07 January 2015

The Writings of Samuel Daniel (1562 - 1619) - Musophilus

By Ian Lipke

The Writings of Samuel Daniel (1562 - 1619) - Musophilus

Samuel Daniel's signature work, Musophilus, is written in the form of a dialogue between Musophilus ('lover of culture') and Philocosmus (lover of the status quo'). This article takes a passing glance at the views of Philocosmus but promotes the thoughts of Musophilus in greater depth since they reflect Daniel's own philosophies. Musophilus details Daniel’s view that history and culture reinforce one another in a complex definition of what makes one’s heritage. The poet argues for the importance of cultural memory as a way not just of retrieving the past, but of shaping the present. He imagines a space containing humanist exemplars of learning, and humanist supporters of real scholarship. Although the poet is subject to the public world and dependent on its patrons, he can counter that by imagining a space in which poetry and the classical humanist past shapes experience and reward.

Philocosmus warns that to be different from your fellows, to pursue a different course, is to live without the warming sustenance of a patron who provides for the material needs of the practising poet. All light and warmth in the hope of patronage are then withdrawn and the rebel poet cast into the icy cold of courtly exile. Learning is bounded by what tradition has taught and men have accepted. To attempt to extend or go beyond the boundaries that patrons expect, to fail “to compose our parts / Vnto the frame of men” (lines 80 – 81) is to “make our artes / Rebles to Nature and societie” (lines 82 – 83). Running a counter-course is suggestive of a sailor navigating his way through troubled waters and this image makes way for the more powerful picture of burial in an obscure grave. Philocosmus proposes a Stoic acceptance of conventional values, one that stresses adherence to society’s rules, and by projection, promotes self-governance and self-control. The essayist, Michel de Montaigne, while writing on an unrelated matter, argues that constancy is “courageous endurance of the inevitable, and control (not eradication) of human emotions” (Miles 87), a position closely akin to Philocosmus’s view. When defining Justus Lipsius’s understanding of what it means for a man to practise self-control, Miles asserts that “to be constant is to be stable in convictions, unmoved by emotion, ‘neither lifted up nor pressed down’ [as Lipsius notes in his De Constantia 79] by external events, and, hence, steadfast and immovable in adversity” (72). Philocosmus’s argument is that, since opinion is changeable, it is the source of all human ills. It is, therefore, the arch-enemy of constancy, which is, after all, the prime virtue. Further, Philocosmus’s “Rebles to Nature” infers a rejection of the accepted Christian religion and a transgression of Guillaume du Vair’s association of Stoic constancy with the Christian heaven. “Du Vair (like Lipsius) uses the image of the soul as a divine fire (De la constance 149) whose sparks aspire to rise upwards” (Miles 73). Hence, “audaciously, Du Vair fuses Christian salvation with the Senecan ideal of self-perfection through Stoic virtue” (Miles 74), and, hence in Philocosmus’s view, through adherence to convention.

Surprisingly, Musophilus agrees with Philocosmus on this point, but with a subtle distinction which qualifies his rival’s assertion. He repeats Philocosmus’s language of measurement and puns on it. The “frame of men” (line 81) is now determined “by that wrong measure of confusion / The vulgar foote: that neuer takes his ways / By reason, but by imitation” (lines 94 – 96). Here, in recalling “th’obscure graue of singularitie” (line 85) Daniel engages the language of physical measurement to re-assert a mental state viz. the humanist support for constancy. It is by the way people measure, through imitation of, and/or the judgments of others, that “ignorance will liue / By others square” (lines 100 – 01). The poet’s argument speaks out against men who follow historic precedent (example) instead of thinking for themselves (outside the square of other peoples’ judgement). The poet is at one with Lipsius who asserts that a constant man is a man who faces adversity with conviction and resolve and is never swayed by unsubstantiated opinion. Musophilus’s argument utilises emblems of vanitas to affirm his position in the references to the “proude aspiring pallaces” of line 123 and in the lines,

Then where is that proude title of thy name,
Written in yce of melting vanitie?                                                           (lines 129 – 30)

where a pessimistic outlook is portrayed in part as a decaying physical object and, on the other hand, a significantly important virtuous state, highly regarded by the poet himself and jealously guarded throughout his lifetime. That his name should disappear in the way of melting ice is unconscionable.

Daniel uses the language of Stoic wisdom as a means of evoking rational thought when arguing the case against remaining unmoved. Inaction is paradoxically revealed as a negative form of action by nature of the fact that it destroys virtue. Musophilus argues:

For what poore bounds haue they whom but th’earth bounds,
What is their end whereto their care attaines,
When the thing got relieues not, but confounds,
Hauing but trauaile to succeed their paines?
What ioy hath he of liuing that propounds
Affliction but his end, and griefe his gaines?                                         (lines 105 – 10)

The continued use of images evoked by such terms as “poore bounds” and “th’earth bounds” suggests the Stoic conception of the virtuous man who remains constant to himself. It also suggests Christian humility as distinct from stoic constancy, potentially nodding to Lipsius’s attempt to reconcile stoicism with Christianity in De Constantia. In this passage, Musophilus is arguing the negative; in living as he is man will not achieve a favourable outcome. He has “but trauaile” as the reward for his efforts, “affliction but his end, and griefe his gaines” (line 110). The metaphor is the reversal of the Stoic understanding that, whatever the burden, if the activity is right, the effort of remaining unmoved will be worthwhile. The poet accepts the rationality of stoic constancy but employs it in a way that Seneca and his followers never intended. In early essays Montaigne (Essais, I. 12) “defines constancy in moderate terms as courageous endurance of the inevitable, and control (not eradication) of human emotions” (Miles 87). Like Montaigne, Daniel is attracted to “the ‘beauty’ of the ideal of Stoic heroism” (Miles 88). However, unlike in Montaigne’s essays, there is little evidence in the Musophilus passage under discussion of inconsistency in the world and in human nature as such would have been anathema to Stoic beliefs.

Daniel now develops his metaphor through a body-spirit dichotomy. “Gath’ring, incroching, wresting” and the like are strong and troubled links to man’s actions on earth, his “bodies trauailing” (line 114). Yet they link also to “his soules toyle” (line 114), indicating there is a continual struggle between the soul and the body. In these verses Daniel describes a hurried process of vain labour using the metaphors of building rather than describing a metaphorical building per se. His point is more to do with the fact that wise men should be labouring more wisely to obtain spiritual rather than worldly rewards in virtue.

 Gath'ring, incroching, wresting, ioining to,
Destroying, building, decking, furnishing,
Repairing, altring, and so much a do,
To his soules toyle, and bodies trauailing:
And all this doth he little knowing who
Fortune ordaines to haue th'inheriting.                                                            (lines 111 – 16)

When Musophilus mentions “his faire house’ (line117) that has been constructed “on blood and wrong” (line 118), Daniel reminds us of the massive building projects of the 1590s but also asks the question whether so much energy is being put into projects that will, in the end, be quite transient. An attitude of transparent and virtuous humanism, a mental construct, is projected by the physical nature of a building programme, one where “the profanest piles of sinne” (line 122) suggest that the buildings may, after all, be just for show. Here Daniel, the self-confessed “remnant of another age” attacks newness and expresses his preference for older and traditional forms.

And his faire house rais'd hie in enuies eie,
Whose pillars rear'd perhaps on blood and wrong,
The spoyles and pillage of iniquitie,
Who can assure it to continue long?
If rage spar'd not the walls of pietie,
Shal the profanest piles of sinne keepe strong?                                                (lines 117 – 22)

In the persona of Musophilus, but in a voice that becomes the poet’s own as the poem proceeds, Daniel invokes the physical destruction of the monasteries during an earlier reign as a link to the issue that he is really addressing, that of a just transmission of ownership or power. Through the spatial metaphor of physicality, the destruction and subsequent re-making of the churches – the palaces have been “leuell’d with th’earth” (line 125) - to represent an issue of powerful mental significance to Daniel himself, “an orderles / Order pretending change” (lines 127 – 28) - the poet continues to answer his opponent’s concerns.

How manie proude aspiring pallaces
Haue we known made the pray of wrath and pride,
Leuell'd with th'earth, left to forgetfulnes,
Whilst titlers their pretended rights decide,
Or ciuill tumults, or an orderles
Order pretending change of some stronge side?                                   (lines 123 – 28)

Daniel emphasises the role of the text in the creation of memory; through the poet’s work “wrested from time”, men can understand past civilizations. The mind will “speak”; it will become a place that witnesses the defeat of time, a page upon which is recorded the memories and the knowledge of this and other civilizations. In this picture lie the thoughts of those who have laboured to understand the human condition. Commenting on the outstanding contribution that Chaucer made to English letters, his having “wrested from time, / And won vpon the mighty waste of daies”, Daniel directs us to “the speaking picture of the minde” (line 178) and “The extract of the soule that laboured how / To leaue the image of her selfe behind” (lines 179 - 80).

Since Chaucer liu'd, who yet liues and yet shall,
Though (which I grieue to say) but in his last.
Yet what a time hath he wrested from time,
And won vpon the mighty waste of daies,
Vnto th'immortall honor of our clime!                                      (lines 151 – 55)

Aristotle had claimed that poetry will enable virtue. History can only instruct men to virtuous action if it is bolstered by memory. History will record facts but memory will record sensation through poetry. When the feelings that cultural memory releases are added to the factual history man absorbs, virtuous action is demonstrated.

The concept of a literary work as a ‘speaking picture of the mind’ is based on the understanding that to make a poem ‘the extract of the soule’ a poet must hone his powers of expression to such an edge that he can achieve close communion with the great minds of the past.  This implies devoted effort – not just any verse will do. Musophilus constructs a metaphor of literary fame as a reasoned dialogue between learned individuals and, in so doing, suggests a new understanding of the alleged ‘singularitie’ of scholar and poet. We accept that literary fame is sufficient recompense for isolating the laureate poet from his contemporaries, as Musophilus has argued from the beginning. More important now is the intrinsic value of being able to commune with the great minds of the past.

When as perhaps the words thou scornest now
May liue, the speaking picture of the minde,
The extract of the soule that laboured how
To leaue the image of her selfe behind,                          (lines 177 –80)

But, in lines 179 – 80, the soul is described as leaving the body behind. Throughout the poem Musophilus has been deploying Stoic language to present a humanist argument. But in these lines he finds an argument that is unsettling. An element of psychic anxiety creeps into his verse. Poetry (the speaking picture of the mind) will live on in his manuscript, but also now in print. Verse is an integral part of the poet, the extract of his soul, and his labours have revealed his inner secrets to the world. His world, a coterie audience of his friends and patrons, has changed to become the wide world of anyone who can read or be read to. The poet is, at least outwardly, opposed to the public and market-driven world of print since print devalued literature and knowledge by dispersing it in the world and opening it up to the judgment of the masses. This unsettles the poet.

The implications we draw from traditional thought allow us to build a bridge between nature, which is immutable and uniform, and change which is subject to the knowledge that man himself defines. “If it [i.e. knowledge] was obviously cumulative and potentially beneficial, it could also be a sinister force when misapplied and especially when untempered by a respect for historical continuity” (Ferguson 201). Musophilus asserts that knowledge untempered with a respect for historical continuity was responsible for overthrowing “that holy reuerent bound / That parted learning and the laiety” and took away the honour and respect that had traditionally been the due of the clergy:

For since our fathers sinnes puld first to ground
The pale of their disseuered dignitie,
And ouerthrew that holy reuerent bound
That parted learning and the laiety,
And laid all flat in common to confound
The honor and respect of pietie:                                       (lines 689 – 94)

Daniel is interested in the poet’s role in preserving the lessons of history. “Posteritie” is of great significance to him.

Wherein posteritie that loue to know
The iust proportion of our spirits may find.                  (lines 181 – 82)

The poet animates history and creates a memorial to it. Animating history’s lessons for a didactic purpose requires him to clarify precisely what he wishes to make known and he does this by employing images related to the human body. His lines become “the vaines, the Arteries, / And vndecaying life-strings of those harts (183 – 84) that still seek after knowledge, and so poetry becomes the means through which man utilizes memory for the benefit of posterity, and thereby acquires truth. The veins and arteries are the texts – the verse, thoughts, and philosophies - that learned men before him have introduced into a community of scholars. Such a community is bounded, just as the physical human body is enclosed, but within the boundary are networks communicating with the separate parts. The lines in this extract speak in metaphorical terms of Daniel’s ‘proper frame of men’ that conforms to both nature and society. That frame is exclusionary in that membership is available only to those humanists that men of virtuous action consider worthy:

For these lines are the vaines, the Arteries,
And vndecaying life-strings of those harts
That still shall pant, and still shall exercise
The motion spirit and nature both imparts,
And shall, with those aliue so sympathize
As nourisht with their powers inioy their parts.                      (lines 183 – 88)

Daniel saw “blessed letters” as the medium through which history itself spoke to successive generations.

Like Aristotle and Sidney before him, Daniel argues that it is through poetry that history comes alive, its events can be told in metaphors that derive energy and substance from the recorded actions of great men, and reasons for what history records they did can be expressed through the power of verse.

O blessed letters that combine in one,
All ages past, and make one liue with all,
By you we do confer with who are gone,
And the dead liuing vnto councell call:
By you, th'vnborne shall haue communion
Of what we feele, and what doth vs befall.
Soule of the world, knowledge, without thee,
What hath the earth that truly glorious is?
Why should our pride make such a stir to be,
To be forgot? what good is like to this,
To do worthy the writing, and to write
Worthy the reading, and the worlds delight?
And let th'vnnaturall and waiward race
Borne of one wombe with vs, but to our shame,
That neuer read t'obserue, but to disgrace,
Raise all the tempest of their powre to blame;
That puffe of follie neuer can deface,
The worke a happy Genius tooke to frame.                    (lines 189 – 206)

The “blessed letters” metaphor is used to describe the humanist project of learning from the past. It makes no distinction between the dead and the living since the “blessed letters” combine all ages into one.  The dead can call the living, the living can speak to the yet unborn, and understanding of the emotional depths of the living and the thoughts of the ancients can be felt truly and understood fully. Past and future now commune in a perpetual present. While Montaigne would argue that the world is neither in a state of decrepitude nor in a state of progress; it is as it always has been, and nature has neither lost its power nor suddenly produced men of outstanding qualities (Essais III 115 – 16), the assumption about the course of human history which was most widely held in the Renaissance is the cyclical or tide theory. According to this point of view, men and nations and the arts have their origin, rise, flourishing, and decay; when the process is once completed, it does not stop but repeats itself over and over again.

Cyclic alteration is one of Samuel Daniel’s standard themes as in his invocation to his “blessed letters”. His purpose is to celebrate the ‘knowledge’ which instructs and civilizes men through example and design, which sensitizes man to his history through cultural memory. We have “communion” with one another because knowledge is the medium through which all ages are united. Knowledge is the soul of the world and without it there is nothing about the Earth that is glorious. We have nothing to be proud of if all we have is destined to be forgotten,

what good is like to this,
To do worthy the writing, and to write
Worthy the reading, and the world’s delight?               (lines 197 – 200).

It does not matter if some choose to blame since
That puffe of follie neuer can deface,
The worke a happy Genius tooke to frame”                   (lines 205 – 06).

As man grows in experience and knowledge he begins to make decisions that are distinctively his own. If the judgements he makes are sound, he creates a mature and enriched life. In Renaissance times, history’s position was about progress, about seeking to generate old forms such as classical learning; it was about returning in order to progress. Daniel intersects these ideas with the argument that if cultural memory sensitizes history through poetry there will be no need to return since men will have learned virtuous action. Mankind, by these means, obviates the need for always having to go back in time since he will no longer be called upon to repeat his actions. These are not new ideas; their origins are deep in classical culture and some of them have, for the most part, a vigorous history through the Middle Ages. The clue for historical research is not so much to seek original ideas as to discover the cumulative flow of old ideas, and to analyse what new combinations have been made and under the impetus of what new needs and forces. What changes as a result of new demands are the forms of recombination of old ideas.

Ian Lipke became a teacher of primary children in 1958, transferring to secondary schools in 1964. He has taught in schools in remote and metropolitan areas of Queensland, Australia. He left school teaching in 1977 to lecture at the University of Queensland and at Queensland University of Technology. Throughout the late 1980s and 1990s, he was a deputy principal at several high schools, before retiring to manage his own tutoring business. In 2006, he returned to postgraduate studies through research at the University of Queensland. His whole life has been devoted to academic studies, which he very much enjoys. He is the author of NARGUN.