February 24, 1894. Samuel Daniel.
The writings of Samuel Daniel and the circumstances of his life are of course well enough known to all serious students of English poetry. And, though I cannot speak on this point with any certainty, I imagine that our younger singers hold to the tradition of all their fathers, and that Daniel still
renidet in angulo
of their affections, as one who in his day did very much, though quietly, to train the growth of English verse; and proved himself, in everything he wrote, an artist to the bottom of his conscience. As certainly as Spenser, he was a “poet’s poet” while he lived. A couple of pages might be filled almost offhand with the genuine compliments of his contemporaries, and he will probably remain a “poet’s poet” as long as poets write in English. But the average reader of culture–the person who is honestly moved by good poetry and goes from time to time to his bookshelves for an antidote to the common cares and trivialities of this life–seems to neglect Daniel almost utterly. I judge from the wretched insufficiency of his editions. It is very hard to obtain anything beyond the two small volumes published in 1718 (an imperfect collection), and a volume of selections edited by Mr. John Morris and published by a Bath bookseller in 1855; and even these are only to be picked up here and there. I find it significant, too, that in Mr. Palgrave’s Golden Treasury Daniel is represented by one sonnet only, and that by no means his best. This neglect will appear the more singular to anyone who has observed how apt is the person whom I have called the “average reader of culture” to be drawn to the perusal of an author’s works by some attractive idiosyncrasy in the author’s private life or character. Lamb is a staring instance of this attraction. How we all love Lamb, to be sure! Though he rejected it and called out upon it, “gentle” remains Lamb’s constant epithet. And, curiously enough, in the gentleness and dignified melancholy of his life, Daniel stands nearer to Lamb than any other English writer, with the possible exception of Scott. His circumstances were less gloomily picturesque. But I defy any feeling man to read the scanty narrative of Daniel’s life and think of him thereafter without sympathy and respect.
He was born in 1562–Fuller says in Somersetshire, not far from Taunton; others say at Beckington, near Philip’s Norton, or at Wilmington in Wiltshire. Anthony Wood tells us that he came “of a wealthy family;” Fuller that “his father was a master of music.” Of his earlier years next to nothing is known; but in 1579 he was entered as a commoner at Magdalen Hall, Oxford, and left the university three years afterwards without taking a degree. His first book–a translation of Paola Giovio’s treatise on Emblems–appeared in 1585, when he was about twenty-two. In 1590 or 1591 he was travelling in Italy, probably with a pupil, and no doubt busy with those studies that finally made him the first Italian scholar of his time. In 1592 he published his “Sonnets to Delia,” which at once made his reputation; in 1594 his “Complaint of Rosamond” and “Tragedy of Cleopatra;” and in 1595 four books of his “Civil Wars.” On Spenser’s death, in 1599, Daniel is said to have succeeded to the office of poet-laureate.
“That wreath which, in Eliza’s golden days,
My master dear, divinist Spenser, wore;
That which rewarded Drayton’s learned lays,
Which thoughtful Ben and gentle Daniel wore….”
But history traces the Laureateship, as an office, no further back than Jonson, and we need not follow Southey into the mists. It is certain, however, that Daniel was a favorite at Elizabeth’s Court, and in some way partook of her bounty. In 1600 he was appointed tutor to the Lady Anne Clifford, a little girl of about eleven, daughter of Margaret, Countess of Cumberland; and his services were gratefully remembered by mother and daughter during his life and after. But Daniel seems to have tired of living in great houses as private tutor to the young. The next year, when presenting his works to Sir Thomas Egerton, he writes:–“Such hath been my misery that whilst I should have written the actions of men, I have been constrained to bide with children, and, contrary to mine own spirit, put out of that sense which nature had made my part.”