Edmund Kean, MM, St. Marks Lodge at Glasgow No.102

edmund king

Kean was born on the 4th November 1787 in Westminster, London. His father was Edmund Kean, an architect’s clerk, and his mother was an actress, Anne Carey, daughter of the 18th-century composer and playwright Henry Carey.

Kean made his first appearance on the stage, aged four, as Cupid in Jean-Georges Noverre’s ballet of Cymon. As a child his vivacity, cleverness and ready affection made him a universal favorite, but his harsh circumstances and lack of discipline, both helped develop self-reliance and fostered wayward tendencies. About 1794, a few benevolent persons paid for him to go to school, where he did well; but finding the restraint intolerable, he shipped as a cabin boy at Portsmouth. Finding life at sea even more restricting, he pretended to be both deaf and lame so skilfully that he deceived the doctors at Madeira.

On his return to England, he sought the protection of his uncle, Moses Kean, a mimic, ventriloquist and general entertainer, who, besides continuing his pantomimic studies, introduced him to the study of Shakespeare. At the same time, Miss Charlotte Tidswell, an actress who had been especially kind to him from infancy, taught him the principles of acting.

edmund king 1

Aged 14, he obtained an engagement to play leading characters for 20 nights in the York Theatre, appearing as Hamlet, Hastings and Cato.

Shortly afterwards, while he was in Richardson's Theatre, a travelling theatre company, the rumor of his abilities reached George III, who commanded him to appear at Windsor Castle. He subsequently joined Saunders's circus, where in the performance of an equestrian feat he fell and broke both legs—the accident leaving traces of swelling in his insteps throughout his life.

edmund plaque

About this time, he picked up music from Charles Incledon, dancing from D’Egville, and fencing from Angelo. In 1807, he played leading parts in the Belfast theater with Sarah Siddons, who began by calling him "a horrid little man" and on further experience of his ability said that he "played very, very well," but that "there was too little of him to make a great actor." In 1808, he joined Samuel Butler's provincial troupe and went on to marry Mary Chambers of Waterford, the leading actress, on 17 July. His wife gave birth to two sons, one of whom was actor Charles Kean. (Below)

Oval Charles

A second visit to America in 1825 was largely a repetition of the persecution which he had suffered in England. Some cities showed him a spirit of charity; many audiences submitted him to insults and even violence. In Quebec City, he was much impressed with the kindness of some Huron Indians who attended his performances, and he was purportedly made an honorary chief of the tribe, receiving the name Alanienouidet. Kean's last appearance in New York was on 5 December 1826 in Richard III, the role in which he was first seen in America.

edmund as richard

He returned to England and was ultimately received with favour, but by now he was so dependent on the use of stimulants that the gradual deterioration of his gifts was inevitable. Still, his great powers triumphed during the moments of his inspiration over the absolute wreck of his physical faculties. His appearance in Paris was a failure owing to a fit of drunkenness. 
theatre
His last appearance on the stage was at Covent Garden on 15 March 1833, when he played Othello to the Iago of his son, Charles Kean, who was also an accomplished actor. At the words "Villain, be sure," in scene 3 of act iii, he suddenly broke down, and crying in a faltering voice "O God, I am dying. Speak to them, Charles," fell insensible into his son's arms. He died in Surrey in 1833, and is commemorated in the Parish Church where there is a floor plaque marking his grave and a wall plaque originally on the outside but moved inside and heavily restored during restoration work in 1904. He is buried in the parish church of All Saints, in the village of Catherington, Hampshire. His last words were alleged to have been "dying is easy; comedy is hard"
Edmund Keans grave
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Although born in England he was a frequent visitor to Scotland where he enjoyed the quiet of the Isle of Bute, where he could escape from his life of scandals and his many over indulgences!

rothesay isle of bute guildford square victorian period DB3PHY 1

It was during one of his many trips to Scotland that saw him join Lodge St. Mark's No.102 in Glasgow.

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