Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Kemble, Adelaide

KEMBLE, ADELAIDE, afterwards Mrs. Sartoris (1814?–1879), vocalist and author, born at Covent Garden Chambers (afterwards Evans's), London, about 1814, was younger daughter of Charles Kemble [q. v.] and Maria Theresa Kemble [q. v.], his wife. ‘Her unquenchable musical genius,’ Fanny Kemble, her sister, wrote in August 1830 (see Records of a Girlhood), alone sustained her naturally timid disposition under her mother's ‘wincing sensitiveness of ear.’ Adelaide sang professionally for the first time at a Concert of Ancient Music on 13 May 1835, and, as at the York festival in September following, her nervousness interfered somewhat with her rendering of Handel's music. She visited Germany in 1837, and sang at Prague in that and the following year; in 1838 she was also heard in Paris. Her studies, begun under Elliot and Braham, were continued under Cartagenova and Mercadante; while in the course of one of her visits to Italy (1839?) Miss Kemble was received by Pasta at her villa on Lake Como, and had daily lessons from her (Past Hours, vol. i.) It is with this great dramatic singer that Miss Kemble, in spite of her slenderer powers, was afterwards frequently compared by friendly critics. Her first appearance in opera, at the Fenice Theatre in Venice, as Norma, was brilliantly successful, and was followed by equally satisfactory performances in other Italian cities (cf. Mrs. Butler's account of the enthusiasm of the Italian audience, Records of a Later Life, ii. 69). On her return to England with a marked foreign accent in 1841, Adelaide obtained much social success pending her appearance at Covent Garden in November. Her sister describes her at this time (ib. ii. 73, May 1841) as ‘giving a taste of her quality’ to Charles Greville [q. v.], ‘to whom Henry (Charles's brother) has written about her merits and probable acceptability with the fashionable musical world.’ She performed at a concert given at Stafford House for the relief of the Poles about June. The sisters went abroad in August, travelling part of the time with Liszt. Miss Kemble sang at Frankfort, Mainz, and other Rhenish towns, as well as at Liàge. In ‘Norma,’ Mrs. Butler notes, ‘her carriage was good, easy, and unembarrassed, her gesture and use of her arms remarkably graceful and appropriate,’ and asserts that ‘some things in her acting were perfect.’

These qualities were recognised by connoisseurs on Miss Kemble's first appearance at Covent Garden, on 2 Nov. 1841, in an English version of ‘Norma’ (Benedict conducting), and were even more conspicuous in Mercadante's ‘Elena da Feltre’ (12 Jan. 1842), an opera which failed in Italy, but which her genius carried triumphantly through its English version (Chorley). Her Susanna (‘Le Nozze di Figaro,’ 15 May) and Carolina (‘Il Matrimonio Segreto’) were exquisitely sung and ‘fine in their fun, which makes good comedy’ (Records). She appeared in the Covent Garden performances of ‘La Sonnambula’ on 7 April, and ‘Semiramide’ 1 Oct., reviving the fortunes of the unfortunate theatre. She took a prominent part in the Philharmonic and Ancient concerts, and frequently visited the provinces, until she bade farewell to the stage on 23 Dec. 1842.

Early in the following year Adelaide Kemble married Edward John Sartoris. Though her career as a professional was now closed, Mrs. Sartoris was frequently heard in society, singing sometimes a Scotch ballad ‘as if inspired’ (cf. Bunsen, Memoirs, ii. 82), and finding a new outlet for her genius in the writing of stories. The humour and freshness of ‘A Week in a French Country House’ was keenly relished when first published in ‘Cornhill,’ and in book form in 1867; and though some of the interest of the story lay in the portraiture of celebrities, its literary quality was high. As much cannot be allowed to the tales and sketches which followed, although they possess some charm. A poem, ‘At Daybreak,’ is printed in ‘Past Hours.’ Of the songs Mrs. Sartoris is known to have composed, none appear to have been published.

Mr. and Mrs. Sartoris spent much time in Italy. Their house, near the Trinità dei Monti, was said to be one of the pleasantest in Rome. Mrs. Sartoris died, aged about 65, at Warsash House, Hampshire, on 4 Aug. 1879, survived by her husband, son, and daughter.

Busts of Charles Kemble and his two daughters were made by Dantan for the Marquis of Titchfield, who had also in his possession (1843) several miniature portraits of Adelaide. Mrs. Jameson made sketches of her in all her parts. Her picture in the character of Norma was lithographed and published (Evans, Cat.), probably in 1842.

Adelaide Kemble's short public career was of rare artistic value. She showed cynical compatriots and critical foreigners (Neue Zeitschrift, ix. 61) that the highest rank of executive art could be reached by an Englishwoman. There was little or no scope for musico-dramatic talent apart from the Italian opera, but Miss Kemble thrilled her audiences with the creations of Rossini and Bellini. The non-fulfilment of Liszt's intention to conduct German opera in London in 1842 was a great disappointment to her. Her concert repertoire, thanks to a continental training, included ‘Lieder’ by Schubert, Mendelssohn, and Dessauer, which she studied very thoughtfully. Her distinction was due to her intellectual gifts. Her natural voice did not excel in power and beauty that of some other English singers, such as Clara Novello. Its compass had been artificially extended, to the detriment of its quality. Chorley pronounced her the greatest, though not the best, English singer of the century. She appreciated correctly every species of musical composition, and was acquainted with almost the whole lyrical literature of Europe (Records). To Mrs. Butler, who regretted that her sister had not devoted herself to the drama apart from music, her acting seemed to be hampered by her singing. But in reviewing Adelaide's career (ib. ii. 293), she remarks: ‘In both Pasta and Adelaide the dramatic power was so great as to throw their musical achievements in some degree into the shade.’

Mrs. Sartoris's ‘Week in a French Country House’ was published in 1867, and reissued, with a preface by [Lady] Richmond Ritchie, in 1902. ‘Medusa and other Tales’ (1868) were republished, with additions and a preface by her daughter, Mrs. Gordon, under the title of ‘Past Hours,’ London, 1880, 2 vols.

[Mrs. Butler's (i.e. Fanny Kemble's) Records of a Girlhood, passim; her Records of a Later Life, passim; her Further Records, passim; Chorley's Thirty Years of Musical Recollections, i. 112; Morning Post, 14 May 1835, 3 Nov. 1841, 14 Jan., 16 March, 8 April, 3 Oct., 30 Nov., and 23 Dec. 1842; Athenæum, 16 Aug. 1879; Era, 17 Aug. 1879; Grove's Dict. ii. 50, 699, iii. 229.]

L. M. M.