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Pulchrum est digito monstrari et dicier hic est.
This celebrated actor made his entrée into this breathing world, in Castle-street, Leicester-square, on the 4th day of the foggy month of November, 1787. His father, whose cognomen he bears, though he had no legal right to it, was a tailor, and brother to the celebrated Moses Kean, the ventriloquist, who imitated every body, and was, in his turn, imitated by Rees, the mimic. His mother was Miss Carey, daughter of Saville Carey, known as a wit and lyrist of the last century.
Kean was nursed in poverty and suckled in distress, and the avocations of his mother interfering much with her maternal cares, he became neglected, and contracted an unfortunate deformity in his limbs; and this deformity was unfortunately increased by his infant powers being called into action in sundry devils, cupids, monkeys, serpents, &c. at the old Theatre Royal, Drury-lane, where the instructions of a posture-master tortured his unfortunate victim into every variety of distortion, to excite the admiration of a gaping gallery. Happily for the wretched offspring of poor actors, posturizing is falling into decay. With young Edmund, the cupidity of his friends defeated their object, for, at four years of age, his limbs unfitted liim for public appearance, and it was only by a timely application of bracing-irons, that they ever resumed anything like a symmetrical appearance.
At five years old he again appeared at Drury, when the following accident is said to have befallen him :-In the tragedy of Macheth, John Kemble thought proper to introduce a band lilliputian goblins, and young Edmund formed one of the corps; unfortunately, his dexterity and ardour did not kcep pace, and, by an unlucky step, he tripped up himself and all his brother demons. This of course produced much merriment amongst the auditory, and the sombre Kemble, who could but little enjoy a laugh occasioned by the failure of one of his own introductions, took the infantine performer severely to task upon the subject, who, it is said, wittily excused himself, by begging the manager to consider that he (Kean) had never appeared in tragedy before." Up to this period Kean had received no education whatever, but he was then placed at a little school in the neighbourhood of his father's residence, where a very moderate share of knowledge was instilled into his mind vi et armis. The mind of the child had been inoculated with a sort of lawless
liberty, and restraint became inimical to its nature; and, after vacillating between the certainty of castigation at school and severity at home, and the chance of existence abroad, our hero left his father's house, “ without a chosen servant to conduct his steps,” and “ went a cabin boy.” The ship in which he entered was bound for Madeira, but long ere she reached her destination, Kean discovered his error; the tyrants of the deck were worse than the legislators at the seminary, and the rope's end of the one more painful than the birch of the other. His health became impaired under this treatment; and he was, in consequence, sent to the hospital at Madeira, where he spent two months on a bed of sickness. Useless to his captain and a burthen upon the hospital, he was put on board an homeward-bound vessel, and placed pennyless upon
his native shores. He sought his former home, but his father was no more, and his mother had returned to her original profession, and was in some strolling company, but where it was impossible to learn. Thus circumstanced, he threw himself on the protection of his uncle Moses, who, with Miss Tidswell, late of Drury-lane Theatre, supported and instructed him; from the mimic he acquired those little arts, which he even now occasionally indulges in, i. e. imitating the horn, knife-grinding, and what is commonly called ventriloquism. The death of his uncle left little restraint upon his actions, and he entered Saunders's company of tumblers, &c., amongst whom he threw summersets and handsprings, to the infinite delight of the elegant frequenters of Bartholomew and the adjacent fairs. Following these pursuits, and, in default of employment, existing on the bounty of Miss Tidswell, he passed nearly seven years of his life, known only as an active froward boy, prone to mischief, with considerable
powers and some attainments, but, as his protectross has painted him, “veither to be led nor driven.” At the age of 14, being then at his full height, he obtained an engagement in a small company, and personated Richard and Lord Hastings with success; parts which he had before pourtrayed in the garret of Mr. Roach, the theatrical bookseller, in Russel Court. Shortly after this he attracted the attention of Dr. Drury, who sent him to Eton . School; there he remained (under the name of Carey) little better than two years. Impatient of control, and untractable to his pastors, he quitted Eton abruptly; and once more relying on Miss Tidswell's recommendation, obtained an engagement at Birmingham, and opened in Hamlet—the townfolks considered it a decided failure and he shortly left Birmingham for Edinburgh, where he was rather tolerated than admired. In the year 1805, we find him playing every line at Sheerness; and, about this time, we believe, he engaged himself to play little business at the Haymarket, where he remained for one season, and then engaged at Croydon, but relinquished his engagement rather than perform Laertes to Betty's Hamlet ; an instance of the value he set on his own talents, and the respect he had for the profession itself, which must be sacrificed by a boy's personating a hero. Kean went from Croydon to Swansea, and from thence to Waterford, making but little impression in either town, uuless indeed an impression in the heart of one being at the former place, which, if report speaks truly, the sweeping hand of time has not yet eradicated. If our hero's susceptibility was great, his feeling appears to be transieut, for at Waterford he was united to a Miss Chambers, who afterwards shared with him his sorrows, his poverty, his triumphs, and his splendour.
He was, on one occasion, hissed off the Guernsey stage, though performing the character of Richard the Third, by the discriminating inhabitants, and such was afterwards his fate, in the year 1812, at Cheltenham. From his reception at Guerirsey, he became disgusted with the profession, and necessity, and not his will, alone forced him to remain in it. He afterwards performed the leading characters at Gloucester and Exeter, but his tragedy was not admired, though his singing and dancing were warmly applauded. Mr. Kean was at Bath one season, playing some inconsiderable business; and, about this period, his early patron, Dr. Drury, mentioned his name to Mr. Arnold, (the proprietor of the English Opera House), who had considerable difficulty to find his place of destination, for the Bath manager, when applied to, said, Kean, a little man; yes, we had some one like that, who went to Exeter, or Dorchester, we think.”
Upon an engagement of 8l. per week, made by Mr. Arnold, Mr. K. came to town, and had to endure remarks, almost amounting to insult, from various members of the committee, and indifference, if not contempt, from several of the performers After much dissention, Shylock was fixed on for his opening character; on which a humorist in the theatre wisely prognosticated that it would be “ oyster part," i. e. open and close ou the same night.
Mr. K. appeared in Shylock, on the 26th of January, 1814, to an audience particularly select; he was well received, but not in such a manner as to forebode his brilliant career. On the Saturday following, he performed Rickard the Third; he repeated Richard again on the Tuesday, and “ the town became his own." He then ran through a long range of characters, amongst the most successful of which were Sir Giles, Luke, and Othello, whilst his Romeo