SAMUEL DANIEL was the son of a music master, and born near Taunton in Somersetshire, in the year 1562. In 1579 he was admitted a commoner in Magdalen Hall in Oxford, where he remained about three years, and by the assistance of an excellent tutor, made a very great proficiency in academical learning, but his genius inclining him more to studies of a gayer and softer kind, he quitted the University, and applied himself to history and poetry. His own merit, added to the recommendation of his brother in law, (John Florio, so well known for his Italian Dictionary) procured him the patronage of Queen Anne, the consort of King James I. who was pleased to confer on him the honour of being one of the Grooms of the Privy-Chamber, which enabled him to rent a house near London, where privately he composed many of his dramatic pieces. He was tutor to Lady Ann Clifford, and on the death of the great Spenser, he was appointed Poet Laureat to Queen Elizabeth. Towards the end of his life he retired to a farm which he had at Beckinton near Philips Norton in Somersetshire, where after some time spent in the service of the Muses, and in religious contemplation, he died in the year 1619. He left no issue by his wife Justina, to whom he was married several years. Wood says, that in the wall over his grave there is this inscription;
"Here lies expecting the second coming of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, the dead body of Samuel Daniel esquire, that excellent poet and historian, who was tutor to Lady Ann Clifford in her youth, she that was daughter and heir to George Clifford earl of Cumberland; who in gratitude to him erected this monument to his memory a long time after, when she was Countess Dowager of Pembroke, Dorset and Montgomery. He died in October, Anno 1619."
Mr. Daniel's poetical works, consisting of dramatic and other pieces, are as follow;
1. The Complaint of Rosamond.
2. A Letter from Octavia to Marcus Antonius, 8vo. 1611.
These two pieces resemble each other, both in subject and stile, being written in the Ovidian manner, with great tenderness and variety of passion. The measure is Stanzas of seven lines. Let the following specimen shew the harmony and delicacy of his numbers, where he makes Rosamond speak of beauty in as expressive a manner as description can reach.
Ah! beauty Syren, fair inchanting good,
Sweet Silent rhetoric of persuading eye;
Dumb eloquence whose power doth move the blood,
More than the words or wisdom of the wise;
Still harmony whose, Diapason lies,
Within a brow; the key which passions move,
To ravish sense, and play a world in love.
3. Hymen's Triumph, a Pastoral Tragi-Comedy presented at the Queen's Court in the Strand, at her Majesty's entertainment of the King, at the nuptials of lord Roxborough, London, 1623, 4to. It is introduced by a pretty contrived Prologue by way of dialogue, in which Hymen is opposed by avarice, envy and jealousy; in this piece our author sometimes touches the passions with a very delicate hand.
4. The Queen's Arcadia, a Pastoral Tragi-Comedy, presented before her Majesty by the university of Oxford, London 1623, 4to.
5. The Vision of the Twelve Goddesses, presented in a Masque the 8th of January at Hampton-Court, by the Queen's most excellent Majesty and her Ladies. London 1604, 8vo. and 1623, 4to. It is dedicated to the Lady Lucy, countess of Bedford. His design under the shapes, and in the persons of the Twelve Goddesses, was to shadow out the blessings which the nation enjoyed, under the peaceful reign of King James I. By Juno was represented Power; by Pallas Wisdom and Defence; by Venus, Love and Amity; by Vesta, Religion; by Diana, Chastity; by Proserpine, Riches; by Macaria, Felicity; by Concordia, the Union of Hearts; by Astraea, Justice; by Flora, the Beauties of the Earth; by Ceres, Plenty; and by Tathys, Naval Power.
6. The Tragedy of Philotas, 1611, 8vo. it is dedicated to the Prince, afterwards King Charles I. This play met with some opposition, because it was reported that the character of Philotas was drawn for the unfortunate earl of Essex, which obliged the author to vindicate himself from this charge, in an apology printed at the end of the play; both this play, and that of Cleopatra, are written after the manner of the ancients, with a chorus between each act.
7. The History of the Civil Wars between the Houses of York and Lancaster, a Poem in eight books, London, 1604, in 8vo. and 1623, 4to. with his picture before it.
8. A Funeral Poem on the Death of the Earl of Devonshire, London. 1603, 4to.
9. A Panegyric Congratulatory, delivered to the King at Burleigh-Harrington in Rutlandshire, 1604 and 1623, 4to.
I0. Epistles to various great Personages in Verse, London, 1601 and 1623, 4to.
11. The Passion of a Distressed Man, who being on a tempest on the sea, and having in his boat two women (of whom he loved the one who disdained him, and scorned the other who loved him) was, by command of Neptune, to cast out one of them to appease the rage of the tempest, but which was referred to his own choice. If the reader is curious to know the determination of this man's choice, it is summed up in the concluding line of the poem. "She must be cast away, that would not save."
12. Musophilus, a Defence of Learning; written dialogue-wise, addressed to Sir Fulk Greville.
13. Various Sonnets to Delia, 57 in number.
14. An Ode. 15. A Pastoral. 16. A Description of Beauty. 17. To the Angel Spirit of Sir Philip Sidney. 18. A Defence of Rhime. All these pieces are published together in two volumes, 12mo. under the title of the poetical pieces of Mr. Samuel Daniel.
But however well qualified our author's genius was for poetry, yet Langbain is of opinion that his history is the crown of all his works. It was printed about the year 1613, and dedicated to Queen Anne. It reaches from the state of Britain under the Romans, to the beginning of the reign of Richard II. His history has received encomiums from various hands, as well as his poetry: it was continued by John Truful, with like brevity and candour, but not with equal elegance, 'till the reign of Richard III. A. D. 1484. Mr. Daniel lived respected by men of worth and fashion, he passed through life without tasting many of the vicissitudes of fortune; he seems to have been a second rate genius, and a tolerable versifier; his poetry in some places is tender but want of fire is his characteristical fault. He was unhappy in the choice of his subject of a civil war for a poem, which obliged him to descend to minute descriptions, and nothing merely narrative can properly be touched in poetry, which demands flights of the imagination and bold images.