John Phillip Kemble (1757 - 1823)   ~  Incidents and Events in a Professional Life

John Philip Kemble 'astray'

The actor-manager John Philip Kemble, once married, only once strayed. That was on an evening in January 1795 when, very drunk, he burst into the dressing room of an attractive young singer, Maria Theresa de Camp, and made to assault her. She repulsed him, but when the episode caused some gossip, Kemble put a notice in the papers:

'I, John Philip Kemble, of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, do adopt this method of publicly apologising to Miss de Camp, for the very improper and unjustifiable behaviour I was lately guilty of towards her, which I do further declare her conduct and character had in no way authorised; but on the contrary, I do know and believe both to be irreproachable'

(Text based on The Kemble Era, Kelly L., Bodley Head, London, 1980)

Writing about this incident, Ellen Donkin and Claire Tomalin quite justifiably describe it as an attempted rape.

John Phillip Kemble in France and Spain

Released in 1801 from the fatigues of management, Mr. Kemble devoted the year 1802 to the pleasures of travel. Having for his main object the improvement of the histrionic art, he visited the cities of Paris and Madrid, and studied the practice of his theatrical brethren in both those capitals.

During his residence abroad, he received the most flattering marks of attention and respect from individuals and societies of literary character; and formed an acquaintance with Talma, which afterwards ripened into the closest intimacy. The following extract from a Parisian journal of that day will shew the general interest he excited: Mr. Kernble, the celebrated actor of London, whose arrival at Paris has been announced by the papers, possesses a fine figure, and appears to be about forty years of age.

His hair is dark, his features are strongly marked, and he has a physiognomy truly tragic. He understands, and speaks with accuracy, the French language. In company he appears thoughtful and reserved. His manners, however, are very distinguished; and he has in his looks, when addressed, an expression of courtesy, that affords us the best idea of his education.

Mr. Kemble is well informed, and has the reputation of being a good grammarian. The Comedie Francaise has received him with all the respect due to the Le Kaim of England; they have already given him a splendid dinner, and mean to invite him to a still more brilliant souper. Talma, to whom he had letters of recommendation, does the honours of Paris; they visit together our finest works, and appear to be already united by the most friendly ties.

[Text from Lives of Eminent and Illustrious Englishmen: From Alfred the Great to the latest times, Volume 8, edited by George Godfrey Cunningham. Published by A Fullarton and Company, Glasgow 1837.]


Competing with Kean

1816 :John Philip Kemble at Covent Garden has seen his business collapse because of Kean’s drawing power at Drury Lane.

Accordingly, he has engaged a young actor from Worthing, Junius Brutus Booth, and is promoting him as a rival to Kean. Booth opened at Covent Garden with a highly successful 'Richard III' - and audiences clamoured to see more of him. Following this success he asked Kemble for more money, but was refused. Before Kemble knew what was happening, Mr Kinnaird, the new manager at Drury Lane, stepped in and offered Booth a contract at Drury Lane and then announced that his theatre was offering the two best actors in the country. Kemble had found and has now lost a rival to Kean.

[Text drawn from]


The Death of Kemble

The funeral took place on Saturday the 1st of March, in a piece of ground adjoining the cemeterie, on the Berne road, procured under the direction of Mrs. Kemble.  Mr. Capel and several English are there interred. The Dean of Raphoe, who had lately returned to Lausanne, read the funeral service at the house of Mr. Kemble; and Mr. Cheesebrough, the resident clergyman, who had read prayers to Mr. Kemble when he could attend to them, and was with him when he died, performed the melancholy ceremony at the grave. The age of sixty-six was recorded on the coffin. The death of Mr. Kemble was sincerely felt by all persons at Lausanne, and his remains were followed to the grave by all the resident English, and by many of the Swiss. The English, indeed, had no parties during the week; and one foreign lady of fashion put off a splendid assembly on account of Mr. Kemble's decease.

The following is a copy of a letter from die English clergy man resident at Lausanne to a professional gentleman in London, which is interesting, inasmuch as it is in tself very amiable, and as it shows the serenity and virtue of Mr. Kemble's domestic life, and confirms the religious peace of his death:

Sir, Lausanne, Feb. 26. 1823.

It is with deep regret that I announce to you an afflicting ; and sudden event, the decease of Mr. Kemble, who breathed his last at a quarter past nine o'clock this morning. He had been Seized with an apoplectic attack about forty-eight hours before his death; and though it was not of any very alarming nature at first, yet it was no less fatal, and he gradually declined, till, without a single sigh or groan, his soul, released from its earthly tenement, returned to Him who gave it.

During a week or more prior to this attack, his health seemed more satisfactory than for months before, so that poor Mrs. Kdmble was very ill provided for so unexpected a blow, and consequently has been in such a distressed state as I can not pretend to describe. She is, indeed, much indisposed at ^present, from the effects of a violent nervous attack, which seized her when all our fears of her husband were confirmed; but in a little time I have no doubt but a sense of her religious duties, In addition to her excellent understanding, will condluce to her amendment and resignation. To you, Sir, no comments on this excellent man's character here are necessary.  I will only say, that he was universally beloved by both his countrymen and natives, and that I am deprived of, in my little flock, a most pious and worthy member but God's will be done ! We are naturally grieved at the loss of what was ever amiable, excellent, and of good report, as a standing example to all around ; but how great, on reflection, should be our joy, that the feeble praise of man is succeeded by the immortal honour and approving smile of the best and greatest of all beings ? I was with him during the greater part of his last hours, and at the final close ; and on commending his soul to his gracious keeping, whose blood and mediatorial power could alone present it spotless before God, I could not avoid secretly exclaiming, c Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my latter end be like his.

It is by Mrs.Kemble's desire that I write to you, who, with her kindest regards, begs you will take upon you, as early as possible, the painful task of communicating it to Miss Siddons, and gradually to prepare Mrs. Siddons for such an afflicting stroke, in order that she may not first learn it from any other quarter. Mrs. Kemble's poignancy is increased, on considering what will be ihe agonizing feelings of Mrs. Siddons, but calculates much on your kind attention herein. I have written to Mr. Charles Kemble by this post. I beg my respectful compliments to Mrs. Siddons ; and having now hastify fulfilled my truly painful duty,

I have the honour to remain, &c. &c.

Some public testimony of respect to this great actor has been very properly talked of; and indeed the Earl of Aberdeen, Lord Holland, Sir James Mackintosh, and a few other eminent characters, have taken steps for effecting such an object.

[Text from Memoirs of the life of John Philip Kemble, esq: including a history of the stage, from the time of Garrick to the present period, Volume 1 by James Boaden. Published by Robert H Small, 1825, Philadelphia.]


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