1829 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas John Dibdin

John Wilson, Note to "Letter from Thomas Dibdin, Esq." Blackwood's Magazine 26 (December 1829) 912-13n.



We have taken a good many cruizes in King's Ships — many more voyages in Packets, Transports, and Merchantmen of all nations; and, as fresh-water sailors, we offer to sail a twenty-ton Schooner — for a gold cup, value five hundred guineas — against any thing of her burden, in any lake or loch in Britain. Still, we but rarely write on nautical affairs; and when we do, have Falconer's Marine Dictionary, and some other similar works, for reference at our elbow. Two or three years ago, in a Review of those most amusing volumes, the Naval Sketch-Book, (see No. for March, 1826,) we cut up our admirable friend Allan Cunningham, whom all the world knows we love and esteem as a man, a poet, and a critic, for sneering at old Charles Dibdin's songs, as not smelling sufficiently strong of the sea; and at the same time took occasion to criticise some of "Honest Allan's" own nautical strains, which, with all their spirit and vigour, we said were occasionally disfigured by land-lubberish terms, which made us rather a little or so fresh-water sick. Nor, at the same time, did we spare other distinguished poets for having committed similar misdemeanours. As we are generally right in every thing we say, we see no reason to doubt that, on the whole, we were right in that article. We defended Charles Dibdin in the following sharpish passage "Allan Cunningham knows our admiration of his genius, and our affection for himself; but the above diatribe dribbled from our pen, as we thought of the most absurd contempt with which, in his 'Scottish Songs,' he chooses to treat Dibdin. Dibdin knew nothing, forsooth, of ships or sailors' slang! Thank you for that, Allan — we owe you one. Why the devil, then, are his thousand and one songs the delight of the whole British navy, and constantly heard below decks, in every man-of-war afloat? The shepherds of the sea must be allowed to understand their own pastoral Doric, and Charles Dibdin is their Allan Ramsay. Both may have made mistakes, but confound us if either of them was a Cockney." Such was then the expression of our opinion of Charles Dibdin — Heaven bless his memory! such is our opinion still; and such it will be, as long as we are able to sing a single stave of Tom Bowling. But it is not the opinion, it would appear, of the author of Scenes in a Gun-room, (see our No. for October 1829,) as good a sailor as ever walked a deck, and thoroughly versant in all the outs-and-ins (nothing nautical in that phrase) of his profession. His opinion — and he gives reasons for it — must command the respect of all who know him to be — what he is — a naval officer of the highest character. We duly estimate the value of his communications, which, we hope, will be frequent — and know will always be most amusing, interesting, and instructive; but to a son of Charles Dibdin, seeking to vindicate, from what he considers undeserved reproach, the genius of his deceased Father, we have, with entire satisfaction, formed open column. And it pleases us to insert in Maga the following spirited lines of his, — whether perfectly correct or not in the sea-terms, we know not, neither do we much care; and have no doubt that the sound-headed and sound-hearted author of the Scenes in the Gun-room will not think the worse of a son for standing up manfully in defence of his Father's memory as a Poet of the Fleet. C. N.