 the original Willmore in ‘Love in many Masks,’ 8vo, 1790, his own adaptation of Mrs. Behn's ‘Rover;’ and added to his London repertory Sir W. Raleigh, Sir Charles Easy, Doricourt, Faulkland, and Young Marlowe, most of them parts in which he was seen at his worst. In 1790–1 he appeared for the first time as Charles Surface, which was not a success; and he afterwards told the story that, when offering to make reparation to a gentleman with whom he had had a drunken quarrel in the street, he was invited to solemnly promise never to play Charles Surface again—a promise that he made and kept (Reynolds, Life and Times, ii. 356–7). Kemble was the original Saville in ‘Better late than never,’ by Reynolds and Andrews. In 1791–2 he went with the company, while Drury Lane was rebuilding, to the Haymarket Opera House, where he played Hotspur and Oakley, and was the original Huniades in Miss Brand's play so called. In 1792–3, at the same house, he was the first Pirithous in Murphy's ‘Rival Sisters,’ to which he contributed a prologue, spoken by Wroughton, and was Horatio in the ‘Fair Penitent.’ In 1793, at the other Haymarket house, he was the original Octavian in the ‘Mountaineers’ of Colman the younger, in which he obtained a noteworthy success.
In the season of 1791–2 he accepted a challenge from James Aickin, stood the fire of his adversary, and then fired in the air. New Drury Lane opened 21 April 1794 with Kemble as Macbeth, and closed on 2 July. ‘Lodoiska’ (8vo, 1794), adapted from the French by Kemble, with music by Storace, was played 9 June. When the theatre reopened next season he was, 28 Oct. 1794, the original Prince of Guastalla in ‘Emilia Galotti,’ played Heraclius in the ‘Roman Father,’ and, 12 Dec. 1794, was Bertram in his own rendering of ‘All's Well that Ends Well’ (8vo, 1793), probably played previously, and, 10 March 1795, Shylock in his own adaptation of the ‘Merchant of Venice’ (8vo, 1795). On 30 Dec. 1794 he was the Duke in ‘Measure for Measure’ to the Isabella of Mrs. Siddons. During the season he was the first Penruddock in Cumberland's ‘Wheel of Fortune,’ and Edwy in ‘Edwy and Elgiva’ by Mme. d'Arblay, and played Zaphna in ‘Mahomet.’ Towards the close of 1795 he published an apology in the newspapers for having made amorous, unwelcome, and even violent advances to Miss De Camp, then acting with him, and subsequently the wife of his brother Charles [see Kemble, Maria Theresa]. Original characters of small importance preceded his appearance as Sir Edward Mortimer, 12 March 1796, in the younger Colman's ‘Iron Chest.’ Kemble, who was ill, and taking opium, failed to score in a part in which other actors subsequently made a success. Colman printed his play, with a preface, afterwards suppressed, which was very severe upon Kemble, and rendered the editions containing it much in demand. On 2 April 1796 Kemble played Vortigern in Ireland's tragedy of that name, fraudulently assigned to Shakespeare, and is said by his acting to have aided the exposure of the deceit [see Ireland, Samuel]. Alonzo in Miss Lee's ‘Almeyda’ was also played for the first time by Kemble, who in this season appeared in the ‘Plain Dealer.’ On 23 May 1796 his wife made her final appearance on the stage as Flavia in the ‘Roman Actor,’ an adaptation from Massinger. Kemble took part in the same piece, and his unprinted comedy, ‘Celadon and Florimel,’ based on the ‘Comical Lovers’ of Colley Cibber, was performed for the only time. Sextus in Jephson's ‘Conspiracy’ is the only original character assumed by Kemble in 1796–7. In 1797–8 he was the first representative of Percy in the ‘Castle Spectre’ of ‘Monk’ Lewis, and of the ‘Stranger’ in Benjamin Thompson's version of Kotzebue's play of the name. His arrangement of the ‘Merry Wives of Windsor’ was printed in 8vo in 1797 and 1804, and probably acted in the former year. He appeared as Aurelio in ‘Aurelio and Miranda,’ a dramatic version of the ‘Monk,’ when it was first produced, 29 Dec. 1798; as Rivers in the ‘East Indian’ of Lewis, 22 April 1799; as the Old Count in Whalley's ‘Castle of Montval’ on the following evening; and as Rolla in ‘Pizarro’ on 24 May 1799. Kemble's adaptation of ‘Much Ado about Nothing’ (8vo, 1799 and 1810) was probably played 12 Oct. 1799. On 25 Jan. Kemble was seen to small advantage as the original Prince Richard in Pye's ‘Adelaide,’ and, 29 April 1800, as De Montfort in Miss Baillie's play, adapted by himself. Kemble's alteration of the ‘Way of the World’ was given 22 Nov. 1800, and he was Antonio in Godwin's ‘Antonio,’ 13 Dec. 1800, and De l'Epée in Holcroft's adaptation, ‘Deaf and Dumb,’ 24 Feb. 1801. On 25 March 1802 he was Leontes. Kemble also adapted ‘Hamlet’ (printed in 8vo, 1800 and 1804), ‘King John’ (8vo, 1800 and 1804), ‘King Lear’ (8vo, 1800 and 1808), ‘First Part of Henry IV’ (8vo, 1803), ‘Macbeth’ (8vo, 1803), ‘Measure for Measure’ (8vo, 1803), ‘Othello’ (8vo, 1804), ‘Second Part of Henry IV’ (8vo, 1804), ‘Henry VIII’ (8vo, 1804), ‘Two Gentlemen of Verona’ (8vo, 1805), ‘Richard III’ (8vo, 1810), ‘As you like it’ (8vo, 1810), ‘Double Dealer’ (no date), and arranged the pantomime of ‘Alexander the Great’ (8vo, 1795), assigned to D'Egville. In 1796, after being arrested for a debt incurred by the proprietors, Kemble resigned the management of Drury Lane, but returned to it in the season of 1800–1. At the close of the season of 1801–2 his connection with Drury Lane ceased. His salary at Drury Lane as actor and manager had been 56l. 14s. per week. At the time of his withdrawal he was seeking to secure a fourth share of the Drury Lane property. The following year he began to negotiate through Mrs. Inchbald for the purchase of a share of Covent Garden, and while negotiations were in progress went abroad. After revisiting Douay, which he found in ‘a state of ruin, poverty, and desolation, not to be described’ (letter to Charles Kemble, Paris, 23 July 1802, in Boaden, Life), he went to Paris, and made the acquaintance of Talma, Mme. Contat, and other members of the Comédie Française. In December 1802 he was in Madrid, where he received news of his father's death.
Upon his return he acquired for 23,000l. the sixth share of Covent Garden formerly owned by William Thomas Lewis [q. v.] His partners were Thomas Harris, holding half the shares; Henry Harris, owning one-twelfth; and George White and A. Martindale, each owning one-eighth. Kemble, who replaced Lewis as manager, made his first appearance in the newly arranged theatre as Hamlet, 24 Sept. 1803. His family came with him to his new home, Charles appearing on the opening night, 12 Sept., and Mrs. Siddons on the 27th. It was first agreed that Cooke, then the chief support of the house, and Kemble should alternate principal and subordinate characters. In his manner of carrying out his contract with his turbulent associate, who gave him the nickname of Black Jack, and in that of taking parts belonging to Murray and others, Kemble incurred some censure. He played, however, Richmond to Cooke's Richard, and Antonio to his Shylock, his new characters being Old Norval, the King in the ‘Second Part of Henry IV,’ and Ford in the ‘Merry Wives of Windsor.’ In the following season he was, 24 Oct. 1804, the original Villars in the ‘Blind Bargain’ of Reynolds; 16 Feb. 1805 Sir Oswin Mortland in ‘To Marry or not to Marry,’ by Mrs. Inchbald, and 18 April 1805 Barford in ‘Who wants a Guinea?’ by the younger Colman; and played Eustace St. Pierre in the ‘Surrender of Calais.’ Gloster in ‘Jane Shore,’ Pierre in ‘Venice Preserved,’ and the Delinquent, an original part in Reynolds's play of that name, belong to 1805–6. The ‘Tempest,’ with Kemble as Prospero, was revived 8 Dec. 1806, and on 10 Feb. 1807 he was the first Reuben Glenroy in ‘Town and Country,’ by Morton. This was his last original part. Iago and Valentine in ‘Two Gentlemen of Verona’ were played subsequently. On 20 Sept. 1808 Covent Garden Theatre was burned to the ground, with a loss of twenty lives. As it was inadequately insured Kemble was nearly ruined. His friends mustered, however, round him, and the Duke of Northumberland, to whose son, Lord Percy, he had given some lessons, lent him 10,000l. Kemble, Mrs. Siddons, and the Covent Garden company acted from 26 Sept. to 3 Dec. at the Haymarket Opera House, and for the remainder of the season at the Haymarket Theatre. The foundation-stone of Smirke's new Covent Garden Theatre was laid by the Prince of Wales on 31 Dec. 1808, one of the features of the proceedings being the return to Kemble, cancelled, of the Duke of Northumberland's bond for 10,000l. On 18 Sept. 1809 the new building was opened. Some idea was anticipated of opposition to the new scale of prices it had been found necessary to charge, and an address in the shape of a playbill was issued. As soon as Kemble, dressed as Macbeth, came forward to speak the occasional address, he was greeted with volleyed hissing, catcalls, hooting, and shouts of ‘Old prices.’ No word of the prologue was heard, and the tragedy was played by Kemble and Mrs. Siddons in dumb show. This opposition, known as the O. P. riots, lasted until the sixty-seventh night, and much ill-feeling was excited against all bearers of the name of Kemble. The theatre was shut for some days, and was reopened with no change in the aspect of affairs. Managerial explanations and offers were met by placards held up by the malcontents, and O. P. badges were articles of common wear. The management sought vainly to pack the house, and sent prizefighters into the theatre to mingle with the audience. Legal proceedings were taken and failed. A small literature of polemics on the subject came into existence. An influential committee, consisting of the solicitor-general, Sir Thomas Plumer, the recorder of the city of London, John Silvester, Alderman Sir Charles Price, bart., M.P., John Whitmore, governor of the Bank of England, and John Julius Angerstein, drew up a report in favour of the management, but this, like other efforts, proved futile. On 14 Dec. the leaders of the O. P. party dined at the Crown and Anchor tavern, where Kemble met them, and a compromise was effected. Some attempt at a renewal of riot was made the next day, but was checked without difficulty, and peace was eventually restored. Among those by whom the management was supported was William Cobbett, who declared the claims of the rioters to be a violation of the rights of property.
Brutus in ‘Julius Cæsar,’ 29 Feb. 1812, was his last new character. His final appearance was for his benefit, 23 June 1817, when he appeared as Coriolanus. His performance was received with enthusiasm by an immense audience, including Talma. Seeing how affected he was, the audience called out ‘No farewell.’ Kemble, however, spoke the customary address. A banquet was given him on Friday, 27 June, with Lord Holland in the chair. Very many people of distinction were present, and the well-known ode of Thomas Campbell was recited by Young. An asthmatic affection which had long disturbed him compelled him to retire to Toulouse, where he remained for some years. He was in London in 1820, after the death, 2 Oct., of Thomas Harris, and assigned his share of Covent Garden to his brother Charles. His collection of old plays was bought by the Duke of Devonshire for 2,000l., his general library and prints being sold for a somewhat larger sum; subsequently his house in Great Russell Street (No. 89), absorbed in the British Museum, was let, and he retired to Lausanne, whither, after a short stay in Rome, he returned, and where he died on 26 Feb. 1823. On 1 March his remains were buried in a piece of ground adjoining the cemetery in the Berne road. He was attended in his last illness by a protestant clergyman, and is believed to have died a protestant. His will, by which his wife and brother Charles, who were joint trustees, principally benefited, but in which various members of his family were granted bequests, was proved 26 April 1823.
Kemble was a fine actor, with a larger range of characters in which he was excellent than any English tragedian. Coriolanus was his masterpiece; in ‘Richard III’ he yielded to Cooke, and, of course, to Edmund Kean. Hamlet, King John, Cato, Petruchio, Leon, Zanga, Wolsey, Hotspur, Octavian, the Duke in ‘Measure for Measure,’ Penruddock, The Stranger, Lord Townley, Jaques, Rolla, De Montfort, Leontes, Pierre, and Brutus are a few only among the parts in which he won high commendation. In comedy he left a smaller reputation. He was the chief founder of what is known as the Kemble school of acting, a somewhat stilted and declamatory school, the influences of which, though fading, are still felt on the stage. Leigh Hunt speaks of Kemble as excelling in the grand rather than the passionate, denies his power to express love, praises his excellence in soliloquy, calls him an actor of correct rather than quick conception, and says that his great fault is a laborious preciseness. Hazlitt, who declares that Kean had destroyed the Kemble religion, and is very severe on some of Kemble's performances, notably his Sir Giles Overreach, describes him as the only modern actor who both in figure and action approached the beauty and grandeur of the antique. Byron called him ‘the most supernatural of actors.’ Moore spoke of him as ‘a cultivated man, but a poor creature when he put pen to paper.’ Pitt called him the noblest actor he had seen, and Scott lamented his loss as that of ‘an excellent critic, an accomplished scholar, and one who graced our forlorn drama with what little it has left of good sense and gentlemanlike feeling.’ Lamb, who found it difficult to ‘disembarrass the idea of Hamlet from the person and voice of Mr. Kemble,’ defends and praises him in comedy, and even vindicates his Charles Surface. ‘No man,’ he says, ‘could deliver brilliant dialogue, the dialogue of Congreve or of Wycherley, because none understood it half so well as John Kemble. His Valentine in “Love for Love” was, to my recollection, faultless. … The relaxing levities of tragedy have not been touched by any since him; the playful court-bred spirit in which he condescended to the players in Hamlet, the sportive relief which he threw into the darker shades of Richard, disappeared with him.’ Charles Kemble told Crabb Robinson that he thought Kemble a better actor than Mrs. Siddons, an opinion shared by Kemble himself, and probably by no one else.
Kemble's affectations of speech were the subject of much satire. His pronunciation of aches ‘aitches’ in certain passages of Shakespeare is defensible. His misuse of the letter e was, however, unpardonable. According to Leigh Hunt, beard was always ‘bird,’ cheerful ‘churful,’ fierce ‘furse,’ and so forth; d was pronounced j, as in ‘insijious,’ ‘hijeous.’ Merchant he is said, perhaps excusably, to have pronounced ‘marchant.’ His deliberateness of speech was ascribed to some malformation of the vocal organs. Kemble's literary claims are of the smallest. His verses are obvious and feeble imitations of well-known models; and of the long list of plays assigned him in the ‘Biographia Dramatica’ there are few, if any, to which he has contributed anything but the fruits of his experience as actor and stage-manager. He published an essay on Macbeth and Richard III. In respect of scenery and costume he made an advance, the full credit of which, however, he can scarcely claim, some change of the kind having begun in France and the notion being in the air. A worthy, prudent, estimable man, he was honourable in all his dealings, not incapable of generosity, though scarcely prone to it, and his assault upon Miss De Camp is the one serious blot upon a life which was creditable to the stage. He was not averse to the pleasures of the table, and stories of his indulgence in the bottle, then a fashionable vice, may be accepted. Scott, who knew Kemble well, and sympathised with his literary tastes, declared him to be the only man who ever seduced him in his middle life into very deep potations. On the occasion of Kemble's farewell performance previous to quitting the Edinburgh stage, 23 March 1817, Scott adds: ‘He has made a great reformation in his habits, given up wine, which he used to swallow by pailfuls, and renewed his youth like the eagle.’ In his quarrels with his fellow-performers, male and female, he conducted himself generally with tact and feeling. He was undoubtedly vain and opinionated. Rogers jokingly asserts that Kemble during his stay at Lausanne was jealous of the homage paid to Mont Blanc. The few extant letters to his relatives and to Mrs. Inchbald and others show him at his best.
Portraits of Kemble abound. No fewer than eleven are in the Mathews collection in the Garrick Club. Of these the most noteworthy are one by Sir Thomas Lawrence as Cato—Lawrence also painted him in Hamlet and Rolla—a likeness by Sir W. Beechey, one by De Wilde as Penruddock in the ‘Wheel of Fortune,’ and a sketch from recollections of Kemble in Coriolanus by Harlowe. Prints of him as Wolsey, with Mrs. Siddons as Queen Katherine, and as Cato are well known. A poor statue of Kemble as Cato, executed by Hinchcliffe, from a design by Flaxman, was in the north transept of Westminster Abbey until 1865, when, with the concurrence of his niece, Miss Fanny Kemble, it was removed; a bronze medal by Hancock is also in existence. Two cenotaphs in St. Andrew's Chapel in Westminster Abbey commemorate Mrs. Siddons and Kemble.[The chief authority for the life of Kemble is Boaden's Life, 2 vols. 1825. The Lives of Mrs. Siddons by Boaden and by Thomas Campbell supply further information. A Memoir by John Ambrose Williams was published in 12mo in 1817. Lives in the Secret History of the Green Room, 1795; Oxberry's Dramatic Biography; Tate Wilkinson's Wandering Patentee, 4 vols. 1798, and an Authentic Narrative of Mr. Kemble's Retirement from the Stage, 8vo, 1817, and Mr. Percy Fitzgerald's Lives of the Kembles, 2 vols. 1871, have also been consulted. The Life in the Biographia Dramatica supplies a full list of Kemble's adaptations. The Life of John Philip Kemble, Esq., London (no date) , 8vo, went through two editions. Of Kembliana, a collection of the jeux d'esprit, &c., that were issued respecting King John, a first part only, so far as is known, has appeared. The Covent Garden Journal, 2 vols. 8vo, 1810, by Stockdale, gives a full account of the O. P. riots. Lives appear in the Georgian Era, Celebrities of the Century, in the Biographies Universelles of Dr. Huefer and of Michaud, and in innumerable magazines of the early part of the century. See also Genest's Account of the Stage; Allibone's Dictionary; Boaden's Lives of Mrs. Inchbald and Mrs. Jordan; Bernard's Retrospections of the Stage; the Journals of Frances Anne Butler (Fanny Kemble); Life of Reynolds; Gilliland's Dramatic Synopsis; Rogers's Table-talk; Clayden's Rogers; Dibdin's Edinburgh Stage; Boswell's Johnson, ed. Birkbeck Hill; Clark Russell's Representative Actors; Pollock's Reminiscences of Macready; Stanley's Westminster Abbey; Notes and Queries; Alison's Europe; Davies's Dramatic Miscellanies; Wheatley's London, Past and Present; Lockhart's Life of Scott; Scott's Journal, 1891; Theatrical Inquisitor; Monthly Magazine; London Magazine; Theatrical Mirror, v. 7. A long list of works written concerning Kemble and of the tracts connected with the O. P. riots will be found in Mr. Lowe's Bibliographical Account of English Theatrical Literature, under the heads of ‘Kemble, John Philip,’ and ‘Covent Garden Theatre.’]