An English poet and historian, was the son of a music-master, and was born near Taunton, in Somersetshire, in 1562. Another son, John Daniel, was a musician, who held some offices at court, and was the author of Songs for the Lute, Viol and Voice (1606).
In 1579 Samuel was admitted a commoner of Magdalen Hall, Oxford, where he remained'for about three years, and then gave himself up to the unrestrained study of poetry and philosophy. The name of Samuel Daniel is given as the servant of Lord Stafford, ambassador in France, in 1586, and probably refers to the poet. He was first encouraged and, if we may believe him, taught in verse, by the famous countess of Pembroke, whose honour he was never weary of proclaiming. He had entered her household as tutor to her son, William Herbert.
His first known work, a translation of Paulus Jovius, to which some original matter is appended, was printed in 1585. His first known volume of verse is dated 1592; it contains the cycle of sonnets to Delia and the romance called The Complaint of Rosamond. Twenty-seven of the sonnets had already been printed at the end of Sir Philip Sidney's Astrophel and Stella without the author's consent.
Several editions of Delia appeared in 1592, and they were very frequently reprinted during Daniel's lifetime. We learn by internal evidence that Delia lived on the banks of Shakespeare's river, the Avon, and that the sonnets to her were inspired by her memory when the poet was in Italy. To an edition of Delia and Rosamond, in 1594, was added the tragedy of Cleopatra, a severe study in the manner of the ancients, in alternately rhyming heroic verse, diversified by stiff choral interludes. The First Four Books of the Civil Wars, an historical poem in ottava rima, appeared in 1595. The bibliography of Daniel's works is attended with great difficulty, but as far as is known it was not until 1599 that there was published a volume entitled Poetical Essays, which contained, besides the " Civil Wars," " Musophilus, " and " A letter from Octavia to Marcus Antonius," poems in Daniel's finest and most mature manner.
About this time he became tutor to Anne Clifford, daughter of the countess of Cumberland,. On the death of Spenser, in the same year, Daniel received the somewhat vague office of poet-laureate, which he seems, however to have shortly resigned in favour of Ben Jonson. Whether it was on this occasion is not known, but about this time, and at the recommendation of his brother-in-law, Giovanni Florio, he was taken into favour at court, and wrote a Panegyric Congratulatorie offered to the King at Burleigh Harrington in Rutlandshire, in ottava rima. In 1603 this poem was published, and in many cases copies contained in addition his Poetical Epistles to his patrons and an elegant prose essay called A Defence of Rime /(originally printed in 1602) in answer to Thomas Campion's Observations on the Art of English Poesie, in which it was contended that rhyme was unsuited to the genius of the English language.
In 1603, moreover, Daniel was appointed master of the queen's revels. In this capacity he brought out a series of masques and pastoral tragi-comedies,—of which were printed /A Vision of the Twelve Goddesses, in 1604; The Queen's Arcadia, an adaptation of Guarini's Pastor Fido, in 1606; Tethys Festival or the Queenes Wake, written on the occasion of Prince Henry's becoming a Knight of the Bath, in 1610; and Hymen's Triumph, in honour
of Lord Roxburgh’s marriage in 1615. Meanwhile had appeared, in 1605, Certain Small Poems, with the tragedy of Philolas; the latter was a study, in the same style as Cleopatra, written some five years earlier. This drama brought its author into difficulties, as Philotas, with whom he expressed some sympathy, was taken to represent Essex.
In 1607, under the title of Certaine small 14”orkes heretofore divulged by Samuel Daniel, the poet issued a revised version of all his works except Delia and the Civil Wars. In 1609 the Civil Wars had been completed in eight books. In 1612 Daniel published a prose History of England, from the earliest times down to the end of the reign of Edward III. This work afterwards continued, and published in 1617, was very popular with Drayton’s contemporaries. The section dealing with William the Conqueror was published in 1692 as being the work of Sir Walter Raleigh, apparently without sufficient grounds.
Daniel was made a gentleman-extraordinary and groom of the chamber to Queen Anne, sinecure offices which offered no hindrance to an active literary career. He was now acknowledged as one of the first writers of the time. Shakespeare, Selden and Chapman are named among the few intimates who were permitted to intrude upon the seclusion of a garden-house in Old Street, St Luke’s, where, Fuller tells us, he would “lie hid for some months together, the more retiredly to enjoy the company of the Muses, and then would appear in public to converse with his friends.” Late in life Daniel threw up his titular posts at court and retired to a farm called “ The Ridge,’~ which he rented at Beckington, near Devizes in, Wiltshire. Here he died on the I4th of October 1619.
The poetical writings of Daniel are very numerous, but in spite of the eulogies of all the best critics, they were long neglected. This is the more singular since, during the 18th century, when so little Elizabethan literature was read, Daniel retained his poetical prestige. In later times Coleridge, Charles Lamb and others etpended some of their most genial criticisms on this poet. Of h~s multifarious works the sonnets are now, perhaps, most read. They depart from the Italian sonnet form in closing with a couplet, as is the case with most of the sonnets of Surrey and Wyat, but they have a grace and tenderness all their own. Of a higher order is The Complaint of Rosainond, a soliloquy in which the ghost of the murdered woman appears and bewails her fate in stanzas of exquisite pathos. Among the Epistles to Dis~inguished Persons will be found some of Daniel’s noblest stanzas tnd most polished verse. The epistle to Lucy, countess of Bedford, is remarkable among those as being composed in genuine terza rima, till then not used in English. Daniel was particularly fond of a four-lined stanza of solemn alternately rhyming iambics, a form of verse distinctly misplaced in his dramas. These, inspired it would seem by like attempts of the countess of Pembroke’s, are hard and frigid; his pastorals are far more pleasing; and Hymen’s Triumph is perhaps the best of all his dramatic writing. An extract from this masque is given in Lamb’s Dramatic Poets, and it was highly praised by Coleridge. In elegiac verse he always excelled, but most of all in his touching address To the Angel Spirit of the Most Excellent Sir Philip Sidney. We must not neglect to quote Musophilus among the most characteristic writings of Daniel. It is a dialogue between a courtier and a man of letters, and is a general defence of learning, and in particular of poetic learning as an instrument in the education of the perfect courtier or man of action. It is addressed to Fulke Greville, and written, with much sententious melody, in a sort of terra rima, or, more properly, ottava rima with the couplet omitted.
Daniel was a great reformer in verse, and the introducer of several valuable novelties. It may be broadly said of his style that it is full, easy and stately, without being very animated or splendid. It attains a high average of general excellence, and is content with level flights. As a gnomic writer Daniel approaches Chapman, but is far more musical and coherent. He is wanting in fire and passion, but he is preeminent in scholarly grace and tender, mournful reverie.