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An essay by Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch

Samuel Daniel

Title:     Samuel Daniel
Author: Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch [More Titles by Quiller-Couch]

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."


Now there is but one answer to this--that a man of really strong spirit does not suffer himself to be "put out of that sense which nature had made my part." Daniel's words indicate the weakness that in the end made futile all his powers: they indicate a certain "donnish" timidity (if I may use the epithet), a certain distrust of his own genius. Such a timidity and such a distrust often accompany very exquisite faculties: indeed, they may be said to imply a certain exquisiteness of feeling. But they explain why, of the two contemporaries, the robust Ben Jonson is to-day a living figure in most men's conception of those times, while Samuel Daniel is rather a fleeting ghost. And his self-distrust was even then recognized as well as his exquisiteness. He is indeed "well-languaged Daniel," "sweet honey-dropping Daniel," "Rosamund's trumpeter, sweet as the nightingale," revered and admired by all his compeers. But the note of apprehension was also sounded, not only by an unknown contributor to that rare collection of epigrams, _Skialetheia, or the Shadow of Truth_.

"Daniel (as some hold) might mount, _if he list_;
But others say he is a Lucanist"

--but by no meaner a judge than Spenser himself, who wrote in his "Colin Clout's Come Home Again":

"And there is a new shepherd late upsprung
The which doth all afore him far surpass:
Appearing well in that well-tunéd song
Which late he sung unto a scornful lass.
_Yet doth his trembling Muse but lowly fly,
As daring not too rashly mount on height_;
And doth her tender plumes as yet but try
In love's soft lays, and looser thoughts delight.
Then rouse thy feathers quickly, DANIEL,
And to what course thou please thyself advance;
But most, meseems, thy accent will excel
In tragic plaints and passionate mischance."

Moreover, there is a significant passage in the famous "Return from Parnassus," first acted at Cambridge during the Christmas of 1601:

"Sweet honey-dropping Daniel doth wage
War with the proudest big Italian
That melts his heart in sugar'd sonneting,
_Only let him more sparingly make use
Of others' wit and use his own the more._"

The 'mauvais pas' of Parnassus.

Now it has been often pointed out that considerable writers fall into two classes--(1) those who begin, having something to say, and are from the first rather occupied with their matter than with the manner of expressing it; and (2) those who begin with the love of expression and intent to be artists in words, _and come through expression to profound thought_. It is fashionable just now, for some reason or another, to account Class 1 as the more respectable; a judgment to which, considering that Shakespeare and Milton belonged undeniably to Class 2, I refuse to assent. The question, however, is not to be argued here. I have only to point out in this place that the early work of all poets in Class 2 is largely imitative. Virgil was imitative, Keats was imitative--to name but a couple of sufficiently striking examples. And Daniel, who belongs to this class, was also imitative. But for a poet of this class to reach the heights of song, there must come a time when out of imitation he forms a genuine style of his own, _and loses no mental fertility in the transformation_. This, if I may use the metaphor, is the _mauvais pas_ in the ascent of Parnassus: and here Daniel broke down. He did indeed acquire a style of his own; but the effort exhausted him. He was no longer prolific; his ardor had gone: and his innate self-distrustfulness made him quick to recognize his sterility.

Soon after the accession of James I., Daniel, at the recommendation of his brother-in-law, John Florio, possibly furthered by the interest of the Earl of Pembroke, was given a post as gentleman extraordinary and groom of the privy chamber to Anne of Denmark; and a few months after was appointed to take the oversight of the plays and shows that were performed by the children of the Queen's revels, or children of the Chapel, as they were called under Elizabeth. He had thus a snug position at Court, and might have been happy, had it been another Court. But in nothing was the accession of James more apparent than in the almost instantaneous blasting of the taste, manners, and serious grace that had marked the Court of Elizabeth. The Court of James was a Court of bad taste, bad manners, and no grace whatever: and Daniel--"the remnant of another time," as he calls himself--looked wistfully back upon the days of Elizabeth.

"But whereas he came planted in the spring,
And had the sun before him of respect;
We, set in th' autumn, in the withering
And sullen season of a cold defect,
Must taste those sour distastes the times do bring
Upon the fulness of a cloy'd neglect.
Although the stronger constitutions shall
Wear out th' infection of distemper'd days ..."

And so he stood dejected, while the young men of "stronger constitutions" passed him by.

In this way it happened that Daniel, whom at the outset his contemporaries had praised with wide consent, and who never wrote a loose or unscholarly line, came to pen, in the dedicatory epistle prefixed to his tragedy of "Philotas," these words--perhaps the most pathetic ever uttered by an artist upon his work:

"And therefore since I have outlived the date
Of former grace, acceptance and delight.
I would my lines, late born beyond the fate
Of her[A] spent line, had never come to light;
So had I not been tax'd for wishing well,
Nor now mistaken by the censuring Stage,
Nor in my fame and reputation fell,
Which I esteem more than what all the age
Or the earth can give. _But years hath done this wrong,
To make me write too much, and live too long_."

Ease of his verse.

I said just now that Daniel had done much, though quietly, to train the growth of English verse. He not only stood up successfully for its natural development at a time when the clever but less largely informed Campion and others threatened it with fantastic changes. He probably did as much as Waller to introduce polish of line into our poetry. Turn to the famous "Ulysses and the Siren," and read. Can anyone tell me of English verses that run more smoothly off the tongue, or with a more temperate grace?

"Well, well, Ulysses, then I see
I shall not have thee here:
And, therefore, I will come to thee,
And take my fortune there.
I must be won that cannot win,
Yet lost were I not won;
For beauty hath created been
T'undo or be undone."

To speak familiarly, this is as easy as an old shoe. To speak yet more familiarly, it looks as if any fool could turn off lines like these. Let the fool try.

And yet to how many anthologies do we not turn in vain for "Ulysses and the Siren"; or for the exquisite spring song, beginning--

"Now each creature joys the other,
Passing happy days and hours;
One bird reports unto another
In the fall of silver showers ..."

--or for that lofty thing, the "Epistle to the Countess of Cumberland"?--which Wordsworth, who quoted it in his "Excursion," declares to be "an admirable picture of the state of a wise man's mind in a time of public commotion." Certainly if ever a critic shall arise to deny poetry the virtue we so commonly claim for her, of fortifying men's souls against calamity, this noble Epistle will be all but the last post from which he will extrude her defenders.


[A] Sc. Elizabeth's.

[The end]
Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch's essay: Samuel Daniel