Home  »  Volume IV: English PROSE AND POETRY SIR THOMAS NORTH TO MICHAEL DRAYTON  »  § 5. Delia; The Complaynt of Rosamond; Musophilus

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

§ 5. Delia; The Complaynt of Rosamond; Musophilus

Samuel Daniel began his literary career with a set of sonnets entitled Delia. Twenty-seven sonnets by him had been appended to the 1591 edition of Sidney’s Astrophel and Stella, without, as he declared, his authorisation, and, probably, through the action of Nashe. In the following year, appeared the first edition of Delia, containing fifty sonnets, and including revised versions of eighteen of those that had appeared in Astrophel and Stella. In 1592, came the second edition of Delia, with four new sonnets, and The Complaynt of Rosamond. The third edition, published in 1594, includes twenty-three new stanzas to Rosamond, and Cleopatra, a tragedy. In this third edition, the prose epistolary dedication to the countess of Pembroke, which had appeared in the previous editions, has given place to a sonnet addressed to her; while Cleopatra is also dedicated to the same lady, the poet stating that he wrote it at her command as a companion to her own tragedy of Antonie (1592). In 1595, came the first four books of The Civil Wars between the two Houses of Lancaster and York, the fifth book being published the same year; and it was mainly the desire to go on with his epic that made his duty as tutor to lady Anne Clifford seem tedious to him. During the next four years, he published nothing. In 1599, Musophilus, or a General Defence of Learning was issued, dedicated to Fulke Greville, and, in the same volume, was included the first of the poetical epistles, that from Octavia to Marcus Antonius, which was dedicated to the countess of Cumberland. In the same year, appeared the first collected edition of his works, the Poeticall Essayes; and, two years later, an augmented collection was published, including the sixth book of The Civil Wars, and showing much revision of the text of other poems. In 1602, he replied to Campion’s Observations in the Art of English Poesie with his prose Defence of Ryme, a curious and admirable work which was the last serious blow dealt to the Latinisers, whom old Gabriel Harvey, then still living, had advanced into estimation, until the movement was checked by the ridicule of Nashe and his fellows. In the same year, came the Panegyrike Congratulatorie, on the accession of James I, and then followed a few years in which Daniel’s attention was very largely occupied by the composition of the masques in which the queen, Anne of Denmark, delighted. The Vision of 12 Goddesses (published 1604); The Queenes Arcadia (published 1606), adapted from Guarini’s Pastor Fido; Tethys Festival: or the Queenes Wake (published 1610) and Hymens’ Triumph (published 1615) all belong to this period, during which, also, Daniel became one of the grooms of the queen’s privy chamber. In 1605, he published Certaine Small Poems, which included Philotas and one of his best known lyrics, Ulisses and the Syren, and, in 1609, a new edition of The Civil Wars, now comprising eight books. In 1623, his brother John issued his “whole works.” It will be seen that Daniel’s activity was wide; and it should be mentioned that his prose works included, also, a history of England (1612). He began, in the usual way, as a translator and a sonneteer; his scope increased until he embraced tragedy, masque and epic. And, his natural bent being set strongly towards history, it was to epic that he attached the greatest importance. He believed that men were more influenced by it than by any other form of literature.

Daniel’s sonnets have been discussed elsewhere, and no further mention need be made of them here, while his Senecan tragedies and his masques also belong to another section of this work. With The Complaynt of Rosamond, we come into touch with Daniel in his most characteristic mood. The honour had been accorded to him of mention by name in Spenser’s Colin Clout. The “new shepherd late up sprong” is bidden to “rouse thy feathers quickly, Daniell”; and Spenser goes on to say that “most, me seemes, thy accent will excell In tragick plaints and passionate mischance.” In Rosamond, we have the tragic plaint, combined with the interest in English history, the “philosophic gravity,” the pre-occupation with morals, which are all characteristic of Daniel. Rosamond describes and laments her sin with the king much in the manner of the stories in A Mirror for Magistrates, but with more flexibility, more sweetness and more smoothness. Churchyard’s tale of Shore’s Wife, doubtless, was his model; but the difference between the two poems is instructive as to the advance that the intervening years had brought about in the use of language, the form of English poetry and urbanity of judgment. Musophilus shows another side of Daniel’s mind—the importance he attached to literature and “culture” as refining and enlarging elements of life. The poem is a dialogue between Philocosmus, a courtier, and Musophilus, a man of letters, in whom speaks Daniel himself. From the days of Daniel to those of Matthew Arnold there has been in English literature no such important pleading for the influence of letters. In Castiglione’s view of a courtier, letters had played a part: Daniel soars far above the chivalric view of the subject; and one of the most eloquent and lofty passages of his poetry—an apostrophe to the English language as a force that is to spread civilisation over the world—includes a remarkable piece of prophecy. The “worlds in the yet unformëd Occident” are to “come refined with accents that are ours.” “O who,” he cries, “can tell for what great work in hand The greatness of our style is now ordained?”

His immense faith in his native tongue unites in him the man of letters with the patriot and the statesman: a combination that may be seen also in his prose Defence of Ryme. Secure of some niche in the temple of fame (“Something I shall be,” he writes to the countess of Pembroke, “though not the best”), he values his immortality not so much for himself as for the English language; and the English language is to attain a beauty and an influence worthy of the English constitution. Frequently in the poems of Daniel there sounds a note of sadness, the regret, of a man who feels himself born too late, for great days that are gone. It is heard in the epistle to prince Henry which introduces Philotas, and very clearly again in the Panegyrike Congratulatorie. There must have been many thoughtful men and good patriots whose minds were similarly affected by the troubles of the later years of the reign of Elizabeth; and, whatever may have been Daniel’s actual relation to the plot of Essex, there can be little question that though, like Essex, he was a protestant, he had, like Essex, sympathies with the Catholics, and must have been for some reasons inclined to wish that Essex could have become king. At any rate, he addresses to James what is at once a glowing patriotic poem and a shrewd warning that the state of the times needs firm handling from the monarch. He looks back to the despotism of the Tudors with longing, and sees in a strong monarchy the promise of a return of the old order, decency and security—the “ancient native modesty” which had never existed in his lifetime, but was the dream of a patriotic poet.