Kenney, Charles Lamb (DNB00)

KENNEY, CHARLES LAMB (1821–1881), journalist and author, son of James Kenney [q. v.], dramatist, was born at Bellevue, near Paris, 29 April 1821, and had Charles Lamb for one of his godfathers. In July 1829 he was entered at the Merchant Taylors' School, and in 1837 became a clerk in the General Post Office. He commenced his literary career at the age of nineteen as assistant foreign editor, dramatic critic, and scientific reporter on the ‘Times,’ contributing at the same time to magazines and writing plays. In 1851 he aided in promoting the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park. Ill-health obliging him to give up his position on the daily press, he became secretary to Sir Joseph Paxton during his organisation of the transport service for the Crimea in 1855. On 17 Nov. 1856 he was called to the bar at the Inner Temple, and was appointed secretary to M. de Lesseps. He advocated the advantages of the Suez Canal when the enterprise was opposed by Lord Palmerston, and wrote a book on the subject entitled ‘The Gates of the East’ (1857). Partly owing to his exertions a complete revolution was effected in public opinion, and he received from Seyd Pasha a letter of thanks accompanied by a diamond ring. A misunderstanding with De Lesseps deprived him of the secretaryship, and his connection with the Suez Canal ceased. In 1858 he joined the staff of the ‘Standard.’ In 1862 he was active in support of the International Exhibition at South Kensington. He belonged to a literary circle which included Thackeray and Dickens, and was noted for his impromptu and satirical skits in rhyme upon the celebrities of the day. With the exceptions of Boucicault and Vivier, he was said to be the wittiest man of his period. He had a prominent share in the introduction of modern opera-bouffe, having written the libretti of the ‘Grand Duchess,’ the ‘Princess of Trebizonde,’ and ‘La Belle Hélène.’ Some of his dramatic pieces were brought out in conjunction with Albert Smith, Tom Taylor, Shirley Brooks, and Dion Boucicault, but the rate of remuneration at that time did not exceed 100l. for a burlesque and 25l. for a farce. Kenney also wrote ‘The Vagabond’ and many other popular songs. He suffered for several years from an incurable disease, and a performance for his benefit was given at the Gaiety Theatre on 20 June 1877. He died at Eldon Road, Kensington, on 25 Aug. 1881, aged 60, and was buried in Brompton cemetery on 30 Aug. By his marriage at the English embassy, Paris, in 1859, with Miss Rosa Stewart, he left two children, Charles Horace Kenney and Rosa Kenney, who made her first appearance on the stage as Juliet at Drury Lane on 23 Jan. 1879. Kenney was the author of:

  1. ‘Mr. Phelps and the Critics of his Correspondence with the Stratford Committee,’ 1864.
  2. ‘Wanted, Husbands,’ musical sketch, Drury Lane, 11 March 1867.
  3. ‘Valentine and Orson,’ pantomime, New Holborn Theatre, 24 Dec. 1867.
  4. ‘Our Autumn Manœuvres,’ farce, Adelphi Theatre, 21 Oct. 1871.
  5. ‘Memoir of M. W. Balfe,’ 1875.
  6. ‘Maid of Honour,’ comedietta, Holborn Theatre, 24 April 1876.
  7. ‘The Correspondence of H. de Balzac,’ translated, 1878.

He contributed ‘Covent Garden,’ pp. 28–32, to Albert Smith's ‘Gavarni in London,’ 1859, and translated (with others) Count Hamilton's ‘Fairy Tales and Romances,’ 1849, and Demidoff's ‘Travels in Southern Russia,’ 1853. Books of words for the following operas were furnished by Kenney: ‘The Mock Doctor,’ 1865; ‘Fair Helen,’ 1866; ‘Princess of Trebizonde,’ 1870; ‘The Grand Duchess of Gerolstein,’ 1871; ‘Don Pasquale,’ 1871; ‘La Figlia del Reggimento,’ 1871; ‘Lucia di Lammermoor,’ 1871; ‘Le Nozze di Figaro,’ 1871; ‘Un Ballo in Maschera,’ 1871; ‘La Muette de Portice,’ 1872; ‘La Favorita,’ 1872; ‘Semiramide,’ 1872; ‘Le Domino Noir,’ 1872; ‘Ali Baba,’ 1873; ‘The Wonderful Duck,’ 1873; ‘L'Elisir d'Amore,’ 1875; and ‘La Jolie Parfumeuse,’ 1875. He also wrote the words to a ‘Requiem’ by Verdi in 1875, as well as numerous songs, the most popular of which were ‘Soft and Low,’ 1865; ‘Ever my Queen,’ 1866; ‘The Vagabond,’ 1871; and ‘A Russet Cloak o'er Motley Gear,’ 1875.

[Illustrated London News, 3 Sept. 1881, pp. 223, 242; Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, 3 Sept. 1881, p. 583; Era, 3 Sept. 1881, p. 6; information from Miss Rosa Kenney.]

G. C. B.