James Kenney (dramatist)

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James Kenney, 1809, portrait by J. Heath
James Kenney, circa 1845, portrait by Samuel Laurence

James Kenney (1780 – 25 July 1849) was an English dramatist, the son of James Kenney, one of the founders of Boodles' Club in London.


His first play, a farce called Raising the Wind (1803), was a success owing to the popularity of the character of "Jeremy Diddler". Kenney produced more than forty dramas and operas between 1803 and 1845, and many of his pieces, in which Mrs Siddons, Madame Vestris, Foote, Lewis, Liston and other leading players appeared from time to time, enjoyed a considerable vogue.

His most popular play was Sweethearts and Wives, produced at the Haymarket Theatre in 1823, and several times afterwards revived; and among the most successful of his other works were: False Alarms (1807), a comic opera with music by Braham; Love, Law and Physic (1812); Spring and Autumn (1827); The Illustrious Stranger, or Married and Buried (1827); Masaniello (1829); The Sicilian Vespers, a tragedy (1840). Kenney, who numbered Charles Lamb and Samuel Rogers among his friends, died in London in 1849. He married the widow of the dramatist Thomas Holcroft, by whom he had two sons and two daughters. One of his descendants is comedienne Sara Pascoe.[citation needed]

Charles Lamb Kenney[edit]

James Kenney's second son, Charles Lamb Kenney (1823-25 August 1881), made a name as a journalist, dramatist and miscellaneous writer. Commencing life as a clerk in the General Post Office in London he joined the staff of The Times, to which paper he contributed dramatic criticism. In 1856, having been called to the bar, he became secretary to Ferdinand de Lesseps, and in 1857 he published The Gates of the East in support of the projected construction of the Suez Canal. Kenney wrote the words for a number of light operas, and was the author of several popular songs, the best known of which were Soft and Low (1865) and The Vagabond (1871). He also published a Memoir of M. W. Balfe (1875), and translated the Correspondence of Balzac. He included Thackeray and Dickens among his friends in a literary coterie in which he had the reputation of a wit and a writer of vers de societe. He died in London in 1881.


  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Kenney, James". Encyclopædia Britannica. 15 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 732.

Additional Resources[edit]

  • Terry F. Robinson, "James Kenney." Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 344: Nineteenth-Century British Dramatists. Detroit: Gale, 2008. 206-224.
  • Terry F. Robinson, "James Kenney's Comedic Genius: Early Nineteenth-Century Character, Commerce, and the Arts in Raising the Wind, The World!, and Debtor and Creditor," Literature Compass 3.5 (Aug. 2006): 1082-1106.