In 1829 a large marble monument to Charles Dibdin (1745-1814) was erected in Greenwich Hospital, paid for by a public subscription. Still there today, it incorporates a bust of Dibdin himself, looking like a Roman senator, set on a column before which kneels a ‘Weeping Muse’. The plinth below describes him as the ‘Author of the National Naval Ballads’.
This was perhaps the high-water mark of Dibdin being recognized as a ‘classic’, a household name who had made an almost immeasurable cultural impact. By 1829 the less savoury aspects of his life had largely been forgotten, along with the less successful of his numerous works. What remained were a few operas (we would probably call them musicals if they were performed today) that had become part of the standard theatrical repertoire, dozens of songs which had the same sort of cultural currency as the Beatles’ songs do now, and a deeply pervasive legacy that meant hardly anyone could write or sing an English song without being influenced in some way by Dibdin. Most of all, Dibdin was known for those ‘National Naval Ballads’, the sea songs widely credited with having played a significant role in Britain’s victory in the Napoleonic wars. …read more