Frances Anne Kemble
English Actress and Author
1809 – 1893 A.D.
Frances Anne Kemble, known as Fanny Kemble, an English actress and author, born in London, daughter of Charles Kemble. She made her first appearance on the stage at 1829, in the character of Juliet, reviving the fortunes of the Covent Garden Theatre under her father’s management. This was followed by a series of brilliant successes in Portia, Beatrice, Lady Teazle, and other parts, till she was compared to her famous aunt, Mrs. Siddons.
Her crowning triumph was as Julia in Sheridan Knowles’s play, The Hunchback, written expressly for her. In 1832 she accompanied her father to the United States, and met with an enthusiastic reception in the chief cities. Two years later she married Pierce Butler, a Georgia planter, and retired from the stage. The union proved unhappy, and in 1849 she secured a divorce.
About that time she commenced in Boston a series of Shakespearian readings which drew corded audiences. During the following years she gave public readings from Shakespeare and other dramatic authors in the principal cities of the United States and Great Britain, an occupation she much preferred to regular acting.
During the War of the Rebellion she resided in England and contributed valuable articles to the London Times on the evils of slavery. She was a prolific writer, and her various volumes of reminiscences contain much valuable material for the social and dramatic history of the period.
Fanny Kemble was a beautiful woman of magnificent presence, with a fine dramatic intelligence, and a flexible, harmonious voice. She inspired Longfellow’s sonnet, written after hearing one of her readings from Shakespeare:
“O Precious evenings! all too swiftly sped!
Leaving us heirs to amplest heritages
Of all the best the best thoughts of the great sages,
And giving tongues unto the silent dead!
How our hearts glowed and trembled as she read,
Interpreting by tones the wondrous pages
Of the great poet who foreruns the ages
Anticipating all that shall be said!
O happy Reader! having for thy text
The magic book, whose Sibylline leaves have caught
The rarest essence of all human thought!
O happy Poet! by no critic vext!
How must thy listening spirit now rejoice
To be interpreted by such a voice!”
Reference: Famous Women; An Outline of Feminine Achievement Through the Ages With Life Stories of Five Hundred Noted Women By Joseph Adelman. Copyright, 1926 by Ellis M. Lonow Company.