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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Charles Dibdin (1745–1814)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
THE SAYING, “Let me make the songs of a nation and I care not who makes its laws,” receives an interesting illustration in the sea songs of Charles Dibdin. They were written at a momentous period in English history. The splendid gallantry and skill of England’s sailors, and the genius of her naval commanders, had made her mistress of the seas, and the key of all combinations against the French Cæsar. The sterling qualities of the British seaman are the inspiration of Dibdin’s songs.  1
  Many of these were first given at Dibdin’s monodramatic entertainments at the Sans Souci Theatre in London, or as parts of his musical dramas. They appealed at once to Englishmen, and were sung by every ship’s crew; they fired the national spirit, and played so important a part in the quickening of English patriotism that the government, recognizing their stirring force in animating the naval enthusiasm during the Napoleonic wars, granted a pension of £200 a year to the “Ocean Bard of England.”  2
  Charles Dibdin was born in 1745, in a small village near the great seaport of Southampton. His love of the salt air drew him often to the ocean’s shores, where he saw the ships of all lands pass and repass, and heard the merry sailors’ songs. And yet his own songs, upon which his title to a place in literature rests, were incidental products of his active mind. He was an actor, a dramatist, and a composer as well. He wrote some thirty minor plays and the once popular operettas of ‘The Shepherd’s Artifice,’ ‘The Padlock,’ ‘The Quaker,’ and ‘The Waterman.’ He wrote also a ‘History of the Stage,’ ‘Musical Tour through England,’ and an autobiography which bore the title ‘Professional Life.’ His two novels are now forgotten, but it is interesting to recall that for the Stratford Jubilee in honor of Shakespeare, the words of which were by Garrick, Dibdin composed the much admired songs, dances, and serenades. He wrote more than thirteen hundred songs, most of which had of course only a brief existence; but there were enough of them, burning with genuine lyric fire, to entitle him to grateful remembrance among England’s poets.  3
  In all of these songs, whether the theme be his native land or the wind-swept seas that close it round, love is the poet’s real inspiration; love of old England and her sovereign, love of the wealth-bringing ocean, love of the good ship that sails its waves. This fundamental affection for the things of which he sings has endeared the songs of Dibdin to the heart of the British sailor; and in this lies the proof of their genuineness. His songs are simple and melodious; there is a manly ring in their word and rhythm; they have the swagger and the fearlessness of the typical tar; they have, too, the beat of his true heart, his kindly waggery, his sturdy fidelity to his country and his king. There is nothing quite like them in any other literature.  4
 
 
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