George Daniel of Beswick

Alexander B. Grosart, Introduction in Daniel, Poems (1878) 1:vi-xix.

The hastiest reader of these volumes, will recognize abundantly, that GEORGE DANIEL — whose Poems they for the first time present in print — had, along with his cultured love of Horace, a quite Horatian conviction of his own poetic immortality. The "exegi monumentum" of the gay Roman, echoes and reechoes through his pages; nor are these unfulfilled prophecies of after-fame the least interesting to us. More thin this — in the most unlooked-for places, his Montaigne-like, or rather Samuel Pepys-like garrulity of self-allusion, reveals an undoubting faith that his slightest personal characteristic, likes and dislikes, and humours and foibles, would be welcome to the coming centuries, even those far-off still. It is a pathetic, not mirthful, commentary on all this, that ours is the only revival of his memory in the form he coveted and foretold, and that all search and research in his native place and county, and every likely source, have yielded the scantiest possible results. There has been, on the part of local friends, the maximum of painstaking, with the minimum of reward in biographical materials. The huge old County-Histories, as so tantalizingly often, are empty. His "line" has died out. His family possessions have passed to strangers — the present noble owner of Beswick (after the Denisons) showing avowedly no interest in his predecessor. His name has faded from human memories. Grotesquely enough, a fox-hunting squire who married among the last of the Beswick-Daniels, bulks larger than himself — his name William Draper, and his daughter Diana, one who (if tradition err not) might have sat for "Diana Vernon" herself. I can only therefore tell a very little of our "gentle Cavalier," as he has been called.

Probably he who named our Poet "gentle," meant not his temper or "complexion" — as the old word was, — but his being well-born, — as when Spenser speaks of his "gentle" knight, and Allan Ramsay in Scotland of his "Gentle" Shepherd. One shrewdly suspects that he was choleric and rough-spoken; but on both sides, and by a long line of marriages and intermarriages, he was certainly of "blue blood" in the best sense, i.e. not merely boastfully or through manufactured lineages, such as Sir Bernard Burke's tomes furnish ad nauseam. How self-respectingly our Poet himself regarded his "faire discent," his "Parted, per pale," (Vol. I. pp. 44-45) finely shows.

By the more than kind enthusiasm of the Rev. Charles Best Norcliffe, M.A., of Petergate House, York — of whom it was written to me over and over, that if any one in Yorkshire could help me he could and would, and if he couldn't none was likely to do — I am able to give in tabular shape a careful and matterful Pedigree of the Daniels of Beswick. Mr. William A. Abram, the Historian of Blackburn, (Lancashire) has worked with me in arranging and thus exhibiting Mr. Norcliffe's many details. To the prefixed Pedigree, accordingly, the genealogical-loving Reader is referred.

From the Pedigree it will be seen that GEORGE DANIEL was the second son of Sir Ingleby Daniel of Beswick — a chapelry in the parish of Kilnwick, East Riding of Yorkshire; and that he was born at Beswick on 29th March, 1616. His mother — it similarly appears — was Frances, daughter and heiress of George Metham of Pollington, parish of Snaith — being his father's second wife, the first having been Alice, daughter of Sir William Ryther of London — name quick still through the dear old Puritan-Preacher to seamen, John Ryther. His eldest brother was William, the third Thomas (Sir Thomas later) — to whom he addresses a verse-letter (Vol. I. pp. 211-212) fourth, John. He had also a sister, named Katherine. In "The End" of his "Eclesiasticus" he gratefully acknowledges divine goodness from birth and childhood onwards, apparently recalling some hairbreadth escape in infancy: —

Thou who didst lead me, in my Iourney on
Through all the Affaires that I have ever knowne,
ffrom the wombe vpward; in my Childhood kept
Me safe from Danger, — when my Nurses Slept; —
Safe in the Cradle; in the Slipperie state
Of youth, didst guard mee from all dismall fate;
Art now my Lord & Gvide, now in the strong
Estate of Man & the sweet Time of younge.
(VOL. III., p. 120.)

This warrants us in concluding that he had "Sunny Memories" of his home. He has kindly references to his native village similarly. Where he was educated does not appear, or whether he attended either of the Universities. That as a youth he experienced all the lights and shadows, the honeyed woes and jealousies, the disappointments and ecstacies of the universal passion, we may be sure. For his (so-called) "Love Platonicke" throbs and burns with a real affection and as real a wrath, edged with despair. His "Silvia" and "Cynthia" and "Pudora" were no fantasies. Self-evidently one, at least, put him to torture. Self-evidently, too, the love ebbed out for "Silvia" and "Cynthia," and returned after an earlier disavowal and "revolt," and choosing of "Nicotiana" (his "pipe") for alone companion — to "Pudora," — concerning whom we are free to indulge the Pleasures of Imagination that she was beautiful and good. He married Elizabeth, daughter of William Ireland, Esq., of Nostell, co. York, by Elizabeth, daughter and co-heiress of Robert Molyneux of Euxton, Lancashire. She bore him one son — to whom he gave his own name of George — and three daughters — Frances, Elizabeth, Gerarda. He died in 1657, and was buried in the neighbouring church to Beswick, viz. Kilnwick, on 25th September of that year. Here is the record in the Church-register literatim: — "George Danniell off Beswicke Esquier, Buryed the 25th off September, 1657." He thus all but obtained his wish as sung in his "Time and Honour," (Vol. I. pp. 32-34): —

—though I fall,
In scorned Dust, and have noe name at all:
Suffice it I may sing vpon thy flood,
Neglected Humber; or my Muse (lesse proud)
Sport in the Sedges of my neighbouring Streame,
Poore as my verse, neither deserving name.
And may the village where I had my birth
Enclose as Due, my Bodie in her Earth.
(ll. 59-66.)

Such (eheu!) is our little all of life-facts. Even the once grand old Manor-house (or Hall) of Beswick has been defaced. Only two or three Elizabethan windows remain to suggest vanished richness. It is now "restored" (obliterated) in the irreverent fashion of your nineteenth century restorer, so as to be utilized for two tenant-farmers' dwellings. A quaint thatch-roofed tiny church that stood on the other side of the road (leading to Beverley — whose cathedral-like towers preside over the landscape) has also disappeared. It was doubtless our Poet's own church, and must have been seen by him every day. I count myself fortunate to have secured a faithful photograph of it — taken just before it was needlessly "improved" out of existence in order that a wretched and featureless building might take its place. (Why not have built another near it, and conserved it?) Mr. Robert Langton of Manchester, has very daintily engraven it for me; and the Reader has it now before him. He will agree with me that as the one bit of certainty in association with Daniel, and as an example of England's ancient rural churches — never before engraved — it is well worthy of preservation in this way.

Great changes have taken place otherwise, in and around Beswick. The village itself (of 259 inhabitants) still winds up in its one street to the Cavalier's Hall or Manor-house, as in Daniel's days. Perchance its thatched cottages have not much changed their appearance since he looked upon them. Altogether it is

—a quaint old gabled place
With Church stamped on its face,

as Orwell sings of Dunblane; yet with a look of neglect and decay that saintly Leighton's town has not. But the outlying farms are in higher culture to-day if the greenwood glades are reduced. There is everywhere the gleam of famous trout-streams, which meander about the levels of the country, and any one of which may have been the "my neighbouring streame," and often-recurring "Devia" of the Poems. A covetable birth-place — a covetable home — a thrice-covetable "God's Acre"; but in nowise remarkable, or linked on to the mighty ongoings in Church and State of the period covered by our Poet's residence. He was himself too young, I think, to have personally taken sides with the Cavaliers against the Roundheads. There reaches my ear in a proud plaintiveness in his noble poem of "Freedome," (Vol. I. pp. 99-100) a sigh of thankfulness that he had not taken an active part in the conflict, e.g.

—I live
Obscure; Blood, Tears, nor oppression
Burden my Soule; my Gvilt is but my owne;
Whilest higher Sin, attends the higher place;
Sin of Participation in the Case.
I'me as I am, Content; and free, to pittie
The faction of the Countrie, Fraud o' the Cittie.
(ll. 20-26.)

None the less is his Cavalierism of the life-blood of his best verse. His family-traditions were royalist, and that he read as loyalty, i.e. to the king rather than to the kingdom — as many a better and eke many a worse man did. He had evidently a morbid terror-stricken dislike of Oliver Cromwell, and no appreciation of his magnificent service to this our England. At the same time he was too Yorkshirely shrewd not to have glimpses of the sad short-coming from his ideal of our (then) actual kings. The nimbus around the decollated head of Charles indeed never paled to him. His "Dedication" of an intended poem (lost) has a wistful affectionateness that goes to one's heart to-day (I. 230), and the "Cloud" (I. 231), is tremulous with thundrous grief. Yet has he stinging words on royal expediences and compliances. The combination of wistful adhesion to monarchy qua monarchy with heart-revolt against what he saw and read, presents a suggestive study in itself, and as representative of many of the gentlemen of England....