He was born in 1562—Fuller says in Somersetshire, not far from Taunton; others say at Beckington, near Philip’s Norton, or at Wilmington in Wiltshire. Anthony Wood tells us that he came “of a wealthy family;” Fuller that “his father was a master of music.” Of his earlier years next to nothing is known; but in 1579 he was entered as a commoner at Magdalen Hall, Oxford, and left the university three years afterwards without taking a degree. His first book—a translation of Paola Giovio’s treatise on Emblems—appeared in 1585, when he was about twenty-two. In 1590 or 1591 he was travelling in Italy, probably with a pupil, and no doubt busy with those studies that finally made him the first Italian scholar of his time. In 1592 he published his “Sonnets to Delia,” which at once made his reputation; in 1594 his “Complaint of Rosamond” and “Tragedy of Cleopatra;” and in 1595 four books of his “Civil Wars.” On Spenser’s death, in 1599, Daniel is said to have succeeded to the office of poet-laureate.
“That wreath which,
in Eliza’s golden days,
My master dear, divinist Spenser, wore;
That which rewarded Drayton’s learned lays,
Which thoughtful Ben and gentle Daniel wore....”
But history traces the Laureateship, as an office, no further back than Jonson, and we need not follow Southey into the mists. It is certain, however, that Daniel was a favorite at Elizabeth’s Court, and in some way partook of her bounty. In 1600 he was appointed tutor to the Lady Anne Clifford, a little girl of about eleven, daughter of Margaret, Countess of Cumberland; and his services were gratefully remembered by mother and daughter during his life and after. But Daniel seems to have tired of living in great houses as private tutor to the young. The next year, when presenting his works to Sir Thomas Egerton, he writes:—“Such hath been my misery that whilst I should have written the actions of men, I have been constrained to bide with children, and, contrary to mine own spirit, put out of that sense which nature had made my part.”