Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. I. Fourteenth to Sixteenth Century
Critical Introduction by George Saintsbury
Samuel Daniel (15621619)
[Samuel Daniels modest and uneventful life belongs to the biographical history rather of English poetry than of English prose. He was born somewhere near Taunton, in 1562. He entered Magdalen College, Oxford, in 1579, and he died at Beckington, in his native county, where he had a small estate, in 1619. Part of his life was spent in travel (to Italy, as usual) and in acting as tutor to the noble families of Clifford, Herbert, and others, part in a retired house in Old Street, London, where he saw good literary company. The strong historical and philosophical complexion of his poems only concerns us here as it is reflected in his prose works. The principal of these in point of bulk, was a History of England, the first part of which, reaching to the reign of Stephen, was published in 1611. It was subsequently extended to the reign of Edward III., and was (it would seem unjustly) attributed, in part at least, to Raleigh. As not much space is here available for Daniel, it has not seemed necessary to draw on this, an avowed compilation, and not distinguishable in any point of style from the short but really remarkable Defence of Rhyme, which preceded it in publication by nine years, and which constitutes Daniels real title to rank as an English prose writer.]
DANIELS Defence of Rhyme is both in substance and form one of the most interesting critical tracts in the language. It is very short, not perhaps in all exceeding five or six times the bulk of the extracts here given; and it is not altogether skilfully arranged, for it does not end with the fine passage which closes our extracts, but with an awkward and rather flat postscript. But it is an excellent example of reasoned enthusiasm, prevailing over a delusion which had beset men of far greater genius than Daniels before him, and was not to be without a hold on men of far greater genius after him. The fallacies which worked even on Spenser, even on Milton, fell harmlessit cannot be said from Daniels ignorance, it cannot be said from his stupidity, but from his combination of enthusiasm with plain good sense, of acquired scholarship with natural critical power. It is also noticeable with what courtesy, in glaring contrast to the habits of the time, he treats his opponent, Thomas Campion, who, himself an accomplished, and at his best an exquisite poet in rhyme, had in his Observations in the Art of English Poesy endeavoured to inculcate the pestilent heresy of English sapphics and the like. I do not think it fanciful to connect with this sound sense of Daniels the simplicity of his style, which seemed to the eighteenth century positively modern; and which, perhaps, has only lost some of this modernness to us because we have revived or invented tricks to take the place of the tricks used by some of Daniels contemporaries. He is neither flat nor dull; the preface and the closing sentences of the last extract will amply free him from either reproach. But he is eminently simple, and some slight changes in punctuation would make him simpler still. It may be that gratitude to him for his good deedsinasmuch as he certainly deserves the crown of grass for delivering English poetry from a really dangerous siegemay a little, in worthy lovers, if not in learned professors of rhyme, affect the estimate of his formal merit: but I do not think so. In all the best qualities of prosesobriety, lucidity, proportionhe is eminent among his fellows.