1902 Encyclopedia > William Drummond

William Drummond
Scottish poet

WILLIAM DRUMMOND, (1585-1649), of Hawthorn-den, a Scottish poet of the Spenserian school, and descendant of an old family of noble blood, was born at Hawthorn-den, near Edinburgh, on the 13th December 1585. His father, John Drummond, was the first laird of Hawthorn-den ; and his mother, Susannah Fowler, was well-con-nected, her brother William being private secretary to Queen Anne, and a man of literary tastes. Drummond received his early education at the Edinburgh High School, and graduated as M. A. of the recently founded (1582) metropolitan university in July 1605. The years 1607 and 1608 were spent at Bourges and Paris in the study of law ; and, in 1609, Drummond was again in Scotland, where, by the death of his father in the following year, he became laird of Hawthornden at the early age of twenty-four. The list of books he read up to this time indicates a strong preference for the finer and more imaginative, as distinguished from the argumentative kinds of literature. Accordingly, on finding himself his own master, Drummond naturally abandoned law for the muses; " for," says his biographer in 1711, "the delicacy of his wit always run on the pleasantness and usefulness of history, and on the fame and softness of poetry." He was a good linguist, and read Latin, Greek, Italian, Spanish, French, and Hebrew. He had already written several poems, chiefly sonnets; and some early letters, which have been preserved, show a fine command of pure English, as well as Drummond's critical sagacity in abandoning the Scottish dialect for the language raised to literary supremacy by the illustrious Elizabethans. Drummond's first publication appeared in 1613, and was an elegy on the death of Henry, prince of Wales, called Teares on the Death of Mceliades. As might have been expected from Spenser's influence, it is pastoral throughout. Milton, in his Lycidas, has at once imitated and surpassed this early poem of Drummond's. In 1614 Drummond for the first time met Sir William Alexander, known later as earl of Stirling, the author of a ponderous poem on Doom's-day. In the following year Drummond sustained a dreadful blow in the death of Miss Cunningham of Barns, to whom he was engaged to be married. In 1616, the year of Shakespeare's death, appeared Poems: Amorous, Funerall, Divine, Pastorall: in Sonnets, Songs, Sextains, Madrigals, being substantially the story of his love and loss. Drummond's next poem is entitled Forth Feasting: A Panegyric to the King's Most Excellent Majesty, and celebrates James's visit to Scotland in 1617. In 1618 there was an interesting correspondence between Drummond and Drayton ; and, about the close of the same year, or about the beginning of 1619, Drummond was honoured with a visit of a fortnight or more from the great literary dictator of the time—Ben Jonson. Drummond, as tradition relates, sat awaiting Jonson's arrival under the shade of a fine sycamore, and exclaimed when Jonson came in sight, " Welcome, welcome, royal Ben! " Upon which the dramatist rejoined, " Thank ye, thank ye, Hawthornden." The famous account of their conversations, long supposed to be lost, was discovered in the Advocate's Library, Edinburgh, by Mr David Laing, and, after being read to the Society of Scottish Antiquaries in 1832, appeared, ten years later, as a publication of the Shakespeare Society. The conversations are full of interesting literary gossip, and embody Ben's opinion of himself and of his host, whom he frankly told that he " was too good and simple, and that oft a man's modesty made a fool of his wit."

The next few years in Drummond's life are comparatively uneventful, being marked only by correspondence with Sir William Alexander and Drayton. In 1623, the year of a great famine and consequent mortality in Scotland, appeared the poet's fourth publication, entitled Flowers of Zion: By William Drummond of Hawthornedenne: to which is adjoyned his Cypresse Grove. From 1625 till 1630 Drummond was probably for the most part engaged in travelling on the Continent. In 1627, however, he seems to have been home for a short time, as, in that year, he appears in the entirely new character of the holder of a patent for the construction of military machines, entitled " Litera Magistri Gulielmi Drummond de Fabrica Machin-arum Militarium, Anno 1627." The same year, 1627, is the date of Drummond's munificent gift of about 500 volumes to the library of Edinburgh University. This collection, to which Drummond afterwards made addi-tions, is kept in a separate cabinet, and is particularly rich in the English poets. In 1630 Drummond again began to reside permanently at Hawthornden; and, in 1631, he received his last letter from Drayton, who died in London on the 23d of December. In 1632 Drum-mond married Elizabeth Logan, by whom he had five sons and four daughters. In 1633 Charles made his coronation-visit to Scotland ; and Drummond's pen was employed in writing congratulatory speeches and poetry. As Drummond naturally preferred Episcopacy to Presbytery, we are not surprised to learn that he approved of the main object Charles had in view in this visit, although his peace-loving nature was averse to the means employed in establishing Episcopacy. Drummond was a true Scottish gentleman in his pride of blood. Partly to please the earl of Perth, and partly to satisfy his own curiosity, the poet had studied the genealogy of the family very carefully, and had given due prominence to the fact that Annabella Drummond, daughter of Sir John Drummond of Stobhall, was the queen of Eobert III. This investigation was the real secret of Drummond's interest in Scottish history; and so we find that he now began his History of the Lives and Reigns of the Five Jameses, Kings of Scotland—a work which did not appear till 1655, and is remarkable only for its good literary style. His next work was called forth by the king's enforced submission to the opposition of his Scottish sub-jects. It is entitled Irene: or a Remonstrance for Concord, Amity, and Love amongst His Majesty's Subjects, and embodies Drummond's political creed of submission to authority as the only logical refuge from democracy, which he hated. In 1639 Drummond had to sign the Covenant in self-protection, but was uneasy under the burden, as ex-isting squibs by him testify. Drummond's next work %Kiajxaf(ia: or a Defence of a Petition tendered to the Lords of the Council of Scotland by certain Noblemen and Gentlemen, January, 1643, is a political pamphlet in support of those royalists in Scotland who wished to espouse the king's cause against the English Parliament. Its burden is a passionate invective on the intolerance of the then dominant Presbyterian clergy ; but Irene fails to do justice to the substantial work they had done. Drummond's subsequent works may be described briefly as royalist pamphlets, written with more or less caution, as the times required.

After being an invalid for several months, the poet died on the 4th December 1649, and was buried in the church-yard of Lasswade, a neighbouring village.

The only works of Drummond which call for special notice are the Cypresse Grove and the poems. The Cypresse Grove, one of the noblest prose poems in literature, exhibits great wealth of illustration, much fine thinking, and an extraordi-nary command of musical English. It is an essay on the folly of the fear of death, and shows how much the author was impressed with the comparative insignificance of this world.

" This globe of the earth," says he, " which seemeth huge to us, in respect of the universe, and compared with that wide pavilion of heaven, is less than little, of no sensible quantity, and but as a point" (1711 edition, p. 123). Death, he argues, from many of its accidental associations, appears to be much more dreadful than it really is. Its universality, and a correct estimate of human life, ought to nerve us against the fear of death. Further, we should re-member that death is not annihilation, but the vestibule to immortality and a higher life. The essay, which is com-posed throughout in a strain of lofty idealism, is concluded in the form of a vision.

A noteworthy feature in Drummond's poetry is that it manifests no characteristic Scottish element, but owes its birth and inspiration rather to the English and Italian masters. This was owing partly to his anti-Presbyterian bias and his long residence abroad ; but it was also natural, on other grounds, for a quiet, cultured, and meditative poet to imitate the Elizabethans and the great Italian writers. Drummond was essentially a follower of Spenser, delighting in the description of outer nature ; but, amid all his sensu-ousness, and even in those lines most conspicuously laden with lustrous beauty, there is a dash of melancholy thought-fulness—a tendency deepened by the death of his first love.

Drummond was so successful as a writer of sonnets that he was called " the Scottish Petrarch; " and his sonnets are still ranked immediately after Shakespeare's, Milton's, and Wordsworth's. Most of his poems are steeped in the pre-Copernican ideas of astronomy, and are marked by a sense of the smallness of the visible in comparison with the infinite lying beyond. This is one of Drummond's favourite moods ; and he is constantly harping upon such phrases as " the All," " this great All." Even in such of his poems as may be called more distinctively Christian, this philoso-phic conception is at work. Drummond's poems are distin-guished by pensive beauty, sweetness of versification, and richly worded descriptions, but lack vigour and originality. Altogether this poet is to be remembered as the best re-presentative of " sweetness and light " amid much that was dull and ephemeral in contemporary Scottish literature.

There are several editions of his works :—(1) Hall's edition of the prose works, published in 1655 ; (2) Phillips's (a nephew of Milton) edition of the poems, which appeared in the same year ; (3) Bishop Sage's, published in 1711, the only complete edition of Drummond's writings ; (4) an edition of his poems by Lord Dundrennan and David Irving, issued in 1832 ; (5) Cunningham's edition of the poems of 1833 ; and (6) Turnbull's in 1857. The only collected edition of the prose writings was published in 1711. Drummond's life has been ably written by Professor Masson (1873). (T. GI.)

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