The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IV. Prose and Poetry: Sir Thomas North to Michael Drayton.

VII. Robert Southwell. Samuel Daniel

§ 4. Samuel Daniel

In Samuel Daniel, we reach the leading example of the graver, reflective poetry of the later years of Elizabeth’s reign. Daniel is not a religious nor a theological poet in the sense in which the words may be used of Southwell and John Davies; and, if he is called a philosophical poet, it is not in the sense in which the term is applied to such writers as Fulke Greville. There is no dialectic in his poems, and no system is advanced; they are philosophical in the sense that their author was a man with a wide and grave outlook upon life, in whom (though he sang exquisitely of love) judgment was stronger than passion, who moralised sincerely and sanely over his own and other people’s feelings and who, in his culture, his synthetic mind and his belief in the importance of humanism, stands much nearer to later poets, “critics of life” as they have been called, than to the singers of the dawn. In his “vast philosophic gravity and stateliness of sentiment,” to use Hazlitt’s phrase about him, he resembles Wordsworth, to whom he has also other points of likeness to be mentioned later; in other respects, when allowance has been made for all differences of time and opportunity, it may not be fanciful to see in him the Matthew Arnold of his age.

Samuel Daniel, the son of a music master, was born, probably near Taunton in Somerset, in 1562, and went to Magdalen hall (now Hertford college), Oxford, where, however, he did not take a degree. In 1585, we find him in London, appearing as the translator of Paolo Giovio’s book on impresas, to which he wrote a preface. He may, perhaps, have been in the service of lord Stafford. In 1586, he visited Italy, and, on his return, became tutor, at Wilton, to Shakespeare’s friend and patron William Herbert, to whom he dedicated his Defence of Ryme; and here he made the acquaintance of Herbert’s mother, Mary countess of Pembroke. Another of his friends was lord Mountjoy, afterwards earl of Devonshire, whom Daniel visited at Wanstead; and, in 1595, he was appointed tutor to Anne Clifford, daughter of Margaret countess of Cumberland, with whose family he remained on terms of intimate friendship, though he seems to have found the work of tutor a bar to his poetical progress. In 1603, after greeting James I with a Panegyrike Congratulatorie, he was appointed inspector of Kirkham’s children of the queen’s revels. Here he remained, living a prosperous and easy life, which was only once threatened by a slight incident. So far back as 1595, in the second book of his epic, The Civil Wars, he had eulogised Robert Devereux, second earl of Essex; and, on the publication of his play Philotas, in 1605, the character of Philotas was supposed to stand for that of Essex, and the author of the play to be in sympathy with that noble’s rebellion. On being summoned before the lords in council, he was able to prove that the first three acts of the play had been read by the master of the revels before 1600. This, however, could not save him from a reprimand from Essex’s old friend, Devonshire. Of his life, there is nothing more to chronicle except that he spent his later years on his farm at Beckington, in Somerset, where he died in 1619. His office passed to his brother John Daniel, author of Songs for the Lute, Viol and Voice (1606).