John Mitchell Kemble 1807 – 1857
by Emma Warren

John Mitchell Kemble was a scholar and historian most famous for his early translation of the Saxon poem, Beowulf. John was born in London, the son of famous actors Charles and Maria and brother to actor Fanny Kemble. Despite being from the most famous theatrical family of the time, his interests lay in the study of words and language. Kemble obtained a place at Trinity College, Cambridge, however he instead travelled to Germany whilst deciding whether to study law or divinity. Instead, on his return in 1832, he spent his time studying Anglo-Saxon language, literature and culture, an interest he acquired from the brothers Grimm who had taught him in Germany.

James Parsons, Beowulf cartoon. Courtesy of Chertsey Museum

In the summer of 1834, Kemble returned to the University of Gottingen, Germany, and it is likely that this is when he met Natalie Auguste Wendt, daughter of the Professor of Philosophy, who was to become his wife. It is thought that shortly afterwards the couple returned to England to live with his mother at Chapelfields, Simplemarsh Road, Addlestone, which had been bequeathed to his mother by her sister-in-law. The cottage was to become his permanent residence for almost a decade. It was during his time at Chapelfields that he produced his collection of Anglo-Saxon documents, the Codex Diplomaticus Aevi Saxonici (published from 1839 to 1848) and The Saxons in England (published 1849).

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