1882 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Samuel Daniel

Epes Sargent, in Harper's Cyclopaedia of British and American Poetry (1882) 19-20.



The son of a music-master, Samuel Daniel (1562-1619) was born near Taunton, in Somesetshire. Educated under the patronage of a sister of Sir Philip Sidney, he studied at Magadalene College, Oxford, but took no degree. His largest work is The History of the Civil Wars; he wrote also a number of Epistle, Sonnets, and Masques; and in prose a Defence of Rhyme (1601) and a History of England (1613). The modern character of his English, as well as of his thinking, has been often noted by critics. "For his diction alone," says Southey, "he would deserve to be studied, even though his works did not abound in passages of singular beauty." He justly felicitated himself in his later days that he had never written unclean verses; that never had his

Harmless pen at all
Distained with any loose immodesty,
Nor never noted to be touched with gall,
To aggravate the worst man's infamy:
But still have done the fairest offices
To Virtue and the time.

Daniel became "poet-laureate voluntary" at the death of Spenser, but was soon superseded by Ben Jonson as poet laureate by appointment. There seems to have been ill-feeling between the two; for Jonson says of him: "He was a good, honest man, had no children, and was no poet." The slur is undeserved. Some years before his death Daniel retired to a farm, where he ended his days. His Epistle to the Countess of Cumberland is a noble specimen of meditative verse. It was much admired by Wordsworth, whose indebtedness to it, in tone at least, may be traced in his Character of the Happy Warrior.