SAMUEL DANIEL, an English poet and historian, the son of a music-master, was born near Taunton, in Somer setshire, in 1562. In 1579 he was admitted a commoner of Magdalen-hall, Oxford, where he continued about three years, and by the help of an excellent tutor, made considerable improvement in academical studies. He left the university, however, without taking a degree, and pursued the study of history and poetry under the patronage of the earl of Pembroke's family. This he thankfully acknowledges in his "Defence of Rhime," which is printed in the late edition of his works, as a necessary document to illustrate, the ideas of poetry entertained in his time. To the same family he was probably indebted for an university education, as no notice occurs of his father, who, if a music-master, could not well have escaped the researches of Dr. Burney. The first of his productions, at the age of twenty-three, was a translation of Paulus Jovius's "Discourse of Rare Inventions, both military and amorous, called Imprese," London, 1585, 8vo, to which be prefixed an ingenious preface. He afterwards became tutor to the lady Anne Clifford, sole daughter and heiress to George, earl of Cumberland, a lady of very high accomplishments, spirit, and intrepidity. To her, when at the age of thirteen, he addressed a delicate admonitory epistle. She was married, first to Richard, earl of Dorset, and afterwards to the earl of Pembroke, "that memorable simpleton," says lord Orford, "with whom Butler has so much diverted himself." The pillar which she erected in the county of Westmoreland, on the road-side between Penrith and Appleby, the spot where she took her last leave of her mother,
—still records, beyond a pencil's power,
The silent sorrows of a parting hour;
Still to the musing pilgrim points the place
Her sainted spirit most delights to trace.
Among her other munificent acts, was a monument to the memory of our poet, on which she caused it to be engraven that she had been his pupil; a circumstance which she seems to have remembered with delight, at the distance of more than half a century after his decease.
At the death of Spenser, Daniel, according to Anthony Wood, was appointed poet-laureat to queen Elizabeth; but Mr. Malone, whose researches lead to more decisive accuracy, considers him only as a volunteer laureat, like Jonson, Dekker, and others who furnished the court with masks and pageants. In king James's reign he was made gentleman extraordinary, and afterwards one of the grooms of the privy-chamber to the queen consort, who took great delight in his conversation and writings. Some of his biographers attribute this promotion to the interest of his brother-in-law, Florio, the Italian lexicographer, but it is perhaps more probable that he owed it to the Pembroke family. Mrs. Cooper, in her Muses' Library, observes, that in the introduction to his poem on the civil wars, he acknowledges the friendship of one of the noble family of Mountjoy; and this, adds our female critic, is the more grateful and sincere, as it was published after the death of his benefactor. He now rented a small house and garden in Old-street, in the parish of St. Luke's, London, where he composed most of his dramatic pieces, and enjoyed the friendship of Shakspeare, Marlowe, and Chapman, as well as of many persons of rank; but he appears to have been dissatisfied with the opinions entertained of his poetical talents; and towards the end of his life retired to a farm, which he had at Beckington, near Philips-Norton, in Somersetshire, and where, after some time devoted to study and contemplation, he died, and was buried Oct. 14, 1619. He had been married to his wife Justina, several years, but left no issue.
Of Daniel's personal history we know little, but the inferences to be drawn from his works are highly favourable. He is much praised by his contemporaries, although chiefly with a view to his genius. Edmund Bolton, in a criticism on the style of our poets before 1600, says, "The works of Samuel Daniel containe somewhat aflat, but yet withal a very pure and copious English, and words as warrantable as any man's, and fitter perhaps for prose than measure;" and Gabriel Harvey, in his "Foure Letters and Certaine Sonnets," cordially recommends him, with others, for his studious endeavours to enrich and polish his native tongue.
Fuller's account, who lived near enough to the time of his death to have known something of his character, is worth transcribing:
"He was born not far from Taunton, in this county (Somersetshire), whose father was a master of musick; and his harmonious mind made an impression on his son's genius, who proved an exquisite poet. He carried in his Christian and surname, two holy prophets, his monitors so to qualify his raptures, that he abhorred all prophaneness. He was also a judicious historian, witness his Lives of our English kings since the conquest, until king Edward III. wherein he hath the happiness to reconcile brevity with clearness, qualities of great distance in other authors. He was a servant in ordinary to queen Anne, who allowed him a fair salary. As the tortoise burieth himself all the winter under the ground, so Mr. Daniel would lye hid at his garden-house in Old-street, nigh London, for some months together (the more retiredly to enjoy the company of the muses) and then would appear in publick, to converse with his friends, whereof Dr. Cowel and Mr. Camden were principal. Some tax him to smack of the old cask, as resenting of the Romish religion, but they have a quicker palate than I, who can make any such discovery. In his old age he turned husbandman, and rented a farm in Wiltshire, nigh the Devizes. I can give no account how he thrived thereupon. For though he was well versed in Virgil, his fellow-husbandman-poet, yet there is more required to make a rich farmer, than only to say his Georgics by heart; and I question whether his Italian will fit out English husbandry. Besides, I suspect that Mr. Daniel his fancy was too fine and sublimated to be wrought down to his private profit."
His works consist of: 1. "The Complaint of Rosamond," Lond. 1594, 1598, 1611, and 1623, 4to. 2. Various "Sonnets" to Delia. 3. "Tragedy of Cleopatra;" Lond. 1594, 1598, 4to. 4. "Of the Civil Wars between the houses of Lancaster and York," Lond. 1604, 1609, 8vo, and 1623, 4to. 5. "The Vision of the Twelve Goddesses, presented in a Mask," &c. London, 1604, 8vo, and 1623, 4to. 6. "Panegyric congratulatory," delivered to king James at Burleigh Harrington, in Rutlandshire, Lond. 1604 and 1623, 4to. 7. "Epistles" to various great personages, in verse, Lond. 1601 and 1623, 4to. 8. "Musophilus, containing a general Defence of Learning," printed with the former. 9. "Tragedy of Philotas," Lond. 1611, &c. 8vo. 10. "Hymen's Triumph; a pastoral tragi-comedy," at the nuptials of lord Roxborough, Lond. 1623, 4to, 2d edit. 11. "Musa," or a Defence of Rhyme, Lond. 1611, 8vo. 12. The "Epistle of Octavia to M. Antonius," Lond. 1611, 8vo. 13. The first part of the "History of England," in three books, Lond. 1613, 4to, reaching to the end of king Stephen, in prose; to which he afterwards added a second part, reaching to the end of king Edward III. Lond. 1618, 1621, 1623, and 1634, folio, continued to the end of king Richard III. by John Trussel, some time a Winchester scholar, afterwards a trader and alderman of that city. 14. "The Queen's Arcadia," a pastoral tragi-comedy, 1605, 1623, Lond. 4to. 15. "Funeral poem on the Death of the earl of Devon," Lond. 1623, 4to. In the same year his poetical works were published in 4to, by his brother John Daniel.
The editor of Phillips's Theatrum (1800) to whom we are indebted for the above list, adds, that "the character of Daniel's genius seems to be propriety, rather than elevation. His language is generally pure and harmonious; and his reflections are just. But his thoughts are too abstract, and appeal rather to the understanding, than to the imagination or the heart; and he wanted the fire necessary for the loftier flights of poetry."
Mr. Headly, who appears to have studied his works with much attention, thus appreciates his merit: "Though very rarely sublime, he has skill in the pathetic; and his pages are disgraced with neither pedantry nor conceit. We find, both in his poetry and prose, such a legitimate and rational flow of language as approaches nearer the style of the 18th than the 16th century, and of which we may safely assert, that it never will become obsolete. He certainly was the Atticus of his day. It seems to have been his error to have entertained too great a diffidence of his own abilities. Constantly contented with the sedate propriety of good sense, which he no sooner attains than he seems to rest satisfied, though his resources, had he but made the effort, would have carried him much farther. In thus escaping censure, he is not always entitled to praise. From not endeavouring to be great, he sometimes misses of being respectable. The constitution of his mind seems often to have failed him in the sultry and exhausting regions of the muses; for though generally neat, easy, and perspicuous, he too frequently grows slack, languid, and enervated. In perusing his long historical poem, we grow sleepy at the dead ebb of his narrative, notwithstanding being occasionally relieved with some touches of the pathetic. Unfortunate in the choice of his subject, he seems fearful of supplying its defects by digressional embellishment; instead of fixing upon one of a more fanciful cast, which the natural coolness of his judgment would necessarily have corrected, he has cooped himself up within the limited and narrow pale of dry events; instead of casting his eye on the general history of human nature, and giving his genius a range aver her immeasurable fields, he has confined himself to an abstract diary of fortune; instead of presenting us with pictures of truth from the effects of the passions, he has versified the truth of action only; he has sufficiently, therefore, shown the historian, but by means the poet. For, to use a sentiment of sir Willam Davenant's, 'Truth narrative and past is the idol of historians, (who worship a dead thing); and truth operative, and by its effects continually alive, is the mistress of poets, who hath not her existence in matter, but in reason.' Daniel has often the softness of Rowe without his effeminacy. In his Complaint of Cleopatra, be has caught Ovid's manner very happily, as he has no obscurities either of style or language, neither pedantry nor affectation, all of which have concurred in banishing from the works of his contemporaries. The oblivion he has with is peculiarly undeserved; he has shared their fate though innocent of their faults."
The justice of these remarks cannot be disproved, though some of them are rather too figurative for sober criticism. Daniel's fatal error was in chusing history instead of fiction; yet in his lesser pieces, and particularly in his sonnets, are many striking poetical beauties; his language is every where so much more harmonious that of his contemporaries, that he deserves a place in every collection of English poetry, as one who had taste or genius to anticipate the improvements of a more refined age. As a dramatic writer, he has been praised for his adherence to the models of antiquity, but who attempts this, attempts what has ever been found repugnant to the constitution of the English Theatre.