1817 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Drummond

Nathan Drake, in Shakespeare and his Times (1817; 1838) 299-300.



WILLIAM DRUMMOND. The birth of this truly elegant poet is placed at Hawthornden in Scotland, on the 13th of December, 1585, and the publication of the first portion of his Sonnets, in 1616, entitles him to due notice among these critical sketches.

A disappointment of the most afflictive nature, for death snatched from him the object of his affection almost immediately after she had consented to be his, has given a peculiar and very pathetic interest to the greater part of his poetical compositions, which are endeared to the reader of sensibility by the charm resulting from a sincere and never-dying regret for the memory of his earliest love.

His poetry, which has never yet been properly arranged, consists principally of poems of a lyrical cast, including sonnets, madrigals, epigrams, epitaphs, miscellanies, and divine poems.

Of these classes, the first and second exhibit numerous instances of a versification decidedly more polished and elegant than that of any of his contemporaries, and to this technical merit is frequently to be added the still more rare and valuable distinctions of beauty of expression, simplicity of thought, delicacy of sentiment, and tenderness of feeling. Where he has failed, his faults are to be attributed to the then prevailing taste for Italian concetti; to the study of Marino, and his French imitators, Bellay and Du Barta. These deviations from correct taste are, however, neither frequent nor flagrant, and are richly atoned for by strains of native genius, and the felicities of unaffected diction.

Drummond was the intimate friend of Drayton, the Earl of Stirling, and Ben Jonson; the latter holding him in such estimation as to undertake a journey to Scotland on foot, solely for the purpose of enjoying his company and conversation. How far this meeting contributed to enhance their mutual regard, is doubtful; no two characters could be more opposed, the roughness and asperity of Jonson in according with the elegant manners of the Scottish poet, whose manuscript memoranda relative to this interview plainly intimate his disapprobation of the disposition and habits of his celebrated guest; but unfortunately, at the same time, display a breach of confidence, and a fastidiousness of temper, which throw a shade over the integrity of his own friendship, and the rectitude of his own feelings.

This accomplished bard died on the 4th of December, 1649, aged sixty-three, and though his poems were republished by Phillips, the nephew of Milton, in 1656, with a high encomium on his genius, he continued so obscure, that in 1675, when the Theatrum Poetarum of the same critic appeared, he is said to be "utterly disregarded and laid aside;" a fate which, strange as it may seem, has, until these few years, almost completely veiled the merit of one of the first poets of the sister kingdom.