Kenney, James (DNB00)

KENNEY, JAMES (1780–1849), dramatist, was born in Ireland in 1780. His father, James Kenney, was for many years manager of Boodle's Club, St. James's Street, London, of which he was also part proprietor and institutor, and was well known in the sporting world. The son when a youth was placed in the banking-house of Herries, Farquhar, & Co., and while there indulged in private theatricals. His first literary attempt was a small volume published in 1803, entitled ‘Society, a Poem in two parts, with other Poems.’ He next wrote a farce called ‘Raising the Wind,’ which in 1803 was produced at a performance of amateurs, he himself taking the part of Jeremy Diddler. The success of this farce induced him to offer it to the managers of Covent Garden, where it was produced on 5 Nov. 1803, the character of Jeremy Diddler, played by Lewis, securing an immediate popularity. It ran for thirty-eight nights, and has often been revived since. On 20 Nov. 1804 Kenney's second piece, ‘Matrimony,’ a petite opera taken from Marsollier's ‘Adolphe et Claire,’ was given at Drury Lane, and repeated ten times during the season. ‘False Alarms, or my Cousin,’ a comic opera in three acts, with music by Braham and Matthew Peter King [q. v.], had a run of twenty-one nights at the same theatre early in 1807. In this piece Bannister had a comic song, ‘Major m'Pherson,’ which was long chanted in the streets, and Braham introduced for the first time his popular ballad, ‘Said a Smile to a Tear.’ The piece was praised by Genest, in spite of its poor underplot, and it was revived in 1810, with Foote, Russell, and Madame Vestris in the cast. ‘Ellen Rosenberg,’ a melodrama, first performed at Drury Lane on 19 Nov. 1807, with Elliston, Bannister, and Mrs. Siddons as Rosenberg, Storm, and Ella respectively, was also very successful (cf. Monthly Mirror, November 1807, pp. 351–3). Kenney's next venture, an original comedy, ‘The World,’ which came out at Drury Lane on 31 March 1808, had a run of twenty-three nights, and was frequently played in the following season. Lord Byron, however, speaks harshly of this piece in ‘English Bards and Scotch Reviewers.’ He wrote that:

Kenny's World—ah! where is Kenny's wit?—
Tires the sad gallery, lulls the listless pit.

On 7 March 1812 a musical afterpiece, ‘Turn him out,’ described by Genest as tolerable, was acted at the Lyceum, was repeated twenty-eight times, and still keeps the stage. Before the close of the same year another excellent farce, ‘Love, Law, and Physic,’ added considerably to Kenney's reputation. It ran forty-four nights, and was much indebted to the Lubin Log of Liston for its popularity. In 1815 ‘The Fortune of War,’ a farce, was produced at Covent Garden, and in 1817, in conjunction with Howard Payne, Kenney wrote a drama called ‘The Portfolio, or the Family of Anglade,’ taken from the French. This was played at Covent Garden on 1 Feb., the rival house, Drury Lane, producing another version on the same night. ‘Match Breaking, or the Prince's Present,’ a drama in three acts, and ‘John Buzzby, or a Day's Pleasure,’ were attractive pieces at the Haymarket in 1821 and 1822.

In 1821 Kenney was residing at Bellevue, near Paris, and he entertained Charles Lamb and his sister at Versailles in 1822. He still continued his dramatic work, and for the Haymarket on 7 July 1823 he wrote one of the most popular dramas ever produced, ‘Sweethearts and Wives,’ which ran for fifty-one nights and is still a great favourite. Madame Vestris was in the cast, and Liston as Billy Lackaday was at his very best. In July 1826 his farce ‘Thirteen to the Dozen’ was played at the Haymarket, with Liston and John Reeve in the chief characters. One of Kenney's most fortunate pieces, ‘Spring and Autumn,’ came out at the Haymarket on 6 Sept. 1827, and ran with much applause during the remainder of the season. On the opening of Drury Lane in October 1827 he produced a most successful farce, ‘The Illustrious Stranger, or Married and Buried,’ written expressly for Liston. This piece, which probably owed some of its incidents to ‘Le Naufrage,’ by Lafont, printed in 1710, was received with great favour, and has continued to keep the stage. On 4 May 1829 he brought out at Drury Lane an adaptation of Auber's opera, ‘La Muette de Portici,’ which under the title of ‘Masaniello’ pleased the musical and theatrical world. For the Surrey Theatre he wrote in 1840 ‘The Sicilian Vespers,’ a tragedy, in which Power sustained the chief character with great reputation. Kenney's last production was a serious drama entitled ‘Infatuation,’ a tale of the French empire, written in 1845 for Charlotte Cushman, then acting at the Princess's Theatre.

Kenney was a frequent guest at Samuel Rogers's breakfasts and dinners, and met there most of the notabilities of the day. He long suffered from a nervous affection, which gave him such an eccentric appearance that he was more than once taken for an escaped lunatic. He died of heart disease at 22 South Terrace, Alexander Square, Brompton, 25 July 1849. He had received large sums for his writings, but was not in affluent circumstances; a performance for his benefit took place at Drury Lane on the day of his death, and produced 500l. for his family. He married Louisa, daughter of Louis Sebastian Mercier, the French critic, and widow of Thomas Holcroft [q. v.] the dramatist. By her he had two sons, James and Charles Lamb Kenney [q. v.], and two daughters, Virginia and Maria. Mrs. Kenney on 13 Oct. 1849 received a civil list pension of 40l. a year, which was continued to her daughters on her death, 17 July 1853.

Besides the plays mentioned, Kenney wrote for Covent Garden, ‘Too many Cooks,’ a musical farce, 12 Feb. 1805; ‘The Blind Boy,’ a melodrama, 1 Dec. 1807; ‘Debtor and Creditor,’ a comedy, 20 April 1814; ‘A Word for the Ladies,’ 17 Dec. 1818; and ‘The Green Room,’ a comedy, 18 Oct. 1826. For the Lyceum he wrote, ‘Oh! this Love, or the Masqueraders,’ June 1810, and ‘The Magic Bell.’ For Drury Lane he wrote, ‘The Touchstone, or the World as it goes,’ a comedy, 3 May 1817; ‘A House out at Windows,’ a musical farce, 10 May 1817; ‘Benyowsky, or the Exile of Kamschatka,’ an operatic play, 16 March 1826; ‘Forget and Forgive, or a Rencontre in Paris,’ 21 Nov. 1827, reproduced as ‘Frolics in France’ 15 March 1828; ‘Peter the Great, or the Battle of Pultowa,’ 21 Feb. 1829; ‘Hernani, or the Pledge of Honour,’ a play, 8 April 1831; ‘A Good-looking Fellow,’ in conjunction with A. Bunn; and ‘The King's Seal,’ with Mrs. Gore. For the Haymarket he wrote, ‘The Alcaid, or Secrets of Office,’ a comic opera, 10 Aug. 1824; ‘Spring and Autumn, or Married for Money,’ a comic drama, 6 Sept. 1827; and ‘Love Extempore.’ For Madame Vestris at the Olympic he wrote ‘Fighting by Proxy,’ a farce, 9 Dec. 1833, followed by ‘Dancing for Life’ and ‘Not a Word.’ Other plays were ‘Dominique the Possessed;’ ‘False Alarms,’ an opera; ‘Spirit of the Bell,’ a comic opera; ‘Hush!’ musical drama; ‘The Black Domino,’ an opera; ‘Barbara, Macintosh, & Co.,’ a farce, written for Power; and ‘The Irish Ambassador.’ He also wrote ‘Valdi, or the Libertine's Son,’ a poem, 1820.

[Gent. Mag. January 1850, p. 99; You have heard of them, by Q., 1854, pp. 347–53; Genest's English Stage, vii. 613 et seq., viii. 594 et seq.; Clayden's Rogers and His Contemporaries, passim (Kenney's christian name wrongly indexed as John); Baker's Biog. Dram. i. 430; Pascoe's Dramatic List, 1880, p. 240; Dublin Univ. Mag. Jan. 1856, pp. 15–24; Lucas's Life of Lamb.]

G. C. B.