1687 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Samuel Daniel

William Winstanley, Lives of the Most Famous English Poets (1687) 109-13.



Mr. Daniel was born nigh to the Town of Taunton in Somersetshire; his Father was a Master of Musick, and his harmonious Mind (saith Dr. Fuller) made an impression in his Son's Genius, who proved to be one of the Darlings of the Muses, a most excellent Poet, whose Wings of Fancy displayed the Flags of highest Invention: Carrying in his Christian and Sirname the Names of two holy Prophets; which, as they were Monitors to him, for avoyding Scurrility, so he qualified his Raptures to such a strain, as therein he abhorred all Debauchery and Prophaneness.

Nor was he only one of the inspired Train of Phoebus, but also a most judicious Historian, witness his Lives of our English Kings since the Conquest, until King Edward the Third, wherein he hath the happiness to reconcile brevity with clearness, qualities of great distance in other Authors; and had he continued to these times, no doubt it had been a Work incomparable: Of which his Undertaking, Dr. Heylin in the Preface to his Cosmography, gives this Character, speaking of the chiefest Historians of this Nation; "And to the end the Bed-roll" (says he) "half the Story of this Realm done by Mr. Daniel, of which I believe that which himself saith of it in his Epistle to the Reader, that there was never brought together more of the Main." Which Work is since commendably continued (but not with equal quickness and judgment) by Mr. Trussel.

As for his Poems so universally received, the first in esteem is, that Heroical one of the Civil Wars between the two Houses of York and Lancaster; of which the elaborate Mr. Speed, in his Reign of Richard the Second, thus writes: "The Seeds" (saith he) of those fearful Calamities, a flourishing Writer of our Age" (speaking of Mr. Daniel) "willing nearly to have imitated Lucan, as he is indeed called our English Lucan, doth not unfortunately express, tho' he might rather have said he wept them, than sung them; but indeed so to sing them, is to weep them."

I sing the Civil Wars, tumultuous Broils
And bloody Factions of a mighty Land,
Whose people haughty, proud with foreign spoyls;
Upon their selves turn back their conquering hand
While Kin their Kin, Brother the Brother soils,
Like Ensigns, all against like Ensigns stand:
Bows against Bows, a Crown against a Crown,
While all pretending right, all right throw down.

Take one Taste more of his Poetry, in his sixth Book of that Heroical Poem, speaking of the Miseries of Civil War.

So wretched is this execrable War,
This Civil Sword, wherein though all we see
Be foul, and all things miserable are,
Yet most of all is even the Victory;
Which is, not only the extream Ruiner
Of others, but her own Calamity;
Where who obtains, cannot what he would do:
Their power hath part that holp him thereunto.

Next, take notice of his Musophilus, or general Defence of Learning, Dedicated to Sir Fulk Grevil; his Letter of Octovia to Marcus Antonius, his Complaint of Rosamond, his Panegyrick, Delia, &c. Besides his Dramatick Pieces; as his Tragedy of Philotus and Cleopatra; Hymnis Triumph, and the Queens Arcadia, a Pastoral; being all of them of such worth, that they were well accepted by the choicest judgments of those Times, and do yet remain in good esteem, as by their often Impression may appear.

This our Poet's desert preferr'd him to be a Servant in ordinary to Queen Anne, the most illustrious wife of King James I. who allowed him a fair Salary, such as enabled him to keep a handsom Garden-house in Old-street nigh London, where he would commonly lie obscure sometimes two Months together, the better to enjoy that great Felicity he aimed at, by enjoying the company of the Muses, and then would appear in publick, to recreate himself, and converse with his Friends; of whom the most endeared were the Learned Doctor Cowel, and Judicious Mr. Cambden.

And now being weary of the Troubles of the City and Court, he retired into the Country, and turn'd Husbandman, Renting a Farm or Grange in Wiltshire, nigh the Devizes; not so much, as it is thought, for the hope of gains, as to enjoy the retiredness of a Country Life: How he thrived upon it, I cannot inform my self, much less my Readers, although no question pleasing himself therein, he attained to that Riches he sought for, viz. Quiet and Contentedness; which whoso enjoys, reapeth the benefit of his Brain, though living a good space of time with Justina his wife: For his Estate, he had neither a Bank of Wealth, nor Lank of Want; but living in a competent contented condition, and died (as it is conjectured) about the latter end of King James I.