In 1579 Samuel was admitted to Magdalen Hall, Oxford, where he remained for about three years, and then devoted himself to the 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 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, written in classical style, in alternately rhyming heroic verse, with choral interludes. The First Four Books of the Civil Wars, an historical poem on the subject of the Wars of the Roses, in ottava rima, appeared in 1595.
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 Rutland, in ottava rima.
In 1603 this poem was published, and many 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, which argued 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 (1604); The Queen's Arcadia, an adaptation of Guarini's Pastor Fido (1606); Tethys Festival or the Queenes Wake, written on the occasion of Prince Henry's becoming a Knight of the Bath (1610); and Hymen's Triumph, in honour of Lord Roxburgh's marriage (1615).
In 1605, Certain Small Poems appeared , with the tragedy of Philolas -- a study in the same style as Cleopatra. This drama created difficulties, as Philotas was taken to represent Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex. Certaine small Workes heretofore divulged by Samuel Daniel (1607) was 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 popular work was continued and published in 1617. The section dealing with William the Conqueror was published in 1692 as being the work of Sir Walter Raleigh.
Daniel was made a gentleman-extraordinary and groom of the chamber to Queen Anne, sinecure offices which did not interfered with his literary career. He was acknowledged as a leading writer of the time. Shakespeare, Selden and Chapman were among the few friends allowed to intrude visit his secluded home 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 October 14, 1619.
Daniel's poetic works are very numerous, but were long neglected. This is more surprising since, during the 18th century, when so little Elizabethan literature was read, Daniel retained his prestige. Later, Coleridge, Charles Lamb and others praised this poet. Of his 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 Rosamond, a soliloquy in which the ghost of the murdered woman appears and bewails her fate in stanzas of exquisite pathos. Among the Epistles to Distinguished 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 by the Countess of Pembroke, are less successful than his pastorals; and Hymen's Triumph is considered the best of his dramatic writing. An extract from this masque is given in Lamb's Dramatic Poets, and 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.
Daniel was a great innovator in verse. His style is full, easy and stately, without being very animated or splendid; it is content with level flights. As a gnomic writer Daniel approaches Chapman, but is more musical and coherent. He lacks fire and passion, but he has scholarly grace and tender, mournful reverie.
Daniel's works were edited by AB Grosart in 1885-1896.
This entry is updated from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.