1817 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas John Dibdin

I. K., "Mr. T. Dibdin" British Stage and Literary Cabinet 1 (May 1817) 117.



We must all of us be sensible how much easier a task it is to point out faults, than to bestow praise with judgment and discrimination; and to this cause it is to be attributed, that every blockhead has been more ready to magnify the defects of Mr. Dibdin's productions, than to commend them for the good qualities they really possess; and though I am not by any means inclined to place Mr. Dibdin foremost in the rank of Dramatists — (of those Dramatists at least who actually deserve the name,) I can never be so ungrateful for the many hearty laughs his compositions have afforded me, and the hours which have glided pleasurably away while beholding them, as to refuse to admit that they are possessed of merit; or to dismiss them with the sweeping damnatory sentence that they are mere collections of puns, practical jokes, and extravagance.

Descended from a man whose writings may be truly said to have been public benefits, Mr. Dibdin is possessed of much of his father's talents for humour and repartee. His Dramas cannot indeed stand the test of rigid criticism; but, though few persons will be found to assert that his Comedies are studiously correct compositions, as few will venture to deny that they are very amusing. In fact, Mr. Dibdin has established a style of his own — extravagant perhaps, but highly entertaining; and as he advances no claim to the credit of writing with regularity, and accordingly to standard rules, it seems to be the height of injustice to censure him for having neglected laws which he never pretended to observe, and to which he is not amenable.

Mr. Dibdin has confessedly pushed extravagance and caricature to their extreme limits; and it must be admitted also, that he has indulged himself in puns and quibbles with the utmost latitude; but, as has before been observed, though frequently outre, he is never tedious; and I am free to confess, that were the Stage of necessity to be exclusively occupied by the extravaganzas of Dibdin, or the soporific melo-dramas of Messrs. Pocock and Farley, I should, beyond all comparison, prefer the former. Such drivelling compositions as John du Bart, and The Heir of Vironi, have no effect upon the spectator beyond that of putting him to sleep; while Five Miles Off, Of Age To-morrow, and What Next? will at least afford him a hearty laugh; and a hearty laugh is in this life of sorrow and vexation, is by no means the least of the enjoyments of which human nature is capable.

In pieces of mingled pathos and humour Mr. Dibdin has been eminently successful; more so perhaps than any dramatist of the day. Of this his Birthday is a sufficient example, which, though an imitation from the French, is most admirably naturalized and adapted to the English Stage; Jack Junk is a master-piece. His other Dramas of this description are deserving of equal praise.