"Death of Fanny Kemble," New York Times, January, 17, 1893.
LONDON, Jan. 16. – Mrs. Pierce Butler (Fanny Kemble) died to-day at the house of her son-in-law, the Rev. James Wentworth Leigh, 86 Gloucester Place, in the eighty-fourth year of her age. She had been ill only a short time, and her recovery was expected, in spite of her advanced years. Her grave will be made in the old Kensal Greon Cemetery beside those of her father and mother, Charles and Maria Theresa Kemble, famous actors early in the century.
Frances Anne Kemble was born Nov. 27, 1809 in Newman Street, London. Her father was Charles Kemble, the fourth and youngest son of Roger Kemble, the brother of John Philip Kemble and Sarah Siddons. Born in the year of the famous “O.P.” riots, when John Philip Kemble and his sister were suddenly made objects of public antipathy because of the new scale of prices established at the rebuilt Covent Garden Theatre, and the Kemble family had its first setback, it became Fanny Kemble’s duty before she had fairly finished her girlhood to take upon her young shoulders the new burdens of her family, of which her father was then the head.
Charles Kemble undertook the management of Convent Garden Theatre in the Winter of 1822-3. At the beginning of the season of 1829-30 the theatre was in the possession of the bailiffs. Pecuniary disasters had pressed hard upon the manager. At this juncture his daughter, who had been delicately nurtured, and had until her twentieth year entertained no thought of adopting the calling of her parents, went upon the stage in the role of Juliet. The date of this performance of Shakespeare’s tragedy was Oct. 5, 1829. The debutante gave new luster to the name of Kemble, and her acting was soon the talk of London. Claims against the theatre of $65,000 were speedily paid off. After Juliet she appeared, generally supported by her father in the opposite parts, as Belvidera in Otway’s “Venice Preserved,” Mrs. Beverley in “The Gamester,” Portia in “The Merchant of Venice,” Isabella in “Measure for Measure,” Lady Townly in “The Provoked Husband,” Calisto in “The Fair Penitent,” Bianca in “Fazio,” Beatrice in “Much Ado,” Constance in “King John,” Lady Macbeth, and Julia in “The Hunchback,” a role of which she was the first actress.
The period of her London triumph was three years. She never liked the stage, but there was little dispute about her skill as an actress. She inherited much of the extraordinary histrionic talent of the Kembles was well as the versatility and adaptiveness of her mother’s family, the De Camps. The children of Charles and Maria Kemble were uncommonly bright, and the elder son, John Mitchell, (1807-57) became a historian and philologist of note, while Adelaide (Mrs. Sartoris) (1814-79) was a singer of rare powers.
In 1830 Charles Kemble objected to some remarks about his daughter published in the Age, a London journal, and felt it his duty to assault Mr. Westmacott, the editor. He and his wife acted with Fanny in many of the larger provincial cities. In August, 1832, Fanny and her father sailed across the Atlantic, and Sept. 17, they appeared at the Park Theatre in New York as Hamlet and Ophelia. They afterward acted in all the large American cities.
In 1834 Miss Kemble was married to Pierce Butler, a planter of South Carolina, with whom she did not live happily, and retired finally from the stage. Her first published book, “A Journal of Residence in America,” appeared in 1835. Few American readers liked it perhaps, but there was a great deal of truth in her vivacious descriptions of and comments upon our “institutions.” She soon separated from Mr. Butler, but was not formally divorced until 1849. She made her home for many years at “The Perch,” near Lenox, Mass., where she was highly esteemed by all her neighbors. The years 1846 she passed in Italy with her sister, Mrs. Sartoris. In 1848 she came again into public notice as a platform reader from the plays of Shakespeare, and in this form of intellectual entertainment, of which she was practically the originator, she gained new fame. As an actress she had been a “slip of a girl.” As a reader she is remembered as a stately lady of commanding aspect.
Mrs. Kemble went to England and gave public readings in 1851, and thereafter traveled in Europe. She returned here in 1856, and continued her public career until 1869. Then for four years more she was in Europe. She came back to America in 1873, but has lately dwelt in London.
The sharpness of her tone in commenting on America in her first book was not noticed in a later work on American life, called “The Journal of a Residence in Georgia,” written in 1838-9, but not published until 1863, when the civil war was waging, and then after careful revision and with a new “appendix.” The theme of this volume is the evil of slavery. That she no longer believed at least one thing she said in her first “Journal” – “It is my conviction that America will be a monarchy before I am a skeleton” – was shown in a letter of hers published during the war, from which this passage was widely quoted:
“Admonished by its terrible experiences, I believe the Nation will reunite itself under one Government, remodel its Constitution, and again address itself to fulfill its glorious destiny. I believe that the country sprung from ours – of all our just subjects of national pride the greatest – will resume its career of prosperity and power, and become the noblest as well as the mightiest that has existed among the nations of the earth.”
Other published works of Mrs. Kemble are “The Star of Seville,” a drama, 1837; “Poems,” 1842; “A Year of Consolation,” 1847; “Records of Girlhood,” 1878; “Records of Later Life,” 1882, and “Notes upon Some of Shakespeare’s Plays,” 1882.