Moore was an early example of a new kind of respectable entertainer who sang self-accompanied at the piano songs of impeccable moral sentiment. The first person to achieve public celebrity as a respectable entertainer was Charles Dibdin (1745-1814). As a young man, in between singing in the chorus at Covent Garden and working for a music publisher, Dibdin had shown himself to be possessed of versatile talent. At the age of nineteen he wrote both the words and music of a pastoral opera, The Shepherd's Artifice, and also took the leading role himself at its first performance. He developed a flair for comic opera in the pasticcio ballad-opera manner, collaborating for a while with Bickerstaffe. Some of his most imaginative work was done at this time, particularly in the writing of dramatic ensembles, but it was with his Table Entertainments that he made the greatest impact on the direction of bourgeois 'popular song'. The editor of the first complete collection of Dibdin's songs says of these Entertainments,
These were produced by him when in the maturity and vigour of his powers, and in the full tide of his popularity; and it is on them that he seems to have put forth the utmost strength of his genius.31
Dibdin had run into debt with a project to run a venue combining opera and equestrian displays and had decided to emigrate to India. When adverse winds drove the ship into Torbay, he gave an impromptu musical entertainment combining songs and patter. Its success made him abruptly change his departure plans and, meeting similar enthusiasm at performances given in various country towns, he thought he would try the idea in London. He opened at Hutchins' Auction-Room, Covent Garden, with the appropriately titled The Whim of the Moment, in 1788. Alas, the size and enthusiasm of the audience were both disappointing, but a song concerning a sailor with a touching faith in Providence, 'Poor Jack', became immensely popular. Its use of vernacular speech, nautical metaphor (mainly of the 'shiver me timbers' variety) and sailors' jargon, provided a prototype for many more Dibdin songs. Dibdin made a second attempt, and his next Entertainment, The Oddities, gave him the acclaim and financial reward he was seeking. He now moved to a room opposite the Beaufort Buildings in the Strand, naming it Sans Souci; here, he brought out another new Entertainment called Private Theatricals. His success multiplied, enabling him to purchase a small theatre in Leicester Place in 1796, which he also named Sans Souci.
Dibdin's appeal as an entertainer lay largely in his talent for character roles; he relied on mimicry of accent and manner rather than dress. His fun was at the expense of rustics, Jews, Negroes, and foreigners in general, at a time when such [32/33] activity carried no trace of moral reprehensibility. He himself asserted that it was 'sacredly incumbent' upon him 'in no instance to outrage propriety or wound morality' (Dibdin 1803:xxii). His piano sounded unique: the instrument was adapted to incorporate chamber organ, bells, side drum, gong, and tambourine. The percussion was operated by mechanical contrivances. Sailor songs were to prove the most popular part of his output; although not one of them suggested any of the discontent in the Navy concerning bad provisions, low pay, harsh discipline, or the resentment of the pressed men. In June 1803 he was awarded a government pension which was kept on when the ministry changed and Pitt became First Lord of the Treasury. However, in 1806, the year by which all the famous naval battles had been fought, Lord Grenville decided that the pension should cease.
An offended Dibdin brought out a pamphlet in 1807, The Public Undeceived; in it he claims to state the material facts relative to his 'trifling pension'. He says that its discontinuation is an insult to his public service, dating from as far back as 1793, 'when I had my theatre in the Strand, opposite to which lectures were given, which broached those violent democratic opinions that all good subjects held in detestation.'33 He maintained that, despite insinuations to the contrary, he acted without government bribes. Nevertheless, it does seem that the annuity was originally given partly in return for the production of war-songs: Dibdin admits, 'war-songs could be of no object to me, for they were sure to be pirated' (Dibdin 1807: 21), and so he was not disposed to produce them without financial inducement. He also had an arrangement whereby he was to receive any profits from musical publications brought out 'at the instance of Government' (Dibdin 1807: 24). The settlement of £200 per annum disappointed his expectations and he reproachfully points out in his pamphlet that he would have been a rich man if he had continued touring and entertaining instead of serving the government.
In 1793, the year to which Dibdin traced back his record of public service, he included a new song in The Quizes (his latest Table Entertainment) entitled 'Ninety-Three'. It was added in January, just before the beheading of the French Royal Family. The song was intended to check the spread of revolutionary opinions in Britain.
Some praise a new freedom, imported from France;
Is Liberty taught, then, like teaching to dance?
They teach freedom to Britons! our own right divine!
A rushlight may as well teach the sun how to shine.
In fam'd ninety-three
We'll convince them we're free; -
Free from ev'ry licentiousness faction can bring,
Free with heart and voice to sing - God save the King!
It revolves around a definition of the word liberty, making tendentious contrasts between French and English varieties in what was to become a familiar propa- ganda ploy. After the naval mutinies in the Channel Fleet at Spithead and the North Sea Squadron at the Nore, Dibdin's anger became more impassioned: 'The Invasion', in his 1798 Entertainment The King and Queen, referred to the threatened invasion by Napoleon and whipped up patriotic fervour against the [33/34] 'mad liberty scheme'. His official government backing, on the resumption of war, in 1803, bore first fruit in Britons, Strike Home! In this he had the assistance of a military band in promoting enthusiasm against the French. It contained many war-songs, for example, 'The Call of Honour', 'The British Heroes', and 'Soldiers and Sailors'. It also included 'Erin Go Bra', a song designed to natter and appease the Irish (after the recent rebellion):
Shake off disaffection, to duty be true,
And cherish your natural friend.
Dibdin's most celebrated song was from his early Entertainment, The Oddities, of 1789, and was originally called 'Poor Tom, or The Sailor's Epitaph'; in the nineteenth century it was always known as 'Tom Bowling'.36
Here, a sheer hulk,37 lies poor Tom Bowling,
The darling of our crew;
No more he'll hear the tempest howling,
For death has broach'd him to.
His form was of the manliest beauty,
His heart was kind and soft,
Faithful below he did his duty,
And now he's gone aloft.
Tom never from his word departed,
His virtues were so rare,
His friends were many, and true hearted,
His Poll was kind and fair;
And then he'd sing so blithe and jolly,
Ah many's the time and oft!
But mirth is turn'd to melancholy,
For Tom is gone aloft.
Yet shall Poor Tom find pleasant weather,
When he who all commands
Shall give, to call life's crew together,
The word to pipe all hands.
Thus death who Kings and Tars dispatches,
In vain Tom's life has doff'd,
For, though his body's under hatches,
His soul is gone aloft.
The tune has less in common with the elegant style associated with the recently deceased figures of Bach and Abel than with a robust 'traditional' English air; an obvious exception is the phrase which bears the repeated final line of each stanza. See the musical example on page 35. This phrase is the only point at which any attempt is made musically to illustrate the words: the rising motion offers symbolic confirmation that this is the direction in which Tom's soul has gone. Of course, in a strophic (same tune for each verse) setting there is little room for word-painting. Dibdin favours straightforward strophic treatment in his Table Entertainment songs, though some, like 'Poor Jack' and 'The Anchorsmiths', are more sophisticated in phrase structure than 'Tom Bowling'. Dibdin's typically [34/35] humorous use of nautical metaphors has a wry effect, owing to the melancholy subject matter: the song has widely been held to be an epitaph to his elder brother Tom, the Captain of an Indiaman, who was struck by lightning at sea when Charles was a boy.
The picture of the kind, honest, jolly sailor, whom death visits with the same impartiality as it may do a king, is stock Dibdin. The situation on board ship is a microcosm of the Christian's life on earth: the Commander in the sky will one day order the whistle to be sounded to summon up his crew (a novel departure from the more orthodox last trumpet). To the middle class his songs seemed to express 'natural sentiments in plain language' even if they could not help but be aware that the features of the sailor's character had been 'elevated, refined, and united with a delicacy of sentiment and firmness of principle' beyond what were met with in the realities of life (Hogarth xxv-xxvi). Dibdin undoubtedly had a sense of moral purpose which helped to keep his music alive in parlours and drawing rooms long after he had himself 'gone aloft'. In his autobiography he firmly advocated a didactic approach to song-writing: 'The song, written to please, may be so managed as to instruct' (Dibdin 1803: xxiii).
He gave up his Entertainments in 1805 but had to resume professional activity at the age of sixty-three when his pension was halted by Grenville's administration. His career ended in bankruptcy, and a relief fund was initiated by a Mr. Oakley of Tavistock Place. Mr Oakley was not apparently a personal friend; Dibdin had been unable to remain on good terms with anyone and eventually died a lonely man in Camden Town. He had deserted his first mistress, leaving her with two children, Charles and Thomas, who both grew up to write for the stage. He was outraged when they took his surname and he seems to have entirely neglected them: his son Thomas's Reminiscences barely touch upon him. Thomas actually outdid his father's patriotic popularism with 'The Tight Little Island', his own song written at the time of the threatened Napoleonic invasion.
Charles Dibdin preferred to give public entertainments on his own premises; the poet Thomas Haynes Bayly (1797-1839), however, like Tom Moore, was a darling of the salons. Bayly, too, favoured the kind of delicacy and wilting melancholy found in many of the Irish Melodies rather than Dibdin's melodic, vigour. Bayly has already been mentioned in connection with the prototype of [35/36] 'Home, Sweet Home!' [performance by the author] in the first volume of Melodies of Various Nations. Bishop was a frequent collaborator with Bayly and set over 130 of his lyrics. The most popular of these settings were the autobiographical 'Oh! No! We Never Mention Her' (referring to Bayly's failed first courtship) and 'The Mistletoe Bough'. The latter was a gruesome tale of a young bride who accidentally locked herself in a disused oak chest and was not found until years later. A deal of speculation surrounded the origin of the story; houses at Bramshill and Malsanger, and Marwell Old Hall contended for its true location. Bayly's motto at the head of his poem (which does not appear in the published music) makes it clear, however, that his source was the story of Ginevra in Rogers' Italy. The fascination with 'The Mistletoe Bough' was such that it spawned a play of the same title, produced at the Garrick, Whitechapel, in 1834.
Bayly was the son of a Bath solicitor and spent a lot of his own life in Bath, having first turned down the idea of entering the law and then the church as a profession. The majority of his songs belong to the 1820s, when he gave entertainments in the fashionable drawing rooms of Bath, partly, of course, to promote sales. Ambition to become a dramatist brought him to London in 1829. Unfortunately, a few years later, he ran into financial problems with his coal-mining investments. Further financial difficulties soon followed as the result of the fraudulent dealings of the agent looking after his wife's property in Ireland.40 He found it necessary to move to Paris with his family. Returning to England after three years, he relied almost entirely on his writing and it was not long before overwork took its toll. He died in Cheltenham where he had gone to take the spa water for his health.
Bayly sometimes selected airs for his own verses, as Moore had done. All the airs of his Songs of the Boudoir of 1830 (which contained the great favourite 'We Met') were selected by Bayly and arranged by T. H. Severn. He also composed tunes himself, as was the case with 'I'd Be a Butterfly', a drawing-room favourite for half a century. The first verse is given below.
I'd be a butterfly born in a bower,
Where roses and lilies and violets meet;
Roving for ever from flower to flower,
And kissing all buds that are pretty and sweet!
I'd never languish for wealth, or for power,
I'd never sigh to see slaves at my feet,
I'd be a butterfly born in a bower,
Kissing all buds that are pretty and sweet.
His wife provided the first accompaniment to this song; the words were supposed to have been written on impulse as he watched a butterfly fluttering about in the summer-house of Lord Ashtown's villa at Chessell on the Southampton River. The summer-house was later redecorated and named Butterfly Bower in honour of the occasion. Bayly was a friend of Moore and flatters him with an obvious echo of the sentiments of 'The Last Rose of Summer' in his third stanza:
Surely 'tis better, when summer is over,
To die when all fair things are fading away.
The message of the song is that being a humble butterfly and leading a life of irresponsible hedonism is preferable to the misery of being rich and powerful. The hedonistic tone of the song later caused Bayly some concern and he chose to modify his philosophic outlook in 'Be a Butterfly Then!' He had been goaded by 'The Bee and the Butterfly', written by R. Morland and composed by G. W. Reeve in answer to Bayly's song, wherein they conclusively demonstrated that the busy, useful bee 'with a house and a home' was indisputably the butterfly's moral superior. Answers to songs, as well as parodies of songs, were becoming tremendously fashionable. Bayly was so irritated with the innumerable parodies of'I'd Be a Butterfly' (such as 'I'd Be a Nightingale' and 'I'd Be a Rifleman') he retorted with his own parody, beginning:
I'd be a Parody, made by a ninny,
On some little song with a popular tune,
Not worth a halfpenny, sold for a guinea,
And sung in the Strand by the light of the moon . . .
Bayly's songs were much parodied; a few examples are given below.
'The Soldier's Tear' |
(music by Lee)
| 'The Policeman's Tear'|
'She Wore a Wreath of Roses'|
(music byJ. P. Knight)
| 'He Wore a Pair of Mittens'
(W. H. Guest)
'We Met - 'Twas in a Crowd'|
(music selected by Bayly)
| 'We Met - 'Twas in a Mob'|
Answers, which usually employ a fresh tune and take issue with the original song, are also plentiful. More flattering to Bayly were the translations of his verse into foreign tongues, not always a living language either: Archdeacon Wrangham was so enamoured of Bayly's lyrics that he published a volume of translations into rhyming Latin verse ('I'd Be a Butterfly' became 'Ah! Sim Papilio').
The musical form of a Bayly song is usually shorter, simpler, and more regular than Dibdin's strophic settings; again, the Irish Melodies make a better comparison: they seem to have served as a model for the sort of music Bayly composed and selected as well as for that which his musical collaborators found most appropriate to provide. Their melodic compass is generally small, which undoubtedly recommended them to amateur singers of limited technique. This is the reason that a Bayly song like 'Long, Long Ago' will still be found today in an elementary instrumental tutor. It was Bayly's verse, however, which really earned him the admiration of his contemporaries. Pecksniff Hall wrote: 'The songs of Mr Bayly have obtained a popularity almost without precedent in our time. With the [37/38] exception of Moore, no living writer has been so eagerly sought after by musical composers . . .' (Quoted in Hanchant 1932: xxix).
The trio of Burns, Moore, and Bayly represented a peak of achievement by songwriters who were first and foremost poets. As has been pointed out already, Moore and Bayly performed as respectable entertainers in the drawing rooms of the landed gentry and the upper echelons of the bourgeoisie, whereas Dibdin had provided an entertainment for the paying public on his own premises. Dibdin, nevertheless, firmly aligned himself with bourgeois values. Allowing for the effects of social change on these values, the same may be said of a quite different personality, who in many ways was Dibdin's successor, Henry Russell (1812—1900). He was not an immediate successor, of course; Dibdin had died when Russell was a baby. During Russell's childhood and early manhood the bourgeoisie were struggling to become the dominant fraction of the power bloc, spurred on by a new disaffected middle-class group who had been thrown up by the events of the industrial revolution. The element of evangelical humanitarianism in Russell's character places him in conflict with the laissez-faire philosophy which maintained that people driven by self-interest to create wealth forwarded the general good. Ironically, social reformers at this time were often paternalistic Tories practising their code of noblesse oblige: the Factory Acts of 1833 and 1847 and the Public Health Act of 1848 were all passed in the face of opposition from laissez-faire dogmatists. Sometimes, as in Yorkshire, there was what amounted almost to a coalition between Radicals and Tories. Russell's song, 'The Happy Days of Childhood' (poetry by George Pendrill), would have appealed more to Lord Shaftesbury than to a textile-factory owner.
Russell established the norm for respectable entertainers: he selected verse or collaborated with poets he admired and sang his compositions, accompanying himself at the piano. Like Dibdin, he had been involved with the theatre as a young man. Having had a good voice as a boy, he had studied in Italy under Bellini when his voice broke, and had become chorus master at Her Majesty's on his return. Disillusioned with the prospects of making his living in England, he decided to emigrate to Canada. After the experience of a storm in Toronto, he quickly moved to Rochester, New York, and became a teacher at the Rochester Academy of Music, and organist and choir master at the First Presbyterian Church. His New York debut as a singer was in 1836, and during that year he toured with the composer Wallace. The next year he embarked upon his career as a solo entertainer. His songs about the New World, added to his popularity and influence in the United States, led to his being considered an American composer. He did, in fact, write many of his well-known songs there; but the two periods of his life spent in the United States total less than ten years, only half the time that he spent as an active entertainer in Britain.
Russell, together with his long-standing friend Charles Mackay (later, editor of the Illustrated London News), was a fervent champion of the New World. They collaborated on emigration songs such as 'To the West' and 'Far, Far upon the Sea', as well as a vocal and pictorial entertainment, The Far West or. The Emigrant's Progress from the Old World to the New. Their song 'Cheer, Boys! Cheer!' became the anthem of optimism for those leaving Britain's shores; it was even sung by the Guards as they departed for the Crimea. Russell claimed his songs induced the starving to seek prosperity by emigrating. He also claimed that slavery was 'one of the evils I helped to abolish through the medium of some of my songs' (12). Certainly he adopted a strong anti-slavery stance: this is clear in his entertainment Negro Life in Freedom and in Slavery (words by Angus B. Reach) which includes the song 'The Slave Sale'. Russell's anti-slavery sentiment is of the Harrier Beecher Stowe variety (although it pre-dates Uncle Tom's Cabin); yet he is not content with condemnation: his gran scena 'The Slave Ship' contains a call for action,
Let every man arise to save,
From scourge and chain, the Negro slave!
Russell's gran scenas are especially charged with moral purpose; it was in this form taken from the operatic set piece for anguished prima donna, that he could bring the full panoply of melodramatic devices to the service of his own enthusiasm. His scena 'The Gambler's Wife' depicts a mother and child desolately waiting as the clock strikes each hour from one to four o'clock in the morning, at which point the gambling father returns to a domestic tragedy. This scena must have influenced Henry Clay Work's famous song on a similar theme, 'Come Home, Father!' Russell's gran scena 'The Maniac' (or 'Madman') may easily appear today as a tasteless example of horror for entertainment's sake and at the expense of the mentally ill: such is obviously Edward Lee's opinion in Music of the People (99-100). Russell insisted, however, that it was composed with the specific intention of 'exposing that great social evil — the private lunatic asylum' (67) where people were unlikely to be declared sane while they proved profitable inmates. The eponymous character in 'The Maniac' [performance by the author] is driven mad by the asylum itself. The piece stands as an indictment to the blanket application of the principle of laissez-faire.
Russell also specialized in composing a simpler form of dramatic narrative song, and he was always delighted at his ability to command the intense involvement of his audience with these. There are several anecdotes in his autobiography which tell how people caught up in the mood of the song would shout questions to him on stage. For example, after singing 'Carlo, the Newfoundland Dog' (a dog who, in the song, jumps overboard to rescue a young boy) a gentleman in the audience asked,
'Excuse me, sir, Was that dog yourn?'
'No, it was not,' I replied.
'Did he save the child?'
On another occasion, after singing his celebrated ballad 'Woodman, Spare That Tree!' [performance by the author], the following exchange took place:
'Was the tree spared, sir?'
'It was,' I said.
'Thank God for that.' 
Russell made his English debut in March 1842 at the Hanover Square Rooms but was soon to hear his tunes on barrel organs and hurdy-gurdies all over town. [39/40] He noted that his kind of entertainment was then 'practically a new idea in England' (188) but acknowledged Dibdin as a forerunner. With a work such as The Far West, he was able to escape the Lord Chamberlain's proscription of plays during Lent, since it was a sung entertainment. Russell took advantage of this situation to the full in 1851, when he mounted a Lenten Entertainment at the Olympic Theatre.
Russell's social conscience took him to Dublin, where he gave two entertainments for the exclusive benefit of evicted tenants during the Irish famine. His success here encouraged him to make a tour of Ireland (places visited included Cork, Waterford, Limerick, Wexford, Drogheda, Newry, and Belfast) and he eventually raised almost £7000.
Many of Russell's songs remained favourites all century, particularly 'The Old Sexton', 'Woodman, Spare That Tree!', 'Cheer, Boys' Cheer!', and 'The Old Arm Chair' [performance by the author]. The song which outlived every other, however, was 'A Life on the Ocean Wave' (words by an American, E. Sargent, based on verses by S. J. Arnold).48 Its longevity has been aided in our own time by its having been adopted in 1889 as the official march of the Royal Marines. The first verse runs as follows:
A life on the ocean wave,
A home on the rolling deep!
Where the scatter'd waters rave,
And the winds their revels keep!
Like an eagle caged I pine
On this dull unchanging shore,
Oh! give me the flashing brine,
The spray and the tempest's roar!
A life on the ocean wave, etc.
The song has the same pioneering spirit as another Russell favourite, 'I'm Afloat!' It shows an adventurous, optimistic nature, in contrast to his other common mood of sentimental nostalgia; this emotional dichotomy is found with great frequency among the nineteenth-century bourgeoisie. Whatever the mood of his songs, however, they are generally stamped with several of the following hallmarks: a limited vocal range; a partiality for major keys; a contrasting key area for the middle of the song; a pause with, perhaps, a short cadenza (a vocal nourish) before the main tune reprise; and a fragmentation of the tune at the end. 'A Life on the Ocean Wave' contains all these features. The fragmented ending is less common in his pathetic ballads but does appear on occasion as, for example, in 'The Old Sexton' (incidentally, a rare example of his use of a minor key). Though normally of no great length, Russell's melodies are skilfully crafted within a musical idiom that has now achieved such autonomy as a distinctive style there is little point in tracing 'art music' influences.
Russell could be singled out as the composer mainly responsible for popularizing the maudlin, over sentimental song, the 'promoter of the moist eye'. He was enormously fond of the word 'old' in these ballads; indeed, 'The Old Arm Chair' was a setting of Eliza Cook's 'The Favourite Chair' and it was Russell who requested that the title be changed. It is hard to realize now that Russell felt there [40/41] was no sentimental excess in any of his songs: he believed their healthy moral tone prevented that happening.
the moral tone of a song depends upon the moral tone of the individual who writes it: by which, I mean, a healthy song comes from a healthy man and likewise produces healthy effects, whereas sickening sentiment is born of a sickening mind and generally produces sickening effects. 
Unfortunately, Russell's stricture runs into difficulties if applied to his celebrated predecessor, Dibdin. Dibdin's first editor commented that his music was never 'contaminated by anything gross or licentious . . . but alas for the infirmity of human nature! Dibdin may be added to the numerous illustrations of the maxim, that the character of an author is not to be gathered from his works'.50
Last modified 11 June 2012