1817 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Samuel Daniel

Nathan Drake, in Shakespeare and his Times (1817; 1838) 296-97.



SAMUEL DANIEL, a poet and historian of no small repute, was born near Taunton, in Somersetshire, in 1562. Having received a classical education at Magdalen Hall, Oxford, and being afterwards enabled to pursue his studies under the patronage of the Earl of Pembroke's family, he became the most correct poet of his age. He commenced author as early as 1585, by a translation of Paulus Jovius's Discourse of rare Inventions; but his first published poems appear to have been his Delia, a collection of Sonnets, with the complaint of Rosamond, 1592. He continued to write until nearly the close of his life, for the Second Part of his History of England was published in 1618, and be died on the 14th of October 1619.

Of the poetry of Daniel, omitting for the present all notice of his dramatic works, the most important are his Sonnets to Delia, the History of the Civil War, the Complaint of Rosamond, and the Letter from Octavia to Marcus Antonius; the remainder consisting of occasional pieces, and principally of Epistles to his friends and patrons.

The Sonnets are not generally constructed on the legitimate or Petrarchan model: but they present us with some beautiful versification and much pleasing imagery. The Civil Wars between the two houses of Lancaster and York, the first four books of which were published in 1595, and the eighth and last in 1609, form the magnum opus of Daniel, and to which he looked for fame with posterity. That he has been disappointed, must be attributed to his having too rigidly adhered to the truth of history; for aspiring rather at the correctness of the annalist than the fancy of the poet, he rarely attempts the elevation of his subject by any flight of imagination, or digressional ornaments. Sound morality, prudential wisdom, and occasional touches of the pathetic, delivered in a style of then unequalled chastity and perspicuity, will be recognised throughout his work; but neither warmth, passion, nor sublimity, nor the most distant trace of enthusiasm can he found to animate the mass. In the Complaint of Rosamond, and in the Letter from Octavia, he has copied the manner of Ovid, though with more tenderness and pathos than are usually found in the pages of the Roman.

In short, purity of language, elegance of style, and harmony of versification, together with an almost perfect freedom from pedantry and affectation, and a continual flow of good sense and just reflection, form the merits of Daniel, and resting on these qualities he is entitled to distinguished notice, as an improver of our diction and taste; but to the higher requisites of his art, to the fire and invention of the creative bard, he has few pretensions.

Daniel was the intimate friend of Shakspeare, Marlowe, Chapman, Camden, and Cowel; and was so highly esteemed by the accomplished Anne, Countess of Pembroke, that she not only erected a monument to his memory in Beckington church, Somersestshire, but in a full length of herself, at Appleby Castle in Cumberland, had a small portrait of her favourite poet introduced. This partiality seems to have sprung from a connection not often productive of attachment; Daniel had been her tutor when she was only thirteen years old, and in his poem he addresses an epistle to her at this early age, which, as Mr. Park has justly said, "deserves entire perusal for its dignified vain of delicate admonition." Dissatisfied with the opinions of his contemporaries as to his poetical merit, which appears to have been similar to the estimate that we have just given, he relinquished the busy world, and spent the closing years of his life in the cultivation of a farm.