1819 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Charles Dibdin

Anonymous, "Memoir of Charles Dibdin" European Magazine 76 (August 1819) 99-101.



To "paint the manners, living as they rise," requires, we conceive, in general, infinitely superior powers of genius and a considerably greater variety of talent, than many persons will readily allow, or, than must of those who attempt the task are in any degree possessed of: and though it has been satirically observed, that—

—Since of late they do not rise at all,

We too most change, and catch them as they fall!

still its difficulties are not diminished and amongst the crowd of literary amateurs who throng the Muses' Temple with their dramatic offerings, there are but few indeed whose sacrifices are deriving of aught else, save to bloze upon the shrine, and be heard no more of. It is not long since we had the pleasure of recording our critical approval of a poem, the author of which ranks deservedly high among that class of successful dramatists whose dearth we have regretted, and it is with still greater satisfaction that we now add some few particulars of a gentleman, to whose family, even more than to himself, all our readers must have been long and deeply indebted both for instruction and amusement.

CHARLES DIBDIN, the subject of this brief sketch, is the son of the late Charles Dibdin, the celebrated composer, and brother to the distinguished Mr. Thomas Dibdin, of the Surrey Theatre. He was born October 27, 1768, and from seven years old was adopted and educated by his maternal uncle, Cecil Pitt, Esq. of Dalston (brother to the late Mrs. Pitt, an actress of much merit), who retired from trade with a handsome fortune, to which Charles, as his protege, was intended to be the heir; in consequence of these expectations, he was obliged to relinquish his paternal name for that of Pitt, and was, by his uncle, bound apprentice to Mr. W. Cordy, a pawnbroker, on Snow-hill, to whom the appellation of father was much more appropriate than that of master, so far as regarded his domestic treatment of young Charles. With this gentleman he continued for about fourteen years; but the profession not being entirely congenial to his feelings, and of considerable injury to his health, he relinquished the business, after having lost his uncle's favour: how this unlooked for event occurred he could never discover, as the unvaried testimony of his master witnessed the regularity of his habits, and the character constantly reported of him being the highest which could possibly be given. The only probable cause, was his attachment to literary pursuits; for he had even then published several trifles, some anonymously, and others under the name of C. J. Pitt, and as the old gentleman had a much higher opinion of the ledger than the lyre, it was perhaps on this account that he took his name from the "cash book." In consequence of these circumstances he left Mr. Cordy, and was married in June 1797, to Mary, eldest daughter of Mr. J. Bates, of Holyhead, resumed his paternal name of Dibdin, and turned his thoughts to writing for periodical publications and the stage. He then engaged with the late Philip Astley to write for his theatre, and superintend his company, with which he passed two winters in Dublin; when, in consequence of the celebrity of a song he had written ("Abraham Newland"), he was engaged by the proprietors of Sadler's Wells to superintend and write for that theatre.

In 1803, conjointly with his brother, he purchased of the late Mr. Siddons his share of the theatre, and continued the management of it until within a short time since; when, in consequence of some disputes with his partners, he resigned the management, though he still retains his share. It is, however, but a just tribute to his past exertions to observe, that Mr. Dibdin's efforts have been constantly directed to establish the Wells on a scale of the first respectability, and that these exertions were preeminently successful — as, until the last two seasons, when theatricals have been almost universally declining, it has been a very lucrative concern. How it will proceed now, remains to be discovered.

Perhaps few men having so public a name, and enjoying so many opportunities of mixing with society of distinction, both in rank and literature, have so neglected, or rather avoided them, than Mr. Charles Dibdin. He has ever sought his pleasures in the bosom of his family, and his private friends, preferring the tranquil delights of his own fireside to the mirth of a convivial table, or the crowd of a fashionable converzatione. Gifted with a mind thus constituted, our readers will estimate the irreparable loss which he must have sustained by the death of Mrs. Dibdin, which took place August 20, 1816, when she died of a decline, at the early age of thirty-five. Her remains lie buried in the ground of St. James's Chapel, Pentonville — and the following epitaph, which marks the spot of her repose, depicts her character in language, which came from the heart of it's author, and must go to the hearts of all who read it.

Her husband's glory, and her children's guide,
The Christian law her practice, and her pride;
A faithful wife, fond mother, and true friend,
Lies here! — soon summon'd to a peaceful end.
Eight children mourn her; he who pens her praise,
Best knew her worth; and honest truth obeys:
His loss, his grief, this tribute well supplies;
But Heaven's high will be done — the Christian dies,
As sets the Sun, more gloriously to rise!

To praise the dead, admits not the suspicion of flattery, and can be no infringement, even of delicacy.

Mrs. Dibdin was indeed an amiable woman, — patient under a long and afflictive illness, which finally brought her to the grave; she taught her children by that best mode of instruction, a good example — unaffectedly pious and benevolently humane, she deserved and received the affectionate esteem of all who moved within the circle of her influence, nor is there one at all acquainted with her, but, on perusing this tribute to her worth, will bedew the passage with a tear of grateful recollection, as it awakens the remembrance of such unaffected goodness of heart, united to such endearing qualities of kindness.

Mr. Dibdin's writings have been extremely numerous, though many of them were published anonymously — during the time he lived with Mr. Cordy, he wrote for several periodical publications, particularly Harrison's Pocket Magazine, the Old Ladies' Magazine, and several others — Tales, Allegories, Essays, Poems on humourous, moral, and didactic subjects out of number, in addition to the vast number of from 1500 to 2000 songs, have proceeded from his pen. Mr. D. has also written thirteen Serious Pantomimes, thirty-six Harlequin Ditto, thirty-five Melo-drames, forty-two Musical Pieces of one and two acts, exclusive of The Farmer's Wife, a comic opera, in three acts, a most successful piece at Covent Garden; Three Miles from Paris, a one-act piece, from the French, for the same Theatre, for which house he also altered Burgoyne's Lord of the Manor, and wrote for it eleven new songs.

On the night preceding the death of H.R.H. the late Princess Charlotte, he brought out a New Farce at Covent Garden, entitled A Friend Indeed! the music by Whitaker, — which was also completely successful, but Miss Stephens not appearing so prominent as the interests of the Theatre demanded, he withdrew it for alteration — rewrote it, and it will, we understand, be among the earliest forthcoming novelties of next season.

During the management of his brother at Drury-Lane, he also produced a Ballad Force, called My Spouse and I, which was, and still is, a great favourite. For the merits of his poem of Young Arthur, we refer to our late critique, as we must now hasten to a close.

Mr. Dibdin is at present, we understand, writing a new piece for Covent-Garden, another Poem, and preparing for the press, a volume of Fashionable Tales, all of which, we confidently anticipate, will twine new laurels round their author's brow.

We have omitted to notice, that eight children survive their lamented mother, several of whom inherit a considerable portion of the family genius, and promise to shed additional lustre on the name of Dibdin.

Thus with a weak, and all unable pen,
Our bending author has pursued his glory.

And here, with a single remark, our biographical labours must terminate. The compositions of Mr. Dibdin have been numerous, beyond most examples, but of all has writings which have come under our cognizance, as well as those of the other branches of his family, — there are none which do not reflect honour on their author, by containing the purest lessons of moral virtue, of patriotic loyalty, and of philanthropic benevolence.