Actors, Musicians and Theatre Personalities with Scottish Links ~ Charles Kemble 1775-1854

Charles Kemble, 1775 - 1854

Charles Kemble (1775 - 1854). Lithograph by Richard James Lane (1800 - 1872), after Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769 – 1830).  367 mm x 542 mm, paper size, published May 1830 by Joseph Dickinson.    [Copyright on original work expired.]

Charles Kemble
The Kemble family was large. The parents, Roger and Sally Kemble, were strolling players who produced twelve theatrical children, eight of whom reached adulthood, and three of whom achieved extraordinary fame.

Sarah was born in 1755, and was married at eighteen to unimpressive Henry Siddons. John Philip was born in 1757 and Charles in 1775. Sarah Siddons was generally recognized as the greatest tragic actress ever to appear on the English stage, and professionally John Philip Kemble was not far behind her.

Charles Kemble was no tragedian, but in lighter roles he was a distinguished actor and his wit and charm shone in comedy and the fashionable world alike.

In comedy he was ably supported by his wife, Marie Therese De Camp, whom he married on 2 July 1806.

The later part of his career was beset by money troubles in connection with his joint proprietorship of Covent Garden theatre. He formally retired from the stage in December 1836, but his final appearance was on 10 April 1840. For some time he held the office of examiner of plays.

In 1844-1845 he gave readings from Shakespeare at Willis's Rooms. Macready regarded his Cassio as incomparable, and summed him up as 'a first-rate actor of second-rate parts'.



Charles Kemble, 1775 - 1854

Charles Kemble (1775-1854) and Harriet Smithson (1800-1854) as Romeo and Juliet. Lithograph by François-Antoine Conscience (1795-1840).    [Copyright on original work expired.]   This production of Shakespeare's play was staged at the Théâtre de l' Odéon in Paris in 1827 and was attended by Berlioz, who later married Harriet Smithson.

The Kembles in America

Kemble made a single two-year visit to America and that relatively late in his career. He made his debut in 1832 at the Park Theatre as Hamlet and was warmly greeted, but was even more eagerly applauded for such later roles as Charles Surface and Benedick. Indeed, Wemyss afterward looked back on him as “the best representative of high comedy belonging to the British stage.”

He was a rather boyishly handsome, curly-headed man, whose career in England had been overshadowed by those of his brother, John Philip, and sister, Mrs. Siddons, and whose American appearances were often distracted by adulation accorded his beautiful daughter, Fanny.  The great beauty came to America with her father and made her debut at the Park Theatre as Bianca in Fazio.

Fanny continued by demonstrating her skill as Juliet, Portia, Belvidera, and as other classic heroines of the period's standard repertory. One of her most famous roles was Julia in The Hunchback, a part she had created in England.  She retired from the stage in 1834 following her marriage to Pierce Butler, later U. S. Senator from South Carolina.  Out of this marriage came her diary of Southern life.

After her divorce some years later she largely confined herself to offering formal readings, before returning permanently to England in 1868. Perhaps because she acted here so briefly and retired at the height of her powers, she was remembered with a special affection.

T. Allston Brown recalled, 'She was full of the true, heavenly fire, with every other requisite of physical and intellectual endowment, but her representations were mere dash sketches, though with here and there a touch of the most masterly and overwhelming power.'  While she set a high standard for actresses, Charles Kemble was considered a model of an English gentleman and set an example for future American players.

Text based on material from Charles Kemble, Man of the Theatre, Jane Williamson, 1970; Fanny Kemble, J. H. Furnas, 1982.



Charles Kemble, 1775 - 1854

Charles Kemble as Cassio in Shakespeare's Othello engraving by Richard James Lane after Alfred Edward Chalon.  512 mm x 363 mm paper size.  Printed by Jérémie Graf.  published May 1840 by Colnaghi and Puckle.  original in the national Portrait gallery.  [Copyright on original work expired.]


Youngest brother of John Philip Kemble and Mrs. Siddons; and was born at Brecknock, South Wales, in November 1775. Educated at Douai; was in the Post Office, London, twelve months, but left it to appear as Orlando in As You Like It, at Sheffield, in 1792. Made his debut in London as Malcolm in Macbeth at Drury Lane, April 21st, 1794.

Made his first mark at the Haymarket in 1798, as Wilford in The Iron Chest. In 1803 he joined his brother at Covent Garden, and made his first appearance there in September as Henry in Speed the Plough. He rapidly rose to be one of the most capable actors in an extensive range of parts, which included Mirabel, Doricourt, Cassio, Benedick, Charles Surface, Marc Antony, Falconbridge, Pierre, etc. In 1806 he married Miss Teresa Decamp, by whom he left three children, Mrs. Butler, Mrs. Sartoris, and the Rev. John Kemble.

Charles Kemble retired from the stage December 23rd, 1836, as Benedick. He, however, appeared by command of the Queen four years later, and played for twelve nights his principal Shakespearean characters. He held for a time the post of Examiner of Plays, but resigned it to his son J. P. Kemble. In May and July 1844, Charles Kemble gave Shakespearean readings at Willis’s Rooms.

He died November 12th 1854, aged 79.

[The author (E.L Blanchard) was paid half a guinea for this Kemble 'memoir' published in Era.]




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