Kemble, Priscilla (DNB00)

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KEMBLE, PRISCILLA (1756–1845), actress, wife of John Philip Kemble [q. v.], born in 1756, was daughter of a prompter named Hopkins, employed for many years at Drury Lane. Her mother (d. September 1801) was an actress of repute in Garrick's company. An elder sister appeared as Miss Hopkins at Drury Lane on 14 Nov. 1771, playing Cupid, a postilion, in ‘A Trip to Scotland;’ made on 19 April 1773 what was called ‘her first appearance on any stage’ as Celia in ‘As you like it;’ acted with success for a few seasons, married a man of means, and retired from the stage, to which she returned, as Mrs. Sharp, in 1779 and 1780. Priscilla Hopkins is first heard of as a member of Garrick's company at Drury Lane, playing Mildred in ‘Old City Manners,’ an adaptation of ‘Eastward Ho!’ on 9 Nov. 1775. She had probably been previously seen ‘as a young lady.’ Fanny in the ‘Clandestine Marriage’ followed on 20 Nov., and Maria in the ‘Maid of the Oaks’ on the 28th. She was, 15 Feb. 1776, the original Harriet in Mrs. Cowley's ‘Runaway,’ and on 7 March the original Eliza in Colman's ‘Spleen, or Islington Spa.’ During the following season she played at Drury Lane Sylvia in the ‘Old Bachelor;’ was the original Kitty Sprightly in Jackman's ‘All the World's a Stage,’ and, 8 May 1777, the original Maria in the ‘School for Scandal.’ Other parts followed: Bridget in ‘Every Man in his Humour,’ Arabella in the ‘Committee,’ Mademoiselle in the ‘Provoked Wife,’ and Fanny in the ‘Clandestine Marriage,’ played for the benefit of ‘the Miss Hopkins's,’ 1 May 1778. She was at this time very pretty and piquante, and married, apparently at Bath, William Brereton, an actor of some position, born in 1741, who had played for some years at Drury Lane, where he appeared on 10 Nov. 1768 in ‘Douglas.’

On 8 Oct. 1778, as Louisa Dudley in the ‘West Indian,’ she appeared for the first time at Drury Lane as Mrs. Brereton, late Miss P. Hopkins. Her married life was reputable, and she occupied in a satisfactory fashion a secondary part on the stage, playing Lady Constant in the ‘Way to Keep Him,’ Charlotte in the ‘Gamester,’ Sylvia in the ‘Double Gallant,’ Elizabeth (an original part) in Mrs. Cowley's ‘Who's the Dupe?’ Mariana in the ‘Miser,’ Perdita, Amanda in the ‘Trip to Scarborough,’ Fidelia in the ‘Foundling,’ Angelina in ‘Love makes a Man,’ Rose in the ‘Recruiting Officer,’ Maria in ‘Twelfth Night,’ Donna Viola (an original part) on 25 Nov. 1786 in Mrs. Cowley's ‘School for Greybeards,’ Margaret in ‘A New Way to Pay Old Debts,’ and many other parts, original and other, chiefly secondary. Brereton, her husband, went in 1785 to Dublin, where he attempted suicide; it is hinted through a passion for Mrs. Siddons. A partial recovery was effected, but he was kept in charge at Hoxton. ‘He died 17 Feb. 1787, and was buried in Shoreditch churchyard, in which a stone is erected to his memory’ (Thespian Dict.) His widow appeared at Drury Lane on 12 March 1787 as the original Emily in Holcroft's ‘Seduction.’ On the opening night of the next season, 20 Sept. 1787, she was Dorinda in the ‘Stratagem.’ On 8 Dec. 1787 she married John Philip Kemble [q. v.], and as Mrs. Kemble appeared on 10 Dec. as Lady Anne in ‘Richard III.’ Hero in ‘Much Ado about Nothing’ was her next part. She was the original Aurora in Kemble's ‘Pannel,’ and Flora in his ‘Farm House.’ On 2 Dec. 1788 she was Lady Lambert in the ‘Hypocrite,’ and on 15 Jan. 1790 Sylvia in ‘Two Gentlemen of Verona,’ and 8 March 1790 the original Valeria in her husband's ‘Love in many Masks.’ With the company she went to the Haymarket Opera House, where she was, 20 April 1792, the original Miss Manly in Richardson's ‘Fugitive.’ Her position as wife to Kemble seems to have in no way aided her career. Not only important parts, but also those in which she had won acceptance, seem to have been withheld from her. On 23 May 1796 accordingly, as Flavia in Kemble's ‘Celadon and Florimel, or the Happy Counterplot,’ then first performed, she delivered an address, and took farewell of the stage. She accompanied her husband in his wanderings subsequent to his retirement, and after his death retired to Leamington, where she lived in comfort and social consideration until her ninetieth year. She died in May 1845. She retained her faculties, and was popular to the last. Having no offspring, her property and possessions went to members of the Kemble and Siddons family. Genest speaks of her as pretty, but not very capable, and says she was seen to most advantage in parts like Maria in the ‘School for Scandal.’

[Genest's Account of the English Stage; Thespian Dict.; Gilliland's Dramatic Mirror; Monthly Mirror; Dramatic and Musical Rev.]

J. K.