Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Pemberton, Thomas Edgar

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1544175Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement, Volume 3 — Pemberton, Thomas Edgar1912William John Lawrence

PEMBERTON, THOMAS EDGAR (1849–1905), biographer of the stage, born at Birmingham Heath on 1 July 1849, was eldest son of Thomas Pemberton, J.P., the head of an old-established firm of brass founders in Livery Street, Birmingham. Charles Reece Pemberton [q. v.] belonged to the same old Warwickshire family. Educated at the Edgbaston proprietary schools, Pemberton at nineteen entered his father's counting-house, and in due course gained control of the business of the firm, with which he was connected until 1900. Of literary taste from youth, Pemberton long divided his time between commerce and varied literary endeavours. His industry was unceasing. After the publication of two indifferent novels, 'Charles Lysaght : a Novel devoid of Novelty' (1873) and 'Under Pressure' (1874), he showed some aptitude for fiction in 'A Very Old Question' (3 vols. 1877). There followed 'Born to Blush Unseen' (1879) and an allegorical fairytale, 'Fair-brass,' written for his children.

At his father's house he met in youth E. A. Sothern, Madge Robertson (Mrs. Kendal), and other players on visits to Birmingham, and he soon tried his hand at the drama. His comedietta 'Weeds,' the first of a long list of ephemeral pieces, mainly farcical, was written for the Kendals, and produced at the Prince of Wales's Theatre, Birmingham, on 16 Nov. 1874. His many plays were rarely seen outside provincial theatres. He came to know Bret Harte, and his best play, 'Sue,' was adapted with Bret Harte's collaboration from the latter's story 'The Judgment of Bolinas Plain.' Originally brought out in America, it was subsequently produced at the Garrick on 10 June 1898. The partnership was continued. 'Held Up,' a four-act play by Harte and Pemberton, was produced at the Worcester theatre on 24 Aug. 1903. One or two unproduced plays written by the two remain in manuscript. On Bret Harte's death in 1902 Pemberton wrote 'Bret Harte : a Treatise and a Tribute.' In succession to his friend Sam Timmins, Pemberton was the dramatic critic of the ‘Birmingham Daily Post’ from 1882 until he retired to the country at Broadway in 1900. As a theatrical biographer, Pemberton made his widest reputation, writing memoirs of Edward Askew Sothern (1889); the Kendals (1891); T. W. Robertson (1892); John Hare (1895); Ellen Terry and her sisters (1902); and Sir Charles Wyndham (1905). He was personally familiar with most of his themes, but his biographic method had no literary distinction. An excellent amateur actor, Pemberton frequently lectured on theatrical subjects. In 1889 he was elected a governor of the Shakespeare Memorial theatre, Stratford-on-Avon, and showed much interest in its work. He died after a long illness at his residence, Pye Corner Broadway, Worcestershire, on 28 Sept. 1905, and was buried in the churchyard there.

Pemberton married on 11 March 1873, in the ‘Old Meeting House,’ Birmingham, Mary Elizabeth, second daughter of Edward Richard Patie Townley of Edgbaston, who survived him, with two sons and three daughters.

Besides the works cited, Pemberton published ‘Dickens's London’ (1875), ‘Charles Dickens and the Stage’ (1888), and ‘The Birmingham Theatres: a Local Retrospect’ (1889).

[Edgbastonia, vol. xxv. No. 293; Birmingham and Moseley Society Journal, vol. vii. No. 75 (with portrait); Birmingham Daily Mail, 28 Sept. 1905; Birmingham Daily Post, 29 Sept. 1905; private information; personal knowledge and research.]

W. J. L.