Although the exact date and place of Samuel Daniel’s birth remain unknown, he was probably born near Taunton, in north Somerset, in late 1562 or early 1563, the son of John Daniel, a music master. A younger brother, John, became a musician of some reputation, having earned a bachelor’s degree in music in 1604 from Christ Church College, Oxford, after which he published twenty songs titled Songs for the Lute, Viol and Voice—with words by his poet-brother. A third brother, also named John, engaged himself in the service of the earl of Essex. He was later fined and imprisoned for having embezzled certain of Essex’s letters to his wife and, in 1601, for conspiring with one Peter Bales to blackmail the countess.
Samuel Daniel entered Magdalen Hall, Oxford, in 1581, at the age of nineteen as a commoner. However, he did not remain quite long enough to earn a degree; after about three years, he found English poetry, history, and translation more to his liking than the stricter disciplines of logic and philosophy. Thus, in 1585, he published his first book, a translation of a tract on devices, or crests, titled Imprese, by Paolo Giovo, Bishop of Nocera. By 1586, he had obtained a position with Lord Stafford, Elizabeth’s ambassador to France; in September of that year, he was found at Rye in the company of an Italian doctor, Julio Marino. If one is to trust the 1594 sonnet collection, Delia (numbers 47 and 48), Daniel had spent almost two years in Italy—either from 1584 to 1586, or at some period prior to 1589. Shortly after 1590, the poet became tutor to William Herbert, third earl of Pembroke, son of Sidney’s sister, Mary, and the patron of Shakespeare. Thus, Daniel took up residence at Wilton, near Salisbury, the seat of the Pembrokes.
The real attraction for Daniel at Wilton was not his pupil, but the boy’s mother, Mary Herbert, countess of Pembroke. A woman of excellent literary taste and of distinctive literary talent, she had married Henry Herbert in 1577 and became the most famous patroness of literature in her time, bestowing her favors and encouragement upon Spenser, Jonson, Shakespeare, her brother Sir Philip Sidney, and, of course, Daniel. Despite such support for his work, however, Daniel first appeared before the world without his consent or even foreknowledge. At the end of the 1591 edition of Sidney’s Astrophel and Stella, the printer (or editor) attached twenty-seven of Daniel’s sonnets; what really bothered Daniel, however, was the fact that the pieces contained typographical errors that offended his sense of correctness. He countered by issuing, in February, 1592, his volume of Delia, with fifty sonnets dedicated to the countess of Pembroke. The volume was well received, with the result that Daniel published a new edition later the same year (with four new sonnets and The Complaynt of Rosamonde, a long narrative poem) and a third edition in 1594. In the latter collection, he replaced the prose dedication to the countess of Pembroke with a sonnet, added a number of sonnets and deleted others, enlarged The Complaynt of Rosamonde by twenty-three stanzas, and included his Senecan tragedy, Cleopatra.
Daniel’s reputation grew and attracted Spenser’s attention, the epic poet thinking highly of him and encouraging him to write tragedy. Daniel was not interested in such projects, however; instead, he produced a long historical poem, The First Fowre Bookes of the Civile Warres Between the Two Houses of Lancaster and Yorke; on the model of Lucan’s Bellum civile (60-65 c.e.; Pharsalia, 1614). For the next five years (1595-1599), Daniel published nothing new, principally because he was busily engaged at Skipton, Yorkshire, in tutoring Anne Clifford, daughter of the countess of Cumberland, then eleven years of age. He enjoyed the relationship with the family but felt restricted by the work that kept him from writing poetry—especially the completion of his Civile Warres . Nevertheless, he managed to wrench himself free long...
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