I. Edmund, an English actor, born in London, March 17, 1787 (according to the suggestion of his biographer Mr. Procter, although other accounts make the year 1789 or 1790), died in Richmond, May 15, 1833. His father was a stage carpenter, and his mother, whose name he retained during his childhood, was Miss Ann Carey, by profession an actress, and a descendant of Henry Carey the poet. At two years of age he was taken in charge by a Miss Tidswell, who put him to school in London. A few years later his mother, who occasionally followed the business of an itinerant vender of perfumery, took him with her in her peregrinations, and brought him under the notice of a Mrs. Clarke. He had, almost as soon as he could walk, appeared at Drury Lane theatre as Cupid in the opera of "Cymon," and had subsequently taken children's parts on the stage. He made so favorable an impression upon Mrs. Clarke, that he remained for two years under her protection, and received instruction in dancing, fencing, and various other accomplishments.
When about 12 years of age he enrolled himself in a strolling troop of which his mother was a member, and on one occasion at Windsor recited in the presence of George III. From the beginning of the century to the period of his first appearance in London in 1814, he was connected with strolling companies or provincial theatres, assuming every variety of character, from the leading parts in tragedy to harlequin in the pantomime, and by very slow degrees forcing his talents into notice. In 1808 he was married, and during several years experienced many vicissitudes of fortune, being frequently reduced with his family, consisting of his wife and two children, to the verge of starvation. In 1813 Dr. Drury, the master of Harrow school, saw him act at Teign-mouth, and was so impressed with his dramatic abilities that he procured him an introduction to the manager of Drury Lane theatre, by whom he was engaged for three years at a salary of £8, £9, and £10 per week for each successive year. He made his first appearance Jan. 26, 1814, as Shylock, before a meagre audience, not particularly predisposed in his favor; but so great were his powers and the vigor of his personation, that at the fall of the curtain he was greeted by applause such as had not for many years been heard in Drury Lane, his appearance, according to Hazlitt, being "the first gleam of genius breaking athwart the gloom of the stage." After his third performance of Shylock, a new engagement at a far higher salary was offered to him; and not long after he received from the committee of Drury Lane theatre a present of £500, besides numerous valuable gifts from private persons.
He subsequently appeared as Richard III., Hamlet, Othello, Iago, Macbeth, Sir Giles Overreach, Sir Edward Mortimer, Lear, and in various other characters, with undiminished success, and for several years was the most eminent and popular actor on the British stage. In 1820 he made a professional tour in the United States, which at first was attended with great success; but in May, 1821, his refusal to complete an engagement in Boston, in consequence of the thinness of the houses, created an excitement which led to his abrupt departure from the city. Upon returning to England, he played his usual round of characters; but after the developments respecting his criminal connection with the wife of Alderman Cox, in the action of Cox v. Kean, January, 1825, in which a verdict of £800 damages was pronounced against him, he was hissed from the stage in Edinburgh and London. In 1825 he returned to the United States, and was at first received with riot and confusion wherever he attempted to act. Having tendered an apology, he appeared in New York and Philadelphia, but was not permitted to perform in Boston or Baltimore. During this visit he was elected a chief of the Tuscarora Indians by the name of Alantenouidet. Subsequent to his return to England in 1826 his health and spirits, undermined by habits of drinking, gave way rapidly, and it was only by the use of stimulants that he could still act his old parts.
He was unable to master a new one, forgetting the words almost as soon as he acquired them. In February, 1833, he was announced to appear in " Othello " with his son Charles. On the night of the performance he succeeded with difficulty in getting through two acts of the play, but in the third act, while uttering the words, "Villain, be sure," etc, he fell exhausted into the arms of his son, who acted Iago, and was borne from the stage. This was his last appearance before the public. Kean was short of stature, but well formed and graceful, and his eyes were singularly black and brilliant.
His countenance was capable of wonderful variety and intensity of expression, and his action, which, as well as his conceptions of character, was the result of deep study, lifted him far above the ordinary heroes of the stage. He possessed vigor, pathos, sarcasm, and the power of communicating terror in the highest degree; and his intensity in expressing all the passions has never been excelled. His biography was written by B. W. Procter (Barry Cornwall) (2 vols. 8vo, London, 1835). II. Charles John, an English actor, son of the preceding, born in Waterford, Ireland, Jan. 18,1811, died in London, Jan. 22, 1868. He was educated at Eton, whence he was withdrawn at the age of 16 in consequence of the refusal of his father to maintain him longer at school, the son having incurred his displeasure by declining the offer of a cadetship in India in order to look after the wants of his mother. In this emergency Charles Kean determined to adopt the stage as a profession, and on Oct. 1, 1827, made his debut at Drury Lane in the character of Young Norval. His success was not striking, and for several years he made no impression upon the public.
In 1830 he visited the United States, and after his return to England in 1833 began by degrees to assume the position of a leading actor in London. In 1839 he revisited America, returning to England in the following year; and in 1842 he was married to the actress Ellen Tree. In 1845 he made a third visit to the United States, performing with his wife in the chief cities for upward of two years. For several years after his return he played engagements at the principal theatres in London and the provinces, and in 1850 he became the sole lessee of the Princess's theatre, where for a number of seasons he produced splendid revivals of " Macbeth," "King John," "Richard III.," " Richard II.," the " Tempest," and other Shakespearian plays. As an actor he held a respectable position. As a stage manager he exhibited good taste and abundant resources, and was for several years the director of the theatrical performances at Windsor castle. In 1863 he made with his wife a professional tour to Australia, returning in 1866 by way of California. In 1859 appeared the " Life of Charles Kean," by J. W. Cole (2 vols. 8vo, London). III. Ellen (Tree), an English actress, wife of the preceding, born in London in 1805. She first appeared upon the stage at Covent Garden theatre, London, in 1823, and within a few years became one of the leading members of her profession, excelling both in comedy and tragedy.
In December, 1836, she made her debut upon the American stage at New York, and subsequently acted with success in the chief cities of the United States and Canada. In 1842 she was married to Charles Kean, with whom she continued to appear down to the time of his death, when she retired from the stage. Among her most popular characters were Beatrice in "Much Ado about Nothing," Rosalind in "As You Like It," Portia in the "Merchant of Venice," Viola in "Twelfth Night," Julia in " The Hunchback," and Mrs. Haller in " The Stranger."