Kemble, Stephen (DNB00)
|←Kemble, Roger||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 30
|Kemp, George Meikle→|
KEMBLE, STEPHEN or GEORGE STEPHEN (1758–1822), actor, manager, and writer, the second son and third child of Roger Kemble [q. v.], and brother of John Philip Kemble [q. v.] and Mrs. Siddons [q. v.], was baptised as Stephen Kemble at Kington, Herefordshire, on 21 April 1758. At an unascertained date he prefixed the name George to Stephen. So late as 1803 he signed his name as S. Kemble. His mother acted Anne Boleyn in ‘King Henry VIII’ on the night of his birth, which, as all his biographers note, synchronised with her imaginary delivery of the Princess Elizabeth. At the age of fourteen he was apprenticed to a Mr. Gibbs of Coventry, described variously as a chemist and as an eminent surgeon. Disliking his occupation, he joined a travelling company of actors, and is first heard of in Dublin, playing Shylock at the Capel Street Theatre. The fame of his sister Sarah (Mrs. Siddons) induced the management of Covent Garden to engage him, it is sometimes said in mistake for his brother John Philip. On 24 Sept. 1784, as Stephen Kemble from Dublin, he made at that house an unpropitious début, playing Othello to the Desdemona of his wife, formerly Miss Satchell, whom he had mar- ried in 1783 [see Kemble, Mrs. Elizabeth]. Sealand in the ‘Conscious Lovers’ on 8 Oct., Bajazet in ‘Tamerlane’ on 4 Nov., Colredo in the ‘Heroine of the Cave,’ and perhaps other characters, followed before he returned into the country. As Othello, with his wife as Desdemona, he made, on 23 Feb. 1785, his first appearance in Edinburgh. On 18 May 1787 he appeared at the Haymarket as the King in ‘Hamlet.’ Much less in demand than his wife, he played during the five years in which he was a member of the company Dominic in the ‘Spanish Friar,’ Leonato in ‘Much Ado about Nothing,’ the King in the ‘King and the Miller of Mansfield,’ on which occasion his father Roger Kemble made his solitary appearance in London, and original parts in comedies by the younger Colman, Mrs. Inchbald, and other writers. A farce entitled ‘The Northern Inn, or the Days of Good Queen Bess,’ taken by him from Heywood's ‘Fair Maid of the West,’ was played at the Haymarket for his wife's benefit on 16 Aug. 1791 (for his partnership in a dramatisation of Scott's ‘Marmion,’ see Kemble, Henry Stephen). In November 1791, owing to the bankruptcy of John Jackson (1761–1792) [q. v.], the theatres of Edinburgh and Glasgow were advertised to be let. At the instigation of Jackson, who was to be his partner in management, Kemble took the Edinburgh Theatre Royal, at a rent of 1,350l., over the head of Mrs. Esten. Jackson accused Kemble of sharp practice; Kemble withheld from him any share whatever in the management, and denied him admission into the house. Furious attacks were made on Kemble in print by Jackson and his friends. Kemble opened his theatre on 19 Jan. 1792 with the ‘Beggar's Opera,’ Mrs. Kemble playing Polly, and the rest of the company being for the most part from Newcastle. Kemble himself appeared on 2 Feb. He engaged John Kemble and Mrs. Siddons, playing Pierre in ‘Venice Preserved’ to the Belvidera of the latter. He also repeated Othello and other characters. Litigation with Mrs. Esten on the one hand, and with Jackson on the other, led him to remove from the Theatre Royal to the New Theatre which had been erected on the site of a building previously known as the Circus. This house he opened on 21 Jan. 1793 with the ‘Rivals.’ On 6 Feb. performances, at the motion of Mrs. Esten, were prohibited. With an expensive company on his hands, Kemble was now in straits, but by means of entertainments, ridottos, fêtes champêtres, &c., he managed to keep his head above water. By a payment of 1,000l. a year to Jackson's creditors, and 200l. to Mrs. Esten, he soon, however, obtained sole possession of the Theatre Royal, which he opened on 18 Jan. 1794 with ‘Hamlet,’ his wife playing Ophelia, John Kemble Hamlet, and C. Kemble Laertes. The management at this period was spirited and successful, although Kemble himself rarely appeared. The only contretemps consisted in a succession of fights in the house between the Scottish tories, including Walter Scott, and some Irish students of democratic tendencies. Kemble brought out Henry Erskine Johnston [q. v.] and other new actors, and introduced Incledon [q. v.] to the Edinburgh public. With declining success he retained possession of the theatre until 1800. As his company grew weaker he acted more parts himself. Sir Anthony Absolute and Bajazet are among the characters he essayed. On 30 July 1800 he took his farewell. Some hissing attended his speech. He then said: ‘I once thought to have left Edinburgh without a single enemy. It is, however, not wonderful that I am disappointed, for even our great Redeemer had his enemies; and after his great example I will be meek and submissive.’ This injudicious remark provoked a storm before which he hastily withdrew. Kemble also took part in the management of the Glasgow Theatre, which was associated with that of Edinburgh; directed theatres in Liverpool, Newcastle, and other country towns, and was for some years manager of the Sunderland circuit. While manager at Newcastle he was charged, in a sheet entitled ‘To the Public’ (1793), by John Edwin the younger [q. v.] with treating Edwin and his wife unjustly in the matter of salary. Kemble replied in another sheet with the same title, dated 10 June 1793, directly denying the imputation. Kemble also gave, during the same period, in the country recitations, which included the reading of a chapter from the Bible, and by these varied occupations he secured a competency.
On 17 Sept. 1806 he appeared at Covent Garden as Falstaff in the ‘Second Part of Henry IV.’ He had grown so stout that he played the part without padding. On the 24th he repeated the character in the ‘Merry Wives of Windsor.’ As Falstaff in the ‘First Part of Henry IV’ he appeared at Drury Lane on 7 Oct. 1816. Drury Lane opened under his stage-management on 12 Sept. 1818, his son Henry Stephen [q. v.] making as Romeo his first appearance there. Kemble was seldom seen except as Falstaff. At the close of the season Elliston became manager, Kemble remaining at the house and playing, 26 April 1820, the Miller in the ‘King and the Miller of Mansfield.’ He is said to have acted for the last time as Sir Christopher Curry in ‘Inkle and Yarico’ a fortnight be- before he died. His name, however, does not appear in the chronicle of Genest during this or the previous season. His death took place on 5 June 1822, at the Grove, near Durham. His remains were interred in the Chapel of the Nine Altars, Durham Cathedral, on 11 June. In addition to his son Henry Stephen Kemble, a daughter appeared with some success in Newcastle and Edinburgh. She subsequently married Captain Arkwright, a son of Sir Richard Arkwright [q. v.]
Kemble published ‘Odes, Lyrical Ballads, and Poems,’ Edinburgh, 1809, 8vo, with a portrait. Although praised by Christopher North, the contents, partly serious, partly humorous, and containing several theatrical addresses, are colourless and feeble.
Kemble was a fair, Mathews the elder says a good, actor. His readings of Macbeth and Hamlet are stated to have been intelligent. The latter part he played when eighteen stone in weight. When playing Job Thornberry in Colman the younger's ‘John Bull,’ and drawing tears from the audience, he was unable to stoop and pick up his waistcoat—a piece of indispensable ‘business.’ His Kent in ‘King Lear,’ Old Norval, and King Henry VIII were respectable performances. Sir Christopher Curry in ‘Inkle and Yarico’ was his great part. He was 5 ft. 9 in. in height, and had the Kemble physiognomy, though little of the Kemble hauteur, being jovial and good-natured.
Portraits of him by De Wilde as Bajazet in ‘Tamerlane’ and as Falstaff in the ‘Merry Wives of Windsor’ are in the Mathews collection in the Garrick Club.[Genest's Account of the English Stage; Oxberry's Dramatic Biography; Biographia Dramatica; Gent. Mag. June 1822; Richardson's Local Historian's Table-book; Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. i. 268; Memoirs of Mrs. Sumbel, late Wells, 3 vols. 1811; Georgian Era; Secret Hist. of the Green Room; Didbin's Edinburgh stage; Gilliland's Dramatic Mirror; Bernard's Recollections; Clark Russell's Representative Actors. For the period of Kemble's management of the Edinburgh Theatre see Jackson's History of the Scottish Stage and his Statement of Facts relative to Mr. Stephen Kemble, 1792, and Charles Lee Lewes's Memoirs, 4 vols. 1805. Jackson's works consist of a long arraignment of Kemble, who is defended by Lewes. See also Crito's Letter to the Managers of the Edinburgh Theatre, Edinburgh, 1800, 8vo, a furious attack on Kemble; and Letters respecting the Performances at the Theatre Royal, 12mo, 1800, a keen criticism attributed to Stewart Thriepland, advocate.]