Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Dignum, Charles

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DIGNUM, CHARLES (1765?–1827), vocalist, son of a master tailor, was born at Rotherhithe about 1765. His father, who was a catholic, moved his business to Wild Street, Lincoln's Inn Fields, and young Dignum became a chorister at the Sardinian Chapel, where his fine voice attracted the attention of Samuel Webbe, the organist, who undertook his musical education. Dignum, however, wished to become a priest, and was only prevented by his father being too poor to pay for his training. He was therefore placed under a carver and gilder named Egglesoe, with whom he remained for nine months, when a quarrel with his master prevented his being definitely apprenticed. Linley [q. v.] made his acquaintance, and, persuading him to adopt the musical profession, undertook his education. Linley would not let him sing in public until his powers were thoroughly matured. His first appearance took place at Drury Lane, as young Meadows in ‘Love in a Village,’ on 14 Oct. 1784; according to the advertisements he was received by a very crowded house with unbounded applause. He appeared in Michael Arne's ‘Cymon’ on 26 Nov. following, and as Damon in Boyce's ‘Chaplet’ on 18 Dec. Dignum remained associated with Drury Lane during the greater part of his life. He had a fine tenor voice, but his figure was clumsy, and though extremely good-natured, he seems to have been a somewhat stupid man. He succeeded to Charles Bannister's parts on the latter's secession to the Royalty Theatre (1787); he was particularly successful as Tom Tug in the ‘Waterman,’ and as Crop in ‘No Song, no Supper.’ He also sang at the Drury Lane Oratorios, and on 28 March 1800 took part at Covent Garden in the first performance of Haydn's ‘Creation.’ During the summer Dignum sang at Vauxhall, where he was a great favourite. In 1786 he married a Miss Rennett, the daughter of an attorney; she died at 23 New North Street, Red Lion Square, in 1799, and of their children only one daughter survived. Dignum's name disappears from the theatre bills after 1812, but he continued to be a favourite member in musical society until his death. He died of inflammation of the lungs, at his house in Gloucester Street, 29 March 1827. He is said to have accumulated, together with his wife's property, a fortune of over 30,000l. Dignum wrote the tunes of several of his own songs, but he was a poor musician, and the harmonies were generally added by his friends. Several of his compositions appeared shortly after 1801, in a volume dedicated to the Prince of Wales, to which a portrait of the composer is prefixed. The other engraved portraits of him are the following: (1) Vignette, full face, engraved by Ridley after Drummond, and published in the ‘European Magazine’ for December 1798; (2) vignette, full face, the same as (1) but said to be engraved by Mackenzie from a drawing by Deighton; (3) full-length, as Tom Tug, engraved by Bond after De Wilde, published 26 July 1806; (4) full-length, caricature, ‘Ease and Elegance,’ published 1805.

A notice in the ‘European Magazine’ (1798) announces that Dignum was then writing a two-act piece, but it is not known whether this was ever played.

[European Mag. December 1798; Public Advertiser, 14, 15 Oct., 26 Nov., 18 Dec. 1784; Portraits and Music in the British Museum; Morning Post, 30 March 1827; Parke's Musical Memoirs, i. 91, 176, ii. 5, 63; Gent. Mag. 1799, i. 258; Genest's Hist. of the Stage; Georgian Era, iv. 286; Grove's Dict. of Music, i. 447.]

W. B. S.