Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 15.djvu/11

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Dibdin
Dibdin
5

to retire into private life, for he knew that he had lost power of voice and popularity. Government had granted him a pension of 200l., June 1803. In 1805, being more than sixty, he retired from the theatre in Leicester Place, and sold his stock and copyright of three hundred songs to Bland and Weller, the music-sellers of Oxford Street, for 1,800l., and three years' annuities of 100l. a year for such songs as he might compose in that time. He removed to a quiet home at Cranford. His pension was withdrawn by the Grenville government, 1806–7. After this loss of income he returned to the Lyceum, adding other singers, and produced in 1808 ‘Professional Volunteers’ and ‘The Rent Day,’ followed finally by ‘A Thanksgiving’ and ‘Commodore Pennant.’ He also opened a music-shop opposite the theatre, but failure and bankruptcy followed. Mr. Oakley, of Tavistock Place, advocated in the ‘Morning Chronicle’ of 16 March 1810 the opening a subscription for Dibdin. At a public dinner on 12 April the musicians of the day generously gave their valuable help, and 640l. was raised. Of this 80l. was paid to him at once, and the remainder invested in long annuities, to benefit his second wife and their daughter Anne thereafter. He removed to Arlington Street, Camden Town, where he remained until he died. He tried one more play, ‘The Round Robin,’ at the Haymarket, in 1811, but the public, caring nothing for a worn-out favourite, rejected it, and he composed a dozen songs for ‘La Belle Assemblée’ of his friend, Dr. Kitchener, afterwards his biographer, obtaining 60l. for them. Struck by paralysis in 1813, he lingered at Arlington Street until 25 July 1814, dying about the age of sixty-nine. A stanza from one of his most beautiful and unaffected songs, ‘Tom Bowling’ (from the ‘Oddities,’ and said to have been intended as a description of his own brother Tom), was carved on his tombstone at St. Martin's burial-ground in Camden Town. His widow, Anne, and her daughter, also Ann (b. 1787), enjoyed a pension of 100l. besides the annuity of 30l.; three other children by the union with Miss Wylde died in infancy; a son, John, was drowned. Ann married an officer in the army. Her daughter appears to have been the last legitimate descendant of Charles Dibdin. Dibdin left no provision for his illegitimate offspring.

Of these the eldest son was Charles Isaac Mungo (so named after his father, Bickerstaffe, and the character in the ‘Padlock,’ which Dibdin performed in early life, and had set music for). The son's real surname was Pitt, but he is known generally as ‘Charles Dibdin the younger;’ he was born in 1768 and became a proprietor and acting manager of Sadler's Wells Theatre, for which he wrote many plays and songs. Among the plays printed were: ‘Claudine,’ a burlesque, 1801; ‘Goody Two-Shooes’ (sic), a pantomime, n.d.; ‘Barbara Allen,’ spectacle, n.d.; ‘The Great Devil,’ comic spectacle, 1801; ‘Old Man of the Mountains,’ spectacle, n.d.; and, one of his best, ‘The Farmer's Wife,’ comic opera, after 1814. He also wrote a ‘History of the London Theatres,’ 1826. He was popular and fairly successful. He died in 1833. His son, Henry Edward Dibdin, is separately noticed.

Besides ‘The Younger Brother,’ 1793, the elder Charles Dibdin published in 1796 a novel entitled ‘Hannah Hewit; or the Female Crusoe,’ introducing the loss of the Grosvenor, of which a dramatised version was acted for a benefit in 1797; ‘The Devil,’ 2 vols., circa 1785; ‘The Bystander,’ in which he published one song and an essay each week, 1787; his ‘Musical Tour’ in the year 1788; his ‘History of the Stage,’ 5 vols., 1800, hurriedly written in scraps while travelling; ‘Observations of a Tour through Scotland and England,’ with views by himself, 1803; and his ‘Professional Life,’ with the words of six hundred songs, 4 vols., 1803 (vide infra); besides many previous smaller selections, 12mo, such as one in 1790. His irritating letter to Benjamin Crosby ought to be remembered as a proof of his cross-grained disposition. Crosby having courteously requested biographical information from him, as from others, in 1796, Dibdin replied: ‘Mr. Dibdin is astonished at Mr. Crosby's extraordinary request; he not only refuses it, but forbids Mr. Crosby to introduce anything concerning his life in his production. If he should, Mr. Dibdin may be under the necessity of publicly contradicting what, according to Mr. Crosby's own confession, cannot be authentic’ (Crosby, p. 100). But the great merit of Dibdin's best songs, his sea-songs especially, words and music, is undeniable. His autobiography is dreary and egotistical in the extreme, and he is loose and inaccurate, whether by defect of memory or by intentional distortion of truth. His sea-songs are full of generous sentiment and manly honesty. Somehow he cared less for a practical fulfilment of the ethics that he preached so well. He invented his own tunes, for the most part spirited and melodious, and in this surpassed Henry Carey [q. v.] beyond all comparison. They were admirably suited to his words. He boasted truly: ‘My songs have been the solace of sailors in long voyages, in storms, in battle; and they have been quoted in mutinies to the restoration of order and discipline’ (Life, i. 8). He brought more men into the navy in war