The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume III. Renascence and Reformation.

XIV. Elizabethan Criticism

§ 12. Daniel

The Defence of Ryme with which Daniel replied is, time and circumstance being duly allowed for, one of the most admirable things of its kind in English literature. It is perfectly polite—a merit not too common in criticism at any time and particularly rare in the sixteenth and the seventeenth centuries. Indeed, Daniel, though it would not appear that there was personal acquaintance between him and Campion, has the combined good taste and good sense (for it is a powerful argument on his own side) to compliment his adversary on his own success with rime. His erudition is not impeccable; but it is sufficient. He devotes some, but not much, attention to the “eight kinds of verses,” making the perfectly true, and very damaging, observation that they are all perfectly consonant with the admitted practice of English poetry, and that they wantonly divest themselves of the additional charm that they might derive from the rime usual in it. But, with true critical sense, he sticks in the main to the chief point—the unreason of the objection to rime, and the futility of the arguments or no-arguments by which it had been supported. “Our understandings are not all to be built by the square of Greece and Italy.” “Ill customs are to be left,” but what have we save bare assertion to prove that rime is an ill custom? Let the ancients have done well without it; is that any reason why we should be forbidden to do well with it? Let us “tend to perfection” by “going on in the course we are in.” He admits blank verse freely in drama and allows, not less freely, that rime may be abused. But he will defend the “sacred monuments of English,” the “best power of our speech, that wherein so many honourable spirits have sacrificed to Memory their dearest passions,” the “kind and natural attire of Rhyme,” which “adds more grace and hath more delight than ever bare numbers can yield.” And so, with no bombast or slop of rhetoric, but with that quiet enthusiasm which is the inspiration of his own best poetry, and that simple propriety of style which distinguishes him both in poetry and prose, Daniel lays down, almost or quite for the first time in English, the great principle that “the Dorians may speak Doric,” that each language and each literature is entitled to its own ways and its own fashions. It is curious enough that Ascham, who, long before, had begun by the sturdy determination to write English matters in the English tongue for Englishmen, should, also, have been the first to be false to this principle in the prosodic direction. Daniel, two generations after Toxophilus, establishes the principle in this department also.

The critical work of two of the greatest of Elizabethans, Bacon and Ben Jonson, falls, both logically and chronologically, into other chapters, and represents, wholly in Bacon’s case, almost wholly in Johnson’s, a different and more advanced stage of criticism. Yet something of what we are about to say applies to them also, and it may be of hardly less use as a preliminary to the study of them than as a summary and criticism of the positive results which have been presented in historical survey by the foregoing pages.