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

§ 8. His Diction

Still, the criticism is not uninstructive. It shows that the sweetness and purity of Daniel’s language, which won the praise of Meres, Lodge, Drummond, Carew and others, was fully recognised in his own day; and it hints at a timidity in the poet which may account for the comparative lack in his work of pure lyrical outburst. His was a mind of fine taste rather than of powerful creative genius. He was eminent as a poet, as Matthew Arnold was eminent, because he was first of all a critic of life and letters.

Coleridge bears a remarkable tribute to the purity of language which is not the least important of Daniel’s characteristics. “The style and language,” he wrote in Table Talk of the epic, “are just such as any very pure and manly writer of the present day—Wordsworth, for example—would use; it seems quite modern in comparison with the style of Shakespeare.” Like Southwell’s, the English of Daniel is notably free from words of Latin origin; and the constant labour he devoted to the revision of his text, as it passed through new editions, all tended towards greater simplicity and purity. Yet he was no archaist, as Coleridge saw. He had no taste for what in one of his sonnets he calls the “aged accents and untimely words” of Spenser. He regarded the English of his own era as a sufficient and living tongue, and, by his use of it, did more to establish it also as a classical and polite tongue than has, perhaps, been commonly recognised. As a metrist, he was no innovator. By his nature and the nature of his material, he was inclined, like Southwell, again, to the decasyllabic line. His Civil Wars are written in eight-lined stanzas riming abababcc; Musophilus is in lines of the same length riming ababab, or, occasionally, ababcc; Rosamond is in rime royal; the letter from Octavia and the Panegyrike Congratulatorie are in the same metre as the epic. Only rarely, as in the lyrics in Hymens’ Triumph, does he use anything like a complicated structure; and he invests the eights and sixes of Ulisses and the Syren with something of the grave dignity of the decasyllable. His technical triumph is the investment of the decasyllabic line with the utmost sweetness and smoothness, while yet contriving to evade monotony; and the skilful use of an occasional rugged line, such as “Melancholies opinion, Customs relation,” or “Impietie of times, Chastities abator” (both from Rosamond), helps to prove him a finished artist in poetic structure.

For a reason which is not very easy to discover, Samuel Daniel has not been appreciated by ages subsequent to his own as he should have been. As a thinker, in his regret for the great days that had just passed, his hopes of a strong monarchy, his gravity, his culture and his philosophical outlook, he is fully representative of the best minds of a society already tottering to a fall. As a writer, he achieved a great advance towards clarity and fixity of style. It is difficult to avoid thinking that, if Dryden and his age had known and appreciated him better, Daniel could have been of considerable service to the men of letters of the Restoration, in their work of reducing the English language to accuracy and order.